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Uncle Screwtape Is Delighted with Our Social Cowardice

The senior demon has a new letter for Wormwood about his disoriented American subjects.

by Elizabeth ScaliaJanuary 17, 2019

My Dear Wormwood,

Forgive my tardy response to your last flaming missive (or—if you really want to impress me—don’t) in which you attempt to berate me for insufficiently appreciating your efforts at sowing discord within the venue of American Politics. As they say in your circles, “Goon, get over yourself.” Political discord, especially in America, where headlines and soundbite analyses are accepted even when they are false or as penetrating as prop knives, is easy stuff, and I am surprised at how needy was your grasping for approval. By now you should know that one does not applaud a smoker for striking a match. Moreover, your bratty insistence that I pay you notice seemed to me to border on a cartoonish-hell of calumny, and I have been so busy not reading or answering ersatz calumnies directed my way that I simply haven’t had time to not read or respond to yours.

That said, I am heartily in favor of what you are doing with the social rhetoric now inspiring so much angst, passion, confusion, and truly wonderous cowardice among the self-identified (in hideous current vernacular) “woke” subjects in ascendance. It is furthering a churning sense of general disorientation among the society in which you work, which has already successfully morphed into an all-encompassing and perpetual high school lunchroom. 

I have been particularly interested to observe that, even as hierarchies in general are being derided and targeted for disruption elsewhere, your subjects so willingly cling to that particular pecking order in which the elect “cool kids” direct the social discourse while the descending leagues of “uncool nobodies” who comprise the multitudes either try to keep up or seek escape. Either action sends them into the fields of rejection and isolation, where we so often do some of our best work. 

The cowardice is key, of course, to the daily furtherance of confused illogic that is roiling the masses; it is the nearly hidden peripheral by-product of your lunchroom modeling. The go-along-to-get-along mindset (by any means necessary, if it means inclusion at the elite tables) is motivated, of course, by an underlying fear of exclusion. Thus, they swear quick allegiance to each day’s new rules (and actually believe themselves to be courageous in so doing), when in fact they’ll make a terrified grab at any rationalization needed if it means never seeming out of touch.  Humans prepared to go along with demonstrable unrealities for the sake of social cache will be most unlikely to defend (or even comprehend) all that hyper-Reality which art in...well, the above.  

Continue on that course, Wormwood, and by all means, encourage your lunchroom “kings and queens”—or as your precedence-obsessed lightweights might insist, your “queens and kings”—to identify new ways of taking offense. Let them scold and demand apologies scripted with all the correct buzzwords, until even the paid jesters will dare not make a joke and laughter has become routinely suppressed—except when jeering is both expedient and approved. 

When you have inhibited or narrowed within humans the ability to find anything funny—particularly when they are no longer psychologically fit enough, or brave enough, to function within the wise and powerful habit of self-effacing humor that signifies a healthy viewpoint—then you will have really done something! Let humorlessness fed by omniscient victimhood become the fashion!

Meanwhile, permit me to enumerate two ways you have authentically—and rather spectacularly, in fact—earned my praise:

1) You have successfully and fully perverted the lesson of that troublesome bald-headed tentmaker, who wrote, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” The endless mewling of yankee-doodle mediocrities seeking validation of their every dandy thought and action not only keeps everyone perpetually self-focused and utterly distracted from true issues (remind me to check in with your Auntie Tawdry about the latest stores of chemical and nuclear weapons and which madman has the most, would you?), it also keeps them from looking at the cruci…the cruci…that blasted piece of wood upon which the Reality of “strength” through “weakness” gives its blatant testimony and so often confounds us. Well done, there, indeed.

2) In prompting this latest in the endless rounds of American offense-taking, you are successfully keeping people from seeing each other as anything but ew

I do not mean ewe, as in the baa-lamb of the shepherd’s concerns, but ew—the backwards disorientation of the word “we” that translates into “ugh, them.” 

When people feel they absolutely must participate in a protest about the right to wear yoga pants, when they spend countless hours howling for or against the latest media-made distraction, there is no time for filthy altruism. I find this delightful! A people kept comfortable enough (and distracted enough) to prattle away at protests, parades, and the punctilious parsing of picayune ideas are a people who believe themselves too busy (and perhaps too important) to volunteer as visitors to long-term care patients in hospital; they are too tied up to take granny to the mall for a little companionship and an insipid frozen yogurt. 

People whose feelings demand public validation, or public demands for same, haven’t really got time to connect with the desperately lonely teenager who is discovering opiates, or with the immigrant neighbor working in a community garden; they are kept too busy to notice the formerly outgoing child who has turned silent and inward because of the physical or mental abuses she is being subjected to.

This is stellar work—and on the surface it looks so banal, which is doubly effective.

Again, I say, well done, nephew. Keep these Americans glued to their social media feeds, searching for the next outrageous outrage that can keep them off-balance, self-medicated, and convinced they are the true purveyors of meaning in a foolishly backward world. When it all becomes a bit more difficult for them—as prosperity flees and the old reliable and trustworthy institutions of governance and information crumble through corruption, complacency, and ego—and the churches are prevented from reaching out to help, it will be delightful to settle in and watch.

I might even invite you and Auntie Tawdry over for a bit of punch and popcorn for the show.

Your pleased uncle,
Screwtape

About the Author

Elizabeth Scalia

Elizabeth Scalia

Elizabeth Scalia is a Benedictine Oblate and author of several books including the award-winning Strange Gods: Unma...

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