Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Letter #4

My dear Blankweed,
                                                We’ve spent enough time for now considering how to manage your patient while she’s visiting the Enemy’s camp. It is equally important that we focus our efforts on other aspects of her life, because these will also influence whether she returns to church and what she does while she’s there.  There are many paths we might explore here, but let’s start with the bigger picture.
Your patient is, I see from the details of the dossier, middle class, well educated, and reasonably affluent. Furthermore, she’s married, with a family, and she’s at a critical point in her career.  Because of the latter point, there is pressure on her in terms of time, levels of achievement, and also, oddly enough, in terms of appearance – by which I mean her own physical appearance (right clothes, right grooming) and the appearance of her lifestyle.
There is an important distinction to be made between a life and a lifestyle. The life of an individual is experienced moment by moment by the individual themselves: waking up in the morning and feeling the warmth of the bed and the light through the curtains , deciding whether to get out of bed or not, looking out of the window to observe the weather, heading to the bathroom and so on. A life, as it is lived, is experienced in the present. And the present, as you know, intersects with eternity in ways that present specific dangers. And the Enemy wants his creatures to focus on their life, this present moment.   We have not yet managed to create life as such, but we have managed something better: the illusion of a lifestyle. This is a particular condition, experienced only by the educated and wealthy, and it is entirely our own invention, and a very successful invention at that.
While a life is experienced by an individual in the present, a lifestyle is designed to be seen by others.  When a human focuses on their “lifestyle” they focus on something – a home, a piece of clothing or furniture, - as it will be viewed and valued by other people. Let me give you an example. Imagine two women planning new kitchens for their homes. The first woman, focusing on her life, will view the kitchen by her own values: she will ask questions of herself such as will it be functional, will it be beautiful (according to how I view beauty), will it be fun for my family to cook and eat in? Whereas the second woman, who is viewing a new kitchen through the lens of a lifestyle , will primarily concern herself with whether it will be admired by others.  The former may talk about “my beautiful kitchen” but the latter will talk about “my bespoke kitchen”. 

                                                       Tempting her to the perfect, stress-free lifestyle
 We develop ideas about lifestyle primarily through the media and advertising, although the idea of a lifestyle is contagious, that is, it can be passed from one person to another like a virus through envy or greed.  Magazines are most useful in developing the idea of a lifestyle:  we encourage the editors to paint images of celebrities and their lifestyles, eg women who “have it all” – handsome successful husbands, beautiful children, large homes, fashionable clothes from the “right” shops or designers, “fairy tale weddings”, and their own businesses or endorsements. Critical to these images are photographs, which showcase the celebrities and their perfect lifestyles.  Of course these photographs present a false image:  we don’t see pictures of such celebrities screaming at their cook or nanny, weeping with tiredness,  or throwing heavy vases at the handsome husband who has come home  to the beautiful house late from the office again.  Instead the celebrity is beautifully presented, as designed by a team of the magazine staff, placed in a carefully designed context, and  posed in a position of perfect happiness.
You’d think, even with their minuscule intelligence, that they’d see through it, and at some level they do.  They know that no life is so simple or perfect, and that such an image is false, transitory and cannot be developed without a large staff. But these images are insidious – and of course they present wonderful material for us to work with. Because we can suggest, over time, gently, that they too should look like this (even though they haven’t got the money, the staff or the time) and have a lifestyle like this.
We can also lean in heavily with less obvious images. “Lifestyle” magazines present ways to develop your house to present a particular look. Advertisements show images of ideal children perfectly behaved and manicured, or women or families who look a particular way. Real estate agents design house advertisements as providing a lifestyle (“buy the house/clothes/accessories and buy the lifestyle” is the line we train them to take).  Of course, once they buy the house, the clothes, the accessories, or the art work and first editions if they’re the arty types, or the gym gear or fishing rods if they’re sporty types, they find that the lifestyle does not automatically arrive with it (and indeed it can’t, because it’s pure illusion). You’d think they’d wake up then, but this is where we do our best work:  we suggest simply that they haven’t got the right house/clothes/accessories, and so the whole cycle of spending starts again.
I’ve known humans who have bankrupted their families in pursuit of a lifestyle.  I’ve seen children ground down with the weight of parental expectations that they conform to images in the media, or confined to a small space in front of a television because they’re not allowed to play in any of the carefully designed rooms in their own home.  I’ve seen spouses of both sexes sink into depression or commit suicide because they can’t provide or live up to the lifestyle expectations of their partners or parents - or even children.  We’re so lucky in our work, Blankweed – we can have such fun! We have them chasing mirages, one mirage after another, and, handled carefully, they don’t wake up until their final moment when all mirages are seen for what they truly are.
Even the Enemy’s followers can be lured into the temptation of a lifestyle.  Christian bookshops and television programmes love to present images of the perfect life led by those who commit themselves to the Enemy’s service. Look around the average Christian bookstore and you’ll see shining images on the book covers  of broad-shouldered, suited men, with thick hair and dazzling smiles,  with an arm around a woman with perfectly groomed hair and face,  and five perfect, clean children. Read the inside covers and you’ll find that the men are heads of large corporations, the women homeschooling their five perfect children (plus three adopted from orphanages abroad), while managing a small business successful enough to support a staff of 10 happy workers.  Turn to the Enemy, these books imply, and your life will be transformed: your teeth will straighten, your husband become successful, your children become model citizens who never answer back, and you will be imbued with super-human abilities. Quelle rire!   Not only is this a mirage, but in this way we transform turning to the Enemy into nothing more than a means to an end. He’s not very keen on that.  
In some ways you could call this obsession with lifestyle greed or envy or vanity, but it’s more subtle than that. It feeds on greed and envy, but patients are generally aware of those emotions, and do not rate them highly, and so are in danger of resisting them.  But with the lifestyle mirage they won’t even be aware of the danger they’re in.  I’ve known men who consider themselves honourable, virtuous, and kind, who nevertheless ruin their families and their lives in pursuit of a lifestyle.
Now, your patient, because of her class, is eminently suited to these kinds of temptations. The poor are generally not so vulnerable because they’re too busy keeping a life together (though we’re working on it). And oddly enough the long-term wealthy are not so vulnerable to it either, because, able to buy anything they want, they become aware of the true value of possessions.  But those who are rich enough to have all they need but not all they want are perfectly positioned for the temptation to aspire to a lifestyle.
                                                       Tempt her with the country cottage lifestyle...
What we need to decide, then, is what kind of “lifestyle” is your patient most vulnerable to? She lives on the outskirts of a small town: is she therefore the type to hanker after the lifestyle cottage,  with designer gumboots at the door, a springer spaniel by her side,  and a country kitchen?  Or can she be tempted to turn her house into a small art depository or antiques museum? Can we feed her the superwoman myth: the image of a woman, dressed in a perfect suit who waves goodbye to her perfectly manicured children in the morning, manages her brilliant career during the day, and then comes home to nurture her family with homemade bread and soup and apple pie made with apples from her own garden?   
                                                        Or maybe she's more vulnerable to the Superwoman myth?
Ferret out her dream, Blankweed, and then feed it with magazines and reality TV programmes.  In such a way we can encourage her to look with distaste at her home, her furniture,  her clothes, her children and partner, and even her own image in the mirror – even though these things are, by the standards of most of the world, pleasing and desirable as they are.  We can encourage her to spend more than she can afford on things she doesn’t need, sow discord with her partner who may not share the same lifestyle dream (even better if he has a different lifestyle dream of his own!), and establish a pattern of hope and despair , and a growing bitterness, that will leave her with little time or energy to pursue her temporary, half-hearted interest in the Enemy.
Concentrate, Blankweed – and enjoy the game!

Your affectionate friend


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Letter #3

My dear Blankweed,
                                                Now please settle down and stop bombarding me with questions. I know you’re anxious, but this patient is young and we have time on our side. Remember, we’re playing a long game here.
I’m a little puzzled by your attitude to time, incidentally. These humans live constricted by time, not us. So I’m not entirely sure where your “what if” questions come from. However, let’s look at one of you “what if” questions as an illustration of a general principle.
“What if, “ you ask, “ she decides to go to one of the tradition services at this church she’s attending? All your advice would then not apply. What would I do?”.  Blankweed, it is all perfectly straight forward: you simply keep a level head (admittedly, something you don’t seem to find easy) and change strategy.
Human beings are forever engaging with these types of questions. Should I take this path or that? Which would be the better option? Young adult humans can get totally caught up in such questions, almost as if they believe that there is one right route for their lives which they somehow have to guess at. Even those engaged in the Enemy’s service can get caught up in these kinds of questions: what does the Enemy want them to do now?? How will they know? Should they move to this town or stay where they are? Should they go to this church or another? Ironically enough, for both the Enemy and for us, these questions are, generally, irrelevant. They’re irrelevant to the Enemy because he simply wants them to engage in the right way in any path they take. You’d think His instructions were pretty straight forward: rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances sound like simple enough instructions to me.  Or love justice, show mercy, and walk humbly with your G--.  That’s all He wants. But of course we like to tangle them up in theological knots, so that even a single one of these instructions becomes complicated and fraught with difficulty.
For us, these questions are irrelevant because they simply offer different opportunities requiring different strategies. This is the principle you need to understand: any situation offers different but equal opportunities.  It simply doesn’t matter which kind of service she goes to, Blankweed.  A “low” family service and a higher or more traditional service offer the same level of opportunity for distraction and temptation: we simply employ a different strategy. The only exception to this rule is a decision to serve or not serve the Enemy. When a terrible event such as this arises, when a human is faced with this decision, we really are against the wall. But if – hopefully not when – this happens,  we’ll send back up. You won’t face such a terrible event alone.  Of course, the Enemy will employ an army. But we have armies too.  Harmwink and his staff are, as we speak, developing new weapons that will be impervious to the Enemy’s attacks.  Or so we hope.
But let us continue with an exploration of this particular case.  If your patient decides to continues to attend the family service, then we bombard her, as I outlined in my previous letter, with issues to do with unfamiliarity. As I say, humans hate feeling out of place. But if she decides to attend a traditional service, then we bombard her with temptations or distractions based on her contempt of the familiar. Because, curiously enough, while humans hate change and feeling out of place, they are also contemptuous of the familiar and immune to the dangers it presents.
When your patient sits in a traditional service, she may initially feel peacefully at home, and of course that is a very bad thing. But with a little skill, after a short period of time,  you can both distract her and/or fuel her discontent.  First, distract her. Let her revel in the poetry of the language, as if alliteration and metaphor were the equivalent of prayer.  As long as her focus is on the words themselves rather than their meaning, and her engagement with and affirmation of that meaning, then she might just as well be reading or listening to Dylan Thomas.
If you’re feeling really artful, then you could make this “love of language” the primary reason for attending church: make her an expert on ecclesiastical language if you like. Of course, there’s always danger in humans being exposed to prayer in any form, even its most turgid, but if you can get her to say the responses for the sheer joy of how they sound, or the way they transport her back to “a more innocent time” (there’s that nostalgia theme again!), or even for their theological appropriateness or subtlety, then those prayers are of no use to the Enemy at all, in fact may become actual barriers between your patient and the Enemy. Make her feel strongly about how the words should be said, so that if one service leader says the words in a way other than the way she prefers, she can be absorbed in impatience.
Alternatively, fuel the little beast with discontent. As I say, humans are, in some strange way, contemptuous of things that are familiar to them.  We work on marriages by fuelling this contempt of the familiar: a woman can be contemptuous of the man she once loved and disregard all his needs and everything he says simply because she’s seen him in his pyjamas every day for 20 years. In the same way, we can encourage people working in the same place for a long period of time to become dissatisfied with their work, even if it is, objectively speaking, interesting and well-paid work, solely on the grounds that they feel they’ve done it all before.  Even though both work and relationships are forever changing in subtle and complex ways, human beings can be made blind to this fact because they have this sense they’ve seen it/heard it all before.  Contempt of the familiar: it’s a fun tune to play!
So, if the words of the service or the hymns are familiar to her, play on her contempt. The church hasn’t changed in 30 years, so how can it possibly have anything relevant to say to the modern world? How can something couched in the language of the 19th Century have relevance to a world imbued with technology undreamed of 150 years ago? Who are these people, sitting in the church listening to and saying the same old words week after week, and not even seeing the world change around them? Are they stuck in a time warp, some theological bubble? If you’re really playing your cards carefully, she could even sing those hymns and say those words ironically, enjoying the language but playfully delighted by her sense of their irrelevance.
With any luck, these people in the pews will generally be older than she is – in fact, most of them will probably be a lot older. We have done a sterling job over the last 50 years in the Western world of instilling in younger people (ie those under 40) a fear of the elderly. The outcome has been excellent: it means that the elderly feel side-lined, neglected, invisible, and helpless, and any wisdom the older generations might pass on to the younger ones will be entirely unheard. I’ve looked in the church report: there are some powerful members of the Enemy’s ground troops attending this service, which should present a real danger to us in regard to your patient. But there is no danger: she’ll look around the church and see a mop of grey curls and bald heads, and some very unsightly cardigans and baggy trousers, and she’ll steer well away.
You see, Blankweed, it’s all a matter of strategy. Any situation offers unique opportunities that we can exploit to our advantage. Learning to turn on a pin and think on your feet can be a very satisfying experience. And if you can’t think quickly, enrol in a remedial course in contingency planning.
Your affectionate friend