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


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