The Folly of Intellect: A Demon’s Reflections

The Folly of Intellect: A Demon’s Reflections August 5, 2015


In the spirit of C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters.

It has come to my attention that there is some concern amongst certain of the junior tempters regarding the spread of the idea of “equality” among the intellectual classes. These concerns came to light following an address made to the graduating class by my dear colleague, Under Secretary Screwtape. As you will be well aware, elitism has long been one of our primary tools for conforming men to our own image and this fad for egalitarianism might, to some, seem an obstacle to our designs. One young devil writes: “Is there not a risk that those who pass for excellent amongst the humans will, having been taught that all humans are equal, be prevented from overestimating their own talents and thus become genuinely humble?”

The fact that such a question need even be asked leaves some serious doubts in my mind regarding the current state of our education system here below, but none the less I will try to answer his objection.

He seems to believe that if gifted students are taught to regard their fellows as their equals, that they will come to really think and act as if this were the case. Naturally this is exactly what the Enemy wants, and if our machinations actually produced such results it would be a very serious problem indeed. Fortunately, with but a little work, we are are able to produce precisely the opposite effect. The intelligent student will, especially under proper guidance by his tempter, quickly come to reduce “equality” to a vague abstraction, certainly true in some lofty sense, but hardly applicable in his actual dealings with other human beings. He will perceive that his fellows are not, in fact, his equals in intelligence, and if handled properly will come to believe that they are not really his equals at all.

The most important thing is to convince him that the people around him are markedly inferior. With a little work he can be made to assume that intellectual superiority is equivalent to superiority in everything that matters — superior morality, superior sensibility, and of course superior value. Bring him to believe that everyone less intelligent than himself is a mindless sheep incapable of real thought. Show him how the simpering masses are concerned only with petty and irrelevant things (naturally he is never to be allowed to realize that he considers everything petty and irrelevant which he is not personally interested in.) Then instil in him a strong sense of condescending responsibility for these blubbering simpletons. Convince him that if left to their own devices they will inflict all of the most heinous atrocities on each other, and that he must, therefore, assume authority over them to prevent this state of affairs from coming about. (Do not worry — he will almost certainly fail to notice that the vast majority of truly atrocious deeds have been performed under the guidance of geniuses.)

It can also be very useful to produce in him a strong sense of disciplinary snobbery. If he is a writer, let him be convinced that scientists are dry and boring and completely lacking in the aesthetic sensibilities. If he is a mathematician let him believe that the liberal arts are all bunk on the basis that philosophical and sociological theories cannot be proven with mathematical certainty. This sort of distrust between disciplines has been invaluable to us for two reasons. First, because it prevents the arising of any sort of Renaissance man who might bring together the rigorous mental discipline of the sciences with the intuitions and understanding of human nature produced by the arts. So long as these two are divided, the scientist can easily neglect to notice that his materialistic axioms account only for scientific fact and not for human nature, while the artist can be kept in such a state of mental dissolution that for all his psychological insights he can hardly put two and two together rightly in his head. This is imperative, since a balanced philosophy which really accounts for both the created world and the human creatures who inhabit it will almost invariably lead to belief in, and respect for, the Enemy.

Secondly, these disciplinary divisions allow us to pass off a smattering of knowledge in an unknown field as a genuine knowledge of all of the most important developments therein. Simply introduce your human to a summary of some of the more dubious recent developments in a discipline about which he has no real knowledge, and then allow him to draw conclusions based on this information. Thus a philosophy student with no ability to criticize a scientific theory may be convinced, by the application of some pop-physics, that science has conclusively ruled out the Enemy’s existence. And of course, conversely, the scientists can be taught just enough of modern philosophy to think that it is the philosophers who have proven that He is merely a myth.

Once you have convinced your charge that he is superior to his peers, he may then be made to believe that he is also greater than all of his teachers. Naturally, in order to serve the masses, his teachers will be forced to teach at a level significantly below that of your budding “genius.” Thus he can easily be led to think that, since he knows more than the teacher is teaching, he must also know more than the teacher knows. (You will be astonished at how easily it is kept from their minds that their elders may not, in a single year, be able to communicate the entirety of their wisdom to a class full of morons.) From here it is a small step to convince him that he knows more than all adults. This will be helped along especially if you have successfully implemented the routines for convincing young humans that their parents are idiots. Both his classes and the media will feed him absurdly simplified versions of all the world’s most complicated problems. In this form he will easily be able to solve them, and thus his burgeoning sense of self-importance can be further bolstered by the belief that he, a mere student, is able to solve problems that have baffled the world’s experts and politicians for centuries.

Now serve him a simplified version of each of the great thinkers of the past. Let him believe that the single paragraph that appears in his philosophy textbook really encapsulates everything that is to be found in Descartes’ Meditations or in the complete works of Plato. Naturally these simplifications will be just that — overly simplified. Let him notice this, and from it let him conclude that the entire thought of each of the great philosophers is simplistic and easily refuted. If this is not entirely successful, you may want to suggest that the old thinkers are not particularly advanced — a term which need mean no more than that they are old. At this point he can easily be led into a pattern of thinking in which he is convinced that he is considerably more intelligent than anyone who has gone before him. Naturally, he must never be allowed to consciously articulate this belief, or else he will almost certainly appreciate that it is absurd. Simply leave it percolating at the back of his mind so that all of his thoughts and actions will be coloured with an exaggerated self-satisfaction and disdain for other men.

Should it ever occur to him that he should actually read some of the philosophers before merely dismissing them, suggest that there’s not a lot of good in reading out-dated thinkers like Aristotle or Plato (I assume that you will never allow him to think of dangerous men like Augustine and Aquinas as philosophers at all — let him call them “theologians” and associate this word with a sort of veil of antiquated superstition.) Instead convince him to start at the end. Allow his pride to disguise from him the fact that he hasn’t the background to really understand the modern thinkers, but let him be so impressed with how clever they sound that he unthinkingly adopts the worst possible parody of their conclusions.

If these instructions are properly employed, you should find that there is no difficulty in raising up in your subject both an unconquerable pride and an unshakable atheism.

With greatest affection,

Tempter’s College, Secretary of Propaganda

Photo credit: Pixabay

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