Saturday, April 13

The real devils among us

In an old, yellowing manuscript, that had all but faded from the dreams of its author, I rediscovered a story I had quickly sketched out, which today seems to hold an eerie significance.

It tells a tale of some ostensibly pious villagers who had garnered the power to vanish, their invisibility giving them license to torment newcomers to their town with phantom visitations. In this guise, they preyed on the superstitions and fears of potential new converts who all panicked and ran screaming into the comforting, controlling arms of the Church. One might scoff at the crudeness of this metaphor, and yet, my parable looks to have outlived its fictional vessel to incarnate in the so-called enlightened societies of today.  

The 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump—no angel obviously—and yet rather than create an honorable opposition, somehow gave a perverse permission slip to institutions to engage in their own forms of mendacity and manipulation. A strange alchemy occurred: the more the establishment reviled Trump, the more they took on his worst aspects under the veneer of self-righteousness.

We watched as stories of great consequence were conveniently eclipsed to shield the high-profile personages of particular political leanings. Major news outlets once considered impartial stewards of information, now seemed like lackeys of a faction, besmirching the good name of journalism. This new establishment didn’t need invisibility to work its dark magic; it had something far more powerful: the manipulative use of language, the wilful distortion of fact, and the amplification or suppression of events to suit its narrative.

And while we’re traversing the globe, let us hover over New Zealand. Here, a high-profile activist just last week rejoiced in the cowardice of others, gleefully applauding the withdrawal of a women’s rights advocate from public events due to threats to her safety. The activist’s pride in this cravenness is not just local news but, according to this stinker, a “positive message” to broadcast globally. One shudders to think what degraded version of “positivity” is being promulgated.

The organized Left—once a bastion for free speech, equality, and social justice—has become drunk on the heady wine of identitarianism, losing its way in the maze of its own making. The politics of identity have eclipsed the quest for universal values, and in doing so, mutated into a grotesque facsimile of the very far-right extremism it purports to fight. The great irony lies here: In their incessant mission to highlight the pervasive evils they claim to battle, they have themselves become the embodiment of these forces.

In my cobwebbed tale of the invisible Christians, the characters justified their maleficent manipulations by claiming to fight a greater evil—the devil. In doing so, they manifested a power that, until their scheme, wasn’t even real. In their lust for power, they manipulated fear and ignorance, the twin devils of any society. Today’s wielders of influence seem to have leafed through the same dark playbook. They may not vanish in the literal sense, but they engage in a different kind of disappearing act: the erasure of honesty, the disappearance of critical debate, and the nullification of the very values they claim to uphold.

So, let’s not pretend that we are merely passive spectators of some unfolding drama. Our society has become a theatre of the absurd, where visibility is granted to the loudest and most divisive among us, and obscurity is the punishment for those who dare to question their paper devils. I may need to blow the dust off my story.

Every good yarn has its season.