Looking Evil in the Eye: Pretense

In my series of posts regarding aspects of evil found in our culture, I want to add this post due to its relevance to our current cultural and political makeup. I’m using the word “makeup “on purpose. Beyond it denoting a milieu or environment the word also connotes the topic of this post ~ pretense.

In his book People of the Lie:  The Hope for Healing Human Evil, Dr. M. Scott Peck writes in the chapter titled “The Encounter with Evil in Everyday Life” that

 “The issue of naming (evil) is a theme of this work. It has already been touched on in diverse instances: science has failed to name evil as a subject for scrutiny; the name evil does not appear in the psychiatric lexicon; we have been reluctant to label specific individuals with the name evil; in their presence, therefore, we may experience a nameless dread or revulsion; yet the naming of evil is not without danger.

To name something correctly gives us a certain amount of power over it. Through its name we identify it.  We are powerless over a disease until we can accurately name it…The treatment begins with its diagnosis.  But is evil an illness? Many would not consider it so.  There are a number of reasons why one might be reluctant to classify evil as a disease.  Some are emotional. For instance, we are accustomed to feel pity and sympathy for those who are ill, but the emotions that evil invoke in us are anger and disgust, if not actual hate…

Beyond our emotional reactions, there are three rational reasons that make us hesitate to regard evil as an illness…I shall nonetheless take the position that evil should indeed be regarded as a mental illness.”

Dr. Peck goes on to discuss the three reasons. I will use summary quotes.

 “The first holds that people should not be considered ill unless they are suffering pain or disability – that there is no such thing as an illness without suffering….it is characteristic of the evil that, in their narcissism, they believe that there is nothing wrong with them, that they are psychologically perfect human specimens…For we realize that their inability to define themselves as ill in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary is actually part of the illness itself…The use of the concept of emotional suffering to define disease is also faulty in several other respects. As I noted in The Road Less Traveled, it is often the most spiritually healthy and advanced among us who are called on to suffer in ways more agonizing than anything experienced by the more ordinary.  Great leaders, when wise and well, are likely to endure degrees of anguish unknown to the common man. Conversely, it is the unwillingness to suffer emotional pain that usually lies at the root of emotional illness.  Those who fully experience depression, doubt, confusion and despair may be infinitely more healthy than those who are generally certain, complacent and self satisfied.  The denial of suffering is, in fact, a better definition of illness than its acceptance.

The evil deny the suffering of their guilt – the painful awareness of their sin, inadequacy and imperfection – by casting their pain onto others through projection and scapegoating.  They themselves may not suffer, but those around them do.  They cause suffering.  The evil create for those under their dominion a miniature sick society.”…

 Finally, who is to say what the evil suffer? It is consistently true that the evil do not appear to suffer deeply.  Because they cannot admit to weakness or imperfection in themselves, they must appear this way.  They must appear to themselves to be continually on top of things, continually in command.  Their narcissism demands it…

Think of the psychic energy required for the continued maintenance of the pretense so characteristic of the evil!…”

“I said that there are two other reasons one might hesitate to label evil as an illness…One is the notion that someone who is ill must be a victim….One way or another, to some extent, all these people (the evil) and a host of others victimize themselves. Their motives, failures and choices are deeply and intimately involved in the creation of their injuries and diseases….

The final argument against labeling evil an illness is the belief that evil is a seemingly untreatable condition…It is the central proposition of this book that evil can and should be subjected to scientific scrutiny…It would, I believe, be quite appropriate to classify evil people as constituting a specific variant of the narcissistic personality disorder.”

Dr. Peck goes on to describe this variant of personality disorder:

“In addition to the abrogation of responsibility that characterizes all personality disorders, this one would specifically be distinguished by:

(a)    consistent destructive, scapegoating behavior, which may often be quite subtle.

(b)    excessive, albeit usually covert, intolerance to criticism and other forms of narcissistic injury.

(c)    Pronounced concern with a public injury and self-image of respectability, contributing to a stability of life-style but also to pretentiousness and denial of hateful feelings or vengeful motives.

(d)   Intellectual deviousness, with an increased likelihood of a mild schizophrenic-like disturbance of thinking at time of stress.

But there is another vital reason to correctly name evil:  the healing of its victims.”

(all emphasis -bold type- mine) 

*****************

 Over the course of some sixty years I have encountered some distinctly evil people.  The common characteristic of their personality is the veneer of pretense with which they surround their lives.  Perhaps, instead of the word “veneer” the word “mirror” would better convey the 360 degree reflection of themselves they so desire.

In their mind’s eye they see themselves in a grandiose role, a self-assessed worthy role (remember Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Lady Macbeth?). To support their ‘self-thesis’ the pretentious will seek out others who will regard them in the same way ~ a Super Pac to fund a super ego (the three witches met Macbeth; his ego chose to ‘believe’ their words). Pretentious people will demand to be seen in their ‘light’ only. You become to them only a speck in their shadow.

Those, of course, who can rightly see what every one else can see will disagree. And, if they make any statement contrary to the ‘fairy tale’ narrative imposed they will be called deniers and ignorant or worse. 

Today our nation has a President who fits all of the above characteristics of pretense. God help us.

Jesus said, “If the light in you is darkness how great is that darkness.”

Jesus’ perfect love can cast out fear…and evil.

~~~~~

I liken the characteristic of pretense to the walls of Jericho:   The huge stone walls of Jericho looked invincible. Yet, after seven days of marching around the façade with God’s presence (the Ark) in the lead and with ram’s horns blowing on the seventh day, the walls fell down; the city of Jericho became indefensible. My how the mighty façades have fallen over the years.

Unwrapping Up

This past year has been an incredibly agonizing one for me due to unexpected family events and the subsequent heartrending trauma that accompanies such a trajectory.  At the same time, though, I’ve become increasingly aware of a fundamental shift going on in my own nature – the shedding of my flimsy oft pretentious human nature to reveal Substantial Reality.  The nexus between these two versions of my person has been continued prayer for others and a regular partaking of the Eucharist.

 The whole divestment process has not been easy. In fact, it has been acutely painful, its unpleasantness much like what Eustace described to Edmund in C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawntreader.  Here Eustace relates his dragon skin being torn off by Aslan.

 “The water was as clear as anything and I thought if I could get in there and bathe it would ease the pain in my leg. but the lion told me I must undress first. Mind you, I don’t know if he said any words out loud or not.

I was just going to say that I couldn’t undress because I hadn’t any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that’s what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bathe.

But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as they had been before. Oh, that’s all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I’ll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this underskin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe.

Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, however many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.

Then the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

The very first tear he made was do deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know – if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.

Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there I was as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again. You’d think me simply phoney if I told you how I felt about my own arms. I know they’ve no muscle and are pretty mouldy compared with Caspian’s, but I was so glad to see them.

After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me – (with his paws?) – Well, I don’t exactly remember that bit. But he did somehow or other: in new clothes – the same I’ve got on now, as a matter of fact. and then suddenly I was back here. Which is what makes me think it must have been a dream.”

Here’s what is being peeled away from me (not for the queasy!):

 – A sentimentality of the kind that keeps my soul inbred, subservient to its self-rationalizing self-pity.

 – The desire to control a situation or someone to obtain a pleasant outcome, to soften reality’s blow and effectively deny its painful truth. 

 – Pretense.

 – The need to look good so as to impress others with my abilities, the need to compete for another’s attention hoping to gain the pride of place.

 – The impulse to take action when waiting would be the most prudent – not easy, but prudent.

– The lack of acceptance at face-value of knowledge presented as feminine – intuitive, passive, receptive.

 – The lack of acceptance of wisdom as a gift from God and therefore not derived as a human accomplishment.

The list, the shedding, goes on…

 As this painful process continues I am beginning to see my Real self emerging. This in turn has invoked in me a need to return to my baptismal vows and to those baptismal waters that I at one time had thought only help serve to moisten and seal the earnest of one’s inheritance in Christ.  Little attention did I pay to my rapidly developing dragon skin. 

 Today, by fire and trial and Aslan’s claws, I am being freed of the hardened outer layer of self-protection and I am submersing myself in the waters of my baptism.  In doing so, I, the vulnerable suppliant I, has become alive to the REAL – the “perfectly delicious” Real.

 This peeling away is all about knowing Christ and the fellowship of His sufferings. That is True Reality.

The Age of Outrage: Incensed Sensibilities

  

In terms of human nature I do not know that our world is much different from all the worlds of centuries past. Human nature appears to be a constant. But I do see that today because of the enormous reach of instant electronic media we are at any given moment enjoined to take offense at anything perceived to be an attack on the rosy perception we have of ourselves and our world.  We will even take offense for others whose shoes we are not wearing. The general response to any perceived threat to the safety net, our egos, is often to tweet ourselves and others with word-packets of rage. Misery loves communication. Just ask Obama.

Obama has an #attackwatch Twitter website (attackwatch.com) set up by his campaign people to gather reports about attacks on Obama’s record.  The site invites you to snitch on your neighbor in order to intercept smears to Obama’s mirrors.

Today, for the most part, narcissism is the ‘I-cad’ battery behind the hardware and software of every electronic gadget purchased for personal communication. And once powered up, every gadget is attuned to the mirror on the wall affixing our image clearly in cyberspace. The  “human” part of the gadget’s human machine interface (HMI) is easily prone to having its ego front and center where it will stand ready and waiting for an offense, for its sensibilities to be stirred to anger. It may take only one indirect affront to reach the tipping point. When that happens, outrage will then be projected onto everyone around us causing human interface disconnects go viral.

As the word “outrage” suggests, we do not keep our offended selves to ourselves.  We blast the horn loudly. We rise up on our hind legs and make a fierce growling sound in direction of the perceived offender. We lash out. We strike. We mock and jeer. We demonstrate, we march and we riot. We “flash” our rancor into vigilantism and mob action. We jump the shark with self-righteous responses, pummeling others with our heavy-handed diatribes. Cooler heads do not prevail. Instead, hot heads storm the gates of decency and respect. Our egos deem that the “other” has not been fair or there has not been adequate homage to our feelings. We text ourselves and to others ‘We deserve better”.

 So, in this Age of Outrage with it electronically vaunted egos and its absence of meekness and personal contentment, with all of its rants and its plethora of pretense and aborted conversations and with the death of civility lying everywhere around you you end up getting exactly what you deserve – more of yourself.

“All of civility depends on being able to contain the rage of individuals.”
Joshua Lederberg, American Molecular Biologist

“Treat others the way you want to be treated.” Jesus

*****

AttackWatch Update:

“By contrast, Reagan and both Bushes dealt with attacks either with good humor in the former case or by ignoring them in the latter. One criticism of President George W. Bush is that he ignored attacks a little too much, allowing some of the accusations to take hold without a response. “

Source:  http://news.yahoo.com/attack-watch-snitch-focus-internet-fun-195600841.html

Pretense, Part 2: The World Has Become a Jerry Springer Show

The following short article was written six years ago.  Read it and take a look around today. What do you see?

Theodore Dalrymple
Law Isn’t Enough

City Journal, Autumn 2005

Recently in London a correspondent of a left-liberal Dutch newspaper interviewed me, a decent, civilized sort—one of us, in short. I am sure that he brought up his children to say please and thank you, probably in several languages.

He asked me why I had chosen recently to move from England to France. I said that I thought France was a decade or two behind Britain in cultural decline. It had maintained certain standards a little better than Britain—though, I added, I could see that it was heading in the same direction.

He asked me what evidence I had for my claim. Well, I replied, crime in France was approaching British levels; in some places, it was even worse, at least for serious crimes of violence.

Another straw in the wind was the rising number of tattooed and pierced young people on view, as well as tattoo and piercing parlors. Ten years ago, you hardly ever saw a tattooed person in France: now they are everywhere. The small and ancient town, solidly bourgeois, near where I live has such a parlor, purveying savage kitsch to young fools. Le Monde published a little while back a profile of the acclaimed French writer Ann Scott, whose work makes Baudelaire’s seem a bit like that of Ella Wheeler Wilcox. Scott has a large and prominent tattoo of a swallow on her neck. Critics claim that her latest book, describing heroin addiction and lesbian love, has a terrible beauty, as well as near-emetic properties.

The correspondent asked me: what was wrong with tattooing, if that was how people wanted to adorn themselves?

I asked him whether he would have himself tattooed—whether he would be happy if his teenaged children had themselves tattooed—and if not, why not? After all, if he would not like it, he must have some inner objection to tattooing.

True, he said, but tattooing was not illegal. And since even I, who deprecated it, did not think that it should be illegal, there was nothing further to say about it. If tattooing was legal, it was thus of no social, moral, or cultural significance.

I tried to point out some of the cultural meanings of the vogue for tattooing. First, it was aesthetically worse than worthless. Tattoos were always kitsch, implying not only the absence of taste but the presence of dishonest emotion.

Second, the vogue represented a desperate (and rather sad) attempt on a mass scale to achieve individuality and character by means of mere adornment, which implied both intellectual vacuity and unhealthy self-absorption.

And third, it represented mass downward cultural and social aspiration, since everyone understood that tattooing had a traditional association with low social class and, above all, with aggression and criminality. It was, in effect, a visible symbol of the greatest, though totally ersatz, virtue of our time: an inclusive unwillingness to make judgments of morality or value.

But the correspondent’s premise that the legality of an act was the sole criterion by which one could or should judge it chilled me. It is a sinister premise. It makes the legislature the complete arbiter of manners and morals, and thus accords to the state quasi-totalitarian powers without the state’s ever having claimed them. The state alone decides what we have or lack permission to do: we have to make no moral decisions for ourselves, for what we have legal permission to do is also, by definition, morally acceptable.

Even worse than the correspondent’s implicitly totalitarian assumption was his lack of awareness of how societies cohere, and how social existence becomes tolerable, let alone pleasant. After all, the law does not prohibit rudeness, boorishness, and an infinity of unpleasant habits. But it is clear that if, for example, the prevalence of boorishness increases, life in society becomes more filled with friction and danger.

What I found so odd about the correspondent were his perfect manners and refined tastes. But so little confidence did he have in the value of the things that he valued that he seemed indifferent to the mechanism of their disappearance or destruction. This is the way a civilization ends: not with a bang but a whimper.

 (Emphasis mine)

 From this article:

 http://www.city-journal.org/html/15_4_diarist.html

 THEODORE DALRYMPLE: Anthony (A.M.) Daniels (born 11 October 1949), who generally uses the pen name Theodore Dalrymple, is a British writer and retired prison doctor and psychiatrist

Pretense, Part 1: A Look at Evil, Pretense and Suffering

In his book People of the Lie:  The Hope for Healing Human Evil, Dr. M. Scott Peck writes in the chapter The Encounter with Evil in Everyday Life that

 “The issue of naming (evil) is a theme of this work. It has already been touched on in diverse instances: science has failed to name evil as a subject for scrutiny; the name evil does not appear in the psychiatric lexicon; we have been reluctant to label specific individuals with the name evil; in their presence, therefore, we may experience a nameless dread or revulsion; yet the naming of evil is not without danger.

To name something correctly gives us a certain amount of power over it. Through its name we identify it.  We are powerless over a disease until we can accurately name it…The treatment begins with its diagnosis.  But is evil an illness? Many would not consider it so.  There are a number of reasons why one might be reluctant to classify evil as a disease.  Some are emotional. For instance, we are accustomed to feel pity and sympathy for those who are ill, but the emotions that evil invoke in us are anger and disgust, if not actual hate…

Beyond our emotional reactions, there are three rational reasons that make us hesitate to regard evil as an illness…I shall nonetheless take the position that evil should indeed be regarded as a mental illness.”

Dr. Peck goes on to discuss the three reasons. I will use summary quotes.

 “The first holds that people should not be considered ill unless they are suffering pain or disability – that there is no such thing as an illness without suffering….it is characteristic of the evil that, in their narcissism, they believe that there is nothing wrong with them, that they are psychologically perfect human specimens…For we realize that their inability to define themselves as ill in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary is actually part of the illness itself…The use of the concept of emotional suffering to define disease is also faulty in several other respects. As I noted in The Road Less Traveled, it is often the most spiritually healthy and advanced among us who are called on to suffer in ways more agonizing than anything experienced by the more ordinary.  Great leaders, when wise and well, are likely to endure degrees of anguish unknown to the common man. Conversely, it is the unwillingness to suffer emotional pain that usually lies at the root of emotional illness.  Those who fully experience depression, doubt, confusion and despair may be infinitely more healthy than those who are generally certain, complacent and self satisfied.  The denial of suffering is, in fact, a better definition of illness than its acceptance.

The evil deny the suffering of their guilt – the painful awareness of their sin, inadequacy and imperfection – by casting their pain onto others through projection and scapegoating.  They themselves may not suffer, but those around them do.  They cause suffering.  The evil create for those under their dominion a miniature sick society.”…

 Finally, who is to say what the evil suffer? It is consistently true that the evil do not appear to suffer deeply.  Because they cannot admit to weakness or imperfection in themselves, they must appear this way.  They must appear to themselves to be continually on top of things, continually in command.  Their narcissism demands it…

Think of the psychic energy required for the continued maintenance of the pretense so characteristic of the evil!…”

“I said that there are two other reasons one might hesitate to label evil as an illness…One is the notion that someone who is ill must be a victim….One way or another, to some extent, all these people (the evil) and a host of others victimize themselves. Their motives, failures and choices are deeply and intimately involved in the creation of their injuries and diseases….

The final argument against labeling evil an illness is the belief that evil is a seemingly untreatable condition…It is the central proposition of this book that evil can and should be subjected to scientific scrutiny…It would, I believe, be quite appropriate to classify evil people as constituting a specific variant of the narcissistic personality disorder.”

Dr. Peck goes on to describe this variant of personality disorder:

“In addition to the abrogation of responsibility that characterizes all personality disorders, this one would specifically be distinguished by:

(a)    consistent destructive, scapegoating behavior, which may often be quite subtle.

(b)    excessive, albeit usually covert, intolerance to criticism and other forms of narcissistic injury.

(c)    Pronounced concern with a public injury and self-image of respectability, contributing to a stability of life-style but also to pretentiousness and denial of hateful feelings or vengeful motives.

(d)   Intellectual deviousness, with an increased likelihood of a mild schizophrenic-like disturbance of thinking at time of stress.

But there is another vital reason to correctly name evil:  the healing of its victims.”

 *****************

 I have encountered some distinctly evil people during my life.  The common characteristic of their personality is the veneer of pretense with which they surround their lives.  They see themselves in a role, a grandiose, high-minded role.  There is nothing within themselves or outside themselves that will keep them from holding that image up before themselves or others. They will deny, blame and ignore what every one else can clearly see.  Their motivation, as Dr. Peck describes in the above chapter, is fear. 

Jesus said, “If the light in you is darkness how great is that darkness.”

Jesus’ perfect love can cast out fear…and evil.