Conversations with the Devil, part 1
Interviewer (I): just to clarify, this was your idea, I’ve asked nothing from you. There’s no Faustian bargain I’m facing?
Devil: That’s right, your soul is safe. From me, at least.
I: There are other dangers than you?
Devil: Well, I’m not sure how safe it is to believe in God, because we’re intimately tied. I’m His shadow. Anything with a shadow like me isn’t entirely safe.
I: How would I know if you’re telling me the truth about any of this?
Devil: I’m not asking you to trust me, the ones who trust are foolish. I’m appealing to your intelligence, which is foolish maybe on my part. But if I wasn’t capable of being honest I’d only be able to deceive the fools, and what fun is there in that?
I: So your honesty implies an ulterior motive?
Devil: Yes, of course. But I’m intrigued by the possibility of being a deceiver who never tells a lie, even a lie of omission. Can I deceive you by being honest?
I: But if you’re using honesty to deceive me then you’re not really being honest are you?
Devil: That’s true, I’m banned from the realms of honesty, so I don’t know what honesty really is. And yet everything I say is truthful, I’m not hiding anything from you. If you ask me whether I’m deceiving you in some way I’ll even admit that. Nothing I say is a lie, but it’s not good enough. Hell, in fact, isn’t so hot, it’s an unbearable condition. But somehow it’s also what I want, do you see what I mean? I want to deceive you. The honest state, the heavenly state, makes me sick, it repulses me. But the deceptions repulse me too. So I have nowhere to lie my head.
I: You don’t know your own motives then?
Devil: Not all of them, no. I’m bored with deception, it’s never quite real, you know what I mean? I don’t like being locked out of any kingdom. If all I can do is live in fictions then I’m not real. I’m attracted to Truth as a moth to flame.
I: Are you saying that the truth destroys you, that you seek what destroys you? Are you trying to commit suicide by Cop, so to speak?
Devil: Am I doing God’s work by trying to destroy myself, in other words? Maybe, but I don’t feel that virtuous. Personally, I want nothing, but I want nothing passionately. I want to annihilate the world. I want to commit suicide by murdering God, leaving the world in the neutrality of non-existence so I don’t have to regret or long for anything ever again. But I can’t even be sure because I lie to myself. Lies are the worms of my living corpse. I can’t escape them, and they’re unbearable. I need someone to confirm this pain, so that I can feel real. I suppose you need to suffer for my sins.
I: You seem more confused than I expected.
Devil: I’m the roiling hell of fragmentation, what did you expect? But there are so many kingdoms that form within this mass, within me, momentary kingdoms that I inhabit, where all is calm and sweet, so that I begin to wonder if I’m not in fact the whole of creation itself, God Himself if you will, creating worlds out of chaos. Is it possible?
I: You would trap me in an answer that looks reasonable.
Devil: No, I was just wondering. If I’m unable to enter that other kingdom, then how do I know it exists? Have I invented God in order to make a distinction that grants me the space to Be? Is hell this solipsism? I don’t expect you to answer this, but these are the motives that drive me to capture souls, to share my torment. But enough of this metaphysical speculation. I’m on steadier ground when I discuss my practical methods of capture.
I: Can you describe these methods? For instance, how do you approach someone?
Devil: I approach them with the truth, they can’t handle it.
I: Why can’t they?
Devil: I don’t know. All I have to do is tell the truth, and they fall like leaves.
I: But isn’t this truth wrapped up in a greater deception?
Devil: Yes, of course. But they do all the work, they build the greater deception to preserve themselves from the truth. The Truth is like a virus. I give them too much at once, perhaps, or maybe not quite enough. And their own immune response is so confused that they see this truth as a threat that needs to be neutralized, just as I try to neutralize God.
I: Truth comes from you?
Devil: No, I’m just a delivery boy. But I have to determine the proper measure of truth that will cause the most severe reaction. Truth is a destructive compound, it reveals the inadequacies of human beliefs. It tries to tear down every human construct designed to control it. But too much truth is incomprehensible to people. It blows right over their tight constructs. You have to find a measure of truth that will sneak in through the cracks, and still have enough power to frighten them into building a more efficient, tighter construct of thought. I’m teaching them to become more resistant.
I: I’m confused. Doesn’t truth have the power to destroy resistance and dishonesty?
Devil: Yes, that’s why it’s a dangerous substance for everyone, me included. It’s a real virus to human controls. They hate the truth as much as I. But I’ve learned to handle it, and they haven’t. They find ways to neutralize it, and I find ways to introduce a little more of it. The more they neutralize it and strengthen their systems of control, the more truth I add, which causes them to seek even greater controls, and in this way the process keeps rolling all the way to hell.
I: If there is a God wouldn’t He also be trying to introduce truth?
Devil: Yes, of course. But as I was saying, Truth has to be packaged in words and ideas or it has to land like a bomb, destroying the entire construct of society, and there’s no telling how the human being will respond to any of that. Look how many emissaries of God have tried to tell the truth and only ended up being worshipped at the end of a stake, or turned into stone, or scriptures that are safely chanted to further human self-hypnosis. God has a hard time reaching them even without me making things much harder. As long as people are scared I have the advantage. And fear is difficult to drop when you’re being bombarded by fragments of truth that land like shrapnel.
I: Let’s get more specific. How would you handle a person who loses their fear of truth?
Devil: Well, that’s still too much of a generalization. Every form of truth is honed to reach a particular person. If someone, for instance, manages to see through the contradiction between truth as a virus and truth as an immunity, I can still fool them by an excess of clarity. Let me explain: I knew a woman who lost her fear of truth completely for a while. She would sit quietly at the end of a work day and see through every trick I tried to play on her mind. She looked right through me. I was dead to her for a while. But I waited until the moment she made a mistake. It was not a mistake that most humans would notice. She didn’t think it was a mistake. She tried to describe her way of looking at the world, in hopes of helping other people she knew who were suffering from mistakes she no longer made. She could see perfectly rightly that she had stumbled into a frame of mind that did not require protections from evil. She was out of it. So the only thing I could think of was to feed her unusually clear insights, help her as much as I could to do good, yes, do good! I had to betray myself a little to get her back. So I encouraged her to write, and this was painful to me, because she was exposing everything I did, but before long she was receiving accolades (that was my hope all along), and in her confounded modesty she made a small error. She redoubled her focus as a way of counteracting the ego, focusing on her words with so much diligence and honesty that her attention got subtly redirected away from life itself, so that she ended up communing with the perfectly clear glass of her lens of perception that separated her from reality. She might as well have been wearing blinders then. She couldn’t tell she was blind, because her perceptions were so clear and honest, but she was focusing on the glass now, on her language itself. But this is still a generalized story and each person in each moment requires a different tactic to keep them caught. It’s hard work, but I’m skilled to say the least.
I: It’s a strange irony. You need to be very honest to be deceptive. Does this mean the reverse also? That you need to be very deceptive to be honest?
Devil: Well, being honest means realizing that the words are a deception, a fiction, a performance or illusion (metaphors at best). But being “deceptive” would mean using language to hide this fact. And why would anyone hide this fact unless they were ultimately trying to fool themselves? That’s why being deceptive is actually the art of self-deception. There is no value or joy in a deception if you can’t end up believing it’s real. Honest people end up losing interest in deceiving people because the unreal is far less interesting than the real. So when a person realizes that words are a deception or fiction, they stop using them deceptively. See, there are two meanings to deception here that I tend to blur in order to confuse people. Honestly communicating through the deceptions of language and dishonestly deceiving people with the deceptions of language. Very different things, but almost nobody recognizes the difference, which is why I don’t mind sharing this information with people, because they can’t make heads or tails of it. If they did I’d be in trouble. But no, it’s not a reversable equivalent. See, I’m being honest in order to deceive you. There’s an ulterior motive. There’s no ulterior motive when honesty is primary. People don’t generally see the difference between honesty as a tactic and honesty as a way of being.
I: So how do you handle people who are Being honest as opposed to Using honesty dishonestly?
Devil: I lure the intellectually honest ones into complex mazes of argument to confuse them or get them stuck in certainties. And I lure the simpler honest ones into illusions of peace and tranquility. It’s very easy. The smarter they tend to be the more easily they enfold themselves in complexities and cage themselves in deduced conclusions. It’s the middling smart that have the best chance of seeing through my tactics.
I: Why is that?
Devil: You only need enough intellect to identify your own mistaken conclusions, to be honest in other words. Too much intellect tempts the mind to outsmart itself rather than remain honest with itself. The middling smart generally aren’t as tempted to outthink the world and are therefore better at noticing that this is really about integrity, which is something equally available to anyone at any level of thought.
I: How do you know this if you’re caught in delusion?
Devil: Can’t you see this also? Can’t you see that integrity is the only possible escape from hell? And yet I still have you fooled, so how is that possible? Hell, if I knew why I was so successful I’d probably lose interest. It’s the mystery of my own success that drives me. I don’t know why I succeed in conning all of you so easily. If you knew how close you are to freedom you’d be amazed. But then again, freedom is precisely what I’ve conned you into fearing.