The devil you know

„Hell“ by Thomas Hawk is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The devil exists. But not in the way you think.

The devil is a demon inside you. He’s the demon of myopia, of short-sightedness. He’s the demon preventing you from building a better future. He’s the demon who tells you that your actions have no consequences, and that your life is just yours, unbeholden to anyone else. Your devil is persuasive: he convinces you that participating in-line with society’s norms and coercions – regardless of their diseased nature – is the most important thing to do. He smirks and drums his fingers as you amass things – products and services that he’s convinced define you, and that social recognition, of you in your individual capacity, is something to live and die for. We all have these demons inside us, preventing us from becoming the best version of ourselves. And it’s up to us to decide to fight them.

The Oxford dictionary defines The devil as ‘chief evil spirit of Christian and Jewish belief’. But over time it’s slipped into an abstraction that also fits our secular world and our metaphors. The devil represents the dark side, or even our dark side. It’s antonymous to what we define as the good or morally ethical.

The parables presented in the bible are often deeply analogous to contemporary life. God does not just have to be some external father-figure that judges us, but could also be a representation of our inner agency and rationale. We are each our own “god” in some way, and each of us has the power to turn the world around us into a heaven or a hell. This world, in all its unbelievable complexity and beauty, and in all its future outcomes, is always definable by us.

Look out of the window. What do you see? Is it a world already defined and fixed? Or do you see that opportunity for improvement? Regardless of what you see, the fact remains: in an interconnected world, densely networked both physically and digitally, one person’s actions can now reverberate across the globe with huge repercussions. It is technology that now allows us to define the world, and in a way that was totally unprecedented.

We are all gods now

When we look out towards the horizon what do we see? Do we see our own narratives, lives, children or grandchildren, or can we comprehend the full scope of possibility? By contemplating the spectrum of future scenarios we are forced to reconsider our roles within a broader narrative. Heaven is the flourishing existence of this world. Hell is the destruction of it. We are the gods of this world. Dystopian futures (hell) are easy, because they don’t require us to do anything right now. Building better futures (heaven) requires us to step up to the mark – as individuals, as groups, societies, as a species.

Joris-Karl Husymans’ infamous 1891 novel, Là-Bas, tells a story of Durtal, a protagonist based on the author, embarking on an investigation of the occult underworld. The novel culminates with a description of a black mass, the ultimate satanic feasting of devil worship. Throughout the story, the reader is presented with and challenged by savage ideas of moral turpitude stemming from these demonic rituals. And on some days today, we as well fall into the constant entrapment of the media, obsessively consuming the horrors of our own actions. As individuals, as groups, societies, as a species, we continue to worship our own devils in a way that reminds me of Husymans’ Là-Bas.

We sacrifice our rational to the black mass of our own media outlets. We parade our own demons. We fill our minds every hour of every day with a plague of distraction. The fact that we have become accustomed to a constant noise rotting our brains is endemic to an anthropological system that needs to be hacked. We should feel a shock that should fuel us into action, both as individuals and as societies. The future of the universe might very well depend on us recognizing our human power. By recognizing this power within us, it contextualizes our actions. Are we making the best use of it within our careers, our love lives, our daily lives? It’s an idea that isn’t antonymous to humility, it’s an idea that should have humbleness at the forefront. By recognizing our individual and group power to affect, it connects us with every life past and present.

The devil is real

The devil is real. He’s behind you clicking the next link in your Facebook newsfeed to another pointless article about what a celebrity did today. He’s keeping your eyes fixed on the news headlines that play every evening on your television set. He’s the adverts on your radio, reminding you of your own insecurities – insecurities that can only ever be resolved through purchase. He’s the magazines we read and the ads that line our streets.

Knowing that every future life is somehow connected to the current time-slice of the universe in which I am existing doesn’t allow for television, the Kardashians, or caring about how many ‘likes’ I have gathered on social media today. What is required from us is action, actions that rely on us developing a strength of will to avoid these distractions. Actions that depend on the rejection of our own internal demons that fuel our demise.

Actions, born out of kindness, for the sake of all the future beauty of the world.