Screwtape in lockdown

A new letter has surfaced from the boiling depths of Sheol. Screwtape’s muddled signature has been found on the dismal document. We’re publishing it here for the first time.

My dear Wormwood,

It’s been a while since my last letter to you, and I fear you may be thinking I’ve forgotten about you, our mission and our common purpose. And with the world being upside down, you might even think our job is done.

You may think this year has been like none our devilish syndicate can remember of recent date. But thank Nimrod for our archives. If you check our Dark Annals, you’ll find that 2020 is nothing compared to what our *Hadestic* ancestors witnessed centuries ago. Perhaps we’re becoming like these damned mortals, stuck in an eternal present, judging our current plight by our recent success and discounting our long-term achievements. Rest assured, things are going well for us. However, I do wish to make a few suggestions for you and your team on how to conduct operations in the months to come. The decisions are yours, of course. I wouldn’t dare impinge on your unholy jurisdiction. Still, for the sake of the sweet odium you bear me and that I bear you, I submit these words to your membraneous yet judicious ears.

You’ve always valued my opinion of humanity’s almost relentless quest for self-destruction. You must act fast. The old Enemy has granted us a fantastic opportunity during this international crisis. Make no mistake, the ‘crisis’ you hear about is nothing except what we make of it and what humans make of it. Our Alternative Futures Department you’ve heard rumours about has come up with some distressing models. They’ve warned of a slight, actually minuscule, probability for the world to come out stronger from its current predicament. But I don’t want to dwell on this, only to point out that your job and mine is to prevent those models from becoming a reality. To do that, we need to make sure humanity takes as much poison out of these circumstances as possible.

And to put your mind at ease, it’s been confirmed at the highest corporate level that Covid was not our doing or that of our Enemy. It happened for reasons not even our Chief Sibylline Incubus could have predicted.

As I said, things are going well for us. We’ve managed to create a sense of fear in our patients, making them forget about the big picture that our Enemy had for decades helped them develop. And it is remarkable that without lifting a finger, we’ve had so much booty delivered right to our doorstep. I’m not referring to the poor souls who died on hospital beds or away from them in conditions our overground patrons find ignominious. I’m talking about all of those who, though still above, are shoring up our future outcomes market share.

Don’t get put off by the numerous gestures of compassion and kindness that seem to cool down the temperature of our hellish abode. Focus on those who are *reaping* the rewards of their fellows’ misfortune – and our bonanza! For one, I never thought that so much inequality could be achieved without any help from us. Sometimes I think that perhaps instead of treating humans as future guests, we should sub-contract them for the job entrusted to us. But I digress, dear Wormwood, and we have no time to waste.

They think they’ve found a cure for their calamity: a jab, new leadership, new faces, more technology, all there to restore the world to its previous state. But, my cacodaemonic brother-in-arms, they’re in for a big surprise. Our CSI (Chief Sibylline Incubus) has assured us that the world they’ll inherit is nothing like the one they thought they previously had. There’s no going back, and to know this is to understand what unique opportunities lie in store for us. My advice to you:

* Play on the humans’ inability to extract themselves from the shackles of the past and to recognise a new challenge when they see one.

* Let them focus on the wrong things – wrong for them, of course, but right for us.

* Remember that battles are one thing, and the war is another. You can win the latter by losing the former.

After all, this is what our department’s mission statement has always been. But most of all, my dearest Wormwood, let them find fewer and fewer things on which they can agree. You don’t need to come up with new resources; what you need is already there, in their lives, on their smartphones.

Their lockdown is our blessing. If we can’t push mortals to act violently on each other, let us prevent all human contact altogether. I have to tell you, we were a bit surprised how easily they embraced this sudden isolation; how quickly they put their trust in technology to take them through the ordeal; how few of them were alarmed at the inhumanity of it all. How wonderful. We were hard at work figuring out how to best engineer conformity at scale when we noticed that things were moving in our direction without any input from us.

I won’t pop the champagne just yet, though. They can always come to their senses and acknowledge the importance of what they call embodiment – something I can’t understand, nor do I want to. A rotten spirit is enough for me, imagine dealing with a rotten body as well.

So far, most of our efforts have focused on helping our future clients make the wrong decisions for the right reasons. There’s no greater joy in Hell than when injustice is committed in the name of equity. when harm has been done in the name of love. We’ve always been against naked violence and hatred, simply because that kind is never long-lasting. What we want is pervasive yet vapid evil under cover of virtue. But surely you know this already.

It’s worth pointing out that we’ve always been the best at blurring the lines, so it should be easy for you to diminish their clarity on the issues that matter to our Enemy. You might want to try using the *Bracket*. It’s always worked. If you remember, the Bracket is our proprietary app that enables our patients to bracket off the complexity of reality favouring simple views in line with our Directorate. For instance, use the app to help them understand that their crisis is not a symptom of the world they live in, compounded by the very things they built for themselves, such as the false sense of security, complaisance, self-righteousness, over-reliance on technology at the expense of human relationships and the like. Use the *Bracket* to give them that revered sightlessness which makes our work so much easier.

I feel I need to insist that drastic measures ought to be avoided. We don’t want to make our rotting clients know that the crisis is more significant than it looks; that its implications go farther than what their pundits have been suggesting. That everything plays out in the short term. Keep them away from long-haul thinking, make them overlook the profound consequences of the confinement. Most importantly, distract them from addressing the evil at the core. That’s the evil we care about, the cloven rock on which our temple is built. Let their words be immense and their ideas minuscule.

By no means should you try to stifle their debates. Our leadership is happy with the way their interactions have evolved over the years. They should be allowed to maintain their current glide path. The cacophony we hear above the Hot Crust, the buzzwords and the hashtags are music to our ears, as you can imagine. So let’s hear more of that. After all, the noisier their communication is, our patients are less likely to listen to themselves and shirk back in shame. And that’s something we certainly don’t want. It would make our Enemy so happy, and we’d lose yet another battle. But remember what I said about battles.

I’m confident we shall win the war, but we have to be strategic and not make the same mistakes our future guests have made. Once upon a time, we were led to believe that the way to extend our hospitality rules to our patients was to whisper in their ears and put up an occasional appearance. We’ve since understood that the way forward towards increased market capitalisation is to keep a low profile. We’ve pursued this strategy for centuries, and it’s now paying dividends. Our patients have no knowledge of us, despite our machinations. And I’m sure you know, my Stygian comrade, how keen we are to boost their ignorance. So the directive remains in place: you are not to give any indication of our presence. Besides, they’ve fashioned so many earthly fiends to fight against that even if descended, like a Diabolus ex Machina, in the midst of their affairs, they wouldn’t notice us. So it’s better to let them fight each other rather than focus their attention on us.

It’s that time of the year again, my putrid Wormwood, when our future guests try to emphasise love and compassion in their lives and those of their neighbours. You may not like my advice, but I urge you to let them be. We see this every year, but it’s nothing more than the seasonal flu for us. Despite their efforts or the appearance of action, these humans don’t seem to capitalise on these feelings. They go around making presents, singing and eating together. Still, the black magic of 1 January means that they’re back in the stinky soup, hating and blaming each other, whence we fish them out when the time is ripe.

I conclude this letter, my favoured imp nephew, with an expression of my Hell-deepest gratitude for your affection and loyalty over the years. I know we are family, but the bonds of rancour and bile have brought us closer in ways only our Infernal Father can understand. And since I mentioned him, you will be happy to know that your efforts have been acknowledged in the Chthonic Citadel. Our Father and Leader was particularly impressed with how you managed to spoil the friendship of so many weaklings up there during the lockdown season. You have expertly driven wedges across and between communities, all in the name of justice and peace. We couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome and a more practical application of our age-old tactics.

I look forward to your Plutonic reply.



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