A Recently Recovered Screwtape Letter 0n Words
My Dear Wormwood:
I lick my parched lips with delight that our propaganda efforts are going splendidly well. Good things come to those who wait—and growl in infernal anticipation. We may have won the battle of words. Not that we have won any arguments—that is expecting too much. The Enemy seems to have the advantage in that. But never mind. But we may have succeeded in eliminating arguments entirely. Oh, the delight in it!
How careless these vermin are with words—words, the very thing that separates them from the rest of the Enemy’s ridiculous menagerie. With our promptings and manipulations, they readily substitute words for thoughts. These talkative bipeds spew out a million words and few of them make up rational assessment or argument. As I said in a previous letter, we must never move the contest into the world of true and false, good and evil, rational and irrational. No, those silly dichotomies are tools of the Enemy—narrow-minded, dualist, rationalist that he is. These categories quicken the mind. We must numb it.
You must push forward a trend already set in place. Take heed to my tips, my young charge, since my words have meaning, and ignoring them will not advance your infernal vocation.
- Always substitute untutored emotion for conceptual clarity. Thus, vilify those speaking for the Enemy. They are so many bad things: narrow-minded, bigoted, reactionary, phobic (how we have profited from that!), and more. Never let them see that, according to the Enemy, reason and emotion should work in tandem, even shake hands with jolly goodness and resolve. Keep them away from that pseudo-intellectual and word-monger, C.S. Lewis, who wrote in The Abolition of Man:
No emotion is, in itself, a judgement; in that sense all emotions and sentiments are alogical, but they can be reasonable or unreasonable as they conform to Reason or fail to conform. The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should, obey it.
How I tired of that man!
- Attenuate their vocabulary, since the fewer words they have to capture thoughts, the less able they are to make distinctions. It is the philosophers that obsess on distinctions, especially that Nazarene, most of whose followers do not even recognize this fact! That logic-chopper outwitted all the rhetoricians and theologians we threw at him during that egregious episode they call the Incarnation. His distinctions dispatched our dialecticians.
But we are advanced in the art of retarding thought, you know. Reading is considered a luxury or even a vice. Emotive utterances and lazy superlatives—awesome, epic, perfect—have replaced the love of words and books.
- Make the most of slogans that applaud the loss of precise wording for important arguments. Here are a few delicious ones: “You are over-thinking this.” Of course, we know, from thousands of years of amusing experience, that few humans do this—or are even capable of doing this. “It is a matter of the heart, not of the head.” Jump in here, since this expression excuses all manner of cheap emotion, baseless opinion, and fuzzy thinking. Here is one more (there are many others): “It is what it is.” This may be used to mean “It cannot be changed.” But often it means something more helpful to our cause, such as “I cannot think it through. That would be too tiring.” Or this sentence may endorse a mindless fatalism—Stoicism, but without the intellect. You have to love that: Keep a stiff upper lip and a mind unfit for thought.
You should get the idea, Wormwood. Claptrap is our snake pit. Keep an eagle eye on their words, especially when they don’t. Be encouraged. That forgotten book in the Old Testament, Proverbs, cannot hurt us as long as it remains forgotten. Our men are doing splendid work on that.
Your ever-so-insightful uncle,
PS: I am delighted to add this this essay is exactly 666 words long