A misanthrope was sipping coffee and pondering a quiet afternoon when the Devil dropped by to chat.
“Why decaf?” asked the Devil.
“Because I’m getting old and twitchy,” said the misanthrope. “Now I’ll merely be old and sleepy.”
“Like many of my Enemy’s creations,” the Devil said, “Coffee stirs things up. It agitates, unsettles, and gets folk to move about—or it just wakes them up, which might be all that’s needed.”
“Sort of like you?”
“Kind of,” admitted the Devil. “It’s why I usually give my Enemy’s wonders a twist. He creates poppies; I invent opium. He creates bold colors; I soothe with greys. He creates coffee; I make decaf. I exist in part to keep you from getting complacent. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but complacency kills many a kitten.”
“So what do you think of the protests around the world?”
“Which ones?” asked the Devil. “They’d like to think that they’re similar—the Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street/Washington/What-have-you—but they’re different and problematic for me.”
“Interesting. I’d've thought you loved the chaos,” said the misanthrope.
“Oh, I do,” said the Devil. “But it’s tricky to turn it to my advantage some time. The mere fact that people are rightfully protesting is dangerous. After all, one doesn’t get to be Prince of Darkness and King of this world because things are going well. Fortunately, I have a great ally named Good Intentions. He’s very sweet and easy to lead around. He can be stubborn, but so long as he isn’t paying too much attention, I can work with him.”
“What do you think of the occupiers in various American cities?”
“For the moment, they’re comic relief,” said the Devil. “Banks really are landing on the taxpayers’ feet, but that’s not entirely the bankers’ fault. Every industry in the country would like to do that, but the bankers have just been the most successful. Sloth, the most underrated of the deadly sins, is the first part of the equation. Being bailed out for your mistakes worked for the bankers. The bankers were lazy and approved many things they never should have. So they begged politicians and were saved. (Perhaps taxpayers need better lobbyists.) The second part of the equation is envy: now the occupiers seem upset that they themselves aren’t able to land on some taxpayers’ feet.
“There’s a great deal of confusion. I’d love it if this chaos turned seriously ugly—arson, looting, rape, murder—but what crimes that have been committed seem damned to be small scale. It takes a certain degree of strength to be truly good or evil, and these protestors don’t seem to have it.”
“And what of the Arab Spring?” asked the misanthrope.
“Now we’re talking serious chaos and serious problems,” said the Devil. “Arab dictators are always some of my favorite people. If they’re not quite so vicious as Kim Jong Il or Castro, it’s not for lack of trying. Nobody decent is sorry to see Gaddafi go. I prefer systematic monsters myself, and Gaddafi was rather like Batman’s Joker, only even I failed to get the joke. The real trick for me is to see if I can turn these revolutions to my advantage. Mubarak and Gaddafi are replaceable, and their regimes can always (from my perspective) improve. Whether the ordinary people protesting will like my improvements, of course, is another story.”
“Didn’t you mention some problems?” asked the misanthrope.
“Well, yes,” said the Devil. “Decent people can always fight to take control. But mostly they’re slothful, too. Not awake enough to realize that goodness is an endless slog but evil is comfortable and always ready to take over. The good people, alas, have a chance to make a move and improve things. Which I don’t want—what kind of devil would I be if people improved on a wicked dictator? But I’m growing more confident by the day that things out there will go my way. Never mind whether Gaddafi deserved his brutal death: the mere fact that people are getting tangled up in that side story is a good omen for me. So long as people lack perspective, I can find a way to have my fun. Have another cup of decaf.”
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Hubbard posted this at 2:41 PM CDT on Monday, October 24th, 2011 as Devil and Misanthrope
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A misanthrope was enjoying the brisk weather when the Devil dropped by to chat.
“Cold?” asked the misanthrope.
“I come from a hotter climate,” said the Devil. “Still, since you were actually enjoying the day, I figured it was time to rain on the parade.”
“Didn’t Milton once say something about it being better to rain in hell?”
“No more ghastly puns,” said the Devil. “But if you really want me to go, I will.”
“I’ll keep it in mind,” said the misanthrope. “Right now, I’m trying to shake the sense of foreboding I’m feeling about this election.”
“You’re a right winger,” said the Devil. “Are you afraid that Republicans will snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? I’d guess they’ll win everything that isn’t nailed down.”
“Winning elections is only part of the game,” countered the misanthrope. “What you campaign on and how you govern interests me rather more. And the recent past election cycles have a clear lesson and warning.”
“Are you thinking of the tea partiers, who were inconspicuous in 2006 and 2008?” asked the Devil.
“They were rather invisible, weren’t they?” agreed the misanthrope. “Mostly, they were thoroughly disgusted with Republicans, but knew that Democrats would be worse, so they simply stayed quiet. But I’m really thinking of the movement that was the left wing precursor to them, the Anti War Fanatics, AWF for short.”
“Ah yes,” said the Devil. “They’ve mostly gone into hiding now, haven’t they? That was rather inevitable, in my less than humble opinion. America can’t avoid wars and death, and campaigning against it is rather like promising the electorate unicorns and rainbows.”
“Which is what President Obama did,” observed the misanthrope. “His campaign caught the energy of the old Howard Dean folk. The big difference between him and Hillary Clinton was that she’d backed the war and that he hadn’t. Then he beat John McCain in the general—the Senator most associated with the Iraq surge and who forced the appointment of Defense Secretary Robert Gates.”
“So naturally, the AWF expected a dovish administration,” said the Devil.
“Instead, President Obama—to his credit—kept Gates on and made Clinton his secretary of state,” said the misanthrope. “Though he campaigned on rainbows and unicorns, he has governed realistically. But this has left the AWF utterly disheartened: they wanted their rainbows and unicorns! In short, the AWF is feeling like the tea party did in 2006: they don’t like what the current administration is doing, but even though the other guys will be worse, they feel betrayed and are sitting it out.”
“So why does left wing angst upset you?” asked the Devil.
“Because it’s a precursor to what the right is probably going to go through,” answered the misanthrope. “Many people in the tea party movement seem to think that the federal budget is bloated thanks to earmarks, which are about 1% of all federal spending. The real budget busters are Social Security, the Defense Department, and the Medicare and Medicaid tag team. So the tea party movement will clean up in 2010 like the AWF did in 2006. They may even win the presidency in 2012.
“But cutting those programs is going to cause a lot of political pain. Members of the tea party are generally older and more hawkish: they loathe Obamacare because it balances the books by cutting Medicare! They want the best military money can buy! AND they want to balance the budget. This is the fiscal version of rainbows and unicorns.”
“Ah, and now you see what I have seen for a while now,” said the Devil. “Unreality can play well in politics for a while, but from my perspective, it ends wonderfully. Warms the cockles of my heart enough that I can face a brisk fall day. Toodles!”
Hubbard posted this at 11:21 AM CDT on Friday, October 29th, 2010 as Devil and Misanthrope
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A misanthrope was working when he was asked, “Do you have some Ibuprofen?” His inquisitor, of course, was the Devil.
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Hubbard posted this at 1:04 PM CDT on Monday, April 20th, 2009 as Devil and Misanthrope, Pop Culture Is Filth
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“Ah, coffee,” said the misanthrope. “Black as death, hot as hell, bittersweet as love.”
“Interesting philosophy of coffee you have there,” observed the devil over his own cup. “What does it mean that you Americans tend to overwhelm their coffee with milk and sugar and other obscenities at their coffee places? I suspect it’s related to your obsession with everything ending happily ever after. You gave the world the dependably square Disney, and despite its attempts to be hip, Starbucks is the same kind of American invention. Take something tragic from the old world—fairy tales, bittersweet coffee—and gussy it up with treacle, to the point where those who know the original can barely recognize the American version.”
“Tragic?” asked the misanthrope.
“Tragedy implies necessity,” explained the devil. “Romeo and Juliet isn’t a proper tragedy because chance rather than necessity trips up the protagonists—had Juliet woken up a few minutes earlier, for example, she would have been able to prevent Romeo’s suicide and then would have had no reason to kill herself. Hamlet, however, is a proper tragedy: Hamlet is torn between honor, which demands he avenge his father’s murder, and Christianity, which demands he forgive. It’s the Western world’s greatest play because it captures the tension between the old honor cultures of Europe (still, not coincidentally, going strong in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia) and Christianity, now dying in much of the West. Had a modern American written Hamlet, it would have ended not with a bloodbath but with group therapy.”
“And fairy tales,” the misanthrope mused, “are similar. Though many good stepparents hate the portrayal of wicked stepmothers and stepfathers, the most likely abuser of children is a stepparent. Statistically speaking, children are much more likely to be killed or raped by a stepfather rather than a stranger. The fairy tales have a kernel of truth.”
“Kernels of truth,” remarked the devil, “are still too much for the American public to bear, which is why no politician seriously discusses the reality of geopolitics. The people want FDR’s freedom from fear—now conveniently and brilliantly called terrorism—but are unwilling to think through what it will take to eradicate the threat.”
“We’ve talked before about this,” said the misanthrope. “If we cannot change the minds of murderous jihadis, they’ll have to be killed.”
“Neither changing their minds nor killing them is going to happen,” replied the devil smugly. “At least, Americans aren’t going to do it. (Since it’s a job you won’t do, perhaps you can import someone to do it for you.) A people who file lawsuits over waterboarding—of all the evils I’ve encouraged and nurtured, that one barely registers—lack the backbone for fighting a war to the death. And given your cultural dependence on sugar, you won’t change the minds of a significant number fanatics. American blindness to necessity is potentially a tragic flaw. I can’t see the future (only my Enemy can do that) but I can see shadows of what may yet be, as Dickens would put it.”
“Still, an interesting idea popped up on this blog in the comments section,” said the misanthrope.
I think a better solution to this would have been to invade, knock off Saddam, and leave. To prevent murderous terrorists from making it a haven from which to attack us, I think we should’ve borrowed a page from Cardinal Richelieu, architect of the 30 Years War: keep funding (quietly, of course) various factions until they bleed themselves white. Unpleasant, but much easier on America’s military and treasury—and probably more effective.
“I must admit I like it,” said the devil. “It reminds me of one of my favorite poems, Eugene Field’s ‘The Duel’
Next morning where the two had sat
They found no trace of dog or cat;
And some folks think unto this day
That burglars stole the pair away!
But the truth about the cat and pup
Is this: they ate each other up!
Now what do you really think of that!
(The old Dutch clock, it told me so,
And that is how I came to know.)
“I don’t think that funding a multitude of civil wars is a good idea,” said the misanthrope. “But given the jihadist rejection of modernity, it might be the least bad idea. When people in the Middle East say they want peace, they mean they want to be victors in their perpetual wars against their neighbors. The Middle East is filled with gingham dogs and calico cats who’d love to destroy each other: Sunni, Shiite, Hamas, Hezbollah, Druze, Persians, Arabs, Kurds. It means a bloody future, but it looks as though America cannot force democracy, let alone constitutional liberalism, on these people.”
“Perhaps,” said the devil, “you should take a page from John Derbyshire“:
THWTHs [To Hell With Them Hawks] are more inclined to the old British-imperialist notion that up to a fairly distant point (suttee and thuggee being beyond that point) peoples in foreign parts should be left alone to practice their own disgusting folkways, so long as they did not impinge on our interests. It may be the case, as Francis Fukuyama has argued, that irresistible historical forces are driving the human race forward to a state of affairs where human populations will all be of a pretty similar, bourgeois, “last man” type. Whether the active human will can accelerate this process is open to question, though. Fukuyama, if I understand his recent writings correctly, does not think so. THWTHs don’t think so, either, or at least believe that the necessary willed actions fail any cost-benefit test.
And fourth, we are not distressed by the misfortunes of people who hate us. Counterinsurgencies, says Rich, “require persuading people, through a range of inducements—military, but also political, economic, and ideological—to put down their arms…” THWTHs disagree. We don’t particularly care whether the Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds of Iraq put down their arms. We only want them to put down their arms against us. Henry Kissinger (who has been hanging around on the fringe of the THWTH clique—come on in, Henry!) famously said of the Iran-Iraq War that it was a pity both sides couldn’t lose. One doesn’t want to be accused of inhuman callousness; but I am willing to confess, and believe I speak for a lot of THWTHs (and a lot of other Americans, too) that the spectacle of Middle Eastern Muslims slaughtering each other is one that I find I can contemplate with calm composure.
“I think even my unfondness for humanity,” said the misanthrope, “will be hard pressed to view the resulting genocides with calm composure.”
“The human race,” countered the devil, “is very good at ignoring if not outright tolerating the slaughter of distant peoples. A Middle East only bloodbath, tolerably pleasant as I find it, is still an unlikely shade of the future. What is more likely is that the West, infatuated with stability, will prevent a war now. The unreasoning fanatics will grow in numbers as people try to appease them; fanatics are the tinder that exploiting thugs will play with. An accumulation of petty and serious grievances will keep building up as realists and cowards postpone conflict; the eventual conflagration will cover far more of the globe than just the Middle East when the next Arafat throws a rhetorical firebomb at the wrong time. This, of course, is what I think is the best possible outcome. So I doubt that you need to worry about localized genocide in the Middle East, my dear misanthrope. What’s probably coming is a much bigger catastrophe: the sparks from the Arab world could easily light the Islamist tinder laid in places like Russia, India, Southeast Asia, Africa, and perhaps Europe itself. In the middle of that confusion, who knows what a power like China might try to get away with?
“It’s getting late, and I have places to go and people to see. Enjoy another cup of coffee.”
Hubbard posted this at 8:50 PM CDT on Wednesday, June 13th, 2007 as Devil and Misanthrope
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“I love a good slaughter,” said the devil with complacent satisfaction. “The best, however, is yet to come.”
“How is that possible?” asked the misanthrope. “I’d think that thirty-odd deaths would—for you—be the lowlight of the whole terrible mess.”
“Oh, messes are fun for me,” explained the devil. “But what really puts a song in my heart and a spring in my step is the way you humans twist tragedies around.”
“Ah, people don’t like looking at horrors. ‘When you stare into the abyss,’ Nietzsche once observed, ‘the abyss stares back into you.’ People loathe dark thoughts. So they grope for a light. Anything to banish the darkness; there lies my opportunity.”
“I’m not sure I follow you,” said the misanthrope.
“Consider another metaphor,” suggested the devil. “A drunk (my kind of fellow) leans on a lamppost for support, rather than using it for enlightenment. Events that don’t directly touch people are lampposts. How people respond to them—do they learn from it or use it to reinforce existing beliefs?—is what both I and my Enemy use to gauge the souls we compete for.”
“I think I get it now,” said the misanthrope. “You, devil, want us to continue our various politicking and theories, using the dead as examples. Your Enemy, however, would prefer us to reflect, to pray, and to love one another. You would be happiest if the victims were forgotten in the fights of the living. Your Enemy, however, was the first to weep when the shots were fired, and He waits for us to mourn the lost souls.”
“Saccharine, but not bad,” said the devil. “I’m looking forward to the inevitable arguments because, in a misguided effort to enlighten each other, people will throw off less light than heat; it makes me homesick. John Podhoretz understands human nature:
The effort to shoehorn an event as devastating as this one into a predetermined set of ideas — like the need for gun control, or the need for the abolition of all gun controls — is an effort to make the unthinkable thinkable. Does this massacre seem to be utterly without cause? Well, then, we will find a cause in order to be able to wrap our minds around it, because when we have a cause we can determine a remedy. (I can sense a certain measure of disappointment emanating from some quarters that the shooter, may he reside forever in Hell, wasn’t an illegal alien.) We can pass a law, or teach new kinds of classes to people, or produce anodyne television specials and heartwarming television commercials that will serve to vaccinate America against the next monstrous act of senseless evil.
“And what happens next?” asked the misanthrope.
“Another enormity comes,” replied the devil, “and my fun starts again—because the world is full of drunks clinging to lampposts who never learn.”
Hubbard posted this at 10:31 PM CDT on Tuesday, April 17th, 2007 as Devil and Misanthrope
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“So how are you justifying your existence today?” asked the devil.
The misanthrope paused a moment, glanced into the black eyes that lacked both irises and whites, and replied, “I was thinking of the differences between you and me.”
“Worrying about the audience of this snarky blog? I’d imagine that some of your readers go to plays and shout, ‘Claudius isn’t really praying, Hamlet! Let him have it!’ Of course we’re very different people, and I only make appearances to clarify some of your thoughts. The people who can’t tell the difference have a calling that my old adversary, Mark Twain, once identified: ‘First God made idiots; that was for practice. Then he created school boards.’ The school boards of today now think that Twain was a racist because they cannot distinguish between him and Huckleberry Finn. You probably have some future school board members in your audience.”
“Actually,” said the misanthrope, “I was thinking about why I’m a misanthrope and why you’re not. I don’t like humanity because people are inseparable from needless cruelty and slaughter. But those terrible things are what you live for.”
“Oh, that. Quite right. It’s why I’m an advocate of genocides and a fan of the mass murderer. I think men are at their best when being sadistic. I’m especially fond of half-baked ideas that wind up slaughtering far more people than mere negligence would have. I really prefer my evil exquisitely organized—documented in triplicate and moving like clockwork— since relying on good intentions is somewhat like eating at McDonald’s every night for all eternity. But I’ll take what I can get; I’m tolerant like that.”
“At the moment,” said the misanthrope, shifting gears, “I’m trying to work through an idea to avoid your favorite things. Make sure it’s thoroughly baked, to borrow your metaphor.”
“From your kitchen?” asked the devil with a raised eyebrow. “Have you even turned on the oven yet? You’re not much of a housekeeper—even your vacuum cleaner is dusty.”
“I’m very good with Pop-tarts,” the misanthrope countered wryly. “I was thinking about the concept of hudna, of holding your enemy close, allowing him to waste his energy and manpower elsewhere while you quietly regrouped.”
“It’s a lovely, underhanded strategy,” commented the devil. “But it takes subtlety of thought and long-term thinking to work. Spengler was thinking about it the other day in regard to Russia and Saudi Arabia:
Loyalties do not extend beyond clan and family, and the rest is a matter of opportunity, guile and maneuver. That is how business is done in that part of the world. You embrace your worst enemy when you are too weak to fight him, and you annihilate him when opportunity presents itself. When you have winnowed his ranks sufficiently to convince him that he is too weak to fight you, you embrace him once again. It is the sort of dirty work to which Americans are unaccustomed, but for which the Russians have had centuries of practice.
“I was thinking,” said the misanthrope, “of another hudna of sorts. Specifically, that between Czar Alexander I and Napoleon at Tilsit, one that’s perhaps another model we should remember.”
“Ah, two of my favorite monsters,” the devil reminisced. “One was the father of modern totalitarianism: ruthless, godless, rigging elections, wasting lives. The other was the sort of messianic madman that only Russia could produce and only Russians would trust with power.”
“Messianic madman or no,” said the misanthrope, “Alexander did a better job of reading Napoleon than the other way round. Napoleon misread Alexander’s courtesy for weakness, which lead in part to his disastrous Russian campaign. Alexander, however, realized that Napoleon was determined to fight the world, so he used Tilsit as a hudna to gain time. Given a few years, the Russian army could regroup, and Napoleon would inevitably overextend himself. Then Alexander would revenge himself on the indignities of Tilsit, turning the Duchy of Warsaw under Frederick Augustus into the Congress Kingdom of Poland under Czar Alexander.”
“As Balthasar de Gracián once noted: ‘Time and I against any two,’” the devil said.
“Moving from Spengler’s focus on Russia and Saudi Arabia, I was also thinking of how Margruder’s law—”
“A lovely law,” interrupted the devil, “that states that combat sinks to the lowest common denominator of the combatants. So when the eye-gouging folk meet the mud-wrestlers, everybody winds up eye-gouging in the mud. How do you think it applies to America and rogue states?”
“Suicide bombers are the lowest denominator of rogue states; the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki mark the lowest denominator of America. The lowest common denominator would be suicide nuclear terrorism against civilians. And even though the news is dominated by talk of the surge in Iraq, I’m wondering if our other enemies are having a hudna of their own right now.”
“I think you’re being uncharacteristically optimistic, my dear misanthrope,” said the devil. “You’re hoping against experience that people are thinking long-term. But, for the sake of argument, let’s say that terrorists and America are having a hudna. What then?”
“The begged question,” noted the misanthrope, “is who’s playing Alexander and who’s playing Napoleon? Who’s benefitting and who’s wasting resources? We’ve got India and China developing blue water fleets as Britain’s sinks into disrepair. We’ve got Iran trying to develop nuclear weapons and North Korea trying to leverage its nuclear program into clout. What is Western Civilization doing to head off Magruder’s law? How are they using their time?”
“Well,” said the devil, “it seems to me that good men are dithering while evil men are preparing. To me, that’s a sign that God’s in His heaven and all’s right with my world.”
Hubbard posted this at 10:48 PM CDT on Sunday, March 4th, 2007 as Devil and Misanthrope
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A misanthrope was curled up next to a heater, comforting an upset stomach with coffee and Imodium, when the Devil dropped by to chat. “Has your stomach’s storm passed?” inquired the Devil maliciously.
Ignoring that question, the misanthrope countered: “Why the visit?”
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Hubbard posted this at 1:24 AM CDT on Sunday, February 4th, 2007 as Devil and Misanthrope, Walking the Cat Backwards
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The misanthrope was walking in Lafayette Park, near the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, when he noticed a father, harried as only a tired tourist can be, half-dragging his son along. Both seemed ready for bed, though one was snappish and growling, while the other was resigned to being pulled along. A voice behind the misanthrope said, “Si monumentum requiris, circumspice!” Read the rest of this entry »
Hubbard posted this at 10:31 PM CDT on Monday, March 27th, 2006 as Devil and Misanthrope
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A misanthrope was walking south on 7th street, crossing the National Mall, when a well-dressed man walked up beside him; the man’s black eyes had neither irises nor whites; he was, of course, the devil.
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Hubbard posted this at 10:03 PM CDT on Thursday, March 16th, 2006 as Devil and Misanthrope
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