The Devil’s Field Manual for the Making of Magnificent Messes
© Russell C. Baker, 2015
with apologies to C. S. Lewis and his The Screwtape Letters
1. Shift people’s attention away from their own mental and spiritual development. Remind them that they are insignificant in the greater flow of history. Lead them to distrust their own selves so that the evaluation and diagnosing of human problems can safely be left in the hands of experts who have an “objective” knowledge of the true state of affairs.
2. Always remember that no situation is unique. Diagnosing problem situations can safely be made in your own armchair at home or in the office without having to take into account any historical or geographical peculiarities or, for that matter, having to go into the field.
3. Since field-work is never necessary, there’s no need to apply any inter- or transdisciplinary work to the case at hand. Certainly avoid giving the impression that a working knowledge of the realm of interiority is a necessity. The transcendental can also safely be ignored as irrelevant to practical action.
4. Concentrate people’s attention on the desired consequences to the exclusion of all else, for it is absolutely necessary to give the impression that we need to work to one end or goal. Point out the messiness of having to deal with everything at the same time. Hint that without reducing our focus on an immediate goal nothing will get done.
5. When people express twinges of discomfort from their “conscience” or from a still small voice from within, remind them that they have to toughen up and set aside their own qualms if anything is to be accomplished. Keep people busy; keep them talking; avoid silences, watchfulness, and the expectation of the Spirit’s drastic appearance, for such thoughts only spread seeds of doubt that get in the way of practical, forceful and direct action. Patience and respect are not virtues when action is required.
6. Reduce or eliminate any constraints by providing a wide range of choices from which people can freely choose according to their own tastes (this is another way to keep them busy). There’s no need to inquire into the demands the situation makes to do what is good; that can best be left to individuals acting on their own volition.
7. Lest people think of the consequences of their actions and thus risk being turned into responsible people, remind them that the most important thing above all is good intentions. Persuade them that having one’s heart in the right place is always sufficient to justify any action, no matter what happens; faith justifies all.
8. Keep people bound to language by noting that language is both infinite and unbounded, always up to the task of fully describing reality. Avoid any suggestion that language cannot describe music, higher mathematics, or God.
9. Never allow people to lose focus on the current objectives. Keep even the possibility of the question “If we achieve our goals, what then?” from emerging into their consciousness. Such a question only complicates matters, getting in the way of doing what needs to be
Things to Keep in Mind: Innate Advantages
Lonergan offers two bright spots for those caught trapped in such a long cycle of decline:
1. Intelligent people of common sense are remarkably sane; they have to be, if the business of the world is to be carried out with any degree of reliability.
2. The refusal of insight soon reveals itself in plans and policies that simply don’t work as intended. “[The] Babel of our day is the cumulative product of a series of refusals to understand; and dialectical analysis can discover and expose both the series of past refusals and the tactics of contemporary resistance to enlightenment” (Lonergan, Insight, p. 242).
Entering Lonergan's Novum Organon
Existential reflection is at once enlightening and enriching. Not only does it touch us intimately and speak to us convincingly but also it is the natural starting-point for fuller reflection on the subject as incarnate, as image and feeling as well as mind and will, as moved by symbol and story, as intersubjecive, as encountering others and becoming "I" to "Thou" to move on to "We" through acquaintance, companionship, collaboration, friendship, love. Then easily we pass into the whole human world founded on meaning, a world of language, art, literature, science, philosophy, history, of family and mores, society and education, state and law, economy and technology. That human world does not come into being or survive without deliberation, evaluation, decision, action, without the exercise of freedom and responsibility. It is a world of existential subjects and it objectifies the values that they origainate in their creativity and their freedom.
— Bernard J.F. Lonergan, S.J.
Handbook: The Project
WHAT YOU NEED TO BRING
Humility. There are no experts at this reflective level, only people willing to undertake fundamental changes to improve their orientation in this world. Control over meaning is a central concern met by Lonergan’s transcendental method. Dialectical analysis and foundational discernment are the two essential skills that need to be mastered. It is one thing to engage in encountering another and quite another to know exactly what is going forward.
Honesty. Not lying, when it comes to following the four transcendental injunctions to be open to experience, intelligent in understanding, reasonable in judging, and responsible when it comes to acting. We need to be able to separate our sense of self from our self-created orientation so that challenges are not perceived as existential but opportunities to improve.
Knowing many things doesn't teach insight.
Working Lonergan’s cosmopolis involves a dynamic creative process, for Lonergan only opens a door—a to-be-known “X” named cosmopolis. Cosmopolis is a possible solution to a long-term problem of decline created by intelligent people of common sense unaware that their practical skills are not the ultimate in intelligence but merely a specialized realm of meaning. Short-term expediency backed by totalitarian power becomes the prevailing norm.
But this leads to decreasing levels of intelligent order, social “surds” and “bloated” institutions usually in sharp conflict with each other—a Tower of Babel whose ultimate unchecked fate is a total dysfunctional collapse, a world where attention spans shrink by the hour, a world where affirmed reality is overtaken and overlaid with a world mediated by meaning grounded in special interests or wishful thinking, a world more myth and fantasy than reality.
Things to Keep in Mind: The Project
We seek to apply a dispassionate intelligence to the historical confusions brought about by common sense intelligence; we are not busybodies caught up in knee-jerk reactions to the problems of the day.
We are very determined to prevent dominant groups from deluding mankind by rationalizations that support their drive for power, authority, or influence.
We support timely and fruitful ideas that common sense otherwise considers unimplementable or inoperative due to social absurdities or a warped totalitarian practicality.
We do not spread “sweetness and light” as that might mean to you and me, but rather rely on a critical theory of history that identifies clearly and distinctly the dynamics of, progress, decline, and reversal.
Finally, we must be transformed in our thinking, purged of our blind spots, if we are not to add to the absurdities and fragmentations nfettered common sense intelligence has bequeathed us.