There once was a devil…
For this thought exercise please set aside religious or anti-religious convictions long enough to explore the metaphorical value in greater depth. One can reject a religion and still find use and relevance in at least some of the metaphors offered therein.
Starting with the background information from biblical texts since that lays the foundation, the Garden of Eden represents Nature as the primary domain from which sprang the animal and flora kingdoms. Humans evolved up through this as well, as we know, and this story is intended to point to the historical transition of our species stepping over a threshold and effectively barring itself from ever returning to that natural state of ignorance and governance by instincts. When the story speaks of people eating from The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, this symbolizes an awakening of new senses where our predecessors became self-aware and increasingly conscious on a whole new level. Animals may naturally be curious, but our predecessors came to recognize causality (or at least perceived of it, wrong or right) and then took the next leap into developing the art of rationalization.
The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil symbolizes an opening availed to us to explore in greater depth our very existence. It symbolizes the choices we can make and the consequences that may follow, regardless of whether we can clearly foresee them. And the most interesting aspect of tumbling down that rabbit-hole and actively making choices along the way is that each choice opens up different doors that then lead to other choices and other possible doors. But with each choice we take, we set off further down a particular path to where the doors we might’ve accessed had we chosen differently several steps back may no longer appear available. And on and on through time this process has continued.
The Devil symbolized the impetus for the initial plunge out animality and into a distinctly new type of creature. And The Devil serves as catalyst each step along the way ever since. What is The Devil? Not some anthropomorphized being existing external to all of us — no. Nor is that which we call God fairly represented in that way either, though people habitually mistake these metaphors as being literal truths. Rather, The Devil represents a new form of knowledge unique to humanity. It represents a new understanding of reality through developing more and more complex reasoning, while at the same time it shows us as beings torn between our animal natures and our higher human potential. Through this, The Devil winds up associated with all great evils as well as sophisticated advancements.
One could say that God represents all possibilities. This is why people commonly envision a source of light, because from this all life and all potentials spring. It is the springboard from with all came into existence, past, present, and future. All possibilities are bound up within it, though this is not to say all possibilities are created equal or are naturally good and life-affirming. In this way, God is morally neutral, or perhaps more accurately, God contains the possibilities of the entire spectrum of morality, from moral to immoral to amoral. God, or Life, provides this to us as highly-developed sentient beings and leaves us to find our way accordingly. The moral judgments associated with religion are social constructs intended to point people in directions thought to be best during those times or by those particularly groups, and this understanding has evolved alongside our rising awareness as well. In short, morality is not a fixed objective truth but rather a reflection of what’s reasoned as life-affirming or proper for people at any given point in history. Morality is determined relative to in-group vs. out-group concerns, as well as among persons therein depending on status and social customs unique to a given populace.
So, the concept of morality is fluid, flexible, and demonstrably ever-changing as humans continue on their quest for greater knowledge of themselves, their surroundings, and of how Reality functions as a whole.
In there is where many interpretations are formulated, which, in turn, involve much rationalization, and these wind up determining which choices are encouraged as beneficial for aiding the group and which are not. The social mores brought about through this process have not remained static and continue to shift even on up to this very moment in time. But the shifting in itself can be a very painful process for individuals and groups alike, particularly when one uncovers what appears to be a new Truth that others aren’t ready to accept. Also, plenty of these social and moral transitions have been brought about through peoples being conquered by other peoples with radically different conceptions of Life based on their own historical journeys and the rationalizations they’ve utilized to explain reality based on what choices they’ve made and what doors that opened and closed for them.
When people say The Devil is in the details, they are more right than even they probably realize. Because that is precisely what is being implied by such stories when all taken together and examined as illustrative of the progression of human comprehension and “advancement.”
What is “advancement” really? What is “progress”? These are words used to describe humanity’s exodus from the animal kingdom and the formation of our own human kingdoms. They are indeed advanced in terms of technological sophistication and in-depth scientific understandings, as well as in construction of evermore complex civilizations. But with each step, each choice, comes new consequences, regardless of whether they can be foreseen. Interestingly enough, many were in fact foreseen and warnings were issued, such as those outlined in the New Testament book of Revelations. But those metaphors seemed to have confused people more than explained why we’d eventually usher in our downfall, and they have commonly been dismissed by anti-religionists and religionists alike. Why?
Because when we stare into the abyss, it stares back into us. We are changed by the choices made and the civilizations brought into being and the expectations so many of us are socialized to accept and embrace. Furthermore, humans have a tendency to get extremely excited with our capabilities and to go so far as to worship what Knowledge we’ve managed to uncover at any given period in time. That is to say that we’re a proud species, an egotistical species, and we are prone to be blinded by what we perceive as our success.
And here we stand today, globally networked, economically dominated, politically ruled, and perhaps aggregately experiencing a greater sense of individual powerlessness than ever before in history. Because people now are rendered dependent for their needs to be met not directly through their own efforts and interactions with Nature, but rather through playing the game prescribed to us in order to survive and/or flourish in the Human Kingdom. And it is a maze of complexities involving countless laws and restrictions and taxes and formalized routes to employment. When we are hungry, it feeds us. When we are in danger, we appeal to it for protection. When we seek knowledge, it educates us. Right or wrong, accurately or deceptively depending on what’s determined most beneficial to maintaining the System itself.
We’ve become drunk on its spoils and lazy due to the conveniences it’s provided. Innovation is a double-edged sword in this regard, as is so much in life. And when injustices occur and people raise their voices in dissent, it is the System that must be negotiated with from within.
What is the System? It is POWER CONCENTRATED, facilitated and enforced by sophisticated technologies and complex legal codes. It has become by this point what some refer to as The Beast, as was outlined in biblical warnings long ago. Even thousands of years ago some people were able to perceive how power operates and how when given the opportunity to do so, it will snowball toward ever-greater acquisitions of power.
What is Power? It is something intrinsic to all of us and all of Nature, yet it can be harnessed and used in a wide variety of ways. Each individual possesses a certain amount of power, yet people have been trained to turn over that power and/or to use it in the service of the System. This is not new, but as human populations have exploded in numbers due to technological feats that allow for many more to survive than would otherwise naturally be accommodated, power has become more centralized in the hands of fewer people and the institutions they reside within, under the protection of the System (also referred to as the State when referencing nation-states, but we’ve since entered a global system of interconnectedness based on economic imperatives). It is this situation in its totality that has led nearly all people alive today to depend heavily on the System for our survival, and this represents a new form of slavery on a scale never before seen.
How do people escape from it? Is that even possible when all lands have been carved up and claimed by one entity or another? And if we flee from that which we depend on for our sustenance, surely many of us will starve. With each choice opted for and each door opened, other doors were closed to us and consequences loomed on the horizon. This is where we stand today.
The Devil, as represented by human ingenuity as well as human complacency, acknowledges the trap. Each of us possesses devilish potential within us, whether intended as moral, immoral or amoral. There is truth in the saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. But we more readily associate The Devil with immorality and mindless destruction, wickedness, cruelty, vice and temptations that lead to our demise. But what about amorality? That so often seems left out of these considerations.
Our technologies are amoral, even as their use leads to consequences deemed by many to be immoral. Self-serving ambitions can be claimed to be moral, immoral, or amoral, depending on one’s vantage point. The formation of complex civilizations was arguably an amoral venture, though many presumed it to be moral and “progressive” due to the advantages it wrought. That demonstrates a bias on the part of humans to want to see the good and ignore or downplay the potential bad, especially when the consequences are farther off on the horizon and won’t likely be experienced in-full for generations to come. People’s wishful, hopeful thinking leads them to be prone toward believing they can negotiate with the “lesser evil” today and somehow gain the upper-hand and change course for the better by tomorrow, but when has this occurred?
To negotiate with The Devil is to be irreversibly impacted by it to where we too change accordingly. This probably goes a long way in explaining political corruption and why even decent people who join those ranks don’t seem to remain decent for long.
Commonly we associate The Devil with that which mocks us for our collective stupidity for falling into traps we’re unable to escape. This is demonstrated by our fellow people who laugh and cajole and delight in the misery and confusion displayed by others, they themselves proving so corrupted that they relish signs of downfall. These individuals very often speak in riddles and play games, because they derive satisfaction from believing themselves above and more enlightened than the rest. This is how nihilism shows itself — through persons who’ve come to believe in nothing and no one aside from themselves and perhaps that which makes their existence comfortable.
As was depicted in George Orwell’s book Nineteen-Eighty-Four, many people will turn over their time, energy, and devotion to maintaining the System and will strike out against those who attempt to undermine it in any small way, even if only to dream for a saner way of life. So it is not only those employed directly by the System who seek to control and exploit people — nay, it’s also all of those who wish to feed it by any means possible because they are convicted and blind to any other possibilities. They defend these civilizations, even in their current state of wholesale corruption, as “great” and the best humankind could ever aspire toward. To even speak of wanting out so as to live in another way that’s outside of their laws and regulations is not allowed. Yet attempts to bring about fundamental change of the System itself through the legal channels afforded to the citizenry has been rendered ineffective, as is required for it to remain in existence and dominant.
The hecklers and hyenas may provoke those who wish to resist to go ahead and do so, but they know that to be a trap as well. Any arms taken up by this point against the System (in the form of the State) will be quashed in short order since the System and its employees maintain ready access to weaponry capable of far graver destruction than that possessed by common people. This is known. And to resist the System peacefully through street protests and/or through staking claim in a particular locale and announcing sovereignty will only result in resisters being mowed down (figuratively or literally) and/or imprisoned that much more easily. This is the problem with allowing such a Beast to come into existence in the first place, though it surely did not become this powerful overnight and many apparently, in their naivety, did not see this coming.
So how does one either slay or escape from a Beast of this magnitude? That’s the question. Even if people peaceably faction off (as would make sense), they will be forcibly be returned to the fold, either through economic extortion or accusations of criminal wrongdoing. And The Beast has at its disposal major televised networks that spread messages to bolster its claim to power while actively deprecating the rights of those who resist it. Lies and distortions of truth are intended to confuse the rest of the public to where they feel no need to offer up a defense on behalf of those being persecuted. Not that many would offer much defense either way, seeing as how they too recognize their interests are intimately tied to the System and do not wish to wind up targeted by it as well. Because it not only has the power to kill people and claim the perfect right to do so, but it’s well-known for incarcerating people — placing people in custody where they have even less power to resist and are forced to accept dehumanizing conditions. A major concern here isn’t so much death but suffering, especially if it’s likely to be in vain.
This is where we stand today. What possibilities exist beyond this? That’s a question for all of us to ask ourselves and one another. Waiting for the day of collapse under its own weight doesn’t sound too promising considering how tenacious nations have proven to be in this day and age despite failed economies and rampant political turmoil. So what now? Are we bound to roll over and accept this reality as it runs its course?