By: Mehmet Ozan
Charles Baudelaire – the French poet and art critic,once wrote, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” As the master of scheming and deception, passing from shadow to shadow, the Devil is believed to be the supreme manipulator of human beings. But if we were to allow ourselves to be really solemn for a moment, the very obscurity of the Devil has always been the product of a social form. One perceives in the belief of the shapelessness of the Devil the social alibi of a cunning and evil order that has more to do with humanity than with some supernatural entity. If in a moment of clarity we were to stand up to the Devil and drag him back into a world of physical reality and concrete terms, it would be seen that the very characteristic that we have long attributed to his evil is actually representative of the condition of society and the ideological structure beneath it. Here the political or social ideals are not being referred to, but rather the ideological structure on which these ideals are based. The precise formlessness of ideology, which is the pretext of most social evil, is similar to the myth of the Devil.
The idea of the Devil in the classical age, keeping in mind both the inward and outward existence of evil, is more relevant to the individual’s social position than some crude suspicion of invisible influences. On the other hand, if the visible influence of our present state of affairs is the measure of evil in an act of human destruction, whether as a murderous spree or economic exploitation, only then it is consistent with the bad social context which evidently endorses the very character of an evil act. Responsibility always lies in the hands of the individual, but an act of evil also has some connection to the deep rooted brutality of the social reality which possibly breeds crime and cultivates inherent irresponsibility. In this respect, the tragedies that encompass the human history are not at the hands of shadow or some spectacular myth. Instead, they lay in the bloodied hands of the individuals and the moral illness of the state.
However, the destructive complex of human society has always been the result of our common approval of refusal to pull all acts of evil downward into the humansphere of possibility and the social context which may or may not verify that possibility. Thus the entire meaning behind the myth of the Devil is to deflect responsibility toward a magical presence beyond the social situations we collectively construct and, in turn, to pretend that this magical presence represents the supreme commander of the impulse we might feel when engaging in a destructive act (a sort of a Hegelian “double negation”). In this way, the myth of the Devil can easily be seen as a psychological projection of what Sartre described as the anguish or anxiety that often follows the existential realization of choice and responsibility.
In another way, the myth of the Devil can also be seen as a psychological projection of something we are all familiar with but feel powerless against: destructive social forces. Both points represent an extended history of the human drama. However, it is the latter that is most common in the daily expression of the small, pushed-down, ordinary people who feel exploited by the big, bad oppressive State; or the corrupt politicians; and so on. If we look into this socially common feeling, this typical experience which reaches beyond most borders and is expressed by citizens of all nationalities, what we get is a glimpse into the fundamental tragedy of the modern society. And it is here where the old notion of the Devil seems to go well with the most, because operating in the background of the common, daily tragedy of the “everyday individual” is an ideology structure which is central to most social evil. The monstrous ideology operating in the background of society, the very social structure that undercuts all political debate – that defines the very status of “ailing society” – that is, the social structure which pressures the corporations, the politicians, the individual and the community in horrificways – is the real Devil.
On the basis of this restoration of the Devil, moreover, presents a resemblance to the “bad social context” in which we are forced to exist and against which we struggle on daily basis. As a symbol of a disintegratingsocial structure, one that more often than not creates the conditional situations in which one is pressured or compelled into acting in destructive ways, the meaning of the Devil is on par with the human context. The very existence of the Devil as myth represents a projection of human powerlessness against greater forces – socio-political forces. This is also why human tragedy that is often associated with the Devil is more often than not political tragedy. It has long been the case that the history of (distorted) politics is closely knotted in the history of social ideology in a manner that the history of (distorted) politics is a representation of a primary corruption in the social context of history. In quite the same way, if we were to call the Devil out for what he truly is, namely the rotten social context that questionably produces vicious acts of brutality, what we will have is a corrupted politics and a detached and theoretical ideological understanding of our everyday social functioning, which represents the mass society. Today, this description is the equivalent to the madness of our contemporary social reality which is economically determined in its direction and which has always governed the mental and physical constitution of the oppressed, dominated and suffering individual/community.
In these circumstances the Devil is actually the moral bankruptcy, in every sense, and is equal to the social propagation of distorted and desensitized experience behind every act of evil. Similarly, this is what I believe to be the meaning of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s (a Russian soldier and novelist) observation that: while the very rotten social context on which we function as a society is the supreme manipulator of human beings, “the line separating good from evil runs not between states, not between classes, and not between parties — it runs through the heart of each and every one of us.” Wrong society is an enlargement of evil itself to such an extent that it is a played out by the suppressed individual, who, in turn, seems to have sunk into a state of everlasting struggle against the disguise of his or her social experience and ironically presents the appropriate tensions of its evil.
If only we believed that change can happen, that fundamental transformation is possible and that the ideological paradigm can be broken, just as with the tale of the Devil, the context of modern society and its fundamental tragedy can be inert; but it presumes a foundational change of perspective: it is how we formulate the question that means everything.