Positively Diabolical

Dennis Linthicum

Positively Diabolical

Last summer I re-read C.S. Lewis’ novel, The Screwtape Letters. I am in Salem, for the state legislative session, and I am haunted by an image from that work.

The Screwtape novel is a satirical fantasy which places characters in plot-settings that mimic a typical human life, complete with all its temptations and failings.

The book has a unique format. The story is revealed through a series of written letters rather than the typical first-hand personal interactions which occupy most novels. The letters and notes which flow back and forth between the various parties reveal the heart and soul of Lewis’ main characters. The principal correspondent is Uncle Screwtape, He is a Senior Tempter and serves as the Undersecretary of his department in what Lewis envisages as a sort of infernal and devilish Civil Service.

Screwtape’s letters are posited as advice for his young nephew, Wormwood. Wormwood is a devil-in-training. He is a cohort, if you will, charged with the misguidance of only one man, or patient, as he is known in these instructional posts from the underworld

I would encourage you to find some time to read it. I think you’ll find Lewis’ story and style refreshing and his insight into human nature spot on. (Even though Lewis published this story in 1942.)

One of the more affecting descriptions of this novel comes from Lewis, himself. In Lewis’ original preface, he tells us of a humorous anecdote where a country clergyman had written saying that “much of the advice given in these letters seemed… positively diabolical.

And, it is.

Lewis continues with his introduction to this story by describing his sentiments and his purposeful use of certain symbols for Hell. I’ll note, also, that Lewis confesses to us that he likes bats better than bureaucrats. This sets the stage, for us, where his symbols make for ripe pickings when describing the growing legalese twisting through the marbled corridors of Oregon’s capital.

Lewis writes:

“We live in the Managerial Age, in a world of ‘Admin.’ The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid ‘dens of crime’ that Dickens loved to paint.

"It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result.

"But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.

"Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the offices of a thoroughly nasty business con­cern.

In our lifetimes, we have made drastic policy reversals while striving to advance the seemingly more tolerant positions. Look at health care. Big changes are under-foot in how our culture views health care. Many of today's policies are incoherent when compared with our age-old ideals that have been codified in law and medicine.

For example, you know the Hippocratic oath by it’s simplicity – ”First do no harm.”  Yet, ever since government, through political self-will, has gained control of our lives by leveraging the healthcare industry for power, control and profit, it has become rare to hear the common-sense understanding of the age-old Hippocratic school.

The Hippocratic oath is simple and easy to understand. In the 1800 and 1900’s the latin phrase for this oath was popularly nuanced as, “I will utterly reject harm and mischief.” In modern parlance the tweet-able phrase has two tenants, 1) always help, and, 2) never harm.

But our modern culture has become flooded with a new, yet all-too-common, sort of sterile, bureaucratic tyranny. That combined with the complexities of modern law, and the desire to draw bright-lines around specific situations distorts our clear view of the underlying moral concepts.

One example of that distortion recently came across my desk while reviewing the 2017 Senate Bill, SB 494. Read the irony in the current statute, ORS 127.505, Sec. 9, §(8),

–– “Health care” means diagnosis, treatment or care of disease, injury and congenital or degenerative conditions, including the use, maintenance, withdrawal or withholding of life-sustaining procedures and the use, maintenance, withdrawal or withholding of artificially administered nutrition and hydration.

Given this definition, “health care” can mean either treating and caring for a patient, or it can mean withholding nutrition from a patient. In other words, in one breadth we are saying that starving and dehydrating a patient is recognized as “health care.”

Truly, this language was, “conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.” The  men and women who dreamed this up had thoroughly blanched hearts hidden beneath their suits, ties, and starched-shirts.

As I understand political theory, human flourishing should be considered as a first principled and a primary aim. Only a well-ordered political community and a well-educated citizenry can achieve that aim. This, then, requires virtuous citizens and virtuous leaders. Without these two foundational supports we will never be able to achieve the liberty we seek, nor the human flourishing we long for.

If we don't stand for rural Oregon values and common-sense –– No one will.


Capitol Phone: 503-986-1728

Capitol Address: 900 Court St. NE, H-415, Salem, Oregon 97301

Email: sen.DennisLinthicum@oregonlegislature.gov

Website: http://www.oregonlegislature.gov/linthicum