Bogeymen

The classic Bogeyman is a tale told by parents to frighten children into good behavior. There is another type of Bogeyman, however. It is a tale told by adults to themselves to explain why they’re already frightened.

We live in a fallen world, which means that we are separated from God. This is a terrible state for us to be in and more to the point we instinctively know that it is a terrible state for us to be in. In this state we are not happy and since we want to be happy we seek to know why we are not happy. Of course, if we came to the right answer we would go to church, receive the sacraments, and make progress on being happy. But not everyone does this, and the people who don’t still have a deep-seated emotional need to have an explanation for why they are unhappy. So they come up with one that isn’t true.

This explanation for why they are unhappy is what I call a Bogeyman. Bogeymen invariable have a few key traits. In particular they always:

  1. Are something which is reasonably powerful.
  2. Are something that is in theory beatable.
  3. Are something that is not in practice beatable.

If something is not powerful, it has no explanatory value for unhappiness. If it is not in theory something the unhappy person can overcome, then misery is assured and the Bogeyman leads to despair, which (most) people know to be wrong. If it is something that is beatable in practice, it will be beaten, the unhappiness will not go away, and so another Bogeyman will need to be found. Vaguely analogous to the Peter Principle, Bogeymen will be defeated until an undefeatable one that satisfies conditions 1 and 2 is found.

Bogeymen can be nearly anything that satisfies these three criteria. Groups of people are very popular, such as Republicans, Democrats, the Rich, drug users, popular entertainers, foreigners, racists, men, women, etc. Social conditions such as poverty, inequality, factory farming, industrial pollution, etc. have been not uncommonly used. Widely held social theories like capitalism, Marxism, nationalism, internationalism, Catholicism, etc. work well as bogeymen too.

This is not to say that a person will have no legitimate complaints about the real thing they are using as a Bogeyman. They almost certainly will, since real complaints work much better than imaginary complaints to create the skeleton of a scary figure. Rare is the imagination so powerful it can keep a menacing figure in view without any recourse to reality. But though the complaints are real, they will never be considered in any sort of balance. A person who focuses their fears onto a Bogeyman is inherently a utopian—someone who believes that perfection can be achieved in this life—and utopians can never consider imperfections in the world as permanent compromises. Utopians don’t mind temporary compromises, of course—hence the guillotine and the gulag—but a permanent compromise because the world will never be perfect? That is unthinkable. If that were the case, happiness would be impossible.

It’s a problem of looking for happiness in the wrong place, of course. This transitory world is not the sort of place in which you can find happiness. But if a man gives up looking for God, the wrong places to find happiness are all that are left.

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