Of Temptation and Tyrants

The first time that I read Milton’s Paradise Lost I was transfixed not just by the beauty of the language but by the beauty of his Satan.  Familiar only with images of Satan as a horrifying devil replete with horns and a pointy tail, I was at first stunned by Milton’s Satan.  Here was a version of Satan that didn’t scream out “I am evil, follow me anyway” but one who was gorgeous and eloquent and (yes) sublime.  Some of the most beautiful speeches in this epic poem are written for, given by Satan.  His rhetorical genius is unparalleled, his arguments compelling.  We can understand fully and completely why Eve falls, and we even feel empathy for Satan, this most misunderstood paragon of Heaven who sought only his rightful, just place in Heaven.  We are drawn in, even with the speaker’s early warning:

โ€œThโ€™ Infernal Serpent; he it was whose guile / Stirred up with envy and revenge, deceived / The mother of mankind, what time his pride / Of rebel angels, by whose aid aspiring / To set himself in glory above his peers / He trusted to have equaled the Most Highโ€ (Paradise Lost, I. 35-40).

The more I thought about it, though, the more I understood that for Satan–be it a biblical Satan, a literary Satan, or a figurative Satan–to “work,” he must be attractive, appealing, and of course, tempting.  He cannot skulk around in bright red skin, baring his fangs, and spewing venom.

When we are first, in our teens, tempted to misbehave, pressured by peers or hot boys (or girls) to sample drugs, alcohol, sex, we are not presented these things by slathering strangers in trench coats or by balding middle-aged men in dark vans who promise us candy and a puppy.  We are tempted by people whom we trust, whom we admire, whom we wish to emulate.  Temptation is never tempting if it’s presented to us by an “undesirable.”  Even our (those females among us) propensity in our youth to be attracted to the “bad boy” is evidence of the charm and attractiveness principles at work.  Part of the “bad boy” attraction is, of course, that bad boys are hot (in the gorgeous, sexy sense), they are slick, they are smooth.  Their attractiveness and their ability to croon sweet nothings are what draw us in.  If these “bad boys” looked on the outside like many are on the inside, we’d run screaming for the hills.

We tend to trust people who are attractive, who say what we want to hear, who appeal to our higher selves.  We are drawn in by beauty and pretty pretty speeches.  We just are.  We haven’t learned, as a people or as people, that the most gorgeous, the most eloquent, the most charming are also, often, the most dangerous.  So we are charmed by a veneer of grace, good manners, and platitudes.  We are drawn in by idealistic dreams and pie in the sky dreams, we want to believe that it’s okay, really really okay, to take this one step down a dangerous path.  What’s one step?  And it’s being taken for the best reason, with the best intention.  Right?  Surely it’s not bad for us if it looks and sounds so good.

But Milton knew, and on some level, we all know that those things that are most dangerous are also the most appealing.  Who would eat junk food if it were foul tasting?  Who would drink alcohol or do drugs if there weren’t that euphoric “high” to be attained?  Who would ever do anything that was bad for them if it weren’t alluring in some way, didn’t appeal to our sense of justice or morality or ego?  Who would support tyranny and tyrants if they weren’t attractive and didn’t couch their motives in flowery speeches and compelling, even tempting, rhetoric?

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12 thoughts on “Of Temptation and Tyrants

  1. i don't trust you conservatives;candle says she is a female, conservative lady claims to be female and now here you are claiming to be female but all three of you say FART and that lends to being MALE…..I JUST CAN'T TRUST WHAT YOU SAY, I BELIEVE EVERYTHING BIGio TELLS ME, SO I GUESS THAT MAKES ME A LIBERAL

  2. I can assure you that I did not say that word in this post; perhaps if you read it, you would have something more intelligent to say? Just a thought.

    I can also assure you that my tolerance level for trolls is far lower than both Candle's and Conservative Lady's. Let's let this be the last time you troll my site, 'k? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. Fuzzy: beautifully written, for all that you are talking about, essentially, evil. Smiley-faced fascism is what we're seeing, almost barely pushed on us by a silver-tongued demagogue. I've always thought of Obama as a car salesman who knows somebody. This is the guy that sold us our clunker to begin with. This is the guy who convinced us to get that sub-prime loan. Or the interest-only loan. Or who told us that we should get credit cards when we turn 18 so that we can build our credit and learn to be responsible. Total crap.

    Putz: she's a girl, you nitwit ๐Ÿ˜› I'm the dood ๐Ÿ™‚ Seriously Putz, you seem like a nice guy, but run – don't walk – to the bookstore and buy Liberty and Tyranny.

  4. Absolutely, Candle. This guy is nothing more than the veneer of a decent human being, dig down a bit (or, gee, just read–don't listen to!–his speeches) and it's all there. What he says is contemptible, what he's doing is contemptible, he is contemptible.

    I'm not liking moderating my bestest blog buds, though. Maybe I'll turn it off and just delete idiotic, off-topic comments? What's your preferred form of censorship, Candle? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. I eventually censored my site for…various different reasons…not just trolls. I will say that I've had some particularly bad troll posts, though, that I decided not to allow – thanks to moderation. If you aren't too worried about a monster slipping through here and there, turn it off. If you turn it off and don't like it, you can always turn it back on ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. I turned it off . . . for now. I'm not as famous and marvelous as you, Candelabra, so I don't get many trolls. And so far they've simply been illiterate and gauche, but I guess that's what trolls are. *sigh* Where's the intelligent liberal when you need one? You know, the thoughtful ones who actually contribute viable ideas and counterpoints? Instead, I get blah blah unintelligible blah blah insult blah blah you said “X” snigger snigger blah blah.

  7. Fuzz:
    1) I'm not famous at all. I'd like the ol' site to take off but if it doesn't all good. I'll probably give it a few months to a year. If I'm forced to get a new job that'd decide it, I think.

    2) There are no intelligent liberals – they've already turned libertarian. The rest, if they still see themselves as liberal, simply aren't engaging the issues in any intellectual way. I just heard the dumbest 1-sided conversation of my life a few minutes ago, by a lib saying (on the phone) that she's not voting in the governor's race this year, and won't be voting until 2012. I haven't done a thing to influence her to change her mind – the last thing I want to do is engage this woman. I like liberals the way I like cows: fat, dumb and happy.

  8. Fuzzy gal, this is really an A+ post. LOVE IT. Especially the last line. Awesome! Odd that Putz is here saying these things. I think Putz still has a “thing” for Candle, and may be jealous of the attention Candle is paying to you. But that's me and my dirty mind.

  9. Heyas Candelabra, it'll take off, give it time; yours is a welcome breath of fresh and unique air.

    As to the unintelligent libs, you may be right, they have gone libertarian (as it seems more and more conservatives are looking for a home that better defines their values be it “independent” or “constitutional” or “refounding”. All of that really scares me, though, because we're all over the map and likely to split votes and give more seats to dems than they might otherwise get. I'm not sure where I am on that, so I'll probably blog it to figure it out. hehe).

    Not voting? Huh? I seriously don't get this. There's a LOT of that from conservatives in my district, and it drives me crazy. After BO won, I talked to more than a few people who didn't want him but didn't vote because they thought it wouldn't “count.” Granted, massively democratic state here (Mass), but grrrrr. How can we get anything done if people aren't even bothering to vote. Drives me up the wall.

  10. Aw, many thanks, Opus!

    And not sure what Putz is even talking about to be honest. His weird ramblings about gender don't seem to be at all relevant to this post. Or to anything, really. Maybe he is jealous that Candle is paying attention to me, you think? I do have a bit of a crush on Candle's brain, so maybe Putz is somehow picking up on that? And accusing me of using the word “fart” as some sort of . . . um, I'm at a loss on that one.

  11. FS, HA HA HA! The whole gender/Fart thing was between Candle, Putz and ME. One of the first duties I performed on Candle's blog was to out him as a male. Putz had just gotten through saying how he was madly in love with Candle (lesbian female, still says female in the profile), and I put up the question as to gender. Putz got all weirded out, and the next time Candle used the word “fart”, Putz said that clinched it, Candle has to be a male. I knew Candle was a male because of his 9/12 march video, he spoke briefly and it was a man's voice, so I know FOR SURE Candle is a male. Putz is still a little out of whack about the whole thing and is taking it out on you. Sorry for the hassle.

  12. Ah! Well, this does indeed provide some context, thanks, Opus. Now I feel bad for being so hard on him. I wasn't too sure about Candle's gender, either. I initially had him pegged as a male, but then that whole wacky artist exchange happened, and I thought he was a girl (because the wacky artist chick said so, and I guess she'd read that on his profile). Bottom line, I wasn't paying any attention to anyone's gender and was completely confused by Putz's (at the time I thought waaaaay out in left field) comments.

    Yo Putz, I wasn't in on the joke, dear, had no idea what you were talking about. My bad.

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