Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

The Internet Demon

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | May 27, 2009

Today I received an email from Niblett Ywqzaxy. That's right: Ywqzaxy. It was a pharmaceutical newsletter which Niblett said I had requested from Etqsydaxy. It seems that old Et had sent the request through channels at his company, Remusapad LLC. I didn’t open the email message, download the pictures or read the newsletter, but I did do a Google search for Remusapad LLC. I was not surprised to find there were no results. After all, what can one expect from a company that lists its location as Boulder Creek, CA 98813? There is a Boulder Creek in California, but its zip code is 95006. Zip 98813 is correct only if you’re in Bridgeport, Washington.

Ah, yes, Remusapad, Etqsydaxy, and Niblett, I know them of old, now denizens of the world of spam. Truly it would have been more fitting if Etqsydaxy had been named Etcetera, as the iterations of his brazen existence extend themselves indefinitely. Emails, like computer viruses, do not reflect the best in people. Many times—perhaps most times—these things are not designed to get a positive response or to generate revenue. They are designed to annoy or, if they carry a vicious payload, to destroy. At their best they are simply inane. One is reminded of the scientist Weston in C. S. Lewis’ Perelandra, who is locked in a combat of temptation and resistance with Ransom, the novel’s hero. Through one long period, Weston—possessed by the Devil—continually calls the hero’s name at mechanically regular intervals, seeking to drive Ransom him mad.

What prompts so many people to be nuisances, vandals, destroyers? To endlessly hack into the systems of others or, more likely, create bots that do the job automatically? To purvey every kind of falsity and filth? Some hackers harness the power of remote machines for a particular purpose, and some merchants cater to human vice for financial gain: One can understand their motives. But the sheer nuisance factor in human nature is omnipresent, and the Internet gives it an enormous opportunity to manifest itself. People who wouldn’t dare ring your doorbell and run, egg your house, or slash your tires are out there sending mindless spam, creating nasty viruses, and promoting vice—because they can.

Apparently there are lots of them, and they teach us something about both human nature and the sickness of our culture.

There is a seed of discontent in all of us, a discontent exploited by the world, the flesh and, yes, the devil himself, such that we give ourselves to all sorts of foolish, malicious and even dangerous projects for no other purpose than some petty satisfaction, twisted more or less according to our weaknesses. It is thus that we scratch an itch, and it is more than just a glum reading of human nature to note that we are all inveterate scratchers. This is an insight into our fallenness and our need. We were designed to be completed and perfected by sharing in the life of God, and until we share in that life we are quite miserable, always seeking some relief, some escape, some witless triumph, usually at another’s expense.

The anonymity of the Internet reveals to us how many people will scratch rudely one way or another if only they can do so without embarrassing themselves, and without the possibility of punishment. Indeed, we see the same pattern with over-indulgence of every kind, the constant urge to do what we feel like doing, free of responsibility, seeking the wayward pleasures of both flesh and soul: gluttony and spite, lust and pride. In a truly humane context, such as in a small village, we are often kept somewhat in check by an unwillingness to scratch in public, an unwillingness to be associated with vicious desires, lest we lose face or worse. As moral standards decline, some vices become acceptable—contraception, for example, or homosexuality, or even conspicuous consumption. We grow blind to such acceptable vices as they become cultural norms.

But through the anonymity of the Internet, we see all too clearly those who will push the envelope when they can do so with impunity. We become aware of how many really want to do all the things they would not dare to do in the local village. What we find, in a society increasingly bereft of grace, is a huge number of persons who simply cannot possess themselves in peace. They are instead driven by their own interior disorder to do all manner of incredibly stupid, annoying and even vicious things. The Internet, with all its clutter of spam and viruses, unfettered lust and unguarded hate, is a true mirror of the sickness of our culture, and of our souls.

It goes without saying that grace can penetrate even here. But how driven by our whims we are, and how incredibly unstable without Christ’s ballast in our souls! We gnaw away at each other in beastly little snatches, even as we are all stung in our turn. Alas, the Internet is a cautionary tale. Has it not introduced us, face to face, with the petty demon who bites us all? My email rightly names him Niblett.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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