I don’t know you, but if you’re reading this manual, I can assume that you’re an immortal being of pure hatred. You view humans, the only sapient life form in your corner of the universe, with blistering contempt.
Killing them would be easy; they’ve had millennia and haven’t gotten off one rock. A meteor or supervolcano would do the trick. That seems brutish and boring, though. You want decades of torture. You want lingering meaninglessness. You don’t want to eradicate life; you want to eradicate meaning and purpose.
Even Demon School dropouts can reduce populations. You want billions of people to remain alive, but suffer in pointless despair. You don’t want them dead. You want them to wake up every morning into an existence they dread– one they know on a deep level to be pointless, that they’d end if they only had the courage.
How might you pull of this grand torture?
Step 1: Identify Value
The distinction between external philosophical meaning and revealed value isn’t especially relevant here. Sure, the former is what you’re out to destroy, as an immortal nihilistic demon in rebellion against all creation; for our purposes, though, we can focus on revealed value. That will be good enough. Many of the things humans value are things they need to survive; you can mire them in purposeless existence by putting a great cost on basic needs. How might you do this, when humans continually invent the tools of abundance? It takes some cleverness, it is true.
If you observe humans for a few hundred years, you’ll discover things that they value: friendship, intellectual stimulation, esteem, pleasure. It’s not worth your time to try to guess how much each person values what, or to wrangle with outside-the-system concepts of meaning; they will reveal what they value, and it’s not hard to measure it.
Humans have weird ideas about suffering. They worship it and ascribe great value to those who suffer, but avoid their own suffering at all costs. Much of this suffering comes from their mortality. They die, and they have no idea what happens afterward, or even if they exist at all. Consequently, wasting time is something they absolutely hate (but, paradoxically, are easy to trick into doing). Put a human in a traffic jam for five minutes, and there’s palpable misery. A chunk of his finite existence (as far as he knows) has been sliced off and he’ll never get it back.
We can measure suffering with a unit that indexes the moment-by-moment experience of a person wasting time. I’ll use the French word douleur, meaning “pain”. For the sake of argument, let’s agree that 1 douleur equals about 3 minutes of wasted time. We’ll refine this notion later; I will later show that it’s advantageous from our perspective to build societies that, for no discernible or morally valid reason, value people’s sufferings at radically different rates.
Why would we use suffering to index value? Understand that humans are not far removed from animals and have learned that results (e.g., food and shelter) come from work. There’s a lot of evidence that work need not require suffering. We can roughly think of this “work” as a mixture of three components: (1) excellence and skill; (2) devotion and discipline; and (3) suffering.
There are people who produce results based on talents or skills (excellence); they might be the fastest hunters with the best aim. There are others whose discipline, knowledge, and industry lead to beneficial results– the hunter-gatherers. Then, there are people who will just endure misery toward a result– even a meaningless one. They’ll carry a hundred-pound bag of gravel from nowhere to nowhere in exchange for a lump of shiny metal.
The element of devotion/discipline is neither theatrical nor competitive, so it is not a major player in the human competition for rank within an organization. This leaves two strategies: competition to excel, and competition to suffer. Spoiler alert: the compete-to-suffer ones, in the long run, win. Why? Because those for whom excellence is even an option are a minority, and therefore vulnerable. The mediocrities will agree on the decision that they “just don’t like her”; she’s “not a team player”. Excellence will be driven out; suffering (or, at least, apparent suffering) will win.
When a human team or organization is given enough time to degrade, suffering is the currency. Excellence, devotion, industry, and skill don’t really matter. If you’re a compete-to-excel type, there are 10 compete-to-suffer sorts saying bad things about you and your work to your boss.
It is best if one can compete-to-suffer without actually suffering; this isn’t as hard as it seems. My favorite type of human is what other humans call the “psychopath”. He can mimic emotions he does not feel, and he is not incapacitated or shamed by others’ unhappiness. Therefore, he can indulge in the theatre of shared suffering without (as non-psychopaths will) becoming enervated and thereby dropping in performance. He is like the cancer cell– individually fit at the expense of the organism– and, for our destructive purposes, you want him in charge whenever possible. Luckily for us, humans are so good at promoting these guys, we barely have to do any work.
If suffering becomes the currency, then the people in the arts ought to receive few douleurs, since they have the privilege of working for “passion”. Net of living expenses and the upkeep of fitting in socially– since evaluation of talent is both subjective and usually performed by people who don’t have it, “cultural fit” matters more than ability– they often pay to work! As they should, right? It’s harder to play this game against people in jobs with direct social value (e.g., teaching, medicine) so, in those cases, we can subject the workers to odious bureaucracies– remind the plebs who’s boss– that interfere with their work, counteract their noblest efforts, and ensure that the most conscientious people are the last to be promoted.
It might seem counterproductive to encourage the deletion of high-quality work. It is! But if we don’t do that kind of thing, then we have productive people who aren’t suffering enough and therefore aren’t earning their douleurs. Competing-to-excel work doesn’t count as work; they’re enjoying it too much. They should be paying to go to work; not vice versa.
I suggest, in your quest to ruin a human society, giving a physical presence to these douleurs. People with possessions hate to part with them. The pain of losing a slip of paper that says “merit” can be as real as the pain people put themselves through to get the damn things. I would advise putting pictures of famous historical figures on them. Few of them will note (pun intended) the irony of using pictures of dead people to index the right to live.
In theory, this system leads to an equal distribution of misery. The people who do unpleasant, enervating work get more douleurs, but lose so much of themselves in the process that they can’t enjoy the material rewards. The people who opt out of unpleasant work, or find niches where they produce results but don’t suffer, get few douleurs and live miserable lives everywhere but at work. It’s beautiful, is it not?
Like clockwork, you get a system where people appear to have different things but are, more or less, equivalently unhappy. The most vibrant cities will only be accessible to those who suffer and sacrifice so much they can’t possibly enjoy the amenities.The best schools will be available only to the children of the most disengaged, enervated parents. A culture can be denuded within a generation– this is important, because your quest to ruin humanity will require creating a new one– when primacy and voice are given to those who hold the douleurs, rather than those of merit.
Even truth (another disposable human luxury) is up for grabs; at the personal level (micro truth) we can invent reputation machinery (social media, careerism) that tells a catchier story than whatever the truth is, and require people to participate in it or face socioeconomic oblivion. At the societal level (macro truth) one can just buy people and pay them to lie– it’s extremely effective. Fossil fuels are killing the planet? Not anymore. Chinese hoax. Burn all the Jesus Juice you want, boys. Truth is just another thing humans value, but they all have a price. Let what is true be decided by those with the douleurs to make things true.
No one’s happy; a perfect system, right?
You can improve on it. If everyone’s miserable, people might figure that out. This eliminates from the picture one of the most unpleasant human emotions: envy. Envy is the ultimate negative-sum emotion. I wish I had come up with it; it’s so terrible (and by terrible, I mean beautiful). It is horrible for a human to envy another person– to suspect or admit that one’s fleeting life is inferior in quality to someone else’s. Humans mistakenly believe that it is pleasant to be envied, but that’s not so. At best, people ignore those of lower status, who might envy them; in other words, the only people whose envy they might enjoy are those who’d never envy them. At worst, to be envied leads to anxiety and paranoia. So, envy produces a lot of misery in the envious party and confers no real benefit to the envied person.
You can, therefore, create a lot of human misery by selecting a small percentage of people (“the elite”) and exempting them from suffering. They get douleurs without having to be miserable. They might work, but their jobs are usually facile and sometimes even enjoyable. Usually, this elite is hereditary. (This is why your colleagues in Demon School refer to humans as “sperm worshippers”.) Some societies, like the contemporary United States, are averse to hereditary aristocracies, in which case the process must be hidden. The mediocrity of that society’s ruling class is masked by the ability of their progeny to win admission into four-year tavern organizations that are, for the masses, extremely difficult to get into; this convinces the poors of each generation that their rulers actually earned their positions.
Sometimes, false meritocracy doesn’t work; the mediocrity of the sitting elite is too visible. In that case, the strategy should be to convince the masses that the suffering of some people is simply “worth more”, because the gods or ancestors decided it so. Pseudoscience pertaining to skin color and skull shape, with nested layers of eliteness based on perceived blood purity, also works.
In either case, it’s not hard to exempt a small class of people from misery and endless competition, and they will pass this privilege on to their children and grandchildren because, as I already noted, humans worship dick juice.
Now, you’ve convinced humans to worship suffering and convert everything they value into a unit of unpleasantness: the wasted hour, the douleur. Don’t let romantic attachments get in the way of trade. Let a nation’s best real estate can be purchased (and go largely unused) by foreign criminals, so long as those criminals have the douleurs. Allow intelligence and creativity to fall in importance, in favor of pedigree and credentials given out by the most expensive and socially exclusive drinking-based organizations. It doesn’t take long, and a person’s level of access to douleurs becomes a point of personal identity. People will dump friends who have fewer douleurs; those who have more, will in turn become socially inaccessible. It sounds ridiculous, but trust me, humans are stupid.
As they stratify, humans become convinced that the aforementioned elite– a small set of people who, for mostly hereditary reasons, are exempted from suffering for their douleurs– is necessary, and that society would fail without it.
Step 2: Control the Flow of Value
Once humans have accepted an unregulated generational pass-down of value– whether we’re talking about douleurs themselves, coveted job positions (in which people’s suffering is so overstated that they receive douleurs, but give very little), or “legacy” admissions to those elite four-year taverns– you’ve done the hard part.
At a certain level of degradation, people will constantly question not the deep philosophical matters– the meaning of life and death; morality, culture, and progress; whether or not gods exist; how knowledge and beliefs are formed– but, instead, wrack their brains over one simple question: whether they belong in the elite and, if so, why they aren’t there already. (Those in the elite will suspect that an inner elite is excluding them.) They will seek social and emotional comparisons and narratives that might inform them; they will place high value on the drama and gossip pertaining to their social superiors. Many would rather do this than take responsibility for their own existences. That’s very good for you, as one who seeks to humiliate or ruin the species; if people took account for their own lives, it wouldn’t take long before they overthrew the so-called “leaders” we demons have cleverly placed over them. We’d have to start all over again.
Such a society should make it very difficult– but not impossible, and I’ll explain why– for a person not born into that human elite to gain entree. If anyone can do it, it loses its value. People should sacrifice their lives in the attempt to gain access, and fail, and this should be so common it’s not remarkable. This said, ascendancy should be a remote possibility, even for people of average talent.
If there’s too much social mobility, we’ll see highly intelligent and creative people rising into positions of power. We obviously don’t want that. They might introduce some less degenerate form of society, and ruin the progress we’ve made. However, if we reduce social mobility to zero, people will cease to think of social rank as relevant to their lives– it becomes a thing they never had and never will get. There’s no reason to feel bad, in that case, about not getting in. Then, the elite becomes ceremonial and loses authority. You need the people of low social rank to be insecure, and to think that if they (or their parents) had just worked harder, they’d be better off, and that they wouldn’t have to waste so much time and energy now on the pointless suffering it takes for them to get douleurs.
So, when you’re trying to destroy a society, introduce a tiny amount of social mobility. A talented outsider ought to have, say, a 1-in-500 chance of getting in to that elite. This upflow of talent isn’t dangerous, because once such a person enters the elite and starts making mediocre, incurious friends, he’ll turn into one of them within a few years. He’ll be no threat to your designs. At the same time, his rise make the people who weren’t selected for ascendancy extremely insecure. He will prove that it’s possible for a commoner to advance, and all the other commoners will feel small.
While this is going on, the people with lots of douleurs will have the cultural megaphone– remember that anything can be bought or sold, including influence– and they will announce that they have douleurs not because they are lucky, but due to superior merit. You won’t have to tell them to do this; they’ll fully believe it, because human narcissism works this way. If their superiority is claimed with confidence, and often enough, the masses will believe them.
Who should get into the elite? How should this faux-meritocracy operate? You might think it best to promote at random. That will infuriate the masses; they will hate to see unqualified people put above them, especially while the elite promulgates a narrative about talent and hard work. But, there’s a more effective strategy, which is to promote based on one trait: allegiance to the existing elite.
In essence, those who work to help the existing elite elite control the flow of douleurs– and (by extension) the allocation of all things humans value– will be the ones chosen to join the sub-elite. This plan doesn’t require creativity or intellect in one’s sub-elite– only unquestioning loyalty to their superiors, and a brutal willingness to execute orders, no matter who gets hurt.
You’re almost there. You’ve converted almost everything humans value into douleurs. Their scarce reserves of attention (“eyeballs”) can be so converted. Reputation, honor, and proximity to important people and institutions are, likewise, easy to convert. Remember that everyone (rich and poor, elite and common) wants douleurs, especially when those come without suffering, so bribing people in important or prestigious positions is ridiculously easy.
Douleurs will run your society’s culture, its religions, and its politics. A douleur-hoarding elite will live without accountability atop a pile of douleurs that will grow in size without their conscious efforts, because a sub-elite– high on an inflated view of its intelligence and importance– will work on their behalf to grow it. How will this growth occur? The sub-elite will work overtime to scope out more things humans value, come up with new ways to convert those valued things to douleurs, and then funnel those douleurs to the coffers of the elite.
Your destructive system will run itself. Governments, cultural institutions, and media outlets averse to your plans will face well-douleured opposition movements that will destroy their reputations and legitimacy. Only those who support the douleur-hoarding elite will survive.
It won’t take long for the douleur-hoarding elite and the flow-mastering sub-elite, working together, to create a society full of organizations dedicated to global douleur supremacy. People who do not pledge allegiance to at least one such organization will kept out of the flow of douleurs; thereby, you’ll easily recruit not only the morally degenerate sub-elite, but the innocent common people into whatever these organizations do (even if it is destructive to society or the environment).
All you have to do, there, is convince the common idiots that anyone who has not signed up to subordinate himself to such an entity is suffering-averse and therefore does not deserve to live. (Men are especially susceptible to this. Convince them that it is somehow, in fact, masculine to subordinate to another man. It’s easier than you’d think; you can use this hack to make men kill each other, in the millions, over literally nothing.) Once you’ve won the cultural war– and remember: the douleur-hoarders will do the legwork out of self-interest– the totalitarianism will build itself, the culture will degenerate, and the nihilism will spread. You can sit back and watch humans destroy themselves.
You’re almost done.
Step 3: Value-Minimize
Young demons who have not yet destroyed societies or planets yet often underestimate human stupidity. They’d really kill each other over a yellow metal? Over pictures of dead people? Over land where unverifiable historical events are said to have occurred? ARe they really that fucking dumb? Well, yes.
Remember that many of these valued tokens are tickets that exempt a person from the suffering that society’s upkeep is believed to require. (It does not matter that, in modern societies, 99 percent of said suffering is artificial, non-productive, and could be done without with no harm to society.) Now, it should be made clear that humans are not all that rational, and they are not nearly as good at arithmetic as the robot slaves they’ve recently built (that will, ironically, crash their labors and, if we’re good at our jobs, impoverish them). Can what humans value be indexed numerically? Not perfectly.
I didn’t have to invent the douleur, because it already exists. Humans use various scarce items– masses of metal, piles of paper that it’s illegal to make for oneself, and bags of plant matter– to measure “utility”, a fancy term for what I’ve called value. Consider them all forms of the douleur; the distinction isn’t relevant. From a moral perspective– and it is good that we operate from an immoral perspective– the douleur is a terrible unit of accounting, because of the tendencies I’ve described above. One doesn’t need to “form” an elite; systems tend to evolve to a point where some people have few or no douleurs, while others have millions or billions. Bob’s douleur is not worth the same as Carla’s. Societies that assume otherwise will give legitimacy to unfair trades (and, remember, we want that, because we’re the bad guys) and, over time, will degenerate.
Though neither revealed value nor moral utility can be measured directly, we know that the more of something a human has, the less value a given quantity has. For example, some people live in countries where drinkable water is extremely cheap– a douleur might buy a few hundred gallons– and people use it to bury their waste. They literally shower in this substance that is objectively more important than gold. In other parts of the world, water is so expensive that people will literally kill each other over it.
For a human, the marginal value of a thing is either near-zero (abundance) or almost infinity (scarcity)– and it’s always undesirable to be in the latter regime. In a steady-state analysis, we’d expect the optimal point to be near an equal distribution; it’s a convex optimization problem. There are second-order effects to consider– incentive effects, the innocuousness and inevitability of transient inequality– that might encourage us to allow small divergences. So, in fact, value maximization– what a sound, rational human might aim for– is hard. What isn’t hard? Value minimization.
If you want to minimize the value of a douleur, put it where it’s least needed. Someone who has only three will value it more than someone who has fifty billion; make sure it gets to the latter place.
In Step 1, we discussed conversion of all things humans value (or, at least, as many as we can get) to douleurs. People will go along with this, because it just makes life simple if everything is up for trade, and who hasn’t wished, from time to time, that he could buy honor, reputation, “merit”, or love? In Step 2, we discussed giving incentives to a sub-elite that will gain total control over the flow of douleurs; it doesn’t take much before these people form organizations dedicated to global douleur totalitarianism, and to force the commoners to pledge allegiance (and a majority of their available working time) to those. In Step 3, we just let the douleur-hoarding elite and the flow-manipulating sub-elite ensure that all things humans value– all resources physical, social, and cultural– end up in the place where they have the least value.
You’ve got a stable state. The common people are now forced by a system that hates them (and that, if they are intelligent and rational, they hate back) to do work– not productive work, but competing-to-suffer “work”– on behalf of the organizations that are keeping them in a state of misery. Millions of years of human life are wasted every week. You win.
Isn’t it glorious?
Appendix: Extra Credit and Troubleshooting
It is not hard to take a global human society and mire it in pointless human misery. As you know, humans have disgusting languages produced by propelling air through their food-holes. They’ll call this degenerate system korporativnyy kapitalizm. They will grumble, but they will largely accept it.
The problem is: you might find this mode of destruction boring. Other demons in other galaxies are unleashing dick-weevils and smegma lahars on their planets. Meanwhile, you’re stuck watching humans destroy each other slowly, over decades. Even though that’s not a lot of time for immortal beings like you, you’ve got things to do. Watching human societies degrade is like watching paint dry.
You might decide that, instead, you want a nuclear holocaust. Or, perhaps, you prefer the subtle slower tragedy of humans facing an ecological catastrophe for which the dying primates know they’re to blame. These will come in time, so long as you keep focus. Check in with the human elite on a continual basis; even if they don’t believe in beings like you and me, they are on our side and will listen. Make sure they stay on task and, most importantly, that they crush movements toward any other modes of society. (This “korporat kapitalizm” must stay in place; that’s important.) I know that you want your genocides, your human-made weather disasters, your epidemic of destructive nihilism, and your genetically-engineered dick-weevils. You will get that stuff; just be patient.
So long as global korporat kapitalizm reigns, you will keep the worst people in charge of human affairs, and in your longing for an end-stage holocaust that replaces the slow-burning purposeless you built with theatrical calamity, time is on your side.