Sunday, January 29, 2017


"Pandemonium" is a word which, by my understanding, was created by John Milton.  It was the capital of Hell in his Paradise Lost, to which all demons were summoned to confer by Lucifer, n/k/a Satan (or better, perhaps, the angel formerly known as "Lucifer").  It's derivation is clear enough:  pan + daemon or daemonium=all demons or evil spirits, or if needed the place at which they do what they do, are what they are.

Over the years the word has come to mean uproar or chaos resulting from some event or other.  It seems that it was assumed that Hell or at least its capital is a loud and confused place, demons being perpetually noisy and frenzied.  That doesn't seem quite right, though, for the capital of Milton's great rebel against God and erstwhile archangel.  Once Son of the Morning, Light Bearer, now the Prince of Darkness.  Would such a being tolerate disorder in the ranks of his followers, particularly of an uproarious nature?   Evil can be administered through chaos, certainly, but Satan has typically been considered much more than a bomb-thrower, much more than someone running about in a frenzy, wrecking havoc.

Some may feel "pandemonium" in the sense of uproar or chaos describes what is taking place in our nation since our new president assumed his office, and certainly if one reads what is being churned out by the media or watch TV it may seem so.  The unusual can cause discomfort, and "unusual" is an apt word in this case.  The new president, unlike Satan, is something of a bomb thrower and I suspect there will be bombs thrown as long as he's in office, though I also suspect that there will be a good deal of "walking back" from particularly odd and exclamatory pronouncements he might make, as necessary, once someone does some thinking about them.  Then again, it's unclear to what extent wiser heads will be allowed to prevail, or even whether they'll have the chance to do so. 

Uproar seems to be a fact of life in these remarkable times.  We are increasingly exposed to outrage, some genuine, some manufactured.  That pandemonium in this sense is being fabricated by certain of us is, I think, clear.  Outrage has been a staple of talk radio for years now.  It's a means of attracting listeners, of course.  It's likely even the most rabid of the talkers understands this and makes use of it. 

We see more of the same on TV, though its use has grown more slowly in that medium.  What are disturbingly called "reality shows" play up conflict and anger, and especially the expression of anger by those who are participants in snide and silly asides, often laced with tactfully deleted profanity.  I wouldn't be surprised if this was encouraged by producers and directors and their lackeys, but nor would I be surprised if it was genuine.  Perhaps participants are chosen based on their irascible nature.  And, of course, the stars themselves are allowed if not encouraged to be apoplectic, like a certain British chef known to us all.

Outrage strikes me as being related to if not caused by self-righteousness.  Self-righteousness is in turn related to if not caused by a perverted certainty in conviction.  It's strange that in increasingly complicated times and situations those who purport to represent and govern us also purport to be, or may in fact feel, more and more certain of their convictions and what needs to be done.  This kind of certainty is also becoming characteristic of the pundits who plague us as much as politicians.  And so we have conflict, uproar and outrage aplenty.

Excessive emotion of any kind impairs reason and the intelligent consideration of options; intelligent inquiry and decision-making.  I'm inclined to think that the pandemonium of our time is one of the reasons why we're seeing a resurgence of interest in the philosophy of Stoicism.  It's recognition of the fact that certain emotions are destructive, its emphasis on reason and focusing on what's in our control and its good use as opposed to disturbing ourselves with what isn't in our control are valuable tools for living at all times, but especially in these times.  It's unfortunate that the influential and powerful haven't become familiar with it, and probably never will be. 

Pandemonium is certainly the capital of Hell in Milton's great work.  Pandemonium in another sense seems to be characteristic of the hell we've made for ourselves here.

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