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The Vampire Bureaucracy
A Halloween Treat
(I don’t typically do official holidays. Calendars aren’t the boss of me! However, I thought I’d make an exception in your case. Here’s a little Halloween musing…)
HOW DO VAMPIRES KNOW WHO OWNS A HOUSE? You are probably familiar with a common trope from “vampire shows.” It goes like this, these sun-hating, immortal blood-drinkers can only enter a house if they have been invited.
It is a delightfully sinister bit of folklore because it makes you dangerously complicit in whatever the sexy night ghouls might do. But how do they actually know whose house it is? Who gets to do the inviting or rescinding of access? How is that determined?
Clearly, vampires have been at their dread nocturnal activities for a lot longer than official paper contracts have existed. Perhaps even longer than legal signatures have been in use. What would happen if you were still living in your ancient family home but the government gave some corporation the legal authority to seize the deed for both the house and property. Who would then get to decide about vampire access?
And how would the vampire know?
We must suppose, I suppose, that vampires have a magical sense which tells them who is the house owner. But what logic or protocol or standard is being used by that magical sense?
There is a pretty good chance that you have never wondered about this because it is so common in the fictional realms of the supernatural. Par for the course. There is a surprising amount of unexplained legalistic framing in these forms of supernatural entertainment.
Why is it possible to sell your soul to the Devil with a legal signature on a piece of paper? Even if written in blood, it seems odd that the arch-evil fiend, who has existed since primordial time, would be obligatorily bound by some recently evolved social habits concerning the distribution of property.
“Look, it’s MY soul and you don’t get to have it unless I agree to sign a contract!” It sounds childish. A child, no doubt, of the last few millennia of human culture — anxious about the possible existence of folkloric entities while simultaneously trusting that the conventional legal framework of adults is potent enough to organize all reality — even when that reality is not only much older than the legal framework itself!
Dark magic allows you to overrule natural law BUT still has to obey contractual law?
That’s pretty suspicious don’t you think?
WHEN I WAS IN THE 9TH GRADE, I was obsessed with hacking the afterlife in a pluralistic cosmos. How should I go about ensuring my profitable eternity if the Christians are correct? Or the Muslims? Or the ancient Greeks? Or the Vikings? What if they’re all correct???
I had different schemes for each scenario. Among them was included the idea of “collecting souls” from other kids so that I would have a few to barter with — against any dread entities that might hold sway in unknown bardo realms beyond mortality.
I would get other children at my high school to sign over their souls in exchange for trinkets, snacks, or whatever else was at my easy disposal. I think I collected a few dozen before my zeal wore off. Of course, when I say “collected” I mean that they signed a piece of paper. We all put our trust in letters on paper!
Now you certainly could make the argument that it is not the verbal or written contract itself that determines the power, but rather our collective social belief in language and rules. But that produces the same inquiry — why do we invest more potency into these words and gesture than into natural law?
Possibly, supernatural fiction a kind of pornography of social concordance. The REAL fantasy is that (a) belief controls reality (b) we all believe more or less the same thing (c) beliefs are self-evidently available through verbal and written gestures.
Our social protocols are magic!
CONSIDER THE GENRE OF EXORCISM ENTERTAINMENT. For decades it has been dominated by Catholicism. The idea, apparently, is that otherworldly entities and energies (who piggyback on our arousals and negativity) gain control of human beings and can disrupt the entire natural order — spinning heads, levitating, muttering in Sumerian, crawling on the ceiling. These chaotic fiends, however, have somehow still agreed to obey all the official rules and regulations.
All you need to is get an officially sanctioned priest to bring the correct book and read out the regulations that keep Christendom safe from demons. No evil can resist the power of a functional bureaucracy! Devils have no choice but to obey. And if they do not immediately submit then you & your priest have a crisis of faith to overcome. You just don’t BELIEVE IN THE REGULATIONS strongly enough.
No surprise, I think, that this accompanies feels of horror and dread in the viewer!@
WE ARE SUCH LANGUAGE FETISHISTS, are we not? Do you ever find yourself behind the wheel of a sealed and moving automobile SPEAKING commands to other drivers? TELLING them not to make certain moves that put your vehicle in danger?
It is not just that there is a primitive superstitious layer to your self-identity. It is that this layer is supposedly governed by verbal and written contracts and assertions. That’s a little creepy.
Consider the infamous Christian Inquisition. You snatch up a reported heretic (yes, I’m imagining YOU are the wicked inquisitors — deal with it) and put him or her on the stand. They must declare their belief in your sect’s magic book or you will torture and kill them. But they stand firm! Amazing. This idiot thinks that burning alive is better than confessing false beliefs. The danger of language is greater than the danger to the flesh. And you idiots are even worse. You think her beliefs are indicated primarily by her statements and that she has submitted completely if she… says so. Both the victim and the victor are victimized by words? That’s dark, man.
Obviously, we need societies in which we have a decent chance of trusting other people via their symbolic gestures. But that doesn’t quite explain why churches put their favorite sentences from their favorite book on giant roadsigns.
Seems like they worship language.
Maybe it’s just me but I’m not sure I would believe a burning bush if it SAID it was God? And why would I think the aliens who abducted you were from the Pleiadian star system just because they TOLD me so? That’s a lot of gullible, upfront faith that conventional, easily-grasped languaging is the force that structures reality. I’m not sure that it is. Seems a bit superstitious, don’t you think?
A monotheist cult believes the world is only 6000 -10 000 years old — the same approximate age as written language?
Wizards and witches reorder reality through verbal and written spells?
A young girl tragically kills herself because of some hurtful, hateful things posted online by classmates?
Why are they all taking the words so seriously? Even if it kills them???
Our superstitious selves seem to act as if people and worlds are just computer hardware totally reprogrammed by conventional social language protocols. This uninspected authoritarian dominance of the contractual force of verbalization is the sinister background of supernatural tales.
Of course, we like these tales for many different reasons. For example, we seek particular emotional ranges that are intriguing and titillating, we are also interested in the possibility of actual subtle beings and unusual capacities whether real or poetic. We wish to inspect elemental energies. Okay, but that does not explain how we compulsively lay out the universes of these tales. It does not explain why our “big religious” are so devoted to books, rules, names, claims, and the authority of speech.
Sit down in a museum for a while. Compare how much time people spend looking at the exhibits versus how often they simply default to reading the explanatory title card — next the exhibit.
We teach our children to do this. We test them about what they read on the card NOT what they observed about the actual objects.
Happy Halloween from Layman Pascal.