An excerpt from The Bureau of Happiness

Copyright © 2013 Riis Marshall and Turfhill Court Press

From the time he was old enough to start to think about the world he had been subject to an almost constant barrage from almost everybody in his life: grandparents, teachers, Sunday School teachers, neighbours—almost every grown-up in his young life except his parents—with a whole host of reasons why he should distrust and hate everybody he met who didn’t look and sound exactly like he did, who didn’t go to the same church as he did and who spelled their surnames in ways just a bit differently from the way he did. He didn’t understand it then and he didn’t understand it now.

If you were a little Jewish kid growing up on the wrong side of a street in the Bronx and every day on the way to school a bunch of Irish kids beat you up then it might be understandable if you hated Irish people. And if you were a little Irish kid growing up on the other wrong side of the same street in the Bronx and every day on the way to school a bunch of Jewish kids beat you up then it might be understandable if you hated Jewish people.

But why should a man in his mid-twenties from Sleaford in Lincolnshire travel to Belfast every year on the twelfth of July to march up and down banging a big drum proclaiming his hatred for Roman Catholics? Charlie doubted when this man was a child in Sleaford he was beaten up by a bunch of Catholic kids every day on the way to school. Sleaford! Hell’s fire there couldn’t be more that about eight Catholics in the whole of Sleaford, let alone enough to form a gang to go around beating up little Protestant kids. The question Charlie asked himself was: is there a need in the human psyche that can only be ameliorated by a hatred of other human beings who are somehow different from you regardless of whether they or their ancestors had ever done anything bad to you or your ancestors?

He recalled a conversation with one of his good friends during their university days about whether there were intelligent beings elsewhere in the universe and whether they had ever visited our world. Isaac Asimov suggested they had not because if they had expended the energy necessary to travel the vast distances between their planet and ours, we would have expected them to have introduced themselves to the leaders of large, powerful nations rather than limiting themselves to brief chats with a hermit in a cabin somewhere in the mountain forests of Maine and a farmer in a remote clearing in the Brazilian rainforest.

Charlie’s friend offered an optional explanation: Suppose there are all sorts of intelligent beings in the universe and those of more advanced civilizations routinely visit each other. During the 20th century people of the earth finally broke the barrier of gravitation and began to travel into space. Suppose of all the intelligent beings in the universe, people of the earth are the only ones endowed with a hate gene—only the people of earth are aggressive toward their fellow human beings? Maybe, Charlie’s friend hypothesised, these beings visit the earth regularly but only to keep an eye on us since only in the last century have we demonstrated the potential to export our aggression to other worlds.

Or maybe, he thought, it’s a matter of faith. Suppose you truly believe in a Supreme Being, you truly believe you are committed to behaving in a certain way within a relationship with this Supreme Being and you truly believe your commitment to this relationship determines how you order your life and whether following your death your soul ascends to a place of absolute eternal happiness or descends into a place of absolute endless damnation.  If your belief in this is total, if your faith is complete and unqualified, then it necessarily follows that all those who do not have your faith are somehow fundamentally different from you and depending on the precise nature of this belief you are bound by it to treat them in ways different from the way you treat other believers. If your faith is absolute then it must necessarily follow that those whose faith is not absolute cannot be one with you.

And maybe this leads inexorably to the universal, world-wide interest in secret societies. If your faith sets you apart from non-believers then it makes sense to strengthen the bond among true believers by bringing them together in quiet, secret places far away from the prying eyes of non-believers. Thus the universal interest in secret meetings in secret locations with passwords, handshakes, regalia, rituals and the absolute exclusion of non-believers. The anthropologist will tell us this interest in secret societies reaches back to the dawn of the human race when boys came of age and were taken from their mothers to become warriors and hunters, and this initiation was done in a secret place—far away from the prying eyes of women and children—and with rituals forbidden to the uninitiated.

But Charlie thought perhaps this represented something far more fundamental to the human condition. Maybe along with his hypothesised hate gene was a basic human need to meet in secret with fellow initiates to reinforce the bonds between them. If the were the case this would strengthen even more the propensity to treat the uninitiated differently.

This brought him to the question of the widespread paranoia among human beings about conspiracies. If you’re disposed to treat all those who are different from you—who haven’t committed to your faith, who aren’t members of your secret society—differently then it follows they almost necessarily represent a threat to your way of life, to your faith, to your secret society. And here was the profound contradiction that was at the core of Ramaker’s psyche: underlying his belief system was an overwhelming conviction that, as he hated everybody who was different from him in even the most prosaic of ways, so they must hate him—so he wished for their total annihilation, so they must wish for his.

When Charlie thought back over his life and the things he had been told when he was young, he began to understand why those who were most ardent in the pursuit of activities connected with their various secret societies were also those most concerned about conspirators of all kinds attacking them from all sides in efforts to destroy them and their ways of life. He recalled the Hollywood Blacklist: how could anybody with an IQ of more than about seventeen seriously believe people such as Jack Guilford, Burl Ives and Artie Shaw were actively trying to destroy the United States of America? Oh, yeah, and don’t forget about Orson Bean—Orson Bean for Christ’s sake—now there was a true danger to America!