Emotional Malevolence


Jon rolled over and lay on his back, closing his eyes he slowly heaved a deep—long—sigh. Ana lay contentedly beside him lost in her own thoughts until disturbed by what to her sounded like a triumphal sigh, not a sigh of contentment that two lover’s shared — the inexplicable divine. Turning her head on the pillow she looked at him, her contented smile becoming an angry frown. Memories rekindled of the happier times they shared together becoming shrouded by deeper, darker, feelings; thoughts of those times when she was accepting and uncritical of him were now fast disappearing. Instead she was reminded of man who had constantly damned her with faint praise, who subjugated her intellect to that of his own, who was incapable of accepting her as his equal and certainly not as someone with the ability to be his intellectual superior. 

He lay there his eyes closed—smiling, itself an unspoken barb that cut into already festering wounds adding to the rancour of their emotional hurts. Hurts that overwhelmed her and created an anger so intense that she wanted to return that hurt. Regretful of their night together she got out of the bed and started to put her clothes on.

The movement made Jon sit up in the bed, confused and wanting to know what she was doing. Ana’s response to his confusion was a withering look and her saying aggressively, ‘Just because we’ve slept together doesn’t mean that anything has changed between us. You clearly have no idea how much you hurt me last time. Well, I’m an independent woman who is free to sleep with who I like, I slept with you because I wanted to. Don’t read something else into it’. 

‘But I thought …’. He began defensively.

Ana cut him short. ‘You really are a completely selfish, egotistical bastard Jon. I’m not interested in what you think anymore. Try treating me like an equal and not a conquest’.

‘I’ve never thought of you as a conquest Ana. I love you’. His last remark becoming a sulky whimper.

‘I seem to remember hearing you say that when we were together at Stanford. It stopped working then and it’s not working now’.

‘I’m only here because of you Ana! You’re the reason I came to the meeting, the reason I took this job, I thought …’.

Ana interrupted him again, ’Don’t lay any of that on me Jon, it’s what you always do! Just accept the moment and stop thinking there’s more to it’.

‘Is there someone else? There is isn’t there? Is it Jeremy your minister?’.

‘Oh! For God’s sake! You just won’t let go will you! If I say there’s no one else, if I say it isn’t Jeremy, you won’t believe me. Letting you bed me was clearly not a good idea’.

Jon was at a loss to think what he had done to provoke Ana and fighting hard to stay calm and rational suggested that they talk things through over breakfast, which only led to her to say with cutting sarcasm, ’Really! Bed AND breakfast! Just like old times’. Now dressed she looked at him coldly, ‘I’m going back to my apartment to get changed and then I’m going to the office, at least there we’re supposed to be equal partners. Who knows, even you may eventually see me as such’. And with that Ana left the hotel room — slamming the door as she went out.


Jon sat alone, self-conscious and melancholy, wondering how many others were at breakfast because of a tryst, searching discretely among the other guests for someone else who appearing as tristful as him. Musing that perhaps his triste was the inevitable outcome of all trysts, assignations that were bound to fail when emotional relationships only survived because of suppressed discontents. Fertile grounds for a website capable of influencing that discontent, the possible cause of the emotional malevolence he had just experienced with Ana.

‘Emotional malevolence! God help us all if that’s the truth of it’, he quietly said to himself.

His musings were interrupted by the waiter appearing at his table, ‘Shall I take your plate Sir and bring you a fresh pot of coffee’?

’Please’, Jon replied, needing more  time to think about how he was going to face Ana when he got to the office. The waiter returned with a coffee pot and quietly placed it on the table trying not to disturb him but getting a ’thank you’ anyway.

Jon’s preoccupation in trying to make sense of this morning’s spat with Ana always led him to a paradox. Research he had previously carried out on others who had viewed the website indicated that those discontents being acted on by them were already held. Discontents that were, for the most part, normally ignored until triggered by some event. He and Ana had viewed the website several times but it wasn’t clear that her actions were influenced by anything other than his own behaviour, either this morning or sometime in the past. On this occasion, whatever he had done to trigger the emotional response from Ana, he had no idea what it was.  If he had really behaved in the superior way that Ana saw it as, he was never conscious of it.  An awareness of their own behaviour towards each other was something they needed to discuss openly if they were to recognise any website influence on themselves — whatever the cost to their relationship.

In the taxi on the way to the office Jon reflected on Ana’s Stanford paper, her introduction of Chesterton¹ and his writing on the term divine discontent. Her inspired analysis of Chesterton’s writing was not something that he could claim any credit for, nor her brilliantly presented proposition that Chesterton’s truisms were as valid today as they were when he wrote of them over a hundred years ago. He particularly liked her allusions to Chesterton’s prescience in using the term to create the paradoxes of religious hype and was sure that Chesterton would not be surprised at the term still being used as a hype. Those shills now pervading the internet with their New Age self-help philosophies and hyped-up faux philosophical fixes to life’s divine discontents would irritate Chesterton as much as they did him. The danger that Chesterton saw in the term divine discontent being used to actively encourage life’s discontents was more real now than even he could have imagined, but perhaps even Chesterton would be seduced by a Circean website that made discontent its ideal. 

If the website was influencing the emotional bonds between him and Ana, whether good or bad, one-sided or not, how was he to even begin broaching such thoughts with Ana if she were to interpret them as simply another ploy on his part. As if on cue, the taxi driver announced that they had arrived at the Department of Digital Media and Communications. Not sure what to expect Jon took the lift up to the office. It was with some trepidation that he opened the door.


Momentarily they looked expectantly at each other before both bursting out with, ‘I’m sorry!’.

Ana left her desk and walked across to him, she gently brushed his cheek with her hand in an intimate caress, ‘I’m sorry for behaving the way I did this morning’. He was elated and yet perplexed by the change in Ana’s behaviour, especially when she took his hand in hers saying, ’Let’s go and have a quiet coffee and talk through what happened between us this morning’. 

Sitting outside the café in the sunshine they both began to speak until Ana stopped him and said, ‘You go ahead’.

Still fearful of triggering another tirade he replied, ‘No, you go ahead, we should openly share all our views as equal partners’. 

Ana suppressed an urge to respond sarcastically, ‘I brought you out of the office Jon because I think it may be bugged. Perhaps I’m being paranoid but we need to find a covert way of checking it out’.

‘But how could anyone do that without your minister knowing about it and agreeing to it being done’?

‘Jeremy may not know, a bug could be installed by someone without his knowledge’.

He knew that there were governments and commercial interests seeking to acquire the technology of the website and so Ana’s suspicions could be well founded, but every time she called her minister Jeremy it aroused irrational feelings of jealousy, which he fought to control. The bugging and her minister’s involvement, if he was involved, was something he could deal with — any relationship between Ana and her minister was a different matter.

‘Whether I’m right or not’, Ana continued, ‘we must assume the worst until we can confirm whether our office is bugged. Meanwhile we need to be circumspect about conversations that we have there and that we behave normally ’.

‘Without any mention of our suspicions about the bugging’, added Jon.

‘Agreed, but we need to find a means of covertly verifying it’.

’I can deal with that Ana and covertly. However, we shall have to meet outside of the office to plan our roles in any future discussions, I would suggest that when we get back to the office today we discuss our working together on this project. Primarily, if it was an anticipated outcome and who might have planned it. That should shake someone’s tree, perhaps even your minister’s’. 

‘Jeremy’s no fool Jon, if he is responsible for the office being bugged he’s unlikely to reveal it. His ability to influence our research and suppress the findings may give clues to his behaviour, which so far I have always assumed to be as genuine as that of a politician can be. However, we must now take into account everyone’s behaviour, including our own. The question is, what do we make Jeremy privy to?’. 

Jon smiled, ‘He clearly he has to know about our assignation at the hotel, but regarding what we make him privy to; do you mean — how was it for you?’.

‘Dammit Jon, let it go!’ Ana testily replied.

‘And therein lies the least or perhaps the worst of our problems. Assumptions made about what other people say, assumptions about what causes people to behave as they do, assumptions made about how others will react to what is said and done. We have a quandary, all roads lead to a paradox Ana’.

Ana started laughing, ’You’re still a bastard Jon but that shouldn’t stop us having dinner together later. Let’s meet at my place and I’ll let you buy me dinner at the Italian restaurant ’. She took his hand looking at him affectionately and he laughed with her.


‘Hotels’? The minister at the Department of Digital Media and Communications exclaimed. 

Ana ignored the tenor of his question, ‘I’m sure you’re aware Jeremy that Jon and I spent a night together at his hotel and despite it not ending well, it did solve the problem of finding a group whose behaviour we could analyse in a relatively unobtrusive way. The website appears to have increased hotel bookings for trysts, not only that the number of arguments and breakups among those trysting has increased significantly’.

’Trysts? Trysting? What a quaint way of putting it Ana’. Both were nonplussed by the minister’s mocking reply, unsure if his obvious sarcasm was a reference to their failed assignation. Whatever his reasons, he quickly followed with, ‘Am I to assume that this research will lead to our discovering how the website is able to target people and cause social unrest?’.

Composed herself, Ana replied, ’Jon and I believe so, at the very least it should lead us to reasonable assumptions about how the website effects such behavioural changes. Our research has established that whatever algorithmic method the website is using to focus on people’s discontents it activates them regardless of what they are. Divine, in a spiritual sense, has become the mantra of those socially connected by their religious beliefs and a justification for their actions. If we ignore the spiritually divine, there are comparable group actions by those socially connected politically. Both of them major contributors to the social and civil unrest now taking place throughout the world. The media hype against these groups advocates and encourages an extreme and in most cases an undemocratic government response, which simply exacerbates the situation’.

In support of Ana Jon added, ‘Ana’s Stanford paper on anthropomorphism and her hypothesis that a website could be given some anthropomorphic divine form could be a blueprint for the website. Simplifying and providing rationales for complex situations and effectively communicating them, influencing media reporting and the exchange of information, are all the effects that the website appears to be having. The media are especially affected, hyping up terrorism, immigration and anything else that they can show is a threat to national security, encouraging government actions which, as Ana said, simply exacerbates the situation’.

’And you believe you have found away to combat the effectiveness of the website’?

‘Combatting its effectiveness is not quite where we are yet’, Jon replied. ‘However, we have established that regular viewing of the website is necessary for its continued influence. We can personally verify that if you stop viewing the website its influence rapidly diminishes. We believe that the algorithmic method used is unable to distinguish between what we term divine discontent and the diffuse dissatisfactions that Lasch² called cultural narcissism. It really doesn’t matter if a tryster fits  a profile of diffuse dissatisfactions or divine discontent they make an ideal group to study, especially as they readily cooperate with us. Well, at least mostly cooperate in preference to the suggested alternatives’.

’It goes without saying that as a cabinet minister I support this government’s commitment to arming the police force and increasing their number. As I do its recruitment and arming of local militias under the control of the army. I hardly think that the government is going to respond to the current unrest by using these armed forces to seek out those having assignations in hotels’.

In frustration and exasperation Ana burst out, ‘Government actions to combat effects attributed to the website are solving nothing. Buying into populistic media hype for political advantage simply plays into the hands of these discontented groups!’.

Damn the man, was he being deliberately obtuse, Jon thought. His animosity towards Ana’s minister was now intensified by his anger at the minister’s belittlement, especially towards Ana. He began to think that the discussion they were having was not about the project but about he and Ana spending a night together. And yet it was doubtful that even a politician with the cultural narcissism of Ana’s minister would allow his personal feeling to be so transparent, nevertheless they still had to consider why he derided their research. Recalling his first meeting, when was alone with the minister, their discussion about Ana made jealousy seem an unlikely motive. Then he remembered Ana mentioning her minister’s love of irony and his remark at the meeting about a charade. At the time he paid little attention to the remark, now he began to think that it provided a clue to their project. It was the sort of remark that her minister’s arrogance would lead him to make, a covert witticism, an act of intellectual conceit in alluding to a project that he knew was a charade. His mockery here today was simply a deliberate attempt to distract them both from the path of their research. He was then struck by a fearful scenario, if what he was now beginning to think was even half-true he and Ana were pawns in a charade leading to unimaginable consequences, ones which endangered them both.

Jon spoke in what he hoped sounded like a conciliatory manner, ‘I can understand your scepticism Jeremy, but this sample group has enabled us to validated the website’s influence in a way that can be applied to the whole group. It has already enabled us to confirm our own spin on a psychometric test, one that enables those in authority to identify who is being influenced by the website. Our rationale for the action we have taken so far is in this report, as is a copy of our psychometric test’.

The minister took the report Jon handed him without looking at it, saying in what Jon took to be a faux-naïf way, ‘I sense that my rather weak attempts at humour has offended you both. If you think me supercilious, I sincerely apologise. Both you and I are under great pressure to find solutions to this crisis, I will have some difficulty in selling the idea that the answers may be found by researching assignations in hotels’.

’We’re not surprised by that Jeremy, which is why we would ask you to be very careful who sees the report. However, at the very least we would ask that you get key members of your own staff to take the psychometric test. I suggest that until you have read our report there is nothing more that we can add to this meeting and unless you have something you wish to discuss, Ana and I would like to be excused’.

’I’m sure you’re right Jon, I do need time to read and digest the contents of your report. Please, don’t let me keep you both, if we finish now I can read it and quickly arrange another meeting’.

On the way back to their own office Ana asked, ‘Why the rush to leave Jon? We never got around to mentioning your ideas on emotional malevolence’.

He pulled her closer, his lips brushing her ear in what appeared to be gentle affection and whispered, ‘Let’s find a quiet café outside and I’ll tell you’. 

Alone at his desk the minister picked up his secure line to the Prime Minister, ‘Hello Prime Minister, we have a problem, it’s urgent that I meet with you’.


¹What is Right With the World — G. K. Chesterton

²Diffuse Dissatisfactions — Christopher Lasch

Note: This story follows that of Divine Discontent — storylines yet to find a place in what may, perhaps, become a complete story. This piece prompted by the theme: HYPE.

<=3000 words

One response to “Emotional Malevolence

  1. Pingback: The SEPTEMBER 2015 Creative Writing Competition. Where to find the stories and how to vote. – Am I my brothers keeper? - My Telegraph

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Hello, I’m Ed Conway, Economics Editor of Sky News, and this is my website. Blogposts, stuff about my books and a little bit of music

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