The man in the white hat…

What is it about our human condition that causes us to divide folks into the bad guys and the good guys?  An anthropology professor I know who specialized in semiotics (the study of symbols, signs, signals or signification and communication) told me that even in children’s stories, there is always a “bad” guy.  But, why do we see the world in black and white?

Another thinking person suggested said if we disagree with someone and then see them as “bad guys” or evil people (i.e. enemies), we are engaging in a form of idolatry.  It works like this: we believe our version of reality is true and anyone who disagrees with us believes an untruth.  Both of us are in awe of a false truth..a form of worship. That which the other guy says, we characterize as lies, and we demonize him as false, because we argue, he tells “the anti-truth.”

Philologist Elaine Pagel describes this phenomenon in her book The Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans and Heretics. However, this practice of demonizing the other did not begin or end with Christians. In fact, Christians like Julian of Norwich, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and others warned us about self-righteousness in our attitudes regarding others. 


Self examination is extremely difficult. Being “of the world” and remaining part of it requires courage.  Too often good people say “I am not part of this world, I did not create it,” and then withdraw into isolation.  I know at present many Americans feel the thing to do is pull back and have nothing to do with all those countries with elements who hate us and would destroy our society. But the US has tried isolationism before and it did not work. This morning I am reading how leaders in the West tried to appease Hitler and how it did not work. We still ended up at war.  Read about WWI and you discover the same thing, that the US tried isolationism and it did not work then either.

In addition to the senseless deaths, the saddest thing I have seen in recent days is the little Tunisian girl weeping because her ‘American’ school was destroyed by the mob.  Or perhaps it was the Libyan leader addressing the media and explaining how the terrorists who attacked the US embassy do not represent the Libyan people.


Below are photos of Ightham Mote in England.  Although the series of owners of this house (near Sevenoaks) added to the fourteenth-century structure, they preserved what is the oldest intact manor house in England. The courtyard is entirely enclosed by the structure, and a moat surrounds the house. 

When we visited the house in the 1990s, copies of a work of fiction, Green Darkness by Anna Seyton could be had for sale in the gift shop. The book describes how antiquarians found a “walled up” girl in the house in the nineteenth century. Apparently, the National Trust has decided the story is bogus, and no longer sells the book.

(Below, outside the manor house; the courtyard showing the oldest part of the house and the oldest (Saint Bernard) dog house in Britain; adorable school children on a field trip line the moat wall.

(Photo attribution: Schmidleysscribblins, 1995)  


12 thoughts on “The man in the white hat…

  1. I think it’s possible to disagree with another person’s point of view without demonizing either the person or their point of view. Demonizing to me requires making a moral right or wrong judgement rather than simply recognizing there are differences. This starts to touch on what’s happening around the world, within our government’s functioning and religion(s).


  2. I used to think the world was black and white. Some things still are, for me; but most are somewhere in between. I try not to force my convictions onto other people; tolerance is the key.

    Voltaire said it best: I disagree with what you say but I defend to the death your right to say it.

    But he also said: Opinions have caused more ills than the plague or earthquakes on this little globe of ours.


  3. We do tho….at all levels.
    What? I only get two hours in your company? Darn.. Otherwise, We can be your gallant drivers and get you back to your son’s with ease. Foods…If you don’t mind, can you tell me what you usually eat for lunch, and I will pack it up into a picnic that we can eat out of the sun. Do let me know.


  4. What a treat to see Ightham Mote again! I’ve been there, too.

    As for dividing people into good and bad, perhaps that’s the way some people make sense out of their world? I try not to define people that way and to exercise tolerance.


  5. If only we could learn tolerance. So much unhappiness, anger, hatred and destruction in the world is caused simply for the reason that ‘the other’ is not like us, therefore he must be bad.

    I hope that this current bout of anti-West (not just anti-American) violence will soon run its course and not cause permanent warrings.

    Ightham Mote is a lovely place; I still remember a bowl of glistening coppery metal with rust-coloured autumn chrysanthemums on a polished chest in the entrance hall. Funny, the things that stick in the mind.


  6. Good guy, bad guy, most of us are a little of both! I think we really do think in terms of are they with us or are they against us. It’s hard to be apathetic.

    Isolationism. On a smaller scale, I tend to be that way, staying put in my house and not getting involved in political parties or other organizations that could end up hurting me. I hate arguments, fights, and being confrontational.

    Cute dog house!


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