Thursday, September 01, 2011

What is a monster?

This Wondermark cartoon (in a very different style than usual; see the note to the cartoon) nicely captures the problem of identifying the monstrous. The bull-headed minotaur of mythology might seem like a monster to the knight in the image, but he won't seem like a monster to himself. And the man-headed monster that chases them both probably thinks they are the monsters.

Something to keep in mind whenever you consider somebody "monstrous" in some way: his actions probably seem "human" to him, while yours may seem "monstrous."

At first, I thought this was another angle on "the banality of evil," but perhaps it's not:

In short, the true horror of Eichmann and his like is not that their actions were blind. On the contrary, it is that they saw clearly what they did, and believed it to be the right thing to do.

The monsters, that is, do not see themselves as monsters.


Dominic Rivron said...

I think as soon as we believe in anything we risk turning monstrous. That's not to say we should believe nothing (although I suspect all this touches on why Quakers sit at their meetings saying nothing), just that if we believe something because we feel a need for an "instruction book" to live our lives by then we risk that book coming between us and other human beings and, depending on what it says in the book and how we interpret it, we risk acting in an inhuman way.

Andrew Shields said...

How does one keep from becoming a monster? With knowledge, not faith. As Thomas Basbøll put it recently:

"Knowledge ... is a belief held in a critical environment. Faith ... is a belief held in an 'evangelical' environment."

It's keeping your beliefs open to criticism that keeps them from becoming monstrous.

Dominic Rivron said...

Good point.