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“The White Knight”

In False Dichotomies - the lines between on June 29, 2015 at 2:18 am

KnightWhere does evil come from?

We’ve got two choices: It comes either from within or from without.

How one answer this question can hinge on how one understands the relationship between Good and Evil.  If we think they are completely separate, then we will tend to divide the world up into the things that are good and the things that are evil.  We will likely work very hard to align ourselves with the good and avoid, or even do battle with, evil.  We will distance ourselves from people who do things that we deem to be evil, for their words or deeds or views that are contrary to ours–the “good”–will show their alignment with evil.  If, in fact, good and evil are absolutely distinct, living this way is essential because we will be thinking and acting in accordance with reality.

But what if this is not an accurate description of the relationship between good and evil?  Then we will be getting ourselves into a lot of trouble because we are not living in accordance with realty.

The Bible begins by telling us that God made everything, and that everything he made was good (Genesis 1:31).  It also tells us that sin affects all people–“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and all things–“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:22).  All the things that God declared good, are still good, but they have also been distorted by evil.  This truth makes it impossible to find anyone or anything that is purely good, or purely evil (and determines how one reads Philippians 4:8).

In Mark 7:15 Jesus criticizes the religious leaders for isolating themselves for those they deemed morally inferior–“evil”–pointing out that  “it is what comes out of a person that defiles them” not what comes from outside of them.

The allegorical tale of the White Knight beautifully illustrates what happens when we have a too simplistic view of good and evil and, consequently, fail to attend to the evil that resides in our own hearts.

THE WHITE KNIGHT
by Eric Nicol

Once upon a time there was a knight who lived in a little castle on the edge of the forest of Life. One day this knight looked in the mirror and saw that he was a White Knight.

“Lo!” he cried. “I am the White Knight and therefore represent good. I am the champion of virtue and honour and justice, and I must ride into the forest and slay the Black Knight, who is evil.”

So the White knight mounted his snow-white horse and rode into the forest to find the Black Knight and slay him in single combat.

Many miles he rode the first day, without so much as a glimpse of the Black Knight. The second day he rode even farther, still without sighting the ebony armour of mischief. Day after day he rode, deeper and deeper into the forest of Life, searching thicket and gulley and even the tree tops. The black knight was nowhere to be seen.

Yet the White Knight found many signs of the Black Knight’s presence. Again and again he passed a village in which the Black Knight had struck – a baker’s shop robbed, a horse stolen, an innkeepers daughter ravished. But always he just missed catching the doer of these deeds.

At last the White Knight had spent all his gold in the cause of his search. He was tired and hungry. Feeling his stength ebbing, he was forced to steal some buns from a bake shop. His horse whent lame, so that he was forced to replace it, silently and by darkness, with another white horse in somebody’s stable. And when he stumbled, faint and exhausted, into an inn, the innkeeper’s daughter gave him her bed, and because he was the White Knight in shining armour, she gave him her love, and when he was strong enough to leave the inn she cried bitterly because she could not understand why he had to go and find the Black Knight and slay him.

Through many months, under hot sun, over frosty paths, the White Knight pressed on his search, yet all the knights he met in the forest were, like himself, fairly white. They were knights of varying shades of whiteness, depending on how long they, too, had been hunting the Black Knight. Some were sparkling white. These had just started hunting that day and irritated the White Knight by innocently asking directions to the nearest Black Knight.

Others were tattle-tale grey. And still others were so grubby, horse and rider, that the mirror in thier castle would never recognise them. Yet the White Knight was shocked the day a knight of gleaming whiteness confronted him suddenly in the forest and with a wild whoop thundered tawords him with levelled lance. The White Knight barely had time to draw his sword and, ducking under the deadly steel, plunge it into the attacker’s breast.

The White Knight dissmounted and kneeled beside his mortally wounded assailant, whose visor had fallen back to reveal blond curls and a youthful face. He heard the words, whispered in anguish: “Is evil then triumphant?” And holding the dead knight in his arms he saw that beside the bright armour of the youth his own, besmirched by the long quest, looked black in the darkness of the forest.

His heart heavy with horror and grief, the White Knight who was white no more buried the boy, then slowly stripped off his own soiled mail, turned his grimy horse free to the forest, and stood naked and alone in the quiet dusk. Before him lay a path which he slowly took, which lead him to his castle on the edge of the forest. He went into the castle and closed the door behind him. He went to the mirror and saw that it no more gave back the White Knight, but only a middle-aged, naked man, a man who had stolen and ravished and killed in pursuit of evil.

Thereafter when he walked abroad from his castle he wore a coat of simple colour, a cheerful motley, and never looked for more than he could see. And his hair grew slowly white, as did his fine, full beard, and the people all around called him the Good White Knight.

The Myth of Progress

In Why I am not a "Liberal" or "Conservative", Worldview on February 22, 2014 at 11:40 pm

Progress myth“People tend to confuse the words, ‘new’ and ‘improved'”  — Agent Colson, Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D. (pilot episode)

In the modern world, we assume progress.

We do so because, among other things, we see it all around us.  The iPhone 5S was better than the iPhone 5C, which was better than the iPhone 5, which was better than the iPhone 4S, which was better than the iPhone 4, which was better than the iPhone 3GS, which was better than the iPhone 3G, which was better than the 1st generation iPhone.  I remember the dial telephone with a three foot coiled cord.

It could be our infatuation with technology that underlies our assumption that civilization is forever progressing.

But it’s wrong.

Interestingly, the ancients actually assumed the opposite.

Book five of The Iliad follows Diomedes’ busy day on the plains before the city of Troy.  This was my favourite part of the story the first time that I read it.  He has just killed boastful Pandarus with a spear shot that severed the braggarts tongue.  Aeneas is attempting to recover the body, but has to face Diomedes who “picked up a stone, a massive rock which no two men now alive could lift. He threw it all by himself with ease.”

The Greeks thought that the great men of old were better than we are today.

The modern story is much more optimistic. The increase of knowledge in the area of science and the achievements which follow as knowledge is converted to power through technology certainly can give the impression that civilization is advancing.

Philosopher John Gray, author of The Silence of the Animals: On Progress and other Modern Myths, suggests that growth of scientific knowledge and  technological power is not the same thing as ethical development.  We do not become more civilized, rather we merely produce new forms of civilization as well as new forms of barbarism.

He points out that we don’t unlearn scientific knowledge, but we regularly forget the moral lessons of the past.  Errors in science don’t come back, but we regularly resurrect and repeat the moral errors of the past.  Progressives tend to believe in gradual and incremental progress, but this idea assumes we retain what has gone before.  This is not the case; we destroy our ethical foundations and without the stability of the past we can never improve.  Gray says, we are constantly changing what is good and what is evil, consequently what appears to be moral evolution is always a short upward movement toward whatever the fashionable idea of the day.

I’m currently reading Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War 1914 by Max Hastings.  In the beginning of hostilities in WWI, the Germans were so angry at the French francs-tireurs (guerrillas of sorts) in the Franco-Prussian war over 40 years earlier, that the leadership authorized the execution peasants and the burning of villages.  Consequently, in the opening days of the war, almost 6,500 civilians were executed (often without even meager evidence) and many thousands left homeless in Belgium and France by the Kaiser’s armies.  In The Iliad, Homer tells the story of Achilles, so violently despondent over the death of his cousin that he profanes the body of noble Hector after slaying him in combat.  It’s the same story, separated by millennia.  100 years of tremendous technological advancement separate us from the German atrocities of World War I, and the same scenario is reported everyday in the newspapers all over the world.

Human cultural, ethical, moral progress is a myth.

Scientific knowledge and technology doesn’t make us better, it just give us more power to do what we do–whether that be good or evil.

The Olympic Spirit and Human Goodness

In Why I am not a "Liberal" or "Conservative" on February 20, 2014 at 6:00 pm

OlympicsAre human beings basically good, or are they more inclined to do evil?  There is plenty of evidence for both sides of this long debated philosophical question.

There is a lot of evidence for human goodness–we see it in the so called “Olympic Spirit” where individuals dig so deeply to find incredible resources that we all admire.  Athletes of different nations come together, despite so many differences (some of them very serious), and show the world that unity might be possible.  There are many stories coming out of the Olympics that show the good humanity is capable of, like Justin Wadsworth, a Canadian Coach, who helped Russian skier, Anton Gafarov with his broken ski.  Or Gilmore Junio who gave his position in the  1000m event of men’s speed skating to Denny Morrison who fell in the Canadian trials and did not quality.

But each of these athletes must undergo a rigorous regimen of testing because it is certain that some will resort to drugs and sophisticated doping methods to win.  Judging scandals are also not uncommon. Cheating is exactly the opposite of what the games stand for, yet we expect it will occur as surely as we are of the Dutch winning a lot of speed skating medals.

Where modern manifestations of liberalism are a little more mixed in their ideas of human nature, classical liberalism has a positive view of human nature.  Historically, more liberal political parties, starting from a position of human goodness, would work very hard to eliminate things like poverty and oppression or to promote things like education, for they believed that the evil men do comes from environmental factors.

This is another reason I might not be a liberal, at least not a classic one.  I don’t have a lot of faith in human goodness.  While environmental factors can certainly play a role, I think people are evil regardless of environment or education.  To a large extent I suppose I agree with Hobbes.  Not the Calvin’s side-kick, the stuffed tiger, Hobbes.  Although these two explored this idea as well . . .

Calvin and Hobbes - evil nature

 

 

 

 

 

 

. . . but the philosopher.  In his Leviathan (1651), Thomas Hobbes said that without the authority represented by government or any transcendent moral authority, human beings will behave very badly.  For Hobbes, the natural state of man, which exists outside the context of society, is one of war.  According to Hobbes, all men are essentially equal in their vulnerability and weakness.  This natural equality and our conflicting desires result in a state of constant war with our fellow man.  He also argues that competition, diffidence and desire for glory are in our nature, as we seek gain, safety and reputation.  We, therefore, live in constant fear because we realize that at any moment we can have everything taken from us, including our life.  This is a reasonable fear, for Hobbes says that we have a natural right to everything, “even to one another’s body,” but to avoid the constant state of war that would ensue, we create contracts in which we mutually transfer these rights.   To ensure that these contracts are performed, a society needs an authority who will compel adherence to the contracts through force or through institutional constraints.  We willingly subject ourselves to this authority because it protects us from the state of constant war with others.

Because of humanity’s basic nature, Hobbes says that the “the life of man [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

OK, I’m not completely in agreement with Hobbes.    I believe that human beings are capable of amazing expressions of altruism, but I think our default is to be selfish.

When I look at myself in the best possible light, I find, that even my best behaviour is usually motivated by selfishness in some way.  I won’t even begin to talk about those times when I behave badly.