[percy-l] Can the sane be bad?
jhforest at gmail.com
Thu Feb 28 08:22:37 EST 2008
I enjoy this exchange and am learning from it.
I had written:
>> Please re-read the passage Merton passage I quoted. He is not
saying the sane are the bad guys, only that people whom we regard as
perfectly sane are quite capable of initiating actions, or assisting in
them, which may take the lives of vast numbers of people.
>> In the passage you quoted, Merton implies that it is often sane men
who carry out evil actions. When they do so, when they "initiate the
great festival of destruction," is he not dubbing them "bad guys," in
the colloquial sense of that phrase?
Merton -- probably Walker Percy too -- wasn't drawn to the grouping
certain people into the category "bad guys." As he died in 1968, he
didn't live long enough to read Percy's last novel, "The Thanatos
Syndrome," but he would have greatly appreciated Percy's approach
to the problem of evil, seen not on the level of good-guys-versus-bad-
guys of the classical Hollywood western, but rather the gradual
shifting of a border between good and evil within each human heart,
the greatest of all battlefields.
Both Percy and Merton, while certainly not agreeing on everything,
had a great deal in common. Among other things, both were acutely aware
that evil actions are often performed by the most upstanding, respected,
normal and altogether "sane" people, whether it be the elimination of
"defectives" in the Germany in the 30s and early 40s, or the mass
killing of Jews, homosexuals and others in concentration camps, or
the fire bombing of whole cities during World War II, or the nuclear
bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or any of the acts of mass
destruction that we more-or-less sane people may yet commit in the future.
This is not to overlook the danger posed by the insane and
pathological, but on the whole their acts of destruction tend to occur
on a smaller scale. (My step-mother was shot and killed by such a person
as she waited for a bus in San Francisco on her way home from work one
Finally, in a more dangerous category, there are those people who are
so ideologically driven that, though they may be perceived as sane in
a society similarly deranged, are -- were it possible to evaluate them
by some objective measure -- truly mad as hatters. (It was an issue
Merton addressed in another of his essays, one of his finest, "Rain and
PS I should mention that, though I have been a Percy reader for many
years, I know a good deal more about Merton, having written a
biography of him ("Living With Wisdom"). I knew Percy only by
correspondence, and only during the last year or so of his life.
* * *
On Wed, Feb 27, 2008 at 2:32 PM, Michael Larson <Mlarson at southeastmn.edu>
> Jim Forest wrote:
> >>Please re-read the passage Merton passage I quoted. He is not saying the
> sane are the bad guys, only that people whom we regard
> as perfectly sane are quite capable of initiating actions, or assisting in
> them, which may take the lives of vast numbers of people.<<
> In the passage you quoted, Merton implies that it is often sane men who
> carry out evil actions. When they do so, when they "initiate the great
> festival of destruction," is he not dubbing them "bad guys," in the
> colloquial sense of that phrase?
> >>Perhaps one might say Merton also raises a question -- I expect Percy
> would as well -- whether our definition of what constitutes sanity is
> Yes! Exactly what I was trying to say, though perhaps not very clearly.
> Best regards,
> Michael Larson
Jim & Nancy Forest
1811 GJ Alkmaar
Forest-Flier web site: www.incommunion.org/forest-flier/
Orthodox Peace Fellowship web site: www.incommunion.org
recently published: "Silent as a Stone," a children's book about a community
of rescuers in Nazi-occupied Paris:
another new book: "The Road to Emmaus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life":
* * *
Nancy and I have been keeping a journal that follows our recent kidney
transplant. A blog has
been set up for this purpose -- A Tale of Two Kidneys. See:
* * *
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