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I Wear the Black Hat

Grappling With Villains (Real and Imagined)

By Chuck Klosterman
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I Wear the Black Hat by Chuck Klosterman

I Wear the Black Hat (2013) takes a look at villainy as viewed both in reality and pop culture. Find out how our modern perception of villains has been formed over the ages and how even heroes can be transformed into bad guys. You’ll discover how villainy is often in the eye of the beholder.

Key idea 1 of 7

“Goodness” and “badness” are just figments of our imagination.

How do you decide whether someone is “good” or “bad”? It might seem easy to decide if we believe that a person is born either good or evil. And yet, there are actually more philosophical reasons behind the way we perceive villains.

After all, our own definitions of “good” and “bad” are generally biased as they are constructed on cultural concepts, concepts generated through our shared understanding of history, the stories we were told as we grew up, and the heroes and villains in them.

For example, history and stories have taught many Americans to believe that Russians were somehow “bad” by nature. And yet, many Russians held the opposite belief due to their own society’s definitions of “good” and “bad.”

Philosopher John Rawls came up with a thought experiment to explain why we are incapable of having an unbiased definition of “good” and “bad”: the so-called veil of ignorance.

Imagine that you’re given the opportunity to play God and create a brand new society from scratch. You could make whatever laws or social conventions you want. But the catch is: once the new society is created, you’ll enter into it as a brand new person with no way of knowing what position you’ll be in. You might be homeless, a refugee or a terminally ill person with completely different morals from the person who designed the society you now live in.

With this veil of ignorance, you would probably try to create a society that is as fair and as “good” as possible for everyone. But this begs the question: is it really even possible to define a society which every person would see as “good”?

For instance, a traumatized refugee is likely to have a completely different concept of “good” and “bad” than someone born into a rich family who has only known privilege and wealth.

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