painting John Singer Sargent The Mosquito Net
There have long been places where a mosquito net is essential equipment.
“The Mosquito Net” – John Singer Sargent

I ran across a long-lost philosophy the other day. “How can I keep from hating people?” asked a friend of mine. She was talking about people who have lots of power and who use it to hurt people. On purpose.

So after running through what I think of as the “rage Psalms” (10, 35, 73 are the ones that come to mind), I said “well, people who do wicked, ‘self-interested,’ unkind things are cutting themselves off from God, and from their neighbors, and from themselves, and that is a miserable condition, so you have to feel compassion for their self-destruction …” That helps a little bit.

I didn’t know I even had that idea any more.

When I was in college, I had a conversation with a friend of mine who was a philosophy major. She had undisguised contempt for this “they think they’re happy but they’re really miserable” philosophy. “If people think they’re happy, they’re happy.” Otherwise, what do we mean by happiness? We have to find a different word for happiness to mean what we mean by the word we’re using now. It’s pointless to say there’s some other, better happiness that people who don’t share your particular idea of the world are missing out on. “There are a lot of problems with the idea of ‘false consciousness.’”

Yeah. But here it is, dusty but still effective, forty years later. The problems associated with the idea of false consciousness – the idea that people can be wrong about the world in which they live, and pursue worthless goals based on that wrong assessment – are easier to live with than the ones associated with the idea that people deserve to be hated. [And if I can just remember that I myself might from time to time also be wrong about the world in which I live, I might possibly even slip past the condescension which is the chief of those problems.]

Because we live here. And living here, where hate is endemic, it’s easy to pick up the idea that some people deserve to be hated. And that can turn into a full-blown case of hate pretty fast, especially if your immune system has already been worn down by injustice.

If I were going to a place where malaria is endemic, I would take a mosquito net.

I feel like I found my old one. And it looks like it still works pretty well.