Allegory of the large dog
What follows is a metaphor that describes in simple terms what I explained in my video presentation The presumptive idol of you.
People are afraid of large dogs. When you walk with one on the street, passers by will try to establish a safe distance: they may move to the opposite side of the street or take a detour.
Children are excited to see a large dog, but they too are cautious not to get close. The dog is larger than them and considerably stronger. The children’s parents are scared. They see the animal and think “oh my goodness, this beast can easily kill me, let alone my child.”
The more athletic the dog is, the quicker it is on its feet, the more graceful its gait, the higher the chance that others will fear it. It looks imposing, self-assured, threatening.
Does the large dog deserve the impression people have about it? Did it actually pose a threat to anyone? Is it really an aggressive animal? To all these questions, the answer is negative. No, the dog does not deserve its reputation. It simply is larger than average. Size has nothing to do with aggression.
The large dog can be a gentle giant. It is friendly towards humans and does not attack other animals. The handlers of the large dog know this. They tell others that their canine friend is a sweetheart. To make their claims believable, they even kiss the large dog in front of others. This is a docile creature.
Few are those who will look past the dog’s appearance. In their mind, they have the notion that large means dangerous. They will not let go of that bias. They are not prepared to give the large dog a chance. They are not ready to challenge their own prejudices.
The animal is peaceful, but there is nothing it can do to change the opinions of others. When people are negatively predisposed, they are likely to cling on to their beliefs. They become defensive and will seek ways, however ridiculous, to justify their position. They will come up with excuses such as how they once heard of a dog that was aggressive and dangerous. To them, one instance or even a few among millions is enough to make sweeping generalisations. The specifics do not matter anymore. They will not ask why that case of aggression happened, what where the contributing factors, if something else went wrong. No. To them it is the perfect data point to do what they would have done anyway: judge the large dog on the basis of its looks.
The large dog will try to make friends. It will wag its tail and get closer. Those who are already fearful will only see this as an act of aggression. “Hide, it is coming our way!” The poor canine is powerless in this situation. No matter what it does, it is condemned to have no friends for as long as people are biased against it.
There are those who are prepared to reconsider. They keep an open mind and will not be held hostage to whatever hesitation they initially had. If they see the large dog wagging its tail, they will eventually want to pet it, only to discover what was always the case: the dog is a gentle giant and simply wants to play.
In our life, we may experience events through the eyes of this peaceful large dog. We will know how it feels to be judged and discriminated against. Sometimes it is due to our appearance. In other cases it has to do with our mental attributes. Like our canine friend, we can do nothing to stop it and feel lonely because of it.
Now, you the reader may be wondering what does a philosopher know about all this. You might also hold the view that I, in my capacity as philosopher (and “Greek philosopher” no less, as if that means anything), represent the culmination of Western civilisation or some exaggeration along those lines. “Isn’t that a good thing?” I hear you saying. No, it generally is not a good thing. Being placed on a pedestal dehumanises the person: they will suffer the consequences of the role imposed upon them.
When people always talk to you with the proviso “but I do not know and maybe I am stupid”, they are implicitly admitting a fear. They are basically saying that you are a large dog to them and you could easily undo them. But you never harmed anyone and never had anything bad to say about someone based on their intelligence or any other feature for that matter. It is a baseless opinion about you and you are reminded of it wherever you go.
Those who can let go of their prejudices see the truth. The rest are afraid of the large dog: they let their fears govern their conduct.