NPR for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Three Heroes/Villains Chuck Klosterman Wants You To Let Go Of

The Ethicist encourages you to drop that crutch of black-and-white thinking.

Chuck Klosterman faces questions of good and evil each week as Ethicist for NY Times Magazine. "Is it more ethical to let prisoners die of starvation or to force-feed them?" one reader asked. "Is it right for dentists to donate candy they buy off patients to a local food pantry?" another wrote. These inquiries are all about whether something is right or wrong, and they have layered answers. Klosterman looks at the problems with stamping a simple "good" or "bad" on people in  I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined). He joined Krys Boyd in July and we revisit the conversation today at noon as part of our "Best of Think: 2013" series. 

[Listen to the show here.]

"One we accepts that free will exists – if we do, if we accept that people are making decisions on their own …  Then we want to sort of understand that individual, we don’t really look at it as a way to live - we look at it as a way that this person is living," Klosterman says. 

Here are three figures Klosterman says we canonize and demonize in turns, when it has very little to do with who they really are:

1.      The Eagles. (Or that band you hate.)

“When you’re a young person, the things you love and the things you hate are a way to construct your personality,” Klosterman says.

“There was a point in my life where I really hated the Eagles. I saw The Big Lebowski. The main character hates the Eagles and that was so validating to me at the time …in some weird way, I wanted to be the kind of person who had his values.”

Decades passed. In 2003, Klosterman discovered the Eagles’ Greatest Hits in his mailbox at SPIN magazine. He listened again. The Dude did not abide in the critic’s consciousness.

“I started experiencing that record actually as music, not as a cultural signpost. And it started to dawn on me something that maybe is kinda obvious … my relationship to all this music was a loop inside my mind.”

2.      "The Subway Vigilante."

Batman is still worshipped. But Klosterman wonders how the media would cover it if someone was actually avenging victims of crime in New York City dressed like a "winged mammal."

The masked vigilante with the cemented origin story is protected. Someone like Bernhard Goetz, for instance - the "Subway Vigilante" from the crime-ridden '80s who shot and injured four young black men he claims were trying to mug him - is a more complicated case, testing our ideals.

Just take this NY Post update on the vegetarian and animal rights activist who still sells electronics from his apartment on 14th street. In an intense year for the 2nd amendment rights discussion, it's one to chew on. 

3.      The Plaintiff.

Klosterman was on Think this summer two days after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the killing of Trayvon Martin. The author says the charged public wanted to be known by their reactions to the verdict -social media posts insisting the man's guilt or innocence came from a desire to show personal values rather than confront legal particulars of the case.

"I don’t think people are actually dealing with what happened," Klosterman says.

Listen to Think Monday through Thursday at noon and 9 p.m. on KERA 90.1 or stream at

Lyndsay Knecht is assistant producer for Think.