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Blind Scientists and Fun-house Mirrors

In the story of the blind scientists encountering an elephant, one party does indeed have a comprehensive understanding of the elephant: the elephant. All of the scientists feel different parts of the elephant and come to various conclusions as to what it actually is. It's not mentioned in the story, but the scientists could be free to compare notes. If they did so, however, this would be no guarantee that they would arrive at a theory in any way resembling an elephant. Yet the elephant remains not at all confused by any emerging theory, unless we suppose that it is too smart to believe its own senses!

Most, if not all societies approach the problems of Individuality in much the same way: they poke and prod the individual, measure, test, mold, cajole, reward and punish individuals, all in the hopes of making something worthwhile of this largely worthless lump of clay on two legs. The resulting sets of images, reflected back on the individual for his contemplation, self-aggrandizement and shame, are the most distorted images he may ever have of himself. They do not resemble his assessment of himself in any way, make too great a fuss over achievements he considers petty, harshly belittle features he considers his best efforts, or at least innocuous, and entirely miss vast chunks of his efforts and experiences. But wait! The carrot and the stick are exceptionally persuasive, as they are used with great force, relentlessly, and by every person with greater authority within arm's reach! As an individual grows up, that essentially is every adult, a set of affairs not without its charms to predators.

The social understanding of an individual must necessarily be both incoherent and incomplete simultaneously.

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