The Blind Men & The Interphant

(a parable of Usenet)
(C)2001 Alice Luxton, the Subversive Gremliness
May be distributed freely online, credited & with URL included.

  (For as long as the world can remember
  there have been those few
  who understood
  that everything is connected.

  there are more of them
  than ever before.

  For as long as the world can remember
  they have been called mystics.

  they are called netizens.)

There were once six men who had heard much of the wondrous beast called the Elephant and wished to experience this wonder for themselves. All were blind, and so they could not see the beast, but much used to exploring the world with their hands, they were sure it would suffice.

The first approached the great creature, and placing his hands on its large, smooth side, exclaimed aloud: "The elephant is much like a wall!"

The second walked over from a different angle, and happened to take into his hands the elephant's tusk. "It strikes me as much like a spear, actually." He carefully ran his finger over the point.

The third man came close to where the second stood, to examine for himself, but this man ended up grasping the trunk: "No," he said, "the elephant is much more like a snake!"

The fourth blind man, however, had arrived at the elephant's legs. "It appears that the beast is rather tree-like," he insisted.

The fifth man came over to mediate the growing dispute between the second and third. But instead, he found his own opinion in the elephant's ear. "I don't know how you could all have gone so very wrong," he muttered. "The elephant is more like a fan than anything else."

The sixth blind man walked over, then, and took hold of the tail. "It seems to me," he said at this point, "that the elephant is much like a rope."

So they sat and argued for a very long time, coming to camp near the elephant's walking grounds to continue their debate. New technology came along, and all of the blind men were able to have their eyesight restored. After the operation, they decided to settle the matter for once and for all.

The first man was delighted. "This elephant," he said, "is not only a single wall! Why, I can build a house in it!" He was going to cut a hole in its side, but the others kept him from it: they were all rapidly developing their own opinions for what should be done with the elephant.

"It IS a spear. Two of them, at that," said the second man. "They are the only useful part of the elephant. Perhaps they are growing like fruits on trees," he said, and struggled to pull the tusks off.

The third man shrieked. "No, it's a huge snake!" he cried, "and it seems to have swallowed something much, much bigger than itself! Oh dear -- maybe I'm next!" And he ran away as fast as he could.

The fourth man was left to struggle with the first one, for he thought that the elephant was the most interesting sort of tree he knew. "Stop it," he shouted, "you pathetic nasty tree-mutilator! We should plant an elephant forest instead!"

The fifth man stood in front of the elephant and fanned himself. "It's a whole air-conditioning system," he thought dreamily.

And the sixth man returned to his usual place behind the elephant. Picking up the tail, he stared into the elephant's asshole.

"The elephant," he said, "is dark and unknowable, both void and infinite. And frankly, it stinks."

In that moment he became enlightened.