It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.
The above is the beginning of The Blind Men and the Elephant, an ancient Indian tale translated in 1873 by John Godfrey Saxe. Please go read this if it’s an unfamiliar tale … or read it anyway, as it’s stood the test of time.
The story came to me as I was pondering an assortment of modern calamities. It made me think about how our work on these problems is so remarkably compartmentalized.
We’ll spend $800,000,000,000.00 (or so) bailing out people who have been playing Games With Money: Other People’s Version. We’ll wonder if we should spend 5% of that staggering sum on three companies that are responsible for the jobs of 1,000,000 to 3,000,000 people (depending on who you ask) and the pension and retirement of many more. We’ll say that Social Security has a $10,400,000,000,000 shortfall looming (actually, the Bush Administration said that in 2005). We’ll lament at the fall of lake levels and the rise of seas and the melting of the Arctic and the death of species.
We’ll do everything, it seems, but sit down and take a good look at the whole picture, to see that we can no longer borrow from a future if we can’t figure out how to repay the debt.
The photo is Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa by exfordy* and can be enjoyed in their South Africa, 1999 slideshow (set). He writes:
This bull walked right by the car. If I had kept the window open I could have touched it. We had been told that if we stayed in our car we would be OK. A Japanese tourist had got out of his car the previous week and had been killed by an elephant.
*exfordy as in “Ex Ford Employee” – what are the odds that Michigan-crazy me I would find and choose this photo from the vasty herd of elephant photos under Creative Commons license on Flickr?????