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“There are none so blind as those who
will not see.” –An English Proverb attributed to John Heywood,
1546, with origins potentially rooted in Jeremiah 5:21.
As a teenager, my favorite movie was Dream a Little Dream. I knew every line. My best friend, Tammy, and I put a tape recorder up to the television to record our favorite exchanges of dialogue. At the time, I didn’t analyze my obsession with the film, believing it had something to do with “The Coreys.” But I remember loving the elderly couple in the film equally as much. The old man writes this quote on the chalkboard in his study—“There are none so blind as those who will not see,” and he repeats it to the other characters.
Today my favorite films include The Matrix Trilogy, Fight Club, American History X, and the newly added, Avatar. It was while watching Avatar with my family, though, that I began noticing this recurrent theme. I was drawn to the movie’s use of the greeting “I see you.” The character Norm Spellman instructs Jake Sully on the custom emphasizing that its use goes deeper than “Hello.”
I then began thinking back to the literature I’ve felt similar ties to—Plato’s “Cave Allegory,” Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex” and “Antigone,” Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” and Hyemeyohsts Storm’s, “Jumping Mouse.”
There are two possible approaches here. I could explain the way the concept is found in each, which I know I personally would find satisfaction in doing, but I’d have to assume that you may not have read/seen all the works in question. That might not only be time-consuming, but I’d also run the risk of losing the concept under the plot explanations.
The other possibility is that I focus on the concept and only allude to its use in the various works—but you’ll then have to trust my interpretive assertion of the concept’s existence within each.
The concept then:
It’s the belief that there is a layer of existence not readily discernible to the man or woman who goes about life simply living—taking things as they appear to our conscious selves. In philosophical terms, those persons who concern themselves only, or mainly, with the phenomenal world (the world of matter—those things we can see, hear, taste, smell and feel).
Some people, however, and in all the above named pieces, select people, come to realize that this is an artificial layer of existence. Neo, in The Matrix, is that select person. Others discern the existence of an “other reality” and aid him in reaching the ultimate plane, but it is only Neo whose physical blindness in the last installment of the trilogy (and I’ll try not to get side-tracked here by my temptation to talk about the symbolism of a trilogy and Neo’s companion’s name, Trinity) allows him “to see” the real Matrix.
What the Wachowski brothers called The Matrix, Plato called The Forms. Example: Take a moment to look around you and inspect the chairs surrounding you at this moment. Does the chair you are sitting on contain a back? Does it have a cushion? How many legs? Are there many different kinds of chairs in your home, office, place of business?
My guess is yes. And yet, we call each of them a “chair”—which chair represents the true concept of chair? Now, when I use this exercise with my students, one student will always point out the utility of the object—a chair is any object we can sit on. I then sit on the nearest table or desk and ask if I have suddenly turned it into a chair. Of course, the answer is no, so he or she will modify—no, no, it has to be made to sit on.
Then I begin listing the many objects made for the leisure of our bums—couches, and stools, and benches, and lounges, etc. The game could go on for hours, but what Plato says is that there does exist somewhere, the perfect “form” of chair that the concept or representation of chair in the phenomenal world is imitating. (Incidentally, this is the reason Plato and Aristotle are accused of hating poetry—because poetry’s imagery further imitates what is already an imitation of “the real.”)
Here’s where things get complicated—why this interests me so much, and why I seem to have been drawn to it for so long. At one of the former schools where I worked I approached administration about a concern I had about the school’s students of color. I felt their individual needs were not fully being addressed. The response I received was in essence “At this school we are color-blind. We see students, not minorities. To focus on our minority students would be to exclude the majority.”
When people see me, they usually see a Latina. Unless, of course, I’m in a room full of Latinos—then I will most likely be seen as a gringa. People’s failure to see me has caused me a great deal of stress. I don’t walk around with that stress daily, and I can often focus on myself as simply an individual, but this determination of refusing to see an individual (to willfully choose color-blindness) is to strip the person of a layer of his or her true self.
Let’s approach it a different way. Culture and environment can influence blindness of concepts. For instance, if I live in a place where there exists only one computer within a 50 mile radius, I will most likely be without the concept of Internet. For me, Internet is non-existent. It exists somewhere—out there—but it is not a part of my reality, and certainly not a part of my vocabulary.
If I live in a place where biting into an apple too slowly may bring about an accusation of being a seductress, I will most likely be without the concept of autonomy. It still exists, but not for me. For me, my every move must be filtered against the norms and regulations of my present reality.
When we use a basic term like chair, we notice the chair’s uniqueness. We know that while we are using the general term we are also seeing the chair’s wheels—or its four legs—or its fabric. It would be illogical to tell someone, “I only see chair. For me, there is only one chair. I see no discerning qualities.” Of course you see the fabric’s texture, its color, its size, its legs or lack thereof!
This insistence on the idea that people should be color blind to insure equality actually strips individuals of their discerning qualities—and therefore eliminates our obligations to meet individual needs. Does this chair need to be pushed or picked up? We all treat chairs with rockers differently than we do those that fold and transport easily.
I want people to see me. I wonder what it must feel like to use that phrase, “I see you” and mean “I see the essence of who you are.” I want people to see my bi-racial features. To recognize my uniqueness. For only if we first see the phenomenal aspects of a person can we even hope to travel to the next plane and see what lies beneath, beyond.
There are none so blind as those who will not see.