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Perspective

Perspective is a terrible mistress. Until you have it, you don’t know what it is. Once you have it, you can’t not have it. No matter how much you want to not have it. It’s like having the eyelids removed… like seeing a car crash in front of your eyes: you want to look away, and yet you can’t. So the mistress commands that one must watch. Once opened, the eyes can never close.

A friend of mine recently posted an interesting point about glasses. The basic argument concerns whether once one is forced to see with glasses, the option to remove glasses disappears. I think glasses are easier than perspective. Sometimes, when I walk home very late at night, I walk without my glasses. Without them, I can still see well enough to walk home. However, the funny thing about myopic glasses is that they reduce depth perception. Everything becomes flatter. When I walk without glasses, I have normal depth perception (though it’s not normal for me). The side effect is that while everything looks the same size, albeit blurry, I perceive my own height to be closer to nine feet. When I walk without glasses, I am a giant. That is choice. But I know I am five foot and eleven inches tall. That is perspective.

Perspective, like the ground you stand upon, cannot be ignored. It sits at the back of the mind, gnawing at the edges of every delusion that could be a convenient truth. Sometimes, it’s really a royal pain. It can make you seem paranoid or jaded. In fact, it can actually make you paranoid or jaded. Turns out, that’s just about always a bad thing. It’s especially a bad thing if you are actually right. To illustrate the point, I will diverge a little. NPR has a segment named This I Believe, a set of essays on things people believe in (very worthwhile reads… it does the soul good). Once, the featured essay was from a law professor, on belief in the rule of law. I think I didn’t quite realize what he meant when I first heard it. The rule of law, like so many other things we take as “natural,” is a construct. We construct it out of our own needs. Like lights to dispel the darkness at night, we seek it instinctively. We surround ourselves with constructs such as the rule of law in order to create a stable perspective from which we can consider the world in a sane way. The problem with good perspective is that perspective is almost always the ability to look at your feet and realize that you’re walking on water, not ground. One the plus side, you can now walk on water. On the minus side, you might now fall in.

Living with perspective is the fine line between believing in the magic strongly enough to not fall, and weakly enough to know the truth behind it. It’s the ultimate form of drinking your own CoolAid, a test of what you can handle. Also, perspective is not a very simple thing. Because the thing that you see with it is chaos (or order therein), it is by nature chaotic and varied. Everyone has some. Some are more useful than others. It’s hardly ever the same as anyone else’s. Still, it’s surprising that folk thinking is so naive about it. It seems everyone chases that piercing insight. In truth, like most blades perspective cuts both ways, and the keenness of the blade extends to both edges. To put it shortly: In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, but he knows that everyone is ugly. So do you still want to be king?

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