The Blind Men And The Elephant — a fable for our time?

The Parrhesia Diaries
7 min readMay 6, 2020

There is a well known Indian fable which supposedly dates back to the mid 1st millennium BC called The Blind Men And The Elephant. The fable tells the story of six blind sojourners who encounter different parts of an elephant on their life journeys. As the fable progresses, each blind man, in turn, conceptualises what the elephant is like by touching a different part of its body.

The first man touches the side of the elephant and proclaims the animal to be like a wall. The second man feels the smooth and sharp tusk and determines the elephant more comparable to a spear. The third man holds the trunk and declares the elephant more akin to a snake. And so on we go — each man creating his own version of reality from his personal experience and perspective.

The moral of the story is that we all tend to claim absolute truth based on our limited, subjective experience as we ignore other people’s limited, subjective experiences. In contrast, each experience is in part correct, while at the same time also being incorrect.

Given the vast number of narratives in the mainstream and alternative media at the moment, one cannot help but think how the fable is analogous to the competing interpretations of the Covid-19 crisis.

Much like how the blind men in the fable who are each only able to interpret parts of the elephant’s characteristics based on their own subjective experiences, so it seems in this crisis we either reject and ignore or consume and agree with the information which denies or supports our own presuppositions.

Mainstream and Conspiracy Thinking

In this new media age, where everyone is both a consumer and publisher, it seems we are increasingly moving toward opposing extremes and bedding down into our own respective interpretive camps as we respond as individuals to this crisis. We are willing to defend our opinions to the death, or at least to the point of tiring our opponents into submission in wars fought on social media.

There are many interpretive camps, each with its own particular take on the current situation, but I think we can say that each can be categorised into one of two broader camps.

The Parrhesia Diaries

The Parrhesia Diaries is a blog run from the UK Renaissance, not revolution.