Know Thy Bliss
When I was a young lad I distinctly remember an issue of The Incredible Hulk comic book where the Hulk smashes a Greek statue and the head of Socrates ends up in his hands looking directly at him at which point the Hulk reads the inscription on the base of the statue. “Know Thyself”. This, predictably, begins his transformation from the raging destructive green beast back into Bruce Banner the mild-mannered scientist.
And, somewhat less predictably, began my metamorphosis from mild-mannered nerd comic book reader into an outraged and significantly less-green and less-destructive and yet none-the-less annoyed beast.
Why you may ask? Because when Plato had Socrates and Charmides use the maxim to move his various dialogues along not once did the intended meaning have anything to do with the subconscious fiddle-faddle that would lend itself to explaining why an enormous green monster created by a mistake involving gamma rays would search himself and return to his pre-accident condition. “Know Thyself” indeed. Plato meant know your place, know your role in society and, perhaps if you stretch it a bit, know who you are in regards to your own views of good and evil. Maybe if the Hulk had smashed a statue of a more recent pioneer in psychology it might have made more sense but the truth is that the writer used a cheap vehicle to create some sort of pseudo-intellectual moment that did nothing but cheapen both his original premise and Greek philosophy as a whole.
Which brings to mind another proverb… “Ignorance is bliss”.
For the longest time I thought that was also of Greek origin but it turns out it was from a Thomas Gray poem.
To each his sufferings: all are men,
Condemn’d alike to groan—
The tender for another’s pain,
Th’ unfeeling for his own.
Yet, ah! why should they know their fate,
Since sorrow never comes too late,
And happiness too swiftly flies?
Thought would destroy their Paradise.
No more;—where ignorance is bliss,
‘Tis folly to be wise.
The entire poem Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College is much too long to include all of it here (given your painfully short attention span) but I highly suggest you give it a read some day. The point being that had I not known the original meaning of “Know Thyself” I would have enjoyed the issue of The Hulk much more than I did. And the point of the point I just pointed out is that the episode with the comic book was just a precursor to much more painful examples of how ignorance truly is bliss. Now I’m much too considerate to start heaping upon you takes from my own life so I will expand the topic a bit and make it more interesting and less about the hardships suffered by one particular nerd.
The things that we are ignorant of are broad and breathtaking in the territory they cover. The exact time and date of our deaths for example. That has been a question posed by everyone at one time or another… would you want to know when you’re going to die? Just imagine how it would change your life. Then there are various degrees to which you could ask such questions. Will I get paralyzed? Will I lose my sight? When is the next time I twist my ankle? Now I don’t expect you to sit there and start to wrestle with all these grand concept… simply let them run off you like duck off of water and move on. It isn’t my intention to slow you down too much and even a simpleton could spend 20 minutes thinking over such heady matters.
Most people would want to know if their spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend is cheating on them but how many would want to know if they simply had lust in their hearts for another? That ignorance keeps us sane. What do our friends really think of us? Does the mechanic at the Jiffy Lube think I’m an asshole?
It goes on and on… we swim in a sea of ignorance and the only thing that keeps us afloat is the illusion of knowledge we try and maintain. Even the ocean metaphor is fucked because only by drowning can we accept our condition fully and truly live to see another day.
Yeah, I know. That makes fuck all sense.
We’re ignorant of love for all the right reasons. These truths and inventions that seem to transcend biology haunt us all the more for their vague importance. Our ignorance of the soul is the only thing that keeps our culture moving forward it seems. Even my definition of forward is steeped in an ignorance that could win an election but set off a lie detector.
Fuck … this whole topic has me frozen about where to go with it. Like sitting in a plane and trying to peek through the little window and describe the sky. Peering through and scribbling away until I catch a reflection of myself in the glass.
And suddenly I’m the Hulk holding the head of Socrates and Thomas Gray is yelling in my ear to ignore what I think I know about “Know Thyself” and just go with it.
And I’m looking into the cold stone eyes in the window. Inventing the phrase and turning it into an accusation. Turning it into a key that unlocks a door and behind that door is cleaning supplies, a bucket, paper towels and a few old nudie magazines.
Really, it’s not a metaphor. It’s just a closet filled with shit the janitor needs.
Imagine how I feel.