Sunday, December 13, 2009

Rewriting Pandora's Box

Search Pandora’s Box and moral lesson together in Google it will point to sites that say the myth is a condemnation of curiosity. ‘Curiosity kills the cat’ was even among those results.



In case you have forgotten your childhood tales, Pandora is the girl who unleashed trouble/monsters into the world because she could not control her curiosity to open a box (a jar in earlier versions).

There is a reverse version by Theognis who suggests that good creatures were contained in the jar. The fly in the ointment as it were was curious Pandora who opened the jar releasing the goodness until only hope remained inside. Unlike the unleashed evil which lurks the world, this version, the good spirits having escaped the jar have moved on to another.

The tale in its raw form of myths and monsters has been told mostly to the young. No different from telling a rather restless child that mumu, ghosts, and all sorts of monstrosities are around the corner to prevent them from straying. Unfortunately as a metaphor, the myth has made its way to adults.

Pandora’s Box has been used to describe the evils of ideas in the hopes that like children they may be scared to ever moving at all. It’s like saying this idea may look harmless to you now, but wait till you make the next step; when you ‘open the box’ so to speak. The RH bill, Sex Education, Nuclear Energy, Stem Cells, Homosexuality among others have been associated with the tale.

In most cases it doesn’t seem to matter which side you are on those views, the point of the tale is not to take the next step; perhaps more to the point, the message is not to ever look. Not unreasonable with monsters lurking under the lid. So end of story?

Well not quite at least not for me. With just monsters under the lid albeit imagined the story would have made sense, but it did not stop there because underneath it all there was Hope. Why is it there, an odd mix of monsters and a flicker of something good? If opening doors to knowledge declared as forbidden is evil why was there Hope at the end of it all?

So here I started think another way of seeing Pandora’s Box, maybe not the first to do so with many versions of the myth, but most certainly a minority.

We start at the heart of the story, Pandora, the curious girl who started all the trouble.

Of curiosity Albert Einstein said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” And if you still doubt his support of curiosity he also said “It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education,” perhaps in reference of adult tendency to tell the young to shut up with all the questions.

There is even a support of the dead cat by Arnold Edinborough: “Curiosity is the very basis of education and if you tell me that curiosity killed the cat, I say only the cat died nobly.”

If you are in subscribe to the traditional meaning of Pandora’s Box then perhaps the Wright brothers should have accepted that man does not have wings or Pasteur should have accepted diseases as a curse from the Divine. Rizal should have just accepted the Church and Spanish abuse. Where would we be if not for people who dared open their own personal and societal boxes?

Perhaps you will say it is different because Rizal, the Wright brothers have always been heroes; that they were right. Curiosity is not always about right and wrong but more about asking questions; trying; or as the story goes, it’s about looking under that jar lid or box cover. Curiosity is a prerequisite of discovery.

Which brings us to the next stage: the monsters. After the numerous curious souls throughout history have opened their boxes was it always perfect once that lid was breached? Rizal ended up as dead as that proverbial cat for daring to question the church and Spain. And I am sure in the age of pre-flight; those early attempts to get off the ground have resulted in broken bones, bruises, and certainly death (if they got high enough). It seems at least for these two cases it was right, the box should have been closed.

But can it be closed? The evil unleashed version would seem to indicate this as a bad option because the monster is already out. No use turning back. Admittedly the Theognis version were good was released and they left the world is a difficult fit for this analogy. Perhaps the question in this case is that would it be of benefit if the box remained closed with all the good inside.

The key piece in the story is Hope. In the context of the myth if Pandora were to close the box the monsters would still be there. As a gift of the gods we can assume it can never be destroyed especially by a mortal. Closing or burying in the hopes that it can be forgotten only postpones the inevitable; the fact it exists means anyone else is bound to open it again unleashing only more monsters.

So there nothing to do but to brace for the monsters until the bottom of the box is reached and only Hope is left.

Pandora’s Box I believe is an analogy about knowledge and ideas. A person gets knowledge, ideas; creates something entirely new because of curiosity. It is by no means a walk in the park as is pointed out by the monsters.

To close any particular area of knowledge or idea is not an option because the mere fact it existed means that the idea exists. If one can open it and unleash monsters means others can. The discovery of something new is by no means perfect. There is really nothing left to do but to keep it open for all to see, add to the ideas, provide solutions, discuss, experiment, until finally you find meaning in those ideas and see Hope.

Rizal ended up dead but Filipinos not closing the box on independence eventually won it and have made made him National Hero. Airplanes have made the world smaller. Pasteur is considered one of the pioneers of microbiology. If the box that was closed prematurely we would not be where we are now seeing Hope.

Sure the Philippines may be in deep shit now but who knows; maybe this isn’t the end of the box. Powered flight is doing well which leaves outer space as the next box in that area. There have been new diseases since Pasteur but his way is simply better than relying that the ‘divine curse’ be lifted.

Now how is the RH bill, Sex Education, Nuclear Energy, Stem Cells, Homosexuality the same as Rizal and powered flight? How are you sure that it is not? Maybe all that is advertised by the naysayers is not the end of the box.

All are ideas opened up by the eternally curious human mind and as such they will never be closed. Nothing left but to brace for the monsters real and imagined because it is certain there will be mistakes and rough seas so to speak. But never close that box and wish that it will be buried and forgotten. Open it wide and understand it until the end where Hope is found.

Pandora's Box: no longer should be a box that should have never been opened but, for the Philippine setting at least, a balikbayan box with a really annoying package protection.