In a recent celebrity interview, actress Candice Bergen, when asked if she had a motto in life, answered, “Eat dessert first.” (“Proust Questionnaire,” Vanity Fair, May 2015, pg. 174.) I laughed because hers was a philosophy I could espouse. Yes, I know pleasure as an end itself soon becomes as stale as last year’s wedding cake. But shared pleasure has a longer shelf life and is the gateway to altruism.
In his new book, Invisible: The Dangerous Allure of the Unseen, Phillip Ball recounts Plato’s tale about a shepherd who finds a ring that makes him invisible and uses it for his personal pleasure: to sleep with his queen and murder the king. (“Review of Reviews: Books” The Week, May 1, 2015, pg. 22.) Absent accountability, the shepherd reveals his true essence which, as Plato would suggest, puts him on the side of demons.
But I take a different view of human nature and think invisibility poses no threat to it. We live in a universe where invisibility rules. Dark matter, that stuff we cannot see, influences both gravity and the expansion of the galaxies. On a smaller scale, when we cloak our thoughts, we become invisible. That we are governed by the unconscious leaves us unseen to ourselves. And, our version of reality relies upon the quantum world — matter so infinitely small, it can be detected only through powerful instruments. Flip the coin and discover the reverse is true. We are imperceptible to a deaf, dumb and blind universe.
Despite our insignificant and largely invisible existence, most of us soldier on, striving to be decent people and taking joy in all points of communion — with ourselves, with others and with the universe. Why? Because good acts, like sharing, give virtue dimension. We make it real in us. If I am right, then so is Bergen. If we share it, we should eat our cake first.