Our Fear of the Unknown

Kabir Vegas Castellanos

From Flatland.

HAVANA TIMES — I recently saw a rather unusual film: Flatland. It made such a deep impression on me that I went out and read the novel it was based on. Written by Edwin A. Abbot, it was first published in 1884.

The novel presents us with a world inhabited by geometric figures with senses and awareness. The protagonist, Square A, lives in “Flatland” (a two-dimensional world) and believes there is nothing beyond it.

He is a lawyer who suffers over the incessant conflicts in Flatland, where the number of sides an individual geometric figure has determines their social station.

Triangles are soldiers. Squares or pentagons can aspire to become lawyers and businesspeople. Circles wield the power of the Church and State.

In order to be integrated into society, a polygon born with geometric irregularities is taken to a reconfiguration hospital, where their irregular sides are crushed until the figure has become normal. The method kills countless citizens in the process.

Something unexpected takes place: through a dream, the protagonist, Square A, makes contact with a one-dimensional world known as “Lineland.”

Talking to the kind of this world, he soon discovers he cannot make him comprehend a two-dimensional world could exist and, to top things off, realizes that he can’t offer him any proof of its existence. The king of this one-dimensional world accuses him of being an imposter and, at the end of the dream, kills him by piercing right through him.

At a different point in the story, the protagonist makes contact with a sphere, believing it is a two-dimensional being. The sphere tries to make him understand its three-dimensional world, but now it’s him who refuses to accept the existence of such a world and accuses the sphere of lying in different ways. So the sphere takes the square out of its world and takes its three-dimensional universe.

Reading the book, it was of course impossible for me not to draw analogies with our own world, with how human beings have suffered for similar reasons in the course of history.

I thought about discrimination on the basis of gender, race and class, which are mere pretexts used to exploit those who are weaker or have less.

I thought about wars sparked off by religion or ideology, the fact that, when someone cannot experience something directly, they deny it and, if they have enough power, condemns those who represent or defend such experiences.

From a very early age, we are taught to shape the world on the basis of a number of unchanging ideas, not to accept it as it is. Many of those who are repressed or condemned, however, have the ability to show us a world that is not only different, but more developed.

Unfortunately, not even science, one of the things most people accept and take most seriously, can validate the realities that some people have experienced. Science at times contradicts itself, making more and more discoveries that refute earlier claims.

Despite this, I believe humanity is making slow progress and beginning to lose its fear of what’s different. Of course, those in power hold back such progress, denying us essential knowledge – not so much because they do not believe in these things, but because it would not be convenient for them if people did.