By Denis Korn
WE ARE A NATION OF CAVE DWELLERS!
As I assess the current state of our society, which is overflowing with delusion, deception and insanity, and as I read and hear so much material related to emergency/disaster/apocalyptic preparedness that is also filled with chaos and confusion, I am constantly reminded of a segment of the Critical Thinking class I taught at our local college. Many of you at some point in your education have been introduced and studied Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. This is in my opinion one of the finest – if not the best – allegory, metaphor or parable ever written in western philosophy, that is a brilliant and timeless illustration of the perverse and distorted reality confronting our civilization today – and throughout history.
If you are not familiar with this legendary allegory or would like a refresher with some additional insights, welcome to this article. It is not my intent to offer a detailed analysis of this masterful work, only to stimulate you to do further research and reflection on its profound message.
I believe we have a choice as to how we perceive and discern the reality and authenticity of the world that surrounds us. This has significant implications not only for determining the physical actions we take, but also for our attitudes and spiritual understanding. If you have read other posts I have written, you know that I believe the foundation of any preparedness planning action and experience is one’s attitude, and the importance of an appropriate and life-enhancing mindset. Also, as Plato points out, the greater truth – should you choose to discover it – is what I would call a spiritual or Divine validity.
If historians or philosophers were asked to name the greatest philosopher of all times, most if not just about all would name Plato. His impact on western culture and thinking is so all pervasive that it is difficult to find individuals or schools of thought that have significantly contributed to our culture that have not been substantially influenced by Plato. May you join the club!
How does this post relate to the preparedness process? Know where you stand. I hope that we can all function from a position of clear thinking, honest research and evaluation, reality, and appropriate action. I encourage sensible preparedness planning, not an approach of mindless reaction, fear and an unreliable decision making process leading to wasteful and ineffective provisions .
PLATO’S ALLEGORY OF THE CAVE
This allegory is perhaps the most widely recognized feature of his entire written corpus or body of work. Commentary on this document is extensive and far-reaching, and Plato’s grasp of the human condition and psyche is remarkably comprehensive.
The description of the cave is given to us in Book VII of the Republic (514a – 521b). The opening sentence of the allegory invites us to compare the state of things in and above the cave to our natural condition as far as education and ignorance are concerned. The cave is a complete symbolic system that is essentially political, yet is descriptive of the general human condition. The “real” world to the masses of mankind is the cave, where the reality of life is but the shadows on the cave wall.
In the Republic Plato describes his version of the ideal society. The role of education and the function of the philosopher within this society are defined in an elaborate metaphor, the Allegory of the Cave. We are to imagine a group of people who live, as it were, chained to the ground in an underground cave in such a way that they can see only shadows of reality projected onto the inner wall of the cave by firelight behind them as objects are moved around by those in “control” who know that this is the only reality known to the “prisoners” and it’s what determines their worldview. The prisoners must sit still and look forward and cannot turn around (representative of the normal and unfortunate state of mankind with respect to education and knowledge and is the only reality).
Since they have been accustomed to seeing nothing but shadows all their lives, they have no way of comprehending the real world outside the cave. It is therefore the task of the philosopher who is already free from the chains of misconception and sees the truth of the cave process, to liberate the others and educate them in such a way as to set them free from the imprisonment of their falsely indoctrinated senses. The freed one in the process of being unchained and seeing the truth of the cave and experiencing the journey to the reality of the light outside and the source of this reality, undergoes a profound conversion and transformation leading to understanding and knowledge. The responsibility of returning to the cave to liberate his fellow prisoners is a painful and dangerous process.
SOME THEMES FROM THE ALLEGORY FOR REFLECTION
- How education or lack thereof affects our nature.
- The prison and the prisoners within.
- Know thyself.
- What is reality?
- Can you discern the truth from the lie? How? Why?
- No context to discern new reality as the philosopher grows and ascends – it is painful and lonely.
- The ascent to the truth is not easy – one fights it the whole way – he wants to go back to the comfortable, familiar and secure.
- There is an ultimate “cause” that allows you to “see” the truth.
- Those left behind will not want to tolerate a new radical explanation of truth and reality – they are so attached to their worldview that they will eliminate a person who challenges their reality rather than change.
- The value of wisdom and critical thinking.
- The essential value of true education from birth in the contemplation of real things.
- Men lacking education experience in truth cannot adequately preside over a city or nation.
- The philosopher governs the city – he must go down into the cave to govern and teach after being educated in the light above.
- Once you have experienced the good – truth – reality, the philosopher has a responsibility and duty to lead the society and others to the light for the good of all.
- The Truth can be frightening and painful yet liberating and joyful.
- We have an innate ability and desire to gain the truth.
- Plato goes from “being all about you” to sharing, educating and directing one’s wisdom for the benefit of others. This is true wisdom and selflessness.
- Knowledge and truth – see it with your own eyes and heart and discern it with your own mind.
- How does the seemingly impossible or extremely difficult task of leading others to discover the truth or the “real” equate with the difficulty of creating a society of critical thinkers?
You are encouraged to obtain a copy of the Allegory by getting Plato’s Republic, or finding it on the internet. This is a transformational masterful work. The issues of ignorance, depravity and delusion that plague our society today have been with us for thousands of years. Plato is describing the fictions of today from the perspective of a society of the distant past – it has always amazed and disheartened me how little has changed over time. Let us focus on being liberated from the chains of our own cave so that we may help our families, neighbors and community reach the light that is above the darkness. We can accomplish this by setting an example – in the way we live, think and speak. One person cannot make another see, he can only provide the stimulation that helps the other see for himself.