“In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” George Orwell
Have you ever heard of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave? Chances are you haven’t. Perhaps the warnings of a Greek philosopher from antiquity may not be seen as pertinent to our modern technological age. Yet one may be surprised at the idea that his allegory speaks directly to the here-and-now. We should pay attention to Plato’s analysis of how our perceptions are governed by biases such as our upbringing, what media we are exposed to and our peer group. In psychology we call this schema.
Plato’s lesson goes like this. A group of people, let’s say five women have been raised from birth chained to each other in a cave in such a way that they can only see directly in front of each other. It is not a torturous existence as they are provided food and water and they can talk with each other in a language they have developed together. So what is their world view? Well, their gaze is fixed on a wall directly in front of them.
Behind our women is a fire in the very back of the cave. And between them and the fire are workers going about their business. So as these hypothetical workers move about it castes shadows onto the wall for our women to observe. They label the various images and interpret their origins and their relationship to them. This is their world…their reality.
Well, one day one of the women is released, maybe a caretaker forgets to lock her back up after a cleaning, who knows, and leaves keys sitting on a rock. The woman stands up and turns around to see light coming from the entrance to the cave. Forgetting her lifelong companions she stumbles out of the cave and is met with a sunny day. Her eyes take time to adjust to her new surroundings but eventually she is able to see a totally exotic world. There is a large sun overhead, some clouds, and a green landscape underneath. She sees trees with leaves glistening in the sunlight as a light breeze moves them about. She begins to pick up objects, smell flowers and, while the loose rocks hurt her bare feet as she explores about she enjoys both the sensations of the sun’s rays on her body and all this new world has to offer.
After a few hours she decides she wants her companions to experience her new insights…her new reality. She strolls back to the cave and approaches her friends. She is excited about her discoveries and begins to recount all she has experienced. Her friends roll their eyes and shake their heads. They cannot comprehend what she is trying to relate to them. She picks up the keys and offers to unlock them and see that what she is saying is true. As she approaches they kick at her and insist she sit down and fasten herself back into her locks.
The four women lash out rather than consider seeing for themselves if the free woman is telling them the truth. After all, if she is correct then it threatens their world view, their schema. So in a sense their lashing out is an ego-defensive mechanism; deep down they fear she may be right. What if she is right? What then? It is safe in the cave, their needs met and acceptance in their shared community…prisoners yes, but a very predictable existence. Of course it would be unlikely the one that has seen the real world will submit, sit down and lock herself back into confinement.
So how is this applicable to the world of today? In my book, “Freedom from Conscience – Descent into Darkness” the theme is an awakening to the real world of the protagonist outside her comfortable middle-class background as she must go undercover into the dark world of organized crime, corrupt police and the sex industry to protect her family. A sub-plot involves her trying to wake up two women she comes in touch with to a new way of living, to step out of the lives they are used to. In fact, that is the underlying message of this and the other “Freedom from Conscience” book series; question authority, question assumptions and dare to break free of cultural chains that are as strong as the iron chains Plato was referring to in his allegory. In our day “reality” for most people is set by the corporate media (news shows, movies, music videos, commercials, and TV programs), sports, and public education, and reinforced by getting approval from friends, family and co-workers. Some aspects of mainstream thought and culture are quite positive, but that is not the point. The only way to personally evaluate which are positive and which are negative to individuals and society in general is to examine who is asking us to believe or act in certain ways, what will be the results and why should we choose what we choose.
So whether you are, as the woman in the cave, just discovering you have the ability to leave your chains behind, on your way out, discovering the real world or trying to awaken those around you it is vital to remember that at one point you were as this women chained into place and accepting the reality that was forced upon her. Never allow enlightenment to develop into arrogance. In the United States there are six large corporations that control almost all the media you are exposed to and that power has a tremendous effect on government, production, and even education and religion. Of course the latter institutions exert their own power and each creates a gigantic feedback loop in which the individual is as pulled along as if he or she is caught in a massive whirlpool. Too many metaphors and analogies? Perhaps. But the point is that everyone can help one another caught up in modern society to dig a bit deeper, question a little more, analyze and enable each other to dare to step out of the cave.