Plato had it about right and was well ahead of his time, trying to explain why we all fall so far short of our potential – and short of our ability to enjoy the full fruits of life.
The allegory of the cave, or Plato’s Cave, is an allegory presented by the Greek philosopher Plato in his work Republic (514a–520a) to compare “the effect of education (παιδεία) and the lack of it on our nature” …
In the allegory, Socrates describes a group of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall from objects passing in front of a fire behind them and give names to these shadows. [Plato didn’t yet know, of course, about television, cinema, video games, social media and the impact of conspiracy theories!] The shadows are the prisoners’ reality but are not accurate representations of the real world. Three higher levels exist: the natural sciences; mathematics, geometry, and deductive logic, and the theory of forms.
Socrates explains how the philosopher is like a prisoner who is freed from the cave and comes to understand that the shadows on the wall are not reality at all. A philosopher aims to understand and perceive the higher levels of reality. However, the other inmates of the cave do not even desire to leave their prison, for they know no better life.
Plato was, of course, laying the groundwork and rationale for his ideal construct of a REPUBLIC which would be ruled gratuitously, and of necessity, by “enlightened” Philosopher Kings.
As states and nations and philosophers and philosophies have evolved, the idea of DEMOCRACY has taken hold, particularly in America, based on the aspirational touchstone that “all men are created equal”, and can, therefore, each in his/her own right, rise [through universally applicable education] to the level of a “Philosopher King”, participating equally in governance of the whole. [This is simplified, of course, through governance by elected representatives, each of whom serves as a sort of “mini-Philosopher King”.]
But the CAVE persists! The comfort zone of the cave, its familiarities, its echo chambers with positively reinforcing self-images and imaginings where we live in the crucible of “our own truth”, and its tribal protection from the alt-realities of presumptive “Philosopher Kings” makes the “chains” of Plato completely unnecessary. Fear and distrust of any “other” is a more than sufficient substitute for “chains”. And the “light” of alt-truths prevails, stemming from the “fires” of interloper opportunists posing in their own echo chambers as “Philosopher King” Oracles and Savants – replete with cacophonous bullhorns and megaphones proclaiming omniscience.
But the CAVE remains a CAVE. And REALITY – for all its bedrock authenticity and veritability – remains strangely elusive … almost as if it would require too much from us to immerse ourselves in it, and so “pedestrian” in its nature, leaving us “emptier” in the end for having allowed it to occupy too much of our sacred personal space!
In addition to “shadows on the wall” inside our cave, we frequently encounter attention-usurping “bright shiny objects” filtering in from all sorts of crevasses, and we are intent on chasing them down every path they beckon. Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is a compelling driver.
[Our personal “CAVES”, of course, are the “Black Boxes” inside our heads.]
And then there’s the ubiquitous “Pleasure Center” … always “TURNED ON”, forever scanning the landscape for the next bright shiny object or indulgence!
Disarmingly, it’s like a dystopia outside the cave, populated as it is by NERDS, “Progressives” and Overachievers, competing for and controlling everything. And it’s even scarier to be unable to avoid unrealistic and untenable concepts like ABSOLUTE TRUTH, Courage, Self-Discipline, Egalitarianism, Humanitarianism, Justice, Wisdom … and Accountability … with no indemnifications and no place for excuses, explanations and “Exceptionalism”.
But the CAVE can become a smothering, noxious environment without substantial “outside illumination and ventilation”. Its truncation of personal growth and development is constitutionally, emotionally and psychologically draining and leads inevitably to disappointment, remorse, regret and demoralizing devastation.
You don’t have to become a “Philosopher King”! But an intentional effort to move as far beyond the confines of the CAVE as possible will add immeasurable value and richness to whatever else you do. Quartermaster