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Plato's Cave Resurrected

Plato’s Cave Resurrected


Having lived through more than four years of systematic subjection to gaslighting as well as misinformation by the mainstream media, governments and non-elected, private global companies, those among us who sojourn in the land of the awake and awakened, would understand the metaphor of ‘looking at shadows.’ And if you do, perhaps some readers might recall that in the 4th century BCE there was an ancient Greek philosopher named Plato, who invented a myth involving shadows to explain the congenitally deceptive character of the human world in space and time. 

If you have studied philosophy and you haven’t heard of Plato’s allegory of the cave, there’s something missing in your philosophical education. But if you have, you may also know that some commentators have observed that it is probably the first imagining of what we know as the film theatre, given the crucial idea of something being projected onto a flat surface. 

In Book 7 of Plato’s dialogue, the Republic, Plato’s spokesperson, Socrates, relates the allegorical story of a community of people who live in a cave, with their necks chained in such a way that they have their backs to the cave opening and can only look at the cave wall. Behind them there is a road with different beings moving along it, and behind the road and its users there is a big fire. Even further towards the entrance, behind the fire, is the cave opening, with the sun shining brightly outside.

Here is the first crucial part of the cave myth: the light from the fire behind the road casts the shadows of the creatures and objects moving along the road on the cave wall in front of the cave prisoners, who – because they cannot turn around – perceive these shadows as real things, and conduct conversations about them in ‘shadow language’ as if this is all there is about ‘reality.’ This is obviously similar to the ontological value that many contemporary people attribute to television and movie images, as well as to those internet-mediated images that appear on computer screens – they behave as if the images are real. 

The chained denizens of the cave represent human beings, of course, and the allegory is Plato’s way of saying that human beings are like the cave-dwellers in erroneously attributing ‘reality’ to the things of sense perception, which are like shadows compared to the objects of thought. The latter, by contrast, are the only truly real entities, according to Plato. 

The second crucial part of the cave myth is encountered where Socrates recounts how one of these prisoners (probably a woman, because women tend to be less conventional than men in my experience) painstakingly manages to remove the shackles from her neck, and succeeds in turning around and making her way out of the cave, past the road and the fire, into broad daylight. It takes some time for her eyes to get accustomed to the bright light, but when she finally sees the extant world in all its splendour, she is understandably astonished, and can’t wait to share her discovery with those in the cave. 

In passing, one should note that it is easy to deconstruct Plato’s derogation of sensory perception in favour of abstract thought, by showing that he is dependent on the recognisable meaning and validity of precisely what he argues against, namely sensory knowledge, for his metaphysical philosophical argument to ‘work,’ not only in the Republic, but in the Symposium too.

One should take particular note of Plato’s account of the newly ‘enlightened’ person’s return to her tribe in the cave, for here he reveals great insight into the relationship between the true philosopher (or artist, for that matter), and society. Why? Because he intimates what all true philosophers and artists experience from time to time. The person who returns to the cave community to share their unbelievable discovery of the real, sensory world outside the cave with them, runs the serious risk of not being understood.

After all, how would she describe something for which the cave inhabitants would lack a vocabulary? Theirs is attuned to shadows. She would therefore have to devise a novel language to share her newly acquired knowledge, and as we know from history, novel ideas are all too often frowned upon by those who cling to convention. In fact, such individuals risk nothing less than their lives in their attempts to ‘get through’ to their erstwhile community, who, in all likelihood, will regard them as being insane. 

Recall Vincent van Gogh, whose art – particularly his use of vibrant colours in a Victorian world accustomed to black, grey, and dark brown – was incomprehensible to all but his brother Theo, who managed to sell exactly one of Vincent’s artworks in an uncomprehending world. (Listening to Starry, Starry Night, by Don McLean, imparts some insight into this.) 

Or think of the ancient philosopher, Socrates, who was condemned to death for sharing his critical ideas with the youth of Athens, and of Polish astronomer, Copernicus, whose revolutionary heliocentric hypothesis was initially ridiculed. So was Italian physicist Galileo’s notion of an ‘earth in motion,’ and Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno’s unconscionable idea of an infinite number of worlds, where there are creatures like ourselves (for which he was burnt at the stake). 

Or think of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, which was (and still is today in many circles) caricatured as ludicrously reducing humans to monkeys – many cartoons appeared in magazines like Punch at the time, depicting people in different postures as primates, for example. Freud, too, was treated – and is still being treated by some today – as if he was the devil, for daring to suggest that ‘originary repression’ of infantile erotic desire (for the mother), through which the unconscious is constituted, somehow taints the human race unbearably. 

One could add many others, like D.H Lawrence, who was persecuted for the right of literary artists to explore all aspects of human existence, including that of sexuality. What all these instances of philosophers, scientists, and artists have in common is that these individuals were in the position of the ‘rebel’ who made her way out of Plato’s cave of conventional assumptions, and tried to share her discoveries with those still bound by the neck – to their uncomprehending consternation, and her relentless ridicule or persecution.

Does this sound familiar, especially in the present time, when there is an added layer to the kind of ‘distance from reality’ that Plato was writing about? Not only do we have to remind ourselves that sense perception can be – and often is – deceptive, without the intervention of (critical) thinking; in addition we have to grapple with the fact that the things we perceive have been deliberately distorted into the bargain, so that our critical appropriation of the mendacious, shadowy texts and images which are circulating in media space have to be subjected to a different kind of critical thinking altogether. 

Analogous to the hapless cave prisoners in Plato’s story, contemporary people are at the mercy of powerful media companies that spread officially sanctioned news and commentary about everything from the plandemic to supposed ‘vaccine’ efficacy and safety, the world economy, and the conflict in Ukraine and in Gaza. 

Fortunately, given the ambiguous status of communication as a double-edged sword, the internet enables the dissemination of adversarial news and critical commentary that challenge the official news hegemony. As a result, what greets one in global media space is an information and communication divide which resembles the stark contrast between what the escapee from Plato’s cave knows and what the unwitting cave denizens believe they know, except that this is occurring on a scale never before witnessed in history. It is as if a war of information has erupted between the newly enlightened escapee and those in the cave who dogmatically and with increased desperation defend the presumed veracity of their projected belief in shadows. 

In other words, just as, at any given time, there are conventions or ‘shadows’ that have a stranglehold on people’s ability to see beyond what current, tacit agreements allow one to see, today there are unprecedented, deliberately manufactured ‘shadows’ that govern the visible and auditory world. What are some of these? 

One of the most persistent shadows cast on the media wall by the official channels concerns the vexed issue of thousands, if not millions, of illegal immigrants crossing the US border into the country. Not only are these people allowed entrance to the US; even worse is the fact that the prevailing Biden administration policy amounts to prioritising the needs of these immigrants over those of American citizens, providing them with free flights, bus rides meals, phones, and accommodation – in this way making sure that they will be loyal to the Democratic Party for giving them access to American society. 

Moreover, the plan seems to be to make sure that these immigrants will stay in the country, regardless of the crimes they may commit, and to count them in a national census, so that additional congressional districts can be created. An identifiable media ‘shadow’ in this regard – apart from the fact that the information available on the video linked above is not available in the mainstream media – is the strategy of attacking the language employed by critics, when referring to the mass ingress of immigrants, as being ‘racist,’ cleverly diverting attention from the immigrants themselves. In this way the testimony of what may be seen in the sunlight of compelling evidence, provided by those who have escaped from the media cave, is itself transmuted into another shadow. 

Another shadow on the media cave wall concerns the causes of the economic decline worldwide, especially conspicuous in formerly wealthy European countries. ‘Climate change’ is usually adduced as the reason for the deteriorating situation, but investigative reporting has uncovered something even more sinister than climate change claims – given that current information suggests that human beings cannot, with certainty, be labelled the generators of climate change, as one is incessantly being told – namely, that the food crisis (as part of the continuing economic decline) and the supposedly consequent, expected famine are being manufactured in the same manner as the Covid ‘pandemic’ was. 

One final shadow projected on the screens of the world pertains to the image of the United Nations as being a benign organisation working for the well-being of all the people of the world. Just this past weekend one of my former PhD students – now a fully-fledged Doctor of Philosophy – attended a conference on the UN’s ‘sustainable development goals,’ and her report on the papers presented there, and the ensuing discussions (as well as being perceived as ‘the one who asks difficult questions’), convinced me that she was probably the only person there who is fully aware of the spurious nature of the work carried out by the UN worldwide. 

If this is difficult to swallow – should one not yet be apprised of the invidious relationship among the World Health Organisation, the World Economic Forum, and the United Nations – a certain cure to such ignorance consists in viewing deceased investigative journalist, Janet Ossebaard and Cyntha Koeter’s Sequel to the original Fall of the Cabal (both available on Rumble) – particularly the episodes dealing with the UN (such as this one, where they expose how the sexual abuses committed by members of the UN stabilisation mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were swept under the carpet, even after an investigation had been conducted on the charges levelled against these members).

Once the sunlight of evidence-based investigations such as Ossebaard and Koeter’s has dispelled these shadows for those with the proverbial ‘eyes to see,’ it may not be easy to believe the testimony of one’s eyes; after all – like the delegates at the conference referred to earlier – one has been exposed to only the (deceptive) image of the UN as a benevolent organisation. And it would be even more difficult to communicate these newly acquired insights to others, who would probably suffer ‘cognitive dissonance’ in the face of such ‘incomprehensible accusations’ against the world organisation in question. But who knows, perhaps the ones still befuddled by ‘shadow talk’ may just catch a glimpse of some light here and there. It is worthwhile persisting in pointing them towards the light

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  • Bert Olivier

    Bert Olivier works at the Department of Philosophy, University of the Free State. Bert does research in Psychoanalysis, poststructuralism, ecological philosophy and the philosophy of technology, Literature, cinema, architecture and Aesthetics. His current project is 'Understanding the subject in relation to the hegemony of neoliberalism.'

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