At the beginning of the year I decided to make some improvements to the blog. In the process of doing that I had a repeat incident of wiping everything out, including all my past articles. Luckily I began saving these elsewhere. As I try and republish what can be salvaged I plan to do some re-editing and possible additions.
There is an allegory I would like to tell you about. In Book 7 of Plato’s Republic is an allegory called The Allegory of the Cave. An allegory is often a story that is given to convey a point or a message that has a deeper meaning. Plato is giving us much to ponder in regards to the knowledge we possess and where we have gotten it.
The allegory begins with people living in a cave. These people have been living there since childhood. Not only have they lived there forever but they are also bound by chains. Their legs and necks are chained so they cannot move. In fact, their movement is so limited that they are only able to see what is directly in front of them, not being able to turn their heads around.
The people in chains are also referred to as prisoners. The cave is not only a physical prison for these people, but because of how limited they are, it also becomes a prison for their minds.
“Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.
And do you see, I said, men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking, others silent.”
If you have seen the movie The Matrix, it is this allegory much of the backdrop of the movie comes from.
Even though it is weird to think of people chained to a wall in a cave, what Plato portrays does paint a vivid picture of people who are ‘living in the dark’. What these people end up seeing are shadows of figures or statues. Since this is all they see, their knowledge is very limited on what the true nature of anything is. In many ways, we could say that these people are misinformed. Then there are the people who are carrying these figures and statues past the fire which is giving off the shadows for the others to see. These people are deciding what to show them and ultimately are the true manipulators of the information the people in the cave receive. These other people are the source of misinformation.
“To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.”
Imagine that the same thing could happen to you or me. Plato is teaching a very valuable lesson that is still relevant today. The lesson is that we don’t need to be bound by chains in a cave for people to try and hide the truth from us. All we must do is look at our society and culture. We have certain people or media outlets attempting to tell us their version of the news. These people who are spreading misinformation are just like the individuals in the cave who hold the figures that cast shadows on the wall. These individuals, like in the allegory, are not about giving true information but something that is skewed.
One such example is abortion. Abortion has been termed ‘choice’, ‘women’s rights’, ‘human rights’, or ‘reproductive rights’. The truth is that abortion is an act of killing an innocent unborn child. Yet there are those in our culture who go along with the ideology that abortion is acceptable and in fact a woman’s right. Abortion and many other agendas have at their cores a distorted and erroneous understanding of the human person. These agendas disseminate misinformation and error, or in Plato’s terms, shadows. Many agendas being pushed are done so under the banner of human rights. What they often ignore is that while we have the right to do what we want, not all things people decide to do are good or moral. Since we face people who are caught up in misinformation and error, sound reason seems to be absent. Thus, having any semblance of a rational dialogue of our differences becomes nearly impossible.
After reading this allegory, Plato leaves us to look at the knowledge we possess and where we have gotten it. Are you believing most anything you hear or see, like the prisoners in the cave accepting the shadows as reality, or are you questioning the things presented to you before deciding? This question applies to everyone. The dialogues that happen because of our differences should be backed by facts and reason. Instead many are quick to become reactionary simply due to their feelings. A danger we face today is people being stirred to act primarily by their feelings in place of sound reason.
In a world and country where misinformation is continuously spread, this allegory from long ago has as much relevance today. Those being fed information in the cave were not receiving what was real and true, but only semblances of it. In today’s world, all of us need to be careful with where we go for information, especially on current affairs, because some sources are very much like those in the cave making shadows.