Exiting Plato’s Cave

Nobody ever said taking the Red (or Black) Pill was easy. But it is necessary.

The “ancient” philosophers sure knew a whole lot about a whole lot. I’ve said several times that damn-near every modern “philosopher” is basically either ripping-off or riffing-on Aristotle. However, it’s impossible to ignore what I believe is Plato’s greatest contribution to philosophy (and he made plenty of contributions) and one that nearly perfectly describes what many are going through right now – the Allegory Of The Cave.

Most of us are probably familiar with the allegory in some manner or form, which appeared in Plato’s work The Republic. The general premise is that we are creatures not only of our nature (the innate sense and knowledge that we are more-or-less born with) and our nurture (our education, or, in the modern sense, programming – which obviously goes well beyond our schooling).

In the allegory, Plato has Socrates describe a gathering of people who have lived as prisoners facing a blank wall within a cave all of their lives. The sole connection these people have with the outside world is the shadow projected on the wall from things passing in front of a fire which is behind them and which they can never see directly. The prisoners give names to these shadows which, in effect, become their reality. Plato (through Socrates) then explains how the philosopher is like a prisoner who is freed from, and exits, the cave and comes to understand that the shadows on the wall do not make up reality at all, because once outside he can perceive the true form of reality rather than the mere shadows seen by the prisoners.

And yes, if this is starting to sound a whole lot like an ancient version of the plot of a well-known modern movie franchise, then you’re understanding it more-or-less perfectly.

Socrates’ observation is not strictly limited to “philosophers” of course; it’s applicable to anyone who walks out of The Cave or, in the more modern and perhaps therefore familiar context, is unplugged from The Matrix (which symbolically happens in the movie by taking the Red Pill). For Plato, the escape of a prisoner from the cave is an unqualified good, after a rather painful adjustment period (for the light from the sun is far brighter of course than any fire in the cave). After a time, the escapee feels that the actual world is so far superior to that in the cave he returns to the cave to try to lead-out the others. However, he’s now blind in the cave due to the difference in relative brightness between the sun and the fire. As a result of this perceived blindness, the prisoners see no reason to escape their chains.

Kant, asserting that for modern man the entrapment in The Cave is largely voluntary, basically riffs on Plato in asserting that “Enlightenment is man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage.” Indeed, in the modern era the requirement to stay in The Cave is largely a choice, particularly for any who escape.

But both Plato and Kant, if I may be so bold, do not properly account for how difficult it is for many, if not most, and particularly soft men raised in good-times-turning-hard, to “see”. And because the decision to remain in The Cave is voluntary (and, in fact, encouraged heavily by The Programmers) the temptation to crawl back into our “self-incurred tutelage” is a tremendous pull.

Think again of The Matrix. Many of the batteries, unknowing they’re in a simulation, live quiet, more-or-less peaceful and pleasant lives. But what of Neo and the others who’ve been unplugged? Do any of them seem… happy? Content? Satisfied?

No, it’s hard work all the way down for them.

But the problem is that once you “see” you simply cannot “un-see” and therein lies the rub for any who crawl back into The Cave. You will never again be allowed to be content and satisfied in your “tutelage”, you will always know you’re looking at a shadow, and it will nag at you until such time as you either die or leave The Cave once and for all.

All of the journeys out of Plato’s Cave are difficult – anyone who says otherwise is bullshiting you. Life outside The Cave is almost certainly never going to be as comfortable as it was facing a wall and watching the movement of shadows. And any who are further along on the journey out of The Cave have to be ever-mindful to meet those not as far along where they are and to lead them along.

The events of the last couple of weeks have Red (and Black) Pilled a whole lot of “normies”. This is an unqualified good thing; we who have been wondering (sometimes blindly) in the sun will need all the allies we can muster. We need to be encouraging them to not crawl back into their cool, comfortable slavery to consumption (in every sense of the word). For some, that will require a slap in the face while for others, a much more gentle touch.

We were all in The Cave, probably for much of our lives. Being an asshole to any who are getting a glimpse of the world Beyond The Cave is not going to help them, or you, or anyone.

Exiting The Cave, taking The Pill (of whatever color other than Blue), is something we need to encourage people to do, and we need to be far better guides than the “philosopher” in Plato’s allegory.

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