Liberty Expose: Reality in the Shadows

John Lund

John Lund

American politics has entered a crisis of conscience. Politics in America has at times hardly qualified as “civil”; early presidential elections often resorted to the candidates slandering each other with adulterous rumors (which sounds familiar) and division over politics has led to a war between the states. However, perhaps because of the rise of social media, this period seems particularly egregious. In an age of memes and “NowThis” videos, the American political mind has deflated, and is need of expanding.

Philosophy served as a guide to the founders of the republic, and can be of use to the thinking citizen today. There are many ideas – both ancient and modern - that can have be utilized for the benefit of civil society. One idea that will be of help is the Allegory of the Cave, which was formulated by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato.

The Allegory of the Cave originates from Plato’s seminal work, The Republic. Here’s an abridged overview of the Allegory: there are a group of prisoners confined in a cave, where they have been their entire lives. They are chained in a way that allows them only the see forward – what is in front of them is reality. Behind them is a light source that illuminates light in front of the prisoners. Stained at the light source are puppeteers. These puppeteers preform in front of the light source, but since the prisoners can only face forward, all they see is the shadows of the figures.

To the prisoners, the shadows are everything – it is existence, being, and reality. The shadows are truth, and anything other than the shadows are beyond comprehension. The one of the prisoners is freed. The free prisoners understand something clearly at last source - a fire – and his eyes cannot adjust to what he is seeing. He then ascends the cave and he presented with the sun, which he cannot understand. He sees the shadows, and he still perceives them to be of true form – the figures that cast the shadows are meaningless

Eventually, his eyes adjust; he begins to comprehend the sun and he sees figures to be true, and the shadows to just be mere imitations. The prisoner eventually makes his way back to the cave and tells the other prisoners what he saw. They laugh at him. To them, the truth is the shadows, and anything else is to be dismissed as ridiculous, or to be deemed dangerous. The prisoners become hostile, and the free prisoner makes it back into the world.

The true meaning of the Allegory of the Cave revolved around Plato’s obsession with promoting philosophers to be superior than all other beings, and should be given power to control societies. That vision of society is of course banal. However, the revelations regarding perception can be of use to the modern citizen, if reinterpreted. The Allegory of the Cave teaches that perception is often reality.

People can be so blinded by partisanship or self-interest, that truth is bended to their realty. To use the completely asinine phrase that has become popular amongst millennials, it is "my truth." Often news is interpreted to always conveniently bend to one’s worldview. The James Comey situation provides an excellent example. Get on a pro-Trump site or a leftist site and observe this reality. Note how the Comey testimony somehow either vindicates or condemns the President. This dichotomy has resulted in the utter deadlock and cultural split we see in America today.

It can also be applied to the international sphere. Politics is always downstream from culture, and popular politics tends to be a cultural expression. One of the foundational challenges of the diplomacy is that differences and culture complicate solutions to problems. Take the war against extremism as an example. One of the primary origins of the ISIS – and larger extremist movement – was that people, primarily young men, sought out such movements because they didn’t have jobs.

Not because of ideological identification, or even because of a malicious need for adventure, but it was Iraq’s lack of infrastructure spending that caused an extreme theological movement to take up arms and commit atrocities. This also extends to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the Iran Deal), in which much of the logic predicated on Iran moderating and calming their power ambitions if they received financial incentives. There is a false notion in the West that non-Westerns will come to the light if pulled out of the cave. This idea completely neglects the idea that different cultures produce different perceptions of reality

The problem with the belief that perception is reality is that is not true. Truth exists, it is not like beauty where the eye of the beholder judges it – and even that’s debatable. But relativism is the spirt of the age. News is real or fake, depending on the message it conveys. Truth will only matter if it promotes a larger vision. Law can be interpreted in whatever way a jurist political opinion leans.  Reality exists only though our moral perception of the world. This is unhealthy for a liberal democracy.

For a society such as the American experiment to survive, our citizens must have a shared conception of reality, and we can use this understanding to debate, or in the more American fashion, agree to disagree and govern in our respected states. The political culture now is unstable; and the continuance of seeing truth in the shadows will only lead to American decline.