Hamilton: Today’s America and Plato’s Allegory of the Cave
May 29, 2015
What we read in the major media and what we see on the broadcast TV networks these days raises the question: What is reality?
For example: Why do the Obama White House and State Department insist we are defeating the terrorists when ISIS is taking control of more and more territory in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen? Can we keep our current health insurance or not? Can we keep the physician we like or not? Was "Hands up, don't shoot" real or something fabricated to undermine law enforcement? A lot of things do not add up.
Actually, the struggle to know reality has a long history. Around 380 B.C., Plato, in his main work, "The Republic," told of a cave in which children were chained to a wall in such a way that they could only stare at the cave wall in front of them. Moving right behind the children was a parade of humans holding a variety of everyday items. Sunlight spilling in from the entrance of the cave plus a large fire cast the shadows of the parading humans and the objects they carried onto the wall seen by the children.
Over time, the children came to believe that the shadows represented reality. Then, one day, one of the children broke free and was able to turn around and see the parade of humans and the objects they carried. Conditioned to believe that the shadows were real, the child concluded that the actual humans and the objects they carried were not real. That was Plato's famous "Allegory of the Cave."
OK. So how does this ancient allegory apply in today's world? Studies done with laboratory rats have found that experiments designed, like the "Allegory of the Cave," to confuse reality with illusion, produce a state of confusion. Rats, placed in an environment where rising waters would spell their doom, wanted desperately to rise above the waters. The experimenters provided the rats with a series of sticks which "appeared" to offer a way of climbing out of the rising waters. But each stick either led the rats nowhere or collapsed under their weight.
Eventually, a sturdy stick the rats could have used to climb out of the rising waters was introduced to the rats. But, by then, the rats had been conditioned into a state of "learned helplessness." They ignored the stick that could have saved them and all of them drowned.
The political pollsters of today report that ignorance and apathy are found all-too-often among the people they attempt to poll. Could it be that the talking points of the current administration, as echoed by the main-stream media, have confused the voting public into a state of "learned helplessness?"
Instead of being engaged in the public affairs that determine the reality of how we actually live our lives, have we thrown up our hands and turned to watching video games, sports, and other entertainments as an escape from the main-stream media messages that do not square with what we perceive as reality?
What if one of the presidential contenders proposes a path that would lead America up out of today's troubled waters. Would the path to prosperity be recognized or ignored? We report. You decide.
Nationally syndicated columnist, William Hamilton, is a laureate of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame, the Oklahoma University Army ROTC Wall of Fame, and is a recipient of the University of Nebraska 2015 Alumni Achievement Award. He was educated at the University of Oklahoma, the George Washington University, the U.S Naval War College, the University of Nebraska, and Harvard University.