Get Out Of Plato's Cave
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Politics and Activism

Get Out Of Plato's Cave

How to achieve greater Platonic clarity.

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Get Out Of Plato's Cave

In Plato’s famous dialogue The Republic, the Allegory of the Cave describes a scenario in which men are chained inside a cave, unable to escape and forced to gaze upon the images projected on the wall by the figures that walk behind them. When one of the prisoners manages to escape, he realizes that the reality in which he had believe inside of the cave is, in fact, not reality at all. When he leaves the cave, he discovers the real world outside, realizing that the images he has seen on the wall of the cave were mere shadows, projected images of the real objects that walked behind them.

The Allegory of the Cave is still relevant today. We go through our lives seeing a myriad of images of the truth flashed in front of us – but are we seeing the truth itself? It can be incredibly freeing to see things the way they really are, and to form our own opinions of the world around us. Here’s how to do it:

1. Get off social media. Seriously. Social media, particularly Facebook, is the epitomization of the cave. Social media has become a venue for news- and opinion-sharing, and due to this it has become increasingly toxic for clear and honest thinking. Take any major news event, and you’re bound to see three types of people respond to it on social media.

Say, for example, a school shooting occurs. First are the reactionaries – they’re the first to respond, the first to share their opinions on the horror of the shooting, how terrible the shooter is, how horrible this all is and how we need to do something to stop these events from occurring again. Next are the anti-reactionaries – they’re the ones who call out the reactionaries on their sensationalization of the shooting, saying that it’s the victims who we need to be thinking about in situations like this, and again blabbing on about how “we need to take action.” Finally, you have the politicizers – they jump at any opportunity to politicize something, spitting out their views on gun control, law enforcement tactics, and everything else they see wrong with “how our government is handling things,” all the while insisting that something needs to be done.

Once you become aware of the fact that you are being inundated with biased images of the real truth on social media, you will realize how sickening it can be. First of all, those who post their opinions on social media are usually only doing it for one of three reasons: a) looking for sympathizers to agree with them, b) looking to argue with people who disagree with them, or c) looking to impress others with their “rhetoric” and “cultural awareness.” But isn’t their insistence on action through the medium of social media just another example of the rampant slacktivism of our times?

And aren’t they sharing their opinions on a news item that they undoubtedly heard from some right-wing or left-wing biased news source? News sources are inherently biased to begin with. If you want to seek your own personal truths about the world around you, stop listening to the projected images of the opinions of others. Get off Facebook. Go to a relatively less-biased news source, like BBC, and come to your own opinions about what is happening in the world around you, rather than being influenced by those voicing their opinions on social media.

2. Don’t let your labels become a self-fulfilling prophecy. You can label yourself as a student, an artist, an actor, and a plethora of other roles. But why? Why subject yourself to a narrowly-defined role when you as a human being are so dynamic and complex? Jean-Paul Sartre theorized that people attempt to fit into specific labels because the idea of being a free being is terrifying to people. Consciousness, according to Sartre, is nothing really – one can be conscious, but they cannot consciously be anything like how a chair can be a chair. This is because a person is not simply an object – a person is free.

However, this freedom is daunting, and so individuals will attempt to achieve some semblance of a role such as student, artist, or actor in order to achieve the life they wish to lead. But it is important to realize that you do not need to label yourself in order to have certain qualities or to lead a certain life. You can love reading without insisting on labeling yourself as a bibliophile – seriously! Don’t worry! I myself used to worry, “But what if people don’t know who I really am?” I’ve realized that it is not through labeling myself as a bibliophile that people will come to know me. Rather, it is through interaction and conversation that people may come to know that I love to read.

Moreover, qualities in themselves, without the attached labels, are far more valuable than the labels themselves. Oftentimes, people utilize their self-ascribed labels simply to declare themselves as something out of fear that others will not notice their passion for that particular action. We can live much more honest and satisfying lives if we stop attempting to fit into roles and instead transcend the labels that we try to fit ourselves into. You are a free being, and that is a beautiful thing – take advantage of it.

3. Don’t try to hold others into narrowly-defined roles. In the same vein, don’t subject others to labels that are easy to ascribe. You are an incredibly dynamic and complex individual, and so is everyone else in the world! Respect others by allowing them the ability to transcend the labels you might give them upon first glance. “She’s just a tomboy” or “he’s a computer nerd” and similar phrases undermine the fact that an individual cannot be defined by their passions, their interests, their style, or anything else that is but a mere component of the infinitely complex person they are.

4. Take everything you hear and see with a grain of salt. This is a big one, and for me it has been one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in my life. I used to think that people were “all good” or “all bad;” that I would either like a person 100% or not like them at all. But because people are so complex, this is really never the case.

You may admire certain qualities in a person, and they may have other qualities that you absolutely cannot stand – which is okay! You can pick and choose how you interact with people. Maybe someone has great knowledge of movies, which you like, but you find that they also like to spread their political agenda at any possible opportunity, which you don’t like so much. You can have conversations about movies with that person, and if they start talking political agenda, you can remove yourself from the conversation or switch the conversation to something else.

You cannot expect to please everyone 100% of the time, nor should you expect that you will always be pleased by others 100% of the time. Consider everything you see a person doing as well as everything you hear from a person with a grain of salt. Consider it relative to all the other things you see and hear from them. Take a step back from each situation, and evaluate your true feelings on what that person is saying or doing.

By considering others as dynamic individuals, you can form your own proportionately dynamic opinions of them. This will enable you to achieve greater clarity about the world around you by allowing you to live a more honest life in which you are constantly evaluating your true feelings on the ever-changing people and situations around you.

5. Read. I cannot stress this one enough. Reading, in my opinion, opens your mind to new considerations of the world. We live in a vast and complex world, and reading a multitude of different texts can enable us to consider the world from a multitude of different viewpoints. Reading increases your knowledge, it is enriching and enjoyable, and most importantly, it forces you to think critically about the world around you, which is crucial for getting out of the cave.

By following these steps, you may work towards achieving greater personal truths and clarity about our oftentimes confusing and false image-ridden world. Remember that getting out of the cave is a process. I certainly would not consider myself entirely out of the cave. It is important to keep in mind that the goal is not necessarily to banish all social media forever or to become a social hermit who never watches the news. But rather, the goal is to become able to step back from the inundation of images and to come to your own personal truths about the complex world around you. With this ability in hand, you will lead a life that is not only transcendent, but also fulfilling.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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