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Plato, The Allegory of the…Living Room

Below is an excerpt of Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” with a few minor edits I’ve introduced.

[Socrates] And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened: – Behold! human beings living in carpeted caves of their own making, which has a front door open towards the light and reaching all down the hallway; here they have been from their childhood, and have their hands chained to remote controls, video game controllers, computers and mobile devices and can only see what is directly before them. Above and behind them are broadcasters disseminating information at a distance, and between these broadcasters and the prisoners – I mean, people – there is a screen, much like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.

[Glaucon] I see.

[Socrates] And do you see, I said, men, women, animals, sports, pornography, preachers, programming, games and entertainment all appear on these screens.

[Glaucon] You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners, er, people.

[Socrates] Like ourselves, I replied; and they see only pixels, appearing on their screens as intended by the broadcasters.

[Glaucon] True, he said; how could they see anything but the pixels if they were never attempted to move their heads?

[Socrates] And of the men, women, animals, sports, pornography, preachers, programming, games and entertainment they would only see the pixels?

[Glaucon] Yes, he said.

[Socrates] And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them?

[Glaucon] Very true.

[Socrates] And suppose further that the carpeted cave had an advanced sound system, would they not be sure to fancy when one of the broadcaster spoke that the voice which they heard came from the screen in front of them?

[Glaucon] No question, he replied.

[Socrates] To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the pixels on their screens.

[Glaucon] That is certain.

[Socrates] And now look again, and see what will naturally follow if the prisoners, I mean, people are released and disabused of their error. At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen only pixels and propaganda; and then conceive some one saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision, – what will be his reply? And you may further imagine that his instructor is pointing to truth – will he not be perplexed? Will he not fancy that the pixels and propaganda which he formerly saw and heard are truer than what is now shown to him?

[Glaucon] Far truer.

[Socrates] And if he is compelled to look straight at the light, will he not have a pain in his eyes which will make him turn away to take and take in the objects of vision which he can see, and which he will conceive to be in reality clearer than the things which are now being shown to him?

[Glaucon] True, he now.

[Socrates] And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until he ‘s forced into the presence of the sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? When he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities.

[Glaucon] Not all in a moment, he said.

[Socrates] He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. And first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves; then he will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars and the spangled heaven; and he will see the sky and the stars by night better than the sun or the light of the sun by day?

[Glaucon] Certainly.

[Socrates] Last of he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections of him in the water, but he will see him in his own proper place, and not in another; and he will contemplate him as he is.

[Glaucon] Certainly.

[Socrates] He will then proceed to argue that this is he who gives the season and the years, and is the guardian of all that is in the visible world, and in a certain way the cause of all things which he and his fellows have been accustomed to behold?

[Glaucon] Clearly, he said, he would first see the sun and then reason about him.

[Socrates] And when he remembered his old habitation, and the wisdom of the cave and his fellow-prisoners, do you not suppose that he would felicitate himself on the change, and pity them?

[Glaucon] Certainly, he would.

[Socrates] And if they were in the habit of conferring honors among themselves on those who were quickest to observe the passing shadows and to remark which of them went before, and which followed after, and which were together; and who were therefore best able to draw conclusions as to the future, do you think that he would care for such honors and glories, or envy the possessors of them? Would he not say with Homer,

Better to be the poor servant of a poor master, and to endure anything, rather than think as they do and live after their manner?

[Glaucon] Yes, he said, I think that he would rather suffer anything than entertain these false notions and live in this miserable manner.

[Socrates] Imagine once more, I said, such an one coming suddenly out of the sun to be replaced in his old situation in front of a flickering screen; would he not be certain to have his eyes full of darkness?

[Glaucon] To be sure, he said.

[Socrates] And if there were a contest, and he had to compete in measuring the shadows with the prison – uh, people who had never moved out of the carpeted cave, while his sight was still weak, and before his eyes had become steady (and the time which would be needed to acquire this new habit of sight might be very considerable) would he not be ridiculous? Men would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes; and that it was better not even to think of ascending; and if any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death.

[Glaucon] No question, he said.