Plato's Cave 2.0

Plato was a pretty smart guy, but even he could not see the future.

If he could, his "Allegory of the Cave" would be rather different, as it would have to take into account the idea that not only would people choose to live in the cave, but they would go so far as to build one themselves.

Plato imagined a cave in which people are chained in place and only able to see shadows projected on a wall by their captors.  As they could observe nothing else, the shadows essentially become their reality.

Plato then posited what would happen if a captive broke loose, walked out of the cave, and encountered actual reality.  At first, this person — dubbed a philosopher (or scientist or naturalist, as the terms were rather fluid 2,400 years ago) — would be blinded by the actual sun but slowly come to see the world as it truly exists.  But when he returns to the cave to tell his fellow captives, they decide — since he can no longer make out the shadows due to his exposure to the sunlight — that he must have been blinded by his adventure, and when he asks them to come outside themselves, they kill him out of fear.

It's a pretty clear-cut image and illustrates many concepts, from how we perceive reality to how people could react if exposed to the "truth," for lack of a better term. 

But in the allegory, the captives are chained when they are very young.  Plato did not contemplate the notion the captives would be there by choice, have a hand in creating the cave, demand that others join them in the cave, and even be able to change places with their captors to alter the shadows to better reflect their reality whim of the moment.

This is the current state of affairs.

The woke today are not only happily there on purpose, but perfectly capable of changing places with guards whenever they see fit, projecting shadows of whatever they see fit as well.

The cave today takes many forms — from the Daily Beast to MSNBC to the Open Society Foundation to academia to the New York Times to fill-in-the-blank — and allows for such seamless movement between captive and guard, host and guest, donor and politician, scientist and grant funder, reporter and flack, that it is quite possible that the inmates can be forgiven for not having any idea they are in prison — especially if they all got a Master's degree in cave studies on their way in.

The shadows aren't focused where they should be or are not evocative enough?  A captive can simply demand they be changed or replace the jailer and do it himself, all the while never even contemplating that what is being changed — what he finds problematic — is merely a specter, a shadow that is at best a funhouse reflection of the actual state of affairs but, more typically, devoid of any basis in reality. 

And the captive who changes the shadow will be praised by the others chained in the cave.

Plato's cave was a hellscape of fire and chains and inmates and guards.  Today's cave is impeccably catered; is full of comfy, stylish chairs; has unfettered access to most (but not all) delivery services; and is even live-streamed to other caves around the globe.  (There are also reports of a special mobile cave strictly for the use of the original cave-builders that travels from Silicon Valley to New York City to Washington, D.C. to Davos to Beijing to a private island that is not on any map, but that may just be a rumor.)

Trying to convince a person of the legitimacy of facts, of the opportunities presented by a new idea, or even to engage in a good-faith discussion on a divergence of opinions is nearly impossible when two radically different versions of reality are involved — one, the actual reality, and the other being a self-created, self-serving certainty that can be changed at a whim to better satisfy themselves.

As with so much life, the will to change cannot be imposed but, for it to last, must come from within.  But a constant and consistent clarion call from the mouth of the cave may change at least one mind — and for that one tiny ray of hope, we can all take comfort.

Thomas Buckley is the former mayor of Lake Elsinore and a former newspaper reporter.  He is currently the operator of a small communications and planning consultancy and can be reached directly at  You can read more of his work at

Image: Pixabay.

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