Interpretation and the Allegory of the Cave

The ideological chains that bind and subdue us are stronger and more effective than any chain forged from steel. These manacles are more freedom inhibiting than a prison cell or solitary confinement. Belief, faith, and hope can imprison as well as liberate us. By the power of suggestion, a thin cotton string can effectively tether an elephant.

Politicians and their associates in the corporate media are master manipulators of language and images. Anytime you hear them speak, think of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Virtually everything that we see and hear, nearly everything we have been told, is an officious lie, an illusion created to deceive and control us. The purpose of deception is to promote the dogma and welfare of those in power, while implicitly disempowering those who are being deceived. Language is rarely, if ever, neutral. Coercive ideology lurks behind every sentence.

In a sense, all language is propaganda, even the words on this page. For instance, in this short essay, I declare my intention to lead my readers to a conclusion that I hope will awaken them, promote consciousness, and encourage principled behavior that is conducive to the collective emancipation of the working class.

Our faith in capitalistic institutions promotes the pretense of democracy, while it delivers plutocracy, corporate fascism, and militarism. Similarly, imprudent belief in the American Dream induces people to behave in ways that promote the welfare of those in power rather than the perspectives of those of us struggling to be free. Belief in this discredited notion keeps workers from organizing against their oppressors.

The puppeteers casting shadows on the cave wall know that the images they project are not real. By contrast, the indoctrinated audience interprets the shadows as authentic figures rather than the phantasms they are. The purveyors of mythos and propaganda, the authors of the sanctioned historical narrative that defines reality for the masses, are consciously misleading us. The empowered are aware that we are attempting to navigate a house of mirrors with trap doors, but we continue to believe that the flickering images on the cave wall are real. Interpretation is everything.

Americans believe that we are a free and representative republic, because that is what we have always been told, despite evidence to the contrary. But choosing our oppressors every few years makes us neither free nor democratic. Electoral outcomes that are determined by capital do not give us a real voice in fashioning an equitable economic agenda, taxation, or foreign policy, including decisions about war. Participation in bogus systems of power binds us to delusions and keeps us ideologically imprisoned. They prevent us from taking meaningful action.

In America, working people are excluded from all of the important decisions that profoundly affect their lives. Legislators at all levels of government are beholden to the corporations and wealthy individuals who fund their campaigns. To the power elite, “we the people” are little more than background noise to be tuned out.

Cast a stone at the mirrors and the illusion immediately dissolves into shards of broken glass. A perplexing chain reaction is set in motion; worlds fall like rows of dominoes and fill the vacuum vacated by appearance with new images, new ideas, and new possibilities. Polaris abruptly appears with the stars of Ursa Minor wrapped around her like a jeweled necklace glistening in the velvet black darkness of eternal night. She was always there but concealed behind striated walls of silvered glass in the great American funhouse of lies and delusion we call reality.

Bearing the Allegory of the Cave in mind, consider this: If a worker puts his faith in an economic system that exploits and alienates him, his faith shackles rather than liberates him. Correspondingly, if a man believes that his oppressor is his liberator or protector, he ideologically imprisons himself and promotes behavior that benefits and strengthens his tormentor rather than himself or his socioeconomic class. If he believes that the systems of power serve him and promote justice rather than work for his capitalist masters, he will not attempt to dismantle them. The worker must then not only overcome his oppressor, he must first transcend his own ideological beliefs and ignorance before he can even begin to extricate himself.

In many ways, us workers are our own worst enemy. We lose our humanity, become alienated from our highest self, our families, our communities, our coworkers, and the Earth Mother. As participants in and recipients of unfettered capitalism, we have become the unwitting tools of universal oppression and militarism we claim to disdain. Our demise stems from the misinterpretation of reality and our shifting location within a volatile matrix of phantasmagoric holograms, none of which are real.

We believe what we hear and do what we are told rather than think critically about anything. Questioning authority makes us uncomfortable, and there are always consequences to challenging the dominant paradigm. We have an abiding psychological need to believe that everything we think we know about our country and the world is as advertised because the alternative terrifies us. We thus surrender our conscience and our life to become a tool of the unscrupulous sociopaths in power.

The American worker must comprehend that his assigned role within the capitalist system is not to be a thoughtful or conscious human being, but rather an efficient economic serf, a dehumanized automaton concealed within in a human husk. Painful as this reality is, it does not behoove us to believe or act otherwise. The worker’s plight is like being a solider in the war-torn Middle East: take orders and do what you are told. Check your conscience and your humanity at the door. We all know where that leads.

Armed with this knowledge, perhaps we may finally begin the vital work of our individual and collective emancipation. Our subordinate role in this unequal economic, social, and political arrangement must be challenged and subverted. No one is born a slave. The only power anyone has over us is that which we allow them to have.

Charles Sullivan is a Master Naturalist, community activist, and free-lance writer residing in the Ridge and Valley Province of geopolitical West Virginia. . Read other articles by Charles.