Plato’s uses the cave allegory to address Glaucon’s observation that men are inherently selfish and could work only towards self-interest. The distinction of the visible and the intelligible could be made clear with this idea. Plato depicts men as imprisoned to a dark cave where sunlight can peep in only through a cave. But since their limbs and necks are chained, they could not perceive sunlight. What is visible to them is the shadows of others that move in front of the fire that burns around them. Since the cave produces echo, the sounds of others are also scattered around them. Whatever comes to such men through their senses are thus illusions, as they fail to see, hear or experience anything real. If someone gets a chance to go out of the cave and face the sun, they will have difficulty to get accustomed to the blinding light and may even fail to see anything. Once they begin to see real things around them, they will realize how false the experiences at the cave had been. Even if they go back to the cave and try to describe what they had seen, the people inside the cave will not be willing to believe them. The majority will outcast the one who has seen the sun, which could stand for the Truth, because they are incapable of seeing the difference between illusions of what is visible and what is real and truly intelligible.
This allegory could very well be applied to analyze life in general, at any part of the world. The Twenty First Century Americans can also be compared to Plato’s cave-dwellers. More than being just insensitive to others while we revel in self-indulgence, our true predicament could be equated with the sheer ignorance with which the people in the cave behave. Like them, we are never allowed to see the Truth, as we are constantly distracted from it by the false show that keeps on unraveling in front of our eyes. The world of pseudo-reality projected to us incessantly through the audio-visual and electronic media provides us with limited knowledge, often relating to the immediate time and space. No one bothers to see the larger picture, as long as the illusion maintains its authenticity for a succession of short periods. Anyone who dares to question it and rejects it for the harsh and blinding truth outside its paradigms will be scoffed by the majority.
All those who take relief in the fact that they lead a socially acceptable, conformist life and that they are able to have a comfortable life is apt to miss the point that such a life itself can be source of misery for many people, inside and outside America. Facts and figures show that 45 million Americans don’t have access to primary healthcare, there is a lack of priority to fund public education and disproportionate sentencing of Black and White criminals exist. These issues are just a few among the commonly neglected areas in the life of an average, well-settled American. There are also instances where there is a lot of intolerance towards ideological issues like sex education in schools, the ethical aspects of capital punishment, animal experimentation, cloning, people’s consumption of non-necessities, gay rights and so on. People tend to believe that they are simply outside these issues as long as they could lead a peaceful life on a day-to-day basis.
True enlightenment could alter one’s perspective forever. One has to think of the deeper elements of life and the larger aspects of the universe in which each organism plays its own special role. The search for the meaning of one’s individual life and it significance in relation to the world in general is apt to lead one to a better understanding of things. Deceptively simple and clear things will have to be interrogated with the determination to reveal what lies beneath. One’s search should not be for what appears to be true, but what leads to a better understanding of truth. If an average American of the present century is willing to take up that journey beyond illusions, the world could become a better place for sure, and the time in which an individual inhabits the world worthy the trouble.