plato's cave

Plato’s American Cave

Plato’s allegory of the cave goes like this. A bunch of people are chained to the floor of a cave. Behind them, a fire burns. In front of the fire is a parapet (or stage). Puppeteers do things on the stage, but all the prisoners can see are the projected shadows. The “action” on the wall is all they know of the world.

plato's cave
Image taken from Fanpop article, What is Plato’s Cave?

America is an isolated country. To the east and west are oceans. It’s northern neighbour, Canada, is a virtual clone of the United States. Mexico, its southern neighbour, is largely overlooked except as a tourist destination and source of cheap labour. Its boundaries form the walls of Plato’s American cave. The roof, that which prevents Americans from seeing the sunlight of reality, is made up of invisible airwaves that transmit signals to the projector at the rear of the cave. Instead of looking at shadows, Americans look at what is transmitted to the TV screen in front of them. The content they view is strictly limited by the handful of corporations who control the media.

Plato’s Education Cave

Frederick T. Gates
Frederick T. Gates

“Wait a minute,” you say. “We don’t just watch TV. Our children go to school and get an education.” Do they? Yes, they learn some practical skills, but that’s part of the plan. Children are “human capital,” to be trained to work in a corporate world, which, if you’re informed about history, is served by the military.Basically, the military in the United States is there to serve the interests of the corporatocracy, not the people. Don’t believe me? Well, just in case you only trust university studies and major news outlets, read about this Yale study on the BBC website: Study: US is an oligarchy, not a democracy.

The average person, I think, is basically pretty decent. That’s why, to keep the citizens in line, they are taught that theirs is the greatest country in the history of the world — a democracy that champions human rights and freedom. Only a few hand-picked allies enjoy the freedoms Americans enjoy. To bring impressionable youth to this conclusion, history is boiled down to a carefully selected set of dates and facts. Other than that, it is largely as fictitious as a Hollywood movie “based on true events.”

How’s this for a theory of education? It was written by Frederick T. Gates, John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s Director of Charity for the Rockefeller Foundation, in 1913:

In our dream, we have limitless resources,and the people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hand. The present educational conventions fade from our minds; and, unhampered by tradition, we work our own good will upon a grateful and responsive rural folk. We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning or of science.We are not to raise up from among them authors, orators, poets, or men of letters. We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians. Nor will we cherish even the humbler ambition to raise up from among them lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen,of whom we now have ample supply.

In more modern parlance, he was talking about educating a nation of “sheeple,” who yield to their masters “with perfect docility.” Hey! Wasn’t I taught the great thing about America was that anyone could become president? Another shadow on the wall, I guess.

Back in 1970, when we old hippies thought it was the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technotronic Era. What’s the “technotronic era”? In his words:

The technotronic era involves the gradual appearance of a more controlled society. Such a society would be dominated by an elite, unrestrained by traditional values. Soon it will be possible to assert almost continuous surveillance over every citizen and maintain up-to-date complete files containing even the most personal information about the citizen. These files will be subject to instantaneous retrieval by the authorities. (emphases mine)

Sounds a lot like the world Americans live in today, doesn’t it? Controlled, dominated, surveilled. Still feeling free? For more hair-raising quotes from Brzezinski, read this Penny for your thoughts blog.

Outside Plato’s American Cave

Mark Twain wrote:

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.

That may have been true in Twain’s time, when travel was harder, but today we tend to take our caves with us. Our digital devices keep us at home even when we’re on the other side of the world and when we watch TV, we can tune into CNN or the BBC for our “news.” We stay in ghettos called hotels, guesthouses and hostels that are filled with others who share our cultural conditioning. Too often, we don’t really travel at all — we go sightseeing.

Travel still offers us the opportunity to get out of the cave, but we need to leave our cultural and intellectual baggage at home to benefit from it.

A neighbour of mine has cobbled together a good life for himself here in Sihanoukville. He learned English; saved up for a car; made good money as a taxi driver; and built units on his land. In spite of this, he told me, “Cambodia was the greatest country in the world before the Khmer Rouge.”

 “Why?” I asked. “You’ve done alright here.”

“When I was a boy, when the first rains came, fish jumped out of the pond in our village. All we had to do was pick them up off the ground. When we wanted fruit to eat, there was more than enough on the trees. Everything we needed was at our fingertips. When the Khmer Rouge came, we were not allowed to take care of ourselves.”

The message I got from that was that he believed Cambodia was better off before the control system wormed its way into village life. I can think of several other examples off the top of my head, but Cambodians have told me again and again that life was better for them before development began. That includes Cambodians who have adapted to and profited from the country’s economic “growth.”

It’s nearly impossible to live completely off the grid today, but if you’re aware of how the system enslaves you, you can escape its tight grip. I have a reader’s (check out Karen’s blog, Curves and Angles) comment to thank for this quote from the Middle Finger Project: “I get capitalism, but here’s the thing: I don’t like being someone else’s capital—I want to be my own.” Personally, I don’t “get” capitalism, at least the rapacious capitalism that puts wealth on a pedestal, but it’s the system we have and if you want to live independently, you have to work with it to some degree or other. Just do it on your terms and don’t harm others in the process. Thus spake an ageing expat freelance writer in Cambodia.