Monday, May 08, 2006

An Introduction to Leaving...

The last entry, entitled "Scenario," was posted merely to serve the purpose of shaking the foundation upon which many of our current social preconceptions have been so steadily built. Therfore, do not think that I (unlike our most brainwashed of citizens) shun dissent. In fact, I welcome it as an invaluable tool with which to sharpen the intellect in the areas of logic, reason and perspective. To quote Jean-Paul Sartre, "In Heaven's name, why is it so important to think the same things all together?" I pose this question before all of you who care to see it and I offer this suggestion: Disagreement is only dangerous or destructive when there is an emphasis on the positive connotations of agreement. In other words, we view disagreement as a forefront for debate, and in many instances, argument. However, the only reason that this is so is because we make it so. The most important life-lesson, I believe, is that since each of us are completely different individuals, drawing upon completely different experiences, we will undoubtedly possess completely different views on a great many things. Therefore, nay-sayers come forth and ye shall be embraced with unending encouragement. I do not purport to force my opinions on anyone; I am merely offering an alternative take on things. While some would view the previous post as a bit "militant" in approach, I have only to say that in my mind there is nothing so gripping, enthralling and inspiring as passion, and it is with much passion that I engage in all of my endeavors. Let it be known, however, that I do not now, nor ever will advocate the use of terrorism, violence, and/or destructive forms of protest to encourage or initiate reform. I would also like to make it clear that the opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of blogger.com. With that said, let us begin our journey out of the cave.

In Book VII of "The Republic," Plato makes referrence to the allegory of the cave. Albeit a bit dated, I believe it serves as the most brilliant analogy of the human condition for every succeeding generation since its inception. Here is another scenario:


Setting: A busy, metropolitan University, nestled in the heart of a bustling city. The first day of class, last semester.

The heavy, towering oak doors of the lecture hall resound mightily throughout the empty hallway as they close. Scotch-taped on to the door is a piece of looseleaf notebook paper that has been written on with permanent black marker. A student approaches curiously and notices the following written on the piece of paper: "Welcome to Philosophy 101. Today's specials - An Introduction to Leaving. Come in and be seated!"
Inside, a portly, unshaven man, dressed in casual attire stands at the back of the room and turns off the lights once everyone is seated. A wide projector screen slowly lowers at the front of the room.

TEACHER: "Good afternoon class, and welcome to Philosophy 101. Without any further ado, I'd like you all to direct your attention to the projector screen at the front of the room."

Squeaking chairs echo throughout the lecture hall as the students turn to face front. With their attention focused, the teacher begins the presentation. What follows is a fifteen-minute video, comprised of video and audio clips, largely obtained from official media sources. These clips are of war, destruction, pollution and the greatest crimes of humanity. Mass graves, mass suicide, mass destruction; poverty, crime, greed, anger, utter chaos and total devastation. There are clips of the Gulf War; clips of Nazi concentration camps and mass graves. There are clips of the millions dying every day from diseases such as AIDS. There are clips of shoot-outs, break-ins, rape victims and public execution. There is war in the streets of Kabul, poverty in the villages of Kenya and riots in the streets of Ecuador. Vietnam; Grenada; Kosovo; Russia; Spain; all wraught with destruction. All around the world, civilization crumbles.
Some students exit, unable to cope with the brutal visuals. This goes on for fifteen minutes. Mass destruction of vital ecosystems; irreparable pollution and oil spills. The explosions at Hiroshima and the victims left alive in the aftermath. Images of flesh hanging from limbs give rise to an audible shriek from the crowd of students. A hum of disapproval lingers briefly before dying down. Finally, there is a clip of a mother on her knees in the street. She is holding her child in her arms as it struggles for its one last breath. Fire is ablaze everywhere as war tears through the streets. The caption at the bottom of the screen indicates that this was from a live BBC broadcast over a decade ago. It slowly zooms-in to the mother's tear-filled eyes. She screams frantically towards the sky. The students could feel the pain and anguish of her peals.

The video ends. The lights come on and the teacher makes his way to the front of the class. After a brief pause...

"The most disturbing thing that has just been presented before you is not the images, but the fact that this is not fiction. All of these video and audio clips have been compiled from corporate news sources in the media and have been broadcasted on television at one point..." "

The teacher lets this sink in as the students sit, awe-struck and silent.

"...Later, we'll stroll down the hallway and maybe wander into the cafeteria. Maybe we'll head to another class, or head back to our current place of residence and flop ourselves onto our beds. We'll be taking it easy; living our lives. Will we stop think of the lives that have had what is to us an improbability become a harsh reality? Well, I'd like to hope so... but probably not. The idea that I'm submitting to you is that the greatest destruction we face is that of our own. The greatest enemy we have is our own inability to see the big picture. The problem starts with education. I am here today to educate you of reality. Not the reality your parents have told you about. No, not the one your future employers would agree with. Today we will take our first step into a larger reality. Today we will discuss our caves."


Many of the students are still settling from the shock of having witnessed such disturbing visuals only minutes ago. There is a general mood of confusion and disapproval circulating around the room. The students bide their time and listen to what the instructor has to say, for the sake of their grades. The teacher then raises the projector screen to reveal a diagram of a cave drawn on the blackboard.


TEACHER: "Plato had an idea of what the average human is constantly engaged in, mentally. For this, we refer to "The Allegory of the Cave," in Book VII of "The Republic." First, I should tell you that an allegory is a work in which the events and characters are understood to serve a symbolic purpose. In other words, an allegory is a story meant to effectively present an idea by illustrating it in more clear terms. In his allegory, Plato compared most people's mental state to prisoners chained together in a cave since birth. These prisoners sat facing the back wall of the cave their entire lives, never moving from one spot. Behind them, on the other side of the cave, was a roadway leading to other caves that passed over a crawl space. Even further towards the other end of the cave, behind the roadway, was a fire. Other people would occaisionally walk across the roadway and pass the fire, casting their shadows on the other wall of the cave. Everything that the prisoners had ever heard or seen was cast by shadows and echoes of other things. Therefore, the prisoners mistook appearance for reality; they thought that the things they had seen on the wall were real and knew nothing else. Now if some prisoners were to break free and escape from their chains, they would turn around and realize that there is more than the shadows on the wall. They would crawl underneath the roadway and up through the crawl space which Plato terms "the rough ascent to sunlight." When they got to the other side, some would be free. However, some would NOT be able to handle coming to grips with the larger reality. They would crawl back into their caves and stay there, safe from the many things they have never known. Would you be able to handle it if everything you thought you knew was really an extremely miniscule aspect of a much larger picture?"

The students sit in contemplative silence. A student in the back row raises his hand.

"Yes... you in the back?"

STUDENT: "I've heard this before. What Plato means to say is that what we consider "reality" is only what our senses, like touch, sight, sound, taste and scent can perceive. Other senses that, say, animals possess, like keen intuition, are things we miss out on. Kind of like how some people can feel when they're being watched, or when someone reads your fortune. Hey, look at a guy like John Edwards or Edgar Cayce. We miss out on things like that by giving our sensory organs too much faith. And because of this, we miss out on the big picture, right?"

TEACHER: "Yes, that is absolutely correct."

STUDENT: "Alright then, but what does all that have to do with those gruesome images of war and violence that we were shown at the beginning of class?"

Suddenly there is a rumble of agreement from the students in their seats. The teacher guestures with his hands for everyone to settle down just for a moment so that he may be allowed to answer the question.

TEACHER: "Everything that you saw in that fifteen-minute video was caused by humankind's inability to see the larger picture. Hate is begot by misunderstanding; war is begot by conflicting opposites; peace is begot by finding a balance of the opposites. The most dangerous of these all, however, is apathy. Apathy is begot by the widely circulated notion that all the horrible things you see on television are, and will remain, miles and miles away. It is the notion that we are safe and that there is no way we can do anything to change the path we are on. Unfortunately, if you buy into this notion for long, I believe, in a very short time you will find that you are mistaken."


Leave the cave.


References:
http://faculty.washington.edu/smcohen/320/cave.htm - A very good illustration of the cave.
http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/allegory.html

1 Comments:

Blogger SHOUT! said...

that was an indescribably inspiring, but at the same time deeply disturbing piece of writing.
I have a feeling I will be following this blog more closely in the time to come.
Thankyou

2:29 AM  

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