The Occupy Movements and Plato’s Allegory of the Cave

December 8, 2011 — Leave a comment

The current state of American and Canadian politics reminds me a great deal of Plato’s parable of the cave. To be clear, I think that both the United States and Canada have a great deal in common that goes beyond their language and being located in North America. They are almost one in the same, though most Canadians will fight this argument with everything they have, for they are brought up to believe themselves superior to Americans. Yet this is in itself a manifestation of Canadian insecurities regarding their relationship to the United States. To lessen the bitterness of this fact, it is true amongst many countries where one is more dominant than the other, but linguistically or culturally they bare some similarity.

But getting away from that what I have observed is the following. Both Canadians and Americans are in general hardworking, good, honest people. They want the same as most anyone. But they are slaves in a system. The Occupy movements in many cities have not found quite the resonance with the average person that they should have. Why is that? Is it because they are Republicans or Conservatives? No. It’s because they are exactly the people I just described — hardworking, good, honest folk. They all believe that if you work hard that you will get ahead. But few understand that the cards are stacked against them. As they go to work day in and day out their pay continually lowers in real terms. However, institutions are willing to lend them money to make ends meet or invest in the new tool or toy that will give them a chance to break the cycle or at least step out of the routine for a while.

This fact brings us to Plato. In the parable of the cave, Plato describes a scenario where people are chained up in a cave and only see scary shadows on the walls. If one person were to be freed and see the real world, Plato postulates, he would want to return to the cave and tell his friends about the real world he has seen:

“Wouldn’t he remember his first home, what passed for wisdom there, and his fellow prisoners, and consider himself happy and them pitiable? And wouldn’t he disdain whatever honors, praises, and prizes were awarded there to the ones who guessed best which shadows followed which? Moreover, were he to return there, wouldn’t he be rather bad at their game, no longer being accustomed to the darkness? Wouldn’t it be said of him that he went up and came back with his eyes corrupted, and that it’s not even worth trying to go up? And if they were somehow able to get their hands on and kill the man who attempts to release and lead them up, wouldn’t they kill him?” (517a)

Many liberals and Occupy movement members are essentially the person who has escaped from the cave and returned trying to help their friends. Perhaps they went on a trip to Europe or they simply realize that the current numbers prove that the harder you work does not necessarily result in better earnings for yourself. However, those who still believe that, feel threatened by someone coming and disrupting their reality.

In my opinion, this is exactly the obstacle that the occupy members need to help their fellow citizens get passed.


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