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Staying in our caves keeps us fixed on our shadows


By J. Hogan

Nearly 2,500 years ago, Plato devised his great lament about the philosopher’s frustrating plight of knowledge.

In the Allegory of the Cave, he spelled out a bleak scenario wherein three men have been chained in a cave since birth.

The men can only see a wall casting their own shadows in the shifting flame-light of a fire behind them. They can’t turn to see the fire, but occasionally they catch other shadows of creatures – animal and human – passing behind them. Sometimes the humans are carrying objects, and the men imagine what those blurry, shifting shapes might be.

In the story, one of the men slips free from his chains, and is able to leave the cave. The daylight hurts his eyes, and he’s shocked at the things he sees live and in color as he squints at this all new world. He sees folks carrying things far different than he had imagined from his limited cave-fire-shadow perspective, and, used to years of one foggy viewpoint, balks at what he’s seeing.

Eventually, reality wins out and the man accepts the truth of the outside world. He ventures back into the cave where his two friends remain chained and he excitedly tells them of all he’s found, how different everything is away from their cave – and they think him crazy.

Plato was, of course, lamenting his own plight. In his view, the more he understood, the more the people around him rejected his understanding because it conflicted with their own more limited view of things.

Oddly, today, our culture has been trained to self-select our own cave. Algorithms inform computers as to our likes and dislikes, and fewer and fewer things show up in front of us that stretch or challenge us. We watch shows on demand, and the ads on our smartphones track and tailor to our proclivities.

News media – cable more than broadcast – has shifted dramatically to feed only ideological cliques.

This month two verdicts came down in nationally titillating trials. Both verdicts landed exactly on the available evidence’s just conclusion, but many folks weren’t just shocked at the verdicts – they were blindsided.

They were blindsided because their self-selected caves left out half the story. They were only told what their own proclivities informed the algorithms they preferred, and the verdicts seemed idiotic, even corrupt.

In an era where we can have access to more information than our predecessors could fathom, we’ve picked our factions and limited our exposure to tickle our fancies.

We’ve chosen our cave.

Rev. James Hogan is a native of Stowe Township and serves as pastor of Faithbridge Community Church in Stowe.



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