10.24.2008

Dwelling in It

Here is my drawing of the situation in Plato's mythical Cave after the first prisoner has been released from his bondage and dragged up into the world as we know it. As Glaucon and Socrates agree, the enlightened man would remember his fellow prisoners and try to go back to convince them that everything they have known is an illusion. The following is an imaginary conversation:

Guy who has been above ground (Earl): Holy, crap, Gustav -- you're never going to believe this!
Cave Dweller (Gus): Where have you been?
Earl: Listen to me man... this is going to sound crazy, but... see us talking there? On the wall? That's a shadow! It's not real!
Gus: Earl, what's a "wall?" What's a "shadow?" What are you talking about?
Earl: Look, you've gotta dig deep here man -- I know you think that those two dark blotches there are us, but...
Gus: Those two dark blotches there? Where exactly do you think you are, Earl? And don't refer to me as a "blotch."
Earl: Dammit, Gus -- I've seen a glorious other world, where objects have three dimensions... they are wide and tall, as you know them... and also "deep."
Gus: "Deep?"
Earl: Like, um... look at yourself. That isn't the real you! You're looking at a projection of you, and you're hearing an echo of your voice.
Gus [looking at his shadow]: Oh, really, Earl? So [pointing to his shadow head with his shadow hand] this isn't my head?
Earl: That's right! -- that's just a projection of your head... your real head is so much different, Gus. It's textured, and curvy, and bumpy, and round.
Gus: Listen Earl, you are out of your freakin' mind. You're talking nonsense.
Earl: Okay wait wait wait. Let me tell you a story.
Gus: [waiting]
Earl: Okay... so, uh, this world [Earl begins slowly, pointing around his shadow self with his shadow hand] seems very real to you. But, in the future, when you are ready, you're going to "get free" and move to another place that is just barely like this, but totally different.
Gus: That's not much of a story, Earl. Still nonsense. Who are you voting for, anyway?
Earl: What are you--kidding me? You're not listening, man. This. Isn't. Real.
Gus: You ever hear of schizophrenia, Earl?
Earl: Okay, okay... gimme a minute. A story:
Gus: [waiting]
Earl: Okay... okay. So, imagine a prisoner who has never seen his shadow--
Gus: Shadow? You keep saying that. What is that?
Earl: I mean -- I'm sorry -- who has never seen himself. Imagine a prisoner who has never seen himself. He's never had vision, since the time he was little.
Gus: Okay...
Earl: Now, let's say your job is to go and tell him that he does have a... uh... a body, like you have. How would you explain it to him? And imagine that all he has to do is open his eyes, but you can't do it for him. He has to do it himself. And remember, he has no notion that he has eyes, because he doesn't know that he has a body.
Gus: Dude, just tell me who you're voting for.
Earl: Dammit, man -- you aren't gettin' it.
Gus: Try another story, maybe?
Earl: Alright... this world is an illusion. You think that that [pointing to Gus' body] is you--
Gus: Damned right I "think" that's me. It is me, Earl.
Earl: Okay, sorry. But what if I told you that there's a "higher" world that's "like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found, and hid. In his joy, he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field."
Gus: I dunno, Earl... this is lame. I mean, if there's another mystical "world" somewhere, and you've seen it, why don't you just explain it to me? I mean, what's it like?
Earl: It's brighter and in three dimensions.
Gus: Dude, I don't even know what that means. I can't wait for the election, though.

------

Finis.

4 comments:

fenhopper said...

what if i'm the one that walked out of the cave and you're the one that is convinced that the shadows on the wall say everything about our true selves?

'casey you don't realize that people out there are chaining some of you to the wall and letting others move around. but because you don't realize that you keep standing there trying to understand how meaningful your shadow is'

'standing here? i'm not just standing here. i keep looking back and forth. and you keep talking about chains while i'm talking about freeing my mind.'

eh? eh?

anabler (perfect)

Casey said...

Good point... so in your view, "tuning out" (as Tim Leary called it) does not bring a person to a higher perspective -- instead, partisan politics is the realest world, and talk that is apparently detached, talk about "spirituality" or whatever, that's the illusion?

I can buy that. However, this gives me the opportunity to respond to something you said the other day that I didn't take up at first... about whether Jesus was "apolitical."

By invoking Jesus' position against both the Pharisees and the Sadducees (groups I associated with Republicans and Democrats) I did not mean to imply that he was uninterested in the state of the world, or even that he was uninterested in "politics." Totally the opposite, in fact: the Jesus I know was precisely political, and brought about nothing less than the collapse of Rome (and, it could be argued, of Orthodox Judaism). But the Jesus I know wasn't ONLY deconstructive -- any Jacques Derrida can do that -- instead, his apparently detached, spiritual thinking, about extending salvation to the whole world, etc., provided nothing less than a vision of what we should recognize as political justice.

America is an exceptional nation: ripping off from that book I'm re-reading, E Pluribus Unum, I argue that in its effort to discover a secular foundation for government, America's religious/theological tradition became inextricable from its political structure.

I'm not against participatory democracy, or "voting." But I do sort of feel that an idea is far, far more potent, than a vote. My definition of idea, then, is probably what we're contesting...?

In your comment, you're imagining no higher realm for ideas than, say, "funding alternative fuels to save the environment." For me, the notion of "global warming" or of environmentalism smacks of a change in worldview, which is (of course) a change in politics, but it is also a change in theology, whether we realize it yet or not.

Someone somewhere somewhat recently said, "The biggest mistake liberals made was ceding G-d to the Republicans." But I think that's true only if that someone was talking about ceding the thing itself -- the word might be unimportant. To argue over definitions of G-d is, in my view, inescapably political. To argue over a few percentage points in the tax code is (in my view) to accept a definition of G-d that already exists.

I think I agree with you, even if you don't. The only difference is that you see electing Obama as a major change in our collective theo-political vision of the State (i.e., G-d), and I see it as very little change.

(Why does it take me seven times as much writing to "hang" with you in a dialogue?)

bachotor (stuck forever between a bachelor's degree and a doctoral degree)

fenhopper said...

The only difference is that you see electing Obama as a major change in our collective theo-political vision of the State (i.e., G-d), and I see it as very little change.

Have you read what I've said about the claim that Barack=Change? In fact I think that may be where we're most similar.

Casey said...

Oh. Then... I rest my case. And we both win.