Plato, David Mamet, and Leaving the Cave

I am indebted to Dr. Howard Ozmon, of Virginia Commonwealth University, who suggested to my classmates and me that the most important two pages from the most important philosophy book from the most important philosopher is The Allegory of the Cave from Plato’s Republic. He said that psychologists and teachers would do better work if they were familiar with this passage.

As I now know, the Allegory involves slaves, who have lived their entire lives chained to benches in a deep cave with attendants, who manage the cave dwellers’ requirements of daily living. These slaves have come to believe that the fire-cast shadows they see on the cave wall are the real things and not just the shadows of things.

Plato tells us, when told of a larger world, the slaves are ambivalent, at best, at awakening to the possibility of living in a world of sunshine, color, and fresh air – even when this world is shown to them, and they entertain thoughts of living in this new world rather than simply visiting. The light hurts their eyes, and it is disruptive to entertain thoughts of a world that is different from the one they and their friends have come to accept as home. In addition, most resent the teacher/guide, who reveals the existence of this other world, and they prefer to be chained to their familiar spot on a familiar bench.

In his recent book, The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture, David Mamet speaks of the distortions of the mainstream media and of his realization that the big government that he and his friends have espoused encourages passive-dependency upon various “experts” to whom we can safely confer power and control.  He has lost some friends among the Hollywood left (and others), but he has endured the light and lives in a world of reduced enabling, bright colors, and broad horizons.

Thanks to Plato, Dr. Ozmon, and David Mamet.

About ajb

I am clinical psychologist and academic coach with more than twenty years of psychotherapy, academic coaching, and training experience. I operate from my base camp in the Chesapeake Bay Country of Tidewater Virginia. I have a long-term interest in the relationship among public policy, education, mental health, poverty, and change language.
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