Perhaps it’s something of a cliche to speak of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.  “Yes, yes, we’ve all heard of the Allegory of the Cave!  We all learned about the Allegory of the Cave in our Intro to Philosophy courses!”  That’s true.  I’m sorry to speak of it again.  I can’t help it.  I think the Allegory of the Cave is a good myth.  What’s a good myth?  A good myth is a time machine.  By that, I don’t mean that it takes us back to the past like the Delorean in Back to the Future.  No, a good myth is a myth that is able to exceed its historical horizon, explode the context in which it’s inscribed, and travel into the future.  A good myth is a myth that is open to endless interpretation; which is to say that a good myth is a myth that is able to speak across history.  A good myth is slippery and without a determinate signified.  For that reason, it can take on many signifieds.  What did Plato think?  I don’t care.  He wrote a good myth and therefore wrote a myth capable of going beyond Plato.

We know the story.  The prisoners have been in the cave since birth.  They don’t know they’re prisoners.  Behind them the guards walk back and forth in front of a fire with different shapes of things on long poles.  The shapes cast shadows on the cave wall.  The prisoners think the shadows are reality.  After all, they’ve never seen anything else, right?  Clearly there is only one possible interpretation of the Allegory of the Cave.  The fire is obviously capitalism.  The guards are most certainly the journalists, pundits, editors, and politicians.  And the shadows on the cave wall are television news, newspapers, social media, and the political blogs.  The shadows are images and images are copies of something else.  Plato was most definitely diagnosing the times in which we live.  As a careful reader of Niklas Luhmann– especially Luhmann’s Reality of the Mass Media –and other media theorists, he knew very well that it is the mass is our primary access to reality and constructs our sense of reality.  Think about it.  How do you know that North Korea exists?  Have you been there?  Probably not.  You saw it on a map or a globe (an image).  You read about it (an image).  You heard someone who says they’ve seen it talk about it (an image).  You saw a photograph or film footage (an image).  You watched a documentary on the forgotten war (images again).  The vast majority of your beliefs about the world are through images.  That’s your reality.  That’s my reality.

read on!