Leaving the Cave behind.Submitted by MCShowers on Thu, 09/27/2012 - 12:36
As a History Instructor at a Community College I have taught Western Civilization many times. I find that as you continue to teach the past, repeating the same events over and over, one transcends the repetition and begins to see the underlying significance of the events, as well as the hidden connections between ideas of the time and the events that inspired them.
Come with me, if you will, to Classical Athens. A city high on itself, a city that is proud of its contribution to repelling the Persians, a city that is certain it is the pinnacle of western civilization, and a city that proclaims to be the the ultimate example of Democracy. But it is a city with major skeletons in its closet. The riches it has achieved are a direct result of corruption and imperialism in every way but name. The statues of perfect human forms, the glamorous public buildings, its mighty Navy, and even the 30 foot walls that now encompass the city, the road to the Athenian harbor, and the harbor itself, are all achieved by imperial tendencies. This is what has prompted the Peloponnesian war and the Spartan siege that lasted nearly uninterrupted for 27 years (431-404 BC). Athens is supplied by sea, its supply lines secured by its mighty fleet, the average Athenian has no reason to ever leave the city. Few want to.
Behind the walls, which Athenians rarely leave for many reasons, the streets are awash with propaganda, rhetoric, and false intellectualism. Sophists are paid money to teach the wealthy how to appear smart without making sense or making any real points. The pepper their sentences with fancy words, they appeal to emotion, they utilize tone of voice, but they have no good, nay NO ideas at all! Then came the one called Socrates.
The little toad-like stone mason whose very appearance amidst the statues of athletic Adonises. This old man invented the dialectic method of philosophical reasoning that bears his name, asking questions, staying on point, and doing one of two things by constantly asking questions: he exposed phonies, or allowed people to come to their own honest conclusion about any matter. Many hated him for exposing their true nature or questioning the comforting untruths that comforted many devout and patriotic Athenians. Yet, some, went so far as to say said he was the wisest man to ever live. When asked what made him wise, the septuagenarian replied "I am wise because I know I am ignorant. Often misunderstood, he would have done better to say "I know what I know for a fact, and I know what I only assume to be true." At 70+ years of age Socrates developed a following of young people who recognized that he offered something different, something real, something that they could believe in amongst the smoke and mirrors show the rest of Athens offered. Truth was Socrates' goal, and truth fell better upon the ears of the young. One of these young men was named Plato.
Athens fell to Spartan forces in 404 after plague and political corruption had sent the idealistic democracy into decay. The walls were torn down, its fleet was burned, and a puppet government of 30 handpicked Athenians, 2 of whom had followed Socrates around in awe. When Athens regained independence in 403 the "30 tyrants" were put to death in a wave of frustration and anger. But that was not enough. They needed another scapegoat, one to blame for the moral and ideological decline of Athens. They went after the old man whom 2 of the tyrants had idolized in their youth. Socrates was accused of impiety, atheism, corrupting the youth, and countless other jumbled allegations. Plato watched in his own frustration as his hero and mentor defended himself with reason and logic in the face empty but emotionally charged rhetoric of his accusers and prosecutors. In the end, Socrates was condemned to die from hemlock. Socrates remained true to Athens and went to his death , even when offered a jailbreak and asylum in a neighboring state.
Plato recounted the events of the Trial in four dialogues; Euthyphro, The Apology, Crito, and Phaedo. Collectively they are entitled "The Trial and Death of Socrates." Plato was forever disillusioned with average person, and therefore democracy. Embittered, grieving, frustrating, he abandoned a promising political career and pursued Philosophy. He founded the first university in the West, simply called "the Academy." Opinionated but committed to seeking truth, he taught by using his mentors methods of asking a series of questions unwavering in its aim at the target of truth. Plato became the foundation of Western thinking for centuries along with his dissenting but dedicated student, Aristotle.
Plato is best known, and his beliefs best summed up in "The Allegory of the Cave." A metaphor for enlightenment that inspired "The Matrix" centuries later. Here is an animated movie that sums it up nicely.
I ask you, do you feel this? Do you feel the awe of having left the cave? Was Dr. Paul the Socrates that awoke you from your dogmatic slumber? And do your friends who formerly shared the illusion of the cave see you as a shadow on the wall? I do. It is liberation to see the world outside the cave of the neocons and the Obama apologists, it is frustration to help others see it. Hence 2012. But how many have left the cave in the last four years? I share Plato's frustration and even anger. But unlike Plato, let us not lose faith in our fellow man, let us not lose faith in each other. Let us ban together, accept the minor disagreements in how we vote in 2012. Let us not cease until our city (our nation of the U.S.) emerges from the Cave of the current political climate: 2-party system, the Fed, etc. The common man is not as inept as Plato thought. It just takes time to see the light at the end of the tunnel. . .or, the cave if you will.
Ask questions, respectfully seek the truth with relentless questions, expose the phonies, sophists, and liars. Also, help others to find their own way out of the cave, but be careful not to lead. Let us free the prisoners from their cavernous prison one at a time. Also, let us not turn on one another,for here in the outside world we are few and we are alone, but we few, we happy few,we burdened few, must build a new Athens. For real this time.