By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
The cave, it seems, is in the zeitgeist just now; not Bin Laden’s cave at Tora Bora — and I’m not doing to issue a spoiler alert, you’ll just have to watch — but Plato’s. Just the other day, the Archdruid summarized Plato’s extended metaphor like this:
He framed his discussion of the gap between perception and reality with an arresting image.
Imagine, Plato says, that we are all shackled in a cave, unable to turn our heads to either side. All we can see are dark shapes that move this way and that on the flat wall of the cave in front of us. Those dark shapes are all we know. They are our reality.
Now imagine that one of these prisoners manages to get loose from his shackles, and turns away from the cave wall and the dark shapes on it. He’s in for a shock, because what he sees when he turns around is a bonfire, and people moving objects in front of the flames so that the objects cast shadows on the cave wall. Everything he thought was reality is simply a shadow cast by these moving objects.
If the prisoner who’s gotten loose pays attention, furthermore, he might just notice that the cave isn’t limited to the bonfire, the prisoners, the objects casting the shadows and the people who manipulate those objects. Off past the bonfire, on one side of the cave, the floor slopes upwards, and in the distance is a faint light that doesn’t seem to come from the fire at all. If our escaped prisoner is brave enough, he might decide to go investigate that light. As he does so, the bonfire and the shadows slip into the darkness behind him, and the light ahead grows brighter and clearer.
Then, if he’s brave enough and keeps going, he steps out of the cave and into the sunlight. That’s not an easy thing, either, because the light is so much more intense than the dim red glow in the cave that for a while, he can’t see a thing. He stumbles, rubs his eyes, tries to find his bearings, and discovers that the detailed knowledge he had of the way shadows moved on the cave wall won’t help him at all in this new, blazingly bright realm. He has to discard everything he thinks he knows, and learn the rules of an unfamiliar world.
Bit by bit, though, he accomplishes this. His eyes adapt to the sunlight, he learns to recognize objects and to sense things—color, for example, and depth—which didn’t exist in the shadow-world he thought he inhabited when he was still a prisoner in the cave. Eventually he can even see the sun, and know where the light that illumines the real world actually comes from.
Now, Plato says, imagine that he decides to go back into the cave to tell the remaining prisoners what he’s seen. To begin with, it’s going to be rough going, because his eyes have adapted to the brilliant daylight and so he’s going to trip and stumble on the way down. Once he gets there, anything he says to the prisoners is going to be dismissed as the most consummate rubbish: what is this nonsense about color and depth, and a big bright glowing thing that crosses something called the sky? What’s more, the people to whom he’s addressing his words are going to misunderstand them, thinking that they’re about the shadow-world in front of their eyes—after all, that’s the only reality they know—and they’re going to decide that he must be an idiot because nothing he says has anything to do with the shadow-world.
And the Archdruid mordantly concludes:
Plato didn’t mention that the prisoners might respond by trying to drag the escapee back into line with them and bully him into putting his shackles back on, though that’s generally the way such things work out in practice.
I imagine the parallels to the Weapons of Mass Destruction are clear enough; a quarter of all Americans and half of all Republicans still believe they existed.
Alert reader Skippy mentions those few who have the power to “authoritatively craft the social narrative,” but it’s worth taking the perspective that seventy-five percent of the American people fought their way through to the truth: That Bush’s WMDs did not exist, despite the Bush administration, almost all of the political class, including the press, running an intense and deeply corrupt disinformation campaign telling them otherwise — followed by the weak tea and evasions of the Obama administration, which IIRC never even held hearings into the matter, when a Truth Commission was surely warranted.
In other words, the Noble Lie of the WMD’s did terrible damage in terms of lives lost and institutions and culture destroyed, mostly in Iraq, but also in the United States. However, that Noble Lie did not do what the Straussians hoped it would do, according the Curtis: “Assert powerful and inspiring myths that everyone could believe in,” simply because everyone did not believe in it, despite the authorities who crafted it. In this case, then, at least, most of the American people threw off their chains in the cave and fought their way out to the surface sunlight. Not to say, of course, that there are not other Noble Lies still believed; the War on Terror among them.
With that, here’s the third and final part of “The Power Of Nightmares.” Enjoy!
The Power Of Nightmares 03: The Shadows In The… by GalaVentura