Interpretation and the Allegory of the Cave
By Charles Sullivan
The ideological chains that bind and subdue us are stronger and
more effective than any chain forged from steel. These manacles
are more freedom inhibiting than a prison cell or solitary
confinement. Belief, faith, and hope can imprison as well as
liberate us. By the power of suggestion, a thin cotton string
can effectively tether an elephant.
Politicians and their associates in the corporate media are
master manipulators of language and images. Anytime you hear
them speak, think of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave (
Virtually everything that we see and hear, nearly everything we
have been told, is an officious lie, an illusion created to
deceive and control us. The purpose of deception is to promote
the dogma and welfare of those in power, while implicitly
disempowering those who are being deceived. Language is rarely,
if ever, neutral. Coercive ideology lurks behind every sentence.
In a sense, all language is propaganda, even the words on this
page. For instance, in this short essay, I declare my intention
to lead my readers to a conclusion that I hope will awaken them,
promote consciousness, and encourage principled behavior that is
conducive to the collective emancipation of the working class.
Our faith in capitalistic institutions promotes the pretense of
democracy, while it delivers plutocracy, corporate fascism, and
militarism. Similarly, imprudent belief in the American Dream
induces people to behave in ways that promote the welfare of
those in power rather than the perspectives of those of us
struggling to be free. Belief in this discredited notion keeps
workers from organizing against their oppressors.
The puppeteers casting shadows on the cave wall know that the
images they project are not real. By contrast, the indoctrinated
audience interprets the shadows as authentic figures rather than
the phantasms they are. The purveyors of mythos and propaganda,
the authors of the sanctioned historical narrative that defines
reality for the masses, are consciously misleading us. The
empowered are aware that we are attempting to navigate a house
of mirrors with trap doors, but we continue to believe that the
flickering images on the cave wall are real. Interpretation is
Americans believe that we are a free and representative
republic, because that is what we have always been told, despite
evidence to the contrary. But choosing our oppressors every few
years makes us neither free nor democratic. Electoral outcomes
that are determined by capital do not give us a real voice in
fashioning an equitable economic agenda, taxation, or foreign
policy, including decisions about war. Participation in bogus
systems of power binds us to delusions and keeps us
ideologically imprisoned. They prevent us from taking meaningful
In America, working people are excluded from all of the
important decisions that profoundly affect their lives.
Legislators at all levels of government are beholden to the
corporations and wealthy individuals who fund their campaigns.
To the power elite, “we the people” are little more than
background noise to be tuned out.
Cast a stone at the mirrors and the illusion immediately
dissolves into shards of broken glass. A perplexing chain
reaction is set in motion; worlds fall like rows of dominoes and
fill the vacuum vacated by appearance with new images, new
ideas, and new possibilities. Polaris abruptly appears with the
stars of Ursa Minor wrapped around her like a jeweled necklace
glistening in the velvet black darkness of eternal night. She
was always there but concealed behind striated walls of silvered
glass in the great American funhouse of lies and delusion we
Bearing the Allegory of the Cave in mind, consider this: If a
worker puts his faith in an economic system that exploits and
alienates him, his faith shackles rather than liberates him.
Correspondingly, if a man believes that his oppressor is his
liberator or protector, he ideologically imprisons himself and
promotes behavior that benefits and strengthens his tormentor
rather than himself or his socioeconomic class. If he believes
that the systems of power serve him and promote justice rather
than work for his capitalist masters, he will not attempt to
dismantle them. The worker must then not only overcome his
oppressor, he must first transcend his own ideological beliefs
and ignorance before he can even begin to extricate himself.
In many ways, us workers are our own worst enemy. We lose our
humanity, become alienated from our highest self, our families,
our communities, our coworkers, and the Earth Mother. As
participants in and recipients of unfettered capitalism, we have
become the unwitting tools of universal oppression and
militarism we claim to disdain. Our demise stems from the
misinterpretation of reality and our shifting location within a
volatile matrix of phantasmagoric holograms, none of which are
We believe what we hear and do what we are told rather than
think critically about anything. Questioning authority makes us
uncomfortable, and there are always consequences to challenging
the dominant paradigm. We have an abiding psychological need to
believe that everything we think we know about our country and
the world is as advertised because the alternative terrifies us.
We thus surrender our conscience and our life to become a tool
of the unscrupulous sociopaths in power.
The American worker must comprehend that his assigned role
within the capitalist system is not to be a thoughtful or
conscious human being, but rather an efficient economic serf, a
dehumanized automaton concealed within in a human husk. Painful
as this reality is, it does not behoove us to believe or act
otherwise. The worker’s plight is like being a solider in the
war-torn Middle East: take orders and do what you are told.
Check your conscience and your humanity at the door. We all know
where that leads.
Armed with this knowledge, perhaps we may finally begin the
vital work of our individual and collective emancipation. Our
subordinate role in this unequal economic, social, and political
arrangement must be challenged and subverted. No one is born a
slave. The only power anyone has over us is that which we allow
them to have.
Charles Sullivan lives in the hinterlands of geopolitical West
Virginia. He has written extensively on capitalism and
environmental and social justice issues. He is a free-lance
writer, community activist, and a park naturalist.
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