Allegory of the Cave (from The Republic by Plato – Translated by Desmond Lee)
‘I (Socrates) want you to go on to picture the enlightenment or ignorance of our human condition somewhat as follows. Imagine an underground chamber like a cave, with a long entrance open to the daylight and as wide as the cave. In this chamber are men who have been prisoners there since they were children, their legs and necks being so fastened that they can only look straight ahead of them and cannot turn their heads. Some way off, behind and higher up, a fire is burning, and between the fire and the prisoners and above them runs a road, in front of which a curtain-wall has been built, like the screen at puppet shows between the operators and their audience, above which they show their puppets.’
‘Imagine further that there are men carrying all sorts of gear along behind the curtain-wall, projecting above it and including figures of men and animals made of wood and stone and all sorts of other materials, and that some of these men, as you would expect, are talking and some not.’
‘An odd picture and an odd sort of prisoner.’
‘They are drawn from life,’ I replied. ‘For, tell me, do you think our prisoners could see anything of themselves or their fellows except the shadows thrown by the fire on the wall of the cave opposite them?’
‘How could they see anything else if they were prevented from moving their heads all their lives?’
‘And would they see anything more of the objects carried along the road?’
‘Of course not.’
‘Then if they were able to talk to each other, would they not assume that the shadows they saw were the real things?’
‘And if the wall of their prison opposite them reflected sound, don’t you think that they would suppose, whenever one of the passers-by on the road spoke, that the voice belonged to the shadow passing before them?’
‘They would be bound to think so.’
‘And so in every way they would believe that the shadows of the objects we mentioned were the whole truth.’
‘Then think what would naturally happen to them if they were released from their bonds and cured of their delusions. Suppose one of them were let loose, and suddenly compelled to stand up and turn his head and look and walk towards the fire: all these actions would be painful and he would be too dazzled to see properly the objects of which he used to see the shadows. What do you think he would say if he was told that what he used to see was so much empty nonsense and that he was now nearer reality and seeing more correctly, because he was turned towards objects that were more real, and if on top of that he were compelled to say what each of the passing objects was when it was pointed out to him? Don’t you think he would be at a loss, and think that what he used to see was far truer than the objects now being pointed out to him?’
And what does Independence Day have to do with sheep?
It was beautiful here today. Perfectly calm, sunny, in the mid-70′s. Late this afternoon, while standing outside and looking across the field at the trees and hillside beyond, I began to think about all the people who have put everything on the line over the years to define and ‘parent’ this incredible sense of freedom and peaceful tranquility that so filled my view. But it was only after my gaze settled on the Shetland sheep grazing below–who were as healthy, happy and content as any could be–that I began to feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the sacrifices made by so many in my family tree (e.g., the Scottish Rebel). Without which, I wouldn’t be here to experience this extraordinary freedom I feel, and the beauty I see.
The meaning of Self-Responsibility is difficult to generalize…mainly because the idea is shaped more by one’s culture (including individual religious beliefs) than it is by one’s self. It is also difficult to disassociate its meaning from a specific time-frame. For example, what might appear to be very self-responsible behavior in the short term can turn out to be just the opposite in the long term (i.e., being “a penny wise, and pound foolish”). And it is that aspect of self-responsible behavior that is writ large in the presentation above. Despite the growing urgency regarding contemporary life-style choices, sustainable food and energy production, etc., it is as nothing when compared to the enormity of the genetic ‘evolution vs. devolution’ decisions that are very rapidly heading our way…