They see only the reflections and shadows on that blank wall and what they see are the projections of puppets and objects passing before a bright fire but the source is hidden from their sight and knowledge atop a wall behind them.
These shades, and echoes of sound, are their only truth; they know no more.
As in every good story of captivity, we require an escape from these “unkindly” shackles, and one person does crawl up a tunnel to the sunlight above, finding it difficult to comprehend the light, still preferring the familiar shadow world below, but soon, with some difficulty, realizing the shadowy images below are false, unreal, forms of misdirection, and he feels pity for those left behind.
The intent of this allegory is obvious. We are metaphorically shackled by what we fail to question and examine and learn.
Case in point – we have a national debate that has sadly reduced for many to which presidential candidate is worse for the nation. (I have a different view about Hillary than those who see it this way.) But, in the debate of who is worse, Donald Trump is winning hands down.
It’s not just about who may win, although that is what we talk about almost 24/7.
Speaker Ryan fears he would win fewer House seats if he opposed Trump.
Senator McCain fears he can only win his Senate Primary if he supports Trump.
Many shun Trump but don’t oppose him because they want to win this congressional seat or that senate seat.
These are the shadows on our public wall that we stare at day by day.
There are, unfortunately, many other shadows, as ephemeral, and insubstantial, that we discuss and treat as if they are real, including the famed “invisible hand” that frees the need to regulate market participants, and the “free market” that never existed except in the mind of man, belief in a self-correcting impulse in all nature that protects our air and water and soil against any level of human abuse or pollution no matter how great our offending act, a literal reading of scripture about the creation of the world rather than the science of our origins and the principles of physics and astronomy, religious constructions that a fecundated ovum is a human person, though this superstitious belief is unsupported by biology or common sense when it comes to how life really begins, a system of justice we speak of as if it’s reasonable and fair when it is nothing of the sort, democratic principles of representation that are hardly democratic and involve the selection of the chosen few by a minority of all the voters who could make a difference, treating the dark robes and high offices of our officials as reliable authority worthy of deference, rather than challenge, and so many other nonsensical fictions – like money is speech, and force is for peace, and punishing another is love, and saying one thing and doing another is truth.
These shadowy precepts, treated as self-evident, almost guarantee our public discourse shall be dark and limited, hardly accomplishing or resolving anything.
We don’t discuss how we are going to care for those people who have no income, no food or housing nor medical attention nor education nor training to work. We proclaim we are a “Christian nation” but we only grudgingly grant any charity to the least of our brethren.
We don’t act to protect our natural wealth, what we hold in usufruct, to borrow Jefferson’s term, to enjoy the natural gifts of nature, but without alteration.
In truth and fact, everywhere we turn, we alter nature, squandering our soil and water and the trees and hill sides, destroying in every direction.
We made the earth a hot house, poured our filth into the air and water, and we encourage limitless progeny. We care for such a small percentage of all the children we recklessly produce.
We say we care so much about life and yet we imprison, execute, torture, and war with abandon, in the worst earthly traditions of the most savage nations throughout all history.
If we walk in the sunlight, we know our legacy as a people is truly only about how we treat our own, how we are brothers and sisters to others at home and beyond our shore, and how we handle our natural treasures.