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April 29, 2010

1984 And The Allegory of the Cave

By Ethan Indigo Smith

Politics, philosophy and fiction. Two plus two is four and water is wet.

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Some philosophical work is so profound as to be influential for thousands of years. Plato's The Republic is one such series of dialogues. It explains and explores the relationship between state institutions and individuals. One of the central dialogues is called the Allegory of the Cave. Socrates speaks with a fellow philosopher and proposes that what people take to be reality in total is only a partial reality or an all out illusion.

Socrates begins "let me show you in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened Behold! human beings living in an underground cave." As all like philosophy, the Allegory is layered, but it is partially about seeking individual knowledge and perspective.

In the Allegory most people are chained in the cave and forced to watch images on a cave wall. The images are cast by the controllers of the cave who use a fire behind them to produce shadows. The prisoners interpret the shadows and whatever noises are made as reality in total, for it is all they know. There are other prisoners in the cave who are unchained, but are so transfixed with the imagery on the wall that the shadows are all they see.

It is further hypothesized what would happen if a prisoner was released. After initial distress the prisoner would learn to distinguish between real and shadow and would see the fire producing the shadows. And if he was brought out of the cave, he would first be blinded, but eventually would learn basics of nature. He would learn what is real, what is shadow and reflection. He would earth and water and that all is dependent on the Sun from shadows, to seasons to all life. After learning of reality outside the cave the prisoner would be inclined to return and inform those in his former home and in his former predicament.

A more complete and visual explanation of the Allegory of the Cave is available here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQfRdl3GTw4&feature=related

The text is available here: http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/allegory.html

The subject of the Allegory of the Cave is somewhat insidious despite often going unrecognized as such. It has provided lessons in politics, philosophy and individual enlightenment since it was penned some two thousand years ago.

The story of 1984 takes place within the allegorical cavern as an imagined dystopian future by George Orwell. The Telescreen, which ever transmits and as well as oversees, is equivalent to the shadows on the cave wall cast by unseen controllers. These images are controlled by the Inner Party. Most people in 1984 are Proles, they are equivalent to the chained in the cave. They have been prisoners their whole lives and do not notice the fact they are chained. The unchained and yet transfixed with the party line told through the Telescreen is the Outer party. They are so loyal to the imagery they will believe what they are shown and not what they observe. They will believe two plus two is five, as the saying goes.

In the Allegory of the Cave, it is pondered what would happen when a prisoner left the cave. In 1984, George Orwell likely pondered the same. Emmanuel Goldstein is a character in 1984 who figuratively left the cave, or understood the Inner Party's images were lies (Emmanuel = God is with, Goldstein = gold rock) and attempted to get others to understand the institutional lies. Emmanuel is supposed leader of the elusive Brotherhood in 1984 and is scorned, even hated by society.

The main character in 1984 is Winston Smith. Winston's story is one of a person who attempts to leave the cave. He is privy to certain Inner Party lies and begins to question and seek alternate perceptions other than the Inner Party line. Winston attempts to leave the cave only to be shut in and beaten down, made to hold the party line. Winston's end is not a happy one as well as Socrates' hypothesized result return of the prisoner.

Some fictional literature is so profound as to be relevant for decades and even serves as an expansion of language and thought. 1984, by George Orwell is one such literary work. 1984 is a post WWII interpretation of the relationship between individuals and state institutions using the archetypal Allegory of the Cave.

Both the Allegory of the Cave and Orwell's 1984 contain corresponding layers. Both explore a diabolical form of control through presentation of information and images in combination with strict surveillance and imprisonment. Further relationship between the more contemporary movie, The Matrix and the Allegory of the Cave are hardly subtle.

The original title of 1984 was proposed as The Last Man in Europe. Certainly that is the way one would feel, as if you were the last lone person, when you are aware of lies and partial truths presented as totality by controllers and accepted totally by everyone else.

George Orwell's 1984 spawned new language for age old procedures, as presented in the Allegory of the cave, the word Orwellian being one among many. This all encompassing term is reflective of lies made to be truths, unfair institutional surveillance and logic so distorted as to not only be convinced that "ignorance is strength' and two plus two equal five, but to also deny the very basic elements of nature.

Ignorance is strength - to institutions. Everyone has their own personal cave and we are all figuratively in a larger societal cavern. Coming up with your own questions is the way get out of the cave and gain enlightenment. Questioning what seems like a lie, or illusion in the cave, is the step outside the cave.

There are three types of lies; lies, damned lies and statistics.

~Popularized by Mark Twain


The solid world exists, its laws do not change. Stones are hard, water is wet, objects unsupported fall toward the earth's center. With the feeling that he was speaking to" and setting forth an important axiom, he wrote: Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.

~George Orwell's 1984



Submitters Website: http://www.amazon.com/Ethan/e/B0058V4P2U/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

Submitters Bio:

About Ethan Indigo Smith:


Activist, author and Tai Chi teacher Ethan Indigo Smith was born on a farm in Maine and lived in Manhattan for a number of years before migrating west to Mendocino, California. Guided by a keen sense of integrity and humanity, Ethan's work is both deeply connected and extremely insightful, blending philosophy, politics, activism, spirituality, meditation and a unique sense of humor.

The events of September 11, 2001 inspired him to write his first book, The Complete Patriot's Guide to Oligarchical Collectivism, an insightful exploration of history, philosophy and contemporary politics. His more recent publications include:

  • Tibetan Fusion a book of simple meditative practices and movements that can help you access and balance your energy
  • The Little Green Book of Revolution an inspirational book based on ideas of peaceful revolution, historical activism and caring for the Earth like Native Americans
  • The Matrix of Four, The Philosophy of the Duality of Polarity on the subject of the development of individual consciousness
  • 108 Steps to Be in The Zone a set of 108 meditative practices and steps toward self discovery and individual betterment, including techniques to develop balance, transmute sexual energy and better the self
  • and the controversial book, Terra-ist Letters, a work that humorously contrasts the very serious issues of global nuclear experimentation promotion and global marijuana prohibition

For more information, visit Ethan on Facebook and check out Ethan's author page on Amazon.

The Complete Patriot's Guide

The Complete Patriot's Guide to Oligarchical Collectivism

Ethan Indigo Smith's book The Complete Patriot's Guide to Oligarchical Collectivism: Its Theory and Practice is an insightful exploration of history, philosophy and contemporary politics of today's heavily institutionalized society.

An inspiration for positive, peaceful individual action, The Complete Patriot's Guide is pro-individual in its perspective and, although political, discusses our society and its institutions from neither left-wing nor right-wing perspectives, exploring metaphors and symbolism relative to the fictional work of George Orwell through real history, philosophy and contemporary politics. Layered with insight, it is in part a literary exploration of the themes raised in Orwell's 1984, and provides theories for individual and collective empowerment.

The Complete Patriot's Guide to Oligarchical Collectivism is available now on Amazon.

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