Imagine prisoners, who have been chained since their childhood deep inside a cave: not only are their limbs immobilized by the chains; their heads are chained in one direction as well so that their gaze is fixed on a wall.
Behind the prisoners is an enormous fire, and between the fire and the prisoners is a raised walkway, along which statues of various animals, plants, and other things are moved along. The statues cast shadows on the wall, and the prisoners watch these shadows. When one of the statue-carriers speaks, an echo against the wall causes the prisoners to believe that the words come from the shadows.
The prisoners engage in what appears to us to be a game: naming the shapes as they come by. This, however, is the only reality that they know, even though they are seeing merely shadows of images. They are thus conditioned to judge the quality of one another by their skill in quickly naming the shapes and dislike those who play poorly.
Suppose a prisoner is released and compelled to stand up and turn around. At that moment his eyes will be blinded by the sunlight coming into the cave from its entrance, and the shapes passing by will appear less real than their shadows.
The last object he would be able to see is the sun, which, in time, he would learn to see as the object that provides the seasons and the courses of the year, presides over all things in the visible region, and is in some way the cause of all these things that he has seen.
(This part of the allegory, incidentally, closely relates to Plato’s metaphor of the sun which occurs near the end of The Republic, Book VI.)
Once enlightened, so to speak, the freed prisoner would not want to return to the cave to free “his fellow bondsmen,” but would be compelled to do so. Another problem lies in the other prisoners not wanting to be freed: descending back into the cave would require that the freed prisoner’s eyes adjust again, and for a time, he would be one of the ones identifying shapes on the wall. His eyes would be swamped by the darkness, and would take time to become acclimated. Therefore, he would not be able to identify the shapes on the wall as well as the other prisoners, making it seem as if his being taken to the surface completely ruined his eyesight.
For me, this analogy reflects my own feelings after becoming enlightened to the Humanist perspective. In some ways I feel some compulsion to free those who are living in the cave of theism, but not as strongly, because I never experienced it like they do.
As I continue my journey of discovery, I feel that there may be new plateau’s of knowledge and understanding that I can reach by way of a kind of Platonic Idealism. I have been wondering about other possibilities that I may currently be blind to, due to the perspective I currently have and share with others around me.
To break free of these binds I have begun to explore Futures Studies. I understand that this kind of pursuit may be in conflict with a skeptical view favored by most Secular Humanists. However, most objections seem to come from a lack of will to participate in any dialogue that includes concepts that are not born out of the reality they live in today.
My question is, in spite of the desires for a different kind of world that embraces a more humanistic value system, why is it that most Secular Humanists are unwilling to participate in the development of a vision for a society that is more suitable to a Secular Humanist point of view?
Has our skeptical nature condemned us to a life that is forever in conflict with the reality around us? Or, are we really committed to the development of communities that would embrace our views? Is it not possible, even if not in our lifetime, to conceive of a community built upon Secular Humanist values?
Today, there are many communities built on Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Amish, Mormon, among other perspectives. Would we not also benefit from the development of such a community? Would it not help produce new generations of Secular Humanists? Do we believe that the concept of building such a community has some sinister overtones that would go against our principles? If so, what are they?
I want to leave this cave and live in such a community, I wonder if anyone else shares this desire?
Hey, this is my 100th post! Whoopie!