Plato knew it all! | Daily News

Plato knew it all!

“I want you to go on to picture the enlightenment or ignorance of our human conditions somewhat as follows. Imagine an underground chamber....” Plato's allegory of the Cave began thus in Book VII of his Republic. It could be summarized as follows. Individuals found chained to a bench, with their movement and vision restricted inside the cave. All they could see is the wall in front upon which appears shadows cast by a fire behind them. In between the fire and the wall walk actors carrying puppets on sticks. That is the world seen by these people, and they think it is the Reality. They are unable to look around or behind, so they could never see those who are creating the shadows, or what is really happening outside the cave.

We are all prisoners inside Plato's cave. We have chained ourselves to our chairs to watch the shadows playing on the screens of the television, desktops, laptops, tablets and androids. We are trapped inside a world created by the mass media and chained to a wall by the advertising mafia, so that we cannot even move our heads. We create our caves, and the chains and we tie ourselves inside the caves. We create the people who manipulate the puppets and keep us imprisoned in the cave. We pay them, directly and indirectly, for imprisoning us. We only see the images of the puppets and the echos. It is the reality for us. We accept this as the reality and discuss and debate them and try to live by them. Our eyes are so adjusted to the glowing screens that we cannot see anything beyond them.

We are living in a world of shadows, Maya. When Shakespeare saw the world as a stage, he was talking about all the men and women as actors, while today inside the world stage are many more stages where the actors are watching the shadows of other actors, and are imitating the shadow actors. In the eastern concept of Maya we are trapped in maya within the maya. Today even if we can stumble out of the cave we have built for ourselves, we will still not be able to see the reality. Outside our cave is only the shadows of a larger cave built by the society we live in.

Plato envisioned a cave where people were imprisoned. We have made the world into one big cave, imprisoning us in cyberspace. Digital technology is the monkey on our back, as we carry our own fetters and blinkers in the form of digital audio-visual equipment. Wherever we go, Satan or Mara has set up additional prisons, with telivison screens in hotel lobies, public spaces, even in cars, buses and aircrafts. There is no escape from all these evil shadows, inside or outside the cave.

Attempts to escape

Aristotle described human perception as a ‘bat's eye view'. The Chinese Taoist philosopher Chuang-Tzu, (369 - 286 B.C.E.) had once dreamed that he was a butterfly. On awakening, he had asked himself, if he was a man dreaming that he was a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming that he was a man. St. Augustine believed that “what was outside the cave was the realm of the Christian God”.

Among the prisoners in Plato's cave there would have been a few who realized they were suffering. There had been attempts to escape, and go outside into the sunlight. Some of them realized the Truth and tried to go back and explain the Truth to the others, and to try to bring them out of the cave. Not many would believe them and sometimes would attack them as fools or lunatics. Others would try to fight those who held the people in chains and try to liberate them from the chains. Most of them get murdered, either by the prison guards or by the prisoners themselves, who preferred the safety of the cave. These great men who tried to free the prisoners range from Buddha, Christ and Che Guevara.

The electronic shadows have made Mammonism the universal religion. The marketing gurus are the high priests serving Mammon. Mammon has subdued all the Vedic gods, the Supreme Lord of the revealed religions, and the teachings of the Buddha and Mahavira, and the efforts of Mahathma Gandhi and Swami Vivekananda.

In the beginning, the electronic visual media would have been simple free-to-air programmes of news coverage, documentaries of cultural and educational value, broadcast by state owned non-profit institutions. It is only with the entry of the private enterprises that Mammon took over the media. The primary and even the ulterior motives of a commercial venture is Profit, and as man is always driven by greed, it became profit-at-any-cost, regardless of the effects on the society, culture, religion and unfortunately on the young generation.

The electronic shadows cause the greatest harm to young people. It affects them physically and mentally. The constant exposure to the glare of the screens affect their vision. They miss the opportunity to go out and play with their friends, and the lack of exercises affect their health. Mentally they lose the power of imagination, and they lose all interest in thinking. It is very easy for the operators of the shadows to influence the minds and bodies of the young people.

The visual advertisements exploit women, using them as sex objects and exploit children, using them in advertisements and by creating temptation for unwanted material things among the children who watch. It creates frustration not only in children but also among the parents because of things their children cannot have.

The economic cost of profit driven visual media is probably not quantifiable. The number of man-hours consumed by the people of productive age in the country is enormous. So is the power consumption, not only for the broadcast and transmission and reception, but also for domestic lighting, and air conditioning. There are households where one or more television sets are switched on 24/7.

Breakdown of communication

The social cost is the breakdown of communication within family, the neglect of the education of the children, the well-being of the children and the elders, and the neglect of the household in general. Each individual is imprisoned in his own shell, isolating him even from his family and friends. The cost of sleep deprivation due to the addiction to shadow play on television cannot be quantified either, as the cost is the effect on productivity, health and responsibilities towards the family and society. There is a medical cost too, because of the lifestyle diseases as a result of getting addicted to all the harmful food and drink promoted on television and also by consuming all such food while glued to the screen.

The original ‘Soap Opera’ came to stay with us as soap makers P&G, Levers and Colgate began sponsoring radio plays, even long before the arrival of television.

Then we did not watch shadows, but we listened to the drama on the radio and used our own imagination to picture the characters and their actions, in our minds, in our own make-believe world. The shadows we see today do not leave anything to our imagination. We are also influenced by what we see, in the actions, behaviour, dress and the background.

The shadows we watch of unethical commercial advertising, both direct and embedded, targets the basic human craving for sensual satisfaction. The people in South Asia were leading a simple life of Ahimsa, co-existing with all life, practising Compassionate Consumption. They would not have coveted the neighbours wealth or their women, they would have been satisfied with what they had with no necessity for more wealth to acquire more material things or luxuries.

Before the new electronic shadow play and even the audio drama on radio, we had the good fortune to sit in the garden or on the front porch in the evening, and listen to our elders. They told us stories from the past, and their own experiences, which contributed to our knowledge of our culture, heritage and our own families. It was the received wisdom of generation. It was also more fun, listening to the stories, while watching the shadow play from an oil lamp or a fire on the wall, or on a moonlit night the shadows of the trees dancing around us.

The electronic audio media in the guise of the radio was a leap forward for the trader. With the advent of visual media and the availability of electricity even in the remotest village, added to satellite transmission was a giant leap forward. We boast of a global village. But in reality what digital technology did was take the worst traditions, practices and illusions from the city into village and make the whole world a garbage dump.

It is a weakness among human beings to imitate and follow others. Before the advent of electronic media, people could ape or follow only his neighbours or others in his immediate surroundings. But today he can follow anyone, from anywhere on earth. The visual media controls who or what we see, and make us ape or follow what they show. It affects our culture completely, what we wear, what we eat and drink, even how we speak and behave.

The disadvantages of the electronic shadow-play are many and the harm caused to man's mind and body, while destroying the culture and society is enormous. I believe it is the responsibility of the writers and poets to incite mankind, specially the young generation, to pick up the reading habit, even using the Mara's own weapons of android phones and tablets, to read. Let our society unshackle themselves and let us hope and pray that our children will never get imprisoned in Plato's cave.

Let us destroy the caves created by the business organizations, and also built by our own selves. Let us step out into the real world, to go back to nature, and to associate with our family and friends like we used to, many decades ago. Let us defeat Mara and all his Maya. Reality is always better than shadows.

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