Allegory of the Cave, Part II

Culture is an interesting thing. Basically, a group of people gets together and decides, “This is how we want to live,” and bam, it’s a culture. But the key part there is that it’s a group of people, a community.

This idea came up in the discussion I had with Anya today after our reread of Allegory of the Cave because there’s this idea of after one person has been “enlightened,” they must be put back with the people who are “unenlightened.” They won’t be accepted back to the culture they grew up in because they will have differing views, but they have to go anyway.

He also says, “The happiness was to be in the whole State, and he held the citizens together by persuasion and necessity, making them benefactors of the State, and therefore benefactors of one another,” as as weird as this sounds, that sort of reminded me of Communism.

The original idea of Communism, as I understand it, was to have a society in which everyone was equal so everyone benefits from each other with little to no ruler/leader input. Obviously that’s not how it turned out, but it’s interesting to see how that idea came up in two completely different time periods. In Plato’s State, the Philosopher-King is the ruler, so it’s not quite the same as Communism, but this idea of everyone benefitting everyone else remains.

The idea of culture comes back in because this has to be something everyone wants enough to change what they’re doing. One person can’t simply say, “This is what we’re doing, so go do it,” and expect the community to change its culture. There needs to be investment from everyone, and in this case that investment is justice, truth, and education. Because, as Plato says, “Being self-taught, they cannot be expected to show any gratitude for a culture which they have never received.”

The Philosopher-King is an interesting figure because he is supposed to have once been one of the common cave people. Plato writes, “The process . . .  is not the turning over of an oyster-shell, but the turning round of a soul passing from a day which is little better than night to the true day of being.” And this is the person who must be put back with the “unenlightened,” and he is the “he” who is holding together the State through these people who benefit from each other.

So while culture cannot be decided upon by one person, one person can guide a community to a new culture by being a “lead learner” and embarking on the path of education, truth, and justice first.

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