The opposite of knowledge is not ignorance, but deceit and fraud”

Jean Baudrillard

If you look at whatever current ‘thing’ is trending right now in the context of Plato’s ‘Allegory of the Cave’, you’ll get a better idea of how captive audiences in this day and age interpret media content, and how its creators manage this perception. What is necessary to emphasize or downplay requires the same slight of hand techniques that ancient stage hands applied to their craft in order to manipulate and pacify an incarcerated population to prevent the pathogenic spread of knowledge among the prisoners.

In this dialogue from Plato’s ‘Republic’, narrated by Socrates in conversation with Plato’s brother Glaucon, a group of shackled prisoners are condemned from childhood to observe the outside world as a series of moving shadows on a cave wall. These images are projected by the light of a fire deliberately placed above and behind them, where the flames provide the necessary illumination to capture into silhouette whatever passes by the cave’s entrance, and project it in full view of the prisoners. With “their legs and neck chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads”, these dark, moving shapes were eagerly anticipated distractions.

Reality from this perspective was little more than a carefully curated presentation of mostly confounding and seemingly unconnected phenomenon, either enlarged or shrunk depending on the height or intensity of the fire.

At such times when a familiar shape appeared, the prisoners likely squabbled among themselves as to whether a certain long-eared figure was a “hare”, or an object others insisted was a “harp”. These figures were not representative of something distinct from themselves, but oddities to be gazed upon, divorced from all context. They elicited no more from their audience than mere reactions to incompletely grasped forms.

Disputes arising from mutual misconceptions of poorly conceived phenomena are still ongoing. The narrow parameters of discourse possible within a “democracy”, particularly one in the final stages of decline are as evident today as they were in Ancient Greece at a time of great upheaval.

The Peloponnesian war in Socrates’ lifetime was taking an exacting toll on Athens as it endured, among other calamities, a plague outbreak, two oligarchic regimes, economic depression and a civil war.

None of these events were recorded in Plato’s ‘Republic’. Their concealment notwithstanding, the events inform much of the text, inspired in large part by the death of Socrates at the hands of a judiciary that had sentenced him to die for “corrupting” the youth of Athens. By opening their eyes to the idea of rational inquiry into the nature of things, rather than the fixed belief in the deities representing them, the philosopher threatened to upend a system wholly reliant on the Gods to exercise its will.

As the prisoners’ metaphorical surroundings suggest, the ‘Cave’ allegory more than hints at official attempts to keep citizens in the dark. As mass media has become thoroughly embedded into the state security apparatus, it operates on the same principles of knowledge prevention, and with the same levers of power at its disposal. Inconvenient facts can be etherized with algorithms calibrated to make their retrieval as futile as grasping at shadows.

Reality for this captive population was a phantom projection of things they could not conceive, but only observe under circumstances least amenable to understanding.

The prisoners’ inability to discern a puppeteer’s hand in the shadow play they were observing is perhaps an early example of what Marx would term “false consciousness”. Misidentification with the ruling class began with misidentifying the shadows they cast on a dungeon wall. The prisoners, unaware that they are prisoners in the first place, accept the conditions imposed upon them as “the way it is”, even if it means enduring politically engineered wars, famines and poxes to hasten the latest transfer of wealth into oligarch coffers. It’s reasonable to assume that the inmates did not chain themselves inside the cave, but were placed there in order to contain a surplus demographic, and limit their ability to affect political change. Today, measures to contain a virus fulfill that particular function.

Keeping surplus populations in literal leg irons or virtual shackles and entertaining them to death goes a long way to curb their impulses to resist. Eventually they will become resistant themselves to all ideas contrary to the ones trending on their social media feed. This intubation device provides them the steady narcissistic supply necessary to survive in an echo chamber. Here they are fortified against all assaults on unreason, aided by Chinese made virtue-signalling yard signs ordered from Amazon. The conversion of reality into empty signs is more evident than ever as they are literally planted on well-tended lawns by masked, suburban wine moms concerned about the spread of “misinformation” by plague bearing heretics in MAGA hats.

Plato presciently laid out the business model of social media in this particular allegory, identifying its intent to overwhelm us with carefully edited content, screened at specially timed intervals. The purpose then is the same as now: manipulate emotions in order to extract the ones necessary to preserve elite power and defend it against public knowledge of its perfidy.

The inmates are deprived of the cognitive tools needed to recognize their unnatural bondage, being unable to decipher a series of de-contextualized images being launched at them as an agent engineered to incapacitate them during times of political strife. It would later take a lab grown bat virus to achieve the same ends, and lockdowns to replicate the conditions of mass incarceration necessary to induce the delusions of their rulers into the general population.

The seamless, overlapping juxtaposition of the real, and subsequent copy-worn simulations of it is described as “hyperreality”, a concept first put forward by French theorist Jean Baudrillard as a critique of capitalism. As the endless production of images subsume cultures, whether advertising, billboards and commercials, society itself becomes buried beneath an avalanche of banal signifiers (simulacrum).

This phenomenon can be described as the mutable, media-driven symbols and artifacts that emerge through processes unknown to the natural world – the end product being a representative form, lost in translation, so to speak, through endless iterations. Simulacrum are the cumulative outcomes of disruptions to the peaceful organization of agrarian societies wrought by the introduction of bourgeois clock time.

You can trace their ahistorical, counter-evolutionary trajectory in the present iteration of Santa Claus. This abominable, consumption-driven entity isn’t real in the sense that it doesn’t exist, but unreal because it bears no relation to anything preceding it; a sign with no verifiable source of origin. The original merely serves as an obsolete prototype from which nothing in relationship to it emerges. Under these conditions, the study of history is limited to carbon dating cultural detritus from the last decade.

Andy Warhol controversially acknowledged the totemic power of objects he lifted from this junk pile. By thrusting “lowly” products into the rarified sphere of art – an implied vacuum – Warhol recreates the conditions of the cave set forth by Plato, and invites us to regard them as uncritically as his chained prisoners. Warhol’s critics become unwitting performers in the production of appearances, playing the extra parts of howling, finger-pointing prisoners, outraged over what they see or don’t see in front of them.

The artist demonstrated an intuitive grasp of “a real – without origin or originality”, projecting its absence on to his silkscreens. With this one “empty gesture”, Warhol traces the trajectory of Western civilization through its cultural relics, highlighting both the industrial and thought processes undertaken to transform “masterful” works (including philosophy) into Brillo pads. Movie stars and world leaders are similarly enshrined within this pantheon of plastic, securing their place in the dustbin of history among other disposable commodities. By superimposing soup cans on to our faces, the philosopher was able to discredit the modes of cognition that presented a barrier to actual thinking.

The success of Warhol’s “pop art” is in large part due to the failure of his critics to recognize that their viewpoints are deliberately disadvantaged by his artful manipulations. It requires the exercise of poor judgment to confront his work in any meaningful way. It refuses to be engaged with, and insists only that we stare at it. To access its meaninglessness, you need to approach it from the perspective Plato described in this particular allegory.

Our consciousness has been bowdlerized with the same mechanisms of deceit underpinning an entertainment complex. Social media is a ‘Hall of Mirrors’ addition to this amusement center with ourselves endlessly paraded across our own field of vision. Within this Fun House of replicant signs, objects gaze back at us as the lines between consumer and product are blurred to the extent that they are now indistinguishable. It’s ourselves being sold back to us.

The Metaverse will further assist in this process of sensory degradation, not only functioning as a penal colony, but it’s cleverly conceived inversion. It’s here you will find the world outside, wonder-filled and boundless – as long as you remain shackled indoors, connected to a VR headset. Escapees, rather than discovering ‘light’ outside the cave, will end up scavenging for bugs on Mars. At this point they will revert back to an avatar self, free to explore what isn’t there.

Simulacrum are what we look at without seeing, accepting at face value the baseless, inert phenomenon before us, made object through disruptions (war, famine etc.) to the peaceful organization of societies. Within a capitalist framework, they serve the culture that appropriates them for its specific needs, and the powers who harness them for their less specified ends.

Neoliberalism, the economic underpinning and outcome of hyperreality, was borne of the principles and practices of the class that derives power from the suggestion of it. This is how it is able to print money from thin air, and impose its pie-in-the-sky “solutions” to the problems it creates. It seeks to reduce its own hot air through “carbon credits” and other means of extracting value from mere abstractions. Meanwhile, the rest of us are condemned to live with the real world consequences of this imposition of the unreal over humanity to wean it from its “dependence” on nature: “Let them eat lab-grown cake”.

As a political force, neoliberalism erodes the systems in place that allow the power axis to tilt in accordance to democratic will, and replaces them with finger puppets in fierce agreement over war spending. On the political stage, these simulacrum performers dramatize the false antagonisms between left and right. Ideologies, having been absorbed into the realm of pure spectacle, merely providing the uniforms to serve their neoliberal masters.

Their own inchoate philosophy is derived from the banishment of language, and its replacement with the upbeat jargon deployed by Silicon Valley. Thus, it is able to gloss over its totalitarian aspects, and render it with the same brush that signs a war spending bill or redacts the Nuremberg Codes to prevent their prohibitions from interfering with forced medical experimentations on the public.

Neoliberalism relies on sophistry to justify its ruinous, shortsighted policies. The closed-door nature of its decision making ensures minimal public input into their drafting, and even less awareness of the unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats and billionaires who solely benefit from their implementation. A nationwide illiteracy program was launched in 2020 in response to the pandemic to reduce the threat posed by the public to these private interests. A concurrent gaslighting campaign is underway to fight China on one front and our own immune systems on the other.

A simulacra itself, neoliberalism defies logic, suppresses truth, and banishes all thought. “9/11” was instrumental in achieving all of the above. The simulacra we call “terrorism”, was not, according to Baudrillard, “the product of a traditional history of anarchism, nihilism, or fanaticism”. But rather “the contemporary partner of globalization”. “Pandemic” can be similarly defined in these terms, not so much an outcome of global trade and poor public policy making, but a lab-made accomplice to the globalists and public health officials who profit from it.

The internet has become power’s projection room. The slogans, logos and symbols necessary to garner public support for its catastrophic causes can be accessed digitally under the same conditions of an allegorical cave. A French flag covering one’s online profile picture is a declaration of allegiance to values exemplified by ‘Emily in Paris’. It can also convey appropriate levels of outrage over “terrorism” that somehow avoids all associations with foreign policy.

A decade on, a blue and yellow flag – symbolic again – of a highly romanticized struggle between dark, authoritarian forces and sun drenched “democratic” values would similarly enthrall cave dwellers worldwide – this time to the point that they would give up their nations’ fuel supplies and voluntarily freeze to death.

In recent months, the controlled flow of information is meant to have a stimulant effect on the population. It’s not easy to launch a ruinous proxy war, or shift blame for the ensuing atrocities if the prisoners lack the will to cheer on the bloodshed. Wave a European flag in front of them long enough, and they will inevitably “catch feelings” for cannon fodder in flower crowns with the same fervor they previously displayed for ice-buckets and Dr Fauci.

At this moment, the present inmate population are shifting their attention away from the blue and yellow thing as it unravels before their very eyes, seeking to revive in their non-imaginations, the ‘giant orange blob’ that occupied them pre-pandemic.

Propaganda can be similarly deployed to reduce empathic identification with victims in the wrong war zones. Or in the case of Julian Assange, disappear him altogether from public consciousness. The result has been a reversal of left/right polarity that is manifest in discourse surrounding war. The “progressive left” want it. The populist “right” is overwhelmingly opposed to it. The same “progressives” make individual identity central to their mostly online organizing efforts. “Far right fascists” take to the streets to protest against policies that harm workers. Power is derived from this kind of subversion, and fueled by the energy produced upon impact from the implosion of all meaning. Celebrities, overwhelmingly in the “progressive” category, are now using their platforms to shill for the National Security State, having convinced themselves that its tanks, drones and missiles deliver social justice almost as effectively as their tweets.

It didn’t take long for Stephen King to openly praise Stepan Bandera, the Ukraine’s far right leader, upheld today by the Kiev regime as a “hero” despite being a Nazi collaborator and responsible for the deaths of thousands of Jewish people during WWII. During a taped phone call with a comedian posing as the more famous entertainer Vlodymyr Zelensky, the staunch liberal author was quick to defend Bandera from proven allegations of his criminal legacy in order to prove his devotion to the clown puppet on the other end of the line. King is proof that vague feelings engendered by symbols carefully inserted into public discourse can mitigate the effects of damaging information. This ancient technique is how you prevent certain facts from muddying perception so that it better receives opinions from up high.

A reality conjured up by voodoo practitioners of economics and malevolent state craft is neither sustainable nor survivable. Our warlords and witch doctors have quite literally injected us with their poisonous ideology. Living in a state of chronic delusion will inevitably make manifest all this internal chaos across the geographical landscape and into the atmosphere. Marine life, meanwhile is absorbing the excreted waste materials of our mental illnesses, proving that the natural world is weakly fortified against the predations of the non-human consciousness at the center of the “liberal world order”. Here is another example of the sort of sloganeering evolved from the equally simplistic and misleading images flitting across a proverbial cave wall.

The illiberal sowing of chaos across the globe is presented the “rules-based order”. This is somehow preferable to countries peacefully conducting trade, rather than having their resources seized militarily, while forced to take out ruinous IMF loans to make up for the budgetary shortfalls that arise from the loss of oil revenues. You have to reverse engineer the platitudes underpinning American foreign policy to divine its intent.

The erasure of meaning itself is central to controlling the narrative so that is resembles a three year old’s recitation of a recently viewed cartoon. Think Kamala Harris attempting to explain geopolitical unrealities to a radio station’s majority black listeners. Late stage capitalism is in its early onset dementia phase (neoliberalism) which might explain the appointment of Joe Biden to be the ribbon cutter at its demolition site.

During 2022, the domino-like collapse of governments worldwide from Sri Lanka to Argentina under already catastrophic conditions further exacerbated by extreme weather and worsening civil unrest are testimony to the recent successes of neoliberalism in subverting reality to deflect blame for its own failures. It points a scolding finger at Vladimir Putin, accusing him of the crimes it commits, and the intentions it harbors. It scapegoats the unvaccinated, blaming them the for the inefficacy of mRNA vaccines. It averts our attention to Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, having enlisted these theme park holograms to generate the sort of useless opinions that divide the populace.

In this allegory, Plato set out to illustrate “the effect of education and the lack of it on our nature”. With this dialogue he offers not just a convincing argument for the necessity of pursuing knowledge that he was convinced would lead to the creation of a just society, but offers prescient insights into the role of present day media in stymying all efforts towards one in the name (and in name only) of sustainability, equity and diversity. What will emerge from this massive land grab (euphemistically referred to as ESG) will be an Idiopolis governed by “smart”phones, administering injustice and inequity at every key stroke.

For Plato, a mind deprived of knowledge and deficient in learning was a metaphorical prison from which escape was only possible by the initial courage to venture into the ‘sunlight’, and confront truths that were mostly un-conveyable. How do you ignite within a piece of driftwood the passions that arise from knowledge? Short answer: The same way you bring a horse to water. Indeed, the awaiting punishments for venturing out of the cave far outweighed the non-rewards of attempting to enlist fellow inmates in their own liberation, given the success of entertainment – specifically targeted at the brain dead – in securing acceptance of the status quo.

The allegory accurately describes the processes undertaken by today’s perception managers to fragment reality into easily consumed bites, providing enough empty calories to sustain our non-cognitive functions. As a result of the media’s relentless efforts to induce amnesia among the general population, we are unable to recognize persistent and obvious patterns of deceit.

Through these manipulations, we can marvel at a CG-generated Marvel universe, and gain further misunderstanding of our own world by wrong guessing it’s moving parts.

The deceitful practices of today’s equivalent flame keepers ensure that we expend our efforts and misdirect our attention on what they make appear, instead of seeing for ourselves what is actually there, and looking – not just beyond it – but behind it. Plato offers alternative ways of receiving and processing information, which requires we become receptors of knowledge, rather than vessels sealed against it in darkness.

(Featured Image: “Bali Wayang Kulit shadow puppet Ramayana Hanoman dramatic show 5” by Rebecca Marshall from San Francisco, USA is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.)

Author

  • Jennifer Matsui

    Jennifer Matsui teaches English at a vocational college in Tokyo and contributed regularly as a freelance writer to counterpunch.org. She currently publishes her work at Playdough Republic on Substack.

    View all posts