To understand how reality is perceived by most people is imperative in understanding the forces that pull people away from the truth and consequently freedom itself. It’s not a coincidence that the vast majority of people are not financially independent in any nation. This is not a new phenomenon and many philosophers have observed on why this was the case. One of the greatest philosophers of all time was a citizen of Athens. His name was Plato and his devotion to pursuing wisdom led him to a universal truth when he described how reality is experienced by the average person. Written nearly 2,500 years ago Plato’s Republic outlined how an ideal city could be built. Using his mentor Socrates as the teacher and an Athenian citizen named Glaucon as the student, Plato describes the famous Allegory of the Cave in Book 7 of Republic.
“Imagine human beings living in an underground, cavelike dwelling, with an entrance a long way up, which is both open to the light and as wide as the cave itself. They’ve been there since childhood, fixed in the same place, with their necks and legs fettered, able to see only in front of them, because their bonds prevent them from turning their heads around. Light is provided by a fire burning far above and behind them. Also behind them, but on higher ground, there is a path stretching between them and the fire. Imagine that along this path a low wall has been built, like the screen in front of puppeteers above which they show their puppets…”
This is akin to the brainwashing and propaganda that is disseminated through the popular culture. The purpose of this propaganda is to have each citizen perceive the world in a manner that is acceptable to those in power. Divergent ideas and worldviews must be the exception, not the rule otherwise the illusions of the cave will be exposed and those in power will be thrown from their high places.
“Then also imagine that there are people along the wall, carrying all kinds of artifacts that project above it – statues of people and other animals, made out of stone, wood, and every material. And, as you’d expect, some of the carriers are talking, and some are silent…And what if their prison also had an echo from the wall facing them? Don’t you think they’d believe that the shadows passing in front of them were talking whenever one of the carriers passing along the wall was doing so?
These shadows in the modern day would be exemplified by fans fetishizing professional sports, obsessing over celebrities, and acting like mindless consumers. They are distractions to keep people occupied enough to not pursue the truth.
“Then the prisoners would in every way believe that the truth is nothing other than the shadows of those artifacts.
Consider, then, what being released from their bonds and cured of their ignorance would naturally be like if something like this came to pass…What do you think he’d say, if we told him that what he’d seen before was inconsequential?…I suppose, then, that he’d need time to get adjusted before he could see things in the world above…
Finally, I suppose, he’d be able to see the sun, not images of it in water or some alien place, but the sun itself…At this point he would infer and conclude that the sun provides the seasons and the years, governs everything in the visible world, and is in some way the cause of all the things that he used to see.”
Most people mistake effect for cause because their ignorance is so profound. Correcting this error in reasoning is life changing. Those pursuing financial independence see something that the masses miss. They understand that no matter how many times we are told we are the land of the free, over 90% of the population is not free because they must work at a job, not because they love it, but because they need the money just to survive. Anyone who values life can not possibly accept this state of living and that’s why the FI community exists.
“What about when he reminds himself of his first dwelling place, his fellow prisoners, what passed for wisdom there? Don’t you think that he’d count himself happy for the change and pity the others?
And if there had been any honors, praises, or prizes among them for the one who was sharpest at identifying the shadows as they passed by…do you think that our man would desire these rewards or envy those among the prisoners who were honored and held power? Instead, wouldn’t he rather, like Achilles, be a serf on Earth then a king in the underworld?
Consider this too. If this man went down into the cave again and sat down in his same seat, wouldn’t his eyes, coming suddenly out of the sun like that, be filled with darkness?…And before his eyes had recovered and the adjustment would not be quick, while his vision was still dim, if he had to compete again with the perpetual prisoners in recognizing the shadows, wouldn’t he invite ridicule?
I played baseball at the Division I Collegiate level, but once I began to realize the nature of the world and my own mass ignorance, following sports and religiously watching my favorite teams seemed like a colossal waste of time. The average baseball fan now knows far more than I do about the shadows because once you turn your essence around towards pursuing excellence, truth, and wisdom, everything else seems like a waste of time. Following sports teams and celebrities does not change your life, it does not get you closer to your ultimate goal, it’s a form of entertainment that amounts to nothing but a distraction. Here’s a good hypothetical to understand the importance of pop culture icons like famous celebrities, socialites, and athletes: if they were to all vanish never to be seen or heard again what effect would it have on local communities and humanity at large? None at all, that’s how important they are. If police officers, firefighters, or nurses went on strike we’d have significant problems immediately because they actually contribute something meaningful to our society. In short, too many of us are seduced by the shadows of our society that we lose sight of true value.
“Wouldn’t it be said of him that he’d returned from his upward journey with his eyesight ruined and that it isn’t worthwhile even to try to travel upward? And, as for anyone who tried to free them and lead them upward, if they could somehow get their hands on him, wouldn’t they kill him?”
Plato’s view of the cave of ignorance and how truth seekers risk being killed if they aren’t careful was informed by the fact that his mentor, Socrates, was put to death by a jury of 500 fellow Athenian citizens for corrupting the youth. Socrates did nothing more than promote a questioning nature and a pursuit of intellectual truth. To every government that has ever existed this type of nature makes committing crimes and carrying out deceitful machinations much harder. The law of power dictates that when fewer people question your authority your power is much more secure.
How does all this relate to financial independence? This allegory is a perfect metaphor for the world we live in. It explains how so many of us are not free, yet take no action to pursue financial independence and autonomy. The phenomenon is purely psychological and rooted in fear. The fear of the unknown and unfamiliar. The fear of rebuilding your life. The fear of a great battle. The fear that your life is being wasted. These thoughts keep people, especially Americans, imprisoned in a psychological cave of ignorance.
You must be willing to follow reason and evidence wherever it leads you. If you reject these loyal stewards you will be betrayed by their counterparts, namely illusions. If you want freedom then that high paying corporate job should be a means to your much nobler end.
Most importantly Plato’s Allegory of the Cave highlights a fundamental human truth that ignorance is our only true enemy and the only way to combat this deceitful traitor of the human spirit is to pursue knowledge and wisdom. Furthermore, Plato is correct even 2,500 years later that most people turn their back on the truth and are conquered by deception and lies. Those in the financial independence community are seen as weirdo’s, born again hippies, and just all around strange by the average American because our community is a subculture with values inconsistent with the values of the dominant culture.
Who would’ve thought an Ancient Greek philosopher would possess so much powerful knowledge that is relevant to the financial independence community? Understanding Plato’s views on reality and ignorance have had an extraordinarily powerfully positive influence on my life and I highly recommend you give it a read.