Plato’s Cave of Ignorance

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To build and sustain wealth, while living true to human decency requires a commitment to acquire virtue and wisdom, but virtue is not the only non-financial skill needed to achieve financial freedom.  

In attendance at the Athenian trial of Socrates was a young 25 year old disciple named Plato.  Unlike Socrates, Plato came from a prominent political family, but like Socrates, he would make contributions to humanity that would persist for thousands of years.  

There’s a term commonly used to describe internet content that never loses its value to readers: evergreen.  When you shed light on an aspect of reality that is true 2,500 years later you know you’ve not only hit evergreen territory, but you’ve hit on a fundamental human truth.  

There are many valuable ideas put forward by Plato, but none more powerful and useful to seekers of financial freedom, then the conception of reality put forward in Book VII of Republic in the timeless Allegory of the Cave.  Influenced by the philosophy of Socrates and his experience with Athenian government he set out to frame what an ideal city would look like and how it would be constructed.  

Within this context, Plato arrives at the pinnacle of his genius.  The philosopher begins to sketch how reality is perceived by the average person.  

He invokes a metaphorical cave where prisoners are chained and perceived reality is nothing but the shadows cast onto the cave wall by the unseen masters.  Furthermore, the prisoners are so deluded by their circumstance that they compete with each other to see who can predict which type of shadow will appear next (the modern equivalent is arguing over which football team is better or which celebrity wore the best dress).  

None get the idea that they are enslaved until someone out of sheer luck or divine intervention comes to realize their reality is manipulated and seeks the truth by finding his way outside the cave.  

When this person steps out of the cave they are bedazzled by seeing the light for the first time, but little by little they master their new environment.  Confronted with this new knowledge that they had been prisoners their whole lives and having finally escaped and seen the truth this person is confronted with a question: those poor souls still living in the cave…should I go back into the darkness of the cave to tell them the truth and show them the way to freedom?  

This person driven by a sense of responsibility to his fellow Man decides to go back into the cave, but is shocked by the response he gets.  

Instead of being greeted as a liberator the prisoners are openly hostile towards him.  They denounce him, say his decision to escape the cave has made him go crazy, and they even threaten to kill him if he doesn’t stop trying to get them to escape the cave.  

The prisoners are hopelessly invested in the illusions that pervade their world.  To question the origins of the shadows would open Pandora’s box and require a completely new life be lived.  Like all people the prisoners were confronted by the specter of reality and coming face to face with this wretched enemy, they retreated into the familiar illusions constructed to keep them enslaved.  

Psychologically, they saw the enlightened prisoner as a threat to their existence in the cave.  If the truth teller continued it would become impossible for the other prisoners to sustain their collective lie.  

The prisoners were ruled by their primitive mind, the reptilian brain, while the enlightened escapee was living with the guidance of the neocortex and following intellectual truth.  The prisoners in the cave represent how your average American goes through life; willfully unconscious of who is shaping their reality, wasting their time arguing over the shadows, and resentful of anyone who questions their lifestyle of rejecting truth and embracing ignorance and illusion.

What is the significance of all this to financial freedom?  First, at an elementary level, the truth is a prerequisite for freedom of any kind.  You cannot navigate a minefield based on how you wished things were.  You cannot make sound judgments by only embracing facts that fit your worldview and don’t make you uncomfortable.  You need to know the cold hard truths of reality regardless of how those truths make you feel.  Let’s rewind the Allegory of the Cave and use financial freedom as the axis of focus.

Each person’s circumstances in life are unique and it would be inaccurate to say all people who aren’t financially free share the same characteristics, but there are certain beliefs that guarantee you live and die without the thought of freedom ever entering your consciousness.  

All throughout human history, those in power have sought to protect their privileged positions by some form of psychological coercion.  History is full of tyrants who justified their obscene wealth in the presence of mass poverty as a sign they were favored by the Gods.  In truth, their greed, vanity, and obsession with power were the cause of poverty.  

One belief sure to decapitate anyone’s ability to reach financial freedom is to believe the wealthy are favored in any special way by God.  The natural conclusion to such a belief is that you’re poor or barely getting by because of forces outside of your control.  A member of my family has these thought patterns and it’s painful to see someone enslave themselves.  

If you believe this you will never take action because you’ve programmed yourself with a destiny mindset instead of a free will mindset.  Nothing is pre-programmed, destined, or fated.  The only will that matters is your own.

Secondly, the financial freedom cave is full of people who believe only the privileged can become financially successful.  Of course, privilege is an accelerator for financial success, but not a prerequisite.  In fact, nearly 80% of millionaires are self made, they are over-represented by immigrants, and do not flaunt status symbols.  

This is counter intuitive and many of us are resistant to this type of information because it paints our lack of financial success in a very compromising picture.  Whether you are born on first base or third base is no doubt important, but the beliefs that guide your actions, your ability to construct a vision of the future, and strategically execute your plan are just as determinant of financial success.

Another belief commonly shared by those living in the proverbial Platonic cave of ignorance concerns how you derive your own self worth.  The easiest way to enslave yourself is to derive your self-worth from the opinions of your peers.  

Someone engaged in this destructive maneuver is allowing themselves to be held hostage to peer pressure and lacks an independent internal compass. The best way to never be happy is to compare yourself with people with a bigger house, nicer car, or shinier watch.  A person with this quality is playing a game everyone loses. This is why you need your own goals and need to be motivated by your own why.  Once you have a higher purpose you stick to your vision and ignore the materialistic disease of your contemporaries.  

A big house, a nice car, a 7 digit bank account is only advisable to attain if it brings you closer to achieving your noble purpose.  If it does not get you closer to fulfilling your life mission then you are engaging in a status war and betraying your higher self.

Interestingly enough many people we would consider financially free also reside in Plato’s cave.  Being around people making millions per year with net worths north of $1 billion I’m beginning to understand the trap that certain uber wealthy individuals have fallen into and it’s a cautionary tale for everyone seeking financial freedom.  

They have unfathomable financial success, but treat wealth as their end.  This is like taking your soul, lighting it on fire, and throwing it into the Hudson River.  No human being was put on this planet to carry out the insular mission of simply accumulating wealth.  Those that allow their lives to be consumed by the vacuous accumulation of wealth not only betray their true calling, but they betray Mankind.  Their betrayal lies in the gifts they did not bring into the world because they devoted themselves to themselves.

We can all learn from this.  If you treat wealth as your ultimate end you will inevitably indict yourself for a poorly lived life.  Many of the wealthiest people in the world are living in a cave of delusions.  Andrew Carnegie, a high priest of the religion of greed, realized this fundamental truth toward the end of his life and remarked:

“The man who dies wealthy, dies disgraced.”  

The man who accumulates wealth through savage and ruthless means dies disgraced, no matter how much wealth was given to charity.  Do your conscious a favor and make sure you have a noble purpose that drives your desire for financial freedom and make sure you work tirelessly to achieve that noble end with the winds of financial freedom at your back.

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