The Allegory of the Beer Cave

Philosophers are duly concerned with the difference between appearance and reality, and as I've been furiously and deliriously slaving away with end-of-semester grading (yeah, I've been sick as a dog too), the difference between real intellectual writing and mere shadows of puppets of genius has somewhat become blurred in my own mind, which it's why it's always wise to go back to the classics, in this case Plato's allegory of the beer cave :)



[Glaucon] And now, he said, to prove my understanding of your meaning, let me show you a similar figure—Behold! Humans living in a beer cave which has an automatic glass door; here they have been since childhood when they first snuck in, and they are duct taped so they cannot move; and they have nose piercings which are snagged, being thus held from moving their heads and they must look only at a blank wall under a Super Bowl poster. Behind and above them the fluorescent lights are always on, and between the punks and the lights is a display area where beers are kept at a constant 34 degrees.

[Socrates] I see.

[Glaucon] And do you also see, he said, clerks passing along the display area carrying vessels of all sorts, and cardboard stand-ups of models and original party animals?

[Socrates] You have also shown me strange images and strange prisoners, I replied.

[Glaucon] So much like ourselves, they only see their own shadows and the shadows of one another on the wall. And of the objects which are being carried, they would only see the shadows as well?

[Socrates] It is certain.

[Glaucon] And, he said, if the prisoners were able to speak to each other and see each other's shadows, would they not call each other "dude" or "bro" and also give names to the other shadows, like "babe" and "spuds"?

[Socrates] You may rely on it.

[Glaucon] And assume that the walls of the beer cave had an echo, and when one of the shoppers or clerks said something, would the prisoners conclude that the voices came from the shadows?

[Socrates] Without a doubt, I said.

[Glaucon] To them the truth would be nothing but the shadows.

[Socrates] The outlook is good for what you have said.

[Glaucon] And now look and see what would happen if one of the punks was freed and could see the misconceptions they had believed. At first, one would be in pain from the removal of the tape and the continued discomfort of the remaining glue. Then he will turn around and see the objects as they really are; the direct light from the neon signs will hurt his eyes, and he will not be able to see his former reality anymore. Further imagine when he is able to see the objects in the beer cave—what will be his reaction? Will he not be dumbfounded when asked to name the stand-ups and the beer-case-coliseum? Will he not think that the shadows of his former world were more real than these?

[Socrates] Most likely, I replied.

[Glaucon] Assume again that he is able to walk to the seeing eye, and the automatic door slides open, and he goes out into the convenience store, as is within the alcohol laws in this State; would he not wait in checkouts and see the tabloids and Slim-Jims, and would he not see them as being not real?

[Socrates] Signs point to yes.

[Glaucon] And, he said, if he went out in the sun looking for a party, would he not begin by going to baby showers and bar mitzvahs, as he would be too dazzled by more hardcore parties?

[Socrates] You may rely on it.

[Glaucon] Would he not then work his way up through ice cream socials and Tupperware parties to get to tailgate and toga parties?

[Socrates] Yes, but aren't they all?

[Glaucon] Finally, he said, our punk will be at a bachelor party on New Year's Eve on his twenty-first birthday at Mardi Gras in New Orleans under a full moon at midnight.

[Socrates] Don't count on it.

[Glaucon] With strippers and ten kegs?

[Socrates] Easy now, I warned.

[Glaucon] And when they run out of beer and have to send a freshman back to the beer cave, do you not think that he might look upon the changes he has made to himself and pity those still dwelling there?

[Socrates] It is decidedly so.

[Glaucon] What if he returned to the beer cave and saw the prisoners as they played games amongst themselves, predicting what the shadows would do? What if he sat with them and tried to play alongside them; would he not still be buzzed and unable to compete against them? Would he not be ridiculed by them?

[Socrates] Yes.

[Glaucon] Would he not have to practice going into and out of the beer cave to teach them to party? Whereas there are those that say that partying must be put into the soul, does not our dialogue prove that the ability to party exists in the soul already and the knowledge to use it must be learned by bits and sips?

[Socrates] It is certain, I said.

[Glaucon] Then those that have partied in the world must be made to sober up and return to the beer cave to take a turn living amongst the punks to make them the next generation of party hosts. For it can be said that the party at which the hosts are most eager to share their beer is always best, and in which they are most reluctant, the lamest.

[Socrates] Without a doubt.

[Glaucon] You must create for your future hosts a better party; for only in the State which offers this will they party who are truly awesome and fun; and all truly awesome parties must be hosted by a philosopher-partier.

[Socrates] Yes—definitely.

[Glaucon] Now, he said, if I have proven my understanding, shall we discuss how such hosts are to be trained, and parties to be planned and funded, which will, in turn, lead to the allegory of the man-cave?

[Socrates] As I see it, yes.

Via McSweeney's.
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