Written by Bryan Kyouran
In the last 15 months of “lockdown” I have observed all manner of behaviours. Some typical, while others reminded me of Plato’s cave allegory.
The allegory begins with prisoners that are fixed and tied to a cave wall without ever having any knowledge of the outside world. They are unable to see one another and behind them, a continuous fire. In front of the fire is a pathway, the prisoners only see shadows that look like puppets of the people and animals that walk along it. The noises they hear are muffled, confused, and echoed off the cave walls. The prisoners believe the sounds they hear come from the shadows they see. For the prisoners this is their world.
One day, a prisoner is taken by force to the outside, he is stunned by the light emitting from the sun. He learns that shadows are cast by light, that sounds do not come from shadows, but from people and animals. With enthusiasm he returns to his fellow cave prisoners and tells them about what he saw. They do not recognise him, nor do they understand their fellow prisoner as he tries explaining to them all that he has seen, it is otherworldly to the prisoners. Scared of their friend, they decided that they would kill anyone who would take them from their cave. So ends the allegory.
When we were ordered into lockdown, I wondered why a majority were content, but not for too long. As you know well, people always return to places, environments, and others, where they feel safest. Government made our natural home alien. People returned to their caves, a world they were familiar with, a place where they felt safe. The Covid cave prisoner.
The shadows and sounds the Covid prisoners saw and heard from the outside were the refused minority telling them our natural home is not diseased. Nevertheless, the language was foreign to them. Moreover, the Covid cave emits light from televisions and computers, where comforting puppets can still be seen and heard.
So why is this cave allegory still relevant? To me it is simple. People do not want to leave their caves.
I would like to explain why.
We can turn to Isiah Berlin and his conceptions of freedoms.
The first conception is viewed as a ‘negative freedom’. The freedom is an ‘absence of external obstacles’. It is a freedom without being impeded. It is to have a power within your means.
The second conception is described as a ‘positive freedom’. This is a freedom of ‘self-governance’. Governments recognise people as a locus of autonomy.
Another ‘positive freedom’ is known as ‘self-realisation’. This is understood to being able to recognise your self-governance and act rationally to get the thing you want or goal you wish to achieve.
Lastly, the fourth concept of freedom is a ‘positive freedom’. It is the freedom of ‘empowerment’. A person is freer by the more things they can do. A person is more free by virtue of having power.
These are Berlin’s conceptions of freedoms. While the conceptions seem similar at first glance, there are distinctions between them. The freedom of ‘empowerment’ is not the same as the freedom from an ‘absence of obstacles’. For instance, during lockdown, we are free to move around our house without being impeded.
We can also be self-governing and have powers, but not the power to decide what to do. I would argue that for the minority, the power of self-governance was taken from them, while the other self-governing having the same powers could not decide how to use them so they just followed orders.
Self-realisation is different from all the other freedoms because a person can have all the other freedoms, yet fail to recognise the goal that they want to achieve. For example, I am not being obstructed from writing, nor am I being ordered to write, also I am not going to lose power or freedoms from writing this piece. However, if I failed to recognise these powers, and that I have goal I want to achieve, this piece would not exist.
Interestingly, Berlin says, the second and third conceptions of freedoms can be collapsed. If a person fails to recognise their self-realisation and self-governance a totalitarian state can force a person to be free, as a totalitarian government believes they know what is better for the people. Loosely, Jean Jacques Rousseau says, “Sometimes you have to force people to be free.” To Berlin, this is abhorrent; he believed that nothing could be worse than a person being forced to do something under the guise of freedom to the point that the person believes they are acting freely. This eerily resonates with our society today.
The U.K. government ordered the self-governing that lacked decision to stay home. The unrealised were filled with a perverted sense of duty, that they were doing the right thing. So little wonder these people arrested their own freedoms.
The allegory talks of a prisoner being forced out from the cave. For the self-governing without the power of decision, they will continue to follow orders, they will continue to be biological automatons. However, the unrealised with their perverted duty cannot leave their home. The government has provided them with a new perversion, the “New Normal”. Of course, the ‘new normal’ is anything but, yet it needs a new religion to give the unrealised, purpose.
We must all obey the holders of truth, the priests of technocracy. To cleanse ourselves we need the miracle vaccine, and in by doing so we will be set free.
The zealots of the new normal go further. People must be committed to their devotion and show proof of the miracle. The unrealised show that they are the last remaining prisoners. They will kill anyone that are to take them from their Covid cave. The killing is the freedoms that they never knew they had. In this way, the unrealised never leave the cave.