Where Have All the Humans Gone?

Elitist Tyranny and The Mass Insanity of Modern Humanity

Excerpt from my DMin dissertation, The End Signs! Are We Getting the Message?
(Portland Seminary, Semiotics and Future Studies program, Lead Mentor Leonard Sweet, February 2019)

LIFE ON EARTH is facing mass extinction – and this time it is humans rather than asteroids threatening near total wipe out of the planet’s creatures.

LIFE ON EARTH is facing mass extinction – and this time it is humans rather than asteroids threatening near total wipe out of the planet’s creatures.

If humankind survives at all, at least 90% of us are doomed, nonetheless, sooner than later. Here is who the other 10% are. Some of them—the scientismic aristocracy—will be exempt (note #1). The survival chances for the rest of us are around 1.5-2% (see note 1 below):

The Wealth, Power, Force, and Control Nexus of Inverted Totalitarianism

The Wealth, Power, Force, and Control Nexus of Inverted Totalitarianism

The tiny ruling elite cabal already have an exit strategy and survival plan. My guesstimate is that it may been conceived and set in motion in the 1970s. More likely, perhaps, it became a matter of ‘oligarchy emergency’ more recently, sometime around the mid-1990s. In that case, the elite cabal of rulers had (by choice or by mere sloth or indifference) ignored the Club of Rome’s 1972 dire report, The Limits to Growth: A Report for The Club of Rome's Project on the Predicament of Mankind. That 1972 report concluded that, “Left unchecked, economic and population growth would deplete the planet’s resources and cause economic collapse around 2070.” In October 2018 the journal Nature cited a new 2018 report to the Club of Rome which concluded, “More than four decades later, the (1972) report’s main conclusions are still valid.”(2)   

The primary historical force on Earth for the past five centuries has been the development and exploitation of capitalism as the fuel and engine of economic growth. The prime directive now as always has been concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a ruling elite. As far as capitalism is concerned, the very idea of actually imposing the sorts of checks and balances on economic growth (i.e., capitalism) the Club of Rome may have had in mind is heresy, punishable by termination with extreme prejudice. The “vile maxim” identified by Adam Smith in 1776 and its wealth <> power “vicious cycle” corollary are the sole ethical principles of capitalism.  In that noxious pair of principles, the iniquitous tyranny of the 1% elite is grounded, rooted, nurtured, secured, sustained, and extended in perpetuity. They are the raison ďêtre (reason for existence) and the élan vital (life force) of the oligarchy at the head and heart of inverted totalitarianism in the 21st century. Its headquarters, command center, and hegemony are USAmerican to the core and its span of control is global.(3)

The benighted rapacity and stupidity of the ruling elite have driven humanity and Earth to the brink of existential doom, to the event horizon of our extinction as a living species. Evidence is already overwhelming and still mounting that we may have already run out of time. We are now far more likely than disappear as a form of earthly life than we are to survive. Many authoritative perspectives already confirm this reality. Here are a few: (4)

U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), Fourth National Climate Assessment, reporting to US President Donald Trump (POTUS45) in 2018: “Earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities.”  

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon speaking to the 2011 World Economic Forum (WEF): “For most of the last century, economic growth was fueled by what seemed to be a certain truth: the abundance of natural resources. We mined our way to growth. We burned our way to prosperity. We believed in consumption without consequences. Those days are gone…Over time, that model is a recipe for national disaster. It is a global suicide pact.”

2019 World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Global Risk Report: “climate change is the biggest threat to the planet,” naming “extreme weather, natural disasters, man-made environmental disasters, loss of biodiversity, and failure to adapt to climate change as the chief perils to society …. it is in relation to the environment that the world is most clearly sleepwalking into catastrophe.”

John Mecklin, Editor-in-Chief of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: “Extraordinarily fast-paced advance across the full breadth of the world’s scientific and technological enterprise creates a new threat matrix where dangerous technologies may collide—with catastrophic results.”

The cover image for the November 2018 issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists vividly portrays the brink-of-doom event-horizon-of-extinction we’ve reached, or perhaps already crossed over:

The Existential Threat Nexus Confronting Humanity

The Existential Threat Nexus Confronting Humanity

The Bulletin also maintains the ‘doomsday clock’ which is reset every January as an indicator of just how close we are to annihilation (‘midnight’ on the clock). As this chart shows, we entered the lowest point in the 1947-2018 history of the clock’s settings since the peak of the Cold War in 1953:

2018-2019 Doomsday Clocks and Graph Chart.jpg

The January 2018 2-minute setting was extended into 2019 by the Bulletin on January  24, 2019. The President and CEO of the Bulletin organization, Rachel Bronson, PhD, cautioned that, “there should be no comfort taken from the fact that the clock did not move forward over the past year.” Brown explained that the threat is at least as dire if not moreso, as indicated in her remarks about the “new abnormal:”(5)

As the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board prepared for its first set of Doomsday Clock discussions this fall (in 2018), it began referring to the current world security situation as a “new abnormal.” This new abnormal is a pernicious and dangerous departure from the time when the United States sought a leadership role in designing and supporting global agreements that advanced a safer and healthier planet. The new abnormal describes a moment in which fact is becoming indistinguishable from fiction, undermining our very abilities to develop and apply solutions to the big problems of our time. The new abnormal risks emboldening autocrats and lulling citizens around the world into a dangerous sense of anomie and political paralysis.

One week after the January 24 Bulletin announcement for 2019, on February 1, our POTUS45 (Trump) ended USAmerican participation in the INF (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces) Treaty, one of the last nuclear arms control treaties with Russia dating back to the Cold-War Reagan era. Russia responded on February 2 by also backing out of the treaty. A new nuclear arms race was already under way and is now accelerating more swiftly with China entering the fray, having never participated in the treaty. The US Marine veteran intelligence officer who “was hand-picked to serve with the On Site Inspection Agency, responsible for carrying out the provisions of the INF Treaty,” Scott Ritter, proposes a more realistic 1-minute setting:

William Perry, former secretary of defense under President Bill Clinton, helped unveil the 2019 iteration of the Doomsday Clock. In his remarks, he highlighted President Donald Trump’s declaration to withdraw from the landmark 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty as an indication of the collapsing relationship between the U.S. and Russia. “When you withdraw from treaties, you are losing this important vehicle of dialogue,” Perry observed. “My own judgment is, relative to a year ago, we are slightly worse off.”

I agree with Perry—the world is worse off today than it was a year ago. I disagree, however, with his use of the word “slightly” to describe the situation we face, and I dissent from the Bulletin’s decision to stay the hands of the Doomsday Clock. Humanity is sleepwalking toward global annihilation, furthered by a collective amnesia about the threat posed by nuclear weapons, especially in an environment void of meaningful arms control.(6)

William Perry’s remarks at the unveiling of the 2019 doomsday clock setting are reported in the January 24, 2019 edition of The Guardian. At that unveiling event, former governor of California Jerry Brown, new Executive Chairman of the Bulletin, commented:

We are like passengers on the Titanic, ignoring the iceberg ahead, enjoying the fine food and music …. It’s late and it’s getting later. We have to wake people up. And that’s what I intend to do!

Heir apparent to Sheldon Wolin’s prophetic political mantle, Chris Hedges is among the most astute observers of 21st century reality. New York Times foreign correspondent Pulitzer-winner, Harvard seminary MDiv graduate, ardent activist and strident speaker decrying the infamy of the ruling elite and the damnable tyranny they impose, Hedges pulls no punches in setting reality squarely before us:

Paul Tillich wrote that all institutions, including the church, are inherently demonic. Reinhold Niebuhr asserted that no institution could ever achieve the morality of the individual. Institutions, he warned, to extend their lives when confronted with collapse, will swiftly betray the stances that ostensibly define them. Only individual men and women have the strength to hold fast to virtue when faced with the threat of death. And decaying institutions, including the church, when consumed by fear, swiftly push those endowed with this moral courage and radicalism from their ranks, rendering themselves obsolete.

The wisdom of Tillich and Niebuhr has been borne out in the precipitous decline of the liberal church and the seminaries and divinity schools that train religious scholars and clergy.(7)

I do not know if we can build a better society. I do not even know if we will survive as a species. But I do know that the corporate forces have us by the throat. And they have my children by the throat. I do not fight fascists because I will win. I fight fascists because they are fascists. And this is a fight that in the face of the overwhelming forces against us requires that we follow those possessed by sublime madness, that we become stone catchers and find in acts of rebellion the sparks of life, an intrinsic meaning that lies outside the possibility of success. We must grasp the harshness of reality at the same time we refuse to allow this reality to paralyze us. People of all creeds and people of no creeds must take an absurd leap of faith to believe, despite all the empirical evidence around us, that the good draws to it the good. The fight for life goes somewhere—the Buddhists call it karma—and in these acts we make possible a better world, even if we cannot see one emerging around us.(8)

Assume the worst: it is too late to reverse this freefall into the sixth mass extinction in Earth’s history—this time caused by humankind and fatal to most if not all species of life, including our own. We then have very few choices and none of them will matter at the end of the day:

  • Denial: completely ignore and write off all the voices prophesying this imminent doom (including mine) and go on about life as if everything is fine—or it will all at least somehow turn out that way. This is one cadence in the death march we’re already on.

  • Futility #1: accept this doom as inevitable and just mark time until it’s over for all of us, eating, drinking, and being miserably or merrily delusional anyway. This is just another cadence in the same death march.

  • Futility #2: adopt Hedges’ perspective—fight the elitist fascist tyranny despite having no hope or chance of actually winning, simply because it is elitist fascist tyranny. This is the only way to break ranks from the death march and take a stand.

Futility #2 is exactly the sort of groundswell bootstrap activism Hedges calls us to embrace and become. One excellent first step is to join the Extinction Rebellion. I hope to see your name on their roster along with mine.

Notes

(1)   The opening image under the title is from Stuart Winter, “Sixth MASS EXTINCTION Warning: HUMANS Threatening Near Total Wipe Out of Earth's Creatures,” Express (online), July 11, 2017, https://www.express.co.uk/news/nature/827266/Mass-extinction-events-Earth-sixth-human-population-endangered-species. The image below it is my visual interpretation of inverted totalitarianism as identified in Sheldon S. Wolin, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism, 2nd ed. (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017) and Chris Hedges, “The Deadly Rule of the Oligarchs,” Truthdig, February 11, 2018, https://www.truthdig.com/articles/deadly-rule-oligarchs/. Statistical groupings approximate the 1%-to-99% division that emerged from the Occupy Wall Street Movement and an article on the emergence of aristocracy in the 21st century. Cf. Noam Chomsky, Occupy, 2nd ed., Occupied Media Pamphlet Series (Westfield, NJ: Zuccotti Park Press, 2013); Todd Gitlin, Occupy Nation: The Roots, the Spirit, and the Promise of Occupy Wall Street (New York: Itbooks, 2012), Kindle; Matthew Stewart, “The 9.9 Percent Is the New American Aristocracy,” The Atlantic, June 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/06/the-birth-of-a-new-american-aristocracy/559130/;

(2)   Donella H. Meadows et al., The Limits to Growth: A Report for The Club of Rome's Project on the Predicament of Mankind, 1st ed. (New York: Universe Books, 1972); Quirin Schiermeier, "Gloomy 1970s Predictions About Earth’s Fate Still Hold True," Nature, 18 October, 2018, https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-07117-2.

(3)   Noam Chomsky, Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth and Power (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2017); Noam Chomsky, Who Rules the World? (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2016); Noam Chomsky, Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault On Democracy (New York: Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, 2006);  Sheldon S. Wolin, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism, 2nd ed. (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017); Sheldon S. Wolin, Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought, with a New Foreword by Wendy Brown (1960, reprint, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016); Chris Hedges, “Apocalyptic Capitalism,” Truthdig, December 7, 2015, https://www.truthdig.com/articles/apocalyptic-capitalism/; Chris Hedges, “The Deadly Rule of the Oligarchs,” Truthdig, February 11, 2018, https://www.truthdig.com/articles/deadly-rule-oligarchs/.

(4)   D. R. Reidmiller et al., eds., The Fourth National Climate Assessment: Volume II: Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States (Washington, DC: U. S. Global Change Research Program, 2018), https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/; Associated Press, “Ban Ki-moon: World's Economic Model Is ‘Environmental Suicide’,” Guardian, January 28, 2011, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/jan/28/ban-ki-moon-economic-model-environment; Anne C. Mulkern, “Climate Forecast: World Is 'Sleepwalking into Catastrophe',” Scientific American, January 17, 2019, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/climate-forecast-world-is-sleepwalking-into-catastrophe/; World Economic Forum (WEF), "The Global Risks Report 2019" Geneva, CH: World Economic Forum, 2019, http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Global_Risks_Report_2019.pdf; John Mecklin, “Introduction: The New Threat Matrix,” in “Existential Nexus: The Intersection of Technological Threats,” ed. Gayle Spinazze, special issue, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 74, no. 6 (November 1, 2018), 367, https://thebulletin.org/2018/11/introduction-the-new-threat-matrix/.

(5) Rachel Bronson, “Statement from the President and CEO,” in “A New Abnormal: It Is Still 2 Minutes to Midnight,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, https://thebulletin.org/doomsday-clock/current-time/#from-the-president.

(6)   David E. Sanger and William J. Broad, "U.S. Suspends Nuclear Arms Control Treaty With Russia", New York Times, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/01/us/politics/trump-inf-nuclear-treaty.html; Vladimir Soldatkin, "Russia Suspends Nuclear Arms Treaty After U.S. Says To Pull Out", Reuters, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-usa-nuclear/russia-suspends-nuclear-arms-treaty-after-u-s-says-to-pull-out-idUSKCN1PR06T; Rachel Bronson, “2019 Doomsday Clock Statement,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, https://cdn.thebulletin.org/sites/default/files/2018%20Doomsday%20Clock%20Statement.pdf; Scott Ritter, “One Minute to Midnight,” Truthdig, February 12, 2019, https://www.truthdig.com/articles/one-minute-to-midnight/;  Scott Ritter, “Scott Ritter (Bio)”, Truthdig, accessed February 16, 2019, https://www.truthdig.com/author/scott_ritter/#author-bio.

(7)   Chris Hedges, “The Suicide of the Liberal Church,” Truthdig, January 25, 2016, https://www.
truthdig.com/articles/the-suicide-of-the-liberal-church/
; Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society: a Study in Ethics and Politics, Arkosh Politics (1932, reprint, Arkosh Publishing, 2017), loc. 3718, Kindle;

(8)   Chris Hedges, Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt (New York: Nation Books, 2015), 226. See also Chris Hedges, “Why Mass Incarceration Defines Us as a Society,” Smithsonian Magazine, December 2012, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/why-mass-incarceration-defines-us-as-a-society-135793245/#.UKwDspaG6uk.twitter. “Stone catcher” is an oblique reference to John 8:3-8, esp. v. 7, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Hedges describes Bryan Stevenson as an “African American lawyer who has spent his life fighting for prisoners on death row.” An elderly black woman once identified Stevenson as a “stone catcher” in this sense. On return from attending an execution at an Alabama prison, Stevenson remarked to Hedges:

There is no such thing as being a Christian and not being a stone catcher …. But that is exhausting. You’re not going to catch them all. And it hurts. If it doesn’t make you sad to have to do that, then you don’t understand what it means to be engaged in an act of faith …. But if you have the right relationship to it, it is less of a burden, finally, than a blessing. It makes you feel stronger.

Hedges’ reference to “sublime madness” is from this passage in Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society: a Study in Ethics and Politics, Arkosh Politics (1932; repr.: Arkosh Publishing, 2017), loc. 3718, Kindle:

We cannot build our individual ladders to heaven and leave the total human enterprise unredeemed of its excesses and corruptions.

In the task of that redemption the most effective agents will be men who have substituted some new illusions for the abandoned ones. The most important of these illusions is that the collective life of mankind can achieve perfect justice. It is a very valuable illusion for the moment; for justice cannot be approximated if the hope of its perfect realization does not generate a sublime madness in the soul. Nothing but such madness will do battle with malignant power and "spiritual wickedness in high places." The illusion is dangerous because it encourages terrible fanaticisms. It must therefore be brought under the control of reason. One can only hope that reason will not destroy it before its work is done.

Chatting with Len Sweet

SemioBytes Episodes 2 and 3

len-dog-portrait-2018.jpg

Leonard Sweet is a scholar of USAmerican culture; a semiotician who “sees things the rest of us do not see, and dreams possibilities that are beyond most of our imagining;” and a preacher and best-selling author who communicates the gospel with a signature bridging of the worlds of faith, academe, and popular culture. In 2006 and 2007, Len was voted by his peers “One of the 50 Most Influential Christians in America” by ChurchReport Magazine, and in 2010, he was selected by the top non-English Christian website as one of the “Top 10 Influential Christians of 2010.” His popular podcast, “Napkin Scribbles,” is widely quoted, and he wrote for sermons.com for eight years. 

Yoni and I have a chat with Len about the focus and purpose of our podblog (about 15 minutes).

Yoni and I look back on our interview with Len (about 30 minutes).

Our Doctor of Ministry (DMin) cohort with Len as Lead Mentor held its 3rd and final in-person gathering as group from Monday, May 28 through Friday, June 1, 2018. The group traveled to the Sweets home on Orcas Island, known as the "Emerald Isle" of the San Juan Islands. The Sweet family owns and operates the Salish Seaside Escapes on Orcas, and the cohort members were lavishly hosted throughout the entire week. I'm sure Yoni joins me in encouraging you to put a visit to their secluded coast retreat on your bucket list!  

In Episode 2, Yoni and I were honored to spend 15 minutes or so with Len, talking through a few questions related to the theme and goals of our podblog. We had talked about the questions we'd ask before we met with Len and having studied with him for two years prior to this Orcas Advance, we thought we had a pretty good idea what Len's replies and comments would be. As usual, however, he caught us by surprise -- always one to 'nudge' his proteges along on their faith journeys in unexpected ways! Len is as playful with his semiotics as he is with his pets, which is evident in all his books, podcasts, sermons, speaking events, and other ministry activities. 

In Episode 3, after returning from Orcas to our homes in Portland (Yoni) and central Florida (Terry), we looked back on that interview experience and realized how sharply Len had piqued our interest in gaining a better understanding of what our podblog is about. This is evident from the discussion we have in Episode 3, where we tripled our intended goal of keeping our episodes in the 8-10-minute range. We could have tripled it again, actually, but managed to rein ourselves in, hoping this longer duration will be an exception, and fully expecting this dialogue has surfaced several key themes that will reappear in numerous future episodes.   

So, queue the podcasts, settle in, enjoy our posts and remember -- follow us for updates, and participate by contacting us at SemioBytes anytime! Our podblog is an artifact for our DMin dissertations, but more importantly it's a ministry to Christians and Jews, and to all others who may be interested in how semiotics works in religious contexts.

Thanks for visiting us at SemioBytes! 

After-Being

A Boomer's Futile but Earnest and Urgent
Apology to Postmodern Millennials

Through no fault of their own, post-moderns, Millennials especially, have no past, no present, and no future. The past is a lost 'back there back then,' an unreality without meaning or relevance. The future is 'some there some then' of mysteriously sheer futility. The present is the 'here now' they survive and endure only by past-posting it. Knowing no hereafter or thereafter, they only know a singularity of 'after' with no duration at all, as if some rogue ronin sliced all time away so quickly and cleanly they don't have to feel it as long as they can just stay in the standstill immediacy of that after-life hack. 

Joe Black (Brad Pitt as the Grim Reaper in Meet Joe Black, 1998) is the inside-out upside-down tunnel-tag It-meister just met on the playground at the event horizon of now and then and here and gone. Under his lifted leg lie only nowhere, nowhen, noafter and every slope on every terrain slip-slides beneath it. There is only the inexorable after of the game until not. Oblivion lived forever -- not an oxymoron -- is the next singularity.

Postmodern Millennial life is neither bygone nor forthcoming or upcoming. In the grey shroud of after-fog unlight, mysty mundane masterpieces enthrall and enchant. Yet dead and buried beyond the semiotic dissonance of past-posted post-toasted after-thought, the same bargain-basement GloNation rotted-fruit still life crass-crafted onto cheap black velvet subliminally induces blase blind belief in the emperor's haute couture of naked angst, greed, hubris, and despair.

Joe Black's sting is the penultimate longest con possible; postmodern millennials are his easiest marks, passe-deceived by viral greed and desperation transparently costumed as twice-told truth and raw-boned reality. The truth and Truth are real and Reality then and there; but fast-past-frozen in the grim-lit after-fog, they aren't really there after all.

Finally, Boomers are the last gasp and the death rattle of modernity. Our inescapable spiral into Joe Black's long con set at his event-horizon playground was a war lost before the battle began. Our convoluted homogenized pasteurized God was kidnapped by post-Enlightenment beyond Belief positivism as we pissed away metaphysics and shat theology. We sold our souls and drowned our babies in liquid-modern superacid baths to rake in ransom with compound disinterest. Yet soulless, we lost our minds and spines, stole it all for ourselves. We decorate our dying with those faux masterpieces rather than paying you free with redeeming legacy. Stupid just can't be fixed, we rediscovered, so we blithely passed it on to our progeny. Then, like Pilate, we washed our hands of the blood of crucified Truth. Again. 

Who could blame him if he just chose, this time, not to rise, again, from the after-death we always condemn him to? Who could blame him if, this time, he decided we just weren't worth the journey, troubles, trials, and tribulations of another Coming after he's gone all-in already? 

Sorry can be the merest and meekest of signs. A Boomer's whimpering simpering death is the only audible apology and it's squandered already. A Millennial whine of forgiveness is pardon enough and grace sufficient.   

Plato's Cave Revisited

[Note: this post was prompted by a Quora question. My answer is provided in this blog post. Others are given on Quora at the hyperlink.] 

Atheists: Where do you stand in Plato's cave, and what are the other three groups of people from your perspective? As you can see in this picture, there are four kinds of people: 

  • those watching shadows
  • those who understand shadows
  • those who are on the way out of the cave
  • those that are out of the cave

My Answer

I’m puzzled that the question is directed to atheists. The heart of the allegory of the cave concerns fundamental epistemological and cognitive issues. Its theological and spiritual aspects are interesting but secondary, I think, to those core concerns. Theistic, agnostic, and atheistic views are likely to vary, but they are all capable of presenting a viable answer. To me, the question is better addressed to philosophers in general, or to no particular group at all, since all those answers are likely to invoke (or reject) theological and spiritual aspects of our cognitive abilities and capacities.

As an example, atheists' answers in particular must rely on scientism alone as it is rooted in Enlightenment naturalism and rationalism. As for where they would sit or stand in the cave or outside it, or on the way to or from one or the other, I expect they would be among all those groups - none of the four groups specified necessarily rules out atheism (or any other theology or religion). 

Regarding the four groups:

  • Did everyone out of the cave come from the cave, or are there fifth and sixth groups who either know nothing of the cave or know of it but have never entered it? 
  • Where do the people come from in the first place? Are they born into the bottom level or placed there as newborns? Is this a subtle view of a class-ordered or caste society? 
  • Where did the cave come from? Is it a natural formation or was it constructed in this form? Either way, who put it to this use and who oversees its ongoing operations and activities? 
  • Is there any conclusive evidence that "out of the cave" isn't just a vastly more complex and cognitively convincing "cave?" 

It may help to consider contemporary allegories dealing with the same concerns - cognition and epistemology. Two I expect many of us will easily recognize are The Truman Show and The Matrix franchise. These movies are equivalent to Plato’s allegory, transformed by Hollywood craft and effects, but keeping the arc and theme of the story intact. Here is the essence of what both the ancient allegory and those contemporary movies are about.

  • cognitive dissonance - basically, Cognitive dissonance as explained in that Wikipedia article as “the (internal) mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, performs an actions contradictory to one or more beliefs, ideas, or values, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.” I prefer the concept of 
  • semiotic dissonance, however, which subsumes the conventional definition of cognitive dissonance but expands and extends beyond it to include states of complete and total cognitive deception and delusion constituting a false reality or ‘irreality’ that may be self-imposed or even independently conceived, engineered, constructed, and implemented by external parties, powers, and forces for the explicit intents and purposes of mass totalitarian oppression, enslavement, tyranny, and control. This irreality establishes  
  • epistemological imprisonment - through which all sentient and sapient aspects of cognition are constrained and distorted (if self-imposed), or (if externally devised) manipulated and controlled for the creation, maintenance, and exploitation of the irreality thus created and the captives within it as means to achieve the ends of the ruling power elite.

It is especially important to realize that the most effective irreality of semiotic dissonance and epistemological captivity is not necessarily unpleasant, painful, or even stressful. In this most insidiously seductive form and nefarious mode, most of its victims will have no awareness or recognition of their enslavement. On the contrary, most will adamantly reject the idea that they are in any way deceived or delusional, and will forcefully insist that their lives are true and real, even quite meaningful, fulfilling, and rewarding. 

Hence the crucial question: which of the following is the true reality, and which is the dissonant irreality?

  1. We the people of earth freely exercise our inalienable rights, including those of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. The US is a constitutional republic and representative democracy. As the most powerful country on earth, the US has moral obligation and authority to empower other people and nations to recognize and exercise those same rights and to adopt the same governance. Furthermore, the US has manifest destiny and just cause for the judicious use of military power and force to defend those rights and to establish and uphold that governance against all enemies foreign or domestic.
  2. The vast majority of humans are victims of semiotic dissonance and epistemological imprisonment orchestrated and exploited by an elite plutocratic oligarchy and their corporatocracy. They exercise global power with virtually absolute control, lacking any humane, moral, or conscionable character or bearing, driven solely by greed, hubris, and depravity. This irreality is imperceptible but the oppression and tyranny hiding wide open within it is nonetheless totalitarian to the core.   

Are these two scenarios jointly exhaustive and mutually exclusive as factual and true description of life on earth today? Or is it a false dilemma with a path between its horns to a different, truer, actual reality? If semiotic dissonance and epistemological imprisonment are the actual but imperceptible facts of human life today, is escape even possible? Can the cave be destroyed, The Truman Show cancelled, the red pill acquired and swallowed, and The Matrix overthrown? 

Exercise for the reader: can you name other highly similar or equivalent allegories (e.g., in film, print, or other media)? Would Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, or Eyes Wide Shut qualify? How would you interpret current events (such as the presidential 2016 election) from the perspective of the two alternate realities described above? Does Noam Chomsky's documentary film, Requiem for the American Dream, imply that #2 above is correct? 

P.S. As an evangelical Christian, of course, the spiritual and theological issues are anything but "secondary." They are both primary and transcendent. But the aim of this post is to present a more inquisitive and religiously unbiased perspective. Obviously my sociopolitical biases are showing, but I think that's precisely what Socrates would have wanted, especially since the cave allegory appears in the political philosophy context of The Republic.