How Plato’s and Postman’s Texts Relate to Each Other

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“There was a time when those who wrote on the subject of education, such as Plato, Comenius, Locke, and Rousseau, made their metaphors explicit and in doing so revealed how their metaphors controlled their thinking.” (Postman 287). What you see in that quote from Neil Postman are three ancient scholars, who influenced the world we live in, and how we think, to this day. However, one of these scholars, named Plato, wrote an allegory, called “Allegory of the cave”, and helped explain how we humans perceive the world. The allegory still matters to this day, especially in today’s political environment. Plato was also “a student of Socrates and later involved himself closely with Socrates’ work and teaching”. (Plato 443), which is also reflected in “The Allegory of the Cave.” I think Postman, and Plato have a lot to agree to, in reference to how humans perceive the world, and how the cave in Plato’s Allegory is a metaphor, is that the allegory states about the prisoners in the cave being in their own bubble.

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There are a lot of differences on how humans perceive the world. “Definitions, questions, metaphors – these are three of the most potent elements with which human language constructs a worldview. And [sic] in urging, as I do, that the study of these elements be given the highest priority in school, I am suggesting that world making though language is a narrative of power, durability, and inspiration.” (Postman 287). For example, in Plato’s allegory, the prisoners think that the shadows are real, and when they hear that the shadows are just illusions, they think that the other person is dumb, and mentally retarded. “But when they returned to the den, they would see much worse than those who had never left it.” (Plato 448). As you see, when the former prisoners return to the den, all they see is darkness, not the shadows in the darkness, the prisoners currently in the den would not believe him, and would turn violent against the former prisoner. The former prisoner, after exploring the real world, and going back to the den, saw what the current prisoners didn’t see; darkness, sadness, and the shadows of the dark, which led to the current prisoners to believe that the former prisoner was dumb.

In Plato’s 'Allegory of the Cave' can refer to how today’s America is like. For example, from an Article written by Jamal Michel, in Duke University’s The Chronicle, the article talks about how Plato’s cave refers to Americans living under Trump’s America, today. “We, the nation, now find ourselves trapped in a cave created and maintained by a man who willfully and openly rejects the happenings of the natural world.” (Michel N.P). The chains reference Trump’s ideas, the prisoners reference Trump’s supporters indirectly (please don’t be offended, not all Trump supporters are like that), and the cave represents Trump’s America. Although I already could relate Plato’s Allegory, to Trump’s America, this article explains how Plato’s allegory is still relevant today, and how Plato’s allegory relates to today’s America. “Again, diplomatic ideology dictates that all parties involved receive equal footing and equal attention. However, Donald Trump’s attacks on the media, his false assertions that the country is descending into chaos and his inability to answer seemingly direct questions should begin to receive the same distrust exhibited by him and his administration of the world around them. We are currently witnessing blatant attempts at disguising the observable by our country’s most powerful people, and it is beginning to take a more absurd shape as each new act by Trump calls into question the political incentives for such actions. If this new administration is Plato’s cave, then respectively we are the prisoners.” (Michel N.P).

“True, he said; how could they see anything but the shadows, if they were never allowed to move their heads...To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images” (Plato 446). In the allegory, a shadow is “a reflected image.” (Merriam-Webster N.P.). However, these prisoners believe that the shadow is real, and they may think of the definition of a shadow very differently. Plus, you can use shadow differently, since the word, shadow has multiple definitions. For example, another definition of shadow is “something that causes a bad feeling.” (Merriam-Webster N.P). Another scenario that is related is in Neil Postman’s The Word Weavers/The World Makers, is the use of the word, “arthritis”. “Let us suppose you have just finished being examined by a doctor. In pronouncing his verdict, he says somewhat accusingly, “Well, you’ve done a very nice case of arthritis here.” You would undoubtedly think this is a strange diagnosis, or more likely, a strange doctor. People do not “do” arthritis. They “have” it, or “get” it, and it is a little insulting for the doctor to imply that you have produced or manufactured an illness of this kind, especially since arthritis will release you from certain obligations and, at the same time, elicit sympathy from other people. It is also painful. So the idea that you have done arthritis to yourself suggests a kind of self-serving masochism.” (Postman 287). In the quote, the doctor stated that the person did arthritis. How can you do arthritis, when the definition is “inflammation of joints due to infectious, metabolic, or constitutional causes.” (Merriam-Webster N.P). Sometimes, how you put a specific word, into words, can make the word look funky, weird, and used badly. So, depending on how you use a word, the word may not sound like how the word is defined.

Postman, and Postman, and Plato have a lot to agree to, in reference to how humans perceive the world, and how the cave in Plato’s Allegory is a metaphor, is how the allegory states about the prisoners in the cave being in their own bubble. Plato’s allegory helped influenced western thinking, and the allegory can help explain how humans think, how people almost always stay in their own bubble, which is what we see in today’s America, and if you try to tell these closed minded people something else, they will not believe you, and may resort to violence, whether it is verbal, or physical. Postman’s Text can also help explain how definitions are used, and how they can be used wrongly. So, let me ask you a few questions: How do you think humans think now? Do you see a comparison between today’s America, and the allegory of the cave? What made you rethink how definitions are definitions are defined now? What did you learn from reading this essay?

Works Cited

  1. “Arthritis.” Merriam-Webster.com, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/arthritis. Accessed 16 Jan. 2019.
  2. “Shadow.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/shadow. Accessed 16 Jan. 2019.
  3. Michel, Jamal. “In Plato's Allegory, We Are Prisoners in Trump's Cave.” The Chronicle, The Chronicle, 28 Feb. 2017, www.dukechronicle.com/article/2017/02/in-platos-allegory-we-are-prisoners-in-trumps-cave. Accessed 15 Jan. 2019.
  4. Plato. “The Allegory of the Cave” The Republic. 517 B.C.E. 443-453
  5. Postman, Neil. “The World Weavers/The World Makers” The End of Education: Reading the Value of School. Vintage Books. 1996. 285-295
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