Pigs in a Cave


by Ece Fisgin, United World College Maastricht
14th April, 2019


Within a cave, four prisoners sit still, chained by their necks and feet, unable to turn their heads, facing a wall. They’re happy—trapped in a state of constant euphoria since their birth. Behind them, a colossal fire rages on, gulping in the musty air of the cave. Puppeteers, holding wooden puppets, cast shadows of plays across the damp walls, forming a narrative for the prisoners. The prisoners create names for the shadows they see, and take pride in their interpreting of the world intelligible to them. This is their reality. This is their world. This is all they know.
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One day, one of the prisoners is granted freedom. Liberty. He turns his head and faces the manipulative masquerade occurring behind. The puppeteers parading with their toys, creating a facade of reality. The puppets which he only knew by their shapes and edges are smaller. Simpler. He squints as the fire exhales its fury. He stumbles out the cave. Evergreens, mountains, and the violent screams of the wind engulf him. Squinting, his frail eyes singe under the sun’s dazzling light. His breath quickens. His head throbs under the shock of betrayal. The lies. The impostures. The fantasy. His ambition to explore and discover strikes through his veins like lightning. He indulges in the curiosities of his new world. His former reality shatters, severs, and splinters. Rebirth.
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Upon his enlightenment, he returns to the cave, prepared to convince all of his fellow prisoners of the “real world.” The prisoners immediately reject his perception of reality. They call him a lunatic and kill him. And that’s that.
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Sounds familiar? Chances are you’ve heard this story by the title of “Plato’s Allegory of the Cave” from Plato’s The Republic (Book VII). The story delineates the enlightenment brought to us humans through philosophy and education, and the eventual escape from ignorance. It also confronts the idea of comfort found within ignorance, and our intrinsic desire to destroy anything that threatens our bliss. The story of the cave highlights humanity’s struggle to seek truth and to be critical thinkers. We want to resist; ignorance is bliss after all, for discovering the truth can lead to a painful journey, so in some ways it is easier to be left in the cave. For those who return with a new reality, they are shut out, ostracized, and expelled from their former communities.
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Now, imagine yourself a prisoner. Your shadows are the roofs of your old town, the smiles of the strangers on the street, the breakfast you eat every morning. The fellow prisoners become your friends and family, those in your community back home  The puppeteers? It’s the government. The media. The schools. Everything. Everything that you happily gulped down as the truth. We are all for much of our lives in the shadows, in our own unique imperfect realities, living with our own interpretations of goodness. They are like shadows that are projected onto the walls of our fragile and flawed minds, engraved within us by authority. No one chooses to be in the cave. But it becomes our choice to escape.
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So you’re here now, at a UWC. You’ve discovered your faults, your downfalls, and your insecurities. You’ve questioned, challenged, and learned. So when you return to your cave over break, and you tell your fellow prisoners “so and so,” when they scrunch up their noses in scorn of the fables of foreign lands and aliens, and when they sigh and shake their heads at the truth behind your intangible enemies across some border, you are rejected, cast aside, and ignored. You can no longer stay or enjoy the cave. That sense of euphoria and easy acceptance of the status quo has disappeared. The escape from the persuasion of your immediate senses that you relied on during your time in “the cave,” to discovering the enlightenment through intellect and critical thinking marks the beginning of a long journey of owning up to your ignorance.
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Though, one must question: did I truly escape the cave? Or when looking for the way out, did I chain myself in another one–another “reality” with new puppeteers and their new toys, casting their shadows along the large grey brick walls?

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