In a very direct sense, we are of course prisoners of the cave simply because we cannot prove that we aren’t. Presumably we would have been in the cave, staring at these shadows cast on the wall since birth, and not knowing anything different we would fiercely believe that what we were seeing is all there is in life. It would be the same as someone telling us now that everything we see and experience is false; that everything is an illusion and the life we think we’ve worked so hard for is merely a lie. Most people would take that as an offense, defending their existence with all their worth, to the death if necessary.
There are very few people that would be able to fully take into effect everything told to them, and realize the truth; or in the caves metaphorical sense ‘turn around’ and view the puppet masters casting their shadows. And these people would probably be viewed as heretics; as going against ‘the natural way’. Think about the people you see everyday mumbling to themselves on the street about ‘the end of the world’ or some other odd tidbit that you either ignore or just write off in your mind as crazy. What if these people are truly free from the chains of the cave, have seen the sun and have returned to tell us all of its glory. We simply write them off as insane and ignore them, and if they try hard enough we lock them up where they can’t bother our normal way of life. It’s a self-perpetuating system where the victims will literally defend it to the death.
The world has come far since the time of Plato, this much is certain. Today we have broken the atom, landed on the moon, and sent a probe out of the solar system. However, how many people truly understand the intricacies that go into a lunar landing? How man people can name the subatomic particles that make up an atom, or even prove that they exist? The few people that do completely understand these theories would make perfect puppeteers. After all, the only people that really argue with their lofty ideas are other people with even loftier ideas. How many common people do you see daily arguing about quantum mechanics, or the theory of relativity?
A fraction of the population even knows what these are, let alone fully understand them. This is a clear division, people who know and people who convey that knowledge; just like in Plato’s cave. How would any of us know if what they’re saying is true? They could be telling us flat out lies, so long as they had a basic outline of reason and it didn’t seem too ridiculous; just like the shadows cast on the wall in the cave. Of course, there are those few people, who we usually dub ‘conspiracy theorists’, those crazy folks who are just ‘stirring up trouble’ by saying things like we never landed on the moon. Most people just assume they’re talking nonsense and disregard them. But how to do know that they don’t really see the truth, and this truth has driven them to disregard everything but informing the public? Of course, we don’t; we defend our own observations and our perceived reality to the most extreme.
Yesterday’s society was described as a ‘television society,’ and today’s is an ‘internet society.’ In both instances, the masses turn to some form of ‘mass communication’ for their daily news, and in most cases their main source of education about the world around them. People very rarely learn through direct interaction with their respective environments. More often than not, they’re told by someone else, or they learn from the television or the internet. These facts they then interpret and accept as absolute truth to be followed and believed at all costs. It’s come down to the point where it’s not just popular culture that’s transmitted across television waves and beamed into every computer, it’s daily news, it’s facts, it’s everything you need to know. You can sign online and learn anything about anything from any indeterminate source.
There is really no way to prove your facts are correct, but at the same time you take them to heart as the absolute truth. We even use the internet to verify outside facts; if someone came to you saying something you’d never heard and it sounded a bit fishy, you’d first check online to make sure that it’s correct. If someone online told you it wasn’t, you’d believe that source above this person due to a false sense of internet security. Much akin to the shadows cast on the wall, all your life you’ve believed these facts to be true, something many high school students find out the hard way on their essays. It’s truly amazing how quickly we’ll believe something we read online, as if the people writing these websites couldn’t possibly be wrong.
Thus, we need to update Plato’s model of the cave to include more tiers. Now normal people can communicate with other people and spread their lies. Of course, people could do this in Plato’s time, but not to the degree that you can today. Right now, if I wanted to, I could in the blink of an eye talk to someone on the other side of the planet, and tell them what’s going on right here. They would have no idea of knowing if what I was saying was right, so they’d probably take it as truth; we are inherently trusting beings.
Children are especially vulnerable to this, thus taking Plato’s model to an even deeper level. Now longer am I restricted to mere shadows, through the internet I can fabricate pictures and describe through words exactly what I want them to believe is happening where I am. So long as my lies are not too extreme, I can fabricate any type of life that I desire. The visualization in the cave would be all the prisoners chained down watching their shadows with computers in front of them talking to other prisoners in other caves about the shadows.
So really, Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is outdated due to the proliferation of mass communication; i.e. the internet, cell phones, even the postal service. Now the prisoners can talk to other prisoners they’ve never seen before and continue to spread the lies, creating an even broader network that the mere shadow casters would have never been able to create on their own. This social network ties the prisoners together, making it even more difficult for anyone who has escaped and seen the truth to spread their word to the masses. Of course, all of this technology we use to communicate is really only controlled by the select few that truly understand it, such a small amount of the population actually understands how the internet at its core works. Thus, they can protect themselves and make sure we’re not communicating in a way that is disadvantageous to their continued rule.