Am I a pessimist? Do I view the world as ‘fallen’ and ordinary human experience as suspect and untrustworthy? Allow me to address these decisive questions by placing them within the context of Plato’s allegory of the cave. It is true that I equate the world of ordinary, common human experience with the shadows of artificial things—seemingly ‘life-like,’ but ultimately soulless projections upon the wall of the prison-cave. As far as this realm of experience is concerned, I am deeply mistrustful and suspicious. I regard those persons who have adapted themselves exclusively to this inferior and unreliable level of consciousness as deluded and unfree prisoners of perceptions and dogmatic beliefs—beliefs that must be dismantled and dispensed with before deeper understanding is possible. To the limited extent that I have freed my own understanding from the powerful—and potentially suffocating—grip of these ‘normative’ ideas and beliefs, I find myself alienated from the innocently unwitting prisoners around me. I call them ‘unwitting’ because they are essentially content with the ordinary, superficial collective consciousness of the cave. It would seem that unless and until we grow deeply discontent with our inherited, conventional modern bearings, assumptions, and norms, we are not likely to undertake the arduous, protracted labor of transcending them. The alienation that I speak of may be compared to the alienation we feel in the presence of a friend or acquaintance who is heavily intoxicated and has been transformed into someone who is clearly ‘not himself.’ Or it is like the estrangement and uneasiness we feel around a parent or partner who has succumbed to paranoid schizophrenia or Alzheimer’s.
If we are to continue interacting with such impaired or ‘altered’ persons we are obliged to humor them or adjust our words and gestures so as to conform with their very different—and more limited—mode of seeing and making sense of things. They cannot come to us, so—if there is to be any bridge between us at all—we must find a way to come to them. At the mundane level of experience, this benevolent ‘condescension’ is displayed every day by parents with their children, professors with their pupils, gurus with their disciples, shrinkers with their shrinkees, etc., in their sincere and generous attempts to reach them where they are so that they can be inspired to see beyond their more limited horizons.
So, to return to my initial question: I see little real value and importance to be extracted from the ‘fallen’ world of ordinary (benighted) experience wherein the generality, now as ever, is mentally embedded and imprisoned. On the other hand, I continually find pearls of great price at the subtler and deeper level of rich inner experience that is always accessible beneath this ‘literal’ surface upon which the monstrous and crowd-commanding shadows are ceaselessly projected.