Perspectives: Liberating the captive in our minds

OPINION – A friend recently asked me about the best way to know that he’s dealing with credible information as he tries to stay informed on current events. He raises a very timely question.

Thanks to the flow of information online, we’ve never had greater access to the accumulated facts, ideas, and opinions of mankind. But that greater access also brings us in contact with heavier concentrations of misinformation than before. This presents a considerable challenge.

How can a freethinking person properly discern between what’s worth knowing and what isn’t?

In spiritual matters, finding truth involves quieting the mind, humbling the heart, and learning to silence the chatter of our inner dialogue. This is why prayer and meditation are often used when a person is seeking to find the inner peace that tells them they’re on the right path.

But when it comes to having a solid grasp on the world around us, we have to sort through a cacophony of ideas and emotions that are competing for our allegiance. Groupthink is encouraged or, in many cases, mandated if we are to gain acceptance in society.

This means that a lot of good people end up surrendering their individuality of thought and conscience, rather than be marginalized. Being a freethinker requires a willingness to separate oneself from the crowd.

Joseph Sobran put it beautifully when he wrote:

A decent man should always be somewhat alienated from the herd, from the age he lives in, from the dominant political gangs. When you feel at home in a world that has gone wrong, you’ve gone wrong too.

The goal he describes here isn’t to become an anti-social hermit; it’s to learn how to maintain our own mental and spiritual space as a sanctuary against official lies and propaganda.

To this end, Sobran recommended the practice of pulling our heads out of our immediate environment and looking to religion, philosophy, history, and art for clues of how things ought to be.

Individuals who endure the effort to learn and apply the wisdom of the great minds that have shaped human history will develop their own perspective. They’ll also learn how to break free of the idolatry that characterizes so much of what passes for public discourse.

The word “idolatry” may seem harsh in describing the thinking of the masses. But anyone who has chosen to march to the beat of their own drum knows that refusal to go along with the crowd is a sure way to get yourself labeled as dangerous or heretical.

As strange as it sounds, the person who refuses to submit his or her individuality to the collective is often viewed as a threat. This tendency of human nature is not unique to our time, but has always existed.

In Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, the great philosopher describes a group of prisoners chained within a cave. All they see are the shapes of shadows cast on the cave walls by the flickering light of a fire. This is their reality.

When one of the prisoners escapes the cave and makes his way into the painful sunlight, he encounters a larger world than he could have imagined. His previous beliefs concerning reality have been replaced by a new understanding.

Naturally, when the former prisoner discovers the larger world that exists, he wishes to share it with others.

Yet when he ventures back into the cave to liberate his fellow prisoners, most refuse to believe that a reality beyond their flickering images on a wall could possibly exist. They have become accustomed to a dogma that keeps them in chains.

They accept what they are used to as the way things are meant to be. They cannot conceive that somewhere along the way, something may have changed for the worst. They’ll fight to maintain their limited reality.

This allegory is particularly applicable to how the masses view those who have learned to think outside of the boundaries of approved opinion.

Persuading our fellow prisoners to follow us toward the sunlight requires a gentle touch. This means that instead of haranguing others to leave the cave, we plant a seed and allow it time to grow.

Instead of arguing them into submission, we show them what we have created. By giving them things that help rather than hurt them, we provide a reason to trust us.

None of this supposes that we alone have all the answers. Chances are that someone else helped us to find our way to sunlight at some point.

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Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives talk show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: bryanh@stgnews.com

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

 

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4 Comments

  • Roy J June 26, 2014 at 7:45 pm

    The Republic, like everything else Plato wrote, is primarily about philosophy, and is specifically concerned with whether or not it is better for the philosopher to suffer injustice and live out his days in service to mankind. It is not about freethinking willy-nilly, as is obvious from the fact that Plato refuses to allow just any old poet within the walls of the Republic. He considered those who attributed wicked deeds or false ideas to the gods as subversive and dangerous to men and the state, who might imitate them. Plato was no less forgiving to those philosophers who persisted in teaching and practicing immoral philosophies, or those who sought to bend philosophy to political ends, or who held contradictory and paradoxical principles which led to the destruction of understanding. This principle of philosophy, of rooting out and exterminating pernicious errors was extended to sacred Christian doctrine by the Early Church Fathers, and especially Augustine of Hippo, who made use of Plato’s philosophy to defend against the Manicheans and Pelagians. It was further advanced by the medieval theologians and especially Thomas Aquinas, who made use of Aristotle’s philosophy which had been received through the Arabic commentators Averroes and Avicenna, against all then known Christian heresies. I think from the above outline it is sufficient to conclude, therefore,that the reckless spirit of specious inquiry, of meritless freethinking, of reading without historical context or concern for a thinker’s real purpose, is absolutely not in the spirit of the Western canon. It is one thing to begin from a specific set of philosophic, spiritual or religious principles, clearly stated and argued from; it is respectable because it is measurable, even if it is wrong. It is quite another to remain suffocating in a realm of airy generalities and suggestive, but inconsequential anecdotes; these cannot be measured, and like all such standardless things, their flag fails so soon as the wind stops. It’s all well and good to quote Socrates, but his real merit lay in the fact that he was willing to clearly, charitably, speak the truth about the gods; he was, after all, executed for it.

  • Heretic June 27, 2014 at 9:03 am

    But if a man comes to the door of poetry untouched by the madness of the Muses, believing that technique alone will make him a good poet, he and his sane companions never reach perfection, but are utterly eclipsed by the inspired madman.
    -Plato

    • Roy J June 27, 2014 at 11:38 am

      That’s exactly right, HERETIC, and it for just that reason that Plato excludes some poets and includes others, since he was well aware that inspiration was capable of being infernal as well as divine. Point being, it is not at all good to take from the Western canon without considering the historical context and biography of the author. Without that, the ‘sunlight’ can be construed by anyone to mean anything. People can do what they want, but if they wish to know first what someone such as Plato meant by the Republic, it is recommended that they leave their political intentions at the door.

  • robert June 27, 2014 at 7:06 pm

    Brian, superb as usual!

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