How can we explain the lamentable myopia of the Tea Party radicals and their misguided agenda? Here I will end with an image from Plato’s myth of the cave in Book VII of the "Republic."
In this passage Socrates describes how ordinary people are like prisoners chained within a cave, forced to watch shadows cast on a wall which they mistake for the actual objects blocking light. Those manipulating the objects casting shadows are likened to puppeteers, who stand in front of a fire to perpetrate their artifice. Only with training in philosophical dialectic can the prisoners break their chains, freeing themselves from illusion by turning to see the actual sources of intelligible illumination, moving from the fire in the cave, up further to the sun in the outside world, and finally to the Good as the source of all forms governing the empirical manifestations of ideas and objects. The sensible world of appearances for Plato was a pale reflection of more abstract forms (eidos
) that only philosophical training could bring into view. For the prisoners, however, the illusory world of shadows and reflections is mistaken for the bedrock of reality. Within their cave, the real relations between objects and images, causes and effects, are reversed.
Today’s Tea Party zealots are like Plato’s prisoners, absorbing a steady diet of media mush which they mistake for objective reality. The "swift-boating" of Senator John Kerry during his 2004 presidential bid was only the most egregious expression of the widespread dissemination of false claims and accusations by the Fox propaganda machine. The fact that the bigoted fulminations of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly have achieved mainstream credibility only proves the extent to which false consciousness informs the American way of life. Whose interests do these screaming heads serve? The little guy on Main Street or the corporate interests on Wall Street? Is it not obvious that Rupert Murdoch, the Koch Brothers, Halliburton and Shell-BP are the puppeteers of populist rant, which the Tea Party misapprehends as God’s truth?
If one thing is clear, it is that the Tea Party faithful are impervious to dialectic. And they are doing their best to keep it that way.