Tuesday, April 18, 2006


Plato's Allegory of the Cave: a model for Hawaii?

From ancient Greece to modern Hawaii. Wisdom across the ages and across the seas.

(With apologies to the Wikipedia)
Imagine citizens who have been chained since childhood deep inside a cave. Not only are their limbs immobilized by the chains, their heads are chained as well so that their eyes are fixed on a wall.

Behind the citizens is an enormous fire, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a state capitol building, through which shapes of various bills, resolutions, and other things are carried. The shapes cast shadows on the wall, which is like a giant television set. In fact, it is a giant television set, forget the simile. Also, when one of the shape-carriers speaks, a sound bite on the TV causes the prisoners to believe that the words come from the shadows.

The citizens engage in what appears to us to be a game - naming the shapes as they come by. This, however, is the only reality that they know, even though they are seeing merely shadows of images. They repeat what they see and hear on the giant TV screen: "Let the free market prevail!" Or, "the gas cap is a failure!!"

Suppose a citizen is released and compelled to stand up and turn around. . . .
I'm still waiting for that to happen. The puppeteers are firmly in control, casting their shadows from the parapets of the State Capitol itself, into which they have penetrated with their lobbyists and campaign contributions.

At least in Plato's time they debated in the Athenian Senate. In our time, it doesn't take much to sway our legislators.

In the past quarter we have seen oil companies post the largest profits in the history of the world of any company. Surely, they have the means to put down an insurrection against their power in Hawaii. For that is what the gas cap law represents: a challenge to corporate monopoly and power. With just the small change in their pockets they have managed to convince many of the people of this state and their lawmakers that the gas cap isn't working and that we are better off without it.

Let's get one thing clear to start with: The oil companies are the ones better off without the gas cap. Imagine if the idea should spread to other states? Their huge profits might be pared down a bit. Their retirement benefits might suffer (recently retired ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond got $6.5 million a year).

So keep staring at corporate-controlled TV and advertising-dependent newspapers, fellow citizens, and repeat what they tell you to believe. If you thought about it, you'd see that there is no free market in gasoline in Hawaii, and you're merely part of an age-old game being played out on a huge economic stage today.

There really are no chains, so stand up and turn around ...


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