Did you know that Einstein came up with Relativity by thinking about it for years?

He started thinking about what would happen if you ran next to a beam of light when he was 16. After playing with concepts in his mind, he introduced a new framework for all of physics and proposed entirely new perspectives of time and space.

What if we could solve civilization-level problems with a similar method?

Einstein changed perspectives and asked questions so thoroughly that he exited the stage of science and made a new one. No arguing, no pointing fingers. 

He began by releasing assumptions about the nature of reality.

To use Plato’s Allegory of the Cave as a tool for changing perspectives about our western civilization (so we can make one that works better), we’ll start by setting down assumptions about what works and what doesn’t.

Cave 3: The Collective Experience

Besides half-believing that we’ve been plugged into a simulation since 2000, we’ve somehow collectively missed that we’re all in a big cave together, and ‘the way things are’ are absolutely not ‘the way things are.’ Thanks to the blessed wake up call of global warming, Covid-19, social unrest, and viral social media, most of us are starting to see the cracks.

  • The Shadows: The normalized thrum of convenience culture – concrete, privacy, likes, billionaires, food stamps, smog, parking tickets, screen time, next-day delivery, straws, us vs them, political parties, the whole shebang.
  • The Objects Casting the Shadows: Human basic needs – we all want houses, food, activity, entertainment, etc.
  • The Light Behind the Objects: Businesses, media, religions, and governments who want you to see things a certain way – the way that propels the machine.
  • Outside the Cave: An abundance of food, resources, connections, and experiences, provided collaboratively to groups of people based on their similar preferences.
  • The Shadows: The normalized thrum of convenience culture – concrete, privacy, likes, billionaires, food stamps, smog, parking tickets, screen time, next-day delivery, straws, us vs them, political parties, the whole shebang.
  • The Objects Casting the Shadows: Human basic needs – we all want houses, food, activity, entertainment, etc.
  • The Light Behind the Objects: Businesses, media, religions, and governments who want you to see things a certain way – the way that propels the machine.
  • Outside the Cave: An abundance of food, resources, connections, and experiences, provided collaboratively to groups of people based on their similar preferences.
Fernando Cobelo for Unsplash

The nature of the western (especially American) civilization we’ve created is that “if I have more choices, I will have more control, freedom, and safety.” We’ve normalized more choices so much that the choices became faster and more convenient to make it easier to choose more. Choosing more, with more speed and convenience creates more waste than any other individual organism on the planet could produce in 30 lifetimes.

When choices were taken away during lockdown, we realized that more choices do not make us happy. They’re nice, but wow, what makes us happy is relational connection and time. Then we started to see that fewer choices really helped our environment. Fewer choices also freed up our attention to address social issues that have lingered over 50 years past their expiration date. 

We went on a temporary dopamine fast, experienced choice-withdrawal, and realized the system we live in only works for some people (but doesn’t even make them happy when it works).

How do we stop the machine, or, exit the cave?

This cave is challenging, because there are so few examples of a world outside of the machine we’ve created. We can see them in history and other parts of the world – but those are just other caves and machines. Those caves don’t necessarily free us from ours, either. 

The best place to start looking with this cave is to begin asking questions. Pointing fingers just adds more propaganda and more shadows to the wall.

Cave-cracking questions look like:

  • How can we better care for our parents and children while earning what we need?
  • How can we use all the food we make, and grow it in a way that works with the environment?
  • How can we educate young people to bring out their unique brilliance – and prepare them to handle money, parenting, and collaboration?
  • How can we re-invent this debt business?
  • What message is the media actually trying to get us to believe? Or feel?

When you start to ask the too-big-for-just-me questions, you’ll begin to see the cracks. Some of them you actually can take on at an individual level:

  • How can I live my own values rather than the systems’ values?
  • What do I actually want to spend money on?
  • Who is my money actually going to when I buy things?
  • Where is my food coming from?
  • How are there two sides to this story?
  • Who needs my help? In teaching, funding, kindness, opportunity…
  • What choices can I give up altogether that don’t add to my life anyway? (TV channels, apps, clothing items, non-local produce, etc).
We thought that more choices would help us leave our inner limitations (Cave 1) and design the lives we want (cave 2) – but we ended up with so much distraction and thinned attention that we have less choice about what really makes us happy. It’s no coincidence that global warming statistics have worsened at the same time national anxiety, depression, and burnout rates have increased.
Imagining a New Future

What would a civilization with fed, housed, tech-savvy people who live close to nature look like?

That is the grandest quest facing our civilization today. Every single one of us has a role to play – if you’re human you are playing a role, either by living the current paradigm or making it easier for the next generation to live a different one.

The more you step out of Cave 1 and Cave 2, the more you’ll contribute to the Great Reset out of Cave 3, and the Great Return to nature as the cyborgs we have become.

• • •

This is the 3rd of a series on resetting our perceptions in our inner world, our personal lives, and our collective experience. All 3 articles are here:

What resources have helped you imagine a new possible version of society and civilization? Comment / Reply

Eileen Pan for Unsplash

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