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The Miracle of Context

Image Source: Minds . Can you recognize  the truth, if it's taken out of context? The Internet has lately become Pandora's Box, spilling out its contents to those who dare to look  (or look again - or again ). Images Source: Hello! Magazine / Getty . Last week, a friend dismissed my claim that people want to see the truth. He thinks people are not interested in abstracts like 'truth.' They just want to get on with their lives. Whether they want the truth or not, the signs and symbols of truth are on the move. Conversations float around and skim the surface. Another friend wondered out loud tonight, "It feels like the virus is more of a meme than anything else." In the wake of the US inauguration, disinformation, strange rumours, and weird info dumps are circulating online. Everything feels off, but bizarrely connected. There is something bigger at play. Image Source: 4chan ; also here . Truth and fiction overlap. There is no way to drill down to bedrock. It

Red-Pilled Meta-Truthers and Platonic Outsiders

Still from Coppola's Outsiders. Image Source: Mental Floss. All copyrighted material reproduced under Fair Use.

To understand Millennial truther movements and their love of rabbit holes, conspiracy theories and ever-more-complete explanations, no matter how counter-factual they may be, we need to understand how descriptive language in similes and metaphors works.

Descriptions of things, which are not the things in and of themselves, can construct the mood and philosophical perspective of a whole world. Metaphors and similes are descriptive tools which sharpen our understanding of a thing. At the same time, they are laden with judgements, emotions, and bids for power. We get closer and closer to describing something accurately, but at the same time, we get further and further away from that thing's basic reality.

In the Beginning was the Word

The sun, planets and angels and the firmament. Woodcut (1475). Image Source: Wiki.

This is the symbolic significance of 'creation' as depicted in the Bible. God creates reality with 'the Word.' He describes the firmament (land) to separate the ocean (waters). The first gift God grants Adam mirrors God's own creative power, channeled through the ability to name things. It is not a thing alone, but the meta-nomenclature around the thing, which builds its whole reality.

"In the beginning was the Word." Image Source: Wiki.

Adam naming the animals. Etching by G. Scotin and J. Cole after H. Gravelot and J.B. Chatelain (1743). Image Source: Wellcome Collection.

The simplest literary constructions which illustrate these two degrees of reality (something and something-described) are metaphors and similes. Amateurish writing is often marked by clumsy similes and metaphors, because students are aware that they need to transport the reader into a dream world, but they choose familiar and mundane analogies which don't transport the reader anywhere. The advice to students when crafting similes and metaphors is to come up with something unique and, if possible, unprecedented. Take E. M. Forster's A Room with a View (1908): "'Life' wrote a friend of mine, 'is a public performance on the violin, in which you must learn the instrument as you go along.'" In some cases, a whole novel can serve as one big metaphor: Heart of Darkness, Metamorphosis, Moby-Dick, Dracula, Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The Outsiders: Escape from Plato's Cave

There are writing guides which describe different types of similes and comparative remarks - descriptive, ornamental, proverbial. My favourite type of metaphor or simile is - in my terms - invisible. I have rarely seen a more seamless metaphor than that used at the beginning of S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders (1967). The main metaphor is embedded in the first half of the opening sentence:
"When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home ... ."
The metaphor was repeated at the beginning of the Francis Ford Coppola's 1983 film version of the book. Coppola highlighted the first part of the metaphor in the opening of the film:
"When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house ... ."

The Outsiders (opening scene & opening credits) Stay Gold. Video Source: Youtube.

This is an incredible metaphor. You wouldn't catch Hinton's analogy unless you were paying attention. Her metaphor refers to Plato's Cave. Plato's Cave can be taken as the metaphor to end all metaphors. It is a metaphor which describes the mechanics and meaning of all metaphors. It is also the metaphor which most clearly describes Millennial consciousness.

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave - Alex Gendler (17 March 2015). Video Source: Youtube.

As an analogy to the Cave, The Outsiders' opening sentence contains a trick. The reader identifies with the narrator. The opening sentence situates the reader's everyday reality inside the movie house, or inside Plato's Cave. This implies that everyday reality is an illusion, shadows on a wall. Hinton's book, or Coppola's film, offers a way out, awakening the reader or audience to realities outside the Cave. The reader's truth is fiction, and fiction (the book or film) is truth.

Hinton's book is a fictionalized recollection of Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA, but the novel purports to tell us the real truth about life in that city in 1965, rather than the one depicted in history or the one that was projected upon reality through the minds of city dwellers, who saw what they wanted to see. Hinton seems to say that Tulsa could only be honestly depicted through a fictional truth-telling. A main theme in The Outsiders is that everyone plays a social role to maintain an illusion of how things are expected to be. But the reality is the opposite of what it appears to be. The nice people aren't nice. The nasty people aren't that bad. The outsiders are insiders.

The hidden Platonic metaphor conveys a shorthand of many related, dualistic concepts as we leave the Cave. Immersed in this tale of liberation, we awaken to a higher level of awareness, one step removed from everyday reality:

(0) Reader -> (1) Fictional Narrator
History -> Metahistory / Novel / Cinema
False societal projections upon reality -> Memory in fiction as truth
Public experience in Tulsa, 1965 -> Revealed private Tulsa in novel
Town leaders are heroes -> Town criminals are heroes
Social conditioning and power -> Revolutionary inversions
What people want to see in society -> The way society really is
Strategic, emotionless control -> Emotional loyalties
Being true to society's demands -> Being true to yourself
Asleep -> Awake
Image on Plato's Wall -> Reality outside Plato's Cave

The first thing you notice as you leave Plato's Cave and enter Hinton's fictional reality is that morality and heroism are inverted. Moral meaning outside Plato's Cave is upside down. Hinton's story focuses on the Greasers, anti-heroes who are impoverished and lower class. Most are high school drop-outs and criminals, although Hinton's Greaser protagonist, Ponyboy Curtis, comes from a family which would have been middle class, but they fell through the cracks. The three Curtis brothers have lost their parents and were cut off from the American Dream. They lead the Greasers, and can access both worlds - poor and rich.

The Greasers. Image Source: pinterest.

American actors Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, C. Thomas Howell, Patrick Swayze, and Tom Cruise on the 1983 set of Francis Ford Coppola's movie adaptation of The Outsiders. Image Source: Corbis / Getty Images via ThoughtCo.

The protagonist, Ponyboy, is the best of the Greasers, indicated by his love of Robert Frost's poetry. At every sunrise, he repeats Frost's plaintive line: Nothing gold can stay. He is a model for people who choose to move one step beyond their social circumstances and conditioning, to haul themselves out of the muck. The title of the book appears to refer to all the Greasers, who are alienated outcasts. But the real outsiders are characters who strive for something more, a higher truth:
"Guess we're different, huh?"
This revelation in The Outsiders comes when two of the Greasers, Ponyboy and Johnny, go on the run from the law, leave the city, and take refuge in an isolated country church. In hermit-like isolation, they gain deeper understanding.

Nothing Gold Can Stay Poem *The Outsiders (8 January 2017). Video Source: Youtube.

Hinton's upper class Socials or 'Socs,' seemingly perfect children from the wealthy side of town, are clean-cut, beautiful, emotionally cool, remote, deprived and depraved. They revere material wealth, charisma, and leadership.

The Socs. Image Source: pinterest.

Both sides - rich and poor - are violent and murderous, competitive, flawed, and mired in confusion. Hinton's story reveres redemptive characters on both sides of the divide who try to reach each other and find common ground, like the girlfriend of the Soc leader, Cherry Valance. Ponyboy and Cherry are the actual outsiders. As awakened truth-tellers, they change the lives of those around them. These two characters settle on the fact that sunrises and sunsets are beautiful; these are messages in the natural world left by God, and the characters can see them from both sides of town:
"It seemed funny that the sunset [Cherry] saw from her patio and the one I saw from the back steps was the same one. Maybe the two worlds we lived in weren't so different. We saw the same sunset."

Diane Lane as Cherry Valance. Image Source.

Not only is meaning inverted outside the Cave, but there is a higher truth, one step removed from everyday reality. The sunrises (births) and sunsets (deaths) designate a higher power (or higher powers) one degree of truth beyond the human social order.

Steps Up or Down to Many Truths

Illustration of Plato's Cave. Image Source: TV Tropes.

The Plato's Cave metaphor in The Outsiders assumes that the perception of truth is reversed and incremental. At this stage in the path to greater knowledge, you challenge all your preconceived notions about the way the world works. Hinton recognizes that social injustice and poverty dehumanize poor people, while wealth and power corrupt rich people. But you can't - as socialists would argue - just be poor to occupy the moral high ground. Cherry Valance - and the Curtis brothers, who were once part of a well-off family - prove that rich people are not automatically evil.

Everyone, everywhere, has to question their social, economic, and political assumptions to gain greater understanding. They must move beyond the reality they take for granted. These are free will decisions. As an individual becomes more aware and awake, he or she sees - in this first step - that heart trumps mind, intuition bests knowing, art transcends science.

The Outsiders is a tale of step one awakening. Beyond that, Hinton hints at more steps up (or down) the ladder. There are always more degrees of knowledge and awareness to seek. There are good and evil ways, toward the sunrises and sunsets. Truthers have a choice to go up or down, toward life or death.

Image Source: Les Sept Sceaux.

The Jewish mystical Kabbalistic diagram of the Tree of Life (Sephiroth), mirrored in the ground by the Tree of Death (Qliphoth), takes Plato's Cave metaphor of greater knowledge and multiplies it into many increments of awakening. It presents the idea that one may climb up to higher levels of understanding and enlightenment toward liberating and good behaviour; or one may fall incrementally, deeper and deeper into ever-darker realms of knowledge and action. In The Outsiders, the character Dallas descends into the Tree of Death.

The Outsiders - Dally's Death (18 June 2016). Video Source: Youtube.

Plato's Cave metaphor is repeated and reimagined again and again throughout philosophical literature, wherever we seek to grow beyond the obvious. There are many metaphors which describe these breakthroughs, always emphasizing levels, degrees, increments, and hierarchies of morality, walking hand-in-hand with more elaborate language and symbols, indicating greater knowledge.

"A traveller puts his head under the edge of the firmament in the original (1888) printing of the Flammarion wood engraving." The Flammarion engraving presents a breakthrough in perspective similar to that of Plato's Cave. Image Source: Wiki.

At every step, the message is reinforced: if you want to know more, be prepared to know things in a different way. A good pop cultural illustration of the process is the 2016 film, Doctor Strange. Be prepared to challenge that which you took for granted, not once, but over, and over, and over. Be ready to turn everything upside down, again and again. Accept that knowledge will come to you from unlikely, possibly discredited sources, in weird ways. Some of those paths lead to greater health, beauty, and magnanimity. Some lead to false light: sexual abuse, drugged revelations, exploitation, and death.

Alice in Wonderland's metaphorical path to greater knowledge is filled with sinister connotations. The Alice Tarot from Baba Studio. Image Source: Cult of Tarot.

Red-Pilled Meta-Truthers

Image Source: Telegraph. Copyrighted still from The Matrix reproduced under Fair Use.

After taking the Red Pill. Image Source: Matrix Wiki. Copyrighted still from The Matrix reproduced under Fair Use.

Plato's Cave leads us to the Millennial Red Pill metaphor. They are basically the same idea. Both concepts demand that we break through illusions and social conditioning. Each smaller truth gives way to larger truths, like a series of Chinese boxes. There are always new meta-levels of narrative meaning or descriptive information. The naming of a thing is contained within a hierarchy of nested metaphors. The free-thinkers on the Internet today would see the initial distinction in terms of being blue-pilled or red-pilled:

(0) Image on Plato's Wall -> (1) Reality outside Plato's Cave
Blue-pilled -> Red-pilled
1st, basic level awareness -> Higher, 2nd level consciousness
Asleep -> Awake 
Science -> Art
Rationalist -> Noetic or Poetic
Knowing via the 5 senses -> Knowing reality via intuition
The material world -> Spiritual, imaginative worlds
Subjective -> Objective
a posteriori -> a priori
Aristotelians --> Platonists

Plato's Cave shows how an investigative description of something takes us step-by-step beyond reality as we experience it. We must qualify everything with more explanations and data, and different ways of understanding things.

For people who place faith in scientific investigation, this is disturbing. But it informs the way 'true reality' - a meta level of understanding - is accepted on the Internet. Why, for example, would a formal, academic history of Tulsa in the 1960s be less accurate than a literary coming-of-age tale of Tulsa in the 1960s, based on S. E. Hinton's personal memories? The idea is that there are human truths which transcend basic, vetted facts, which can only be understood at a meta level, through literary metaphors and emotions.

Rob Lowe makes surprise visit to Tulsa to see The Outsiders House (17 March 2017). Video Source: Youtube.

This is difficult, because all advanced global societies today ground their authority in the assumption that rational thinking is the only valid way to understand reality. Scientific investigation of reality is more valid than knowing something through solipsistic intuition, faith, or feeling. Science is associated with control of reality. But in order to really gain control of reality, you have to give up rationalist control. You have to be able to move beyond your systemic framework.

The Internet truther movement - anti-establishment to its core - prioritizes intuitive understanding as a higher principle than rationalization. Anons and truthers 'just know' everything is wrong.

It wasn't always that way. Anons and the alt media initially accepted scientific investigation of the material world, based on the five senses. They were willing to research meticulously social, economic, and political problems. WikiLeaks was a good example of a free-thinking effort which adhered to the rationalist model. Julian Assange and his team revealed concealed data so that common people could rationalize their reality accurately and judge it for themselves. However, the establishment crushed Assange and retreated back into a smoke-and-mirrors, top-down propagandistic control of the herd.

As a result, the establishment, while resting on its laurels, spawned a neo-NeoPlatonic anti-rationalist movement on the Internet. In these online circles, truth is more important than rationalized order, even at the cost of madness. Truthers and conspiracists claim that the authoritative order which has been nominally based on scientific and rationalist thinking is corrupted, and has engaged in cover-ups and lies. Because of this, the only way to find the truth of the whole situation is to intuit one's way through the dark patches, concealed from reason. This is why conspiracy theories are so crazy. Theorists seek to fill in the blank spots, intentionally erased or hidden by a beleaguered rationalist establishment.


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