Plato’s safe space: Stepping out of our allegorical cave

I may vehemently disagree with what you have to say, but I respect your right to have that opinion and to express it; who am I to shut down your thoughts and replace them with my own?


DENVER, April 29, 2017 — Imagine for a moment a safe space. The ideology of those who are in this safe space does not matter: conservative, liberal, libertarian, Han-Solo-Shot-First-ist, you choose. Bob, a student, has been in this safe space since college began, surrounded only by people with the same viewpoints and ideas he has. He’s never been exposed to other opinions or differing perspectives and is unaware that they exist.

One day, Bob becomes curious. He steps outside of his safe space into an entirely new world, a world of differing opinions, a world in which people can engage in civil discourse politely and rationally, where people enjoy the freedom to speak their minds.

If you think this sounds like Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, you’re exactly right. While the outside world in the original allegory alluded to higher forms of reality regarding truth and justice, the outside world in the modern allegory is the world of different opinions, of different viewpoints, of different ideologies.

Those on the left boldly assert that this other world is hazardous; it is full of “hate speech,” “intolerance” and “micro aggressions.” This is their poor excuse to remain in their cave and avoid this higher reality.

America has a problem: We can’t accept or tolerate other people’s viewpoints, and it’s getting worse.

We see it often on the news: A scheduled event at a university is shut down or turned into a riot because fascists calling themselves “defenders of free speech” attack the speaker and the audience. They turn what could have been a productive educational opportunity into a fear-for-your-life calamity.

This happened with Ann Coulter at UC Berkeley, Ben Shapiro at CSULA, Charles Murray at Middlebury College, and others. It doesn’t matter whether you agree with what they have to say; what matters is that they have the chance to say it in a peaceful environment. You can draw your own conclusions from there.

That is not what’s happening.

As Dave Rubin points out in the PragerU video “Why I Left the Left,” the “battle of ideas has been replaced by a battle of feelings, and outrage has replaced honesty.”

Violent groups like Antifa proclaim their agenda is to defend the right to free speech and to stop “Nazis” from speaking, but it turns out that these groups are no better than the Nazis. The Nazis censored competing thought; they burned books and denounced the ideas of Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Edmund Husserl and others. They permitted only one ideology, only one position.

The left applauds and hoorahs for diversity and differing viewpoints, but their behavior declares another message: You have the right to an opinion, as long as it is the right opinion. That’s absurd. Opinions are subjective and can neither be right nor wrong.

According to a Pew Research Poll, “roughly four-in-ten consistent liberals on Facebook (44%) say they have blocked or defriended someone on social media because they disagreed with something that person posted about politics.” This is ignorance and pure hypocrisy from people who say they promote “diversity” and “tolerance.” Do we now need to block people simply because we don’t like what they say? Is speech that offensive now?

The same poll found that “consistent liberals are more likely to stop talking to someone because of politics,” with 24 percent having done so compared to 16 percent of consistent conservatives and 10 percent of those with mixed political views. Not talking to people just because you disagree with their politics is a low blow. We have reached a point where we don’t judge people on their character or their behavior, but on their political ideologies.

Many of my friends are liberals, but though I disagree with what they have to say, my perception of their character isn’t changed in the slightest.

As Rubin says, for progressives, “diversity reigns supreme, as long as it’s not that pesky diversity of thought.” If progressives and Democrats want to be known as the “party of diversity,” they better start acting like it.

Conservatives aren’t entirely faultless. According to the same research poll, “consistent conservatives are twice as likely as the typical Facebook user to see political opinions on Facebook that are mostly in line with their own views” (47 vs. 23 percent). Viewing only pages that support your viewpoint is another way to trap yourself inside your own cave; you see only what you want to see, ignoring the opinions of others.

Those conservatives should open their horizons and open their views to other sources, even if they don’t like those sources. It’s not a matter of liking them or not; it’s a matter of broadening your scope and being exposed to other ideas. Hearing and considering different ideas will ultimately help develop and enhance your ability to form and defend your own argument.

Voltaire once said, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

I may not agree with you politically—I may vehemently disagree with what you have to say—but I respect your right to have that opinion and to express it. Who am I to shut down your thoughts while forcing mine upon you?

This is the mindset America needs to acquire: the mindset in which we acknowledge the other person’s right to speak and share their views. It’s not the content that matters; it’s the right to be heard. And then, if you don’t agree with the content, you can exercise that same right to be heard and offer your viewpoint.

Some people will say an article like this is offensive or “triggering.” They’ll flaunt their feelings and wallow in them, rejecting anything that contradicts what they feel. To them I say, take half a step out of your cave, out of your safe space, out of your comfort zone, and join the world of differing opinions. Remaining ignorant and isolated is no way to go through life.

We all have biases, preconceived notions and our own viewpoints; we should. But so do other people, as they should. Let them speak. The freedom to speak is one our most fundamental rights. Disagreement with speech doesn’t give us the right to shut it down.

It gives us a right to respond. It gives us a right to engage others in discourse, to offer different opinions, and finally, as French moralist Joseph Joubert said, to progress.

Whether you’re a liberal or a conservative, take a small step out of your cave or your safe space. Step into the world where people can have productive arguments and can express their opinions without the fear of a riot breaking out. Acknowledge that others have the same right to express an opinion as you do. If we can’t even bear to listen to people who have differing viewpoints from ours, we can never move forward as a society.

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