Plato's Allegory of the Facebook Wall

[Socrates] And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened: --Behold! human beings living in a dark warehouse, sitting at computers. They have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see the social media feeds before them. 
[Glaucon] I see. 
[Socrates] And do you see, I said, the stories passing by the news feed. Some of them are talking, some commenting, others liking, friending and unfriending, others silent.
[Glaucon] You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners. 
[Socrates] Like ourselves, I replied; and they see only their own shadows on these Facebook walls, or the shadows of one another, which the Facebook algorithms curate for us. With each comment, like, or interaction Facebook creates a shadow world that it casts specifically for us. 
[Glaucon] True, he said; how could they see anything but the shadows if they were allowed to create their own world and never allowed to move their heads? 
[Socrates] And of the stories and lives being presented, they would only see the shadows, the imitations, and fanciful farce of themselves and others? 
[Glaucon] Yes, he said. 
[Socrates] And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them? 
[Glaucon] Very true. 
[Socrates] And suppose further that the prison had an echo which came from the other side, that as they had defriended dissenting opinions, and repeatedly liked only the same voices, the echo would grow and become one with their own voice?
[Glaucon] No question, he replied. 
[Socrates] To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images carefully curated for them. 
[Glaucon] That is certain. 
[Socrates] And now look again, and see what will naturally follow if the prisoners are released and disabused of their error. At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look outside, he will suffer sharp pains; the opposing opinions will distress him. The realities of his former state were mere shadows. Now conceive someone saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision, -what will be his reply? And you may further imagine that his instructor is pointing to the objects as they pass and requiring him to name them, -will he not be perplexed? Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him? 
[Glaucon] Far truer. 
[Socrates] And if he is compelled to look straight at the world, will he not have a pain in his eyes which will make him turn away to take in the objects of vision that comforted his perspective and which he will conceive to be in reality clearer than the things which are now being shown to him? 
[Glaucon] True, he will. 
[Socrates] And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged into the presence of people who do not agree with him, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? When he approaches the other people as people, will he not be dazzled. Will he be able to see that the other person is more than one status update that triggered him?
[Glaucon] Not all in a moment, he said. 
[Socrates] He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the non-digital world. First he will see the shadows of those similar, next the reflections of other men, and then he will begin to hear stories for themselves.
[Glaucon] Certainly. 
[Socrates] Last off he will be able to see the world, and not mere reflections of himself or others. He will see people as people and not as curated shadows.
[Glaucon] Certainly. 
[Socrates] If the prisoners were in the habit of conferring “likes” among themselves on those who were quickest to observe the passing shadows and to remark jovially or cynically in the comments; and who were therefore best able to attract the admiration of the other prisoners, do you think that he would care for such honors and glories, or envy the possessors of them? Would he not say with Homer, Better to be the poor servant of a poor master, and to endure anything, rather than think as they do and live after their manner? 
[Glaucon] Yes, he said, I think that he would rather suffer anything than entertain these false notions and live in this miserable manner. 
[Socrates] Imagine once more, I said, such a one coming suddenly out of the world to be replaced in his old fabricated digital situation; would he not be certain to have his eyes full of darkness? 
[Glaucon] To be sure, he said. 
[Socrates] And if there were a contest, and he had to compete in measuring the news feed shadows with the other prisoners who had never moved away from their computers, while his sight was still weak, and before his eyes had become re-accustomed to the screens and banal chatter, would he not be ridiculous? Men would say of him that outside he went and back he came without his eyes; and that it was better not even to think of departing; and if any one tried to loose another and lead him outside, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death. 
[Glaucon] No question, he said. 

In many ways, we have fallen into a divided, tribal world. Wonderfully powerful tools of communication that were supposed to connect us are now distancing us. Facebook algorithms are built to feed you content you like so that you will keep coming back to your newsfeed, and as you return, again and again, you can be monetized through advertisements. Because this curated, mirrored, world is the nature of many social channels, we have unwittingly created our own echo chambers, and for many that has become their reality. When we live too much in the shadow worlds we have created, we are shocked and outraged when we encounter a differing or challenging opinion. We need to fight this trend. We need to go outside and encounter people. That is the heart of Catholic Beer Club’s mission, to encounter people and build community. That cannot happen in an echo chamber. Let’s all agree to stop complaining online, and instead, go therefore, and be the change we hope to see in the world.

Tribalism and Truth

We’ve been busy here at Catholic Beer Club. As we generate new posts through a new growing mentality of writing, we are continually building ourselves upward and outward. A key facet of our mission is to evangelize and encounter the world without agendas. That’s a tough mission, considering the purpose of evangelizing is to bring the Good News to all people. We, though, are committed to ensuring that this Good News comes in the form of a beer and not a soapbox, given to you in a relationship, not a lecture. We believe this in all things that we do, and we are confident about it. And we love to do it. We live in a world of lost souls, and like you, we are a people longing for a place, a home, and a community. We are lost sheep seeking our flock.

We notice as one of the most prevalent aspects of our being lost is something everyone likes to talk about: dating. Yes, dating, the D-word, the one where we all have some opinion or another and we all still don’t have a clue what the right way forward is. Of course, I exaggerate with all; there are certainly some helpful and truthful commentaries out there. But for the most part we struggle to build relationships with our counterparts and to establish and enjoy joint companionships of both love and responsibility.

For the past two months CBC has been banging our heads against the wall trying to figure out what it is that prevents us from understanding something that should be inherent to the human heart. I began with a forcefully blunt criticism on the unproductive overreaction to the secular dating crisis. Our editors liked parts of the draft, but made some significant changes. We went back and forth, not exactly sure we were getting anywhere. We couldn’t figure it out. We kept thinking, “Surely it can’t be this hard?” We chewed on it until we couldn’t chew anymore. We brought our heads together, and sometimes they banged a little too hard, and we just got even more dazed. And that’s how we stumbled upon something very important. Division.

Part of the Good News is unity. We are a united body of people, and despite our cultural, geographic, and historic backgrounds, we are one. Don’t take this as some idealistic desire for peace on earth. What we’re say saying is that we are all rational animals capable of arriving at the same truth. The problem, though, is that our pride awakens a subtle yet strong division. Meaning, someone can say something truthful or founded on the truth; but, because of the many diverse experiences we each have (which we often take as the totality of truth), we divide the truth into a sort of opinionated tribalism. “This is the truth!” Well, sort of. You have a stake in the truth, but that doesn’t mean you have the whole picture.

Dating is a victim of this tribalism. Our human intellect should lead us to a universal truth about dating that we can all utilize. But, our human pride says that when we experience just a sliver of this truth, we claim it as the only and entire truth. This is wrong. The division is perpetuated by tribal leaders who comprise the vast majority of people talking about dating. Call these 90 percent or so of people the theoretical experts. They’re smart, they have background, and they are probably correct in numerous aspects. But they batter back and forth on the validity or invalidity of each other. In the end, when we all present different ideas, we are no closer to understanding what to do. Or worse, we subscribe wholesale to one mentality or another at the risk of excluding something additionally truthful.

But then there are those who refuse to partake in a tribe. They exile themselves and, like nomads, go from place to place, gathering everything they can to understand the whole truth. Call these people your field experts, the 10 percent that not only have a stake in the truth, but have an experiential authority on the broad spectrum of human experience. They’ve seen just about everything, they’ve rooted themselves in the truth of human nature and natural law, and have drawn valid conclusions on the human heart. They do not make comments that simply add onto the truth; they establish declarations about the truth itself, which we can all understand. We have some examples in mind, and we’re excited to share some of them in the future.

We at CBC and many of our readers know that there is some problem in dating today, even if we can’t quite name it. We believe that this problem cannot be remedied by creating more problems or by dividing our solutions into tribes. And we believe that the path forward to resolving our difficulty lies with the truth, and begins with its most basic fundamental facets. These three principles are how we at CBC plan on presenting any further posts on dating. We call it a lens, and not a platform. We don’t have perquisites on dating that must be met; if we did we would be guilty of establishing a hegemonic tribe. We understand that people experience dating in vast and diverse ways. What we are doing here is asking our authors to take those experiences and look at them through our three-part lens. The problems they find and the solutions they offer must begin with truth, which is most universal to all, and elucidated by the field experts, not the tribal leaders.

What we ask from you is to help us find those field experts, those Noble Nomads who have experienced the world and seen humanity at its best and worst. We have some pretty good ideas of where to start, but we’re not monopolists, and want to see who else is out there that we haven’t thought of. Comment below to offer your suggestions. We’re all lost sheep today, just trying to find our way back home.  

Tellin' It Like It Is...But No One is Listening

“Uncharitable.” “Crude.” “Hyperbolic.” “Jerk.” “Condescending.” “Sarcastic.” “I don’t like his tone…” “I don’t usually post his stuff…” “It’s another rant…” Those are all ways some Catholics have prefaced posts they shared from a certain public figure. They follow with “but…”: “…but what he says is true…” “…but he’s telling it like it is…” “…but it needs to be heard…”

These weren’t taken from posts sharing Donald Trump, though they could have been. These Catholics were sharing articles from a certain conservative Catholic commentator and blogger. I don’t want to name the author for one primary reason: He is not the subject of this article. The subject is the decisions we make when we decide to share the truth given to us. If a Catholic post can be fairly characterized as “condescending” or “uncharitable,” for example, it’s probably not worth sharing, even if it says true things.


1) Alienating the audience

Truth and method are inseparable. When I read an article or listen to an argument filled with insults, I don’t become interested in truly listening, much less able to listen. I am not alone in this. I can’t think of a time a person changed his mind because of a condescending, crude, or hyperbolic presentation of the truth, no matter how true the truths were or how badly truth needed to be heard.

There’s good reason for this: The truth communicated and the method of presentation are, at the level of their impact, inseparable. An alienating method creates an alienating message. Every piece of information we acquire, every argument we listen to, every word we read is sifted through our whole self: Our experiences, preconceptions, emotions, needs, and desires. One such desire is the desire to be respected and affirmed. Not to be coddled when in error, but to have our value affirmed even when we are corrected or challenged. Humans don’t listen to people who belittle them. Right or wrong, that’s the way it is.

Please consider your own experience, but I venture that if someone actually does give insult-bathed logic the time of day, the goal for that day is most likely only to prepare a rebuttal, not to consider the truth of the argument presented.

Some of the authors I have in mind know this. That’s why we see statements like this one in a recent post that was more inflammatory than enlightening: “I will not convince them of that…but allow me to waste my breath anyway.” The author may have been writing tongue in cheek, but struck a chord of truth. Interestingly he created a self-fulfilling prophesy: By stating that his opponents cannot be convinced of truth, he implicitly questions their desire or ability to grasp the truth, and further discourages them from receiving the truths he proffers. He was, in fact, wasting his breath.


2) Overdoing it

Truth speaks for itself, but can be assisted or hindered. Hebrews calls the Word of God sharper than any double-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, and between joint and marrow. Truth cuts deep into a person and brings change, change that is often painful. If truth is what we say it is, then it does not need our elaboration to be convincing. It pierces us, and as its roots penetrate further depths, it begins to bloom within us. Our heart is set up for this to happen.

Even though truth can hold its own, particular methods and choices about how we deliver truth can assist or impede the listener in his or her receptivity, choices such as whether to be gentle or forceful, serious or humorous, etc. The heart designed for truth can be softened or hardened.

St. Benedict acknowledged the need to pay attention to the personality and dispositions of the one receiving a correction. He recommended that the abbots in his monasteries use gentleness of speech with some, entreaties with others, and even rebuking with others, according to the character and strength of the one being corrected. One method doesn’t fit all.

But there is a reason that although St. Benedict also made provisions for corporal punishment to correct the disobedient, that practice has fallen out of style. As our collective experience and knowledge in the Church grew, we learned of the inefficacy and danger of physical force in the name of the Gospel. Such a method, you might say, “overdid it” and created more grounds for objection than following.

The same is true today for how we disrespect, belittle, and condescend each other over the Internet and airwaves, all in the name of “telling it like it is” (viz. Christ). Truth may be assisted by a spoonful of sugar or even a booming voice, but when our method pushes the listener to humiliation or defensiveness, we’ve done little good for anyone. That’s not the kind of help the truth can use.


3) Forgetting gratuitousness

Truth isn’t a trophy. “We do not possess the truth, the truth possesses us.” Pope Benedict XVI drew us to humility with these words. Truth is something that happens to us and takes hold of our being. In Christianity we recognize this as a gift, not the fruit of our efforts or a long, hard, and drawn out philosophical discourse. I can’t explain why truth exists in my life; I can only witness to the fact that it does.

Condescension shuts out this reality. It is premised on presumption of superiority, there’s no way around it. Thus condescension is scandalous. It is scandalous not because it betrays the pride of the one condescending (a sinful Christian is just a Christian, not a scandal), but because it purveys a lie about the nature of truth. It says truth is something to be proud of, not thankful for; that it is something achieved, not given.

We can never share truth without a reverence for its power over us, or without wonder at why such power is exercised. “There but for the grace of God go I.” Any portrayal of truth should inspire humility. And rather than a sense of superiority, a sense of fraternity, love, sympathy, and respect for the person with whom we disagree should prevail. I don’t know why I have received what others have not.

I apologize for the inadequacy of my language in expressing the mystery of truth, grace, etc., but suffice it to say this: Truth is a gift, not a license to be a jerk.


So what is the proper method? I hope to dig deeper into this question in future posts. Catholic Beer Club seeks to engage the culture and I will focus my foreseeable monthly posts on fleshing out what this means. I suspect that the answer will be less about strategy and more about witness. Perhaps other contributors will join me in this conversation, and probably disagree with me. That’s welcome. For now, at the very least, I can say this: The methods we choose have a real effect inasmuch as we’re dealing with real people. Out of concern for the real effect of our methods, respect for the dignity of those we engage, and out of reverence for the truth we convey, let’s be solicitous.