Allegory of the Theater

Andrew Wu

June 2, 2023

Imagine that there exists a theater, and within its walls, people of all sizes were gathered. These individuals were restrained by the neck, wearing pillories without posts, restricting them to gaze straight ahead only. All of them were seated in chairs, arranged in orderly rows on a flat incline. In front of them, the stage loomed, elevated in a manner that obstructed their view but allowed them to catch glimpses of a presentation. 

None of them has any recollection of life before the theater, as if they have been there since birth. Their only constant reminder, day after day, is the promise of a magnificent reward awaiting them at the end of the presentation and outside the confines of the theater. The presentation was seemingly endless, spanning years before a new group replaces the previous one. Information seemed to be spouted aimlessly, solely absorbed for the sake of the reward.

One day, a man thought to himself, if he could see the presentation better, then would be able to absorb the information better. With this idea planted in his psyche, the man stood up from his chair. Behind the man sat another person, their view entirely obscuring his view of the presentation. 

Angrily, they too decide to stand up, resulting in the person behind them having their view obstructed as well. Consequently, that person stands up too, perpetuating a cycle that continued until all the people in the theater were standing.

Again, everyone had the same level of view of the stage. Observing the actions of the first man, others began standing on their chairs to get a better view. This triggered a chain reaction, with everyone starting to stand on their chairs. As a result, the presentation projector, compensating for the increased height of the viewers, began to move higher. Making it even more challenging for some people to see.

The cycle viciously repeated as some people brought stools, stacking them on top of the chairs. Others brought ladders, and some even brought climbing gear. The higher and higher the people climbed, the greater danger of falling to the ground. It became a race to the top, no longer the presentation.

Soon, it became evident that if a person were to fall from these heights, they would die. However, the race continued at an even higher speed and dangerously greater heights. The projector moved higher and higher, only for people to surpass the height of the presentation. People kept falling, collapsing, and dying—some accidentally, some on purpose—yet the race persisted. But for what purpose? The information in the presentation? The view? The reward? Or simply peers?

Everyone kept climbing up, but no one dared to sit down.