Some rather interesting passages from the novel, In and Out, by Barry Eisler, who is a former CIA officer.
“Come on, Hurt, Republicans and Democrats . . . . they hate each other, right? There’s competition.”
“Hurt laughed. ‘That’s not competition. It’s supposed to look that way, so people think their interests are being looked after, that they have a choice, that they can make a difference, that they’re in charge. But they don’t.’”
“That doesn’t make sense.”
“I’m afraid it does. You see, there’s more money to be made in cooperation than in competition. It’s the same dynamic that leads to cartels. You can argue that cartels should be competing. But they don’t see it that way. Their profit motive enables them to rise above the urge to compete. In the service of the greater good, naturally. People who think there is actual friction, and real competition, between Democrats and Republicans or between the press and politicians, or between the corporations and their supposed overseers, they’re like primitives looking at shadows on the wall and believing the shadows are the substance.”
Of course, the reference here to shadows on the wall is to Plato’s Republic and his allegory of the cave. In that allegory, Socrates represents life for human beings as like life in a cave, where there is a fire behind the many humans and other humans who project images or shadows onto a wall that the many humans take to be real. The philosopher is the one who climbs out the cave, sees the sun lit world, and realizes that what most humans believe to be real are merely shadows on a wall.
It is necessary to make one emendation to what Hurt says, namely, that Plato knew that this phenomenon of mistaking shadows for reality was not a “primitive” phenomenon. In fact, one could speculate that those we label “primitives” would be less likely to mistake shadows for reality than those who we label “civilized” for the simple reason that such behavior would be far more dangerous in primitive than in civilized conditions. Those who chase or react to shadows would be more likely to overlook real and immediate dangers, “clear and present dangers” as some like to say.
In fact, “civilization” could be one of those shadows on the wall, something that is more evident to the likes of a Huck Finn than the likes of a Tom Sawyer. Tom pursues and achieves what we call “success,” that is, wealth, fame, and the best looking girl in town, while Huck ultimately has “to light out for the territories” in order to be content. Huck won’t be “sivilized,” as he puts it, because that means wearing shoes, not smoking, attending church, and abiding by the likes of Aunt Polly. It’s just not for him. And we can ask: Who is pursuing a shadow, Huck or Tom?
Of course, the more relevant aspect to these passages concerns our political order. Is our alleged two party system a shadow on the wall or is it real? And if it is merely a shadow on the wall, what is the reality that that shadow covers over? It could be something like the cartels that Hurt talks about or it could be the collusion that some have noticed in the behavior of our “two” parties. And it doesn’t seem unimportant to figure this out.