The Genuine Imitation and Plato’s Noble Lie

By a remarkable coincidence, after posting on “The Genuine Imitation” last evening I awoke this morning to an extremely interesting article on “post-truth” society in today’s Guardian, (“How technology disrupted the truth“). The author, Katherine Viner, writes disturbingly of “the diminishing status of truth”, and it brought to mind Rolf Jensen’s equally dismissive remarks about the value of “scientific truth” for branding and for the functioning of his “Dream Society”, the ideal of the general tendency of “marketing 3.0”.

In Jensen’s Dream Society, the spoils of victory, political and economic, go to those who tell the best stories  — to the most effective corporate storytellers or “managers of meaning”, as Mark and Pearson call the brandmeisters in their own book on archetypal branding The Hero and the Outlaw, as discussed earlier. In Jensen’s Dream Society, managers of meaning, like “biopiracy“, roam the world’s cultures mining them for effective stories for branding campaigns in a society where everything has become “public relations”.

“Post-truth society” — also described in other contexts and which is reflected in Jensen’s Dream Society of what I call “Capitalism 3.0”– has raised fears about the future viability of democracy, all of which I tend to attribute to the viral psychic contagion of Margaret Thatcher’s TINA principle (There is No Alternative) and to Fukuyama’s “end of history” meme. My own interest lies in how to interpret this development in relation to Gebser studies and in terms of the history and evolution of consciousness (or psychohistory).

Initial impressions lead one to the conclusion that the realm of technics is generating a substitute or surrogate reality — a bubble of perception as the “genuine imitation” as I call it (and which has even been used as a marketing slogan). But thinking about this further brought to mind something else — Plato’s separation of logos from mythos even earlier that marks the true emergence of a self-conscious mental-rational consciousness structure from the mythical consciousness. The separation of logos and mythos was the initial incision into the realm of being, the early form of the subject – object dichotomisation of reality. To logos (or “logic”) was attributed the realm of truth as fact, and to mythos was attributed the realm of fiction or lie.

The irony in Plato, it seems to me, is that in having split being in two in such a way — the incipient dualisms of true and false, fact and fiction, object and subject realities — Plato then had to introduce a kind of deus ex machina or an intellectual trick to put them back together again in the form of “the Noble Lie”, now considered a mythos, and mythos now considered fictive or as mere confabulation. The Noble Lie would make the masses governable in Plato’s Republic. And there’s little doubt that Christianity, which was originally a very existentialist credo, was massaged and adapted for this purpose in the late and decadent stages of the Roman Empire, particularly with the great fraud called “the Donation of Constantine“.

Noble Lie theory is still echoed in one of the founding fathers of modern science, Francis Bacon, who coined the slogan of the modern era — “scientia potens est“, or “knowledge is power”. More recently it has surfaced again in the form of the Platonic political philosophy of Leo Strauss and the Straussians who formed the core of the neo-conservative movement.

Plato has often been charged with being the true spiritual father of fascism for that reason. But observe the irony of this. Having made an incision into the realm of being by dividing logos and mythos, or mind and heart as it were and with all the consequences of that, Plato had to introduce a mere artifice in the form of the “Noble Lie” to patch it up again — like Humpty-Dumpty. Plato’s Noble Lie is, itself, a “genuine imitation”. Having introduced a dualism between logos and mythos where there was formerly a polarity or complementarity, as Gebser insists is the main feature of the mythical consciousness, Plato might be said to be the real father of mental-rational dualism. This is the mode of consciousness that Rosenstock-Huessy dismisses as “the Greek Mind” — Greek rationalism, which he deemed to be essentially flawed (Heraclitus excepted, who he called “the Greek Buddha”).

Jensen’s “Dream Society” of “post-truth” very much relies on Platonic Noble Lie theory to function at all, and in this it reveals perhaps the very flaw of the Greek Mind that Rosenstock-Huessy saw must be overcome by a new “metanoia“.  Ironically, like Fukuyama’s end of history declaration, Jensen’s own characterisation of the Dream Society as the “final form of human society” may contain an ambiguous truth to it, one in which the implicit flaw of the Greek Mind finally comes home to roost.

You may well ask the pertinent question: how can a post-truth society, or Jensen’s “Dream Society”, even survive? In Jensen’s case the answer lies in a dangerous presumption. That presumption is that the realm of technics or technology has reached a state of relative autonomy and can sustain the social system without much in the way of reliance on human ingenuity or supervision. Human beings in the affluent West, in any case, are ‘freed” to luxuriate in dreams, fantasies and fairy-tales and a life of consumption while our technical slaves take care of reason and reality and maintenance. What need of reason (or even responsibility, as it turns out) when you live at the “end of history” and in a human society in its “final form” where all human needs (including now, spiritual ones) are efficiently and immediately satisfied by the market and by technologies of consumption? The real problem then is to make such a life of zombie consumption in some way meaningful and purposive — to sell a “reason for being” — and this seems to be the main rationale for “spiritual marketing” or “holistic branding” as the management of meaning.

There is also the assumption, rather explicit in Jensen’s The Dream Society, that envy of aristocratic lifestyles — self-indulgent, self-absorbed, narcissistic, insular, given to self-display and luxuriating in superfluity, etc — is what drives economy, the aspirations of the middle classes, and, in fact, the whole of the modern era. But that was, in fact, the most decadent, degenerate, and deteriorated period of aristocratic culture, when the aristocratic classes had largely insulated themselves from public life and society. Trying to emulate the most deteriorated and decadent conduct of the ancien regime seems like the stupidest, most mindless thing you can do.

In those terms, perhaps Mssrs. Fukuyama and Jensen are correct in anticipating their “end of history” and “final form of human society”, only in an ironic sense — the shape of a mental-rational consciousness structure that has become nihilistic in having exhausted its possibilities and potentialities for further growth and development in the dull revelry, diversions and amusements of “the end of history” and Nietzsche’s “Last Man.”






24 responses to “The Genuine Imitation and Plato’s Noble Lie”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    An odd day. I stopped at a local garage for a cup of coffee and noticed a display for Coca Cola that just said “Open Happiness”. I thought that was quite weird. And then by chance I came across this post-modern something-or-other by Marina Levina on the internet promising future health and happiness if only we make an “affective investment in the neoliberal market economy”, which brought to mind Jensen’s “Dream Society” and Huxley’s Brave New World altogether — the promise of technotopia. See what you think of it (if you manage to understand it)

    I’m always of the opinion that this kind of post-modern lingo is more often used to conceal and disguise rather than reveal. But since I can’t really figure out what she’s even saying, I’m not sure whether its revelation or concealment — concealment of the kind that says “I-haven’t-got-a-clue-what’s-going-on-but-I’ll-pretend-I-do-because-I’m-on-tenure-track-and-the-need-to-publish-or-perish.”.

  2. davidm58 says :

    “You may well ask the pertinent question: how can a post-truth society, or Jensen’s “Dream Society”, even survive?”

    First, resource constraints won’t allow the full development of Jensen’s Dream Society. In the meantime, a growing understanding of Gebser’s psychohistory, and McGilchrists’ insights, hopefully leading to a growing integral consciousness might be the best defense for surviving and finding our bearings in a post-truth society.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Resource and environmental constraints make a peripheral appearance in Jensen’s Dream Society, but like all technotopians, he’s quite convinced that they will be resolved and will not impede or hinder the coming of the “Dream Society” (although the only real source and evidence for his optimism relies on historical precedent — ie capitalism has weathered crises like this before, and has always ingeniously surmounted them). Not Thomas Homer-Dixon’s or Naomi Klein’s prognosis for the future of capitalism (but then, they’re Canadians and what do they know?). Jensen’s “Dream Society” may be pie-in-the-sky, as it were, but we’re already seeing signs of it (along with signs that it may well prove abortive itself).

      There’s also a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy aspect to it as well (something that Stiver’s associates with technocratic shamanism). The fact that it was an “international bestseller” may have persuaded many who read it (band wagon effect) to get on board — so we are seeing more “dream society” type scenarios since Jensen published in 1996, which is quite distasteful.

      • davidm58 says :

        Yes, because technoutopianism goes hand in hand with the deficient mental-rational consciousness structure. Daniel A. Kealey has an interesting observation here in Revisioning Environmental Ethics, equating steady-state equilibrium with magic and mythic structures, and technoutopian continuous growth with the mental-rational. These distinctions correspond with the options offered by David Holmgen in Future Scenarios:

        Kealey writes:
        “the ideal of integral contemplation is not the steady-state equilibrium of the magical and mythic structures, nor the linear progress of a will-to-power as in the mental structure, but of a dynamic whole realizing itself in progressive diversifying integrations.” (p. 92)

        The “progressive diversifying integrations,” I would argue, could include and accompany Holmgren’s “Energy Descent/Creative Descent” scenario. If we are unable to achieve that, then the eventual Fast Crash will be the most likely alternative. The harder we push for the techno-fantasy scenario, the more likely we end up with the fast crash.

  3. Scott Preston says :

    Lee Worth Bailey’s The Enchantments of Technology is an outstanding book, by the way. (I think it was Charles Leiden who recommended it? Thanks Charles!). He outdoes even Gebser in his description of the mental-rational consciousness structure and its increasing deficiency, if that were possible. Very insightful.

    • Charles Leiden says :

      Scott. I agree, Bailey’s book is excellent.
      I wrote this quote in the early eighties” “a society based on consumption will end consuming itself.” I agree with David when he writes

      First, resource constraints won’t allow the full development of Jensen’s Dream Society. In the meantime, a growing understanding of Gebser’s psychohistory, and McGilchrists’ insights, hopefully leading to a growing integral consciousness might be the best defense for surviving and finding our bearings in a post-truth society.

      Richard Reese writes

      Meanwhile, mainstream society has invented a comical joyride in magical thinking — if we simply call something ‘sustainable’ enough times, then it is! In the blink of the eye, forest mining becomes Sustainable Forestry™ and soil mining becomes Sustainable Agriculture™. In a barrage of oxymorons, business as usual is kept on life support, by any means necessary, for as long as possible. What should we do about this? How can we revive the original meaning of sustainability?

  4. davidm58 says :

    I probably shouldn’t recommend an article I haven’t yet found time to read all the way through myself, but looking at the first and last paragraphs, this may be relevant, by Samuel Alexander of the Simplicity Institute.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Excellent essay, for the most part. Still, I have some questions about the sustainability of ecovillages that rely on the detritus and cast-offs of consumerism.

      There are some excellent photos, too of this “earthship” in Australia on Google. Quite spectacular. Just google up earthship australia to see some pics.

  5. Scott Preston says :

    “Mirror, Mirror! On the wall…”

    I think I have it finally. Should have known, as it was a basic premise of the Dark Age Blog where I wrote about the “inversion” of values (… this was, I discovered later, reflected in Smolin’s “Inverted Totalitarianism”). It seems so simple….

    What twigged me to it was the notion of “shopping” as an inversion of the traditional quest (like the vision quest or the quest for the Holy Grail… ie, “seek and ye shall find” has become the metaphysics of shopping, and with marketing 3.0, the shopping for meaning).

    It boils down to this, then…. Jesus directed his followers to “seek ye first the kingdom of heaven, and all things shall be added onto you” — and in conjunction with the knowledge that “the kingdom of heaven is within you”.

    What consumer society does is invert this — it says, instead, seek ye first the good things of life and the kingdom of heaven will follow. It dislocates the kingdom of heaven onto “easy street” or main street. Shopping becomes the royal road to the kingdom of heaven. That’s pretty much Jensen’s Dream Society. It’s an inverted image of reality — the “genuine imitation” once more.

    That’s so damned clever! It has basically taken spiritual truths and turned them inside out.

    I think it’s traceable, to some extent, to Adam Smith’s parable of the Poor Man’s Son. Smith knew that happiness was available to anyone in the Now, but he didn’t think it was utile for the economic progress of society. Happiness postponed — as the pursuit of happiness — would be more useful to the economic progress of society. Therefore happiness was dislocated from the Now into the future. In other words, the meaning of the “kingdom of heaven” was projected outwards — objectified.

    • Charles Leiden says :

      Scott, I agree. An inversion of values. karl Polanyi calls it the “great transformation” History is complex. There was much happening with the beginning of the modern world. One writer suggests that the only really needed criticism of Adam Smith is that he seems to set all important problems in economic terms. He led people to think that the economic system is about the most important thing in the world. Means became ends. Several books that I read years ago were insightful. Unfortunately, what seems to happen is over the years is that when one reads a book insights become integrated but all the particulars are forgotten. One is The Illusion of Choice – How the Market Shapes Our Destiny Andrew Bard Schmookler The Illusion of Choice – How the Market Shapes Our Destiny Andrew Bard Schmookler (1993) A volume in the SUNY series in Environmental Public Policy. State University of New York Press
      is a book of insight, critique and of last but not least, imagination. The imagination is so important because after the author’s penetrating analysis into how the market shapes our destiny, one can wonder how humans can create new possibilities. P.258 “every society tends to make a virtue of its necessity.” The important point is made on P. 273 “This is directly analogous with the parable of the tribes. There, a powerful and aggressive actor can impose on each of his neighbors the unhappy choice; match my power or I will devour you.”
      Schmookler, as some people know, has written several books that already have helped give insight into the human situation. According to his book, The Parable of the Tribes, “it has been the ceaseless struggle for power among sovereign societies that has driven the entire edifice of human civilization to develop in directions we would not chosen but been have powerless to stop.” P. 264 Power drove out other more benign cultural possibilities and made it almost impossible to be weak.
      In this book, Schmookler uses his gifts of synthesis and insight to helps us understand how the market creates a world according to its internal logic, not according to our choices. The author offers a social evolutionary perspective in which he reveals the “real problem with the market system: over time the system, because of its biases and distortions, carries us to a destination chosen by the system and not by us.” P. 25 This is not an imbalanced account. The market does have its blessings and is called for is not “disbanding of the market system,” but after reading this book, it will be clear that that the market suffers from tunnel vision in many ways. The author takes on the market ideologists and does away with the myths on their own turf. He shows the ubiquitousness of externalities. the hidden costs of a system that is based on the atomization of human beings into players on a market each working individually while some invisible hand makes the whole benefit. It is a great blessing for people such as myself, that have felt these basic failings in our cultural apparatus, to be able read some one as able as Schmookler to articulate the many ways in which the market warps our values into avenues we would choose to go if we could actually make a free choice. Left to its own internal dynamics the market has fundamentally no limits, it doesn’t value or recognize community.
      Thanks for your ideas.

      • Scott Preston says :

        Thanks for your references. I will definitely have a look at Schmookler’s stuff. I want to pursue this notion or the Universal Market (ie, the commodification of everything) and particularly the seemingly triumphalist boast of our “managers of meaning” that they have managed to get people to think in terms of brands and marketing as a metaphor for everything. That’s the ideal of Jensen’s “Dream Society” that so much brings to mind Huxley’s dystopian society. Bailey’s The Enchantments of Technology has also been very, very helpful in getting to the root of this, and trying to find the connections between this and Smollin’s fears of “inverted totalitarianism” — how this comes about. It seems to be a kind of enantiodromia at work — reversal at the extremity.

        If so, if I can map it in that way, I have a hunch about how we can get ourselves out of this dilemma. Homeopathy makes use of the principle of enantiodromia, and there may well be a social counterpart to that.

        • Charles Leiden says :

          Neil Postman is considered an insightful writer. His Amusing Ourselves To Death is compared to Brave New World in some ways.

          • Scott Preston says :

            I notice that Bailey quotes Bill Stahl quite a bit in his Enchantments of Technology, which is interesting because Bill Stahl (who wrote God and the Chip) was one of my supervisors at university. It’s the first time I’ve seen him quoted in print!

  6. abdulmonem says :

    For the last few weeks I have been going through the process of grieving the ever expanding rate of death in the middle earth and pondering the oblivious attitude of our world who is occupied with abstractions and trivialities, busy with what other humans are saying about the mess and how it is created, forgetting that they themselves are the creators of the mess through their idle and dishonest talks. Pondering also about what the god of the scriptures is doing and why he waits for the last minute to make himself present and how that encourages the disbelievers to doubt and negate him. Pondering how imitative knowledge can become distractible and destructive and why the revelatory knowledge is ignited in the world every now and then to remind the human to the disruptive path he is pursuing. The human who is speaking through his soul yet he is unaware of the dynamic of his soul and its connection to the source of everything. How easily the big picture is forgotten and how easily peoples get immersed in the details and be directed in the wrong path with the complete unawareness that they are being misled, being joyriding from virtual (virtuious) reality to viciable (vicious) reality, being enslaved in the mundane picture of survival. We are living in a world of mental dystrophy hypnotized in a state of continual inertia, as if the world has no conductor and the human has been left to do whatever he desires without accountability or personal responsibility. The shuttering incidents yammering and howling across the globe. The more I ponder the more my soul refuses such scenography and refuses also to ride in human boats, forgetting the divine ship. Of course there is no change without resistence and no birth without pain and it is no longer a question of moslem or christian, jews, hindus, buddha or toas but a question of self-honesty, truth and justice. Truth is not a consensus issue or voting issue. Few days ago I watched a video where god is being put to voting and how the deniers have won. How low can we get. I am sorry but I can not be silent and see the language of human uplifting is being marinated in a narcissistic blather and see god being ungratefully denied and disrespected, the energy that gives life even to the deniers and the disrespectful, the energy that says that it has created the heaven and earth and made the darkness and the light and yet there are those who can not but associates others with me and belie and deny my prophets and my instructions, despite that my books are with them. No wonder insecurity is engulfing all the earth. the insecurity which the story of Abrahim reminds us that it is a result of the faithlessness in the beauty and majesty of the divine in which our souls flourish and die away from that sea of beautiful magnanimity and majestic benevolence.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Fear rules everywhere. Anxiety is intensifying everywhere. (Well, maybe not in Indian Head)… and everywhere there is a belief in the techno-fix — whether it’s AK-47s and IEDs or bombs and rockets from the air and missile defence shields or the propaganda of hearts and minds — or, as it turns out, refrigerator trucks. Gebser was quite right in this respect, in his anticipation of the globalisation of anxiety. He even wrote a separate book about it.

      The Old World is in its death spiral, it seems. About this, nothing can really be done except to try and discern the outlines of the new and encourage their uninhibited development.

  7. abdulmonem says :

    To continue to mourn the dead without forgetting the living who are more in need of the mourn. The turkish army regains the rein, pushing aside the legitimate representatives. It is the story of marching totalitarianism and perverted governance. It is started long time ago with the perfidy of the british and did not start to become glaringly apparent until the invasion of iraq that launched the aggression scenario all over the world irrespective of its different shades of manifestations. This mechanical thinking which destroyed everything beautiful despite the apparent material progress. Talking about perversion and not about the perverted is an effective mask that has been thrown on the faculties of human understanding to mislead him away from the real problem. The universe is the language of the god which we have deprived it from its vital tongue. At the end I like to quote something from the islamic mythical literature which reminds us of that tongue. it is translated in my poor english thus, and your god is one. no god but him the compassionate and the merciful and in the creation of heaven and earth and the contrasting night and day and the ships that transverse the sea with what of benefit to humankind and what god has send down from his sky the water that gives life to earth after its death and throws in it all kind of creeping creatures and the conducting of winds and the clouds that are put in service between heaven and earth are signs to those who are sober and use reason. What is the use of reading away from his school and his curriculum, but the mess we have put ourselves in. It is a must journey toward meeting the truth forcing itself through the apparent movement of science from matter as the source of energy to energy as the starter of matter, what is god but the energy of the cosmos. Bear with me Scott but I feel suffocated by the lies that encircling the earth and my only outlet is to bear witness to the chased and oppressed and wait to the truth to reveal itself. Yes Scott it is mirror on the human wall.

  8. davidm58 says :

    Regarding the post-truth society, here is Tom Tomorrow’s latest cartoon in This Modern World

    As we move into this post-truth society, the choice we have is between Gebser’s integral a-rationalism, or the current trend toward irrationalism.

  9. davidm58 says :

    In regards to he topic of technocratic shamanism, I’ve found a couple of recent online contributions that may be relevant.

    The Kosmos Journal has taken up the theme this month of “#Seeing Wetico and Beyond”

    Joe Brewer writes that we’re experiencing a cultural sickness that needs to be named.

    “And it has a name. It’s name is Wetiko.

    My partners at have created a special campaign that invites people to practice Seeing Wetiko — in the world around us and also within ourselves.

    “Wetiko” is the name given to this cultural sickness in the Algonquin language. It is described by Paul Levy in his book Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the Curse of Evil, in this manner:

    Native American mythologies portray the mythical figure of wetiko as a cannibalistic spirit who embodies greed and excess and can possess human beings. The wetiko that was once a human being, but because of its gluttony and selfishness it was transformed into a predatory monster.”

    • Scott Preston says :

      We know it here as “windigo”. In some respects, it resembles Tolkein’s orcs, who also once were elves, but became deformed by their seduction by the ring of power. The windigo is a cannibal spirit (like the orcs), and windigo possession was once common. George Nelson describes a case in his early account of life amongst the Ojibway of Northern Saskatchewan in The Orders of the Dreamed.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Here’s another description of windigo and “windigo psychosis”. Buffy St. Marie also has a song the refers to the windigo called “The Priests of the Golden Bull” — so perhaps she related windigo to the old God Moloch.

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