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.”