Vladimir Putin or Donald Trump, Brexit or climate-change denial … we live in a world riddled by liars and lies. Given this global scenario it seems that Plato’s Noble Lie is a crucial element in explaining our civilisation, which is really nothing more than a system upheld and maintained by lies.
Significant it certainly is that the Republic was written as an alternative to ‘democracy’, and the only way Plato could see of convincing the people that an elitist Republic could be better for them than a democracy would be by lying to them. Reality, Plato says, is whatever we believe it to be, or, what we make people believe it to be. Thus, the greatest success of contemporary civilisation has been its ability to fashion an absolutist power regime around the idea of democracy.
Foucault, in his History of Sexuality, showed how the absolutist gets right into the most intimate regions of our lives by inventing the lie of sin: a lie that directly targets our sexuality and invites power to make the fantasy of sin materialise in the form of the law.
“… the point to consider is not the level of indulgence or the quantity of repression but the form of power that was exercised. When this whole thicket of disparate sexualities was labelled … was the object to exclude them from reality?”
(Foucault, HISTORY OF SEXUALITY, Vol. I, p. 41)
When describing the ‘campaign’ against the ‘epidemic of children’s onanism’, Foucault says: “what this actually entailed, throughout the whole secular campaign that mobilised the adult world around the sex of children, was using these tenuous pleasures as a prop, constituting them as secrets (that is forcing them into hiding so as to make possible their discovery), tracing them back to their source, tracking them from their origins to their effects, searching out everything that might cause them or simply enable them to exist …” (Ibid, p. 42)
What we see in this and the rest of Foucault’s description of the oppression of masturbation is a representation of the way all power uses guilt, creating lies to assert itself.
First, create a false premise: yes, it can be as absurd as ‘masturbation is a mortal sin that the society needs to protect its innocents from’. Of course, the subject of the lie needs to be something that everyone does but that is not a general topic of conversation. Once the false premise is created, as Power knows that everyone is guilty of it, then it is a handy tool to have in order to get rid of opponents whenever necessary. The best sins to create are the ones that make us all sinners and breakers of the law and so, if you step on my toes, says Power, I will find your sins, bring them to the fore and crucify you for them.
The #METOO movement is noteworthy in this respect: women, who suffer terribly from power’s manipulation of them through the lie of sin embedded in their sexuality, have now taken the bull by the horns, so to speak and thrown the same stigma of sexual sin back in the face of Power.
What this has achieved more than anything else, is a discovery of the inherent weakness in the weapon of the Noble Lie. Like the Boy who Cried Wolf, lying stands on sandy soil, and a castle built on such foundations can easily come crashing down.