On Santa and the Noble Lie
Plato, in his “Republic”, admits that his ideal Republic must use what he called a “noble lie”. The lie is that there are four kinds of men; of gold, of silver, of brass and of iron. The men of gold are the philosopher-kings, the men of silver are the guardians, and the men of brass are the artisans, and the men of iron are the farmers. The upper classes of Plato’s Republic tell this to the lower classes, to reconcile themselves to their lives; but it is a lie, as Plato admits, for there is only one breed of human, not four.
A deception this crass and self-serving is called noble? And stranger still, Plato thinks it would work? For surely artisans and farmers are wise to the world’s lies. Their livelihood is the market, so they know very well that the buyer must beware! They’ve seen brass called gold, and gold called brass! Plato’s Noble Lie can fool only the naïve and unworldly; to wit, his Republic’s upper classes. His philosopher-kings fool only themselves.
A lie self-serving when told, intended for permanence, ineffective to its cynical hearers, corrupting to its tellers; what is noble about any of that? I would call a lie noble only if it costs the teller, and it’s built to be temporary, and it improves the minds of the hearers when the deception inevitably fails. A lie is noble if it creates philosophers.
Therefore consider the legend of Santa. It’s a lie, all right; a known falsehood told to the young by their parents, their peers, shopkeepers, radio, TV, the Internet, NORAD… even the President of the United States is in on the conspiracy! Stated baldly like that, it sounds weird; but that’s the plain truth. And the purpose of this elaborate prank? To collapse! Eventually, inevitably, the child discovers that there is no Santa Claus; so you shouldn’t believe just anything you hear! Santa, in the very act of vanishing, leaves behind a lasting gift: sales resistance.
Santa Claus is a failed myth, deliberately told by unbelieving adults to their credulous children as an initiation into skepticism. His liberating miracle is that he does not exist. Santa is to the gods as a vaccine is to disease; a failure coopted into a warning. Santa is a paradoxical saint of a doubt-based culture.
I say this as an outsider to the Santa cult; for I do not participate in the rites of shopping. However, I did initiate my daughter into skepticism via the Tooth Fairy; an equally noble lie.