Plato’s Myth of the Metals and Parallels with Racism in the Ante-Bellum South (and Beyond)
from Per Caritatem by Cynthia R. Nielsen
As Socrates unfolds his city-in-thought, the so-called perfectly just city of the Republic, he speaks of the need for the rulers to promulgate the notorious “noble lie” (414c). The noble lie consists in two parts.
First, the citizens are told that their true parent is the earth, that is, the city or polis (414d). This part of the noble lie is designed to promote a kind of sold-out commitment to the polis-a loyalty willing to forsake even the closest (traditional) familial ties. When this aspect of the noble lie is embraced, the citizens view each other as brothers and sisters who are all connected to a common parent, the polis (”Father/Motherland” themes come to mind).
Second, the citizens are presented with the “myth of metals.” According to this myth, each citizen is born with one of three kinds of soul: gold, silver or bronze. As you might expect, the citizen’s worth and function in the city is determined by what kind of soul s/he possesses. The myth of metals is created promote strict class separation and is an attempt to eliminate factionalism. The gold-souled people are best-suited to rule, the silver-souled people (the warrior class) assist the rulers in their plans for the city, and the bronze-souled people are simply to obey. In addition, the classes must never intermarry, as those who “by nature” are superior cannot be tainted by a lower class. For the good of the polis, the bronze-souled people must come to recognize their natural inferiority to the silver and gold-souled classes and be willing to obey and carry out their orders-after all, they are intellectually inferior to gold-souled rulers and cannot properly direct their own lives without the guidance of their natural superiors.
Of course Plato is not giving us a blueprint for an actual city (contra Popper); however, Socrates’ “building plans” strike a similar chord with modern racist projects. (There are, no doubt, significant differences between the two projects; I’m not claiming that a one-to-one correspondence exists. Nonetheless, the commonalities are worth pondering). [...] Notes  On my interpretation, the city-in-thought is not a kind of blueprint for an actual city. Rather, by showing the impossibility of such a (totalitarian, calculation-oriented) city, Plato highlights the theme of eros (broadly construed as “love”, “desire”, “longing,” etc.) as that which constitutes human existence and which cannot be controlled or managed by mathematics, calculated reason, eugenics etc. In other words, all humans are lovers of something and these various loves, desires and longings are what drive us and direct our lives, actions and decisions.
Plato mysteriously included a cobbler in the originary population of the ideal city he outlines in the Republic—likely to symbolize a working class—while Heidegger derived a phenomenology from a hammer. Could Plato ever have imagined a software engineer instead of his cobbler, Heidegger a compiler in lieu of a hand tool?
“Let’s be clear: object-oriented philosophy may champion the ontological equality of objects with human beings, but this equality comes at the price of the dehumanization of man, of his destitution and defacing, his reduction to (almost) nothing. And it seems that, rather than bear the horrors of confronting oneself – as a man, as a philosopher – in such a hideous state, object-oriented philosophy, as quickly as it grants liberty to objects, must imprison man: he must be punished before he can commit his crime of becoming a thing. Far from leveling the playing field, of granting the same rights to objects that we enjoy, object-oriented philosophy is rather more interested in an exchange of prisoners. This is evidenced in the reluctance, even refusal, to talk about human beings as embodied abysses, and the rapid condemnation of any philosopher who foolishly invokes man if not to ridicule and denounce him.” [Planomenology]
“Graham is at his best when, suspending the systematic sufficiency of a philosophy like Heidegger or Husserl, he pilfers and reassemble their concepts into new, monstrous configurations. But putting these monsters in the service of expressing the ‘True form of the real’ is horribly vain, and of course, makes him guilty of the same thing he used against his forbears. I don’t mean to single Graham out, because all philosophers are ‘guilty’ in this respect. Yet they need not feel guilty, they need not submit to the ‘higher law’ of non-philosophy. They need only suspend the sufficiency of the philosophical law to leave their guilt amongst the ruins of its kingdom. Realism that ceases to pretend that thought can adequately or sufficiently give us the real itself is a non-philosophical realism, a Real which we already are, in the flesh. This is the true problem: not how do we bypass being human, or bypass thinking, and get to the Real, but rather, how do we deal with the fact that we are the Real, everything is, and yet that the Real is not itself ever given? How do we deal with our non-reciprocal or unilateral identity with the Real?” Posted by doctorzamalek