Lecture I: Introduction to Mimetic Theory | René Girard’s Mimetic Theory (Part 2)

Key Takeaways

  • The only hominoid groups that survived and created lasting cultures were the ones that discovered the scapegoat mechanism 
  • The violence of all against all becomes the violence of all against one (a singular victim for the entirety of the society’s problems)
    • “In moments of extreme turbulence, we aren’t interested in truth but a grand lie and founding murder that can grant us catharsis.” Johnathan Bi
  • Christianity is the first story told from the perspective of the victim; the story of scapegoating but from the opposite side 
    • “For Girard, Christianity is the religion to end all religions, the myth to end all myths, the founding murder to end all founding murders by exposing their violent, unjust, and deceitful origins.” Johnnathan Bi
  • The four key forces that Christ lets loose on human history: love, truth, innovation, and violence
  • Science became a religion that must not be questioned, and this can be used to make arguments for terrible political and social agendas
  • “We’ve now fetishized innovation, we are conforming to contrarianism, we are obediently rallying under the banner of originality.”Johnathan Bi
  • Violent energies have been increasing but they are contained and productively directed by two new institutions of modernity: capitalism and law
    • Capitalism is the channel that absorbs and productively directs violence toward entrepreneurship 
    • The law keeps the peace by threatening us with more violence
  • “Global trade is where national pride and competitive energies are piled up yet there is no monopolistic force of violence to arbitrate law between parties.”Johnathan Bi

Intro

  • Recipe for misery: Pursue things because society tells you to, not because you truly want them
  • “If there were ever a set of ideas that radically changed my life, these would be it.”Johnathan Bi
    • Johnathan Bi (@JohnathanBi) is a startup founder and independent scholar interested in the work of French philosopher René Girard. Johnathan shares his story and how mimetic theory can help us escape from the suffocating web of prestige
  • After explaining some of the core psychological segments of humanity, Johnathan Bi moves from psychology to history to explain a unique cultural technology that Girard called the scapegoat mechanism
    • “René Girard showed me how I was caught up in meaningless status competitions and how much I was driven by desires that weren’t even my own.”David Perell
  • Host – David Perell (@david_perell)

The Scapegoat Mechanism 

  • As early humans evolved to be more mimetic, conflicts escalated and dominance hierarchies began to brake
    • The only hominoid groups that survived and created lasting cultures were the ones that discovered the scapegoat mechanism 
    • When societies are in chaos, they often converge upon a single victim that takes all the blame and frustrations of the chaos upon them
    • The violence of all against all becomes the violence of all against one (a singular victim for the entirety of the society’s problems)
  • Some of many examples of scapegoats throughout history: the trial of Socrates, the black death and witch-hunts, the Nazis scapegoating the Jews for the German decline, etc.
    • “With the scapegoat mechanism, Girard is highlighting the perennial need of human societies, in times of chaos, to identify a single source to blame and murder.” Johnathan Bi
    • Albeit wrong and regrettable, it was the only thing that worked to keep early human societies alive
    • “In moments of extreme turbulence, we aren’t interested in truth but a grand lie and founding murder that can grant us catharsis.” Johnathan Bi
  • The scapegoat mechanism proceeds from real cataclysmic events
    • A troubled society murders an innocent victim 
    • Society gains cathartic release and receives new gods
    • This event is dramatized and captured in myth and then translated back into real institutions (prohibitions and rituals)
  • This arc of going from real events to myth to real institutions is not only how Pagan gods and religions have been made but also how all human societies and cultures are founded
    • It’s all psychological projection by the crowd grounded on nothing but unanimity 
    • This deceitfulness is always impeded by myth because myth is written from the perspective of the persecutor 
    • “The persecutor writes from a position of the crowd, and from that vantage point, all will seem real – the blame, the praise, the deification, are all deserved and not mere projections.”Johnathan Bi

Christianity – The First Story Told From the Perspective of the Victim

  • Christianity is the first story told from the perspective of the victim
    • Pagan myth always sides with the murderers
    • Christianity tells the story of scapegoating but from the opposite side 
    • “We are like jurors who have been hearing the criminals’ lies for so long (in the Pagan religion) and are now exposed to the truth of the victim’s testimony.”Johnathan Bi
  • The crucifixion exposes the lies of all religions to show that the mob is deceitful and the victim is innocent
    • The message that will expose and begin to slowly tear down the scapegoat mechanism
    • Christ’s innocence and persecution become the dominant lens through which we will view the world from then on 
    • We will always be looking out for unjust persecution, siding with the victim, and being aware of the deception of the mob
  • “For Girard, Christianity is the religion to end all religions, the myth to end all myths, the founding murder to end all founding murders by exposing their violent, unjust, and deceitful origins.” Johnnathan Bi
    • The Christian moral paradigm takes away the core foundational block of early human societies 
    • Christianity allows us to decode and escape from the scapegoat mechanism which cannot function if people know that the victim is innocent
    • If the victim is shown to be innocent then catharsis cannot be achieved Without catharsis, there is no peace 
  • Without peace, there is no deification
    • Without deification, Pagan worldly institutions lose their prestige 
    • And without prestige, they can no longer properly function
  • “The good – love, truth, innovation – but also the apocalyptic – violence. Four key forces that Christ lets loose on human history.”Johnnathan Bi

Love and Hypocrisy

  • The first force that Christianity unleashes on history is love 
    • Love is the force that made all our institutions more humane, and freed us from brutal practices of human sacrifice 
    • “It’s the force underpinning the modern political ideals of human rights and equality.”Johnnathan Bi
  • Girard thinks we still need to persecute but the only acceptable way to persecute is now in the name of victims (in the name of stopping the persecution)
    • It’s a superficial switch of who we think it’s acceptable to persecute
    • Because of our victim-concerned culture, anyone who looks like a traditional victim is completely off-limits (ethnic minorities, the lower classes, women, the disabled, etc.)
  • Girard thinks that’s a great thing but the problem is that we’ve flipped it on its head (conforming to contrarianism)
    • Now we are driven to persecute all types of privilege: white privilege, class privilege, male privilege, etc.
    • “Our society’s obligatory compassion authorizes new forms of cruelty.“Johnnathan Bi quoting Girard
  • Girard accuses modernity of hypocrisy
    • Hypocrisy is dangerous because it leads to what it claims to prevent: the persecution of victims

Truth – The Second Force of Christianity

  • We love science so much that we have made it into a religion
    • Science became a religion that must not be questioned, and this can be used to make arguments for terrible political and social agendas
    • E.g. Terrors of the Nazis were justified by the latest science of the day, eugenics enjoyed enormous prestige in the early 20th century, etc.
  • For Girard, to defy science is equally dangerous as it was to deify edicts of the catholic church
    • Whoever used to disagree with the Catholic Church was called a heretic
    • “We call those today who disagree with politically charged questionable signs as anti-science – someone whose positions we don’t even have to contend with.”Johnnathan Bi
    • The birth of hypocrisy is when science becomes an enemy to truth and genuine inquiry

The Third Force of Christianity Is Innovation

  • Innovation had negative connotations in the West up until the 18th century, it was synonymous with heresy
    • Innovation implied a deviation from a sacred ideal provided by the myths 
  • Nowadays, there is a negative correlation between how innovative an industry or person is against how much they respect (or know about) history
    • The difference between the tech industry and the oil industry is the same difference between modernity and the Pagan society 
    • The Tech industry is much less concerned with the past and more oriented toward the future (due to Christianity)
  • Innovation has brought about drastic technological and social change in the world (mastery of land, air, and sea travel, victory over disease, gender norms, etc.)
    • Western civilization prides itself on change
    • However, the problem with innovation is the same problem with love and truth, and that is hypocrisy 
  • “We’ve now fetishized innovation, we are conforming to contrarianism, we are obediently rallying under the banner of originality.”Johnathan Bi
  • What is the problem with rejecting imitation and idolizing innovation?
    • For Girard, imitation and meaningful innovation are often inseparable 
    • We need to imitate and gain mastery before we can make any real innovations
    • E.g. Goethe was a master of reproduction before he pioneered his work
    • We paradoxically condemn ourselves to never make any meaningful innovations because we forget that innovation is dependent on imitation

The Fourth and Final Force of Christianity – Violence

  • For Girard, violence is one of the forces for defeating the scapegoat mechanism 
    • We shouldn’t confuse the lack of the actuality of violence with the lack of the potential for violence 
  • Violent energies have been increasing but they are contained and productively directed by two new institutions of modernity: capitalism and law
  • Capitalism is the channel that absorbs and productively directs violence toward entrepreneurship 
    • This is both a critique (it’s fundamentally driven by these spirited irrational forces) and approval of capitalism 
    • Today, people who seek revenge, glory, and domination do not have to kill millions in wars as people have done for thousands of years
    • They can compete in making better end products and services for others
    • Capitalism can only properly function in this way when it is supported by law
  • Law is the second important institution of modernity that contains violence for Girard
    • “The law only works in cases where there’s an entity with a monopoly over violence that can arbitrate between disputing parties.”Johnathan Bi
    • The law keeps the peace by threatening us with more violence
  • For Girard, capitalism is “…this bubbling stew of violent competitive energies that must be contained by law if that violence is not to overflow.” Johnathan Bi
    • The barrier will break where capitalism intersects the weakest point of law between nations in global trade
    • “Global trade is where national pride and competitive energies are piled up yet there is no monopolistic force of violence to arbitrate law between parties.”Johnathan Bi

The Specter of Apocalypse

  • Girard believes we live in an apocalyptic moment where the entire world can go up in flames anytime
    • What is unique about nuclear weapons is that it forces rivals to utterly destroy each other at the first glimpse of provocation 
    • It’s an instant and fatal escalation 
  • How should a person live in the end times with the apocalypse around the corner? 
    • Withdraw from the world 
    • Leave it all behind 
    • Tend to your own garden 
  • There’s nothing you can do to stop the apocalypse 
    • We can only mess up our moral character by trying to get involved in such a mess 
    • Stay away from it all so that you can nurture your soul 
  • “The Kingdom of God will not be established here on earth, but perhaps we can preserve ourselves to be worthy of it in heaven.” – Johnathan Bi

Johnathan at Limbo : , , , ,
Notes By Dario

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