Mimetic theory, which Girard first hit upon teaching French literature and reading the great novelists’ psychological analysis of their characters, is the idea that our desires are imitative. In other words, most of the things we want, we want because others want them. Marketing, and really most of our consumer economy, is founded on this premise. The reason you want a Ferrari or an iPhone is because they’re highly coveted items.
This is profound because most of us believe our desires to be individual and authentic. But instead, mimetic theory reveals how deep a hold society has on our imaginations and our longings. Most of our desires are really envy and jealousy deep down.
For any honest and thoughtful person, this realization should provide grist for long sessions of soul-searching. Already Girard would have made his mark on history.
But when Girard expanded his work on mimetic theory beyond literature and psychology, that’s when the real fun began.
Girard finds this scapegoating dynamic at the heart of most myths. Oedipus, King of Thebes, had sex with his mother and killed his father; as a result of this sacrilege, the Greek gods visit a plague on Thebes. Once Oedipus tears out his eyes and leaves the city, the plague is lifted. Romulus and his brother Remus found the city of Rome; Remus breaks the law of the newly-founded city, so his brother kills him.
We find this same destructive dynamic at the heart of social life even today — perhaps especially on social media. And there is only one to defeat it: expose it as a lie.
To Girard, there was only one religious text which did that: the Bible. Girard, who was an atheist until his work on mimetic theory and the Bible led him to see things differently, expected to see the same scapegoating dynamics at work in the Bible as he did in other sacred religious texts and myths. Instead he saw exactly the opposite: the Bible’s stories deconstruct and denounce scapegoating.
Many Biblical stories revolve around this deconstruction and denunciation of scapegoating, but they culminate, Girard found, in the story of Jesus. After all, he is the ultimate scapegoat, condemned by all rightful authorities. But the Cross exposes scapegoating as a lie and thereby, if it is heeded, empties it of its power.
In an age when so many people proclaim the Bible and Christianity to be irrelevant to the 21st century, only a quick scan of the headlines will show how truly relevant this denunciation of scapegoating remains.
And how relevant is Girard’s thought. For two thousands years after Christ, we still haven’t gotten rid of mimetic desire, and we still haven’t completely gotten rid of scapegoating.
Jesus had come, he said, and Girard used the line as the title of one of his books, to reveal “things hidden since the foundation of the world.” We may still be wicked, but at least we’re no longer blind. And in a small part, this is also thanks to René Girard.
(Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry on the death of René Girard)
You learn something new every day — if you’re lucky. Today was my lucky day, as I finally got a whiff of what all the fuss has been about René Girard in the internet circles I frequent, and what his mimesis was about. I guess I’d been thinking it was too heady and I couldn’t invest enough time to get it.
What an unusual conversion story, too!
The only time I saw Sam Francis face-to-face — in the Washington Times cafeteria sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s — I thought he was a crank, but it’s clear now that he was at that moment becoming one of the most prescient writers of the past 50 years. There’s very little Donald Trump has done or said that Francis didn’t champion a quarter century ago.
In a series of essays for conservative magazines like Chronicles, Francis hammered home three key insights. The first was that globalization was screwing Middle America…
His second insight was that the Republican and conservative establishment did not understand what was happening…
His third insight was that politics was no longer about left versus right. Instead, a series of smaller conflicts — religious versus secular, nationalist versus globalist, white versus nonwhite — were all merging into a larger polarity, ruling class versus Middle America…
I remember jowly Sam Francis well. He was one of my half-dozen or so must-reads in Conservative Chronicle, a weekly tabloid compilation of conservative syndicated columns to which I subscribed. (This was a very long time ago. How long? Well, Ann Coulter was funny — and sane. That’s how long.) He looked rumpled even in the line-drawn head shot that accompanied his column.
I don’t remember any drumbeat of “white versus nonwhite” in his writing (Michael Brendan Dougherty says the virulent stuff went under a pen name), but I do remember that he eventually and justifiably was drummed out of the conservative movement because of what couldn’t help but be seen as at least episodic racist ejaculations. Although I don’t recall what he said that sealed it for me, Brooks quotes one:
Francis’ thought was infected by the same cancer that may destroy Trumpism. Francis was a racist. His friends and allies counseled him not to express his racist views openly, but people like that always go there, sooner or later.
The Civil War was an open wound for many in his circle, and in 1994 Francis told a conference, “The civilization that we as whites created in Europe and America could not have developed apart from the genetic endowments of the creating people, nor is there any reason to believe that the civilization can be successfully transmitted to a different people.”
I had to concur in Francis’s dismissal from a movement that was keen to avoid the taint of racism. On the other hand, I thought and still think that Joseph Sobran, my number one favorite in Conservative Chronicle, was unjustifiably banished for supposed antisemitism.
I see nothing intrinsically racist in Francis’s “three key insights.” Are we forever doomed, though, to see them advanced only in company with racism, white nationalism, extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric and such? I hope not, because the insights are important, and they’ve gained traction.
And that alone is sufficient to repudiate the simplistically hateful obituary in USA Today: “Sam Francis was merely a racist and doesn’t deserve to be remembered as anything less. . . . America is a better place without him.”
“Company’s ban against gay weddings is akin to ‘white applicants only’ sign, judge says.” So says the headline at the Washington Post.
Same story: “ADF to appeal ruling that allows Minnesota officials to control filmmakers’ stories.” So says the headline at the Alliance Defending Freedom website:
“Tolerance is a two-way street. Creative professionals who engage in the expression of ideas shouldn’t be threatened with fines and jail simply for having a particular point of view about marriage that the government may not favor,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “Public officials can’t censor filmmakers or demand that they tell stories in film that violate their deepest convictions.”
“People should have the freedom to disagree on critical matters of conscience, which is why everyone, regardless of their view of marriage, can support the Larsens,” Tedesco added. “The same government that can force them to violate their faith and conscience can force any one of us to do the same. That’s why we plan to appeal this ruling to the 8th Circuit.”
Minnesota Department of Human Rights officials have repeatedly stated that private businesses such as the Larsens’ violate the law if they decline to create expression promoting same-sex weddings. Penalties for violation include payment of a civil penalty to the state; triple compensatory damages; punitive damages of up to $25,000; a criminal penalty of up to $1,000; and even up to 90 days in jail.
So, there you have it. Wanting to make videos of sympatico weddings but not to make videos of “weddings” that instantiate “a conception of marriage that directly contradicts [your] religious beliefs” makes you like Bull Connor.
This is essentially the same story as Barronelle Stutzman, Jack Phillips and other artists who have run afoul of the people who love diversity in everything except conscience.
Because of lax security at Equifax, one of the three major credit reporting companies, the private financial and personal details of as many as 143 million Americans have been exposed to hackers. We still don’t know what the full ramifications will be; the people who took this information — which includes birth dates, Social Security numbers and addresses — could hold on to it for as long as they want and deploy it in years to come.
Many consumers have scrambled to try to protect themselves. To anyone who tried to get through to Equifax customer service, though, it became clear: The company does not care about us. Months before the hack itself, Equifax could easily have patched the hole in its system that hackers exploited, but it simply didn’t.
That’s because we are not the customers of credit reporting companies, but the product. These private institutions hoover up our data, often without our knowledge and consent, and then sell it off to banks, landlords and even prospective employers.
(Bryce Covert, Get Rid of Equifax) So, as in commercial TV, we are the product, not the customer.
I read this to see the author’s suggestion for abolition. Unfortunately, her idea is to turn over that information to government and let it function as credit bureau. Not that they don’t have that information already, in all likelihood, but are we really going to be better served or protected by government?
As I read reports of the violence in Charlottesville between white supremacists and their opponents it brought back memories of my own battle-scarred past. As an angry young man in my native England, I had joined a white supremacist party and was involved in many bruising battles on the streets. I had rejoiced when a counterdemonstrator was killed at one of our meetings, and mourned when a friend of mine, a neo-Nazi colleague, had died after being hit on the head at another riotous demonstration.
In those days I relished the violence, hoping for a full-blown race war. As the editor of a white supremacist magazine, I sought to incite racial hatred and was sentenced to prison twice, spending my twenty-first and twenty-fifth birthdays in prison …
In my days of Pride, I hated my enemies and I expected my enemies to hate me. It was the old law of an eye for an eye. You hurt men and I hurt you. You hate me and I hate you. Hate breeding hatred. Picture the scenes of demonstrators and counterdemonstrators at Charlottesville, venting their spleens against each other, screaming their hatred at each other; each feeding off the other’s frenzy.
The way out of this deadly spiral is to go beyond the love of neighbor, as necessary as that is, and to begin to love our enemies. This is not simply good for us, freeing us from the bondage of hatred, it is good for our enemies also. In my book, Race with the Devil: My Journey from Racial Hatred to Rational Love, I recall three separate occasions when I confronted an enemy with hatred and enmity and received in return love and friendship. In each case, the receiving of love when I was expecting hatred sowed seeds of healing in my hate-battered heart. Make no mistake about it, love is a powerful weapon against our enemies. Hatred hurts our enemies but it doesn’t stop them being enemies; on the contrary, it inflames their hatred and increases their enmity. Love, on the other hand, does not hurt our enemies; it only hurts their hatred. And in hurting their hatred it heals their hearts, turning the enemy into a friend.
This is the challenge we face in the wake of the horrors of Charlottesville. It is to love our enemies. We should not demonize the white supremacist or the abortionist but should love them into submission. We should not prey on them but should pray for them, hoping that in the future, by the grace of God, we can pray with them.
As for James Alex Fields, the angry and hate-filled young man who drove his car into counterdemonstrators in Charlottesville, I know all too well that he is what I was. He is not beyond the love of God, nor should he be beyond the love of his neighbours or his enemies. May we pray for him as we pray for his victims.
Scientific studies have shown that having a child can severely effect numerous things in your life ranging from money to sleep and even sex.
(Some idiot named Greg Evans, The worst decision you can ever make is to have a child, according to science) in The Independent. Well, that settles it, I guess. All sex, no babies. It’s science, doncha know, and we don’t want to be science deniers now, do we?
Now let’s see: how does the categorical imperative apply here?
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“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)
There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)