In this introduction to the work and theory of René Girard, I look at mimetic desire, scapegoating, mimetic crisis, ritual, sacrifice, culture, and religion.
Rene Girard, born in 1923 and died in 2015, was a French thinker whose thought spanned across disciplines. His focus was on mythology, violence, sacrifice, and religion, but the range and implications of his thought touch on history, psychology, literary criticism, anthropology; in fact, you could list every area of the humanities here.
Girard seems to be able to supply answer to a difficult question: how and why did culture emerge?
Scholar Harald Wydra calls it a ‘fundamental anthropology’ and tells us that Girard’s thought can help us make sense of ‘humanity’s immense “progress” during the short time of its existence.’
In other words, the question is this: why did the first myths and stories emerge – culture – and how do they underpin humanity’s direction since. He’s one of those rare thinkers that can change your entire way of looking at things.
This video is a major departure from the usual content on my channel, but I think it’s necessary. This particular moment in American and world history demands that we all take an honest look at the trajectory of the United States of America. The current system is untenable and the Coronavirus pandemic has laid bare how truly ill-prepared the country is to protect its citizens. When corporations and the ultra-wealthy are the primary concern of those in power, the majority will suffer. This video is my attempt to contribute some small amount to the national conversation about what America is, and what it needs to become.
Generally it’s well established fact that a small percentage of society causes a disproportionately massive amount of problems and suffering for the rest of us. We’ve always wondered what holds humans back from creating the kind of society we’d all love to see. We used to call it evil but now we know that some people don’t have the capacity to empathize or be remorseful.
The documentary I Am Fishead: Are Corporate Leaders Psychopaths? examines whether the people at the top are more likely to be psychopaths than the rest of us.
The neurological definition of a psychopath is someone with small amygdala (lesser fear response) and often less connections to the frontal lobe, the center for reasoning. There are many people like this and the reasoning is that these people are more disposed to taking risks and are therefore more often in a position to take advantage of an opportunity. A psychopath is a risk taker and often fearless of most consequences.
It really boils down to how you define evil. Some derive pleasure from causing others pain, and this is the litmus test for purely evil behavior. If you don’t derive pleasure from killing the man behind the counter because he won’t hand over the money, or from signing the paper that privatizes the water supply in a small nation, but you do it anyway, because you want the reward, this would still constitute evil but to a lesser extent. In the first case, the thrill and positive emotions of performing the destructive act is your reward. In the second case, the reward lies in the payoff from the act, and the suffering you cause is just unimportant.
This is looking at it from an individual level however. From a societal perspective, the ‘lesser’ evildoers, or the sociopaths, are probably more dangerous, because they differ less from the average guy. They are just ready to go that one extra step to attain what they crave. Put in situations where that kind of behavior is rewarded, and the responsibility is diffused or non-existent, they are likely to thrive.
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