This is a short note from my Roam Research second brain. Here’s a free guide where I introduce you to Roam & Building A Second Brain.
Metadata of Note
Tags: #philosophy #religion #future
Date: June 3rd, 2022
Below are my notes taken based on watching the lecture series by Jonathan Bi. This is one of the three notes I took based on the lecture series: the others are Mimesis, Mimetic Desires, & Metaphysical Desires and Rene Girard’s Scapegoat Mechanism Explained
For a comprehensive introduction to “Mimetic Theory” and Rene Girard, check this article.
Why Girard is a Christian
Girard is a Christian but denounces Paganism even though the scapegoat mechanism leading to deification and institutionalization of myth is present in both religions. His point is that Christianity differs from Paganism in an important way:
Christianity is the FIRST story told from the perspective of the victim, rather than the persecutor (unlike all Pagan stories).
The story depicts christ as innocent and his sentencing depicted as unjust and a result of psychological projection.
Girard says that Christianity also shifts the dominant lens through which we see stories — from the perspective of the victim.
From here: Girard contrasts the story of Cain and Abel with the myth of Remus and Romulus. In both stories, there is a rivalry between the brothers. In both stories, there is a murder. But, in the Roman myth, Romulus is justified in killing Remus, as the latter transgressed the territorial limits they had earlier agreed upon. In the Biblical story, Cain is never justified in killing Abel. And, indeed, the blood of Abel is evoked as the blood of the innocent victims that have been murdered throughout history, and that God will vindicate.”
For Girard, Christianity is the religion to end all religion and the myth to end all myths.
“A trojan horse meant to save us from Paganism and the scapegoat mechanism.”
4 Forces of Christianity: Love, Truth, Innovation, Violence
Girard says Christianity brought about 4 forces to the world: Love, Truth, Innovation, and Violence. But with each, it also brought two sides of a coin.
Love & Hypocrisy
Love is the force that led to human rights and equality, the force that powers developed nations to help developing nations, stopped us from human sacrifice. The force is so strong that we automatically side with the victims the way Pagan societies sided with the strong.
But Girard sees hypocrisy: he says we’ve not stopped persecution. Rather, we’ve merely turned the table to focus less on the victim-like characters (ethnical minorities, women, disabled) and more on the oppressor-like characters (white people, men, any sort of privilege).
“Our society’s obligatory compassion authorizes new forms of cruelty.”
Truth & Dogma
Far are we from the witch hunts and superstitions of the past. We’ve entered a new realm of seeking truth, most obviously through the religion of “science.” Girard says Christianity engendered Science, by expelling myth.
But like Love, Girard says the other side to Truth has become Dogma: we love science so much that we’ve made it an unquestionable religion and deified it, which can silence opposing voices. Apparently, the case used by Nazis against the Jews rested on the science of “eugenics” which was touted in the 1920s.
As mentioned in Wanting by Luke Burgis,
“We didn’t stop burning witches because we invented science. We invented science because we stopped burning witches.”
Innovation & Power
By tearing down myths, we’re freed from the idolation of the past and empowered to imagine the future. Innovation before the 18th century was synonymous with heresy and frowned upon by the West. But Western civilization the past few hundred years prides itself to change when it comes to industrialization, medical advances, etc.
As with Love and Truth, we’ve fetishized innovation.
“The modern world rejects imitation in favor of originality at all costs.”
The more we celebrate innovation and denounce imitation, the fewer and fewer we have original innovations (because innovation is dependent on imitation). The celebration of innovation paralyzes us.
My thoughts: is this really true? Because the message I’ve heard over and over is to imitate the masters before creating something of your own.
Violence & Apocalypse
Girard is ambivalent about the scapegoat mechanism. Even though it’s deceitful, it’s also effective. Sacrifice one for the peace of all. Limit the freedom of the parts for the stability of the whole. While Christ cut down the worldly order for the sake of ultimate good, it leads to violence in the absence of a release valve for chaos resulting from metaphysical desires. However, the world is largely peaceful today, and Girard says that’s because of two institutions that were formed to channel violence productively: Capitalism and Law.
“It is not by accident that the European aristocracy went into business as soon as heroes and warriors went out of style.”
Girard says that the desire to channel founders building products and services is the same desire that channeled heroes and warriors: recognition, power, fame, and prestige. Capitalism directs the energy from something destructive to something supposedly productive (reminds me of what Fan-Pei said about Elon Musk).
Law only functions when there is a powerful entity with a monopoly over violence, such as the state. Law does not lead to catharsis or rely on deities. But it contains violence.
Capitalism is the stew of bubbling, violent competitive energies that must be contained by law.
Nearing the apocalypse
(from here) Girard believes that 20th and 21st centuries are more than ever an apocalyptic age. And, once again, he acknowledges a 19th-century German figure as a precursor of these views: Carl von Clausewitz. According to Girard, the great Prussian war strategist realized that modern war would no longer be an honorable enterprise, but rather, a brutal activity that has the potential to destroy all of humanity.
Indeed, Girard believes 20th and 21st centuries are apocalyptic, but not in the fundamentalist sense. The ‘signs’ of the apocalypse are not numerical clues such as 666, but rather, signs that humanity has not found an efficient way to put an end to violence, and unless the Christian message of repentance and withdrawal from violence is assumed, we are headed towards doomsday; not a Final Judgment brought forth by a punishing God, but rather, a doomsday brought about by our own human violence.
Girard fears that the apocalypse is near given the rise of nuclear weaponry. It’s not the mass of impact that a nuke causes that worries Girard, but rather the ease with which it can be utilized and how a nation can retaliate even if they’re destroyed through their submarines.
In fact, in 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis, if not for one man — Vasily Arkhipov — the world would have descended into an all-out nuclear war. Although the cloud of nuclear thread faded after the fall of the Soviet Union, Girard fears that it could happen again.
If the end of the world had a beginning, we could do far worse than attribute it to the invention of the nuclear bomb.
Girard’s response to, “What do we as we near the end of times?” is brief and unsatisfactory: Withdraw. Withdraw from the world. Leave it. Tend to your own garden. Stay away and nurture your soul.
“Girard is like the seismograph of history. Able to feel the slight tremors that would balloon to tectonic shifts before others even know that we’re standing on a fault line.”