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: #mimetictheory #philosophy #religion
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 How Christianity Unleashed 4 Forces According to Rene Girard.
For a comprehensive introduction to “Mimetic Theory” and Rene Girard, check this article.
The Scapegoat Mechanism
There are numerous examples of the scapegoat mechanism in human history: e.g. Socrates’ trial by Athenian jury, the black death blamed on witches, Nazis persecuting Jews for German decline, McCarthy era witch hunts persecuting innocents due to communism.
We like to single out one radical party upon which we can blame all evil in times of chaos: someone/a single group whom we can “sacrifice” and murder which will act as a vent to let off the emotional steam from the chaos. The murder generally tends to be extremely violent, to be extremely cathartic.
There’s no rationality behind the scapegoat mechanism and Girard acknowledges that it’s wrong, but also notes that it’s the only thing that kept our early ancestors alive.
The victim neither has the power to cause or end the chaos. It’s all psychological projection by the crowd, which is packaged as myth, generally written from the perspective of the persecutor.
“In moments of extreme turbulence, we aren’t interested in truth, but a grand lie and founding murder that can grant us catharsis.” .. “Just as deceitfully the crowd that blamed the victim for causing the chaos would deceitfully praise the now dead victim for ending the chaos, turning the victim into a god.”
A famous story quoted by Girard is one of Oedipus being regarded as both the victim and a god.
Prohibitions & Rituals
While the scapegoat mechanism helps act as a release valve for troubled societies, over time, societies also built two more mechanisms/institutions to aid in this process of maintaining peace: Prohibitions and Rituals.
- Prohibitions were set up as a way to limit metaphysical desires spreading by creating a social difference between people. E.g. caste system in India, gender roles, guild lineages, etc. These kept people from competing with each other.
- Rituals were set up as a last line of defense when Prohibitions couldn’t stop the chaos. Rituals aimed to enact the founding murder in a “contained” way so as to still give the catharsis that a founding murder did. E.g. debaucherous festivals, sacrificing goats, etc.
Both institutions generated catharsis to keep the peace in Pagan societies.
This arc from real events to myths to real institutions is how ALL human societies have been founded.