The Online Relevance of René Girard

In The Weekly Standard, Joseph Bottum, professor of cyber-ethics at Dakota State University, writes a cuck piece on the Great Statue Removal Frenzy, but in this passage astutely discusses the contemporary relevance of René Girard (“The Joy of Destruction”):

In such books as Violence and the Sacred (1972) and The Scapegoat (1982), the French-American theorist René Girard offered an explanation for this kind of thing, developing his ideas about scapegoating and what he called “mimetic rivalry.” Against Freud, Girard argued that human desires do not always come packaged in predetermined forms. We create many of them in imitation of others. We learn to want by watching what others want, and we catch desire the way we catch a disease.

More recent years have seen some attention paid to the concept of “competitive victimhood.” A fascinating 2017 trio of surveys by Laura De Guissmé and Laurent Licata, for example, pointed out that a group’s empathy for the victimhood of others is significantly decreased whenever the group expands its own sense of victimhood. But Girard was there first, warning that the idea of victimhood, stripped of its Christianity, would itself become a device of cultural violence, with people competing for the status of victim even as they trample those who oppose them or merely fail to support them sufficiently.

If that sounds like the current protesters—if that sounds like too much of our current political agitation on both left and right—it should. Trying to understand antifa, the Washington Post recently described the amorphous group as a collection of “predominantly communists, socialists and anarchists who reject turning to the police or the state” to achieve radical ends, preferring to pursue their radical ends through violent confrontation on the streets. The disorganized organization could not have existed before the Internet… before such leaderless collectives were made possible by computerized communication.

The group polarization of online discussions, the mimetic rivalry to show oneself more pure than others, the Twitterized brutality toward those who fail to show enough purity, the outrage on the hunt for something to be outraged about: The Internet sometimes seems to have been invented for the sole purpose of proving the social-contagion theories of René Girard.

This entry was posted in Culture, Sociology. Bookmark the permalink.