Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Long Apocalypse

From Chronicles:
Today, a century after the close of the “war to end all wars,” the prospect of achieving what the U.N. and other such garrulous bodies call “global peace” seems ever more remote.  According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, if only we could establish everywhere the right to equality before the law, freedom of speech, freedom from “arbitraxry detainment,” access to justice, and a host of other rights, glorious and perpetual peace would blossom.  In the view of the propagators of such dangerous nonsense, violence is the product of social and political deprivation.  Eliminate injustice, poverty, discrimination, class barriers, political tyranny, barriers to immigration, etc., and violence will fade away along with all the old soldiers.  Of course, schoolchildren and delusional political activists aside, no one really believes this, not deep down, though we may repeat the “peace and justice” mantra as a form of self-hypnosis, desperate to believe it because the alternative seems too unsettling.  And in a post-Christian era, the notion that violence is the result of ineradicable human sinfulness—the Augustinian prognosis—is hopelessly unfashionable.

Enter René Girard, the 20th century’s most provocative analyst of violence, which, for him, is almost always sacrificial—that is, mimetic.  For those unfamiliar with his work, this connection between sacrifice and mimesis will require some explaining.  In Girard’s best-known book, Violence and the Sacred (1972; 1977 in English translation), he uncovers the origins of social order in an act of communal violence against a chosen victim, or scapegoat.  Out of this sacrificial bloodletting, tribal unanimity—i.e., peace—is established.  How can this be?  Blood sacrifice, in this primal scenario, arises out of a mimetic crisis, itself the inevitable result of the conflict of metaphysical desire.  Humans are, most fundamentally, creatures of desire: the desire for power, possessions, status, admiration, wealth, and so on.  But here is the crux: Our desires, contrary to common belief, are not our own.  We learn through mimicry to desire what others—admired others—desire.  The objects of our desire are secondary to our desire to become the admired other.  Yet because we have learned to desire what the model desires, we enter into potential rivalry or conflict with him or her, since we both desire the same object (a sexual object, the adulation of a particular group, a job promotion, some position of status in the community, or what have you).  Such mimetic rivalry carries with it, by virtue of its open-ended nature, the possibility of contagion; it is a rivalry that may spread into the community at large, spawning wider conflict and, ultimately, a “war of all against all.” (Read more.)

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