Recently, Nick Drew of Capitalists@Work introduced us to an essay in The New Enquiry entitled "The Scapegoating Machine" (http://thenewinquiry.com/essays/the-scapegoating-machine/).
The writer, Geoff Shullenberger, refers to Peter Thiel, a hedge fund manager (and founder of PayPal) who is now on the executive committee of President-elect Donald Trump's transition team, and links Thiel's thinking to that of his former professor and "philosophical mentor" René Girard.
There may be some good ideas in the article but they are couched in that horrid jumble of jargon from sociology, psychology, Marxism etc that resembles a parody of mediaeval scholastic theology, bristling with unnecessary references and appeals to allegedly established authority. My reaction is typical of the Anglo-Saxon attitude to Continental theoreticians: we like our abstractions to be more concrete.
In my schooldays the way to determine whether there was any substance was to do a précis. Typically this would cut down the original word count to, say, 40%. But one can be much more radical with guffmeisters such as Russell Brand - I got him down to less than 8% (http://theylaughedatnoah.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/kaking-sense-of-russell-brands.html)
I challenged Nick to do the same for this latest, reducing the 3,445 words of the original to no more than 250. Heroically, he has done so. I now challenge the reader to see if it could be boiled down even further, and then challenged on logic and fact!
Humans desire things because others desire those things, and we unconsciously mimic them. By having the object of desire, the Other makes us desire it, but also makes us resent the Other’s having it: mimetic desire and violence are inextricable. Desire is potentially a source of conflict (especially when the desire is for something intangible such as honor, status, respect, recognition) - a basic problem for human societies.
The ancient solution was substitution of the scapegoat for the rival - the original “breakthrough” moment of human progress, breaking the cyclical repetition of mimetic violence. Religion ritualized the scapegoat mechanism into sacrifices - symbolic acts that created gods, myths and hierarchies.
The rise of techno-scientific rationality and secular governance correlates with the decline of the sacred. But since religion has been the primary form of regulating violence, its displacement raises the possibility of uncontained violence and a panicked return to violent forms of religion.
The imitative basis of desire can explain the success of social media, which intensify universalized competition, feeding rivalry and ressentiment. They also create the space for new modes of scapegoating. Bullying and “forming communities” are connected: scapegoating is the cement of group identities. Voters in demographic decline turn against the Other. “The 99% vs. the 1%” is modern-day scapegoating.
Developers of technology need to accomplish something comparable to what religions did: the creation of superstructures that blunt the tendencies toward dissolution currently threatening global society.