‘The big education for me is that civilisation is fragile and can be destroyed in a heartbeat' - Jeremy Brade, former peacekeeper in Sarajevo.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Boiling candy floss

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.


Trofim said...

The Sokal hoax should be a compulsory feature of all university education, or even earlier, as should use of the Postmodern Text Generator.
If you're unfamiliar with the latter, look at the bottom of the page.

Sackerson said...

Thanks for the links!

Trofim said...

Sorry! Here's a link to the PTG - at the bottom is a link to the Sokal hoax


Sackerson said...

Great - I need never think again.

James Higham said...

they are couched in that horrid jumble of jargon from sociology, psychology, Marxism etc


Nick Drew said...

look forward to seeing any holiday-project submissions to Sackers' challenge!

my first effort (above) is 238 words, =7%. After the family have visited I'll do one under 70 (=2%). Then we'll see if we can sloganise the result.

important note: it will be a distillation of what I've already brewed which, (as already confessed to Sackers), is only what I understand to be the main theme. There were two minor sub-themes I eradicated along the way - well almost: only the faintest echoes remain. This shouldn't unduly influence others who may very properly prefer a different *emphasis* (to hark back to an earlier thread ...)

Nick Drew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nick Drew said...

OK, here's the <70 ...

Humans desire things because others desire those things – leading to rivalry, resentment and ultimately conflict. A successful early formulation for containing the potential for disruptively violent rivalry was scapegoating. All these dynamics are at work in social media. Developers of technology need to accomplish something comparable to what religions (long in decline) have done to address the societal threats: sublimination of scapegoating tendencies into ritual, symbolic acts.

join in the search for further reduction! - to handy slogan-form

Sackerson said...

Slogan: "Don't blame the rich for screwing you"?

From your summation, I would question:

1. Do humans merely desire what others desire, for that reason? Does this apply to all humans?
2. Does making someone a scapegoat stop rivalry?
3. How does this apply to "social media"?
4. Are religions in decline, generally?
5. Are religions essentially the same from the point of view of their societal function?
6. What exactly is the supposed societal function of a religion?
7. How does "scapegoating" become a ritual act?
8. Is a ritual act the same as a symbolic act?
9. Is religion engineered to produce certain results?
10. Has "sublimation" now been established as a fact, rather than a psychological theory?
11. What would developers of technology do to "sublimate scapegoating tendencies"? What would it look like, in practice?

This is why I look for short words, carefully explained.

Nick Drew said...

I could cheerfully respond to all of those for myself, but I'm b******d if I'm going to try to answer for Girard / Thiel !

o-oh, wait a minute Ted, I didn't know that after you've had one big idea, you have to follow it up with lots of little ideas! (Dougal Maguire)

(PS you might add 1.b - Does it apply to all desires?)

Sackerson said...

Exactly. We can all give answers, though they may not be the only or the right ones, but given 3,445 words I think we could at least make a consistent argument sans fog.