Réseaux sociaux: Facebook confirme Girard (Universal theater of envy: Welcome to the brave new world of mimetic desire that social media has now brought to our personal computers !)

Facebook could trigger envy, depression – new study - YouTube

Tu ne convoiteras point la maison de ton prochain; tu ne convoiteras point la femme de ton prochain, ni son serviteur, ni sa servante, ni son boeuf, ni son âne, ni aucune chose qui appartienne à ton prochain. Exode 20: 17
Ne croyez pas que je sois venu apporter la paix sur la terre; je ne suis pas venu apporter la paix, mais l’épée. Car je suis venu mettre la division entre l’homme et son père, entre la fille et sa mère, entre la belle-fille et sa belle-mère; et l’homme aura pour ennemis les gens de sa maison. Jésus (Matthieu 10 : 34-36)
Je vous le dis en vérité, toutes les fois que vous avez fait ces choses à l’un de ces plus petits de mes frères, c’est à moi que vous les avez faites. Jésus (Matthieu 25: 40)
Comme par une seule offense la condamnation a atteint tous les hommes, de même par un seul acte de justice la justification qui donne la vie s’étend à tous les hommes. (…) Là où le péché abonde, la grâce surabonde. Paul (Romains 5 : 18-20)
Les envieux mourront, mais non jamais l’envie. Molière (Tartuffe, V, III)
Il ne faut pas dissimuler que les institutions démocratiques développent à un très haut niveau le sentiment de l’envie dans le coeur humain. Ce n’est point tant parce qu’elle offrent à chacun les moyens de s’égaler aux autres, mais parce que ces moyens défaillent sans cesse à ceux qui les emploient. Les institutions démocratiques réveillent et flattent la passion de l’égalité sans pouvoir jamais la satisfaire entièrement. Cette égalité complète s’échappe tous les jours des mains du peuples au moment où il croit la saisir, et fuit, comme dit Pascal, d’une fuite éternelle; le peuple s’échauffe à la recherche de ce bien d’autant plus précieux qu’il est assez proche pour être connu et assez loin pour ne pas être goûté. Tout ce qui le dépasse par quelque endroit lui paraît un obstacle à ses désirs, et il n’y a pas de supériorité si légitime dont la vue ne fatigue ses yeux. Tocqueville
Il y a en effet une passion mâle et légitime pour l’égalité qui excite les hommes à vouloir être tous forts et estimés. Cette passion tend à élever les petits au rang des grands ; mais il se rencontre aussi dans le cœur humain un goût dépravé pour l’égalité, qui porte les faibles à vouloir attirer les forts à leur niveau, et qui réduit les hommes à préférer l’égalité dans la servitude à l’inégalité dans la liberté. Tocqueville
La même force culturelle et spirituelle qui a joué un rôle si décisif dans la disparition du sacrifice humain est aujourd’hui en train de provoquer la disparition des rituels de sacrifice humain qui l’ont jadis remplacé. Tout cela semble être une bonne nouvelle, mais à condition que ceux qui comptaient sur ces ressources rituelles soient en mesure de les remplacer par des ressources religieuses durables d’un autre genre. Priver une société des ressources sacrificielles rudimentaires dont elle dépend sans lui proposer d’alternatives, c’est la plonger dans une crise qui la conduira presque certainement à la violence. Gil Bailie
Si le Décalogue consacre son commandement ultime à interdire le désir des biens du prochain, c’est parce qu’il reconnaît lucidement dans ce désir le responsable des violences interdites dans les quatre commandements qui le précèdent. Si on cessait de désirer les biens du prochain, on ne se rendrait jamais coupable ni de meurtre, ni d’adultère, ni de vol, ni de faux témoignage. Si le dixième commandement était respecté, il rendrait superflus les quatre commandements qui le précèdent. Au lieu de commencer par la cause et de poursuivre par les conséquences, comme ferait un exposé philosophique, le Décalogue suit l’ordre inverse. Il pare d’abord au plus pressé: pour écarter la violence, il interdit les actions violentes. Il se retourne ensuite vers la cause et découvre le désir inspiré par le prochain. René Girard
Si Jésus ne parle jamais en termes d’interdits et toujours en termes de modèles et d’imitation, c’est parce qu’il tire jusqu’au bout la leçon du dixième commandement. Ce n’est pas par narcissisme qu’il nous recommande de l’imiter lui-même, c’est pour nous détourner des rivalités mimétiques. Sur quoi exactement l’imitation de Jésus-Christ doit-elle porter ? Ce ne peut pas être sur ses façons d’être ou ses habitudes personnelles : il n’est jamais question de cela dans les Evangiles. Jésus ne propose pas non plus une règle de vie ascétique au sens de Thomas a Kempis et de sa célèbre Imitation de Jésus-Christ, si admirable que soit cet ouvrage. Ce que Jésus nous invite à imiter c’est son propre désir, c’est l’élan qui le dirige lui, Jésus, vers le but qu’il s’est fixé : ressembler le plus possible à Dieu le Père. L’invitation à imiter le désir de Jésus peut sembler paradoxale car Jésus ne prétend pas posséder de désir propre, de désir « bien à lui ». Contrairement à ce que nous prétendons nous-mêmes, il ne prétend pas « être lui-même », il ne se flatte pas de « n’obéir qu’à son propre désir ». Son but est de devenir l’image parfaite de Dieu. Il consacre donc toutes ses forces à imiter ce Père. En nous invitant à l’imiter lui, il nous invite à imiter sa propre imitation. Loin d’être paradoxale, cette invitation est plus raisonnable que celle de nos gourous modernes. Ceux-ci nous invitent tous à faire le contraire de ce qu’ils font eux-mêmes, ou tout au moins prétendent faire. Chacun d’eux demande à ses disciples d’imiter en lui le grand homme qui n’imite personne. Jésus, tout au contraire, nous invite à faire ce qu’il fait lui-même, à devenir tout comme lui un imitateur de Dieu le Père. Pourquoi Jésus regarde-t-il le Père et lui-même comme les meilleurs modèles pour tous les hommes ? Parce que ni le Père ni le Fils ne désirent avidement, égoïstement. Dieu « fait lever son soleil sur les méchants et sur les bons ». Il donne aux hommes sans compter, sans marquer entre eux la moindre différence. Il laisse les mauvaises herbes pousser avec les bonnes jusqu’au temps de la moisson. Si nous imitons le désintéressement divin, jamais le piège des rivalités mimétiques ne se refermera sur nous. C’est pourquoi Jésus dit aussi : « Demandez et l’on vous donnera… » Lorsque Jésus déclare que, loin d’abolir la Loi, il l’accomplit, il formule une conséquence logique de son enseignement. Le but de la Loi, c’est la paix entre les hommes. Jésus ne méprise jamais la Loi, même lorsqu’elle prend la forme des interdits. A la différence des penseurs modernes, il sait très bien que, pour empêcher les conflits, il faut commencer par les interdits. L’inconvénient des interdits, toutefois, c’est qu’ils ne jouent pas leur rôle de façon satisfaisante. Leur caractère surtout négatif, saint Paul l’a bien vu, chatouille en nous, forcément, la tendance mimétique à la transgression. La meilleure façon de prévenir la violence consiste non pas à interdire des objets, ou même le désir rivalitaire, comme fait le dixième commandement, mais à fournir aux hommes le modèle qui, au lieu de les entraîner dans les rivalités mimétiques, les en protégera. (…) Loin de surgir dans un univers exempt d’imitation, le commandement d’imiter Jésus s’adresse à des êtres pénétrés de mimétisme. Les non-chrétiens s’imaginent que, pour se convertir, il leur faudrait renoncer à une autonomie que tous les hommes possèdent naturellement, une autonomie dont Jésus voudrait les priver. En réalité, dès que nous imitons Jésus, nous nous découvrons imitateurs depuis toujours. Notre aspiration à l’autonomie nous agenouillait devant des êtres qui, même s’ils ne sont pas pires que nous, n’en sont pas moins de mauvais modèles en ceci que nous ne pouvons pas les imiter sans tomber avec eux dans le piège des rivalités inextricables. (…) Même si le mimétisme du désir humain est le grand responsable des violences qui nous accablent, il ne faut pas en conclure que le désir mimétique est mauvais. Si nos désirs n’étaient pas mimétiques, ils seraient à jamais fixés sur des objets prédéterminés, ils seraient une forme particulière d’instinct. Les hommes ne pourraient pas plus changer de désir que les vaches dans un pré. Sans désir mimétique il n’y aurait ni liberté ni humanité. Le désir mimétique est intrinsèquement bon. L’homme est cette créature qui a perdu une partie de son instinct animal pour accéder à ce qu’on appelle le désir. Une fois leurs besoins naturels assouvis, les hommes désirent intensément, mais ils ne savent pas exactement quoi car aucun instinct ne les guide. Ils n’ont pas de désir propre. Le propre du désir est de ne pas être propre. Pour désirer vraiment, nous devons recourir aux hommes qui nous entourent, nous devons leur emprunter leurs désirs. Cet emprunt se fait souvent sans que ni le prêteur ni l’emprunteur s’en aperçoivent. Ce n’est pas seulement leur désir qu’on emprunte à ceux qu’on prend pour modèles c’est une foule de comportements, d’attitudes, de savoirs, de préjugés, de préférences, etc., au sein desquels l’emprunt le plus lourd de conséquences, le désir, passe souvent inaperçu. La seule culture vraiment nôtre n’est pas celle où nous sommes nés, c’est la culture dont nous imitons les modèles à l’âge où notre puissance d’assimilation mimétique est la plus grande. Si leur désir n’était pas mimétique, si les enfants ne choisissaient pas pour modèles, forcément, les êtres humains qui les entourent, l’humanité n’aurait ni langage ni culture. Si le désir n’était pas mimétique, nous ne serions ouverts ni à l’humain ni au divin. C’est dans ce dernier domaine, nécessairement, que notre incertitude est la plus grande et notre besoin de modèles le plus intense. René Girard (Je vois Satan tomber comme l’éclair)
Nous sommes encore proches de cette période des grandes expositions internationales qui regardait de façon utopique la mondialisation comme l’Exposition de Londres – la « Fameuse » dont parle Dostoievski, les expositions de Paris… Plus on s’approche de la vraie mondialisation plus on s’aperçoit que la non-différence ce n’est pas du tout la paix parmi les hommes mais ce peut être la rivalité mimétique la plus extravagante. On était encore dans cette idée selon laquelle on vivait dans le même monde: on n’est plus séparé par rien de ce qui séparait les hommes auparavant donc c’est forcément le paradis. Ce que voulait la Révolution française. Après la nuit du 4 août, plus de problème ! René Girard
L’erreur est toujours de raisonner dans les catégories de la « différence », alors que la racine de tous les conflits, c’est plutôt la « concurrence », la rivalité mimétique entre des êtres, des pays, des cultures. La concurrence, c’est-à-dire le désir d’imiter l’autre pour obtenir la même chose que lui, au besoin par la violence. Sans doute le terrorisme est-il lié à un monde « différent » du nôtre, mais ce qui suscite le terrorisme n’est pas dans cette « différence » qui l’éloigne le plus de nous et nous le rend inconcevable. Il est au contraire dans un désir exacerbé de convergence et de ressemblance. (…) Ce qui se vit aujourd’hui est une forme de rivalité mimétique à l’échelle planétaire. Lorsque j’ai lu les premiers documents de Ben Laden, constaté ses allusions aux bombes américaines tombées sur le Japon, je me suis senti d’emblée à un niveau qui est au-delà de l’islam, celui de la planète entière. Sous l’étiquette de l’islam, on trouve une volonté de rallier et de mobiliser tout un tiers-monde de frustrés et de victimes dans leurs rapports de rivalité mimétique avec l’Occident. Mais les tours détruites occupaient autant d’étrangers que d’Américains. Et par leur efficacité, par la sophistication des moyens employés, par la connaissance qu’ils avaient des Etats-Unis, par leurs conditions d’entraînement, les auteurs des attentats n’étaient-ils pas un peu américains ? On est en plein mimétisme.Ce sentiment n’est pas vrai des masses, mais des dirigeants. Sur le plan de la fortune personnelle, on sait qu’un homme comme Ben Laden n’a rien à envier à personne. Et combien de chefs de parti ou de faction sont dans cette situation intermédiaire, identique à la sienne. Regardez un Mirabeau au début de la Révolution française : il a un pied dans un camp et un pied dans l’autre, et il n’en vit que de manière plus aiguë son ressentiment. Aux Etats-Unis, des immigrés s’intègrent avec facilité, alors que d’autres, même si leur réussite est éclatante, vivent aussi dans un déchirement et un ressentiment permanents. Parce qu’ils sont ramenés à leur enfance, à des frustrations et des humiliations héritées du passé. Cette dimension est essentielle, en particulier chez des musulmans qui ont des traditions de fierté et un style de rapports individuels encore proche de la féodalité. (…) Cette concurrence mimétique, quand elle est malheureuse, ressort toujours, à un moment donné, sous une forme violente. A cet égard, c’est l’islam qui fournit aujourd’hui le ciment qu’on trouvait autrefois dans le marxisme.  René Girard
Notre monde est de plus en plus imprégné par cette vérité évangélique de l’innocence des victimes. L’attention qu’on porte aux victimes a commencé au Moyen Age, avec l’invention de l’hôpital. L’Hôtel-Dieu, comme on disait, accueillait toutes les victimes, indépendamment de leur origine. Les sociétés primitives n’étaient pas inhumaines, mais elles n’avaient d’attention que pour leurs membres. Le monde moderne a inventé la « victime inconnue », comme on dirait aujourd’hui le « soldat inconnu ». Le christianisme peut maintenant continuer à s’étendre même sans la loi, car ses grandes percées intellectuelles et morales, notre souci des victimes et notre attention à ne pas nous fabriquer de boucs émissaires, ont fait de nous des chrétiens qui s’ignorent. René Girard
« Que celui qui se croit sans péché lui jette la première pierre ! » Pourquoi la première pierre ? Parce qu’elle est seule décisive. Celui qui la jette n’a personne à imiter. Rien de plus facile que d’imiter un exemple déjà donné. Donner soi-même l’exemple est tout autre chose. La foule est mimétiquement mobilisée, mais il lui reste un dernier seuil à franchir, celui de la violence réelle. Si quelqu’un jetait la première pierre, aussitôt les pierres pleuvraient. En attirant l’attention sur la première pierre, la parole de Jésus renforce cet obstacle ultime à la lapidation. Il donne aux meilleurs de cette foule le temps d’entendre sa parole et de s’examiner eux-mêmes. S’il est réel, cet examen ne peut manquer de découvrir le rapport circulaire de la victime et du bourreau. Le scandale qu’incarne cette femme à leurs yeux, ces hommes le portent déjà en eux-mêmes, et c’est pour s’en débarrasser qu’ils le projettent sur elle, d’autant plus aisément, bien sûr, qu’elle est vraiment coupable. Pour lapider une victime de bon coeur, il faut se croire différent d’elle, et la convergence mimétique, je le rappelle, s’accompagne d’une illusion de divergence. C’est la convergence réelle combinée avec l’illusion de divergence qui déclenche ce que Jésus cherche à prévenir, le mécanisme du bouc émissaire. La foule précède l’individu. Ne devient vraiment individu que celui qui, se détachant de la foule, échappe à l’unanimité violente. Tous ne sont pas capables d’autant d’initiative. Ceux qui en sont capables se détachent les premiers et, ce faisant, empêchent la lapidation. (…) A côté des temps individuels, donc, il y a toujours un temps social dans notre texte, mais il singe désormais les temps individuels, c’est le temps des modes et des engouements politiques, intellectuels, etc. Le temps reste ponctué par des mécanismes mimétiques. Sortir de la foule le premier, renoncer le premier à jeter des pierres, c’est prendre le risque d’en recevoir. La décision en sens inverse aurait été plus facile, car elle se situait dans le droit fil d’un emballement mimétique déjà amorcé. La première pierre est moins mimétique que les suivantes, mais elle n’en est pas moins portée par la vague de mimétisme qui a engendré la foule. Et les premiers à décider contre la lapidation ? Faut-il penser que chez eux au moins il n’y a aucune imitation ? Certainement pas. Même là il y en a, puisque c’est Jésus qui suggère à ces hommes d’agir comme ils le font. La décision contre la violence resterait impossible, nous dit le christianisme, sans cet Esprit divin qui s’appelle le Paraclet, c’est-à-dire, en grec ordinaire, « l’avocat de la défense » : c’est bien ici le rôle de Jésus lui-même. Il laisse d’ailleurs entendre qu’il est lui-même le premier Paraclet, le premier défenseur des victimes. Et il l’est surtout par la Passion qui est ici, bien sûr, sous-entendue. La théorie mimétique insiste sur le suivisme universel, sur l’impuissance des hommes à ne pas imiter les exemples les plus faciles, les plus suivis, parce que c’est cela qui prédomine dans toute société. Il ne faut pas en conclure qu’elle nie la liberté individuelle. En situant la décision véritable dans son contexte vrai, celui des contagions mimétiques partout présentes, cette théorie donne à ce qui n’est pas mécanique, et qui pourtant ne diffère pas du tout dans sa forme de ce qui l’est, un relief que la libre décision n’a pas chez les penseurs qui ont toujours la liberté à la bouche et de ce fait même, croyant l’exalter, la dévaluent complètement. Si on glorifie le décisif sans voir ce qui le rend très difficile, on ne sort jamais de la métaphysique la plus creuse. Même le renoncement au mimétisme violent ne peut pas se répandre sans se transformer en mécanisme social, en mimétisme aveugle. Il y a une lapidation à l’envers symétrique de la lapidation à l’endroit non dénuée de violence, elle aussi. C’est ce que montrent bien les parodies de notre temps. Tous ceux qui auraient jeté des pierres s’il s’était trouvé quelqu’un pour jeter la première sont mimétiquement amenés à n’en pas jeter. Pour la plupart d’entre eux, la vraie raison de la non-violence n’est pas la dure réflexion sur soi, le renoncement à la violence : c’est le mimétisme, comme d’habitude. Il y a toujours emballement mimétique dans une direction ou dans une autre. En s’engouffrant dans la direction déjà choisie par les premiers, les « mimic men » se félicitent de leur esprit de décision et de liberté. Il ne faut pas se leurrer. Dans une société qui ne lapide plus les femmes adultères, beaucoup d’hommes n’ont pas vraiment changé. La violence est moindre, mieux dissimulée, mais structurellement identique à ce qu’elle a toujours été. Il n’y a pas sortie authentique du mimétisme, mais soumission mimétique à une culture qui prône cette sortie. Dans toute aventure sociale, quelle qu’en soit la nature, la part d’individualisme authentique est forcément minime mais pas inexistante. Il ne faut pas oublier surtout que le mimétisme qui épargne les victimes est infiniment supérieur objectivement, moralement, à celui qui les tue à coups de pierres. Il faut laisser les fausses équivalences à Nietzsche et aux esthétismes décadents. Le récit de la femme adultère nous fait voir que des comportements sociaux identiques dans leur forme et même jusqu’à un certain point dans leur fond, puisqu’ils sont tous mimétiques, peuvent néanmoins différer les uns des autres à l’infini. La part de mécanisme et de liberté qu’ils comportent est infiniment variable. Mais cette inépuisable diversité ne prouve rien en faveur du nihilisme cognitif ; elle ne prouve pas que les comportements sont incomparables et inconnaissables. Tout ce que nous avons besoin de connaître pour résister aux automatismes sociaux, aux contagions mimétiques galopantes, est accessible à la connaissance. René Girard
Jésus s’appuie sur la Loi pour en transformer radicalement le sens. La femme adultère doit être lapidée : en cela la Loi d’Israël ne se distingue pas de celle des nations. La lapidation est à la fois une manière de reproduire et de contenir le processus de mise à mort de la victime dans des limites strictes. Rien n’est plus contagieux que la violence et il ne faut pas se tromper de victime. Parce qu’elle redoute les fausses dénonciations, la Loi, pour les rendre plus difficiles, oblige les délateurs, qui doivent être deux au minimum, à jeter eux-mêmes les deux premières pierres. Jésus s’appuie sur ce qu’il y a de plus humain dans la Loi, l’obligation faite aux deux premiers accusateurs de jeter les deux premières pierres ; il s’agit pour lui de transformer le mimétisme ritualisé pour une violence limitée en un mimétisme inverse. Si ceux qui doivent jeter » la première pierre » renoncent à leur geste, alors une réaction mimétique inverse s’enclenche, pour le pardon, pour l’amour. (…) Jésus sauve la femme accusée d’adultère. Mais il est périlleux de priver la violence mimétique de tout exutoire. Jésus sait bien qu’à dénoncer radicalement le mauvais mimétisme, il s’expose à devenir lui-même la cible des violences collectives. Nous voyons effectivement dans les Évangiles converger contre lui les ressentiments de ceux qu’ils privent de leur raison d’être, gardiens du Temple et de la Loi en particulier. » Les chefs des prêtres et les Pharisiens rassemblèrent donc le Sanhédrin et dirent : « Que ferons-nous ? Cet homme multiplie les signes. Si nous le laissons agir, tous croiront en lui ». » Le grand prêtre Caïphe leur révèle alors le mécanisme qui permet d’immoler Jésus et qui est au cœur de toute culture païenne : » Ne comprenez-vous pas ? Il est de votre intérêt qu’un seul homme meure pour tout le peuple plutôt que la nation périsse » (Jean XI, 47-50) (…) Livrée à elle-même, l’humanité ne peut pas sortir de la spirale infernale de la violence mimétique et des mythes qui en camouflent le dénouement sacrificiel. Pour rompre l’unanimité mimétique, il faut postuler une force supérieure à la contagion violente : l’Esprit de Dieu, que Jean appelle aussi le Paraclet, c’est-à-dire l’avocat de la défense des victimes. C’est aussi l’Esprit qui fait révéler aux persécuteurs la loi du meurtre réconciliateur dans toute sa nudité. (…) Ils utilisent une expression qui est l’équivalent de » bouc émissaire » mais qui fait mieux ressortir l’innocence foncière de celui contre qui tous se réconcilient : Jésus est désigné comme » Agneau de Dieu « . Cela veut dire qu’il est la victime émissaire par excellence, celle dont le sacrifice, parce qu’il est identifié comme le meurtre arbitraire d’un innocent — et parce que la victime n’a jamais succombé à aucune rivalité mimétique — rend inutile, comme le dit l’Épître aux Hébreux, tous les sacrifices sanglants, ritualisés ou non, sur lesquels est fondée la cohésion des communautés humaines. La mort et la Résurrection du Christ substituent une communion de paix et d’amour à l’unité fondée sur la contrainte des communautés païennes. L’Eucharistie, commémoration régulière du » sacrifice parfait » remplace la répétition stérile des sacrifices sanglants. (…) En même temps, le devoir du chrétien est de dénoncer le péché là où il se trouve. Le communisme a pu s’effondrer sans violence parce que le monde libre et le monde communiste avaient accepté de ne plus remettre en cause les frontières existantes ; à l’intérieur de ces frontières, des millions de chrétiens ont combattu sans violence pour la vérité, pour que la lumière soit faite sur le mensonge et la violence des régimes qui asservissaient leurs pays. Encore une fois, face au danger de mimétisme universel de la violence, vous n’avez qu’une réponse possible : le christianisme. René Girard
Our supposedly insatiable appetite for the forbidden stops short of envy. Primitive cultures fear and repress envy so much that they have no word for it; we hardly use the one we have, and this fact must be significant. We no longer prohibit many actions that generate envy, but silently ostracize whatever can remind us of its presence in our midst. Psychic phenomena, we are told, are important in proportion to the resistance they generate toward revelation. If we apply this yardstick to envy as well as to what psychoanalysis designates as repressed, which of the two will make the more plausible candidate for the role of best-defended secret? René Girard
In the affluent West, we live in a world where there is less and less need therefore and more and more desire…. One has today real possibilities of true autonomy, of individual judgments. However, those possibilities are more commonly sold down the river in favour of false individuality, of negative mimesis…. The only way modernity can be defined is the universalization of internal mediation, for one doesn’t have areas of life that would keep people apart from each other, and that would mean that the construction of our beliefs and identity cannot but have strong mimetic components. René Girard
Ce n’est pas parce qu’on a écrit un traité de quatre-cents pages sur les tornades qu’on doit en écrire un aussi long sur le beau temps. (…) Cela ne signifie pas que la violence est fondatrice des relations humaines, seulement que les institutions doivent tenir compte de la violence que l’imitation produit comme une sorte d’effet secondaire. (…) La primauté  de l’amour maternel, qui nous semble si naturelle ajuoud’hui, n’était pas toujours assurée. René Girard
Although the literary theorist and anthropologist René Girard has many Silicon Valley disciples, surely the most notable of them is the German-born venture capitalist and founder of PayPal, Peter Thiel. A student of Girard’s while at Stanford in the late 1980s, Thiel would go on to report, in several interviews, and somewhat more sub-rosa in his 2014 book, From Zero to One, that Girard is his greatest intellectual inspiration. He is in the habit of recommending Girard’s Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World (1978) to others in the tech industry. (…) For Girard, everything is imitation. Or rather, every human action that rises above “merely” biological appetite and that is experienced as desire for a given object, in fact is not a desire for that object itself, but a desire to have the object that somebody else already has. This makes obvious sense, in a Veblenian key — plainly, indisputably, nobody wants a Rolex simply in order to be able to keep track of the passage of time with greater precision. Girard notes that the Old Testament authors were lucid enough about human motivation to tackle mimetic desire explicitly in at least four of the Ten Commandments, most notably in the prohibition on coveting, specifically, your neighbor’s goods. The great problem of our shared social existence is not wanting things, it’s wanting things because they are someone else’s. Of course, the problem did not go away with the prohibition, and for Girard this can only be because it is the universal basis of all human culture. Desire for what the other person has brings about a situation in which individuals in a community grow more similar to one another over time in a process of competition-cum-emulation. Such dual-natured social encounters, more precisely, are typical of people who are socially more or less equal. In relation to a movie star who does not even know some average schlub exists, that schlub can experience only emulation (this is what Girard calls “external mediation”), but in relation to a fellow schlub down the street (a “neighbor” in the Girardian-Biblical sense), emulation is a much more intimate affair (“internal mediation”, Girard calls it), which necessarily carries with it a simultaneous negative charge of desire to annihilate the person we seek to resemble. Among neighbors, the object of desire itself is eventually forgotten in the course of this process, and at the end the competitors stand in relation to one another as “doubles”: neither recalls what that thing is that the other had and that he or she wanted, and each has become undifferentiable from the other. This is the moment of what Girard calls “mimetic crisis”, which is resolved by the selection of a scapegoat, whose casting-out from the community has the salvific effect of unifying the opposed but undifferentiated doubles. The scapegoat occupies a liminal status between the sacred and the despised (compare Giorgio Agamben’s analysis of the dual meaning of the sacred as exemplified by the figure of the Homo sacer), and is in many cultures someone with a notable physical and mental disability — people with albinism, for example, are a common target in much of sub-Saharan Africa. In a community in which the mimetic mechanism has led to widespread non-differentiation, or in other words to a high degree of conformity, it can however happen that scapegoating approaches something like the horror scenario in Shirley Jackson’s 1948 tale, “The Lottery”. As Girard explains in an interview, published in 2004 under the title Les origines de la culture, “The more undifferentiated people become, the easier it is to decide that any one of them whatsoever is guilty”. (…) One cannot help but be touched by Girard’s desultory, go-it-alone method. He seems to have sought to stay on at Indiana after his Ph.D., but was driven away after failing to publish anything at all — he is consistently reproached by his American colleagues of “spreading himself too thin” (“C’est vous comparer à un trop petit morceau de beurre pour une trop grande tartine,” he will later explain for a French audience unfamiliar with the idiom). He somehow ends up next in Baltimore, where he has a hand in organizing the infamous meeting at Johns Hopkins that brought Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, et al., to America in 1966 — recalling this event, Girard will later riff on Freud’s arrival in the US three decades earlier, when, coming into New York Harbor for his first visit, the psychoanalyst reportedly declared: “I have brought the plague”. Lacan played the clown, insisting on giving his talk in English even though he readily admitted he had basically zero knowledge of the language. Derrida mesmerized. Girard seems to have been there in a mostly organizational capacity — organizing the bringing of the plague, that is. In any case he does not seem to have met any truly like-minded people at this superspreader event. French theory on American shores has always been a dialogue des sourds, and Girard was already playing the American, which is to say enjoying the spectacle of all those puffed-up mandarins. Circumstances would soon bring Girard from Hopkins to SUNY Buffalo, where he developed a life-long interest in Shakespeare. He recalls, in the interview already quoted, having discovered the Bard while watching a theater production on TV. Now your typical high-mandarin French intellectual is not likely to admit that his knowledge of Shakespeare comes from solitary evenings watching the Buffalo PBS affiliate (presumably). But Girard is not your typical French intellectual. He is a would-be French civil-servant archivist gone rogue, via Bloomington, Baltimore, Buffalo, and finally at Stanford, where his individual brand of New World self-reinvention would be well-received by some in the Silicon Valley subculture of, let us say, hyper-Whitmanian intellectual invention and reinvention. (…) In a 2014 interview with Business Insider, Thiel is confronted directly with the question as to how, concretely, his former professor inspires his understanding of the workings of the tech industry. The venture capitalist attempts to illustrate with an example of the theory of mimetic desire at work in Silicon Valley: “When the payments company Square came out with its flagship credit card reader, competitors jumped in one after the other to do the same thing with triangles or half-moons instead of squares.” It is assuredly true that start-ups imitate one another, but I do not see anything more powerfully explanatory of this phenomenon in the work of Girard than in, say, Roland Barthes’s analysis of haute-couture in his ingenious 1967 System of Fashion, or for that matter Thorstein Veblen on conspicuous consumption, or indeed any number of other authors who have noticed that indubitable truth of human existence: that we copy each other. This hardly counts as a theoretical insight at all, so much as one of the given features of all human cultural life that presents itself at the outset as in need of theoretical explanation. Girard does, to be fair, offer some such explanation, but Thiel does not seem to have retained any of this. For him “Girard” stands mostly as a shorthand name for this pretheoretical fact, instances of which are of course multiplied in Silicon Valley life, as everywhere else. What about the other element of Girard’s theory, the scapegoat mechanism? Here Thiel’s preferred instance is particularly flat-footed: “As for scapegoating,” he says, “what happened to Bill Gates during the antitrust prosecution of Microsoft is a great example of the tendency to gang up and blame one person.” If you thought antitrust cases were about maintaining a rationally regulated system of moderate free-market capitalism that encourages competition and innovation, think again: go back to Girard, with his faithful student as guide, and find the primordial origins of the Microsoft lawsuit in the Vedic sacrifice of the cosmic horse. Thiel’s demoticized Girard would over the next years become a thoroughly vulgarized Girard, so that by 2018 there were online articles being generated —perhaps by bots, perhaps in offshore content-factories— with titles like “How the Idea of a French Philosopher Can Save Your E-Commerce Business”. “Rene Girad [sic, sic], a French Philosopher,” this particular article tells us, “has given a solid theory of human desire that can save anyone’s E-commerce.” Again, it is not that one wants to discourage a struggling Amazon-partnered retailer from reading French philosophy, but only that it is not at all clear that Girard is any better placed than any number of other theorists to provide any practical tools to help an e-merchant along towards his or her narrow goals — let alone to provide anything like a critique of the ideological structures that have imposed these goals. But whatever has money behind it will inevitably have intelligent-looking people at least pretending to take it seriously, and with the foundation of the Imitatio Project by the Thiel Foundation (executive director Jimmy Kaltreider, a principal at Thiel Capital), the study and promotion of Girardian mimetic theory is by now a solid edifice in the intellectual landscape of California. For Girard, there is at least some desire that falls outside of the logic of mimesis, but only because it is a sort of proto-desire, a merely biological drive. I am naturally wary of human-scientists who seek to contain the biological with modifiers such as “merely”, but with Girard what frustrates me even more is that he does not seem to detect the non-mimetic varieties of desire that would seem to await us beyond, rather than before, desire that is coupled with imitation. For the sake of an example, let us return to that old, discomforting observation from Claude Lévi-Strauss according to which the “exchange” of women is the foundation of traditional societies, manifesting itself as “kinship”, and that therefore women are a good comparable to cattle (Françoise Héritier compellingly critiques this element of her teacher’s theory). Whether this is a correct account of society in general, it is at least true that some men seek out young, attractive, glamorous women in the aim of enhancing their own social status — the pure delectation in the other’s beauty may be at least part of the man’s satisfaction in the pairing, but it seems fair to say that this delectation is often inseparable from the self-contentment he feels at the status-enhancement she confers to him, and that achieving this status is in turn inseparable from depriving other men of the opportunity to achieve it. This is certainly the subtext of countless commercial-rap-music videos (or Romanian manele, or Serbian turbofolk, or any number of other analogous musical forms in the Balkans or elsewhere), which do not seem anthropologically far, in their smooth blending of the iconic images of luxury products with images of beautiful women, from a pastoralist society’s ceremonial display of prize cattle. But, pace Girard, we must admit that at least on occasion it happens that a vain and foolish man falls sincerely in love with his trophy wife. That is, at least sometimes a man “acquires” a woman by the logic of neighborly competition and status anxiety, but then discovers that she has a soul too, and is worthy of love just like any human being, quite apart from her significance for his social status. Such love strikes me as an instance of post-mimetic desire, just as we might say that “mere” appetite is pre-mimetic desire. Girard does not seem prepared to acknowledge it, at least not in a theoretical vein (though he seems to have been happily married). And come to think of it, nor is it inconceivable that some status-obsessed fellow should buy a Rolex, only to find that his early tutorials in its proper care and maintenance draw him into a world of sincere and nerdy love of Swiss precision chronometry. I confess many of my own interests have followed such an evolution, even if they seem far away from the logic of material acquisitiveness: I start doing something because I think it will make me look cool, and I keep doing it because I discover it is itself cool. Perhaps even more worrisome for Girard’s mimetic theory is that it appears to leave out all those instances in which imitation serves as a force for social cohesion and cannot plausibly be said to involve any process of “internal mediation” leading to a culmination in scapegoating. In this respect, we might adapt Michel Serres’s comment and say not so much that Girard is the human-scientists’ Darwin, as that he is their Herbert Spencer, and just as the nineteenth century’s idea of evolution as ruthless competition needed to be supplemented by rigorous accounts of the evolutionary role of altruism in the twentieth century, so too might we say that Girard is missing at least half the story. Most ritual, in fact, strikes me as characterized by imitation without internal mediation or scapegoating. Indeed, still in infancy, before we have any idea of ourselves as occupying any social node at all, we respond to music with rhythmic motions of the body, feeling ourselves taken up in a sort of cosmic repetition of something, be it only a sequence of drumbeats, that somehow expresses the true nature of our existence. Eventually, this repetition develops into dancing with others, and this dancing may be given ritual meaning — a social significance encoded by human bodies doing the same thing simultaneously, and therefore in some sense becoming identical, but without any underlying desire at all to annihilate one another. It is this significance that the Australian poet Les Murray sees as constituting the essence of both poetry and religion: both are performed, as he puts it, “in loving repetition”. I often think of a video I saw, and cannot now locate, of Cameroonian Baka hunters performing a dance that is a reenactment of their most recent hunt. In a sort of conga-line formation, they weave up and down, imitating the motion of an animal through the forest, but also becoming, relative to one another, like the metameric segments of a millipede. This is pure imitation, without internal mediation, and it seems to me fair to say that it is indeed the foundation of human society. Nor is it irrelevant that the Baka organize this foundational ritual around a reenactment of the hunt. Contrary to Girard’s theory of the scapegoat, a promising alternative account of sacrifice has been defended by such thinkers as the pioneering classicist Walter Burkert, for whom the origins of culture lie in a recognition of the transgressive nature of the killing of animals — even if it is necessary for human life, the spilling of animal blood is a sufficiently powerful action to knock the cosmos out of alignment, and it is only by rituals of atonement that it may be set right again. To kill an animal is not merely to satisfy an appetite, but to enter into sociocosmic relations with the natural world, and, by offering a sacrificed portion of it to the gods, to enter also into relation with the supernatural. On such an account, it is only with the rise of states over the past few thousand years that ritual slaughter and sacrifice turned on occasion to human targets, and in this light the scapegoating of humans may be seen as an attenuated instance of what in the most extreme cases may be enacted by a high priest pulling out another man’s beating heart. Rather than seeing scapegoating as laying a load on a chosen individual human and punishing him or her, for reasons that cannot possibly be articulated in the terms of any modern liberal theory of justice, thereby canceling out the desire among individuals in a community to annihilate one another, we might do better to see it within the larger frame of the ecology of human communities, and the role of ritual in the adaptation of these communities to their ecological niches. At the basis of ritual, as Les Murray understood, there lies repetition. It is significant that in French the verb répéter is used to mean both “to repeat” but also “to practice” (for example, to practice a musical instrument or a dance routine, or to rehearse for a play). At one moment in the 2004 interview already cited, Girard seems to come around to the sort of view of ritual that I have been attempting to sketch, on which it is a communal processing of the inevitabilities of our existence in nature. “Primitive societies,” he writes, using an outmoded term evocative of the era of pith-helmeted British colonial anthropologists who so influenced him, “do not repeat [ne répètent pas] in order to learn, like schoolchildren, they repeat in order not to have any more violence, but in the end these come out to the same thing”. The Baka sublimation of the hunt and the Eliasian “civilizing process” as two instances of the same general phenomenon of becoming human: this is an explanation I could get behind. But in such repetitions there is no (human) scapegoat to dwell on, so soon enough Girard leaves this promising line of thinking behind and returns to his pair of treasured hobby-horses, like Uncle Toby forever reliving the same old battles. On my understanding, the human sciences differ from the natural sciences primarily to the extent that we humanists are not looking for fundamental mechanisms that explain everything. We are rather interested in surveying the diversity of the expressions of humanity, cataloguing them, and waiting, but not impatiently, for patterns to appear. There are different kinds of theorists, of course, and there is plenty of room for all of us. It is however somewhat a shame that the everything-explainers, the hammerers for whom all is nail, should be the ones so consistently to capture the popular imagination. How refreshing it is when we come across a footnote in Girard’s work to the infinitely curious and suitably modest Carlo Ginzburg! What an attractive alternative model of the intellectual! Part of Girard’s appeal in the Silicon Valley setting lies not only in his totalizing urge, but also in his embrace of a certain interpretation of Catholicism that stresses the naturalness of hierarchy, all the way up to the archangels, rather than the radical egalitarianism of other tendencies within this faith. At one amusing point in the interview from which I have been liberally citing, Girard explains that the positive reception in France of his On Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World had to do with the widespread misreading of it as a work of anti-Christian theory. “If they had known that there is no hostility in me towards the Church, they would have dismissed me. I appeared as the heretic, the revolted person that one has to be in order to reassure the media. If they had known that I do not feel oppressed by western phallocracy, or even by the pope, they would have dropped me real quick”. Peter Thiel, for his part, certainly does not seem to feel oppressed by western phallocracy either — in fact he appears intent on coming out somewhere at the top of the phallocratic order, and in any case has explicitly stated that the aspirations of liberal democracy towards freedom and equality for all should rightly be seen as a thing of the past. In his demotic glosses on Girard, the venture capitalist also seems happy to promote the Girardian version of Catholicism as a clerical institution ideally suited to the newly emerging techno-feudalist order. Justin E. H. Smith
Dans notre époque où il n’est plus indécent de se vanter de manipulations en tous genres, le marketing a franchi un pas décisif grâce à Internet et aux réseaux sociaux. Il avait compris depuis longtemps les mécanismes du mimétisme et le rôle des modèles dans les décisions d’achat : la publicité n’a cessé d’en jouer. Mais délibérément ou en suivant un mouvement dont il n’a pas eu l’initiative, le marketing vient de révéler le pot aux roses. Des modèles de consommation officiels ont désormais un nom : influenceuses ou influenceurs. Et les victimes du désir mimétique sont des « followers », autrement dit des suiveurs ou des suiveuses des conseils ainsi dispensés. Ces modèles ont le plus souvent des comptes Instagram ou des chaînes YouTube. Ils parlent de beauté, de mode, de voyages, de sport, de culture… bref interviennent dans autant de marchés sur lesquels ils sont susceptibles d’orienter des comportements de consommation. Du point de vue de la théorie mimétique, ils sont plutôt des médiateurs externes, insusceptibles d’entrer en rivalité avec la plupart de leurs suiveurs, si ce n’est certains d’entre eux mus par leur ressentiment et qui sont dénommés « haters », donc haineux. Nous retrouvons ici les passions stendhaliennes de l’envie, de la jalousie et de la haine impuissante ou encore la figure du narrateur des Carnets du sous-sol de Dostoïevski, cet homme du ressentiment par excellence. La puissance des influenceurs se mesure au volume et à la croissance du nombre de leurs suiveurs. En découle une valeur économique qui se traduit par les rémunérations que leur servent les marques promues. Mais la relation n’est pas si simple : elle suppose aussi que l’influenceur donne des gages d’indépendance à ceux qui suivent leurs conseils. L’influenceur ne peut étendre et maintenir son influence qu’en apparaissant comme souverain vis-à-vis de ses suiveurs mais aussi des marques qu’il promeut. Sinon, il serait lui-même considéré comme influençable par les entreprises dont il vante les qualités, du moins celles de leurs produits et services. Cette suprématie est obtenue par sa capacité à modeler les goûts de ses suiveurs. Il est en effet beaucoup plus efficace, efficient et pertinent qu’une campagne de publicité par voie de presse – écrite, radiophonique ou télévisuelle. Il regroupe une population rendue homogène par l’attraction commune que ses membres ressentent pour son «charisme». Des jeunes gens de moins de vingt peuvent ainsi devenir ce qu’on appelait autrefois des leaders d’opinion. Sans avoir fait autre chose que s’enregistrer en vidéo dans leur appartement en tenant des propos persuasifs, ils peuvent être suivis par des millions d’admirateurs qui attendent leurs avis pour faire leurs choix. Enjoy Phenix, Cyprien, Natoo, Caroline Receveur ou encore SqueeZie seraient-ils les nouveaux maîtres du désir mimétique ? Au moins sont-ils d’indéniables révélateurs de sa persistante actualité et de sa pertinence. Jean-Marc Bourdin
[Les réseaux sociaux] Donald Trump les a utilisés avec beaucoup d’efficacité pour capter l’attention de l’ensemble des médias. Il l’a particulièrement bien fait avec Twitter. Ses visions controversées, son utilisation très personnelle de cet outil ont rendu sa campagne très visible auprès des utilisateurs des réseaux sociaux. Souvent, les gens sont moins inhibés à l’idée d’y partager des idées extrêmes. Twitter et Facebook – surtout Twitter car l’anonymat y est possible – permettent à leurs utilisateurs de dire ou montrer ce qu’ils n’auraient jamais exprimé dans un autre contexte. Voir d’autres personnes exprimer librement des visions relativement proches des leurs les incite à exprimer à leur tour ce qu’ils veulent. Cela contribue à rendre acceptables les idées extrêmes. (…) Les recherches scientifiques suggèrent que les gens utilisent les médias sociaux pour avoir une récompense, pour obtenir des likes, pour que les gens aiment ce qu’ils font ou ce qu’ils sont, les soutiennent. Ils se sentent ainsi plus forts pour dire ce qu’ils ressentent et donner leur avis sur le monde qui les entoure. Ils le font de la même manière qu’un Donald Trump a tenu des propos choquants pour susciter de l’attention et obtenir un maximum de retweets. S’ils n’adhèrent pas à des théories circulant sur le net, ils finissent par s’en détacher. Cela peut plus spécialement concerner ceux qui expriment des visions politiques typiques ou modérées, et qui peuvent très vite constater que les expressions d’idéologies politiques plus tranchantes, clivantes, tendent à prendre naturellement le dessus, à dominer le débat. Sur les réseaux sociaux, les modérés sont voués à s’effacer. (…) Il y a une défiance généralisée envers les élites, qu’il s’agisse des journalistes ou des hommes politiques. C’est en ce sens que les gens tendent de plus en plus à accéder à l’information en passant par des citoyens « ordinaires ». Mais je ne suis pas sûr qu’ils soient conscients du pouvoir des robots et des programmes informatiques lorsqu’ils sont sur internet. Les interactions leur semblent naturelles, pas déterminées par des formules automatiques. D’ailleurs, Facebook ne crée pas de contenu, il filtre et oriente du contenu à partir du comportement en ligne. Plus les utilisateurs s’expriment, plus ils se voient proposer par les algorithmes des idées et des contenus créés par des personnes qui leur ressemblent, et en qui ils ont confiance. Darren Lilleker (Université de Bournemouth)
After a few minutes of rendering, the new plot appeared, and I was a bit taken aback by what I saw. The blob had turned into a surprisingly detailed map of the world. Not only were continents visible, certain international borders were apparent as well. What really struck me, though, was knowing that the lines didn’t represent coasts or rivers or political borders, but real human relationships. Each line might represent a friendship made while travelling, a family member abroad, or an old college friend pulled away by the various forces of life…When I shared the image with others within Facebook, it resonated with many people. It’s not just a pretty picture, it’s a reaffirmation of the impact we have in connecting people, even across oceans and borders. Paul Butler
Les médias sociaux ont porté « l’universalisation de la médiation interne » à un nouveau niveau, tout en réduisant considérablement les « domaines de la vie qui séparaient les gens les uns des autres ». Les médias sociaux sont le miasme du désir mimétique. Si vous publiez des photos de vos vacances d’été en Grèce, vous pouvez vous attendre à ce que vos « amis » publient des photos d’une autre destination attrayante. Les photos de votre dîner seront égalées ou surpassées par les leurs. Si vous m’assurez, par le biais des médias sociaux, que vous aimez votre vie, je trouverai un moyen de dire à quel point j’aime la mienne. Lorsque je publie mes plaisirs, mes activités et mes nouvelles familiales sur une page Facebook, je cherche à susciter le désir de mes médiateurs. En ce sens, les médias sociaux fournissent une plate-forme hyperbolique pour la circulation imprudente du désir axé sur le médiateur. Alors qu’il se cache dans tous les aspects de la vie quotidienne, Facebook s’insinue précisément dans les domaines de la vie qui sépareraient les gens. Très certainement, l’énorme potentiel commercial de Facebook n’a pas échappé à Peter Thiel, l’investisseur en capital-risque et l’un de ses étudiants à Stanford à la fin des années 80 et au début des années 90. Girardien dévoué qui a fondé et financé un institut appelé Imitatio, dont le but est de « poursuivre la recherche et l’application de la théorie mimétique dans les sciences sociales et les domaines critiques du comportement humain », Thiel a été le premier investisseur extérieur de Facebook, vendant la plupart de ses actions. en 2012 pour plus d’un milliard de dollars (elles lui avaient coûté 500 000 dollars en 2004). Seul un girardien très intelligent, bien initié à la théorie mimétique, pouvait comprendre aussi tôt que Facebook était sur le point d’ouvrir un théâtre mondial de désir mimétique sur les ordinateurs personnels de ses utilisateurs. Robert Pogue Harrison

Après la neuroscience et les djihadistesHarry Potter et Superman, devinez qui confirme René Girard ?

En ce nouveau et dernier réveillon de l’année 2018 …

Dont les meilleures photos ne devraient pas manquer pour bon nombre d’entre nous …

De faire les meilleures pages et les beaux jours de la formidable invention du docteur Frankenstein-Zuckerberg

Comme hélas depuis bientôt deux mois le déchainement auto-entretenu de la violence et de l’envie des casseurs aux gilets jaunes

Comment ne pas repenser avec la NY Review of books

Ou le girardien Jean-Marc Bourdin

Aux découvertes et analyses de René Girard sur « l’universalisation de la médiation interne » dont est faite notre modernité même …

Avec la réduction toujours plus implacable qu’elle implique …

Des « domaines de la vie qui séparaient les gens les uns des autres » …

Et qui avec les réseaux sociaux et ses « influenceurs » et « suiveurs » trouve sa confirmation la plus éclatante …

Ouvrant littéralement à la planète entière

Et pour le meilleur comme pour le pire

La scène sur laquelle chacun peut désormais s’exposer …

Au déchainement quasiment sans frein des « feux de l’envie »  ?

The Prophet of Envy
Robert Pogue Harrison
NY Review of Books
December 20, 2018

Violence and the Sacred

by René Girard, translated from the French by Patrick Gregory
Johns Hopkins University Press (1977)

Battling to the End: Conversations with Benoît Chantre

by René Girard, translated from the French by Mary Baker
Michigan State University Press (2010)

René Girard (1923–2015) was one of the last of that race of Titans who dominated the human sciences in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with their grand, synthetic theories about history, society, psychology, and aesthetics. That race has since given way to a more cautious breed of “researchers” who prefer to look at things up close, to see their fine grain rather than their larger patterns. Yet the times certainly seem to attest to the enduring relevance of Girard’s thought to our social and political realities. Not only are his ideas about mimetic desire and human violence as far-reaching as Marx’s theories of political economy or Freud’s claims about the Oedipus complex, but the explosion of social media, the resurgence of populism, and the increasing virulence of reciprocal violence all suggest that the contemporary world is becoming more and more recognizably “Girardian” in its behavior.

In Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard, Cynthia Haven—a literary journalist and the author of books on Joseph Brodsky and Czesław Miłosz—offers a lively, well-documented, highly readable account of how Girard built up his grand “mimetic theory,” as it’s sometimes called, over time. Her decision to introduce his thought to a broader public by way of an intellectual biography was a good one. Girard was not a man of action—the most important events of his life took place inside his head—so for the most part she follows the winding path of his academic career, from its beginnings in France, where he studied medieval history at the École des Chartes, to his migration to the United States in 1947, to the various American universities at which he taught over the years: Indiana, Duke, Bryn Mawr, Johns Hopkins, SUNY Buffalo, and finally Stanford, where he retired in 1997.

Girard began and ended his career as a professor of French and comparative literature. That was as it should have been. Although he was never formally trained in literary studies (he received a Ph.D. in history from Indiana University in 1950), he effectively built his theory of mimetic desire, in all its expansive anthropological aspects, on literary foundations. Somewhat like Heinrich Schliemann, who discovered the site of ancient Troy by assuming that the Homeric epics contained a substrate of historical truth, Girard approached literary works as coffers containing the most fundamental truths about human desire, conflict, and self-deception.

His first book, Deceit, Desire, and the Novel, published in French in 1961 when he was a professor at Johns Hopkins, treated the novels of Cervantes, Stendhal, Flaubert, Dostoevsky, and Proust as forensic evidence of the essential structures of desire, not just of literary characters but of those who find themselves reflected in them. The prevailing modern belief that my desires are my own, that they arise from my autonomous inner self, is a “Romantic” falsehood that the novelistic tradition, according to Girard, exposes as a delusion (I’m echoing here the French title of the book: Mensonge romantique et vérité romanesque, literally “Romantic falsehood and novelistic truth”). Instead, he argues, my desires are mimetic: I want what others seem to want. Whether I am conscious of it or not (mostly not), I imitate their desires to such a degree that the object itself becomes secondary, and in some cases superfluous, to the rivalries that form around it.

Girard postulated that between a desiring subject and its object there is usually a “model” or “mediator,” who can be either “external” or “internal.” External mediators exist outside of my time and place, like Amadís de Gaule’s chivalric heroes, who impel Don Quixote’s desire to become a knight-errant; or Lancelot and Guinevere, whose adulterous kiss is imitated by Paolo and Francesca in Dante’s account in canto 5 of the Inferno; or the celebrities whom advertisers enlist to sell us products. The external mediator often figures as a hero or ego ideal, and there is typically no rivalry involved.

With internal mediators, however, we are in the realm of what Girard calls “interdividuals,” or people who interact with one another in the same social world. The internal mediator is my neighbor, so to speak, and is often a rival who arouses hatred or envy, or both at once. In the novels Girard dealt with, internal mediation often involves “triangulated desire” between three characters, two of whom vie for the other: Mathilde and Mme de Fervacques vying for Julien in Stendhal’s The Red and the Black, for instance, or Julien and Valenod vying for Mme de Rênal. Even when a character views the mediator as an enemy, the former often secretly envies and idolizes the latter, as in the case of Proust’s Mme Verdurin, who loathed the Guermantes family until she married into it.

A crucial concept in Deceit, Desire, and the Novel is that of “metaphysical desire,” a somewhat misleading term for a common sentiment. We tend to attribute to the mediator a “fullness of being” that he or she does not in fact enjoy. For Girard there is no such thing as fullness of being among mortals. All of us—including the rich, the famous, the powerful, and the glamorous—have our mimetic models and suffer from a deficiency of being. That deficiency nourishes our desires, physical or metaphysical.

The English translation of Deceit, Desire, and the Novel came out in 1965, two years before V.S. Naipaul published The Mimic Men, which seems like a ringing endorsement of Girard’s claims about deficiency. (I don’t know if he ever read Girard.) In the novel Naipaul probes the psychology of elite ex-colonial “mimic men” who, after decolonization, model their desires on their former British masters. The mimic man will never enjoy the “fullness of being” he ascribes to his model, who, in Girard’s words, “shows the disciple the gate of paradise and forbids him to enter with one and the same gesture.” Naipaul’s narrator, Ralph Singh, knows this, yet such knowledge does not alleviate his unhappy consciousness. “We become what we see of ourselves in the eyes of others,” he declares. Girard would most likely deny Singh his one consolation, namely his belief that he is different from, and superior to, the mimic men who lack his own heightened self-awareness.

Girard might go even further and ask whether Naipaul’s mimic men in fact imitate one another more than the British models they share. The whole business gets altogether murkier—and more Girardian—when one considers that Naipaul himself was the perfect expression of the mimic man he defined and despised. The writer’s bearing, speech, racism, and invectives betray an ex-colonial subject mimicking the habits of his masters and the class to which he desperately wanted to belong. In this Naipaul falls well short of the novelists Girard dealt with in Deceit, Desire, and the Novel, all of whom, Girard claims, ended up forswearing the mimetic mechanisms they so insightfully depicted in their work.

The common currency of mimetic desire is envy. Envy is a form of hostile worship. It turns admiration into resentment. Dante considered it radix malorum, the root of all evil, and Girard agreed. He claimed that envy is the one taboo that is alive and well in contemporary society—the vice that few will ever talk about or confess to:

Our supposedly insatiable appetite for the forbidden stops short of envy. Primitive cultures fear and repress envy so much that they have no word for it; we hardly use the one we have, and this fact must be significant. We no longer prohibit many actions that generate envy, but silently ostracize whatever can remind us of its presence in our midst. Psychic phenomena, we are told, are important in proportion to the resistance they generate toward revelation. If we apply this yardstick to envy as well as to what psychoanalysis designates as repressed, which of the two will make the more plausible candidate for the role of best-defended secret?

These sentences come from the introduction to the only book that Girard wrote in English, A Theater of Envy: William Shakespeare (1991), which is full of insights into the envy and imitative behavior of Shakespeare’s characters. Proceeding as incautiously as Schliemann did in his excavations, Girard bores through Shakespeare’s corpus to arrive at the substrate of mediated desire that he believed lies at its foundation. Girard plays by none of the rules of the tradition of commentary on Shakespeare, so it is not surprising that the book remains largely neglected, yet one day A Theater of Envy will likely be acknowledged as one of the most original, illuminating books on Shakespeare of its time, despite its speculative recklessness and relative ignorance of the vast body of secondary literature on Shakespeare’s works.

Speaking of “a theater of envy,” in Evolution and Conversion (in French, Les origines de la culture, 2004; the English translation was recently republished by Bloomsbury)—his conversations with Pierpaolo Antonello and João Cezar de Castro Rocha, which took place a couple of years before Facebook launched its website in 2004—Girard made some remarks that seem particularly resonant today:

In the affluent West, we live in a world where there is less and less need therefore and more and more desire…. One has today real possibilities of true autonomy, of individual judgments. However, those possibilities are more commonly sold down the river in favour of false individuality, of negative mimesis…. The only way modernity can be defined is the universalization of internal mediation, for one doesn’t have areas of life that would keep people apart from each other, and that would mean that the construction of our beliefs and identity cannot but have strong mimetic components.

Since then social media has brought “the universalization of internal mediation” to a new level, while at the same time dramatically narrowing the “areas of life that would keep people apart from each other.”

Social media is the miasma of mimetic desire. If you post pictures of your summer vacation in Greece, you can expect your “friends” to post pictures from some other desirable destination. The photos of your dinner party will be matched or outmatched by theirs. If you assure me through social media that you love your life, I will find a way to profess how much I love mine. When I post my pleasures, activities, and family news on a Facebook page, I am seeking to arouse my mediators’ desires. In that sense social media provides a hyperbolic platform for the promiscuous circulation of mediator-oriented desire. As it burrows into every aspect of everyday life, Facebook insinuates itself precisely into those areas of life that would keep people apart.

Certainly the enormous market potential of Facebook was not lost on Girard’s student Peter Thiel, the venture capitalist who studied with him at Stanford in the late 1980s and early 1990s. A devoted Girardian who founded and funds an institute called Imitatio, whose goal is to “pursue research and application of mimetic theory across the social sciences and critical areas of human behavior,” Thiel was the first outside investor in Facebook, selling most of his shares in 2012 for over a billion dollars (they cost him $500,000 in 2004). It took a highly intelligent Girardian, well schooled in mimetic theory, to intuit early on that Facebook was about to open a worldwide theater of imitative desire on people’s personal computers.

In 1972, eleven years after Deceit, Desire, and the Novel appeared, Girard published Violence and the Sacred. It came as a shock to those familiar with his previous work. Here the literary critic assumed the mantle of cultural anthropologist, moving from the triangular desire of fictional bourgeois characters to the group behavior of primitive societies. Having immersed himself during the intervening decade in the work of Alfred Radcliffe-Brown, Bronisław Malinowski, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Émile Durkheim, Gabriel Tarde, and Walter Burkert, Girard offered in Violence and the Sacred nothing less than an anthropogenic theory of mimetic violence.

I will not attempt to describe the theory in all its speculative complexity. Suffice it to say that the only thing more contagious than desire is violence. Girard postulates that, prior to the establishment of laws, prohibitions, and taboos, prehistoric societies would periodically succumb to “mimetic crises.” Usually brought on by a destabilizing event—be it drought, pestilence, or some other adversity—mimetic crises amount to mass panics in which communities become unnerved, impassioned, and crazed, as people imitate one another’s violence and hysteria rather than responding directly to the event itself. Distinctions disappear, members of the group become identical to one another in their vehemence, and a mob psychology takes over. In such moments the community’s very survival is threated by internecine strife and a Hobbesian war of all against all.

Girard interpreted archaic rituals, sacrifices, and myth as the symbolic traces or aftermath of prehistoric traumas brought on by mimetic crises. Those societies that saved themselves from self-immolation did so through what he called the scapegoat mechanism. Scapegoating begins with accusation and ends in collective murder. Singling out a random individual or subgroup of individuals as being responsible for the crisis, the community turns against the “guilty” victim (guilty in the eyes of the persecutors, that is, since according to Girard the victim is in fact innocent and chosen quite at random, although is frequently slightly different or distinct in some regard). A unanimous act of violence against the scapegoat miraculously restores peace and social cohesion (unum pro multis, “one for the sake of many,” as the Roman saying puts it).

The scapegoat’s murder has such healing power over the community that the victim retroactively assumes an aura of sacredness, and is sometimes even deified. Behind the practice of sacrifice in ancient societies Girard saw the spasmodic, scapegoat-directed violence of communities in the throes of mimetic crises—a primal murder, as it were, for which there exists no hard evidence but plenty of indirect evidence in ancient sacrificial practices, which he viewed as ritualized reenactments of the scapegoat mechanism that everywhere founded the archaic religions of humanity. (“Every observation suggests that, in human culture, sacrificial rites and the immolation of victims come first.”)

Violence and the Sacred deals almost exclusively with archaic religion. Its argument is more hypothetical and abstract, more remote and less intuitive, than what Girard put forward in Deceit, Desire, and the Novel. The same can be said for the main claims of his next major book, Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World (1978; the title comes from Matthew 13:35). There he argued that the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Gospels expose the “scandal” of the violent foundations of archaic religions. By revealing the inherent innocence of the victim—Jesus—as well as the inherent guilt of those who persecute and put him to death, “Christianity truly demystifies religion because it points out the error on which archaic religion is based.”*

Girard’s anthropological interpretation of Christianity in Things Hidden is as original as it is unorthodox. It views the Crucifixion as a revelation in the profane sense, namely a bringing to light of the arbitrary nature of the scapegoat mechanism that underlies sacrificial religions. After publishing Things Hidden, Girard gained a devoted following among various Christian scholars, some of whom lobbied him hard to open his theory to a more traditional theological interpretation of the Cross as the crux of man’s deliverance from sin. Girard eventually (and somewhat reluctantly) made room for a redemptive understanding of the Crucifixion, yet in principle his theory posits only its revelatory, demystifying, and scandalous aspect.

Orthodox Girardians insist that his corpusfrom Deceit, Desire, and the Novel to his last worksforms a coherent, integrated system that must be accepted or rejected as a whole. In my view, that is far from the case. One need not buy into the entire système Girard to recognize that his most fundamental insights can stand on their own.

Some of Girard’s most acute ideas come from his psychology of accusation. He championed legal systems that protect the rights of the accused because he believed that impassioned accusation, especially when it gains momentum by wrapping itself in the mantle of indignation, has a potential for mimetic diffusion that disregards any considered distinction between guilt and innocence. The word “Satan” in Hebrew means “adversary” or “accuser,” and Girard insisted in his later work that there is a distinctly satanic element at work in the zeal for accusation and prosecution.

Girard’s most valuable insight is that rivalry and violence arise from sameness rather than difference. Where conflicts erupt between neighbors or ethnic groups, or even among nations, more often than not it’s because of what they have in common rather than what distinguishes them. In Girard’s words: “The error is always to reason within categories of ‘difference’ when the root of all conflicts is rather ‘competition,’ mimetic rivalry between persons, countries, cultures.” Often we fight or go to war to prove our difference from an enemy who in fact resembles us in ways we are all too eager to deny.

A related insight of equal importance concerns the deadly cycles of revenge and reciprocal violence. Girard taught that retaliation hardly ever limits itself to “an eye for an eye” but almost always escalates the level of violence. Every escalation is imitated in turn by the other party:

Clausewitz sees very clearly that modern wars are as violent as they are only because they are “reciprocal”: mobilization involves more and more people until it is “total,” as Ernst Junger wrote of the 1914 war…. It was because he was “responding” to the humiliations inflicted by the Treaty of Versailles and the occupation of the Rhineland that Hitler was able to mobilize a whole people. Likewise, it was because he was “responding” to the German invasion that Stalin achieved a decisive victory over Hitler. It was because he was “responding” to the United States that Bin Laden planned 9/11…. The one who believes he can control violence by setting up defenses is in fact controlled by violence.

Those remarks come from the last book Girard wrote, Battling to the End (2010). It is in many ways one of his most interesting, for here he leaves behind speculations about archaic origins and turns his attention to modern history. The book’s conversations with Benoît Chantre, an eminent French Girardian, feature a major discussion of the war theorist Carl von Clausewitz (1780–1831), whose ideas about the “escalation to extremes” in modern warfare converge uncannily with Girard’s ideas about the acceleration of mimetic violence.

Toward the end of his life, Girard did not harbor much hope for history in the short term. In the past, politics was able to restrain mass violence and prevent its tendency to escalate to extremes, but in our time, he believed, politics had lost its power of containment. “Violence is a terrible adversary,” he wrote in Battling to the End, “especially since it always wins.” Yet it is necessary to battle violence with a new “heroic attitude,” for “it alone can link violence and reconciliation…[and] make tangible both the possibility of the end of the world and reconciliation among all members of humanity.” To that statement he felt compelled to add: “More than ever, I am convinced that history has meaning, and that its meaning is terrifying.” That meaning has to do with the primacy of violence in human relations. And to that statement, in turn, he added some verses of Friedrich Hölderlin: “But where danger threatens/that which saves from it also grows.”

  • *Girard goes so far as to argue that “Christianity is not only one of the destroyed religions but it is the destroyer of all religions. The death of God is a Christian phenomenon. In its modern sense, atheism is a Christian invention.” The Italian philosopher Gianni Vattimo was very drawn to Girard’s understanding of Christianity as a secularizing religion, and the two collaborated on a fine book on the topic, Christianity, Truth, and Weakening Faith: A Dialogue (Columbia University Press, 2010). 

Voir aussi:

Influenceurs et «followers» : les nouveaux maîtres du désir mimétique

Jean-Marc Bourdin

Iphilo

17/12/2018

BILLET : Sur Instagram ou sur leur chaîne YouTube, les influenceurs médiatisent nos désirs dans une relation triangulaire qui est au cœur de la thèse du désir mimétique de René Girard, analyse Jean-Marc Bourdin dans iPhilo. 


Ancien élève de l’ENA, inspecteur général de la ville de Paris, Jean-Marc Bourdin a également soutenu en 2016 une thèse de doctorat en philosophie sur René Girard à l’Université Paris-VIII. Créateur du blog L’Emissaire et membre de l’Association Recherche Mimétique (ARM), il a publié René Girard philosophe malgré lui et René Girard promoteur d’une science des rapports humains chez L’Harmattan en 2018.


René Girard affirme en 1961 dans Mensonge romantique et vérité romanesqueque seuls les plus grands romanciers, à la liste desquels il ajoutera par la suite quelques dramaturges, ont la faculté de comprendre les mécanismes du désir mimétique. Ceux-ci resteraient inconnus non seulement du commun des mortels mais aussi d’écrivains moins doués qui se laissent duper par la prétention du désir à l’autonomie.

Cette affirmation radicale souffrirait-elle désormais d’au moins une exception de taille ? Dans notre époque où il n’est plus indécent de se vanter de manipulations en tous genres, le marketing a franchi un pas décisif grâce à Internet et aux réseaux sociaux. Il avait compris depuis longtemps les mécanismes du mimétisme et le rôle des modèles dans les décisions d’achat : la publicité n’a cessé d’en jouer. Mais délibérément ou en suivant un mouvement dont il n’a pas eu l’initiative, le marketing vient de révéler le pot aux roses. Des modèles de consommation officiels ont désormais un nom : influenceuses ou influenceurs. Et les victimes du désir mimétique sont des « followers », autrement dit des suiveurs ou des suiveuses des conseils ainsi dispensés.

Ces modèles ont le plus souvent des comptes Instagram ou des chaînes YouTube. Ils parlent de beauté, de mode, de voyages, de sport, de culture… bref interviennent dans autant de marchés sur lesquels ils sont susceptibles d’orienter des comportements de consommation.

Du point de vue de la théorie mimétique, ils sont plutôt des médiateurs externes, insusceptibles d’entrer en rivalité avec la plupart de leurs suiveurs, si ce n’est certains d’entre eux mus par leur ressentiment et qui sont dénommés « haters », donc haineux. Nous retrouvons ici les passions stendhaliennes de l’envie, de la jalousie et de la haine impuissante ou encore la figure du narrateur des Carnets du sous-sol de Dostoïevski, cet homme du ressentiment par excellence.

La puissance des influenceurs se mesure au volume et à la croissance du nombre de leurs suiveurs. En découle une valeur économique qui se traduit par les rémunérations que leur servent les marques promues. Mais la relation n’est pas si simple : elle suppose aussi que l’influenceur donne des gages d’indépendance à ceux qui suivent leurs conseils.

L’influenceur ne peut étendre et maintenir son influence qu’en apparaissant comme souverain vis-à-vis de ses suiveurs mais aussi des marques qu’il promeut. Sinon, il serait lui-même considéré comme influençable par les entreprises dont il vante les qualités, du moins celles de leurs produits et services. Cette suprématie est obtenue par sa capacité à modeler les goûts de ses suiveurs. Il est en effet beaucoup plus efficace, efficient et pertinent qu’une campagne de publicité par voie de presse – écrite, radiophonique ou télévisuelle. Il regroupe une population rendue homogène par l’attraction commune que ses membres ressentent pour son «charisme».

Des jeunes gens de moins de vingt peuvent ainsi devenir ce qu’on appelait autrefois des leaders d’opinion. Sans avoir fait autre chose que s’enregistrer en vidéo dans leur appartement en tenant des propos persuasifs, ils peuvent être suivis par des millions d’admirateurs qui attendent leurs avis pour faire leurs choix.

Enjoy Phenix, Cyprien, Natoo, Caroline Receveur ou encore SqueeZie seraient-ils les nouveaux maîtres du désir mimétique ? Au moins sont-ils d’indéniables révélateurs de sa persistante actualité et de sa pertinence.

Voir encore:

Visualizing Friendships
Paul Butler
Facebook
December 14, 2010

Visualizing data is like photography. Instead of starting with a blank canvas, you manipulate the lens used to present the data from a certain angle.

When the data is the social graph of 500 million people, there are a lot of lenses through which you can view it. One that piqued my curiosity was the locality of friendship. I was interested in seeing how geography and political borders affected where people lived relative to their friends. I wanted a visualization that would show which cities had a lot of friendships between them.

I began by taking a sample of about ten million pairs of friends from Apache Hive, our data warehouse. I combined that data with each user’s current city and summed the number of friends between each pair of cities. Then I merged the data with the longitude and latitude of each city.

At that point, I began exploring it in R, an open-source statistics environment. As a sanity check, I plotted points at some of the latitude and longitude coordinates. To my relief, what I saw was roughly an outline of the world. Next I erased the dots and plotted lines between the points. After a few minutes of rendering, a big white blob appeared in the center of the map. Some of the outer edges of the blob vaguely resembled the continents, but it was clear that I had too much data to get interesting results just by drawing lines. I thought that making the lines semi-transparent would do the trick, but I quickly realized that my graphing environment couldn’t handle enough shades of color for it to work the way I wanted.

Instead I found a way to simulate the effect I wanted. I defined weights for each pair of cities as a function of the Euclidean distance between them and the number of friends between them. Then I plotted lines between the pairs by weight, so that pairs of cities with the most friendships between them were drawn on top of the others. I used a color ramp from black to blue to white, with each line’s color depending on its weight. I also transformed some of the lines to wrap around the image, rather than spanning more than halfway around the world.

After a few minutes of rendering, the new plot appeared, and I was a bit taken aback by what I saw. The blob had turned into a surprisingly detailed map of the world. Not only were continents visible, certain international borders were apparent as well. What really struck me, though, was knowing that the lines didn’t represent coasts or rivers or political borders, but real human relationships. Each line might represent a friendship made while travelling, a family member abroad, or an old college friend pulled away by the various forces of life.

Later I replaced the lines with great circle arcs, which are the shortest routes between two points on the Earth. Because the Earth is a sphere, these are often not straight lines on the projection.

When I shared the image with others within Facebook, it resonated with many people. It’s not just a pretty picture, it’s a reaffirmation of the impact we have in connecting people, even across oceans and borders.

Paul is an intern on Facebook’s data infrastructure engineering team.

Voir également:

Check out this stunning Facebook world map

Jeffrey Van Camp

Digital trends

12.14.10

Have you ever wondered what 10 million friendships would look like on a world map? Well, a Facebook engineer has the answer for you. The map below was made by Paul Butler, an engineering intern at Facebook. In a blog post, he explains how he created this visualized representation of friendships. His quest began when he became curious as to whether country or physical location had a big impact on friendships. In other words, he wondered if people had a lot of friends who live far away from them, perhaps around the world. So he took a sample of 10 million friendship pairs from the Facebook database and made this image.

The results are fairly evident and we recommend you check it out in high resolution to fully understand what you’re looking at. This data was not graphed onto a map, by the way. Every lit up dot of land is the geo-location of a friend. The map formed itself by the sheer number of connections. The most lit areas–Europe and the United States–are bright because of the density of smaller range friendships inside them.

“After a few minutes of rendering, the new plot appeared, and I was a bit taken aback by what I saw,” said Butler. “The blob had turned into a surprisingly detailed map of the world. Not only were continents visible, certain international borders were apparent as well. What really struck me, though, was knowing that the lines didn’t represent coasts or rivers or political borders, but real human relationships. Each line might represent a friendship made while travelling, a family member abroad, or an old college friend pulled away by the various forces of life…When I shared the image with others within Facebook, it resonated with many people. It’s not just a pretty picture, it’s a reaffirmation of the impact we have in connecting people, even across oceans and borders.”

As much as we dog Facebook here and there, this perfectly shows the great qualities of social networking. With only 10 million of the 500 million connections, we are able to build a map of the world solely from our own personal connections. Very cool.

Voir aussi:

« Les réseaux sociaux servent les idées extrêmes »
Johann-Harscoët
L’Echo
10 novembre 2016

Il y a une défiance généralisée envers les élites, qu’il s’agisse des journalistes ou des hommes politiques. C’est en ce sens que les gens tendent de plus en plus à accéder à l’information en passant par des citoyens « ordinaires », nous explique un expert en communication.

Darren Lilleker est professeur de communication politique à l’Université de Bournemouth (Angleterre). Il est l’auteur de l’ouvrage « Political Communication and Cognition », dans lequel il analyse la façon dont les citoyens reçoivent et s’approprient les messages politiques avant d’exprimer leurs opinions. Dans cette interview, il explique en quoi les réseaux sociaux ont transformé leur rapport à la démocratie.

La puissance médiatique de personnalités politiques clivantes comme Donald Trump est-elle un phénomène lié exclusivement aux réseaux sociaux?

Donald Trump les a utilisés avec beaucoup d’efficacité pour capter l’attention de l’ensemble des médias. Il l’a particulièrement bien fait avec Twitter. Ses visions controversées, son utilisation très personnelle de cet outil ont rendu sa campagne très visible auprès des utilisateurs des réseaux sociaux. Souvent, les gens sont moins inhibés à l’idée d’y partager des idées extrêmes. Twitter et Facebook – surtout Twitter car l’anonymat y est possible – permettent à leurs utilisateurs de dire ou montrer ce qu’ils n’auraient jamais exprimé dans un autre contexte. Voir d’autres personnes exprimer librement des visions relativement proches des leurs les incite à exprimer à leur tour ce qu’ils veulent. Cela contribue à rendre acceptables les idées extrêmes.

La nature profonde de Facebook ou Twitter n’est-elle pas celle d’un serpent qui se mord la queue?

Les recherches scientifiques suggèrent que les gens utilisent les médias sociaux pour avoir une récompense, pour obtenir des likes, pour que les gens aiment ce qu’ils font ou ce qu’ils sont, les soutiennent. Ils se sentent ainsi plus forts pour dire ce qu’ils ressentent et donner leur avis sur le monde qui les entoure. Ils le font de la même manière qu’un Donald Trump a tenu des propos choquants pour susciter de l’attention et obtenir un maximum de retweets.

« Sur les réseaux sociaux, les modérés sont voués à s’effacer. »

Darren Lilleker
prof. Université de Bournemouth

S’ils n’adhèrent pas à des théories circulant sur le net, ils finissent par s’en détacher. Cela peut plus spécialement concerner ceux qui expriment des visions politiques typiques ou modérées, et qui peuvent très vite constater que les expressions d’idéologies politiques plus tranchantes, clivantes, tendent à prendre naturellement le dessus, à dominer le débat. Sur les réseaux sociaux, les modérés sont voués à s’effacer.

Comment expliquer cette défiance face aux médias traditionnels et à l’information humaine, et cette confiance aveugle envers les réseaux sociaux et leurs algorithmes?

Il y a une défiance généralisée envers les élites, qu’il s’agisse des journalistes ou des hommes politiques. C’est en ce sens que les gens tendent de plus en plus à accéder à l’information en passant par des citoyens « ordinaires ». Mais je ne suis pas sûr qu’ils soient conscients du pouvoir des robots et des programmes informatiques lorsqu’ils sont sur internet. Les interactions leur semblent naturelles, pas déterminées par des formules automatiques. D’ailleurs, Facebook ne crée pas de contenu, il filtre et oriente du contenu à partir du comportement en ligne. Plus les utilisateurs s’expriment, plus ils se voient proposer par les algorithmes des idées et des contenus créés par des personnes qui leur ressemblent, et en qui ils ont confiance.

COMPLEMENT:

Who Is René Girard?

And Why Does Silicon Valley Care?

Justin E. H. Smith
Jan 3, 2021

1.

Although the literary theorist and anthropologist René Girard has many Silicon Valley disciples, surely the most notable of them is the German-born venture capitalist and founder of PayPal, Peter Thiel. A student of Girard’s while at Stanford in the late 1980s, Thiel would go on to report, in several interviews, and somewhat more sub-rosa in his 2014 book, From Zero to One, that Girard is his greatest intellectual inspiration. He is in the habit of recommending Girard’s Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World (1978) to others in the tech industry.

Girard has two big ideas, each intertwined with the other: the theory of mimesis, and the theory of the scapegoat. Michel Serres, another French theorist long resident at Stanford, and a strong advocate for Girard’s ideas, has described Girard as the “Darwin of the human sciences”, and has identified the mimetic theory as the relevant analog in the humanities of the Darwinian theory of natural selection.

For Girard, everything is imitation. Or rather, every human action that rises above “merely” biological appetite and that is experienced as desire for a given object, in fact is not a desire for that object itself, but a desire to have the object that somebody else already has. This makes obvious sense, in a Veblenian key — plainly, indisputably, nobody wants a Rolex simply in order to be able to keep track of the passage of time with greater precision. Girard notes that the Old Testament authors were lucid enough about human motivation to tackle mimetic desire explicitly in at least four of the Ten Commandments, most notably in the prohibition on coveting, specifically, your neighbor’s goods. The great problem of our shared social existence is not wanting things, it’s wanting things because they are someone else’s.

Of course, the problem did not go away with the prohibition, and for Girard this can only be because it is the universal basis of all human culture. Desire for what the other person has brings about a situation in which individuals in a community grow more similar to one another over time in a process of competition-cum-emulation. Such dual-natured social encounters, more precisely, are typical of people who are socially more or less equal. In relation to a movie star who does not even know some average schlub exists, that schlub can experience only emulation (this is what Girard calls “external mediation”), but in relation to a fellow schlub down the street (a “neighbor” in the Girardian-Biblical sense), emulation is a much more intimate affair (“internal mediation”, Girard calls it), which necessarily carries with it a simultaneous negative charge of desire to annihilate the person we seek to resemble. Among neighbors, the object of desire itself is eventually forgotten in the course of this process, and at the end the competitors stand in relation to one another as “doubles”: neither recalls what that thing is that the other had and that he or she wanted, and each has become undifferentiable from the other.

This is the moment of what Girard calls “mimetic crisis”, which is resolved by the selection of a scapegoat, whose casting-out from the community has the salvific effect of unifying the opposed but undifferentiated doubles. The scapegoat occupies a liminal status between the sacred and the despised (compare Giorgio Agamben’s analysis of the dual meaning of the sacred as exemplified by the figure of the Homo sacer), and is in many cultures someone with a notable physical and mental disability — people with albinism, for example, are a common target in much of sub-Saharan Africa. In a community in which the mimetic mechanism has led to widespread non-differentiation, or in other words to a high degree of conformity, it can however happen that scapegoating approaches something like the horror scenario in Shirley Jackson’s 1948 tale, “The Lottery”. As Girard explains in an interview, published in 2004 under the title Les origines de la culture, “The more undifferentiated people become, the easier it is to decide that any one of them whatsoever is guilty” [plus les gens deviennent indifférenciés, plus il est facile de décider que n’importe lequel d’entre eux est coupable] (82).

As a modest theory of the anthropology of punishment, these observations have some promise. As a general theory of human culture, one feels bound to raise some objections.

2.

It has been compellingly said of Jordan B. Peterson that he is a dumb person’s idea of what a smart person is like. I would not say the same of René Girard, at least not without modifying the formula: he is a practically-minded person’s idea of what a theorist is like. Girard himself appears to share in this idea: a theorist for him is someone who comes up with a simple, elegant account of how everything works, and spends a whole career driving that account home. A theorist spends all of their time on the positive construction of a case, and none of their time on skeptical doubts or objections, and least of all on the nagging call of humility that pipes back up again whenever a philosophically minded person starts to feel as if they’ve got something right — the call that says, “Why should I, of all people, be the one to have got things right? It seems so improbable.”

Girard’s answer to this question would probably be as straightforward as his theory: because I’ve read a lot, and because I am smart. Although he passed through credentialing institutions, Girard’s education resembles more that of some used-book-store owner who will talk your ear off about Schopenhauer or H. L. Mencken while his cat purrs happily on an otherwise unwanted stack of Will and Ariel Durant volumes. This is a species of learnedness that I associate with the United States (the model of the bookseller I have in mind is one I knew in Cincinnati) —improvisational, superficial, Whitmanian, free—, and it is indeed to the US that Girard went to get his reading done. He had already completed his studies at the prestigious École des chartes, in the peculiarly French field of paleography and “archivistics”, which ordinarily would have destined him to some sort of quiet career as a civil servant tending to old papers.

No graduate of such a program can have failed to acquire a good deal of old-world erudition; but in a milieu where everyone is erudite, there’s no one to impress. He disappointed his associates, notably the surrealist poet and résistant René Char (Girard himself seems mostly to have experienced the war and the Nazi occupation as an inconvenient obstacle to his studies), by striking out for the US in the immediate post-war years, landing somehow in Bloomington, Indiana. There he concocted what to all appearances was a very hasty Ph.D. thesis in history, on American Opinion of France, 1940-43. Girard himself boasts about throwing this work together by summarizing the documents in a box of newspaper clippings the French embassy in Washington DC had sent to him, all the while spending the better part of his days in the IU library reading widely in comparative religion, mythology, and anthropology, above all the great British social anthropologists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: Tylor, Morgan, Frazer, and (par courtoisie) Bronisław Malinowski.

One cannot help but be touched by Girard’s desultory, go-it-alone method. He seems to have sought to stay on at Indiana after his Ph.D., but was driven away after failing to publish anything at all — he is consistently reproached by his American colleagues “spreading himself too thin” (“C’est vous comparer à un trop petit morceau de beurre pour une trop grande tartine,” he will later explain for a French audience unfamiliar with the idiom). He somehow ends up next in Baltimore, where he has a hand in organizing the infamous meeting at Johns Hopkins that brought Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, et al., to America in 1966 — recalling this event, Girard will later riff on Freud’s arrival in the US three decades earlier, when, coming into New York Harbor for his first visit, the psychoanalyst reportedly declared: “I have brought the plague”. Lacan played the clown, insisting on giving his talk in English even though he readily admitted he had basically zero knowledge of the language. Derrida mesmerized. Girard seems to have been there in a mostly organizational capacity — organizing the bringing of the plague, that is. In any case he does not seem to have met any truly like-minded people at this superspreader event. French theory on American shores has always been a dialogue des sourds, and Girard was already playing the American, which is to say enjoying the spectacle of all those puffed-up mandarins.

Circumstances would soon bring Girard from Hopkins to SUNY Buffalo, where he developed a life-long interest in Shakespeare. He recalls, in the interview already quoted, having discovered the Bard while watching a theater production on TV. Now your typical high-mandarin French intellectual is not likely admit that his knowledge of Shakespeare comes from solitary evenings watching the Buffalo PBS affiliate (presumably). But Girard is not your typical French intellectual. He is a would-be French civil-servant archivist gone rogue, via Bloomington, Baltimore, Buffalo, and finally at Stanford, where his individual brand of New World self-reinvention would be well-received by some in the Silicon Valley subculture of, let us say, hyper-Whitmanian intellectual invention and reinvention.

3.

As far as I can tell, the idea that anything Girard has to say might be particularly well-suited to adaptation as a “business philosophy” is entirely without merit.

In a 2014 interview with Business Insider, Thiel is confronted directly with the question as to how, concretely, his former professor inspires his understanding of the workings of the tech industry. The venture capitalist attempts to illustrate with an example of the theory of mimetic desire at work in Silicon Valley: “When the payments company Square came out with its flagship credit card reader, competitors jumped in one after the other to do the same thing with triangles or half-moons instead of squares.”

It is assuredly true that start-ups imitate one another, but I do not see anything more powerfully explanatory of this phenomenon in the work of Girard than in, say, Roland Barthes’s analysis of haute-couture in his ingenious 1967 System of Fashion, or for that matter Thorstein Veblen on conspicuous consumption, or indeed any number of other authors who have noticed that indubitable truth of human existence: that we copy each other. This hardly counts as a theoretical insight at all, so much as one of the given features of all human cultural life that presents itself at the outset as in need of theoretical explanation. Girard does, to be fair, offer some such explanation, but Thiel does not seem to have retained any of this. For him “Girard” stands mostly as a shorthand name for this pretheoretical fact, instances of which are of course multiplied in Silicon Valley life, as everywhere else.

What about the other element of Girard’s theory, the scapegoat mechanism? Here Thiel’s preferred instance is particularly flat-footed: “As for scapegoating,” he says, “what happened to Bill Gates during the antitrust prosecution of Microsoft is a great example of the tendency to gang up and blame one person.” If you thought antitrust cases were about maintaining a rationally regulated system of moderate free-market capitalism that encourages competition and innovation, think again: go back to Girard, with his faithful student as guide, and find the primordial origins of the Microsoft lawsuit in the Vedic sacrifice of the cosmic horse.

Thiel’s demoticized Girard would over the next years become a thoroughly vulgarized Girard, so that by 2018 there were online articles being generated —perhaps by bots, perhaps in offshore content-factories— with titles like “How the Idea of a French Philosopher Can Save Your E-Commerce Business”. “Rene Girad [sic, sic], a French Philosopher,” this particular article tells us, “has given a solid theory of human desire that can save anyone’s E-commerce.”

Again, it is not that one wants to discourage a struggling Amazon-partnered retailer from reading French philosophy, but only that it is not at all clear that Girard is any better placed than any number of other theorists to provide any practical tools to help an e-merchant along towards his or her narrow goals — let alone to provide anything like a critique of the ideological structures that have imposed these goals.

But whatever has money behind it will inevitably have intelligent-looking people at least pretending to take it seriously, and with the foundation of the Imitatio Project by the Thiel Foundation (executive director Jimmy Kaltreider, a principal at Thiel Capital), the study and promotion of Girardian mimetic theory is by now a solid edifice in the intellectual landscape of California.

4.

For Girard, there is at least some desire that falls outside of the logic of mimesis, but only because it is a sort of proto-desire, a merely biological drive. I am naturally wary of human-scientists who seek to contain the biological with modifiers such as “merely”, but with Girard what frustrates me even more is that he does not seem to detect the non-mimetic varieties of desire that would seem to await us beyond, rather than before, desire that is coupled with imitation.

For the sake of an example, let us return to that old, discomforting observation from Claude Lévi-Strauss according to which the “exchange” of women is the foundation of traditional societies, manifesting itself as “kinship”, and that therefore women are a good comparable to cattle (Françoise Héritier compellingly critiques this element of her teacher’s theory). Whether this is a correct account of society in general, it is at least true that some men seek out young, attractive, glamorous women in the aim of enhancing their own social status — the pure delectation in the other’s beauty may be at least part of the man’s satisfaction in the pairing, but it seems fair to say that this delectation is often inseparable from the self-contentment he feels at the status-enhancement she confers to him, and that achieving this status is in turn inseparable from depriving other men of the opportunity to achieve it. This is certainly the subtext of countless commercial-rap-music videos (or Romanian manele, or Serbian turbofolk, or any number of other analogous musical forms in the Balkans or elsewhere), which do not seem anthropologically far, in their smooth blending of the iconic images of luxury products with images of beautiful women, from a pastoralist society’s ceremonial display of prize cattle.

But, pace Girard, we must admit that at least on occasion it happens that a vain and foolish man falls sincerely in love with his trophy wife. That is, at least sometimes a man “acquires” a woman by the logic of neighborly competition and status anxiety, but then discovers that she has a soul too, and is worthy of love just like any human being, quite apart from her significance for his social status. Such love strikes me as an instance of post-mimetic desire, just as we might say that “mere” appetite is pre-mimetic desire. Girard does not seem prepared to acknowledge it, at least not in a theoretical vein (though he seems to have been happily married). And come to think of it, nor is it inconceivable that some status-obsessed fellow should buy a Rolex, only to find that his early tutorials in its proper care and maintenance draw him into a world of sincere and nerdy love of Swiss precision chronometry. I confess many of my own interests have followed such an evolution, even if they seem far away from the logic of material acquisitiveness: I start doing something because I think it will make me look cool, and I keep doing it because I discover it is itself cool.

Perhaps even more worrisome for Girard’s mimetic theory is that it appears to leave out all those instances in which imitation serves as a force for social cohesion and cannot plausibly be said to involve any process of “internal mediation” leading to a culmination in scapegoating. In this respect, we might adapt Michel Serres’s comment and say not so much that Girard is the human-scientists’ Darwin, as that he is their Herbert Spencer, and just as the nineteenth century’s idea of evolution as ruthless competition needed to be supplemented by rigorous accounts of the evolutionary role of altruism in the twentieth century, so too might we say that Girard is missing at least half the story.

Most ritual, in fact, strikes me as characterized by imitation without internal mediation or scapegoating. Indeed, still in infancy, before we have any idea of ourselves as occupying any social node at all, we respond to music with rhythmic motions of the body, feeling ourselves taken up in a sort of cosmic repetition of something, be it only a sequence of drumbeats, that somehow expresses the true nature of our existence. Eventually, this repetition develops into dancing with others, and this dancing may be given ritual meaning — a social significance encoded by human bodies doing the same thing simultaneously, and therefore in some sense becoming identical, but without any underlying desire at all to annihilate one another. It is this significance that the Australian poet Les Murray sees as constituting the essence of both poetry and religion: both are performed, as he puts it, “in loving repetition”.

I often think of a video I saw, and cannot now locate, of Cameroonian Baka hunters performing a dance that is a reenactment of their most recent hunt. In a sort of conga-line formation, they weave up and down, imitating the motion of an animal through the forest, but also becoming, relative to one another, like the metameric segments of a millipede. This is pure imitation, without internal mediation, and it seems to me fair to say that it is indeed the foundation of human society.

Nor is it irrelevant that the Baka organize this foundational ritual around a reenactment of the hunt. Contrary to Girard’s theory of the scapegoat, a promising alternative account of sacrifice has been defended by such thinkers as the pioneering classicist Walter Burkert, for whom the origins of culture lie in a recognition of the transgressive nature of the killing of animals — even if it is necessary for human life, the spilling of animal blood is a sufficiently powerful action to knock the cosmos out of alignment, and it is only by rituals of atonement that it may be set right again. To kill an animal is not merely to satisfy an appetite, but to enter into sociocosmic relations with the natural world, and, by offering a sacrificed portion of it to the gods, to enter also into relation with the supernatural.

On such an account, it is only with the rise of states over the past few thousand years that ritual slaughter and sacrifice turned on occasion to human targets, and in this light the scapegoating of humans may be seen as an attenuated instance of what in the most extreme cases may be enacted by a high priest pulling out another man’s beating heart. Rather than seeing scapegoating as laying a load on a chosen individual human and punishing him or her, for reasons that cannot possibly be articulated in the terms of any modern liberal theory of justice, thereby canceling out the desire among individuals in a community to annihilate one another, we might do better to see it within the larger frame of the ecology of human communities, and the role of ritual in the adaptation of these communities to their ecological niches.

At the basis of ritual, as Les Murray understood, there lies repetition. It is significant that in French the verb répéter is used to mean both “to repeat” but also “to practice” (for example, to practice a musical instrument or a dance routine, or to rehearse for a play). At one moment in the 2004 interview already cited, Girard seems to come around to the sort of view of ritual that I have been attempting to sketch, on which it is a communal processing of the inevitabilities of our existence in nature. “Primitive societies,” he writes, using an outmoded term evocative of the era of pith-helmeted British colonial anthropologists who so influenced him, “do not repeat [ne répètent pas] in order to learn, like schoolchildren, they repeat in order not to have any more violence, but in the end these come out to the same thing” [les sociétés primitives ne répètent pas pour apprendre comme les petits écoliers, elles répètent pour ne plus avoir de violence, mais, en fin de compte, cela revient au même] (49).

The Baka sublimation of the hunt and the Eliasian “civilizing process” as two instances of the same general phenomenon of becoming human: this is an explanation I could get behind. But in such repetitions there is no (human) scapegoat to dwell on, so soon enough Girard leaves this promising line of thinking behind and returns to his pair of treasured hobby-horses, like Uncle Toby forever reliving the same old battles

5.

On my understanding, the human sciences differ from the natural sciences primarily to the extent that we humanists are not looking for fundamental mechanisms that explain everything. We are rather interested in surveying the diversity of the expressions of humanity, cataloguing them, and waiting, but not impatiently, for patterns to appear. There are different kinds of theorist, of course, and there is plenty of room for all of us. It is however somewhat a shame that the everything-explainers, the hammerers for whom all is nail, should be the ones so consistently to capture the popular imagination. How refreshing it is when we come across a footnote in Girard’s work to the infinitely curious and suitably modest Carlo Ginzburg! What an attractive alternative model of the intellectual!

Part of Girard’s appeal in the Silicon Valley setting lies not only in his totalizing urge, but also in his embrace of a certain interpretation of Catholicism that stresses the naturalness of hierarchy, all the way up to the archangels, rather than the radical egalitarianism of other tendencies within this faith. At one amusing point in the interview from which I have been liberally citing, Girard explains that the positive reception in France of his On Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World had to do with the widespread misreading of it as a work of anti-Christian theory. “If they had known that there is no hostility in me towards the Church, they would have dismissed me. I appeared as the heretic, the revolted person that one has to be in order to reassure the media. If they had known that I do not feel oppressed by western phallocracy, or even by the pope, they would have dropped me real quick [on m’aurait laissé royalement tomber]” (52).

Peter Thiel, for his part, certainly does not seem to feel oppressed by western phallocracy either — in fact he appears intent on coming out somewhere at the top of the phallocratic order, and in any case has explicitly stated that the aspirations of liberal democracy towards freedom and equality for all should rightly be seen as a thing of the past. In his demotic glosses on Girard, the venture capitalist also seems happy to promote the Girardian version of Catholicism as a clerical institution ideally suited to the newly emerging techno-feudalist order.

René Girard, in sum, is not a particularly great theorist — it is easy on even a casual study of his work to spot the weaknesses and lacunae. But he may well be the theorist our era deserves.

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