Mimetic Theory Sightings

Wills, Kate and Rene Girard (19 Nov 2010) by Matt Malone S.J. at America magazine, a brief intro to Girard and mimetic theory, focusing on the popularity of royal fiancée Kate Middleton’s blue dress.

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Nice example of a competitive conversation at The Hairpin.

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The Inaugural Conference of the Australian Girard Seminar: Violence, Desire, and the Sacred, 14th-15th January 2011, at St Paul’s College, The University of Sydney.

Sessions include:

  • Scientific confirmations of Girardian Mimetic Theory: Mirror Neurons and Infant Subjectivity;
  • Questioning Desire: [Bernard] Lonergan and Girard on the Nature of Desire ;
  • Developments in Mimetic Theory: Positive Mimesis & Theology;
  • Mediating the Gift of Death in Salman Rushdie;
  • Flannery O’Connor’s Novelistic Truth: Conversion and Scandal;
  • Finding the Way: How to Study Scripture with the Help of Scripture and the Desert Fathers;
  • Violence and Sacrifice in the English Reformation;
  • Human Rights: Controlling the Uncontrollable?;
  • For What Purpose Did Christ Die?

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The Fourth Annual Theology and Peace Conference: Transforming Christianity! May 31 – June 2, 2011 at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland in Baltimore. “A gathering for theologians, pastors, activists and others, to develop the insights of mimetic anthropology toward the formation of a theology, community and practice of peace.”
Speakers are Brian McLaren, on Christianity Transformed and Transforming; Michael Hardin, on The Babylonian Captivity of the Gospel; and Suzanne Ross (of the Raven Foundation), on Beyond Power Struggles: Teaching Without Rivalry.

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James Alison interview, June 2010: Catholic theologian James Alison is interviewed by Raven Foundation founder Suzanne Ross in connection with his “Forgiving Victim” Christian Adult Education program, soon to be out on DVD. The rudiments of mimetic theory, focusing on the ubiquitous way we are influenced by others.

“One of the most difficult things I find in teaching theology is people’s addiction to goodness. Theology is principally for people who are not very good. That’s the whole point of it. … Just think how much investment in our society and in our culture there is in being the good guy. How much talk there is about morality. As though once you get a boundary of yourself as good, this then has real value in any form of public engagement. Actually, this is terrible. It’s much more a case of the broken-hearted people who are able to sit with weakness and flawedness, who are actually able to share without provoking each other. Anyone can provoke people into a state of mutually antagonistic rival goodness. Which leads to nothing at all. … We become complicit.”

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James Alison on The Forgiving Victim, a 16-minute video introducing the series. Alison talks about a “dead man talking” — how odd that is, and how non-victimary the story he tells is. He says that for God, “death is not in rivalry with life.”

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Robin Hanson at Overcoming Bias wrote a while ago (Sept. 2010) about the Meaning of Meaning of Life. Looking at sample answers to the question, ‘what is the meaning of my life?,’ he suggests that

“It seems what people want is a satisfying story about their place in the universe. Since characters are the most important elements of a story, the main ‘place’ that matters to people is their social place – who they relate to and how. …

“Central to any social relation is whether the related person supports or opposes you in your conflicts. In fact, it seems enough to give your life meaning to just know who are your main natural allies and enemies among the important actors around, and what you can do to keep your allies supporting you, to give you high enough status.
“People think their life has less meaning when enough aspects of it are determined by ‘impersonal’ forces that refuse to take social sides. For example, a death caused by an enemy’s plan, or an ally’s failure to help, or by the dead person’s trying to help his allies, has far more meaning that a death caused by simple physics.”

Hanson’s proposition accords with Rene Girard’s account of mimetic theory: Allies and enemies reflect back to us what our status and worth are; they signal for us and for others (and others in turn signal back to us) who we are. Allies give us meaning by reinforcing and validating our desires, values, beliefs, and sense of self; enemies also give us meaning simply by being ‘not us,’ a group or groups we can react against to further define ourselves over and against them, the other. We also get a kind of meaning and status-boost  when we accuse others (of anything: elitisim, laziness, stupidity, evil, maliciousness, greed, etc.) — as James Alison has said, we tend to “create social order and meaning out of a sacred space of victimization.”

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“The Unwisdom of Crowds” (Sept. 2010) by David Rieff in The New Republic also seems to align with mimetic theory.

Rieff argues that

“the will to self-satisfaction is what lies at the heart of the dynamic of the crowd” — that is, coherence feels safe, good (perhaps morally or philosophically right), and very stable — and the more strongly we identify as part of a group, the more likely we will “end up doing, or at least condoning, things that you would never do solo, and that you have a hard time justifying once the crowd disperses and you are on your own again.”

Rieff also writes about war, and thus about enemies and allies, as Hanson above. Rieff notes that “the crowd does not see war as a tragedy. To the contrary, time and time again, we have seen crowds gleefully demanding that their countries go to war, forgetting as a collectivity what certainly almost all of them know as individuals, which is how horrible war really is.” Horrible, yes, but in terms of group loyalty and identity, deeply meaningful.

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