The following is a record of a brainstorm triggered by a recent post of my Orthospherean colleague and friend, Thomas Bertonneau. Because it is as yet no more than a brainstorm, I here report it as I first recorded it, and as it precipitated upon me from the Realm of the Forms – namely, as a series of impacts, occurrences more or less related:
In any population of evolving strategies for winning games (of any sort, no matter the rules (bearing in mind that the rules of such games are themselves subject to evolution)) with each other, imitation of strategies that win – or that have lately appeared to win under cogent criteria of local near term winning (bearing in mind that these criteria, too, are subject to evolution) – is a requirement of survival. Survival is the sine qua non of all other values; for, one must first be, in order then to realize any other value whatever; and so, no value is effectually valuable – is, i.e., valuable in actual practice – except insofar as it enables survival, which is the precondition of any other value.
If my group learns language, yours must do so too in order to survive against us. So for all other acts. If I attack you, you must attack back harder, or die. So human mimesis is a survival strategy for the individual within the group, and for the group as against other groups. Humans naturally imitate each other because that’s the only way to stay competitive, and so to survive.
Mimesis is evident in all the social animals. When one cow spooks, the whole herd reacts. When one bird sings of the presence of a predator, the others take up the call. When one pack howls, the others respond, so that everyone is aware that the boundaries of local pack territories are enforced.
Mimesis is also just another way of characterizing the human biological advantage over the other animals, who are not rational and conceptual as we are: namely, that we are extraordinarily able to learn from each other. Other animals do this, too, of course. But humans do it better, by several degrees of magnitude – so much so that, with us, no direct observation of others is needed in order for us to learn of and imitate them.
Status contests, virtue signaling, keeping up with the Joneses, fashion, vendetta, feud, the duello, war – and, crucially, perhaps fundamentally, reproductive competition, thus sexual selection – all are mimetic, and all are relentlessly driven by the urgent necessity of taking every advantage in the struggle for survival. And, all drive technical development – taking the category of technics as subsuming all acts and subjects of acts that have practical social consequences (i.e., almost all things, whatever).
Society is essentially – is predominantly, wherever familiarity has failed – an arms race.
It’s a positive feedback cycle that cannot end and allow for a period of rest and recuperation except via some violent catharsis that discovers a winner of the race, and vitiates or destroys a loser.
War is the apotheosis of scapegoating, and of all contest. It discharges and for a time ends the arms race.
Scapegoating forestalls civil war. This it can do because it is a foretaste and anticipation of civil war. Scapegoating is to civil war as minor temblors along a fault are to a titanic earthquake.
The feudal subsidiaritan social order of the Middle Ages – the triumph of the Familiar Society – was the afactional, prepolitical apogee of the Christian ethos that rejected and transcended the social arms race of (what boiled down to) enemies in favor of a (never perfectly) happy cooperation of familiars and friends.
“Turn the other cheek” stops the positive feedback cycle of the mimetic arms race that would otherwise end with lethal violence: with feud unto death, at enormous social cost, and indeed great harm to the prospects of the group, vis-à-vis its local competitors. So Christian forbearance, charity and compassion opens room for feodality; for brotherly loyalty, true vassalage: servility ennobled.
The disaster of utter destruction of their entire cult and culture that befell Judah at the Bar Kochba revolt was due to the failure of the Judeans to heed the advice of Jesus: “turn the other cheek.” The Christian Essenes were not destroyed in that war. They had decamped to Pella before the crisis arrived. Over the subsequent centuries, they turned the other cheek to Rome, again and again and again; they ended by vanquishing Rome, and turning her mundane power to the purposes of the Church.
To turn the other cheek – properly so – is (at least potentially) to begin to turn the power of the other to one’s own purposes. It is at the least to short circuit the positive feedback cycle of violent mimesis.
Provided that one’s own purposes are those of Truth, there can be no problem, even in one’s own proximal destruction; for, Truth is at once necessary, eternal, and utterly invincible, so that one’s own particular defeat in its purposes cannot but eventuate in a general victory, that wholly redeems its costs.
And, then, NB: to redeem the costs of a victory is to make those who bore them whole, and then more than whole. Mutatis mutandis, martyry is the utmost hedonic victory.
Turning the other cheek does not entail a failure to fight, or to defend one’s own. It rather involves something like Christian aikido: love your enemy by letting him feel the effects of the errors of his errant ways. Let him suffer his own projections upon you. Or something like that. You didn’t do it to him, so he has no real reason to blame you for what happened to him; rather, he did it to himself, and you were at most only the innocent occasion of his sufferance of his own intrinsic errors. He cannot sanely blame you, any more than he would blame a stone he had stumbled over.
He might nevertheless blame you, of course. That would not render you blameworthy, though, and should nowise discourage you. Just keep responding in love, letting his errors redound, without attaching at all to you. If eternity is real – as it must be – you’ll be OK, in the end, no matter what, so long as you do right by God. So, in the long run, charity is without cost to you.