Two Kinds of Sacrifice: René Girard’s Analysis of Scapegoating

Mimesis and scapegoating

Humans are intensely mimetic. We learn to talk, walk, and nearly everything else by imitation. But because we also imitate each other’s desires, other people become our Picture1rivals, as we compete for the same things. Taboos and prohibitions can be sufficient to mitigate this problem much of the time, but when there is a crisis, such as a flood, famine, plague, or war, and the social structure based on rules and hierarchies collapses, we find ourselves in a state of horrible equality. The natural hierarchy between a parent and a younger child, or between humans and animals, high status and low status individuals, reduces conflict. In a crisis, each person becomes another’s rival, chaos ensues, and violence breaks out.  It is a war of all against all. Without a public justice system, each of us wants to retaliate for the latest offense.  If not against you, then against a family member. There is no logical end to the conflict. A common resolution is if we all agree that a single person or a group of people are to blame.  This is the scapegoat.  We are scandalized by the scapegoat.  A “scandal” is etymologically a stumbling block.  We are outraged by him.  Now it is a war of all against one.  Unanimity minus one.  Where you find outrage, you will find a scapegoat.  The scapegoat is blamed for creating all the problems, all the violence, and they are immolated or ostracized.  In lynching or stoning the scapegoat, we all cooperate. Our mutual antagonisms disappear and are temporarily halted with the death of the scapegoat.  We bond together in mutual hatred.  No one needs to be taught to scapegoat – we do it instinctively.  Instead, we actively need to be taught not to scapegoat.

Having been attributed with the diabolical power to create society-wide chaos, a thing it is generally impossible to do singlehandedly, the scapegoat, through his death, has now created peace. And after a while, the “sacrifice” of the scapegoat (murder) is interpreted to be a voluntary renunciation (sacrifice) by the scapegoat – giving up his life to create peace.

The unfortunate ambiguity of the word “sacrifice” in English

The word “sacrifice” in English has a crucial ambiguity, covering up the difference between the two totally different meanings of sacrifice. In one case, sacrifice is something done to you – the victim is lynched.  In another case it involves giving something up, renouncing something. In myths, the scapegoat victim is divinized in retrospective recognition of his sacrifice. Victims are sacrificed – murdered, immolated, lynched. But this is transformed retrospectively in people’s imaginations into self-sacrifice, with the victim supposedly renouncing the desire to continue living, for the sake of the community. The Greeks had two words that are both translated in English as “sacrifice”: thyein, the verb, and thyia, the noun, which means to immolate a victim, literally to make smoke, to honor a god or the gods; and askesis, a noun meaning “to give up something,” to renounce something. These words mark a thoroughly useful distinction and so they must be employed in a careful discussion.

The verb to sacrifice, based on the Latin noun sacer, “something associated with ritual violence,” correctly translates thyein, but not askesis. The mythic lie involves confusing and conflating thyia with askesis and the victim cannot contradict this confusion because he is dead.

The Corn God

The Iroquois have a myth of the Corn God.  His head is shaped as an ear of corn.  There is a famine and people are starving, in other words, there is a crisis and the social order Picture2has broken down as people get desperate.   Chaos and conflict is the result.  In the story, the Corn God asks to be killed.  He says, “Cut off my head and bury it in the ground and you shall have food.”  The people protest saying they love him and do not want to do this.  He insists that they kill him, so they do and everyone is grateful.  In reality, the Corn God is an ordinary person who has been scapegoated.  He or she has been blamed for the violence and stoned to death, or murdered in some other way.  The stoning brings the community together – unifying them against a common enemy.  This brings an end to the violence directed at each other and satisfies their bloodlust too.  Having been attributed with the power to cause a complete breakdown in the social order, the scapegoated victim is now seen to have brought peace to the community and community is in his debt.  The people are grateful to him as a god of peace and “sacrifice” Thyia is now interpreted to be askesis.  Sacrifice as a murder is now imagined to be sacrifice as a renunciation – giving up his life.

What is likely to strike most modern Westerners is the apparent similarity between the Corn God and the crucifixion of Jesus. Positivist anthropologists note the structural resemblances and thus deem Christianity to be just another sacrificial cult. However, what is crucial in Christianity is the interpretation of the events. Myths take the point of view of the mob.  The scapegoating mob benefits from the murder and come to express gratitude.  The lynching of Jesus, by contrast, takes the point of view of the victim.  The scapegoat mechanism is revealed when the innocence of the victim is emphasized and it is recognized that his immolation was murder. Jesus is a sacrifice in both senses of the term.  Jesus’ sacrifice (askesis) is to be sacrificed (thyia). Jesus is reluctantly willing to be Picture3lynched if that is God’s will.  He says in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42) This quotation reveals that Jesus did not want to die in this manner, but was willing to do it if God wanted him to.  God/Jesus died to stop us sinning by revealing the scapegoat mechanism. It is important to note that his immolation cannot make him into a god because, in the story, he is already identified as divine. Jesus is not made God by being crucified. He already was God. In myth, divinization only occurs after the immolation (sacrificial murder).

 Myth versus religion

All myths are sacrificial.  Pre-Christian religions are sacrificial, and thus qualify as myths.  Christianity and Judaism are the first actual religions because they reject the mythic sacrificial narrative.  Only sacrificial (thyein) or scapegoating narratives exist before 100 AD. These encompass all mythic material.  Anti-sacrificial narratives that expose the scapegoating mechanism only exist after 100 AD when Christianity had taken root.   This is revelatory or non-scapegoating narrative, which exposes the scapegoating mechanism to view, which Girard sometimes calls anti-myth, though he did not like verbal constructions based on the prefix anti-, as they seemed too mimetic to him. However, sacrificial narrative is not suddenly sent into extinction by revelatory narrative.  Scapegoating narratives persist. Virtually all popular narrative and commercial narrative — and politics — is still scapegoating narrative.

Popular movies often have a villain. The villain is the scapegoat of the movie. The scapegoat in the movie may be the individuals being persecuted by the villain. We celebrate the death of the villain and take pleasure in it because it puts a stop to persecution in the movie. But in communally enjoying the murder of the villain we are participating in scapegoating. This super villain sometimes even is threatening to destroy the whole world (e.g., James Bond movies) and thus to be truly satanic and godlike. Sacrificial victims are always considered guilty, satanic villains. We, the audience, are behaving like the fictional villain in the movie who is the scapegoat of the movie. Like all scapegoaters, we scapegoat in good conscience.

Quite often, movies have a supernaturally violent protagonist, like Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher, or Bruce Lee, or revenge movies like The Unforgiven by Clint Eastwood where his character single-handedly murders dozens of men for scarring the face of a woman. In real life, the mob immolates the individual victim. In the movie, the individual immolates the mob. It is still scapegoating – each “bad guy” gets scapegoated (sacrificed/lynched) by the “good guy.”

Satan

Picture4Satan is the false accuser who targets the sacrificial victim of scapegoating – the victim who is only imagined to be satanic. Thus, the real Satan casts out the imaginary Satan. In the scapegoat mechanism, unifying the human mob, the victim is killed and thus silenced. The victim cannot tell his side of the story. He cannot rise from the dead to accuse his murderers in turn. Thus Satan covers his tracks – killing the only person who will disagree with the consensus. Scapegoating is always told from the point of view of the beneficiaries of scapegoating, since the crowd survives and the victim can speak no longer. Scapegoating is remarkably efficient – immolation achieves the goal of unity and peace, while killing the one person likely to object.

The faithfulness of the evangelists and the writers of the Gospels means that the lynch mob was not unified. Instead of “all against one,” a minority of witnesses disagreed that Jesus was guilty.  They provided written accounts of their contrary point of view. Finally the victim had a voice; had a Paraclete – a defender; the antithesis of Satan.  The Holy Spirit is sometimes called the Paraclete.  In killing an innocent man, a man already considered divine, who later generations could see was innocent, the unjust and barbaric scapegoat mechanism is revealed for its evilness.  Seeking to eradicate the victim and thus dispose of the counter-evidence in the process, Satan instead revealed his diabolical method of unifying the human community.  This fact was hidden since the foundation of the world.  In fact, it was responsible for the foundation of the human world.   We are the beneficiaries of past sacrificial victims who have ended internecine conflict and allowed human communities to persist on the blood of the victims.  We should be grateful for their sacrifice (thyia) and unwilling askesis, but we must learn to found human community on the basis of love and acceptance, not murder.  If we cannot rise to the challenge of founding and maintaining human communities on love instead of murder, Jesus and God’s revelation of the scapegoating mechanism may mean that violence will just keep on increasing with no way to stop it.

The courage that Jesus’ disciples and defenders exhibited was superhuman. As with everyone who defends the scapegoat, they risked the same punishment, crucifixion, being visited upon them. As well as having nails driven through tissue, the victim’s legs are broken to prevent him from supporting his own weight. Under such circumstances, the victim slowly suffocates; an intentionally horrible way to die. As such, the revelation of the scapegoat mechanism could be considered divine intervention with humans being incapable of discovering it themselves.

The Father out of love, allows his son to be sacrificed, askesis by God, thyia by the human community, the first god to submit to human judgment, to reveal the scapegoat mechanism and thus to put an end to it. Once the innocence of victims is known, killing them has no unifying effect.

The scapegoating and execution of Socrates is similar to the Christian story, however, the scapegoating of Socrates is too calm.  He continues a calm conversation with his supporters as he slowly dies from drinking hemlock, losing sensation from the feet up.  The Passion of Christ emphasizes the horror.  Perception of the significance of the event is lacking if the emotional component is omitted.

Greek Mythology

All the great heroes of Greek mythology, Theseus, Perseus, Cadmus, Heracles, have a Picture5double identity – as a villain of the highest order who has broken major taboos – and as a savior figure. Heracles, Hercules in Latin, is both superman and someone who went mad and killed his entire family. Murdering your own wife and children ranks as a great crime. This dual nature of the savior only makes sense on a sacrificial interpretation. The hero is divinized as a savior, only once he has been condemned to death as a sacrificial victim for having committed gross crimes against the community. The criminal and the condemned gets reinterpreted as savior. As time passed, an attempt was made to clean up the negative side of such heroes.

The hero has the powers of a god. Superhero movies are no different in this regard to ancient myth. But the Greek hero got that way after having been the greatest villain who is sacrificed/immolated.

Why we do not defend scapegoat victims

We do not defend scapegoat victims for a number of reasons. One is fear; defending a victim means that there is an excellent chance that you too will be immolated and we are afraid for our lives.  Another concerns mimesis; scapegoating occurs when there is unanimity about the guilt of the victim. It is extremely difficult to avoid social conformism. Imagine that all your friends and all your family members concur as to the victim’s guilt. It is likely to be very hard to continue to believe in the victim’s innocence under those conditions. When absolutely everyone disagrees with something important that you believe and for which everyone has seen the evidence, then you might even feel yourself to be mad. The word “idiot” is connected with unique perceptions such as if you were to see little green men that no one else could see.  In the famous “line” experiment, it is demonstrated that if a large group of people collaborate in falsely claiming that line A is longer than line B, the one person excluded from this elaborate ruse will also agree that line A is longer, disavowing the evidence of his own eyes. Everyone has found themselves to be wrong when he was very sure that he was right.  There is nothing inherently implausible about being wrong about guilt or innocence.

The Judgment of Solomon

The Judgment of Solomon is a Picture6Biblical story from 1 Kings 3:16-28. In the story, two prostitutes each claimed a baby was theirs. They came to King Solomon, famous for his wisdom, to solve the dispute. In order to determine who the real mother was, King Solomon suggested cutting the baby in half and giving half to each, reasoning that the real mother would never agree to such a thing.  In giving up the child to the other woman, the good prostitute puts an end to their mimetic rivalry, not through the method commanded by Solomon, bloody sacrifice, which the other woman has already accepted, but through love. The good prostitute relinquishes her claim to the object of the rivalry. She does therefore what Christ would have urged her to do: she takes renunciation to its furthest possible extreme, for she renounces that which is dearest to a mother, her own child. Just as Christ died so that humanity might abandon the habit of violent sacrifice, the good prostitute sacrifices her own motherhood so that the child may live.  The difference between the good and bad prostitute is erased if we call both a sacrifice.

Picture7

The good prostitute sacrificed (askesis) agonistic competition for the sake of her child, whereas the bad prostitute agreed to sacrifice (thyia) the child for the sake of the rivalry.  When in the heat of agonistic mimesis, winning the competition can start to feel like a matter of life and death. From the outside, it is ridiculous. And it is ridiculous. But my imitating your desire to win, strengthens your desire to win. We each become the Picture8mimetic model for the other in a mutually reinforcing feedback loop.

When we feel hurt or insulted, the tendency is to imitate the offensive behavior in the other person, but just that little bit more.

If you hit me in the face, my strongest desire will be to hit you back. In other words, to imitate you. But, in order to teach you a lesson, I will hit you in the face that little bit harder, which will make you hate me even more and make you want to teach me a lesson too. Likewise, if someone cuts you off in traffic, the tendency is to want to do the same thing, but a little bit worse. In this way violence escalates.

Picture9

This cycle of violence is stopped by someone refusing to imitate – by turning the other cheek and not hitting back: to renounce and sacrifice your desire to retaliate in the name of peace.

The Bible says in not retaliating and in forgiving your enemies, this will heap hot coals on the head of your enemy. You can get them back best, by not getting them back – by not getting angry. This sounds cynical, until it is realized that there are possibly no desires as strong as the desire for revenge; for retaliation. It is not being cynical if the thing being advocated is one of the hardest things to do in the world. It is possible that the rise we see in scapegoating in online culture and late night “comedy” is partly due to anonymity and partly due to the decline of Christianity as a cultural force.

Agnus Dei

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, grant us peace.

16 thoughts on “Two Kinds of Sacrifice: René Girard’s Analysis of Scapegoating

  1. Pingback: Two Kinds of Sacrifice: René Girard’s Analysis of Scapegoating | Reaction Times

  2. Thank you. I always wanted to talk with someone who understands Girard, because I don’t.

    There was a very important breakthrough in human self-understanding in recent decades. If civ survives, it will be seen as a historic turning point. It is the model that the primary subconscious human motivation is the quest of social status. Liberals like Fukuyama get it, althrough characteristically he thinks people just want equal status. Libertarians like Hanson or Eric Raymond get it, Raymond intuited it as the reputation economy of open-source programmers. Paleoreactionaries like Bonald get it. Neoreactionaries put a very high importance to it.

    It can be derived from economics, it makes seeming irrational behavior actually rational. It can be derived from biology, pecking order and alpha males. It can be derived from Greek philosophy: thymos. It can be seen in How To Make Friends And Influence People. The funniest and most convincing part is that it can be seen in stage theatre. Keith Johnstone’s book Impro, for example.

    And interestingly while usually we believe something because there is either a logical argument or empirical evidence in favor of it, in this case there is also a third kind of evidence: at some point we realize we had this status motive in us and saw it in others, it was just somehow supressed into the subconscious. But once it is unveiled we are going to see this everywhere. Johnstone in Impro:

    “‘Try to get your status just a little above or below your partner’s,’ I said, and I insisted that the gap should be minimal. The actors seemed to know exactly what I meant and the work was transformed. The scenes became ‘authentic’, and actors seemed marvellously observant. Suddenly we understood that every inflection and movement implies a status, and that no action is due to chance, or really ‘motiveless’. It was hysterically funny, but at the same time very alarming. All our secret manoeuvrings were exposed. If someone asked a question we didn’t bother to answer it, we concentrated on why it had been asked. No one could make an ‘innocuous’ remark without everyone instantly grasping what lay behind it. Normally we are ‘forbidden’ to see status transactions except when there’s a conflict.”

    This way of human self-understanding has no name yet, so I gave it the name Homo Ambitiosus, rhyming on Homo Oeconomicus (which is a subset of it).

    So from this angle I don’t understand the whole mimesis thing, that we want things because other people want them, thus we want the same thing, thus, conflict. It seems to me we don’t just want things because any random other person wants them. We want what high status people want or have. Because what we want is status and we want the things high status people have is because we see them as proxies of status.

    This is important, because things aren’t necessarily zero-sum otherwise, thus mimetic desire does not need to lead to conflict. If I can see someone else wear fashionable clothes, I can just buy myself some. Economic goods are not zero-sum. Of course still sometimes rather rob than buy, but still it is logical that zero-sum things lead to conflict more predictably and only status is really zero-sum.

    • Thanks for reading, Dividualist.

      Sometimes people will say something like “we are naturally competitive.” Why? We are naturally competitive because we are naturally mimetic. How do I know we are naturally mimetic? Because I can speak English, use a computer, type, speak at the right volume for my social and cultural context, because of what I am wearing, how I cut my hair, and because I want a wife, a home, a job, and a college education. None of those desires are original to me.

      High status people are people who are winners at the game of mimesis. What is considered winning? Whatever people have decided it means. We tend to imitate other people’s conception of what it means to win. Why do I want to win? Because other people want to win. You can turn becoming Buddha and renouncing all worldly goods into a competition. In fact, you can go on a Zen retreat and found yourself competitively meditating. I want to desire nothing because other people want to desire nothing. I did not originate that idea. I’m shaving my head and wearing saffron robes like all the other monks. The whole thing is all so damn arbitrary.

      If the Wimbledon trophy was no longer wanted, it would have no value. If they said – hey, no one wants the trophy, would like you it Dividualist? The answer would be no. Supply and demand is mimetic.

      “High status” individuals are more likely than low status people to become mimetic models. I see other people being admired. I, imitatively, desire to be admired. So I buy a Porsche if I can afford it, if that’s what it takes.

      I see a man who women like. I think – I want to be a man who women like, I alter my behavior and become his competitor. We don’t just imitate desires. We imitate everything. Imitating desires is just one of the infinite number of things we imitate. In envy, I can wish to actually be someone else.

      There is a perverse thing Americans have about clothes where they do not want their clothes to convey status. Why not? Because other Americans don’t want clothes to convey status – see Mark Zuckerberg.

      Yes. We want to be high status. Why? Because other people want to be high status. The more you are around people who want to be high status, the more likely you are to want to be high status. A hyper-competitive environment = hyper-rivalrous, hyper-mimetic environment. Olympic athletes. He’s training 6 hours a day? I’ll train 7. We could instead adopt a 1960s hippy ethos. People have and did. Hippies didn’t want to be high status, sort of. In fact, they would have higher status by not wanting to be high status. “High status” is a synonym for “popular choice of mimetic model.” Other people have chosen the high status person as a mimetic model so I’m going to choose it too. Who has the highest status? He who is imitated the most. The boss cracks a joke. People laugh. Low status person cracks a joke. No one laughs.

      Of all the people who you could have looked up to, why did you choose that person? Could it be that other people are admiring him? And you joined in? You could choose your couch-surfing bum of a cousin to be your model, but you won’t get much reinforcement for that.

      I want to be the mimetic model. Why? Because other people want to be mimetic models. The desire for high status and what counts as high status is mimetically derived. Status is a subset of mimetic processes and the desire for status, if that’s what you want, will drive mimesis.

      • Thank you, Richard. You see… it is a bit like what people call the network effect, I buy a Samsonite suitcase because everybody else is buying a Samsonite suitcase and if it is good enough for them it is going to be good enough for me.

        But… these “spirals” have to start somewhere! There must be some reason why the network effect spiral started around Samsonite and not some other brand. And the same with these things. Imitation cannot be just imitation all the way down, infinite turtles, right? Has to be some original core that is explained by something else than imitation, some original core that then snowballed.

        I am very much a Moldbug-fan. Moldbug hinted on, although never really said it openly, that the origin of prestige, status, and thus mimesis might be in simple raw coercive power. Just power. Just some warlord beats other warlords and rules by sheer force. And starts a royal dynasty, and then of course things will become smoother and more civilized, there will be something more than raw brutal force. It will look more like a cooperative social contract. But it is at the end of the day backed by force, although not only by force. And then the habits and likes of the king become fashions people will imitate.

        So one possibility is that all this snowballs around a core of coercive power.

        This is a Christian blog, so the following might be interesting for you. I have read James C. Russel’s The Germanization Of Early Medieval Christianity. I think Bonald-the-blogger means this book when he says Germanized Christianity. At any rate, the story I see being repeated is that a Christian priest from Rome/Romanized places goes to a Germanic warlord and makes his case. And the warlord either accepts it or not. But it seems to be a discussion between Christian priest and pagan warlord. Where are the pagan priests? You would expect the warlord to organize a debate between the Christian and the pagan priests? I would. That is the logical thing. When the king of Tibet wanted to abandon Bön shamanism he organized a debate between Indian and Chinese Buddhists. Very logical. Yet the pagan priests are nowhere. They are not making their case. Weird. So either the warlord accepted it or not. Then everybody else imitated the warlord, it seems.

      • Hi, Dividualist – Yes. Not every desire is mimetic and things have to start somewhere – although, sometimes the imitated desire is purely imaginary – such as feeling romantically jealous when in fact the uninvited third party is not even interested in your date/wife/girlfriend. The desire for power is also mimetic. I don’t want it, for instance. Someone would have to put it in my head somehow. Some guy looks at a warlord and thinks “Wouldn’t it be great to be that guy?” If one warlord does not imitate the other warlord’s belligerent stance, well, where’s the fun in that? Likewise, if there is no agonistic struggle to be the warlord – we don’t want the job. You can have it! Every Napoleon needs his Alexander the Great.

  3. Following Dividualist, I have always thought that, in Girard’s theory, the scapegoat mechanism is independent from mimesis (I agree with the former but not with the latter). The scapegoat mechanism would work for any kind of conflict.

    Girard claims that every kind of conflict comes from mimesis, but I am not sure. There is also conflict that comes from competition for resources (whether economic resources or sexual resources). These are biologically wired and not produced by mimesis.

    • The scapegoat mechanism is the mob against the victim. The mob is only a mob by virtue of imitation. If they just all go about their business thinking what think and doing what they want independently from each other, then no mob and no victim. The mob has to agree about who the guilty one is and act accordingly. There is no possibility of scapegoating without mimesis.

      Some desires do indeed have a biological basis. How we go about satisfying them will be mimetic.

    • The scapegoat mechanism is the ineluctable outcome of negative mimesis which, being violent and without limit in the human organism, wholly overcomes any parallel good mimesis, in all-against-all violence. The miracle of the scapegoat is that which saves man from his mimetic rivalry, or in other words, from vengeance, the one truly human ‘instinct.’ This is another, more Girardian interpretation of “Satan casting out Satan”; the first Satan is diabolical disorder – idolatry/mimetic desire, dividing men (hence diabolos – to scatter) – and Satan, the accuser, returns the community to order by the unanimous violence, the cathartic immolation, of the sacred transgressor.

      Thank you Richard for your summary. You have added an important distinction here that many readers of Girard’s early works fail to appreciate (due in no small part to Girard’s own pre-Schwager scapegoating of “sacrifice”, tout-court), namely the distinction and, more importantly, naming of the two types of sacrifice, “thyein” and “askesis”. I’m no scholar of Koine Greek, but “thymia”is rage and “epithymia” is desire, and I would hazard a guess that “thyia” may thereby be related in the process from desire, to anger, to sacrifice.

      Of course, Nietzsche deserves some credit for recognising the distinction not of type but of meaning, as he so perspicaciously remarked in the last lines of his infamous autobiography:

      “Have I been understood?
      Dionysus versus the Crucified”

  4. Responding to Dividualist and imnobody–and echoing what Professor Cocks has written–I would draw a distinction between physical craving and desire. Craving of course has a physical basis, but our desires are shaped mimetically. Animals crave things, but if they desire things, it is far less imitative than is the case with humans. This point was driven home to me recently when I was assigned with the task of tending my four young grandchildren and having to come up with strategies to get them to play without fighting. I got one pair (the older ones) working on legos, and the younger ones deciding on the wardrobe for Monster High dolls. It wasn’t long until the younger group abandoned their dolls and horned in on the legos, resulting in a skirmish. One of the older ones wandered over to the dolls, and when the others saw that, so much for the legos; Monster High dolls were now the thing. And so it went all afternoon, shifting from one set of toys to another. Grandpa was tearing his hair out (as if he still had any), thinking “Good grief, this house is full of toys! Why must you fight over them?” Typical child behavior, you might say, but we adults do the same thing. We’re just more subtle about it, and have come up with ingenious self deceptions to convince ourselves that our desires are totally original, not imitative.
    Mimeticism is not all bad, of course. Thanks to it, we have language, culture, educational models, etc. But I think that mimetic escalation explains a lot of violence as well. It explains how mindless mobs form (especially relevant in the age of Twitter), and how those mobs turn their fury on a victim.

    • Thanks, Roger. An older kid taking an interest in what you, the younger one is doing, is immensely gratifying. My toy anecdote stems from when I used to have to take my son to other parents’ houses to play. Whatever toy my son picked up, the girl whose house it was would rush over and grab it off him. The mother’s response? If you are going to fight over it, neither of you can have it, which suited the little girl perfectly. Since we were at her house and all the toys were therefore hers you can imagine how fun that was! For some reason, my son was never possessive in that way – meaning he did not imitate other kid’s desire for his toys.

  5. Thanks very much for the post; slightly off topic, do you believe Eric Gans is worth studying? I sometimes read his posts at ‘Chronicles of Love and Resentment’, but find them hard to understand; in particular, he thinks highly of a great deal of recent French philosophy, which I have always considered to be mostly just a waste of time. What’s your take on this?

    • Hi, Steve – I am afraid that I personally do not respond to Eric Gans’ writing either. I am also not aware of any recent French philosophy that might be worth reading, which is not to say that there might not be some that has escaped my notice.

    • @Steve: Eric Gans, who was my dissertation director thirty years ago, is definitely worth your application. Eric acknowledges his debt to Girard. He is keen, however, to discover the origin of designation, which is crucial to designating the victim in the sacrificial crisis, and which is missing in Girard before Things Hidden. Gans argues that before the collective could designate a victim, it needed to know how to point to something and call the attention of others to that thing. This development is also the origin of language.

      For Gans, the emergence of the ostensive, the basic level of language, was pacific, entailing the deferral of violence. In Christian terms (although Gans writes for a “non-fideistic” audience) this is the story of the Fall. God, after all, gives Adam language before he kicks Adam out of Eden, and it is only after the expulsion that the first murder-sacrifice occurs.

      See Gans’ Origin of Language and his End of Culture. As you are a reader of The Chronicles of Love and Resentment, you will be familiar with his basic precepts.

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