Whom Do We Imitate?

pink floydWe imitate absolutely everybody, at least potentially. We will imitate homeless drug addicts with psychiatric disorders, our boss, celebrities, our children, and anyone we interact with socially. When anyone at all says “Hi” to you, you will say “Hi” back, unless you are angry with them and are passively aggressively refusing to speak to them. In a small town, when we walk down the street, other pedestrians might give a little close-lipped half-smile, we give exactly the same close-lipped smile back. You extend your hand in friendly greeting, I extend my hand in friendly greeting. Someone, such as the homeless person, addresses me rudely and angrily, I address them rudely and angrily, unless, for instance, I am worried the homeless guy might be a physical threat. We cannot exist socially without constant imitation. Conversationally, you wait for me to finish my sentence. I wait for you to finish your thought. You reveal some intimate thing about yourself, I do the same.We style our hair as others style their hair. We dress as others around us are dressing. We shower in order not to smell offensively, as others shower. Or, we try to “express our individuality” by imitating all the other people who want to “express their individuality.” We read books, and desire to be “well read,” because other people read books and desire to be “well read.” We stop reading books because other people are not reading books. We eat pepperoni pizza because we grew up eating such pizza and we imitate what our parents fed to us. Or, we rebel against the food our parents served and copy some other group of people’s cuisine. When my father asked me where I wanted to eat when I was an older teenager visiting him one time, I said “Any ethnic food from anywhere in the world” (other than Anglo-Saxon cultures). There was nothing remotely original about this predilection for the foreign and exotic.

Sometimes we imitate someone with mini-prestige. Often our desires are affected by comparisons, as Rousseau pointed out, and our comparison group changes according to our own self-perceived place in society. Some of the time, we imitate those who are very much like ourselves, but maybe a little better – hence “mini”-prestige, in internal mediation. We compare ourselves most to people who we consider to be like ourselves. Olympic athletes compare themselves to other Olympic athletes. Apparently, people who have won a Nobel Prize often feel bad because there are other Nobel prize winners who have won it twice, so the single-winners consider themselves failures. I once told someone who was complaining about various things in her life “at least you, as a dentist, can regard yourself as a financial success.” She was making a sum approaching a million dollars a year at that point. She responded in the negative because some other dentists she knew had invested in the UK housing bubble and sold before it burst, netting them several million pounds, and she regretted that she had not done something similar. Someone commented once that a man is happy with his life if he is making slightly more than his brother-in-law. But oftentimes, it has nothing to do with prestige but is the result of social conformism, and social conformism is about fitting into the group, not standing out from the group. I suppose the word “prestige” is elastic enough to say that being in the “in group,” along with 73 million others, is more prestigious than being in the out group, so long as one recognizes that there is nothing particularly prestigious about this kind of prestige. One is not going to be an object of admiration – just “one of us.”

Jordan Peterson points out that men invent hierarchies – who’s the best… drag car racer, scholar, chess player, stamp collector, poet, etc. and women, responsible for sexual selection, pick the winners, if they can, in a game that men have largely defined. That is how prestige can be good for you and why you might want it. It is a cliché that rock stars and comedians often get into the business “for the girls.”

Not all desires are infinite. The desire for food and drink is moderated by our physical capacity to eat and drink. Infinite desires, as stated by St. Augustine, include those for objects, money, and people. Those are infinite for most people because we are trying to fill a hole in our souls. Sometimes it might be related to prestige, if that is your current problem – feeling like you are suffering from a lack of prestige. For most of us, this is just one, occasional motivation among others. People window shop or actually shop, as “retail therapy,” as it is self-derisively called. Now, we can go on Amazon and see if we can be the recipient of some fun little package or other, again in response to some inner emptiness.

The core reason for substitute religions is the need to worship and strive for something; to feel that our lives have some meaning and that we are headed somewhere. It turns out that any substitute we try to find for God does not work out, just as St. Augustine suggests. Empirically, no society has ever come into existence based on atheism, so the need for theism does not seem particularly linked to democracies. Globalism appears to be fragmenting partly because of this atheistic innovation. Yuri Bezmenov stated that “No one would sacrifice his life and freedom for the truth of 2 x 2 = 4, but they would for God and Jesus Christ. The moment we turn to 2 x 2 = 4, and make it a guiding principle of our life, our existence, we die. Even though this (2 x 2) is true, and this (God) we cannot prove. We can only feel and have faith in it. The answer to ideological subversion is faith.”

God, as the highest ideal, cannot sanely be something we are in competition with. When the model is so far away, there can be external mediation, but not internal mediation. Only internal mediation involves rivalry – and rivalry is with someone very similar and close to ourselves. Thomas Sowell points out that intellectuals are inherently in competition with God and religion, because they want to determine what values we have and how we should think about things. They can engage in internal mediation with God because they have demoted Him to a mere absence; a nothing.  If God has “prestige” it is externally mediated and not something we need to worry about. Certainly, having God as God, and not something else, can hope to curtail man’s overweening pride. The Great Chain of Being can include angels, daimons, archangels and the like, further distancing us from God and forestalling any possibility of internal mediation. The fact that Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, are in actual mimetic competition (all competition is mimetic) with God, amply demonstrates their insanity and the dangers of atheism. We cannot compete with someone who refuses to show up. The tennis champion cannot compete if his rivals never appear, and if no one else wants the trophy. The fact that Dawkins and Harris continue to struggle against religion means, in their minds, God is very much there pushing back.

14 thoughts on “Whom Do We Imitate?

  1. Nice article! Someone wise once noted that people are the average of the five persons they interact with the most. I tend to believe there is a lot of truth to that, although those five persons one individual or the other interact with the most are subject to change for various reasons from time to time.

    I have told the story elsewhere of the time some months back during the Spring when my boys and I were traveling in eastern Oklahoma and threw a tread off a rear tire on the turnpike about 20 miles north of Hugo. As it so happened a highway patrolman was passing us in the opposite direction at the exact moment the tread came off. The boys and I of course went straight to work digging out the jack and spare, and the officer pulled in behind us a few moments later. As he got out of his cruiser and began to approach us, I in turn moved in his direction extending my hand to greet him. To which he immediately stopped dead in his tracks, threw his hands in front of him (palms facing me) and exclaimed, “no, I can’t shake your hand because of COVID.” This is not the kind of world I personally want to live in, so there was a “bad vibe” between us that was initiated at that very moment. He felt it, too; he didn’t stick around long to make small talk because I simply turned away from him and ignored his presence for the remainder of the time he was there. After a couple of minutes he said, “well, I just stopped to see if I could help, but it looks like y’all got it.” “Yeah, thanks,” I said, keeping my eyes focused on the task at hand.

    • Covid – or rather, the odd and stupid, indeed nonsensical protocols inspired by the terror of it – has done incalculable damage to our social fabric. All the tiny rituals by which we get along with each other have been ruined; so, strangers and far acquaintances cannot so easily cooperate. The coefficient of social friction has been multiplied for *every interaction.* Everyone lives now as it were in a foreign country. So there is no longer any homeland. There is at most our own home. And lo, what do you know, the oligarchs are now trying to take even that away from us: masks are now mandatory inside the home in some states.

      Yesterday I was walking the dog. We met a couple walking theirs, and the dogs of course wanted to greet each other. I was inclined to let them do so. But the lady said, “Oh, no, we can’t, you are not wearing a mask.” I replied: “OK, we should keep 20 feet of distance then, instead of just 12, right?” I did not wait to see whether that might have been acceptable to her. I hoped, hard, that I had shown her how stupid I thought her.

      This foolish terror of death has ruined even canine society.

      I have not read any estimates of the likelihood of death that any sort of us face from covid – perhaps there are not yet enough numbers for a statistically significant comparison (although I doubt it) – but I am willing to bet $500 it is far lower than our risk of death from an automobile accident. I would not be surprised to learn that it was lower than our risk of death from lightning.

      It’s hilarious, and pathetic. I see women all the time – men, almost never – driving along the freeway wearing a mask. Would they wear it inside a space suit? In the shower?

  2. Atheism, which likes to disguise itself as scientism (totally cool, Dude), is a passionate, even a fanatical, and a totally uptight faith. Christianity is the most minimal faith ever devised — a sign, incidentally, that it speaks truth through its Gospel. People like Dawkins and Harris fervently ask people to imitate them (i.e., become moral by repudiating any basis for morality). Christ never asks us directly to imitate him. Christ only asks us to imitate his imitation of the Father.

    The minimality of the Gospel is what makes it difficult for people to grasp.

  3. Pingback: Whom Do We Imitate? | Reaction Times

  4. Richard, a terrific post. It consists almost entirely of aphorisms! Each sentence could form the substance of a post of its own. My favorite, out of many:

    It turns out that any substitute we try to find for God does not work out.

  5. I’ve listened to many hours off interviews, podcasts and debates featuring Christopher Hitchens, read several of his books and many articles. The quality of his intellectual wherewithal never failed to impress me. He was never short of brilliant.

    But I came to this conclusion about his work. That his edifice of self was predicated upon ratiocinatory superiority, and the proving of it to the world. Such is the life of the public intellectual, that the jousts must be engaged in and won for it to be a livelihood. In this he was enormously successful. His ripostes were those of an expert swordsman and he killed many opponents in the battle of ideas.

    But I suspect he would never have considered the limitations of human reason, of his own reasoning tool which, though we all have to some extent, is, after all, finite, being bounded by its own capacity. I never knew the man, but my sense is that what he could not grasp, and if he could, would never wish to admit, that which evades the reasoning faculties, precisely because they are insufficient to the task. And so, instead, it proves more facile to deny as non-existent what Can’t be man-handled by intellect. The focus of thought then rests upon of the tautology of the omniscient self without God, an obsessive and defensive denial that blinders even the most brilliant, who would deny even the validity of this criticism.

    • Thanks, Richard Kuslan. C. S. Lewis commented that his academic British training got him focused on “winning” arguments and demonstrating one’s cleverness. He stopped it once he realized what he was doing. So, that might be part of it. But, the main thing, as you write, is thinking everything that is real and valuable has to be accessible to reason. I personally have always been aware that feeling and intuition are part of reality and they are not accessible to reason – and they are also our connection to God. The intellect is a tool that analyzes, but the subject matter of analysis is not provided by the intellect. If things begin and end with intellect, you get nihilism as the intellect spins its wheels trying to unsuccessfully prove things.

      • I find that to be the case in my experience as well. Funny, you mention intuition as a/the access channel to the Divine. I’m writing a comic novel (comic because a spoonful of sugar…) in which the discovery of intuition in the main character is understood as Divine in origin, with its attendant benevolent consequences.

      • I just said much the same thing in an answer to a comment by Dividualist. It’s reassuring to find a genuine philosopher confirming my untutored guesswork. I find it very easy to appreciate the limits of reason because my own reason is so very limited. Rationalism strikes me as the stupidity of very smart people.


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