Sunday, March 14, 2010

Mimesis in a Nutshell…. a week or so ago, I posed the question....Church?  Good or bad?  And followed up with several posts on fundamentalism. 

The next few posts, while related to the church question... will also touch on something I haven't really talked about for a while.  Mimesis...mimetic rivalry and scapegoating. Even though it was one of the founding topics on my blog, I haven't written much about it lately. For a bit of background, check out this series of posts if you aren't familiar with mimesis. put it in a (very small) nutshell, mimesis is an unconscious form of imitation.  Mimesis is inborn in all of us. It is similar to imitation…but not exactly.  Imitation is something we do consciously...and it is more or less a neutral morally and is, in fact,   a vital part of growing up...babies learn to talk, walk, behave through imitation. But mimesis is the shadow side of imitation.  We take on the desires of others...without a reflex.  Mimesis is something we do unconsciously...which is where the danger lies.  We are not aware of it.  The website "preaching peace" describes the process thusly:

Mimesis is best understood as desire passed from one individual to another. We do not simply imitate each other’s actions, attitudes and beliefs but more fundamentally we imitate one another’s desires.

We want what others have.  We want what others want. Sometimes we even want to "BE" what others ARE. The person we "catch" our desires from is called the model. This becomes a problem if there is a limited supply or if we perceive that there is a limited supply. We become rivals with those who possess what we desire.  We become angry and frustrated....

One of the best examples of mimetic rivalry that I've read is the one that goes...

Two kids in a room full of toys. Any toy in the hand of another child is infinitely more appealing than the plethora of toys scattered about the room.  This applies even if it is the shabbiest toy there. That one particular toy becomes the most appealing toy there, in fact, it becomes the only toy in the room worth playing with.  All other toys pale in comparison to this particular toy. Any one who has spent any time with kids can relate to this. They can also relate to the inevitable fight that it causes. It is lack...or a perception of lack...that turns mimesis into rivalry...which sets up the whole scapegoating process. 


The scapegoating process itself is even more elusive and difficult to explain simply because we all do it but we don't/can't see it and we won't/can't acknowledge it.  Probably in its simplest terms, we take our pent up anger and frustration…the result of all the unfulfilled desires and ,singly or more often, collectively vent it on an innocent (or not nearly as guilty as presumed) victim. This not only promotes camaraderie between everyone but the diffuses everyone's anger.  It is a "safety valve." We see it on a small scale in our interpersonal relationships and on a much larger, grander society at large. 

Every time I try to explain mimetic rivalry, I feel like I have done a woefully inadequate job.  Fortunately, there are about a zillion resources on the internet. Check some of them out if you need more clarity... There are a few in the side bar in the links section....some in the posts I've written...and of course, as always, a seemingly endless supply on google. 

One more thing I should add is that Rene' Girard, the guy who is credited with "discovering mimetic rivalry" which pervades all facets of culture including religion...perhaps especially religion...feels that the Bible is the only holy book that exposes the sacred myth of the scapegoat.  From Genesis to Revelation, it becomes clearer and clearer with each book of the Bible...with each progressive chapter...with the turning of each page.  And it not only exposes it, it provides an answer to the problem.  The answer?  Have this mind in you that was also in Christ Jesus.  Put on the mind of Christ.  More on that in my next post……

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