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Alla, Alla
Doom sits in gloom in his room
Destroy the infidel, in a mosque
In a ghost, is a sword
Is a Saracen, Alla

—Flowers of Romance, Public Image Ltd.

I think about staying in that silence for a while. I imagine no chattering media, no libraries, no collective memory of the Judeo-Christian history we share. I imagine no United States, no European nations, no single power.

...America, the first culture to be based in the idea of unfettered individual freedom (albeit white male landowners), has become too big and successful. While we rep ourselves as a beacon of human rights, entrepreneurism and free-market idealogy too often trump our softer side. Our cult of the individual has been institutionalized and sold back to us via advertising, as Thomas Frank reminds us. And yes, our freedoms have eaten us alive — witness our insatiable appetites for drugs, gambling, and sex…

But capitalism, I’ve come to believe, is merely the most accurate metaphor for human interaction that we’ve come up with yet. It reflects the state of nature into which we’re born.

In the beginning was nature, the background from which and against which our ideas of God were formed; nature remains the supreme moral problem.

—Camille Paglia

To further quote Camille, “In wesern culture, there are no nonexploitative relationships. Everyone has killed in order to live. Nature’s universal law of creation from destruction operates in mind as in matter…Identity is conflict.”

And conflict is, alas, all too natural. We are all vulnerable to what French literary critic Rene Girard calls “memetic desire.” People in a society always desire what the other group wants. This is, for example,  the mechanism of the romantic triangle. In Girard’s words, “two hands reach for the same object simultaeously.” In larger societal terms, two feuding groups invariably find an innocent party to scapegoat. If we are part of one group, we must find an innocent third party to scapegoat, someone or some group who resembles our actual rival in some way, but whose murder will not affect either of us, thus satisfying both feuding parties. The scapegoat is a substitute figure for our rival—a “symbolic displacement.” Usually the scapegoat is accused of the worst crimes imaginable; rape or murder or wanton greed, then lynched in a purgative bloodletting. The sacrificial violence — usually a lynching or pogrom of some sort — cleanses the society internally. No one is guilty or aware that a terrible crime has been committed because no one can see the scapegoats as victims.

For a while after, the internal rivalry is quelled. The sad thing is that the death of the innocent third party always works to save more souls from mass murder. Therefore, we reason, if the scapegoat’s death is the solution to the problem, the scapegoat must have been the cause. Later, we memorialize the victim in myth.

Of course, the mimetic rivalry eventually starts up again, because we’re beings who need to have what the other has. Early in human history, this cycle became ingrained in our collective memory and in oral traditions. It transformed into myth and is at the core of early religion. The “Corn King” must be sacrificed, etc, etc.

The whole cycle of mimicry, rivalry, and violence averted by sacrifice only works when human beings are blind to the underlying mechanism. This blindness to the fact that the scapegoat is a victim is what allows generations of people to repeat the same myth; the killing of the sacrificial victim is done with a clean conscience..

“So long as we are in the grip of this bloodletting, we do not see our victims as scapegoats. Texts that hide scapegoating foster it. Texts that show it for what it is undermine it,” says S. Mark Heim.


Posted at 5pm on 04/02/2005 | comments are closed Filed Under: Under the Lens

"The sleep of reason
brings forth monsters."

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