René Girard (1923-2015) developed an ambitious account of human society and culture. His foundational insight was that humans are imitative creatures not only in terms of behavior, but in terms of desire: we determine what we want by imitating what others want. The result is that desires converge on the same objects, generating jealousy, envy, and devastating conflict. In response, societies have evolved various mechanisms of conflict resolution. The most prevalent of these, Girard claimed, is an extremely violent one: the scapegoat mechanism, by which a community’s conflicts are transferred onto a single victim who is expelled or killed. In addition to offering an overview of his major intellectual contributions, this seminar will explore how well Girard’s claims hold up in a modern setting, with particular attention to the internet. Social media platforms are built on imitation, or what Girard called mimesis. We will consider the hypothesis that the pathological behaviors visible online today are not really anything new, but a reemergence of what Girard identified as the most ancient human cultural pattern: the scapegoat mechanism.
Sessions will be interactive; brief lectures will provide necessary background, but most of our time will be given over to discussion. The first session will provide an overview of Girard’s theories, while the second will apply them in contemporary contexts and consider some challenges to his ideas.
No prior background is required for the event, just open-mindedness and curiosity!