Violence And The Sacred - René Girard & Scapegoat Theory
March 18, 2003 12:54 AM   Subscribe

Human beings, according to French thinker René Girard, are fundamentally imitative creatures. We copy each other's desires, and are in perpetual conflict with one another over the objects of our desire. In early human communities, this conflict created a permanent threat of violence, and forced our ancestors to find a way to unify themselves. They chose a victim, a scapegoat, an evil one against whom the community could unite.

Scapegoat Theory 101 ?
posted by y2karl (14 comments total)
In order for collective violence to stabilize a society, it is essential that nobody suffer a moral hangover as a result of the event. One dissenting voice spoils everything. Moreover, the lynching of the victim must not be seen for what it was. There must be a total forgetting of what actually happened.

I came across René Girard's Violence and The Sacred about twenty years ago while ambling through the stacks of the Seattle Public Library. It was a difficult, demanding book--at least for a college dropout like myself--but it changed the way I saw the world. The writings here linked are not sound bite sized or easy but there is much food for thought.

Here are a number of links on his thought:

The Colloquium On Violence & Religion (COV&R) is the largest and most official sites devoted to his thought. Because he is a Christian thinker, many of the links here will be written by theologians--however one does not have to religious to appreciate his argument or profit from his insights.

Victims, Violence and the Sacred: the Thought of René Girard by Leo D. Lefebure is one of the better introductions to his work. Here is an Interview with René Girard from the René Girard Issue of Anthropoetics - The Electronic Journal of Generative Anthropology, a site maintained by Girard's student Eric Gans.

Danielin Linkit is the ultimate Girard links source. Girardian Annotated Bibilography & Links Page is another.

Here are Seven Easy/Not Easy Pieces applying Girardian thought:
The Alchemy Of Violence, The Execution of Timothy McVeigh: Ritual Sacrifice in America, Blood Sacrifice And The Nation: Revisiting Civil Religion, The Southern Rite of Human Sacrifice, "The United States of Lyncherdom": American Modernism and the Persecution Text , The Sacrificial Meaning of the Holocaust and The Sex Offender as Scapegoat: Vigilante Violence and a Faith Community Response.

And one realizes why the people here are smiling--in deep trance, they are happy, their world good and pure again.

Father, forgive them, they know not what they do takes on a new meaning after one reads Girard.
posted by y2karl at 12:55 AM on March 18, 2003

Interesting stuff. Society doesn't use the term "scapegoat" much, do they. To do so would be to acknowledge the reality of the scapegoating process. Instead, especially with sex offenders - as one of the linked articles points out - there is a rigid societal proscription against any notion of empathetic response to such a person.
posted by kozad at 6:15 AM on March 18, 2003

Wow, y2karl, I think this oficially counts as the first time I've come across Girard's name outside an academic setting. I've read The Scapegoat, and Girard's ideas have often been foremost in my mind as I watch the politics of this war play out.
Thanks for a great link.
posted by eustacescrubb at 6:16 AM on March 18, 2003

This is an interesting read - and close to being a theological analog of my "Becoming Evil" post yesterday. But I can't say that it exactly "blinds me with science". I think Girard's writing might sway me more if he cited relevant scientific research. But would he then still be writing theology?
posted by troutfishing at 6:38 AM on March 18, 2003

There are many situations in which Girard's metaphors could be profitably applied, but they seem to me to offer too reductive an explanation for many species of human violence, particularly violence on a larger, international or intercultural scale. Having said that, I've only scratched the surface of these intriguing links, for which, thanks.
posted by misteraitch at 6:43 AM on March 18, 2003

The Four Waves of Rebel Terror and September 11 is an interesting history of terrorism viewed throught the Girardian lens.

Girard among the Paramilitaries of Ulster: Identity, History, and Violence is another, more specific in focus.

Source: Terrorism, Mimetic Rivalry and War.

Girardian Anthropology in a Nutshell

Also of value: 09/11/01 Repercussions

Views we Oppose:

     Libertarian & Conservative Nationalist Views
     Christian Right Views

     Hard Right, Patriot, Militia Views

     Neofascist Views

     Antisemitic Conspiracist Views

     Conspiracist Views

     International Far Right Views (compiled by Searchlight)

     Antiwar--but not our allies

posted by y2karl at 8:58 AM on March 18, 2003

y2karl is a witch! Burn him!
posted by salmacis at 9:31 AM on March 18, 2003

What about the *species* prerogative to exterminate mutants? Evolution, a magnificant and funny animation produced by the Film Board of Canada so wonderfully illustrated this point that it has stayed with me ever since.
posted by kablam at 10:52 AM on March 18, 2003

What a plethora of good reading! Thanks y2karl!
posted by nofundy at 11:51 AM on March 18, 2003

A famous scapegoat.

On topic: for more Girard, see this essay on why the Bible is not "mythological," again utilizing scapegoat theory. Slightly difficult, but interesting.
posted by thomas j wise at 3:54 PM on March 18, 2003

Another famous scapegoat

The scapegoat of the Pentateuch

posted by y2karl at 5:25 PM on March 18, 2003

Wow, fabulous links, excellent topic - a really substantial post y2karl. Between this and troutfishing's "evil" post, I have some interesting reading ahead. You really know how to do a topic justice when you post!
posted by madamjujujive at 10:38 PM on March 18, 2003

*blows kiss to madamejujujive*
posted by y2karl at 11:04 PM on March 18, 2003

By the way, now I know from where azazello took his nom d'Metafilter.
posted by y2karl at 11:10 PM on March 18, 2003

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