Understanding Human Conflict and Violence
René Girard was a French thinker and literary critic who developed a theory of mimetic desire, which argues that humans have an innate tendency to imitate the desires and behaviors of others. Girard’s theory provides a unique perspective on the nature of human conflict and violence, and has had a significant impact on fields such as anthropology, philosophy, and theology.
The basic idea of mimetic desire is that we learn what to desire by imitating the desires of others. Girard argued that human desire is not innate, but rather is learned through social interactions. We see what others desire and imitate their desires, leading to a process of escalating desire and competition. This process can lead to conflict and violence, as we compete with others for the same object of desire.
According to Girard, the desire for a particular object is not based on its inherent value or attractiveness, but rather on the fact that someone else desires it. In other words, we desire what others desire because they desire it, not because it has any inherent value or appeal. This leads to a process of escalating desire, as we try to outdo others in our pursuit of the desired object.
Girard’s theory of mimetic desire has profound implications for understanding the nature of human conflict and violence. According to Girard, violence is the inevitable result of mimetic desire, as individuals and groups compete for the same object of desire. This competition can escalate quickly, leading to violence and even war.
Girard’s theory also helps us to understand the role of religion and myth in human culture. According to Girard, religious myths and rituals serve as a way of channeling and controlling mimetic desire. By creating shared desires and objects of worship, religion can help to limit the potential for conflict and violence. In this way, religion can be seen as a necessary component of human culture, providing a way of controlling and channeling the natural human tendency towards conflict and violence.
Despite the profound insights of Girard’s theory, it has also been subject to criticism and debate. Some have argued that Girard’s theory is too simplistic and fails to account for the complexity of human desire and behavior. Others have argued that his focus on mimetic desire neglects the role of power and inequality in human conflict and violence.
Despite these criticisms, Girard’s theory of mimetic desire has had a significant impact on fields such as anthropology, philosophy, and theology. His insights into the nature of human conflict and violence have helped us to better understand the root causes of these phenomena, and his emphasis on the role of religion and myth in controlling and channeling human desire has helped us to see the important role that these institutions play in human culture.
René Girard’s theory of mimetic desire provides a unique and insightful perspective on the nature of human conflict and violence. While his theory has been subject to criticism and debate, it remains a significant contribution to our understanding of the complex and often-violent nature of human behavior. Girard’s emphasis on the role of religion and myth in controlling and channeling human desire reminds us of the important role that these institutions play in human culture, and his insights continue to influence scholars and thinkers in a wide range of fields.
Table summarizing some of René Girard’s key ideas
|Mimetic Desire||Humans learn what to desire by imitating the desires of others. Desire is not innate, but learned through social interactions.|
|Rivalry and Conflict||Mimetic desire leads to rivalry and competition, as individuals and groups compete for the same objects of desire. This competition can escalate into violence and even war.|
|Scapegoating and Sacrifice||In order to quell the violence of mimetic desire, societies often turn to scapegoating and sacrifice. This involves identifying a scapegoat (an individual or group) and blaming them for the violence or conflict. The scapegoat is then sacrificed or expelled, thereby restoring peace to the society.|
|Religion and Myth||Religion and myth serve as a way of channeling and controlling mimetic desire. By creating shared desires and objects of worship, religion can help to limit the potential for conflict and violence.|
|Gospel and Nonviolence||Girard’s later work focused on the Gospel message of nonviolence as a way of addressing the problem of mimetic desire and violence. He argued that Jesus’ message of forgiveness and nonviolence was a powerful antidote to the cycle of violence and revenge that characterizes human societies.|
This table is not exhaustive and that Girard’s work is complex and multifaceted. However, these key ideas provide a general overview of some of the main themes and contributions of his work.