Are humans the mimetic animal? Girard says yes.
We model ourselves with respect to others, we desire what others desire, and we do what others do. This is the greatest human virtue and the most insidious human flaw…
The Scapegoat :
According to Girard, human society undergoes a multi-step universal cycle.
- A model desires an object
- Us, the subject, blindly desires the object as we mimic the model
- Mutual desire leads to mimetic rivalry
- Conflict is resolved by designating a single person as the Scapegoat
- The cycle of desire resumes again.
Society, over time, becomes less and less differentiated under the drive of our mimetic tendencies. This similarity between each and one of us inevitably leads to chaos, and later, conflict. A Scapegoat is selected, who is blamed for all the chaos, social order is rebuilt and differences established again. This, to Girard, is the mechanism underlying all sacrifice.
The Scapegoat mechanism underlies all sacrificial rites and cults, however, for Girard, Christianity is fundamentally different. For him, Christianity exposes the ‘Scapegoat Mechanism’, shuns it, and protects the victim.
In most sacrificial myths, even if the Scapegoat is at last deified, he/she is still deemed guilty. This is because the previous chaos from mimetic rivalry can only be resolved if everyone really believes that the Scapegoat is guilty. An example is the Oedipus Myth. In the myth, Oedipus becomes the guardian hero of the land after his death, but his guilt is not washed away. It is deemed certain that Oedipus killed his father and slept with his mother. In contrast, Christ is sacrificed, but he is completely innocent, he had been Scapegoated, and the the fact is revealed blatantly in the text. Christianity denounces scapegoating, whilst all other cults exalt it.
I don’t know if I accept all of Girard’s theory, but I that he had discovered something deeply hidden in human nature – that we’re not as autonomous as we’d like to think; that our desire is not as rational as we’d like to reckon; that the blames we lay on others are not as justified as we’d like to believe; and that, underlying conflicts is not difference, but our similarity.