The nature of sacrifice
A short review of David Cayley's Ideas of René Girard
Given that World War III seems to be well under way it seemed a good time to read or reread a few studies of the subject of violence. To reduce the risk of punching the wall at how stupid humanity is….
Since I can never explore a subject without drilling several layers down the onion I started with Slavoj Žižek (Violence: Six Sideways Reflections) only to break away quite quickly in favour of Erich Fromm's The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (about one-quarter through, it's good) and then alighted upon this superb summary of René Girard's ideas on mimetic violence, sacrifice, and scapegoating.
This text can be found on David Cayley's website (titled The Scapegoat) and is a transcript of five radio broadcasts, featuring Girard and several thinkers influenced by him, and Cayley himself.
The central idea of mimesis as foundation of violence, and the ritualised expiation a scapegoat can provide, is highly pertinent and explained very lucidly. The last part of the book, Competition For Victim Status, is also massively relevant to our troubled times of elite performativity and Woker Than Thou bullshit. But the whole book is.
Even though this is very clearly a dilution, or synthesis, of many years of thought and writing, there are some sections that are tough going. Struggle through, I'd suggest, because mostly the ideas are clear, and very persuasive.
I think I'll probably listen to the podcasts at some point, but more importantly will read some of the original texts.
Even if you never get that far do try this because it might just turn some of your previous ideas completely upside down.