René Girard's Mimetic Theory - Lecture 1 - Deepstash

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René Girard

René Girard

A French philosopher he developed a unique worldview based on the concept of mimetic desire. According to him, human beings are constantly seeking to imitate and emulate the desires of others, and this process of imitation drives much of human behavior and social dynamics.

His main idea is that desire is always mediated through the desires of others, and that this process of imitation creates conflicts and rivalries that are fundamental to human society.

He is gaining a lot of praise recently with lots of Silicon Valley luminaries listing him as a major intellectual influencer. 


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Mimetic Desire

Girard observed that our desires are social. We rarely desire an object for it's intrinsic functional qualities. We usually use the objects as proxies for an identity we envy. 

Desire are not fixed or innate, but rather constantly changing & under the influence of the people we encounter.

We can see this in advertising, when we buy sneakers to be like Jordan, not to run a marathon. When we date a certain person because others will see us a certain way and so on.


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Spirited Animals

Spirited Animals

For Girard, we are different than animals because of our desires, our myths, our lies. We invent stories, we go to war for abstract concepts etc. This is a the object of his psychological focused philosophy. 

Similar to how class was the nexus of socialism, how casts worked in Hinduism, or rationality in liberalism. 


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Girardian Scapegoating

Girardian Scapegoating

According to Girard, is a social mechanism that arrises from a cataclysmic event. A troubled society murders an "innocent" victim (blamed for all evils) & thus gains cathartic release and gains new new Gods. This event is dramatised, captured in myth and then translated back into the society in the form of rituals & prohibitions

Ex: Julius Caesar is ritually killed as he is blamed for the fall of the Republic. However, as his nephew becomes emperor, Caesar becomes a God. And later on an institution emulated by all rulers


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The Uniqueness of Christian Scapegoating

The Uniqueness of Christian Scapegoating

The Christian mythology follows the same Girardian arc: civil unrest in Judea, Jesus crucified as a scapegoat, turned into a God, institutionalized through the church. 

However, the unique element is that the story is told for the perspective of the victim, rather than of the accusers. In the Bible, the victim is innocent, the crowd was mistaken.

It is this unique care for the victim that spills into our modern worldview and institutions: from human rights to work ethic. In a sense we all live in a Christian society even if we don't consider ourselves as Christians. 


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The mechanism to protect against violence

For Girard, violence is natural. But modern day seems quite peaceful. And Girard credits 2 institutions:

  • capitalism: which Girard sees it as a status seeking game more than a rational transfer of resources.
  • laws: a set of institutions that mediates disputes and acts as a monopoly on violence 

For Girard capitalism is this stew of violent energies that needs to be contained through laws. One can not function without the other. 


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It's no wonder the European aristocracy went into business as soon as heroes and warriors went out of fashion.



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Life-long learner. Passionate about leadership, entrepreneurship, philosophy, Buddhism & SF. Founder @deepstash.


Basic Girardian ideas beautifully presented by a young philosopher, Jonathan Bo, in conversation with David Perell.

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