I read a quote from Rene Girard in Tim Wu’s book “The Attention Merchants” that slapped me in my face – about imitation and how civilized humans are in a state of “mimesis” – so I went to Amazon and selected “Things Hidden Since The Foundation of The World” – a deep dive into imitation, victimage, sacrifice and their central role in human civilization.
Written in an interview form between two distinguished psychoanalysts, Girard unpacks the anthropological foundation of his mimetic theory, explains it’s implicit and explicit effects on the fabric of our Western World, and explains briefly how to overcome an endless cycle of tension & destruction, which at the time of the book, 1988, was running full-steam.
From the flap – “Girard’s point of departure is what he calls “mimesis,” the conflict that arises when human rivals compete to differentiate themselves from each other, yet succeed only in becoming more and more alike. At certain points in the life of a society, according to Girard, this mimetic conflict erupts into a crisis in which all difference dissolves in indiscriminate violence. In primitive societies, such crises were resolved by the “scapegoating mechanism,” in which the community, en masse, turned on an unpremeditated victim. The repression of this collective murder and its repetition in ritual sacrifice then formed the foundations of both religion and the restored social order.”
The connections from Girard’s mimetic influence to marketing and our quest to elicit behaviors and push more and more people to buy our stuff are obvious.
Here are a few quotable gems!!
“The value of an object grows in proportion to the resistance met in acquiring it. Even if there’s no prestige to the object, rivalry will bring prestige to the object automatically.”
Explains why people fight over “nothing.” And how we can engineer demand for potentially useless products – the marketer’s ethical event horizon.
“Everyone is opposed to “fashion” – because everyone is endlessly deserting the reigning fashion in order to imitate what has not yet been imitated, what everybody is only beginning to imitate.”
The bleeding edge and change/change/change will always yield some marketable results because new is different is good? Dangerous thinking for longer-term strategies.
“Mimetic context plays a central role in vocations that depend on the judgments of others. Actors, performers, politicians, (marketers) those in direct contact with crowds and live off their favors – How is it possible to distinguish a manic-depressive tendency and the emotions registered by someone whose existence largely depends on the arbitrary decisions that arise from mimetic contagion?
Marketers are constantly making decisions in a vacuum, attempting to engineer desire for the faceless masses, staring at disconnected numbers, and living and dying at the whim of “the market.” One day you could make a million dollars or it could all come crashing down, one day they like the ad one day they hate it, one day the calls are coming in one day they’re not, one day the web clicks are up thanks to a green button one day they don’t like the button and clicks go down. Imagine engineering ads that continue the mimetic struggle, and in turn destroy the marketing eco-system? Seem a little manic to you?
This book was wonderful and I highly suggest it for anyone interested in religion, politics, anthropology, psychoanalysis, psychology, ethnology, marketing, advertising, living, dying, breathing, and eating. He finds a way to end it on an upbeat note – “The peace that passes human understanding can only arise on the other side of the passion for justice and judgment”
Oh – and I made a quote-movie on Girard’s thoughts on Totalitarian movements –