Insurrection Bandwagon

There was a recent insurrection at the United States Capitol building in Washington, DC. I won’t take any more time discussing whether this is hyperbole or real. In the end, it doesn’t matter. It’s not relevant to the solution.

From the perspective of propaganda, it’s been an effective message. It’s gotten Trump haters and supporters to view Trump as a common enemy—some of them anyway. Some people and entities can’t performatively distance themselves fast enough or scapegoat him loudly enough.

Whilst I do feel that much of the hullabaloo is performative, I’m not going to focus on the performative aspect. This serves to amplify, but it’s not the central message. Instead, I’d like to frame this through the lens of René Girard’s mimetic theory of conflict and resolution.

Adopting Girard’s vantage, we can see each of mimetic desire, scapegoating, mimetic crisis, ritual, sacrifice, and culture.

Mimetic Desire

In a social context, mimetic theory is about creating in-groups and out-groups—and intentionally so. Groups have rules, by which membership is governed. Symbols are employed to amplify belonging and compliance. At it’s core, mimetic desire employs mimesis—imitation. Monkey see, monkey do.

Here, society is the prevalent in-group. From their perspective, this is the us of the in-group versus the them of the out-group. Girard noted that us versus them is evident in many contexts—whether in the wild or otherwise—, and it can be exploited. It’s about creating a flag to rally around—in this case literally, figuratively speaking.

The mechanism of mimetic desire is to coalesce the focus on some object. From the positive dimension, the desire is to belong, but mimetic desire doesn’t have to be positive. As in this case, it can be negative. The masses have assembled for a common cause of vilifying one Donald J Trump.

Mimetic Crisis

The insurrection is the mimetic crisis. It broke the rules. It’s unclear how all of the many rules that were broken in the four preceding years were able to fly under the radar. To some extent, the US government is constructed of two nearly equal in-groups. They each belong to the institution of institutionalised government and so-called Republican ideal as an expression of modern Democracy. They share some common beliefs, but this sharing diverges dimensionally and methodologically. The telos are multi faceted, and each group prefers different facets—and the facets desired by the public are different still.

At first—to borrow from Kübler-Ross—, there was denial by the Trump-aligned party of sycophants. These Trump-aligned Republicans (read: Neoconservatives; UK: Tories) were also aligned with the outgroup, leaving them vulnerable to ostracism. Meanwhile, the Democrats (read: Liberal/Neoliberal; UK: Labour) secured the moral high-ground and control of the larger in-group. They painted themselves as the adults wearing big boy trousers (over their Pull-Ups).

Scapegoating

Scapegoating is instrumental in mimetic theory. It’s a mechanism to build solidarity and cohesion through exclusion. Narratively, it operates to distinguish acceptable behaviour versus unacceptable. In almost all instances, scapegoating is an object to project blame.1 The remaining members have received the signal.

Here, we have two entities to scapegoat 2: the insurrectionists and the Instigator in Chief, soon to be ex-president, Donald Trump.

Ritual

Ritualistically, scapegoats need to be bear the brunt of the anger of the in-group and associated friends and family. There are procedures to follow. These rituals play out in the House in the form of impeachment, and in the Senate in the form of conviction. For the uninvited guests, the traditional court system ritual

Part of the outrage is performative ritual. Certain entities are checking the boxes suggested by their PR teams. These same entities had nothing to say for the past four years as they’ve enriched themselves at the expense of the American public and world, but this was the last straw. They vowed to cut off support and funding —until they don’t, but by then no one will be any the wiser. People have both short attentions spans and memories.

There is no requirement whatsoever that rituals produce anything. As hard work is its own reward, ritual for the sake of ritual is all that’s necessary. Rituals needn’t be authentic or heartfelt. Simply mime the parts, and you’re all set. Plus, you get full credit—participation points just for playing.

Sacrifice

One ritual is to sacrifice the goats, but we need only exile the offending members. In Christian lore 3, there are actually two goats—a sacrificial goat and an emissary goat—the scapegoat. The sacrificial goat is, obviously, sacrificed—burnt offerings—, but the emissary goat was released into the wilderness, taking with it all sins and impurities. This is the excommunicated, the shunned.

Culture

Where performatism really comes in, is cultural signalling. People and other entities work overtime to signal they are on the winning side. This includes everything from Oscar-winning performances to cringeworthy Razzie-candidates. Those in the public eye tend to go overboard. It’s good to remember that an empty vessel makes the most noise.


  1. The notable exception to this scapegoat-blame relationship is the Christian Christ myth, where Jesus acted as a scapegoat but was without blame.
  2. Trump and the Scapegoat Effect, The American Conservative, David Gornoski, September 1, 2016.
    An interesting article discusses the Trump-scapegoating phenomenon that also mentions René Girard’s work.
  3. Leviticus 16:21–22

Industrial Society and Its Future

I was writing a post about cop and crime shows and fittingly commenting on cops and crime, when my girlfriend turned on Manhunt: Unabomber, a series about serial bomber Ted Kaczynski. I remember when the FBI finally caught Ted and publicised this story, but I don’t know how much of the series was dramatised versus the facts, so my comments will be on the series and not the underlying events.

I title this post after his published ‘manifesto’, Industrial Society and Its Future, but it otherwise has nothing to do with this topic or his manifesto. To me, Ted Kaczynski seems to be a contemporary Thoreau or Rousseau, a primitivist born into the wrong century.

From a philosophical position, the series depicted the perils of taking a deontological approach. Process prevailed over consequences, which resulted taking 18 years to identify and capture Kaczynski. Time and again, process and pushing paper were promoted over new methods.

criminal profiling is the astrology of forensics

As people familiar with me know, I find the discipline of psychology to be pseudoscience (or perhaps simply a parascience), and so-called criminal profiling is the astrology of forensics, which are already a bit sketchy from the start.

Television promotes the logical rationalism underlying forensic science, connecting the dots to a forgone conclusion, if only the right dots are found. As with most law enforcement and court dramas, the focus is on the good guys overcoming the bad guys. Sometimes, it’s the good cop rooting out the bad cops or the perils of a cop who crosses the line to the dark side. These shows want to show how procedural criminology is in order to dissuade people from taking this path.

Knowingly or otherwise, this is propaganda. The fact is that most crime goes unsolved. Most criminals don’t get caught. Many who get caught are not convicted. Some convicted didn’t commit the crime they have been charged with. From an economic perspective, the vast monetary value is taken by white collar professionals with MBAs not burglars and bank robbers.

Systems need people to have confidence in systems. It’s self-serving. The propaganda is important to shore up confidence in the system of law & order, but it’s analogous to slot machines in Vegas or Atlantic City or wherever. When a person wins, there are bells and lights to increase the excitement in the room. But this misses the losers. If the sound was for losers and not winners, the cacophony might be deafening.

Henry Ford failed at 7 business before succeeding

This propaganda overplays winners and concentrates focus. This is classic cognitive survivorship bias. But don’t ask about the losers. This framing isn’t limited to law enforcement. It is also employed in the prevailing Capitalist narrative, but it under advertises the fact that most entrepreneurs fail. Counter arguments are presented in the likes of Henry Ford failed at 7 business before succeeding. If you fail, just try again. It has to work out for you eventually—unless, of course, you aren’t working hard enough—not working as hard as the winners, not paying your dues.

Whilst watching, I found myself scoffing time and again. I am not a Romantic and not a Primative, so I didn’t exactly side with Kaczynski, but I definitely didn’t side with the system, even if that’s not what he was railing against.

Of interest to me was the forensic linguistics. Humourous to me was his choice of spelling. Like me, he wrote in international English. The series represented his spelling as accepted variants, but this is a US-centric position. In fact, most the the world that speaks English employes the British flavour, which is closer to international English than so-called American English, which is only spoken in the US and Central and northern South America. The rest of the world doesn’t use American English. I chose to use international English after high school. Occasionally I get comments and criticisms, but my grammatical footing is stronger than the vast majority of these. The biggest factor is that I don’t identify as an American. Rather, I am a citizen of the world. Perhaps Esperanto?

Unintentional Indoctrination

Fiction in the form of film, television, and books has an insidious propaganda effect. This effect is not necessarily conscious or intentional. In practice, it may simply be a meme as a result of prior programming.

I don’t tend to engage with much fiction, though I have in the past. I hadn’t really considered the indoctrination effects at the time. Lately, on account of my significant other, I’ve been consuming fiction via Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO, Starz, and the like. It’s mostly drivel, in my opinion, but I like to spend time with her, and we can connect discussing plot lines and such over a shared experience.

I find the repetition of facile but culturally prevailing themes such as right and wrong, good and evil, heroes and villains, the power of community and the detriment of the individual, except for the rugged individual, who prevails against all odd.  

These shows propagate pop-psychology beliefs and over-simplify complexity to create a digestible narrative, but which is the equivalent of eating refined white bread instead of whole grains.

My point is not that the writers are seeking to influence the masses, it’s just to point out that this is the case. People view this, and use it to calibrate their own believe systems, but it’s a recursive, self-referential model—an echo chamber. I haven’t done any investigation or research into whether people have already made this connection. I will if I get the time.

One might argue that a counter model would not be well-received, and a goal of most fiction is to gain an audience and earn some money, so give the people what they are asking for and don’t make them think about their worldview. Besides, a single film or series is likely to challenge ones prevailing filters anyway. Even if someone were to create an anti-theme, cognitive dissonance may just rationalise it as a statement, so satire rather than objective criticism.

We do have Absurdist authors, like Franz Kafka, Donald Barthelme, or even Kurt Vonnegut, who rather point out absurd situations in life and some possible speculative fictions, but these Post-Modern writers are accepted, though arguably not widely consumed, save for intellectuals and their quasi-counterparts.

If I had more time, I’d document a few examples, but these shows are typically difficult to sit through once casually let alone carefully dissect. Perhaps, I’ll do this for the sake of science.