Real freedom can only occur when our leaders are courageous and skilled enough to forego the seduction of scapegoating and where everyday citizens see their unwitting roles in the very decline of social order that they most fear.
Each year, July 4th represents not just an opportunity to celebrate the birth of this nation but to reflect on the progress we are making in this grand experiment. This year I was particularly introspective, trying my best to remain hopeful and grateful amidst the very real challenges and divisions we face as a country. In an attempt to make sense of it all, I found myself returning to the work of René Girard, a French writer and philosopher of social science. He is most famous for his theories of mimetic desire and the scapegoat mechanism. Girard believed that human behavior is driven by an unrelenting desire for what others have. This desire can lead to socially beneficial cycles of competition, but since it can never fully be met, it will inevitably result in intense rivalry and a violent breakdown of the social order. The historical solution to this cyclical crisis has always been the identification of an external scapegoat. The sacrifice of the scapegoat provides enough relief for a temporary cessation of conflict, until the threat of violence returns and the cycle starts over again. I believe Girard offers us a way to understand, and perhaps address, the current state of affairs in this country. Look no further than TikTok and Instagram, and you will see a society obsessed with getting ahead and looking good. In fact, some have argued that the virality of social media platforms is itself a byproduct of mimetic desire. This has come at a tremendous cost, as we have neglected to retain the simple and slower rituals of family and community – a loss, I believe, that lies at the heart of much of the conservative movement's frustration, however misdirected and misplaced this frustration can be. Today, we find ourselves trapped in a Girardian cycle with each end of the political spectrum unconsciously allowing itself to fall into the predictable trap of seeking a convenient scapegoat to maintain social order. Yet this strategy will never work. It never has. Rather, we would do well to heed Girard’s main and most misunderstood contribution. The only way out, Girard argued, is to lay bare the often-hidden scapegoat mechanism. Once revealed, the genuine work of healing and reconciling as a country is possible. Real freedom can only occur when our leaders are courageous and skilled enough to forego the seduction of scapegoating and where everyday citizens see and relinquish their unwitting roles in the very decline of social order that they most fear. The real Declaration of Independence of our times thus lies in liberating oneself from the obsessive need to have what others have and to scapegoat others when those needs are inevitably unmet. Tuesday Tips