Rene Girard is a mythology scholar and theologian who has made a name for himself by naming what is potentially one of the most terminal spiritual diseases in western, capitalistic society: Envy.
According to Girard, humans perpetually compete with one another in an attempt to imitate certain models of appearance, behavior, and status. This constant competition would quickly degenerate into an anarchic “war of all against all” were it not for periodic episodes of “scapegoating” where the hostile energy of the community is directed toward a chosen outsider (individual or group) who is subsequently “sacrificed” for the good of the group. The sacrifice of the scapegoat temporarily releases the pent-up tension and allows this cycle, which Girard calls “the cycle of mimetic violence,” to begin again.
One could easily point to the scapegoating of Jews during the Third Reich as an example of cycles of mimetic violence in action.
I got to see this phenomenon take place firsthand on a citywide scale in Vancouver during the buildup to the 2010 Olympics. City legislators passed the notorious “Safe Streets Act” which made it illegal to panhandle anywhere within 30 feet of businesses, residences, or bus stops. In a west coast urban center of two million, is there anywhere in the city that meets these criteria?
Poverty was thus outlawed in pre-Olympic Vancouver.
In a culture that has made an unholy idol of success, failure is criminal.
Here is a link to an NPR article that documents a similar process going on in Hungary. The primary difference is that Hungary itself seems to be in a state of economic failure and the powers that be would like to attach blame to those who are least likely to have caused the collapse and least likely to defend themselves in the event of a large-scale attack: the homeless.
I find this to be an appropriate article to post this Easter weekend, as we remember the ignominious death of another sacrificial scapegoat who was unjustly made to endure the wrath of a political-religious system that could not imagine another way of being human…
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“The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”
– Anatole France