It is striking to see that major contemporary social problems are discussed by philosophers (and others) in a way that leaves everybody unsatisfied, but that no one seems to be able to avoid. That way is the “we must” way. Example : “according to my theory, we must create new ways to integrate technology in society”. Or “if we consider this hypothesis valid, one must establish an urgent criticism of this and that”. 

The “we must” syndrome is widespread. It is present in almost every conclusion of every article dealing with urgent matters, such as ecological problems or risk protection. And it always seems to be accepted as a logical way to talk about those problems : everybody wants solutions, why else are we thinking ?

But the “we must” bears a lot more than the weight of an innocent (and well-informed) recommendation. It is the consequence of the very structure of thinking prevailing in modernity. And that structure can be regarded as sacrificial, or more precisely ritual.

The ritual nature of that kind of explanation or normativity (“we must do this”) lies in the fact that it calls to an abstract “we” for the one part, and that is assumes that the obligation or action called for plays the role of a Solution with a capital S. 

The we : this structure of argumentation refers to a third actor, not the author, not the experts or politicians, or you and me, but a “we” that is a given. This third actor (not you, not me, “we”) is projected : it refers to a sense of community, to a global social subject that would be at the source of action. It established the existence of “collective action”, probably because we all think it does exist and we all think we have seen its effects throughout history. But the nature of this collective action is not provided - it is set as a sort of transcendent element to the situation. “We”, the transcendent “we”, has to do something. In “Girardian terms”, this is positive scapegoating.

The must : this part of the argumentation suggests in its very essence that there is a mechanical reality that we can use to perceive and control the problem. IF we do this, THEN we will address the problem. Hence we must. The problem in using this category of obligation is that is cuts the reflexion off the elements of the situation not anticipated by the rationality at work to talk about it. In other terms, it gives the impression that there is a certain way to address a particular problem while using the rationality first used to describe it as a problem. If we see violence and describe it as such, and consequently identify a cause to it, and enforce norms to control it, we believe we have controlled violence. But it may be that violence is re-emerging under new forms that are invisible to the perception that first described it. It escapes the “frame”, the mindset used at once. Here too, the category of obligation reinforces the positive scapegoating of the argumentation - there would be, somewhere, sometime, the answer to it all

This is all interesting in one respect : it shows that the very way language and reason (the logos) were built by mankind are somehow designed to hide the action of scapegoating at a very fundamental level. Not only did culture hide the actual victim of a real sacrifice, but it also incorporated structures of thinking orienting the creation of concepts and categories used to perceive reality in that way.

The way we think is oriented in explaining all but the very fact that it has a lot of trouble not imagining transcendent (hence contradictory) answers to major questions. We could suggest that this is especially the case for “important questions”, defined as the problems resulting from the huge increase of mimetic rivalry of our world (economy, industry, agriculture, technology). It seems that our thinkers have to see everything in those situations but the fact that they are the symptom of that mimetic rivalry. Maybe because it would deprive our civilization of its last effective ritual (consumerism and the destruction of nature) ?

2 years ago
  1. thegirardreader posted this