Truth is an important matter but one we often take for granted. We often think we know it or, like Socrates, know that we don’t know it. We often treat truth like the air we breathe. We assume it’s there and we’re taking it in every time we kick a stone in front of us. The question of truth can easily make us as cynical as Pilate.
Although we might cavalierly think of truth as the air we breathe, we think of truth as an individual matter with each of us, as individuals, kicking a stone. I should talk—or write—I do the same thing myself out of force of habit.
Girard’s teaching on mimetic desire puts the question of truth into a whole new ball park where a new game is played by different rules. More accurately, Girard is pointing out that we have been in the wrong ball park, playing the wrong game with the wrong rules since the dawn of civilization. We could dismiss Girard as a cranky Frenchman and me as a quixotic Benedictine monk, or we could look around at this new ball park and new game to see what riches are there, riches that actually have been gathered for us by many people who have helped Girard and the rest of us see this old game for what it is so that we can play a new game. Sort of like new skins for new wine.
In this new ball game, we realize that desire is not individual, but mimetic. That is, we copy the desires of other people and they copy ours. This simple but subtle truth means that we do not, cannot, see anything in the world as me, myself and I seeing this thing, but we only see things through the desires of other people. Take something simple like shoes. A shoe is a shoe is a shoe. But that’s not the way it works out. Some shoes are fashionable while some are not. A friend of mine told me how the shoes his son wore to school were a social problem because they weren’t the style other kids wore. Not surprisingly, the shoes in style were rather expensive, forcing my friend to choose between added financial hardship and hampering his son’s social life.
The old Negro spiritual says: “all God’s chillin’ got shoes.” But do they? If they did, they wouldn’t be such a big deal in Heaven. The bare feet of black slaves is a result of mimetic desire that lead many white people who had the money and social power to own other people and choose whether or not they would have shoes.
This is the first of a series of blog posts on this topic.
Continue on to Mimetic Desire and Truth (2)
For those unfamiliar with the idea, see Mimetic Desire and Mimetic Rivalry.