Mimetic Desire and Truth (5)

???????????????????????????????????????????In my last post, I showed how the premiere place for perceiving truth, the place of the victim, has been distorted. The problem is, if a person in in the place of the victim deals with it by making victims of others, as so many abused people have done, then that person is no longer in the place of the victim and has lost “the intelligence of the victim.” Unfortunately, such people are so caught up in feeling entitled to make victims of others and with the mimetic rivalry I mentioned as to who is the greatest victim, that do not know that they do not have the victim’s “intelligence.”

The revelation of the true victim in the Gospels is very different. Jesus was not only the innocent victim; Jesus was the forgiving victim. No wishing for the limbs of his enemies to tremble or shake or that they be swept away, greenwood or dry, as the Psalmist wished for him! It is Jesus’ forgiveness which gives him a true view of humanity so that he saw the potential for Matthew and Zacchaeus and, after his Resurrection, of Paul when nobody else did. The place of the victim, then, is the place of truth when the victim is forgiving.

When the victim is forgiving, as Jesus was, is, and will be forever, then mimetic desire takes a sharp turn away from rivalry and moves again in the expansive direction of sharing. The forgiving victim does not pose as the greatest of victims; the forgiving victim only wants healing for everybody, including and, especially for the victimizers. The desire that the forgiving victim shares is a desire for the well-being of all, a desire that does not allow for rivalry as rivalry would undermine this desire of universal healing.

In a sense, we have come full circle from where I started with expansive mimetic desire that initiates young people into food and games and art and many other things that are good and desirable. This original mimetic desire, if we wish to call it that, is akin to the good of creation. We were created with mimetic desire for precisely this purpose. The universal fall into mimetic rivalry and its ensuing social crises is Original Sin. (Note the mimetic rivalry between Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel and humanity’s rivalry with God by building the Tower of Babel.) The recovery of expansive mimetic desire through Jesus the forgiving victim is restorative and redemptive. St. Paul said repeatedly the Christ’s redemption did not return us to original good creation; it brought us to a whole higher level of well-being that is grounded in forgiveness.

Since truth is grounded in creation, it follows, as Thomas Aquinas demonstrated, that the truth of things resides in the mind of God. That is, God sees what God has made and knows the depths of all that God has made in all truth. Insofar as we humans see things as God sees them, we see them truly. Our growing awareness of mimetic desire, however, shows us that seeing the truth is not a solitary endeavor; it is a corporate matter. Only through the expansive mimetic desire of sharing what is desirable can we, together, have a reasonably accurate apprehension of truth. Since truth is grounded in God, God becomes a partner in this corporate effort. Given the fallenness of humanity through rivalrous mimetic desire, it is through the forgiving victim that we can recover a vision of the world as God sees it in all its profound desirability.

See Mimetic Desire and Truth Series

See Mimetic Desire and Mimetic Rivalry for all posts on this topic

Mimetic Desire and Truth (1)

eucharist1Truth 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.