In baseball a twin killing is a double play: two outs on one batted ball. “Two for the price of one,” as the great Detroit Tigers great sportscaster Ernie Harwell called it. Double plays are a legitimate part of baseball. But there is another kind of twin killing that has been a part of humanity until close to the present day that is not legitimate: the killing of twins.
Why was one, and sometimes, both twins been killed in early societies? René Girard suggests that it was the fear of what he called “mimetic doubles,” two people united through conflict. After the social chaos was resolved by collective violence, societies created structures to prevent the repeat of the chaos as much as possible. Twins, especially identical twins, were too much of an image of the indifferentiation that lead to conflict. They could not be allowed to live. During the time of chaos, indifferentiation was precisely the problem as differences between people melted in the heat of conflict. It is obvious to us now that these babies were innocent victims of society’s fear of mimetic doubles, but in today’s society where social differences are dissolving, perhaps we should fear, not twin babies, but mimetic doubles.
The authors of Genesis had no illusions about the danger of mimetic doubles. Brothers paired off against each other are the driving force of the book, culminating in Joseph’s brothers ganging up on him. Jacob and Esau were twins. The conflict that kept them apart for many years finally resolved in an uneasy reconciliation as Esau turned out to be more forgiving for the wrongs done him than Jacob ever believed possible.
Lois Lowry’s chilling dystopia The Giver also has a twin killing. The society is shown to be peaceful but colorless. (Literally so, as we learn when the protagonist, Matthew, begins to see colors.) It becomes apparent that everything is designed to prevent conflict. There is no courtship or sex; medication stifles the latter and babies are grown in test tubes, implanted in adolescent girls, and distributed to couples, each of whom gets one boy and one girl. Not surprisingly, the cost of this “peaceful” society is high. When Matthew is apprenticed to the Giver, he learns that it is his job to keep track of everything that is happening via TV monitors but to do nothing unless asked, as the job is consultative only. A day or two before Matthew makes his escape, he watches his own father “release” one of two twin babies with a lethal injection, the normal way of releasing somebody. (The elderly are so released at a certain age after a celebration of their lives.)
Much else is shown to be wrong with this society but the killing of a twin shows clearly enough that preserving the peace by squelching mimetic doubles inevitably institutionalizes violence, even if, as in Lowry’s society, it is kept invisible. René Girard would argue that one of many effects of the Cross and Resurrection is that we don’t kill twins and we have the freedom to build God’s kingdom where we actualize the freedom shown by Esau to forgive and then later by Joseph to his brothers. It is no longer possible for social structures to contain the potential violence of mimetic doubles in conflict. It is possible, and in our times, necessary to renounce conflict, even if it means forgiving the theft of a blessing. This renunciation leads to its own blessings. After all, Esau had done pretty well for himself while Jacob was away.