Isaac Gomes – Kolkata

In the context of the on-going Afghanistan imbroglio, Anandabazar Patrika Bengali editorial of 28th August mentioned, "Mimetic Theory" a book written by the French Historian, philosopher of social science and polymath Rene Girard (25 December 1923-04 November 2015).  


According to Mr Girard: "Man is the creature who does not know what to desire, and he turns to others in order to make up his mind. We desire what others desire because we imitate their desires." I am sure Mr Girard put women in the same bracket as men in the way they think. He said we may think that all our thoughts or desires are of our own free will but in reality we are allowing others’ desires or behavioural pattern make an imprint on us. `Others' could be a role model – a movie star, a sportsperson, a statesman, a businessperson or even a community or cult which makes an indelible imprint on mindset. The problem occurs when our unified desire is to grab the same object by fair means or foul going by the credo "All is fair in love and war." In the process we become each other’s enemy.  Envy, resentment and conflict are the inevitable fallouts of this drive toward mimesis. Conflict occurs whenever two or more "mimetic rivals" want the same thing, which only one person can have at a time. It might be a prime ministership or chief ministership (the recent Chhattisgarh case), or a lover.  The editorial cited the Soviet Union which had captured Afghanistan in December 1979. To oust Soviet Union, its arch rival, the US joined hands with Saudi Arabia and ISI (Pakistan’s intelligence service), handpicked Talibans, nurtured them mainly on Pakistan soil and trained them on advanced weapons of destruction. The funds for the entire operation were largely routed through Pakistan. Besides US funds,  opium plantation and production of illicit drugs therefrom gave the Talibans the hard cash.  By February 1989 US had ensured complete withdrawal of the Soviet Union and its subsequent disintegration into small nation states in December 1991.

Pakistan denied entry to about 5,000 Afghans at the Spin Boldak crossing on Wednesday. (AP/File)

Pakistan denied entry to about 5,000 Afghans at the Spin Boldak crossing on Wednesday. (AP/File)


Following 9/11 strike on the twin towers and its demolition in 2001, the US army immediately invaded Afghanistan with all its might to ostensibly hunt down Osama Bin Laden, kingpin of Al-Queda. Osama was annihilated on 2nd May 2011 in Abbottabad, Pakistan but US continued to occupy Afghanistan till recently.  Both the Soviet Union and USA competed against each other to get hold of the same prize – Afghanistan.  Both had to leave Afghanistan in ignominy, US with greater humiliation for all its big mouth and bravado.  


The key to Mr Girard's anthropological theory is Scapegoat Mechanism which means societies/ countries unify their imitative desires to collectively destroy an agreed upon Scapegoat. In this case the scapegoat is Afghanistan and earlier scapegoats were Iraq and Syria where two major world powers US and Russia played in tandem.  Just as cumulative desires compete for the same object, violence tends to converge on the same victim. The violence of all against all results in the violence of all against one. 


"When we describe human relations, we lie," Mr Girard said. "We describe them as normally good, peaceful and so forth, whereas in reality they are competitive, in a war-like fashion." Mimetic theory helps a society or a country analyse the causes of conflict, violence and the rampant use of scapegoating by individuals or communities and countries.  


On a societal level, such conflict seeks a release by identifying a scapegoat. A third party—often a foreigner, a president/prime minister, someone who is differently-abled or a woman —is blamed and demonized for having caused the conflict. Scapegoats are not seen as innocent victims; they are seen as the cause of the disorder. The calls for the sacrificial victim reach a crescendo through mob frenzy engineered by vested interests (Jesus’ crucifixion masterminded by the priestly class). The mob which follows herd mentality prevails. The victim is killed, exiled or pilloried. Rivals reconcile, and peace & unity are restored, once the spoils are mutually worked out in advance by vested interests, as the US, Russia and China are now doing.  To them the Afghans are agreed upon sacrificial lambs as were the common people (including innocent children) of Iraq and Syria and also the hapless victims of 2002 Gujarat Pogrom to suit the political expediency of the  then political dispensation of Gujarat.


Mr Rene Girard’s contention was: Religion is not the cause of violence.  While Religion may not be the cause of violence, aren't several religious leaders the root cause of most of the communal violences?  He also said that Christianity is the best antidote to violence. If this is true, then why do Christian-dominated countries manufacture, stockpile and export weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear arsenal? It's the USA which has according to the international media, left behind USD 83 billion worth of sophisticated weapons, for the Talibans to make merry in killing ordinary Afghans and also sell them at zero-cost-huge-profits to other terrorist groups, Pakistan included.


By the way, do our food habits (vegan or non-vegetarian) have any correlation to envy and violence? The 2002 mayhem (paradox?) of Gujarat which is officially a vegetarian and dry state is worth introspection. 





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