Monday, April 12, 2021
Posted On April 12, 2021 | 0 comments
Here are a few mimetic things to kickstart the week:
🎈👀👀 The Cult of Experts
Jesse Singal’s recent piece in the Saturday Wall Street Journal (“The False Promise of Quick Fix Psychology”) is adapted from his book The Quick Fix: Why Fad Psychology Can’t Cure Our Social Ills. Singal never mentions the word mimesis (maybe he thinks it’s fad psychology…), but he does mention replication. According to the popular narrative, the problem with pop psychology is that it’s not “replicable” science. But most people care far less about replicability than scientists (or journalists like Singal) do. A person gifted with rhetorical skills or someone who has been commanding a Clubhouse stage for months is perceived to have a certain level of authority that might be totally untethered from the level of their actual knowledge. It is mimetically-derived authority. There are real experts, but there are also mimetically-chosen experts—people perceived to be experts because enough people seem to think they are (or an algorithm leads you to believe that people do because the person mysteriously has 3.1 million followers on the app.) The social proof serves as a kind of shortcut from having to think for yourself. In the current Hot Takeonomy, there’s almost nothing more important than simply getting a few of the right people to say you’re an expert—in damn near anything. Others will follow. People aren’t looking for scientific replicability; they’re looking for a model.
🎈👀👀 Mimetic Value
The mimetic value that we tacitly ascribe to certain people is impossible to quantify but matters far more than the science itself for the vast majority of people. Those models are the criterion by which the science is judged. Say, for example, that you believe Nassim Taleb is a model of what a smart, witty, auto-didact and non-Intellectual-Yet-Idiot (IYI) should be. You may even secretly (or not-so-secretly) aspire to be more like him. If so, you are going to care far more about what he has to say about the coronavirus than the thousands of scientific reports that you don’t understand and don’t have time to read. He becomes the key to understanding what is good science and what is bad science. A mimetic model becomes our principle of interpretation, or hermeneutical key, to the rest of reality. That is why these models—and the Cult of Experts—are so dangerous. TED doesn’t just curate “ideas worth spreading”; they curate models, they make “experts.” The mimetic value they manufacture may well be detached from the objective value of the ideas themselves, but it is not irrational—it follows the logic of the social process we know as mimesis.
“Since modern man has no way of knowing what is going on beyond himself, since he cannot know everything, he would become lost in a world as vast and technically complex as ours, if he had really no one to guide him…he must rely on other people nevertheless, more people than ever as a matter of fact. They are the experts, the people more competent than we are in innumerable fields of endeavor. The role of our subjective experience, therefore, is more restricted than it seems. All it can hope to do, really, when we are in trouble, is to direct us to the right experts. The modern world is one of experts. They alone know what is to be done. Everything boils down to choosing the right expert.” —René Girard, in Resurrection from the Underground
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