Monday, July 12, 2021


The good, the bad, and the quotable:

Positive Mimesis: Adam Grant just published a piece in the Sunday Review titled “There a Specific Kind of Joy We’ve Been Missing.” He essentially names this specific joy as the thing that the great sociologist Émile Durkheim termed, a century ago, collective effervescence: “the synchrony you feel when you slide into rhythm with strangers on a dance floor, colleagues in a brainstorming session, cousins at a religious service or teammates on a soccer field,” writes Grant. This kind of joy has been largely missing from our lives during the pandemic. There’s a serious problem with Durkheim’s conception, though: he had failed to distinguish two different kinds of effervescence at the heart of the religious rituals and collective rites. René Girard made this distinction. Moments of effervescence were not just occasions to feel good and dance; they were also at the heart of the scapegoat mechanism. Negative collective effervescence is what helped mobs form during times of rupture or fundamental social change in which collective violence was justified.  So we should be very careful. Not all “effervescence” is good. I think what Grant is trying to get at, though, is a kind of positive mimetic contagion—for instance, when a group has a contagious bout of laughter run through it at a backyard BBQ—that, no doubt, has been missing all too much. Happiness is not an individual pursuit but an inter-dividual one.

Negative Mimesis: This piece by JTango on “Hacking the U.S. News College Rankings Algorithm” is excellent, if not depressing, because it shows the negative mimetic cycle that reinforces a broken system and helps the powerful stay in power and encourages universities to make suboptimal investment decisions to boost their status and prestige rather than the quality of education they offer.


“In at most a few decades we’ll have transformed man into a repugnant little pleasure-machine, forever liberated from pain and even from death, which is to say from everything that, paradoxically, encourages us to pursue any sort of noble human aim, and not only religious transcendence.” —René Girard , in When These Things Begin


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