Ah Election Day! I’m not even in America and I can feel the hope in the air! Maybe it was that, or maybe it was the numerous Facebook posts I saw of stickers people got from voting as well as numerous others encouraging me to go vote. I’m not sure which it is, you can decide!
One thing I realized this morning however, is that American politics are an amazing example of mimetic realism (more commonly referred to as mimetic theory). What is mimetic realism you ask? Well I’m glad you asked! Now I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject by ANY means, so if you really want to know the ins and outs of it I suggest reading Rene’ Girard (the father of mimetic theory), or Michael Hardin (who touches on it a lot in his book The Jesus Driven Life). I will try and do my best to sum it up here, before showing the obvious effects of it I see in American politics.
Mimetic realism began as the theory that all individuals mimic one another. We are the combination of what we see around us. We learn by mimicking. It began as a theory but in the nineties scientists discovered mirror neurons. So in your brain if you decide that you want to wave goodbye to me, certain neurons would fire telling your arm to wave. This we’ve known for a long time. The more recent discovery is that if you see me waving goodbye to you, those same neurons in your brain will fire, just as if you did the waving yourself. Through this process, children learn to speak and walk and all sorts of other actions taking them from docile babies into adulthood.
Now, where it gets crazy is that as adults we continue to do this, with very different consequences. Rene’ Girard is a Christian and I believe, (based on what I’ve read about him from others), that he would say we were created to imitate God. However, we all like sheep have gone astray. Instead of mimicking Jesus, we mimic the principalities and powers of this dark world. So we come together with those who are “like us” while scapegoating the other, the one who is different, the outsider.
We can see this in something as simple as sports. If there are ten New York Yankees fans in a room and one Boston Red Sox fan, the Yankees fans, though they may hate each other, will come together over their mutual distaste for the Boston Red Sox. This may be a silly example but it’s just a common one to help you understand the idea. Obviously in other realms the scapegoating principle carries far more serious, darker consequences.
This brings me to American politics. Surely other countries have problems in politics as well but I’m American, I see my own culture more clearly than I see any other culture. Our two party system, in my opinion, leaves us extremely vulnerable to mimesis and scapegoating. For me, I am vehemently opposed to capital punishment. I am just as vehemently opposed to abortion. There are several other issues where I would agree with those on the left, as well as several where I would agree with those on the right. The problem for me is, politically, there is no one in power representing my belief system.
Why is this? Surely there are people who believe that both capital punishment and abortion are wrong. (DISCLAIMER: let’s not get caught up in the individual example issues I’m using. I am only using them because they are the first left and right issues that popped in my head. The point is more about having strong beliefs which fall on either side of the left/right divide in American politics). If there are people who believe that both abortion and capital punishment are wrong, how come these people aren’t prominent in American politics?
My belief, is that mimetic theory is hard at work in each political party. Ron Paul is a great example. He did not fall in line with the overarching Republican agenda, and though he could have been a strong candidate for the party and won much of the younger conservative vote, he was scapegoated and forced out of the race. I read an article this morning about the Republican governor of Ohio who pushed to extend healthcare for those who could not afford it and is in the process of going from a bright political star to a scapegoat of the party. I am sure the Democrats have their own people who haven’t fully fallen into party lines so have therefore been scapegoated by their fellow Democrats.
You see, having an enemy other brings us together. The most cohesive this country has been in my lifetime, was right after 9/11. We were united in our desire to track down and destroy the enemy. Many people have heaped blame upon then President Bush for what happened after 9/11, but I would submit to you that he was just another sheep caught in the wave of mimetic anger against “those people” who set themselves up as enemies against our empire. Osama Bin Laden became the scapegoat by which we could all come together against. This is why upon news of his death American’s were dancing in the streets, political, racial and socioeconomic lines disappeared as we celebrated the death of our common enemy.
The problem is it never lasts long. In the immediate days following, people backed up across their party lines as we argued over whether Bush or Obama should get the credit for taking out our public enemy number one.
We are a nation divided, nearly right down the middle. As long as we like sheep follow along with the American political system which whispers the evil mantra of “choose the lesser of two evils” in our ears, we will never see true change and we will stay divided right down the middle.
Call me a conspiracy theorist, or maybe just a cynic, but I believe that the powers that be love the divide in America. It keeps these same two groups in power and keeps the money pouring in. Choosing the lesser of two evils is still evil. If we want change we must stop buying into that same old façade.
I’ll be honest, I have no faith in the power of politics to bring change to our culture. My hope is for changes in the hearts of individuals. I pray for our leaders. I pray that they would be compassionate, that they would see the vulnerability of the unborn child, and recognize that no human is beyond redemption, no matter what they’ve done.
Though I pray for our leaders, I recognize that my message is not to them. It is to you. I seriously doubt any political candidate ever reads this blog. But you are reading it. You can make the choice not to go with the flow of political mimesis in our nation. You can make a difference. I am not saying for you to rise up and agree with me. That would only be another flow of mimesis. What I am saying is that we try and remove ourselves from political lines and refuse to buy into their “lesser of two evils” jargon which keeps us trapped. Think for yourself, decide what you believe passionately in, and don’t let fear or cynicism push you back into their lines.
Step out of line. Political parties cannot contain the beauty that is contained within your mind. You are far more complex than they want you to be. You are far more intelligent than they give you credit for. You have been fearfully and wonderfully made. Prove that to the world.