(Part 1 of a multi-part series)
We live a double life, civilized in scientific and technical matters, wild and primitive in the things of the soul. That we are no longer conscious of being primitive, makes our tamed kind of wildness all the more dangerous. – Hans Von Hentig
The natural order is unraveling. Plagues, floods, droughts, political unrest, riots, and economic crises strike one upon the next, before society has recovered from the last. Cracks spread in the shell of normality that encloses human life. Societies have faced such circumstances repeatedly throughout history, just as we face them today.
We would like to think we are responding more rationally and more effectively than our unscientific forebears; instead, we enact age-old social dramas and superstitions dressed in the garb of modern mythology. No wonder, because the most serious crisis we face is not new.
None of the problems facing humanity today are technically difficult to solve. Holistic farming methods could heal soil and water, sequester carbon, increase biodiversity, and actually increase yields to swiftly solve various ecological and humanitarian crises. Simply declaring a moratorium on fishing in half the world’s oceans would heal them too. Systemic use of natural and alternative healing modalities could vastly reduce Covid mortality, and reverse the (objectively more serious) plagues of autoimmunity, allergies, and addiction. New economic arrangements could easily eradicate poverty. However, what all of these easy solutions have in common is that they require agreement among human beings. There is almost no limit to what a unified, coherent society can achieve. That is why the overarching crisis of our time – more serious than ecological collapse, more serious than economic collapse, more serious than the pandemic – is the polarization and fragmentation of civil society. With coherency, anything is possible. Without it, nothing is.
The late philosopher Rene Girard believed that this has always been true: since prehistoric times, the greatest threat to society has been a breakdown in cohesion. Theologian S. Mark Heim elegantly lays out Girard’s thesis: “Particularly in its infancy, social life is a fragile shoot, fatally subject to plagues of rivalry and vengeance. In the absence of law or government, escalating cycles of retaliation are the original social disease. Without finding a way to treat it, human society can hardly begin.”
The historical remedy is not very inspiring. Heim continues:
The means to break this vicious cycle appear as if miraculously. At some point, when feud threatens to dissolve a community, spontaneous and irrational mob violence erupts against some distinctive person or minority in the group. They are accused of the worst crimes the group can imagine, crimes that by their very enormity might have caused the terrible plight the community now experiences. They are lynched.
The sad good in this bad thing is that it actually works. In the train of the murder, communities find that this sudden war of all against one has delivered them from the war of each against all. The sacrifice of one person as a scapegoat discharges the pending acts of retribution. It “clears the air.” The sudden peace confirms the desperate charges that the victim had been behind the crisis to begin with. If the scapegoat’s death is the solution, the scapegoat must have been the cause. The death has such reconciling effect, that it seems the victim must possess supernatural power. So the victim becomes a criminal, a god, or both, memorialized in myth.
The buildup of reciprocal violence and anarchy that precedes this resolution was described by Girard in his masterwork, Violence and the Sacred, as a “sacrificial crisis.” Divisions rend society, violence and vengeance escalate, people ignore the usual restraints and morals, and the social order dissolves into chaos. This culminates in a transition from reciprocal violence to unanimous violence: the mob selects a victim (or class of victims) for slaughter and in that act of universal agreement, restores social order.
The Age of Reason has not uprooted this deep pattern of redemptive violence. Reason but serves to rationalize it; industry takes it to industrial scale, and high technology threatens to lift it to new heights. As society has grown more complex, so too have the variations on the theme of redemptive violence. Yet the pattern can be broken. The first step to doing that is to see it for what it is.
In order that full-blown sacrificial crises need not repeat, an institution arose that is nearly universal across human societies: the festival. Girard draws extensively from ethnography, myth, and literature to make the case that festivals originated as ritual reenactments of the breakdown of order and its subsequent restoration through violent unanimity.
A true festival is not a tame affair. It is a suspension of normal rules, mores, structures, and social distinctions. Girard explains:
Such violations [of legal, social, and sexual norms] must be viewed in their broadest context: that of the overall elimination of differences. Family and social hierarchies are temporarily suppressed or inverted; children no longer respect their parents, servants their masters, vassals their lords. This motif is reflected in the esthetics of the holiday—the display of clashing colors, the parading of transvestite figures, the slapstick antics of piebald “fools.” For the duration of the festival unnatural acts and outrageous behavior are permitted, even encouraged.
As one might expect, this destruction of differences is often accompanied by violence and strife. Subordinates hurl insults at their superiors; various social factions exchange gibes and abuse. Disputes rage in the midst of disorder. In many instances the motif of rivalry makes its appearance in the guise of a contest, game, or sporting event that has assumed a quasi-ritualistic cast. Work is suspended, and the celebrants give themselves over to drunken revelry and the consumption of all the food amassed over the course of many months.
Festivals of this kind serve to cement social coherence and remind society of the catastrophe that lays in wait should that coherence falter. Faint vestiges of them remain today, for example in football hooliganism, street carnivals, music festivals, and the Halloween phrase “trick or treat.” The “trick” is a relic of the temporary upending of the established social order. Druidic scholar Philip Carr-Gomm describes Samhuinn, the Celtic precursor to Halloween, like this:
Samhuinn, from 31 October to 2 November was a time of no-time. Celtic society, like all early societies, was highly structured and organised, everyone knew their place. But to allow that order to be psychologically comfortable, the Celts knew that there had to be a time when order and structure were abolished, when chaos could reign. And Samhuinn was such a time. Time was abolished for the three days of this festival and people did crazy things, men dressed as women and women as men. Farmers’ gates were unhinged and left in ditches, peoples’ horses were moved to different fields…
In modern, “developed” societies today, neither Halloween nor any other holiday or culturally sanctioned event permits this level of anarchy. Our holidays have been fully tamed. This does not bode well. Girard writes:
The joyous, peaceful facade of the deritualized festival, stripped of any reference to a surrogate victim and its unifying powers, rests on the framework of a sacrificial crisis attended by reciprocal violence. That is why genuine artists can still sense that tragedy lurks somewhere behind the bland festivals, the tawdry utopianism of the “leisure society.” The more trivial, vulgar, and banal holidays become, the more acutely one senses the approach of something uncanny and terrifying.
That last sentence strikes a chord of foreboding. For decades I’ve looked at the degenerating festivals of my culture with an alarm I couldn’t quite place. As All Hallows Eve devolved into a minutely supervised children’s game from 6 to 8pm, as the Rites of Resurrection devolved into the Easter Bunny and jellybeans, and Yule into an orgy of consumption, I perceived that we were stifling ourselves in a box of mundanity, a totalizing domesticity that strove to maintain a narrowing order by shutting out wildness completely. The result, I thought, could only be an explosion.
It is not just that festivals are necessary to blow off steam. They are necessary to remind us of the artificiality and frailty of the human ordering of the world, lest we go insane within it.
Mass insanity comes from the denial of what everyone knows is true. Every human being knows, if only unconsciously, that we are not the roles and personae we occupy in the cultural drama of life. We know the rules of society are arbitrary, set up so that the show can be played out to its conclusion. It is not insane to enter this show, to strut and fret one’s hour upon the stage. Like an actor in a movie, we can devotedly play our roles in life. But when the actor forgets he is acting and loses himself so fully in his role that he cannot get out of it, mistaking the movie for reality, that’s psychosis. Without respite from the conventions of the social order and without respite from our roles within it, we go crazy as well.
We should not be surprised that Western societies are showing signs of mass psychosis. The vestigial festivals that remain today – the aforementioned holidays, along with cruise ships and parties and bars – are contained within the spectacle and do not stand outside it. As for Burning Man and the transformational music & art festivals, these have exercised some of the festival’s authentic function – until recently, when their exile to online platforms stripped them of any transcendental possibility. Much as the organizers are doing their best to keep the idea of the festival alive, online festivals risk becoming just another show for consumption. One clicks into them, sits back, and watches. In-person festivals are different. They start with a journey, then one must undergo an ordeal (waiting in line for hours). Finally you get to the entrance temple (the registration booth), where a small divination ritual (checking the list) is performed to determine your fitness to attend (by having made the appropriate sacrifice – a payment – beforehand). Thereupon, the priest or priestess in the booth confers upon the celebrant a special talisman to wear around the wrist at all times. After all this, the subconscious mind understands one has entered a separate realm, where indeed, to a degree at least, normal distinctions, relations, and rules do not apply. Online events of any kind rest safely in the home. Whatever the content, the body recognizes it as a show.
More generally, locked in, locked down, and locked out, the population’s confinement within the highly controlled environment of the internet is driving them crazy. By “controlled” I do not here refer to censorship, but rather to the physical experience of being seated watching depictions of the real, absent any tactile or kinetic dimension. On line, there is no such thing as a risk. OK, sure, someone can hurt your feelings, ruin your reputation, or steal your credit card number, but all these operate within the cultural drama. They are not of the same order as crossing a stream on slippery rocks, or walking in the heat, or hammering in a nail. Because conventional reality is artificial, the human being needs regular connection to a reality that is non-conventional in order to remain sane. That hunger for unprogrammed, wild, real experiences – real food for the soul – intensifies beneath the modern diet of canned holidays, online adventures, classroom exercises, safe leisure activities, and consumer choices.
Absent authentic festivals, the pent-up need erupts in spontaneous quasi-festivals that follow the Girardian pattern. One name for such a festival is a riot. In a riot, as in an authentic festival, prevailing norms of conduct are upended. Boundaries and taboos around private property, trespassing, use of streets and public spaces, etc. dissolve for the duration of the “festival.” This enactment of social disintegration culminates either in genuine mob violence or some cathartic pseudo-violence (which can easily spill over into the real thing). An example is toppling statues, an outright ritual substituting symbolic action for real action even in the name of “taking action.” Yes, I understand its rationale (around dismantling narratives that involve symbols of white supremacy and so forth) but its main function is as a unifying act of symbolic violence. However, this cathartic release of social tensions does little to change the deep conditions that give rise to those tensions in the first place. Thus it helps to maintain them.
I became aware of the festive dimension to riots while teaching at a university in the early 2000s. Some of my students participated in a riot following a home-team basketball victory. It started as a celebration, but soon they were smashing windows, stealing street signs, removing farmers’ gates from their hinges, and otherwise violating the social order. These violations also took on a creative dimension reminiscent of street carnivals. One student recounted making a gigantic “the finger” out of foam and parading it around town. “It was the most fun I’ve had my whole life,” he said. More than any contained, neutered holiday, this was an authentic festival seeking to be born. And it wasn’t safe. People were accidentally injured. A real festival is serious business. Normal laws and customs, morals and conventions, do not govern it. It may evolve its own, but these originate organically, not imposed by authorities of the normal, conventional order; else, it is not a real festival. A real festival is essentially a repeated, ritualized riot that has evolved its own pattern language.
The more locked down, policed, and regulated a society, the less tolerance there is for anything outside its order. Eventually but one micro-festival remains – the joke. To not take things so seriously is to stand outside their reality; it is to affirm for a moment that this isn’t as real as we are making it, there is something outside this. There is truth in a joke, the same truth that is in a festival. It is a respite from the total enclosure of conventional reality. That is why totalitarian movements are so hostile to humor, with the sole exception of the kind that degrades and mocks their opponents. (Mocking humor, such as racist humor, is in fact an instrument of dehumanization in preparation for scapegoating.) In Soviet Russia one could be sent to the Gulag for telling the wrong joke; in that country, it was also jokes that kept people sane. Humor can be deeply subversive – not only by making authorities seem ridiculous, but by making light of the reality they attempt to impose.
Because it undermines conventional reality, humor is also a primal peace offering. It says, “Let’s not take our opposition so seriously.” That is not to say we should joke all the time, using humor to deflect intimacy and distract from the roles we have agreed to play in the drama of the human social experience, any more than life should be an endless festival. But because humor acts as a kind of microfestival to tether us to a transcendent reality, a society of good humor is likely to be a healthy society that needn’t veer into sacrificial violence. And a society that attempts to confine its jokes within politically correct bounds faces the same “uncanny and terrifying” prospects as a society that has tamed its festivals. Humorlessness is a sign that a sacrificial crisis is on its way.
The loss of sanity that results from confinement in unreality is itself a Girardian sacrificial crisis, the essential feature of which is internecine violence. One might think that with little but hurt feelings at stake, online interactions would be less fraught with conflict than in-person interactions. But of course it is the reverse. One way to understand it is that absent a transcendental perspective outside the orderly, conventional realm of “life,” trivial things loom large and we start taking life much too seriously. This is not to deny the substance of our disagreements, but do we really need to go to war over them? Is the other side whose shortcomings we blame for our problems really so awful? As Girard observes, “The same creatures who are at each others’ throats during the course of a sacrificial crisis are fully capable of coexisting, before and after the crisis, in the relative harmony of a ritualistic order.”
Surveying the social media landscape, it is clear that we are indeed at each others’ throats, and there is no guarantee that that will remain a mere figure of speech as something uncanny and terrifying approaches.
Bob Tajima says
At first read this article was very interesting. I will revisit and notate it. Understanding the ways in which policing, repression and cooptation lead to increasingly explosive pressure is enlightening and important. I encourage you to continue publishing this material.
Jeff Alexander says
I work at a charter school on a seven acre property in the country in the California Central Valley with the Sierra foothills a few miles to the east. I did a high school natural landscaping class planting various native plants in the back grassy three acres or so, we had two large piles of weeds and brush. I decided to do a Burning Bird Festival as a climax celebration to the class – parents and siblings invited. We would perch a large paper origami Phoenix on top of a pile. Inside it would be an orange ceramic “heart” that fall into the flames and be hidden in the ash. A couple of days the first person to find the Phoenix heart in the ashes would get a prize (a small Amazon bought Phoenix figurine). We would have recorded music, dancing around the flames and food.
Well I had to get a burn permit, which irked this farmer’s son from the Midwest with many childhood memories of permitless burn piles. It was a journey of office visits, phone calls and online searches, blind alleys. I finally found the right person. She came out and informed me I needed to remove woody stuff as my category was only allowed to burn weeds. I took the wood off the top and left the woody brush secreted under the remaining weeds. She came out a second time okayed it and the I had to wait for a burn day. I called the next Saturday morning and it was time to burn, emailed, texted everyone last minute and out they came. I went around the burn piles putting down dabs of lighter fluid in front of the kids with barbecue lighters, some of them very young siblings and many of them for the first time started a real fire! I wore a skull cap patterned with flames and my mask (yes, all involved had to wear masks even outside per regulations) was black with a fiery phoenix blazoned across it (yes, bought on Amazon). Mild and regulated as it was our festival hit the hot spot with the folks.
Jeff Alexander says
And the two burned areas – each 10 by 30 feet will be sowed with a wildflower mix this fall to grow over the mild California winter to be blooming in the spring near the next set of burn piles for what I hope to be a school wide Burning Bird Festival with a live group of musicians leading us in dance – I’ve hired them before, they have a gift of quickly teaching group dances to families.
beautiful festival, Jeff. hope that becomes a school tradition!
ps. minus the Amazon purchases…the kids can make those things better than anything bought on Amazon! 😉
“A real festival is serious business. Normal laws and customs, morals and conventions, do not govern it.”
“That hunger for unprogrammed, wild, real experiences – real food for the soul – intensifies beneath the modern diet of canned holidays, online adventures, classroom exercises, safe leisure activities, and consumer choices.”
This essay brought back a vivid remembered sense of the return to wildness that I unearth in myself at certain moments – and these are often my own tiny festivals- dancing, making love, running in the forest over roots, and yes, protest- in a social protest or even a personal protest- when I gather up my will and say no, wait a minute, this is not going to stand- this goes against what is true. The primal scream, the bite, the deep groan, the stomp, the inspired flight, the growl and roar, the hiss and clench and claw, the piercing and the sending forth of my will. Awakening the wild in ourselves is a lot of fun and deeply needed to feel alive, human.
These feelings it stirred in me, and your brilliant relation of our need to riot to the degree to which we sterilise and deaden what was once our festivals for me encapsulated the heart of the essay. Thanks for enlivening my day.
Donna Stafford says
Yes! I yearn for the WILD! The Wild is dangerous, exciting, ALIVE!
That the end of festivals and holidays are a precursor to something ominous in our future is a sobering thought. A recent headline noted that a community board wants to do away with the named holidays and just call them “days off.” I feel fortunate to have grown up in a small Midwestern farming community in the 1950s and 60s. Halloween still included tricks along with the treats. We would dress up in some homemade costume and go door-to-door collecting treats. At about the age of 12, however, the costumes were forgotten and tricks took precedence. Turning over the trash can next to every house and soaping windows was the starting point for the younger teens. Using your family tractor to drag abandoned farm equipment to block the streets was for the older teens. There was usually a bon fire with scrap lumber and old tires. Evading the local deputy sheriff was part of the ritual. The next day all the teenagers had to clean everything up. It was enough wildness to last for a year. Perhaps Woodstock was the last festival of my generation. I now view the recent riots and demonstrations in a different light.
“Something uncanny and terrifying approaches.” “Yet the pattern can be broken. The first step to doing that is to see it for what it is.”
I presume your motivation for going down the Girardian rabbit hole is to see how to see it for what it is and to discover how the pattern might be broken. I look forward to reading more of your exploration.
It sounds like a traditional way of breaking the pattern, that of festivals, does not offer much hope.
Of whom do we speak when we suggest that one might see it for what it is? You and I? Does breaking the pattern only mean that you and I need not necessarily participate in that pattern even as something uncanny and terrifying continues to approach?
I feel that insight can arise from contemplating Jan 6th as “an authentic festival seeking to be born.” By saying so, I’m not saying that this is an appropriate description of that event and how we should think of it.
“Systemic use of natural and alternative healing modalities could vastly reduce covid mortality, and reverse the (objectively more serious) plagues of autoimmunity, allergies, and addiction.”
I’m not sure what this means, specifically “natural and alternative”. If we’re referring to better diet and exercise, obesity being one of the key underlying conditions that can cause severe disease and death, OK. But there is a whole range of individuals for whom no alternative (to mainstream medicine) modalities would diminish the threat of COVID-19. The elderly, for instance, who have a naturally reduced immune capacity or the especially unlucky group who are immunocompromised (Rheumatoid Arthritis, Cancer, HIV, Lupus, Organ Transplants, etc.) who can’t even mount an antibody response when fully vaccinated, per a Johns Hopskins study!
Based on the nature of this complex and life-threatening virus – still poorly understood – I have to strongly disagree that COVID-19 is a promising candidate for “natural and alternative” healing techniques. And, while autoimmune disease, allergies and especially addiction are admittedly dangerous conditions (esp. addiction), they’re simply not on the same mortality scale as Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome or catastrophic organ failure!
Hi Richard, with regard to COVID mortality I think it’s an open question how much a holistic approach to health could help, especially since we’re not generally taking such an approach. With regard to autoimmune disease, allergies and addiction, I think you’re underestimating the significance of these things. The list of diseases that are considered autoimmune is expanding as our understanding grows, and includes many deadly and/or debilitating conditions. And crucially, autoimmune disease, allergies and addiction are chronic and it is difficult or impossible to measure their total impact over years or decades, either in terms of quality of life or length of life. The number of people who are affected by these and other chronic conditions, often poorly understood by orthodox medicine, eclipses even the numbers who would get seriously ill from COVID were it left unchecked (models have predicted population death rates of around 0.5% in such a scenario).
Elaine Biggerstaff says
It could not possibly be that the plastics, chemicals, the way foods are processed, stored, and transported, GMO’s, now bio-engineered foods, and our prolific drug culture (pharmaceuticals are the only answer our modern medical community has for the symptoms of disease and all of them have lists of possible and actual “side effects” that interfere with our biological systems), are the cause of the overwhelming majority of diseases? Why was it that when people grew their own food or bought food from farmer’s not using chemicals on their crops, did not consume the junk food that is the staple of so many people’s diets, exercised rather than sitting with face glued to a phone or in front of the TV, did not suffer nearly as much from our now so common diseases or took a natural, home made, handed down for generations remedy?
The Dropped Pin says
I have to agree with Richard here. The phrasing “natural and alternative” is dangerously esoteric when faced with something as uncaring as a world-wide epidemic.
His point of “working together” being the failure is underscored by comments of those desiring to force a will upon others. A blanket statement reflecting no understanding or consideration to others, their beliefs, or their experiences beyond the individual blinders of ones own fears and what they deem “dangerously esoteric” further demonstrate the reduced possibility for positive outcomes as a “scape goat” is thus defined.
Hi, I am a practitioner of Chinese medicine and a series of three very technical 3 hour video briefings were circulating at the start of the pandemic – about how China is using herbs successfully in prior SARS and so far Cov19. They are scientifically published and documented treatments. I know practitioners who are having great success with these protocols in the pandemic. Further, I know MDs who work at hospitals who flouted the WHO propaganda in order to use hydroxycholoroquine and their patients got better. Of course, immunocompromised people and elders have a tougher path health-wise and there is no quick fix – this is a precious but small subset of the population and things like seasonal flu, pneumonia, very harsh winters, etc, are genuinely life threatening for them. But that is certainly not a justification for a total global panic unlike any we have seen before… and I definitely think it is reasonable to state that addiction and chronic illness is pandemic and dehabilitating and more widespread – if less dramatic – than ARDS or organ failure (which is also caused by the jab, btw).
Terry Rose says
Vitamin D3, zinc (as the citrate, gluconate or sulfate) green tea (polyphenols) hydroxychloroquine, ivermectin, are a few of the best early treatments. Hydroxychloroquine, (HCQ) is very safe, despite the hysteria. They had to denigrate and suppress good early treatments because otherwise, the vaccine coercion violates the Nuremberg Code, enacted after the Nazi “medical experiments” during WW2 and before, in Nazi concentration camps.
in japan, the activities and preparations before a festival are what cement bonds among communities, and through ritual, pass down value and morals. even during festivals, people wear the same happi coats with a mark of their distinct affiliation to celebrate that bond. this could be a meaning of festival separate from the one Girald describes. i am intrigued by this distinction and would like to use it as a point of observation between living festivals and ones that are ghosts of former ages.
JESSE L GROS says
So… we will see you at the “Rogue Burn” on the playa this summer?
Last year I went to the “Freeburn” despite all of the internet shaming that we would get Burning Man canceled or “kill the tribes.” Naturally, the 3000 of us did just fine without the structure of the organization. 3K folks and 4 rangers had a wonderful time… no arrests, no hospitalizations, no deaths… the tribes were just fine, roads through the reservation were blocked off… none of the doomsday predictions came true.
It was one of my favorite burns in the last 20 years of going. Wild, free, unpolluted by instagram-consumption-convenience culture.
Maybe we will see you on playa this year Charles? =)
I could kiss you right now!!!
Charles, you simply have no idea what you are talking about. It seems you are addicted to vague, and generally quite dubious, generalizations about everything under the sun, in the vain hope that this kind of faux philosophical analysis can provided the intellectual sustenance people need right now. René Girard is an interesting writer but his “scapegoat” theories are of limited value in understanding why the West is collapsing and why the Great Reset is being thrust without debate or discussion onto all the Western nation states.
Nobody who is seriously trying to make sense of the various crises unfolding around the world could possibly be able to do so if they relied on your writing as a guide. You’re just making a bunch of vague, grandiloquent, ungrounded assertions about why things are the way they are that are neither metaphysically nor morally sound.
The Ascent of Humanity, and all your subsequent books and essays that I’ve read, contain all manner of false assertions (mixed in with true ones) which are misleading, frequently inaccurate, and betray a lack of sufficient familiarity with the historical record. The problem seems to stem from your fondness for big, grand, sweeping philosophical generalizations that you like to believe can encompass everything, even though they can’t.
For a factual, solidly grounded in research take on what is happening and why, I suggest the following concise and incisive piece of commentary:
Are you scapegoating Charles?!?
I don’t think you are appreciating the subtlety of Charles’ piece. Sure one can get righteously angry and resistant about the implosive effect on the social connectivity that stakeholder
Capitalism is offering, but the link you provide has nothing to do with this essay. It is about the facts and figures of the economy and politics -the oil that floats above the deep archaic waters of what Charles and Rene write. That is, even if
we solved the impending collapse, we’ll still be left with some deep structure
to buoy us as we navigate the deep uncertainty, and panic
is certainly not a good tactic in a tsunami.
There is no subtlety to Eisenstein’s piece. It is doing what Eisenstein does best: offering grandiose and ultimately vaporous rhetoric in lieu of substance. Eisenstein’s writing does not have any real content, it offers the illusion of profundity without the reality of it.
Eisenstein’s “deep thoughts” are not really deep. And a sure sign they are not is Eisenstein has no interest whatsoever in the humanities. He isn’t interested in great art, great novels, music, poetry… none of these things touch his soul. In Ascent of Humanity, he fleetingly mentioned Nietzsche in a list of names only to instantly dismiss him. This is because great philosophers, the major names in modern philosophy, are of no interest to him, because he thinks he already has everything figured out and he thinks he’s smarter than all other philosophers ever. The “deep archaic waters” can’t be plumbed by superficial thinkers. It has always been the great artists in history who have most successfully explored those “waters,” but Eisenstein isn’t interested in what they have to say. He’s too egotistical to humble himself before a great poet on the order of Shakespeare.
That you actually think the essay I linked to is “superficial” in comparison to Eisenstein’s trite piece is incredible. What you reveal is that you think a close, careful scrutiny of concrete and specific facts is superficial, whereas you think vaporous and vague but grandiose rhetoric constitutes profundity.
I suggest you ponder an aphorism by Paul Valery that is pertinent here:
“Being `deep’, getting to the bottom of things, is nothing. Anybody can dive; some, however, are caught in the water weeds of their abyss and die there, unable to break free.”
That Eisenstein rarely gets “righteously angry” does not of itself make him a great thinker. He may not get obviously angry, but he frequently gets dismissive, snide, sarcastic and passive-aggressive when challenged on his ideas or when he doesn’t get the rapturous applause he thinks is his due.
It seems you read Charles only to bash him, correct?
Your comments reveal much unhappiness, and jealousy too. I am sorry.
The usual passive-aggressive drivel that is Eisenstein’s fans stock in trade.
Yes, I am very angry at Eisenstein, for the reasons I explained – he is a deeply dishonest, mendacious, and sophistical writer who freely and incessantly criticizes other writers at the drop of a hat, whenever he feels like it, but is such a massive hypocrite that he refuses to EVER honestly engage with negative critiques of his own work.
He is such a gigantic hypocrite that he criticized Foster Gamble’s work, Gamble replied by defending himself in specific detail against Eisenstein’s various charges, then when Gamble went on to criticize some of Eisenstein’s own writing Eisenstein got all huffy and accused Gamble of taking quotes out of context and caricaturing his work (which Gamble did not do), but then refused to address Gamble’s charges at all! His invariable smug attitude is: One law for me and another for thee.
By the way, that’s what he always does when encountering criticisms. He always dishonestly accuses the other person of misrepresenting or misunderstanding his views or taking quotes out of context or attributing to him opinions he doesn’t hold. In each and every case, however, I have found that to be untrue and his critics to have quoted him correctly.
Ron Greenstein says
The typical human mind tends to leap to the illusory ways of seeing the things, persons, and circumstances of the world as: permanent, pervasive, and personal. Most people when not in a reactive state can understand and hopefully remember that the things, persons, and circumstances of the world are actually: temporary, specific, and situational.
The Four Agreements
The Four Agreements©, was published in 1997 and has sold around 10 million copies. It has been on the New York Times Bestselling list for almost a decade. Everything we do is based on agreements we have made – agreements with ourselves, with other people, with God, with life. But the most important agreements are the ones we make with ourselves.
The Four Agreements are:
Be Impeccable With Your Word.
Don’t Take Anything Personally.
Don’t Make Assumptions.
Always Do Your Best.
Chris I think you are sublimely missing the point. Maybe a vision quest or some psychedelics or ancient-style being quiet in nature and listening… something to drop you out of intellect and into your body… will help? Ironically I find that this piece – as heady as it is – is best felt through, not intellectually cranked.
“Felt through not intellectually cranked” is just a tacit admission that it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny on an intellectual level.
I read your comments with interest.
You seem to assume that people like me who find value in Charles Eisenstein’s writings are “fans”. To set the record straight… I am NO-ONE’S “fan”!
I, personally, would not describe his writings as “vaporous rhetoric”, but rather a view from his unique perspective… one which I find refreshing. Often I find he articulates what have been vague feelings for me, that I wasn’t able to quite put my finger on. I find value there.
I also wonder why you are compelled to bash him personally.
David Turgeon says
I think you underestimate the practical and quite illuminating application of Mr Eisenstein’s exploration of Girard’s theories. For example, what is the current, widespread, social animus towards the unvaccinated, if not a tribal rite of ritual sacrifice? Do you not think that the oligopoly which controls, or attempts to control, world events sees the opportunity here to assert their power and control over society through the demonization of a minority by a majority of their making? Understanding the ideas Eisenstein/Girard espouse help us see the process of demonization going on around us for what it is. There is nothing ‘scientific’ about it, and articles such as the above help us all understand how we are being manipulated.
Invisible Man says
I didn’t underestimate anything. Eisenstein never even mentioned the oligopoly – as he also did not in his misguided and incoherent “coronation” and “conspiracy myth” essays – except to chide dissenters for “blaming” an oligarchy or globalist plutocracy for absolutely anything at all. The presence of conscious and intentional Machiavellianism in our world is something Eisenstein seems incapable of intelligently addressing. Which is fine — except he can never stop criticizing others who ARE addressing it. He seems to think they all fail to see the “deeper picture” because they aren’t converts to the Gospel According to Charles. Well, as a reader of The Ascent of Humanity I certainly don’t think his explanations for how and why we got to our present state are persuasive or well argued.
An astute critique of Girard has been written and it includes a passage that is pertinent to Eisenstein as well:
“Girardian doctrine is a theory of everything, on the cheap. It’s one of those systems that make you feel as though you know everything about everything while in fact requiring you to know almost nothing about anything; it’s enough to “know” the four stages mentioned above and bingo, you have an explanation for the stock market crash, the evils of capitalism, and your neighbor’s ugly divorce.”
Eisenstein’s own “theory of everything” is outlined in The Ascent of Humanity, and it’s just as unpersuasive as anyone else’s theory of everything. The less you know, the more you’ll be convinced of it. The more knowledge and erudition you acquire, the less you’ll be able to believe Eisenstein has truly gotten to the bottom of things.
“There is nothing ‘scientific’ about it, and articles such as the above help us all understand how we are being manipulated.”
How can that be, when he doesn’t even acknowledge that manipulation even occurred? Well, he sort of grudgingly does in the third part of this series, but only after the pushback he’s been getting from myself and others. In this first part, he portrays it as a spontaneous, naturally emergent hysteria rather than a shepherded and directed one.
Sue Stevenson says
I think a lot about festivals and their role but hadn’t realised Girard had spoken of them. As I was reading I was thinking about what kind of festival could we have in real life that would mimic the chaotic nature of the originals without being illegal? Could we have some kind of symbolic aspects to our Defying the Transhumanism festival of late 2021/early 2022 that would completely, utterly override that realm entirely? An escape from our always-online alienation into the real world but playing on the symbolic level? I can visualise a lot of onesies and mock knife fights going on 🙂
David Turgeon says
I’ve always thought that ‘fringe’ festivals and ‘counter festivals’ help, in their own ways, to keep that anarchic spirt of the festival alive. I much prefer attending them than the established festivals, as I always find them more liberating and interactive. You don’t always need a bonfire and a mock ritual sacrifice to feel that anarchic spirit.
Paul Costello says
Rene Girard, have not heard his name in a while but applying it to riots and to the statues controversies is a brilliant take on things for me. Thank you Charles for such big thinking about our times.
Susan Livingston says
I wish I had written this essay. It explains my observation/interpretation that homo sapiens sapiens is already extinct as a social species. The missing piece for me is to have a look at nonhuman social animals for the analog to the festival.
Lisa Downing says
But what if scapegoating wasn’t the only option?
Free speech is the right to shout “Theatre!” in a crowded fire. — Abbie Hoffman
Thankyou for this pertinent essay. It makes me think of how the Situationist and post-structuralist critiques of consumer spectacular society didn’t bring in to their arguments this analysis of how scapegoat/mimetic theory might reveal the reasons why the inventions of endless novelties and spectacles are themselves a grand sublimation of deep structural needs of the collective psyche. ie That we have a deeply programmed requirement for rituals of connection
.It’s interesting that Rene Girard is kind of an icon amongst certain libertarian Silicon Valley types / Stanford alumni, since he taught there.- the very forces that threaten to limit our investment in the Real.
I cannot not respond, since you’ve made it personal. I never accused Charles
of being either deep or un-angry. Vis-a-vis what you’ve written, I don’t care if he is deep or angry. I’m reading this essay because I find the ideas expounded upon interesting and mind-expanding, not because I want them to somehow save the world from the oligarch-driven Great Reset, like you seem to think they should. Others feel the same way. You are meanwhile beating your fists on the table and insisting the writer is a misguided egotist, which shows you don’t really care about the ideas in the essay. In that case you should go write your own essays to a different audience, not spit venom at some people and ideas that you don’t agree with. This particular forum is not FOR you…..One could take just about any piece of writing (even by Shakespeare, Goethe or Nietzsche) and find flaws in it (and each of them were also in love with their own ideas). But that’s not the point of this essay- the point is to advance some topics about the moment we are navigating and put them out for consideration. They are not uninteresting ideas. Your ideas are not uninteresting either. They just don’t belong in this forum. …And I didn’t mean to indicate that current politics and capitalist manoeuvering is superficial -just that it is a surface agitation (albeit violent) on the much denser body of enduring history and the collective human psyche.
-regarding your accusations of vaporous writers, a “VAPORIZER”- is a vituperatively angry person outputting rhetoric in zealously enraged rants, which describes you more than him.
Love always, Glen
A public forum is not supposed to be set up for fans to indiscriminately gush over the supposed brilliance of the author, and nothing else besides. Other forums understand this. If the only acceptable response is perpetual gushing praise and rapturous applause, that shows there is something seriously askew with both the author and his fans. I shows that the forum only exists so the author can have his gigantic ego stroked. In other words, it’s a clear indication that the author is more of a cult leader than a serious thinker.
In comparison, Matthew Remski, who wrote a pointed critique of Eisenstein’s Coronation piece, didn’t receive only praise for his piece but a wide divergence of opinions, split between those defending Eisenstein and those agreeing with Remski. Now I DON’T agree with the gist of Remski’s piece, because he totally bought into the mainstream pandemic narrative and wasn’t sympathetic to anything that wasn’t being reported on NBC. But the atmosphere on his Facebook page was that disagreement with Remski was welcome, even extremely harsh criticism was welcome. And Remski responded politely to plenty of dissent from his readers.
The same is true of Daniel Pinchbeck when he negatively critiqued the same Eisenstein essay. There was a wide range of opinion on his Facebook page, with a lot of people agreeing with Pinchbeck’s complaints but also plenty of people (including Eisenstein’s wife) vigorously defending Eisenstein. But there was never any sense that a reader MUST agree with Pinchbeck and assent to all his points.
Eisenstein, in my view, is a dishonest and passive-aggressive writer. I used to be a big fan of his, however I have grown to despise his writing and the worshipful cult mentality surrounding him. Whenever anyone writes a negative critique of his work, it always gets flooded with his fans who proceed to attack the critic and claim this person is “not open to the light” and “failed to understand what Charles wrote” etc. This includes not just the Eisenstein fans who were vocally indignant over Remski’s and Pinchbeck’s critiques, but also people leaving comments on negative Amazon reviews of Eisenstein’s books. Amazon has since then eliminated the comment feature, but I read the negative reviews at the time and whenever someone challenged Eisenstein’s analysis or disparaged it, he/she was guaranteed to have Eisensteinian Uber Fans flocking to their review to attempt to rebut it – often the rebuttal was condescending psychoanalysis of the reviewer who is obviously a lost and broken soul if they don’t worship at the altar of Saint Eisenstein.
You state, “This particular forum is not FOR you…” well, last time I checked, Facebook and Amazon are not FOR Eisenstein worshippers, but rather for everyone, but that didn’t stop them from flooding every single negative review of his work and taking issue with them. If Eisenstein fans don’t like reading harsh criticism on this particular forum, and only want it to be a circle jerk of perpetual praise, maybe they should stop barging into every other discussion forum and demanding nothing but rapturous praise for their idol Eisenstein! It speaks poorly of many of his fans that they can’t read a pan of any of his books without leaping in and scolding the “unenlightened” reviewer.
And if Eisenstein doesn’t want negative feedback, maybe he should stop parading around like he’s wiser than everyone else and stop using straw man arguments and false dichotomies and various other fallacies to subtly denigrate other people’s perspectives who don’t see things the same way he does. For all the claims that he is so humble and gentle, what he actually is is conceited, condescending and arrogant, convinced of his intellectual superiority to everyone else. Someone left a comment on a YouTube interview with Eisenstein that is spot on about his arrogant solipsism:
“Eisenstein thinks everyone is just reiterating narratives that they’re somehow been maneuvered into believing. Everyone except him. He’s the only one who has the ability to see beyond these paradigms pffft.”
“Vis-a-vis what you’ve written, I don’t care if he is deep or angry. I’m reading this essay because I find the ideas expounded upon interesting and mind-expanding, not because I want them to somehow save the world from the oligarch-driven Great Reset, like you seem to think they should.”
Eisenstein regularly criticizes the ideas and perspectives of other public intellectuals and experts who have a much different frame of reference from himself. He’s done this repeatedly from the moment he started publishing. He constantly warns others to be cautious about what they think they know and to recognize their limitations, yet he will then turn on a dime and throw caution to the wind in asserting all manner of things about epistemic reality without any hesitation whenever he feels like it. I’ve caught him doing this dozens of times over the years, making some huge ontological claim without any hesitation or caution whatsoever and without any real evidence, yet he will then freely criticize others for putting forth much, much more modest claims! He does this constantly! He incessantly preaches intellectual humility but does not practice it. Physician, heal thyself!
In his Coronation essay, he wrote the following unwitting revelation of his own monumental arrogance:
“What I will say next is relevant whether or not SARS-CoV2 is a genetically engineered bioweapon, is related to 5G rollout, is being used to prevent “disclosure,” is a Trojan horse for totalitarian world government, is more deadly than we’ve been told, is less deadly than we’ve been told, originated in a Wuhan biolab, originated at Fort Detrick, or is exactly as the CDC and WHO have been telling us. It applies even if everyone is totally wrong about the role of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the current epidemic. I have my opinions, but if there is one thing I have learned through the course of this emergency is that I don’t really know what is happening. I don’t see how anyone can, amidst the seething farrago of news, fake news, rumors, suppressed information, conspiracy theories, propaganda, and politicized narratives that fill the Internet. I wish a lot more people would embrace not knowing. I say that both to those who embrace the dominant narrative, as well as to those who hew to dissenting ones. What information might we be blocking out, in order to maintain the integrity of our viewpoints? Let’s be humble in our beliefs: it is a matter of life and death.”
What makes this so utterly offensive is that at that time there was already a wealth of evidence that the mainstream narrative about a deadly, unprecedented pandemic was false. There were literally hundreds of virologists, statisticians, and independent, alternative journalists painstakingly demonstrating exactly how and why the mainstream panic/hysteria narrative could not possibly be true (even if that doesn’t necessarily prove nefarious intent or wilful deception on the part of the mainstream). And most of these very serious, methodical writers/scientists were NOT making any extravagant claim about “genetically engineered bioweapons” or 5G or planned genocide any of the other radical fringe conspiracy theories. Yet Eisenstein crassly lumped them all together – the intellectually sober and rigorous scientific thinker right alongside the paranoid X-Files -ish, Illuminati fearing arch-conspiracist – as if they were all ripe peas in the same pod.
The heart of Eisenstein’s nonsense is this:
“I wish a lot more people would embrace not knowing. I say that both to those who embrace the dominant narrative, as well as to those who hew to dissenting ones.”
How neat it all is! The dominant and the dissenting narratives are just two sides of the same coin! Except, he ignores the fact that the dominant narrative was dominant to the point of total exclusion of the dissenting. The issue is not that anyone is obligated to agree with the dissenting narrative of a maverick journalist like Celia Farber, for instance. The issue is that her very rigorous and fact-based writing was totally censored and relegated to the fringe and the petrifying narrative of viral doom of the WHO, Bill Gates, and Big Pharma was all people were allowed to hear. Disagreeing with Farber and agreeing with Bill Gates is fine. What is not fine is not being allowed to hear the heathen heretic Farber in the first place.
He also ignores that so many of the dissenters closely examined the specific central claims of the dominant narrative and rigorously, precisely explained why these can’t be true. Whereas the dominant simply labelled the dissenters medical heretics and banned them from the public square. If Celia Farber, David Crowe, or the inventor of radical alternative medical paradigm German New Medicine had “embraced not knowing” in the misty, gauzy, pseudo-mystical way Eisenstein recommends, they’d simply never have achieved anything in life.
“One could take just about any piece of writing (even by Shakespeare, Goethe or Nietzsche) and find flaws in it (and each of them were also in love with their own ideas)”
First off, if you can’t recognize that you are in the presence of a titanic mind when you read Goethe or Shakespeare, whereas that is decidedly not the case when you read Eisenstein, God help you. Second, a Shakespeare play is not telling you what to think and how to feel about the subject matter. Shakespeare is not at all didactic, Eisenstein is. Eisenstein tries to shepherd his readers towards a particular conclusion while pretending he isn’t doing that.
Ignorance is a condition of a closed mind. At the very least, seeking Truth requires an open mind and heart.
David Turgeon says
An interesting choice of word, since a ‘vaporizer’ is one of the best tools in the kit to treat a SARS virus or a COVID infection, as many practising physicians have discovered.
From where I sit and in response to Girard’s explanation, it appears as if the whole world is actually currently engaged in a festival (which I believe you referred to as mass psychosis).
‘The Great Reset’ indeed…
Thank you for this (and all!) of your wonderful essays. As somebody who has healed a condition that was considered an ‘autoimmune disease’ for fifteen years of my life (I was heavily chemicalized and went the doctor route for that time) by going the route of traditional healing, ritual, ceremony, and Traditional African Medicine (as well as Amazonian), I share your frustration at our societal response to COVID. The problem with traditional healing, is that in order to go deep into it (in all the traditions that I know of), we would actually need to change our paradigm and acknowledge a non-material and spiritual reality. For me, that was what got things moving, as simply using herbs or ‘techniques’ from other traditions while still within a Western paradigm, didn’t work at all. (So, substituting pills for herbs or changing my diet, for example, had no greater effect, until I went the whole way of initiation and spiritual opening.)
As a group we are slow with this paradigm shift at the moment, but I have hope, seeing how many people are reaching for traditional approaches – not just ‘the herbs’ but the worldview and the spiritual shift (and often because of illness) – that we will get there. I wrote two books about my experiences (one of them in English: Wild Medicine, a Journey to Zimbabwe.) I also write more on my blog about this issue, as the fact that we as a global community are arresting people for plant medicine in the midst of a pandemic seems to me proof that our society is enacting a death wish. It is completely insane.
As for the Great Reset, he is a character in my ‘Star Ceremony’ play, which we are recording piece by piece and putting on YouTube:
Here are some excerpts:
The underlying question in the Star Ceremony is: ‘Where is the Spirit of the Human Being? We used to have somebody on our side, somebody who knew how beautiful we could be.’ It is based on the Egyptian myth of Isis and Osiris, which is about recovering the Human Spirit. Enacting that story, I believe, is one part of healing the ‘cutting up and dividing humanity’ (by the great Reset).
Thank you again for your work! And enjoy, enjoy, enjoy! 🙂
Donna Stafford says
This essay touched my Heart!
I’ve read and loved so much of your work, and I don’t know if the timing was just perfect for me with this one, but it really spoke to the frustration and anger I’ve been feeling with all the censorship, political correctness, and “safety” in our world these days. The Natural World is anything *but* safe, correct, and ANYTHING GOES! To me, it all reeks of yet another affront to Mother Nature, and our arrogant attempts to stifle and tame her.
Giovanni J Cavallaro says
Wonderful, profoundly apropos. It reminds me of a book by the Jungian analyst Sylvia Brinton Perera, The Scapegoat Complex – Toward a Mythology of Shadow and Guilt.
Here is a brief excerpt.
The Hebrew scapegoat sacrifice described in the Bible (Leviticus 16) was a central part of the Yom Kippur ritual. Comparable atonement and riddance-of-evil ceremonies in many cultures have been described by James George Frazer and other anthropologists.5 They all represent a means of renewing contact with the guiding spirit of the people. They also are an attempt to excise the evils that afflict mankind, whether these be death, disease, violence, physical and psychic sufferings, or the sense of sin and guilt that accompanies knowledge of transgression of the moral code. Always such afflictions threaten to press us into the darkness and disorder that we meet both outside and inside ourselves. Throughout history, mankind has tried to thrust that darkness away with rites of aversion and riddance, hoping to avoid its dreaded pains and guilt.