“The secret mimeticism beneath the surface of the assertion of autonomy”

From “God’s Gamble: The Gravitational Power of Crucified Love” by Gil Bailie, here is a passage on “the cul-de-sac of autonomous individualism.” I have been reading a lot of and about Rene Girard lately, and while there are aspects of the mimetic theory that seem simply too wide ranging (reminding me of Karl Popper’s objection to Marxism and Freudianism that they both explained too much, rather than too little), there is a power to this analysis of the superficiality of autonomy and the sheer power of mimetic envy:

The liberationist cast of modern thought has driven moderns and postmoderns into the cul-de-sac of autonomous individualism, where, as Manent asserts: “Men do not have any natural connections.” But there is more, and here the French philosopher is especially percipient: “Just as for Kierkegaard, to be a Christian is to become a Christian, for the modern man conscious of himself, to be an individual means to become an individual, and to become more and more an individual.”

This incessant demand that one become an individual requires not only that he eschew all affiliations or any associations that might limit his spontaneity, but also that he ceaselessly distinguish himself from other individuals whose examples he might otherwise be accused of mimicking. The unremitting pressure to demonstrate one’s independence from the social influence of others causes the self-styled individual to resort to more and more idiosyncratic social gestures in appearance and behavior, all of which will be traceable to a model who is being emulated but whose influence is unacknowledged or camouflaged to prevent both the imitator himself and his observers from recognizing the mimicry underlying his labored pantomime.

The secret mimeticism beneath the surface of the assertion of autonomy drives the process toward ever more desperate gesticulations of authenticity which in fact amount to an open declaration of its opposite. On the social level, the end result is a spiritual alienation from oneself and from a healthy social matrix, an alienation from which relief is often enough sought in crude and ultimately violent forms of social solidarity.

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