Peter Thiel on “The Straussian Moment”

says well we’ve had all these years of
warfare over religion we’ll stop asking
important questions and all these
decades these centuries after the
Enlightenment here’s the world we’ve
reached this is the way I read you you
can correct my reading but let me finish
quoting you instead of violent wars
there could be violent video games
instead of heroic feats
there could be thrilling amusement park
rides instead of serious thought there
could be intrigues of all sorts
in a soap opera it is a world where
people spend their lives amusing
themselves to death close quote
now that is a devastating indictment of
much of contemporary America correct
well it is I mean I think this has been
the trend of modernity now it’s it’s
it’s not as though politics has
disappeared though it’s it’s often just
gets displaced in various ways but but
yes I think there is this this
incredible degree to which we’ve we’ve
we’ve substituted the realities of
politics for these sort of increasingly
fictionalized worlds and and it’s
probably uh that’s probably a very very
unhealthy thing there’s sort of a
slightly different frame that I’ve often
given on this is is that in in the last
40 or 50 years there’s been a shift from
exteriority which I which you know doing
things in the real world to the sort of
interior world which is sort of in a way
can be thought of this also the shift
from politics to entertainment or
something like that and and the the from
a dr. Phil a the powerful frame I give
is you know almost exactly 50 years ago
today and you know July of 1969 men
reached the moon and three weeks later
Woodstock began and with the benefit of
hindsight we can say that that’s when
you know progress ended and when the
hippies took over the country or
something like that and then we’ve had
we’ve had this incredible shift to
interior tea in the decades since then I
would include things like the drug
counterculture I would include
videogames you know maybe a lot of
entertainment more generally you know
there’s sort of parts of the internet
that can be scored both ways but but
certainly there all these things where
we’ve shifted towards the you know your
world of yoga meditation there’s a world
of interior culture that sort of and it
Rene Girard is in some ways the
addresses an aspect of human nature well
it’s it’s good it’s the very thing that
the Enlightenment says no no don’t even
think about such things right
yeah well the Enlightenment always
whitewashes violence it’s one of the
there are many things we can’t think
about an under Enlightenment reason but
one one is certainly violence itself and
and if you go to the anthropological
myth of the Enlightenment it’s the myth
of the social contract so what happens
when everybody is that everybody’s
else’s throat what the Enlightenment
says is everybody in the middle of the
crisis sits down and has a nice legal
chat and draws up a social contract and
that’s maybe maybe that’s the founding
myth the central lie of the
Enlightenment if you will and what
Gerrard says something very different
must have happened and when everybody’s
at everybody’s throat the violence
doesn’t just resolve itself and maybe it
gets channeled against a a specific
scapegoat where the war of all against
all becomes a war can of all against one
and then somehow gets resolved but in a
in a very violent way and so I think you
know what what Gerrard and Schmidt or
Machiavelli or you know the
judeo-christian inspiration all have in
common is this idea that human nature is
problematic its violent it’s um you know
it’s it’s it’s it’s it’s it’s not
straightforward at all what what you do

A Theory of Everything – Rene Girard’s Mimetic Theory

This is my summary and reworking of Rene Girard’s Mimetic Theory. I have tried to explain it a way that is accessible to the average person. This theory helps you understand yourself, Scripture, your relationships, and also politics, economics, current events, history, culture, and pretty much everything else in life. So if you want to understand Mimetic theory, or maybe have struggled through a few books by Rene Girard, try watching this video to see if my explanation helps make sense of the importance of these ideas.

The Uncanny I: An Interview with Kristin Dombek

Usually an essay begins with an argument, for me. Not a linear argument, in the sense of a line of reasoning, but an argument as in two people or groups shouting at each other, but in my head. The dumber the disagreement, the more I want to kind of explode it and discover what it covers up, find better language for what life is really like. In this case, the disagreement was narcissism is the opposite of human—i.e., a total lack of warmth, empathy, “human” feeling—versus narcissism is everybody. Usually, what’s next is scene, where the language of the essay gets discovered, and the idea. Often an editor helps to lay bare the structure that will let the idea happen, rather than being told to the reader.

But in this book, at least in its final version, I wasn’t working in scenes but rather channeling kinds of Internet and academic language that aren’t really my own, and kind of sculpting that language like material. So there is so much telling, summary, which is painful for me to read. There wasn’t a reasonable progression of ideas, but on one axis, a progression of kinds of language, and then on the other, a slow panning out from the trapped, limited perspective of fearful, solitary, listicle-fueled diagnosis to a broader view, and poetry. 

.. The word narcissism was everywhere—this diagnosis of everyone’s ex, condemnation of the personal-essay trend, fear of the coming selfie apocalypse.

.. I had been wondering why people who seem evil to us, or who break up with us or just disagree with us entirely, can begin to seem “empty” and “fake” and uncanny, even inhuman. And as a nonfiction writer, and a reader, I’m always puzzling over the mysteries of ethos, when and why we trust and distrust whom we do, in life and in writing.

.. I suspect some of the things we condemn as narcissistic in others might be more accurately defined as how everyone has to perform—in capitalism, or online—doing things formerly considered vain, things we feel guilty or anxious about.

..  Like the journalist she writes about, and the murderer, too, the narcissist is bad because he fakes an “I,” rather than being an “I,” he charms you rather than being genuinely interested in you.

.. Arguably, nonfiction writers always fake an “I,” even if we don’t use the word, creating ethos, so the reader trusts the text. Maybe anyone who writes does, any Facebook poster does. But an “I” can feel generous or self-absorbed, to the reader, and so can a more “objective” voice. Maybe the ease with which we dismiss one another as narcissists these days is partly a symptom of how much it’s changed, and speeded up, the way that we determine how and when to trust writers, now that almost everyone’s writing publicly all day long online.

.. This question of when we trust texts is related, in my mind at least, to this everyday problem of when and why we judge others as so self-absorbed as to be beyond empathy, and to write them off or turn away from them. Of course, sometimes we have to separate from people. Sometimes maybe even judge others as selfish. But if we believe that, on the whole, others are becoming more selfish and self-absorbed than ever before, how willing would we be to trust each other enough to work on the great injustices, the inequality and environmental catastrophes of our time? Is the well-being of future humans even worth fighting for, if all millennials are assholes?

.. Your various chapters, as I read them, follow a surprising, slyly circular design—you often start with an observation that looks true, even self-evident, and then complicate it, such that the opposite of that initial observation is ultimately just as compelling, maybe even more true. How did you arrive at that shape? Did you see that circular design as echoing the way narcissism operates, or perhaps is said to operate?

.. And fear of narcissism. “He didn’t ask me a single question about myself. What a narcissist.” This is René Girard’s idea, that narcissism and fear of narcissism mirror each other.

.. People started dropping the word casually into conversation when they were around me, as if they were worried I thought they were one, and so they wanted to show me they knew what the word meant. I started wanting to exorcise this fear, so I think, I hope, the circular design lets the reader alternately suspect others and herself and me of the disorder until she’s just exhausted and stops worrying so much. Anyone who would pick up a book with this title is probably worrying too much.

..  E. M. Cioran’s great phrase—“thinking against oneself.” The Selfishness of Others is always thinking against, or away from, something you just wrote. I’m remembering a complex sequence early on that at once recognizes and deflects what you call your “personal stake” in the topic.

.. a complex sequence early on that at once recognizes and deflects what you call your “personal stake” in the topic. As you remark—“I’m an essayist; I write the word I all day long, and I’m nervous when I do. More than anything, I don’t want you to think me self-absorbed. So I will try to take up the topic of the narcissism epidemic objectively. If using the word I turns out to be a symptom of narcissism, you won’t hear from me again.”

.. I was joking! But yeah, the experiment was initially to outlaw use of the “I” for most of the book, and then have it turn into memoir, to kind of investigate why we read memoir, what we want from writing about the “I.” The last third was memoir, in the original draft. Anyway, yes, to take on this topic is probably grandiose, if that’s what you’re saying. It was supposed to be an even smaller book than it is, and my editors persuaded me this was too much.

.. I tried to keep a sense of an uncanny “I” moving under the text, without ever using the word, but it’s not really “me,” it’s fraudulent. At least until the last few pages. For example I’ve never had a boyfriend who I feared was a narcissist.

.. There is so much scholarship on the history of psychology and narcissism, and even in my reading I only skimmed the surface.

.. what do you think is our most dangerous misconception when we talk about narcissism?

.. One way to view narcissism is that the diagnosis is a symptom of a privileged portion of civilization—those of us who have time to go to therapy and sit online reading how to diagnose others—turning on itself, “thinking against itself,” maybe, but kind of blaming the problem always on someone else.

.. We’re called upon to curate our lives, share them, focus on ourselves and self-brand and compete for money and stay mentally healthy and say positive affirmations to raise our self-esteem, and then narcissism is the word we use to condemn others who do exactly these things.

.. And because the word names a lack of empathy, using it can create a certain narcissism of decency, I think, where we fetishize our own empathy. It feels new, but it’s also the oldest problem of the self. It’s tragic or it’s comic. Shakespeare was obsessed with it and David Foster Wallace exhausted it, to the extent that there was probably no need to write about it.



Girard: Desire, Doubles and Violence

Mimetic rivalry replaces acquisitive desire for coveted things when the rivals become aware at an unconscious level that they “lack” part of what it is to be a complete human being. The rivals’ experience of their own lack therefore entails a “misrecognition” of the other as whole and complete. The other is seen as the representative of “genuine” personhood: s/he is the “model” that embodies the desires and possessions that constitute “authentic” human being. At bottom, rivals covet not a common object but each other’s “wholeness.”

What is a Catholic to make of Jordan Peterson?

Peterson’s idiosyncratic but sympathetic views on Christianity appear to be outgrowths of his ultimately incoherent views about human societies, blending brash political incorrectness with a love of tradition and an enthusiasm for individualism. For modern Christians frustrated by their loss of standing in liberal societies, this makes Peterson, like a stiff cocktail, potent, delicious, and, if enjoyed carelessly or in the wrong context, dangerous.

.. He speaks with a breezy self-assurance, but at the same time he takes serpentine routes to his conclusions – so much so that it’s not always clear even he knows where he’s going until, with a splash, he arrives and all seems to have been made clear.

.. This sense of being on a journey with an unknown destination is heightened by the idiosyncratic nature of his arguments. It’s just weird to get to principled conservatism and appreciation of Scripture from Nietzsche and Jung

.. some – and perhaps a great deal – of what is attracting millions of largely young male viewers to him is not laudable and should not be thoughtlessly applauded by Catholics.

.. Strident denunciations of feminism and anti-racism are not what is missing from our apologetics

.. Jesus Christ is neither politically correct nor incorrect

.. Peterson is at his best and most magnetic when he is almost stammering in awe of the human condition

.. When I hear Peterson speak about God, I think of the late French-American philosopher René Girard.

.. Peterson’s strategy to bring meaning and success to the lives of deracinated young men is an essentially amoral training in interpersonal dominance founded in an uncritical acceptance of the radical individualism that has dominated Western civilisation for the past few centuries.

.. For instance, he argues that the credible threat of violence is essential for earning respect in conversations with men; in one lecture he asserts with his distinctive fatherliness: “If you are not capable of cruelty you are absolutely a victim to anyone who is.”

.. It is true that our present crisis of meaning is related to the inability of many young men to compete effectively in the marketplace, which is for us the primary giver of significance

.. the role of the Church is not to prop up a secular civilisation that has reduced meaning and identity to paychecks and sports teams, but to offer a more beautiful and comprehensive alternative.

.. If the Church is to baptise “Jordan Peterson the internet sensation”, it must be for his reputation as an authentic and awe-filled truth-seeker, not as a politically incorrect provocateur. His sincere reverence for the awesome reality of the human person is a potent antidote for a civilisation whose spirit has been oppressed by secularism and nihilism.

.. striving not for the greatness of alpha status in a world of brutes but for the greatness of communion with the God who is love.

How Does War Teach Soldiers About Love?

Journalist Sebastian Junger was embedded with soldiers in the Korengal Valley during the war in Afghanistan. One of the reasons some veterans miss war, he says, is because it fulfills a deep human need to belong to a trusted group.

Many soldiers experience intense connections, without fully understanding what they experienced.
How does this experience of a common enemy compare to Rene Girard’s ideas about the first scapegoating process.