Mimesis in Violence

One thing I have been studying recently is the nature of violence to be mimetic, which refers to the human propensity to immitate others, espeically if we’re in a society permeated by certain types of actions or beliefs.

With regards to violence in our society, mimesis works most commonly by making violence contagious. The belief in violence and force is immitated from the halls of Congress to the street corner, from the abortion clinic to the execution chamber. It spreads like a disease up and down, infecting every echelon of society. The result is that people in our culture grow up socialized to believe in the effectiveness of violence, as well as having faith in individualism, greed, and upward mobility– even if it means stepping on others in the process.

For instance, we have politicians who advocate war against adversaries in so many circumstances. Force, for them, is a primary way of getting things done. But then those same politicians grope for answers when dealing with the murder rate or the prevalence of school shootings. The usual suspects are mentioned: Marilyn Manson, violent video games, the like. It seems to rarely, if ever, occur to these national leaders that maybe their own actions have something to do with it all.

That is a central reason why, I believe, our society has such a problem with violence on so many levels. We immitate it without even trying to. We believe in it wholeheartedly. So if we ever want to lower our murder or abortion rate, we must take a holistic look at our violence problem in this society; we cannot tackle one problem as if it were isolated.

Luckily for those of us who are Christians, there is something else that purports to be contagious: the Kingdom of God and its ethics. Jesus spoke of His Kingdom as yeast or as a mustard seed, which both start small but subtly permeate everything. So we need not fear the violence in our society, and realize that Jesus has something that is much more powerful. All we need is faith to believe it will work.

Comments (3)

  1. Lora

    A former colleague of mine was teaching a class of Mennonite Brethren students in Colombia when one of them asked, “Why is it that we’re literate, but violent?” He paused for a moment and then answered his own question by saying, “I guess because we’re taught to read.”

    The idea of redemptive violence is so pervasive in American collective memory and present understanding I think due in large part to the fact that the U.S. gained its independence through violent revolt (while many other British colonies earned independence through non-violent means) and was built up through the genocide and enslavement of whole races of people. That certainly affects our ideas of violence (even as it relates to Christianity) in ways that are likely difficult for most people to separate, or of which many are even aware.

    We assume, like you said, that force is the primary way to solve our problems. Our history–or at least the way it is taught–merely reinforces that belief.

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  2. Hootsbuddy

    Explore the writings of Walter Wink about the myth of redemptive violence. It is one of the chief poisons of mankind reaching into pre-history. At this point there seems to be no effective antidote. Christianity offers a way out, but unfortunately most otherwise faithful Christians cannot grasp how that can be.

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  3. Nathan Eanes

    Walter Wink is great. He has helped form my thoughts along with Gil Bailie, who writes a lot about both mimesis and the myth of redemptive violence. Bailie says that Christianity is engaged in a struggle between myth (which promotes all these rituals and sacred violence) and gospel, which is the only way out of that dangerous myth-world. We who are Mennonites have a lot to agree with, and build on, in Bailie’s work.

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