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Review Of Gil Bailie's Book: "Violence Unveiled: Humanity At The Crossroads"

1569 words - 6 pages

Accounts of what can no longer be termed "unspeakable" acts of violence and terror assault us daily. Newspapers and televisions capture the carnage and chaos that increasingly suggest the near-death of civility and the sure unraveling of the fabric of culture and society. How are we to understand the escalation of violence that threatens us as individuals and as a society? What are we to do in the face of the societal and cultural disintegration that follows in the wake of such terror? This worldwide escalation of violence, and the unsettling questions it raises, is the subject of Gil Bailie's book, Violence Unveiled: Humanity at the Crossroads.In Violence Unveiled, Bailie makes accessible to a wide audience the groundbreaking work of the French cultural critic and theorist, René Girard. At the heart of Girard's theory is the idea that violence creates the foundations of culture. According to Girard, human beings are mimetic by nature, meaning, we imitate those we most love by desiring what they desire, and now possess. That is to say, human beings are deeply driven by the desire to possess what belongs to the beloved. Desire turns to envy; envy to rivalry; and rivalry creates an untenable conflict at the heart of our most intimate relationships, namely, the conflict generated by feelings of intense anger and rage directed at those we most love for possessing what we most desire. Such deep conflict, if left unresolved, undermines the stability of society and threatens its very preservation. Girard maintains that society attends to this conflict, and the destructive, violent impulses it generates, by creating the cultural myth of the scapegoat -- the witch, the heretic, the outsider, the disease-bearer, the Jew -- who is arbitrarily identified and selected as the source of the conflict. Ridiculed, tortured, expelled, murdered, or sacrificed, the scapegoat both satisfies and discharges the violence embedded deeply in our psyches while simultaneously keeping safe society's most important relationships. Scapegoating thus prevents the chaos and disintegration that would otherwise follow when imitative violence is left unchecked, and spirals out of control.For Girard, religion plays an essential role in the cultural myth of the scapegoat. Its societal function is to create, maintain, and mediate a sacrificial system that ritually and symbolically reenacts the violence done to the scapegoat. Religion successfully mediates the cultural myth of the scapegoat by veiling the violence, which is integral to the myth, under the mantle of the sacred. With the violence thus concealed, the scapegoat undergoes a curious transformation. By delivering society from its most destructive impulses, the scapegoat is transformed from the "despised and rejected" of the people to the "savior" of the people. The sacrificial system that is at the heart of religion is thus structured around rituals that symbolically reenact the necessary violence that saves society from...

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