50: Girard, Postmodernism, and Academia with Geoff Shullenberger

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Hosted by
Will Jarvis

Show Notes:

A great overview of Girard’s work: The Girard Reader

An overview of the modern/postmodern distinction: We Have Never Been Modern by Latour

More of Giard’s work: Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World

Transcript:
Will Jarvis 0:04
Hey folks, I’m William Jarvis, along with my dad, Dr. David Jarvis. I host the podcast narratives. narratives is a project exploring the ways in which the world is better than it has been the ways it is worse in the past or making a better, more definite future. I hope you enjoy it.

Geoff Shullenberger 0:45
Hey, I’m good. How are you? Good. Good. Thanks so much for coming on. Not at all. I’d like to jump right into it, could you just give us kind of a brief bio and in some of the big ideas you’re interested in? Sure. So my bio is

Will Jarvis 0:32
If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe. You can get on our mailing list, find show notes, transcripts, as well as videos at Nerdist podcast.com. Thanks. Well, Jeff, how’s it going?

Unknown Speaker 1:02
pretty much. I did my PhD in the late 2000s into the early 2000 10s, finishing in 2012. I was studying Comparative Literature. Prior to that, I should say I was also in between college and grad school, I was living abroad, mostly in Latin America. So a lot of the work I did in grad school was kind of focused on Latin America, even though I don’t write extensively about that particular topic anymore. So much. Um, and yeah, basically, I did a PhD in comparative literature, I was working on a pretty wide range of material. And I struggled with specialization, I was just interested in trying to cover as many periods as and kind of different literature’s and languages I could manage. But I primarily, in the end, focus my research on late 19th, and early 20th century, predominantly European and Latin American fiction, and also psychoanalytic theory and the history of psychiatry. So those are kind of the intersections of it. Um, and my focus at that time was heavily on like the history of the concept of paranoia. And its representation in literature. So that, I should say was, was kind of one of the things that I’m kind of laid the groundwork for some other somewhat distinct work I would do later and more recently, but in any case, beyond that, I went to, essentially went to NYU to teach in the undergraduate writing program. So I’m basically teaching, sort of writing and humanities seminars to undergrads in various different schools of NYU, and I’ve been doing that seven, eight years now. And I, um, because of the sort of particular path I took, I had a lot of freedom in terms of the kinds of things I could write, I wasn’t on a sort of, since I’m on essentially a teaching track, rather than a research track that, you know, has certain disadvantages, but it also has some freedom attached to it. So I started writing, I published in academic peer reviewed journals, but I started trying to write for more general public. And I started writing, particularly about technology and internet culture and things like that. And so that that was, we’re still in the sort of first half of the 2000 10s here. And basically, from there, I kind of went, I mean, one thing I started doing was taking these ideas about the history of paranoia, and its representation and literature and culture, to kind of think about contemporary like conspiracy cultures online, and the sort of weird manifestations of, of paranoia in internet culture. And also the different way that it was kind of being talked about. So that was sort of one of the threads that I started to pursue that kind of came out of my doctoral research. But then I kind of recalibrated to focus on some strange internet subcultures and things like that. So I was doing more kind of, you know, just observing how these subcultures were functioning and trying to make sense of them using some of the tools I had. Then the other thing that happened was one of the one of the theorists I was sort of interested in in grad school was Rene Girard. And so, sometime because I was spending a lot of time kind of observing internet dynamics and this period I kind of went bashes theories and started thinking about the way that they were useful for trying to to account for what was happening in these kind of new online spaces. And so that was kind of another thread that I picked up that sort of came out of that research that I had done and, you know, reading I’d done in grad school, but that I was kind of trying to apply to a totally different domain.

Unknown Speaker 5:22
And so I started writing about Gerard, and his kind of relationship to social media dynamics. And that was sort of, you know, that that that initiated a project that I’m sort of still working on. And I’m, you know, currently teaching a course about Gerard. So, you know, it’s something I’ve been thinking about ever since this is going back to about 2015. And then, I suppose, kind of coming out of that. The other thing that I started noticing was just, there was a lot of, you know, that there are all these sort of theory wars and sort of earlier iterations of the cultural world that involve these kind of, I mean, as Gerard was sort of an anti postmodernist, in a sense, but he was also, you know, he, he had relationships with some of these figures like Derrida, and he, he, he actually was instrumental in bringing some of them when he was a professor at Johns Hopkins over to the US in the late 60s. So, you know, he had a kind of complicated relationships, all these other kind of French, you know, social and cultural theorists. And so I started thinking about these other odd links to contemporary internet culture and dynamics that I was starting to see. And so I started kind of revisiting a lot of these sort of canonical texts of what’s usually called postmodern theory, and thinking about, you know, how, how they might be helpful in understanding internet culture, but also how it might be helpful and in looking back at them and making sense of what they were trying to do, and kind of gaining a new perspective. So pretty much those are, I’d say, those are kind of the three projects more or less, the the conspiracy theory, you know, online cultures of paranoia projects, the sort of Gerard online dynamics, scapegoating projects. And then the third is kind of revisiting the sort of canonical body of cultural theory, that suddenly very conscious, there was very controversial, amazing 90s. And it’s sort of controversial again, so I I’m, I mean, I think the the perspective I’m offering on it is pretty different from what most people who are talking about it today are offering, at least in the, in the sort of popular sphere. So those are pretty much the the three projects I’ve developed. And again, this is really, this probably has to do with being somewhat on the margins of academia, like I teach, but I don’t, I don’t really do, you know, academic research in the sense of peer reviewed research much anymore. So I’m just trying to write for, you know, a range of more popular audiences rather than sort of specialized niches within academia, which goes back to my resistance to specialization in the first place. But anyway, so that’s, that’s probably enough said.

Will Jarvis 8:12
Nice. But yeah, and, and so, you know, I’m sitting here at Durham, North Carolina, and Gerard actually got one of his first academic positions at Duke, like, two miles from me right now. Which I think about that a lot. And he wrote a, one of his first books here as well. What are some of the most important things about gerards theory that, you know, if someone like you’re going to try and give an elevator pitch on, like, like, what he does, he kind of worked on and pioneered, you know, what would you tell somebody?

Unknown Speaker 8:46
So I’ll just, I’ll try to do it sort of narratively, since this is narratives. Yeah. So, he begins by working very closely with literature from the primarily the 19th, into the early 20th century, you know, which was kind of the period that I was most interested in, to in graduate school. And he, anyway, he, he discovers what he what he sees as a kind of operative principle that is shared across a wide array of texts, which is that you can observe these authors kind of documenting the way that their character has come to desire certain things, right, which is that they come to desire certain things by by essentially copying or imitating the desires of others, right. And so he sort of took literature as a source of revelation about a fundamental social dynamic, right. And particularly, he took a certain lineage of novelists who were capable of kind of seeing through the illusions that people create for themselves about why they want things and revealing that largely by large The source of their desires is imitated it’s, it’s based on copying others, and then all these other phenomena that are associated a lot with 19th century, particularly French literature, like, you know, this concept of snobbery, vanity, that this is all tied up with. And so all these novelists are kind of sociologists, right. And they were they were observing contemporary society. And the part of the important thing here is that they were observing that as societies become more egalitarian, in other words, as traditional hierarchies were sort of waning, and there was greater possibility of social mobility, that did create certain create new crises, because while it sensibly allowed a kind of freedom, it also meant that you know, whereas to be schematic in a more traditional society, you would sort of, you know, if you wanted to decide, or you wouldn’t really have to decide where you’re going to do with your life, because you probably just do the same thing your father did, and your grandfather did, and so on, right? And so you didn’t have to, you just looked up at some preordained model, right, which is probably your father or some elder person in your community, and you copied what they did. Whereas when we have more freedom, we can look around, and we have more freedom to choose who our models are. Right? So then the problem becomes, who do we? Who do we copy our desires from? Right? Well, and then the problem is, as anybody who’s like, been an ambitious person in a city or something like that, even today, well, now well, when you’re part of a group of people who are us who are all copying their desires from the same models, then you’re going to come into conflict

Will Jarvis 11:40
right? There by can’t have the same thing,

Unknown Speaker 11:42
right, and so so there’s going to be an intense competitiveness. And so your notes that this is, you know, a great theme of 19th century literature that it doesn’t necessarily have to do with, you know, I mean, it often has less to do with the desire for basic material sustenance, that’s to do with this idea that, you know, your, your whole sense of who you are, comes from this sort of dynamic, right, that you don’t, you don’t actually care so much about. And in fact, you’ll give up material comfort, just in order to, to be able to achieve what your model is achieving in some way. So, so this is this kind of this, you know, modern, the special sort of modern urban worlds that these novels, documents and the Girard sort of saw them gradually revealing to us right, and that, that these dynamics when he was writing this 60s, continued up to that time. So then, so from this, he derives the principle that conflict comes not from difference, but from similarity, right? Specifically, if we all want the same things, then we’re going to come come into conflict over those things. So and then, you know, the big leap in his career is basically between his first book, which is the one I was just describing, to see desire in the novel, and his second book, violence on the sacred, right. And so violence on the sacred, he shifts his focus back millennia, right to archaic societies, as they’re documented in essentially a myth, but also in the biblical texts and, and other surviving documents, as well as the contemporary accounts of anthropologists of, of more traditional archaic societies that that’s subsisted into the modern era. And basically, he he looks for the same pattern, right? Which is this present a situation in which people come into conflict, because they want the same things? Because they’re too similar. And he finds that, you know, this is also a kind of crisis that’s described in the in myths, right? So the similarity here is that he’s going to these texts, and he’s finding a particular pattern that they that they documents and describe. But here he comes to his next sort of major discovery, right, which is that the way that this crisis appears to be solved is through scapegoating, right in other words, through if you have a group of people who are all essentially in conflict and in this position of kind of oppressive, sameness, right, which what she calls you know, the sort of conflict between doubles, right? Then what what eventually happens is that one person who slightly stands out within this group of people in conflict is selected as a sort of victim and that they can all come together and sort of discharge the violence that they’re built exercising against each other against this, this surrogate victim right, who is then killed or expelled from the community and this provides a kind of temporary pacification So this is the second, you know, the first idea is that, you know, human conflict comes out of sameness. The second is that this kind of conflict can be resolved through a reestablishment of difference, which takes the form of scapegoating, right of the entire group coming together around the scapegoating of an individual. and achieving a kind of internal harmony by expelling this disparate elements of the outside, right, which creates a kind of boundary, which is the sort of beginning of a new order. So So that’s, that’s really kind of the second major discovery, right? And then the third, the third one, which kind of comes in the next book, things hidden since the foundation of the world, is that there’s a singular event, Gerard argues in human history, which is the essentially the crucifixion of Jesus, right. And the significance of this event is that it is not that it is not that it differs in any way from all of these other kinds of sacrificial killings that have occurred over the course of history. But that it that the way it is experienced and interpreted because of the the teachings that come out of first Jewish scriptures, and then Jesus’s teachings themselves, essentially enable for this this mechanism. I mean, I’m missing, I sort of missed a step here, which is that in order for this pacification function to work, people must believe that the scapegoat is guilty of the sort of crimes that have

Will Jarvis 16:42
the which really did bring the plague into the community or something like

Unknown Speaker 16:46
exactly right. So right, so you can think of witch hunting all the crazy things that witches are accused of, right, bringing plague destroying crops, etc, etc. that these, these things have to be genuinely believed in others, the guilt of the witch or scapegoat has to be accepted by the community in order for the pacification to work, right. And so the idea essentially, is that gradually through, there’s a kind of slow undermining of this, which begins in the Jewish in the Hebrew Bible, right in the texts of Jewish scriptures, and then sort of culminates in the moment of the crucifixion, which does not end scapegoating, but begins to weaken its efficacy by making it impossible to believe in the guilt of the scapegoat. And so those are, I’d say, kind of the three stages of thought, and then he has a number of other books that kind of develop these ideas further, but to me, those are kind of the crucial moments of his discovery, I realized that was longer than an elevator pitch.

Will Jarvis 17:50
Well, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s complex, right? I mean, it’s not exactly things that can be easily condensed. I want to go back and talk about imitation a little bit. And, you know, you know, how important do you think empathic imitation is to human beings, you know, I always remember this, this study I read, and it was with pigeons, and the Monty Hall problem problem. And pigeons are oftentimes they’re better than a lot of humans at solving this, like, pure, like, rational optimization problem. And so I often think, like, perhaps humans, distinct advantages, our ability to copy what works, what other humans are doing. And I see gerards work is like, highlighting that and in reminding us that there can be some very dark things that come along with that.

Unknown Speaker 18:37
Yeah. So, you know, one thing that’s important to specify, in terms of gerards thought is that, you know, he comes there’s a great deal of work on imitation and its significance to sort of human behavior prior to him. Yeah, so what’s what what he introduces is this idea of imitative or mimetic desire, right? It’s this desire code. It’s not that it’s not merely that we see a behavior and copy it, which we do, obviously, as do many other animals. But we also see, particularly someone acquiring or attempting to acquire something, and that that triggers in us a desire for the same object, right. So, you know, I think this I, you know, part of his argument is that this is intrinsically a difficult thing to observe in one’s own

Unknown Speaker 19:36
law.

Unknown Speaker 19:39
Because one is, in various ways, under all sorts of pressure to conceal this from everyone else and from oneself. Right. You never want to be seen as someone who has, who is pursuing a path simply because somebody else has done it first. And so, you know, there there are all these kind of strategies of denial or obfuscation, right. But I think, you know, the, the idea here is that this is both crucial elements in shaping, you know, our life path and also one that is, for various reasons difficult for us to, to observe or be willing to admit, you know, at some point Girard says that, you know, modern, you know, a nice thing about Freud here, you know, modern people become so obsessed with kind of detecting sex, sexual impulses and everything, because they’re still not willing to detect mimetic or annotative impulses, right? That, that sex becomes a way of, of of, I mean, it becomes a way of essentially covering up the imitative nature of desire by still asserting that it’s fundamentally the the actual desirability of the object that makes it attract us rather than the, rather than this mechanism of mere imitation. Right. So I think, yeah, he, and, you know, I do think, I think there, there are complications, and, you know, reasonable critiques to be made about, you know, particularly what’s what becomes difficult to explain is how, and this kind of goes back to the original, you know, example I brought up of like, people in modern society who have, who don’t have you know, that they’re not going to do exactly what their father did, or their parents did, they’re going to potentially strike out and do something else. So what is it that causes them to select one model for their desire rather than another? Like, what, what accounts for that selection process? How to? I mean, it seems clear that this happens, right, right. People, people select models, or what’s your articles, mediators? One thing that is theory maybe doesn’t fully account for is how that selection process works. In other words, why does one person become my model rather than another? So I think, you know, there’s still there’s, there’s they’re sort of areas of his thinking that I would say needs to be filled in more perhaps. But, you know, overall, I I think it’s, it’s true that it is and remains a sort of neglected phenomenon, despite the fact that it’s also so easy to observe. But it’s the part of the problem is that it’s very easy to observe, like many things, it’s very easy to observe and others, but harder to be willing to admit in ourselves.

Will Jarvis 22:25
Definitely, definitely. Absolutely. And do you feel like he mentioned this earlier? Do you feel it has changed over time? where, you know, and was it is it like a post Industrial Revolution thing, where suddenly you have a lot more freedom, you’re living in a democracy, you know, you’ve got things are changing much more rapidly. It’s not the society is much less static than it was in the past. In feudalism, where, you know, like you said, There, you really have no options. Do you think this problem has gotten worse over time? Because of that?

Unknown Speaker 22:54
Um, you know, I think there are, there are a few different ways to respond to this. I mean, on one hand, so Girard would argue that, you know, traditional societies, pre modern societies in various ways, you know, expended a great deal of energy and regulating desire, right, and telling you what you could and couldn’t desire, right? So for example, and here’s, uh, you know, if you think of the 10 commandments, right, several of them have to do with, you know, Thou shalt not covet, you know, that they have to do with telling you, you should not desire something that belongs to another person, right? So that’s right, yes. Okay, this is a problem, right? That that society needed to figure out how to solve. Right, right. And so similarly, in, in many, just another simple example, think of the concept of the sumptuary code, right that basically, in many more traditional earlier societies, there were actual rules about depending on what your social station was, what you could wear and what you couldn’t wear, or there are processes of he, there were rules to decide who you could marry and who you couldn’t marry, and things like that. So that so there were all sorts of ways that society is focused a huge amount of energy in restricting what people were allowed to have, and thus kind of regulating their desires, right. And so one way to interpret this is that the potential for conflict was always there, because the mimetic impulse was always there, right. But these societies developed these relatively robust systems of prohibitions to prevent that happening, that that were supposed to prevent that from happening. And so, these but these seem bizarre and irrational to us in modern times, right? Why? Why are these things prohibited? Right, we think that’s an affront to freedom and individuality and so on. So you know, I think part of the point with Gerard is to kind of, you have to recognize the the wisdom that’s actually embodied in those sorts of regulatory systems. While at the same time not not being a sort of conservative mystyle, just in the sense of thinking that it’s something that you can actually go back to, and I get into why he doesn’t think that’s a feasible thing. But, um, whereas in modern times what happens? Well, you know, in a sense, there’s this kind of free for all right, where suddenly people can supposedly pursue whatever they want. But of course, you know, part of John’s argument is that there isn’t the freedom is illusory, right? Because we become enslaved to whatever model we appoint for our selves, right. And so, you know, so I think his account, you know, his readings of like, novelists like Proust and Dostoyevsky, are particularly good at illustrating this, right? You have these basically, you know, these sort of urbane cosmopolitan people with more or less limited limitless resources, you know, living this life of apparent freedom, and yet, they’re constantly in the state of, of a sort of bizarre mental and spiritual servitude to other people who they’ve sort of appointed as their as the the people who kind of determine the path of their desires, right. But then, you know, the other thing that I think we could get into here is things like consumerism, I mean, obviously, what what happens later? Well, basically, we have these massive, you know, sort of apparatuses of propaganda of advertising that are sort of trying to direct our desires in particular directions, right? And are also, you know, are essentially operating from this principle, right, the basic idea that you you make a product desirable by showing somebody appealing, who is consuming it or enjoying, right, right. And so, you know, that there’s a way that this freedom is actually illusory, because there are all sorts of new mechanisms that come in, and in a less overt and more subtle way, kind of direct are, are the course of our desires. So the I think the point would be that the basic principle is there, but the way the modern society deals with it, is somewhat different and more volatile. Gotcha. Um, but and, and more, more complex, perhaps, but nevertheless, is not, you know, is by no means as free as it actually appears. That makes sense. Yeah.

Will Jarvis 27:35
I’ve got a question. And this is a meta level question. And I’ve wondered this for a while. It is slightly unrelated, but it is related. That the pre modern, modern postmodern distinction, does that describe something you know, what does that describe? And does that describe something real? Hmm.

Unknown Speaker 27:53
That’s a really good question. Um, so I struggle with this. Um, you know, one of the books that most kind of transformed my perspective at a certain time in my life was Bruno Latour is, we have never been modern, right, which is probably the most influential book arguing that there that that, that there’s a basic problem with that distinction, right. Gotcha. But, but the way that he does, it is a bit more complicated, which is that he argues that what what appears to distinguish modernity from pre modernity is something that he calls the modern Constitution, which we might think of as a kind of as a way of describing something like secularism. Gotcha. And basically, the idea of the modern constitution and was was horrors account is that you separate out nature and society, right. And you see nature as a separate entity that requires natural explanations, and social society as a separate entity that requires social explanations. So pre modern societies generally do not make this distinction, right. This is why they believe that earthquakes can be caused by, you know, a person’s immoral behavior or, you know, tend to believe that certain that certain, you know, things that we consider natural phenomena actually have deep roots in human activities or, or potentially, or vice versa, right, that they don’t really separate these things out. So, modern society enables the growth, particularly the growth of science, right, by taking nature and saying, you know, if there’s a if there’s an earthquake or a flood, this is not caused by some human activity, right? Instead, it’s something that has some natural cause right? And therefore, we have to understand the systemic functioning of nature in order to explain it. Right. Got it. So Latour says, the problem is This all seems pretty straightforward. It seems that the modern the moderns were right, right, we were right to say nature’s over here, societies over here, never the twain shall meet. So Latour actually says, No, this isn’t true, right? Why isn’t it true? Well, because if you think about all of the major trends that we consider today, as, as the crucial ones, they completely defy this divisibility if you take something like global warming, if you even take something, I mean, he was writing this and I think the 90s but you know, take something like COVID. Right. Yeah. I mean, in a sense, even if, even if the lab. I mean, if the lab Lake hypothesis were true, then it would be a perfect illustration of Right, right, that we can’t really separate these two things anymore. Yeah. But even if it’s not, you know, the, the fact that that COVID spread in the way that it did was entirely the result of the way that we’ve organized human society. Right, right. So So the point is, his argument was that this division was always was useful in the sense of enabling a kind of productivity on the part of science. But it was also illusory, in some ways, because it, because it doesn’t allow for the kind of thinking that will actually help us engage with the problems we face today. So one way of doing this division and military and way would be to say, we have the pre modern, which is before the before, we have the modern Constitution, the strict division between the social and the natural, then we have the modern, which is where we do have the strict division between the social and the natural. And then finally, we have the postmodern which is where these things starts to blur again, right? And it’s just, and people start talking about things like the Anthropocene right? Now. I want to save this is also, you know, there’s a way of talking about this in as your ardian way, right? Because the,

Unknown Speaker 31:56
if you think about let’s take the witchcraft example. Right, so Gerard argues that, you know, typically, we imagine why do people stop burning witches? You know, and about three 350 years ago? Well, the typical answer is, well, they started learning how nature really worked. And therefore, they realized that, you know, crops weren’t failing, because of some Hocus Pocus, they were failing because of some, you know, natural light or something of that sort. So, um, so that’s, you know, that would be the sort of modern constitution moment, right. But so Gerard has a different explanation of this, which is that, um, and perhaps a different explanation of where this modern constitution comes from, which is that, and this if you, you can, I mean, for me, another influential figure is the anthropologist, he Evans Pritchard, who Girard works, you know, his your art is influenced by who, you know, has this notion that witchcraft is an explanation of unfortunate events. What does that mean? Well, basically cultures, which are basically all cultures, and almost all, you know, basically, throughout human history, different cultures have had a concept of witchcraft, right, which is basically, there’s some person who is an agent of some misfortune. And that misfortune takes the form of some kind of supernatural intervention in the course of events. And that event, and that intervention causes some disaster to befall the community, right. And so all this is simply a way of saying different societies throughout history have had the kind of beliefs that that are necessary to sustain the practice of scapegoating, right that, in other words, they’ve had the kind of beliefs that enabled them to say, oh, if there’s some disaster befalling us, there must be somebody to blame. If we get rid of that person, we might not make the crop failure and right away, but at least we can relieve some of the social tensions around it. Right? So Gerard says, basically, there’s a kind of gradual disabling of the scapegoat mechanism. So people stop believing in the guilt of the witch for the crop failure or whatever. And so his argument is that in order to have the direct investigation to natural causes, right, you first you have to have the disabling of the scapegoat mechanism, so that people say, Okay, I guess that kind of explanation doesn’t really work anymore. So we need to look for other kinds of explanations, right? So, um, in this case, you know, there’s a, there’s a way of reading the postmodern, which, you know, I would say, is not and I would say neither, neither of these ways of reading the postmodern are necessarily the ways that it’s typically thought about, but but there except that, you know, it has to do with the waning of modern convictions and scientific progress and things like that, right, that in this case, along with the postmodern, you would have a a weakening of these functions that held back the scale mechanism, right, which would potentially allow for it to proliferate in new ways, which I would say it pretty much has. So yeah, well, but

Will Jarvis 35:14
i think i think that distinction makes a lot of sense. And going back, so for Girard, Christianity is special. And it’s special because Jesus is truly innocent. And, you know, maybe there’s some stuff in the Old Testament that also, you know, pre is a precursor to this. What do you think about that? Do you think it really is, the Christian myth is does stand the scrape from other earlier Miss and Miss beyond Christianity?

Unknown Speaker 35:47
So I think he makes a person he makes a persuasive case in some places. And I think, you know, it does allow you to see, it essentially allows for a certain kind of exceptionalism that I think is is descriptive, rather than evaluative, in other words, that that doesn’t really set apart. The, you know, the parts of the world influenced by, right sort of Judeo Christian scriptures as as morally superior, but does set them apart as having initiated and gone through a kind of process. Right, which is the sort of discrediting of scapegoating first, right. Yeah. And that that was historically causative and significant. Right, and that what we’re seeing today is the gradual kind of unfolding of that same process throughout the world, right, through the creation of a kind of globalized monoculture. Right, right. So I mean, in that sense, I think there is a persuasive case, I would say that what a weakness of his theory is that there is this whole notion of like the axial age, and you have these remarkable parallel developments and different cultures, right, where there’s generally a, essentially a, I mean, and much of this involves a kind of movement away from sacrifice, right, which is the sort of ritualized the sort of ritual as substitute of the scapegoat mechanism and kind of more, you know, advanced sort of priestly societies, right. So I think what’s interesting to me is that there’s clearly a kind of process of evolution that occurs in some cultures, particularly early, initially, completely separately from the trajectory of Christianity. So I would be interested to know, or I would be interested to understand better and again, I think this is a part of his theory that he, I mean, he does have a late short book that’s dealing with some Hindu texts, called set a book called sacrifice from I think about 2010. So it was one of his last writings. But overall, I think this is, this is an area that deserves further exploration, because the question is, what what causes that kind of coevolution of various cultures, right? Because we can see that there was a co evolution. I mean, certainly in the earlier period, there’s you’re already an account what it allows to see how there’s a spontaneous and emergent process by which different societies develop these kind of priestly sacrificial cultures. Right. Right. And so it seems to me there’s also a coevolution of various societies away from that. Right, and particularly towards a kind of gradual, moral repudiation of sacrifice. And so I’d be curious to, uh, you know, so so I, to me, that would be, if not at odds with gerards kind of understanding of the uniqueness of Christianity necessarily, it would at least raise a question about, if about whether we can really understand Christianity as the single kind of causal agent of this discrediting of sacrifice. Gotcha,

Will Jarvis 39:21
gotcha. That makes a lot of sense, and an area of preps to study further.

Unknown Speaker 39:26
Yeah. It’s unfortunately, it’s one of these things. That’s, it’s like, so ambitious, that nobody does. Nobody does this kind of stuff anymore. I mean, right. So I guess it falls to, you know, crazy outsiders, some people like that, who I’m interested in to, to try to do it because people are not gonna be American to do that. Right? Because, again, goes back to the specialization thing, right? You need people who are just insanely ambitious and willing to go way out on a limb to try to think about these kinds of phenomena.

Will Jarvis 39:58
Right, right. Like, well, and even I think Gerard even talks about this on it’s like some interview for Canadian Public Television. He did, like four hours long, I really enjoyed it, listen to it on a plane recently. But you know, he talks about how everyone just, you know, the all the academics were just unwilling to, you know, look outside their specific sub domain primarily, because the incentives are just, they’re not tuned in the quick way for you to be able to do that, like, you know, yet to get 10 or you need to publish in externals in your field. And you’re not going to do that if you’re doing these weird kind of very generalist, or like sub kind of domain, areas of researcher exploration.

Unknown Speaker 40:41
Yeah. And this goes back to my sort of chafing against specialization when I was in graduate schools. Yeah, yeah. I mean, this is part of what drew me to someone like, Gerard, you know, I appreciate somebody who has that kind of ambition. Definitely. And total defiance of any kind of expectations. I mean, I think there was there was a greater, you know, it’s interesting to read about his career. And like Cynthia havens biography of him, because, you know, there was a greater leeway and freedom in American academia at that time to really go out on a limb and undertake really ambitious theoretical projects that I just don’t think exists anymore. So

Will Jarvis 41:23
yeah, I definitely think I haven’t looked at it on the humanity side. But we have you ever heard of Don braven? Hmm. He’s a really interesting, really interesting guy. He’s like, 85 now, but he wrote a book called scientific freedom that was recently republished by stripe press. But his whole thought is that used to be until, you know, until recently, you could go and you could be a scientist, or a scholar, and you could get, you know, 30k a year, and you could just make it and study whatever you really wanted to. And now it’s the opposite, where you know, you have to apply for grants, it’s much more bureaucratic. And that kind of weeds out a lot of like, the weird, wacky ideas like, yeah, you know, working on Max Planck working on thermodynamics for 20 years would just not be feasible, in the same sense as it was back then.

Unknown Speaker 42:10
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, another person who has written about this, who I was, I was just thinking about, because I think it sort of ties into some things I was just talking about. David graeber is debt. The first 5000 years, you know, because it is kind of one of these, you know, it’s about a 5000 year span of history. So that’s the question. But he also wrote about the same kind of thing, how, you know, just the, the way that academia has now got burned by these kind of short term incentives, has really killed the possibility of undertaking a lot of that sort of that sort of more ambitious and out there research. And, you know, he, he sort of attributes the stagnation of intellectual life, you know, kind of across the board to that to that situation. So, yeah, I think that’s a serious, serious issue today. I mean, I think my only slight glimmer of hope is that, you know, there are, I think there are just a lot of people doing weird and interesting stuff on the internet. So yeah. That’s kind of you know, and also, I think the I do think the prestige signaling function of academia is somewhat in decline, at least, as far as sort of high caliber intellectual, I think there are other sort of those you know, that there are other forms of signaling that are vaguely coming into being, you know, it’ll still take a while, but I think I think we are kind of groping towards new models for for this sort of thing.

Will Jarvis 43:52
So things are definitely changing. Definitely turn down. I want to throw out a few overrated underrated terms, and just get your feedback on it. Be sure. Okay. So overrated or underrated? beaudry. Art?

Unknown Speaker 44:07
I would say he, I think he was he went from being overrated to being underrated. And he’s, I would say is definitely underrated today. So, you know, he’s somebody I’ve been quite interested in recently, I think, a lot of stuff that he a lot of his arguments were sort of misunderstood. I mean, part of why he was overrated was that there was a kind of oversimplified version of him that that circulated in sort of popular culture. And that, you know, I think what what was actually useful and insightful about him was somewhat lost in that reception. And so, you know, what’s interesting to me is the way that his his thinking was, you know, when he was thinking about simulate simulation and simulacra, right, right, um, I think a lot of people associated that with VR, and, you know, yeah, and things like that, um, and hence it becomes, you know, cited in the matrix and so on. But I think what, what people missed was that, you know, the real way that he was thinking about simulation was through model, you know, things like modeling, right? That, um, that have been extremely significant in the past year and a half. And during COVID, for example, write that, in a way though, in a way, the whole way that we apprehended the reality of COVID was through modeling through simulations in the sense of, of sort of mathematical models. Right. Right. Which, which were essentially substituted in for the reality of the, of the virus, right, and then became the basis of policymaking. Right. So, I mean, to me, that’s a much more useful illustration of what he was thinking about. Right? And because the problem is that the end The end, the problem is that this kind of modeling becomes very, I mean, the reason that essentially, it does away with a sort of an end, the reason the matrix or whatever model is, is or illustration of beaudry art isn’t quite right, is that it’s still assumes a reality, and then a representation. Right, the whole point of this kind of modeling is that it constantly blurs those two things, right? It doesn’t, it doesn’t allow for that. Those two things to remain distinct, they collapse or sort of implode into each other. And so yeah, I would say that he, you know, especially since the particular way that simulation functions, you know, in a very immediate everyday way and all of our lives, right, whether we’re plugged into all these algorithmic systems and so on, you know, that’s the part of him that I think is underrated. And that I think he was quite, quite prescient about, you know, in as early as the mid 70s. So, like, that’s

Will Jarvis 46:58
critical theory, overrated?

Unknown Speaker 47:02
I mean, I think I would say, let’s put it this way, I think it’s causal impact on society is overrated by conservative critics. In the sense that it, it doesn’t mean it and you know, it goes back to the whole witchcraft thing. It’s essentially, it’s, it’s come to function as a kind of scapegoat. That can be blamed as a, again, as a causal agent of misfortune. You take all the things you you diagnose is wrong with the society, and then you decide that this relatively small group of people were ultimately responsible for it, right. So it becomes a kind of rhetorical scapegoating. And yeah, the the, I mean, I have my own way of trying to describe what, what it’s sort of causal, if any role is and you know, sort of how things have evolved in academia and beyond, but I won’t go into that. Now, I’ll just say that one of my general takes here is that it’s overrated as a causal agents of the misfortunes afflicting Western society here.

Will Jarvis 48:11
That makes a lot of sense. And yeah, I think that it makes quite a lot of sense that it’s definitely become this major scapegoat. It’s just like, you know, your Ben Shapiro, like this is the cause of the decline of Western civilization. And this is the end, and it’s like, I’m not quite sure that would that would be it, but it’s quite interesting. Yeah. Let’s see. So, you know, how has it been? In some ways? You know, I’ve seen like, like, a lot of your work seems to be creating a parallel academia, you know, how has that experience been? And is that a fair like, assessment of what you’ve been working on?

Unknown Speaker 48:55
Yeah, I mean, I would say, it’s probably a bit less ambitious than that. But, um, you know, in theory, that would kind of be the ideal. Right? But, you know, it’s been, it’s been great in the sense that there’s so much more interest in a lot of these ideas out there than I would have anticipated. So, right. And also that, you know, it’s it’s nice to talk to people who are not kind of plugged into the system of career ism and competition and who are really trying to make sense of the world in an open ended way, and don’t really have any, you know, don’t really have anything to gain from it. I mean, you know, and personally, I don’t actually have much I mean, I have sort of minor things to gain from it. But right at this point in my career, as far as my day job is concerned, it’s kind of largely detached from whatever right enterprises i’ve i’ve been building online, so you know, so it feels very genuinely truth seeking and you know, Like, refreshing in that way, because I really don’t think much of that is going on in academia unfortunately, rice, which is

Will Jarvis 50:07
not good, perhaps pressing. Yes. Well, Jeff, thank you so much for coming on. Do you have any parting thoughts? Just about Gerard, anything that things we discussed today? And the second question, Where can people find your work?

Unknown Speaker 50:22
Sure, um, thoughts about Gerard, I think I’ve covered most of it. I mean, I think his, um, you know, I, I, I think what I brought up before, it when you ask the moderate the pre modern, post, pre modern, modern, postmodern question, right, you know, perhaps that’s kind of my, you know, sort of watch the space point would be, you know, trying to just kind of figure out that relationship between Gerard and post modernism slash post modernity is sort of one of my main interests at the moments, and particularly that issue I brought up of that I think it does, it does imply a kind of reactivation of the scapegoat function and in new ways, if we’re returning to this kind of blurring of nature and society, right, right, that, that what that means is that you have a kind of possibility for, you know, social agents to be blamed for natural disasters and all that kind of stuff. Right. And so what that means is that the scapegoating, you know, the function is going to be react and is being reactivated, right. So that’s, that’s part of what I want to keep thinking about going ahead. And, you know, if other people have thoughts about this, I’d be curious to hear them. So So that’s, that’s one of the big one of the big projects I want to pursue. So you can look out for my writing at outsider theory, outsider theory, calm as well as the podcast of the same name. You can find the link to that on the website, too. Um, if you go to my Twitter bio, my Twitter is at daily underscore barbarian. The if you go to my Twitter bio, you can find a link tree with links to various other things. But those are probably the end. Yeah, you know, you can you can follow me there have been trying to lay off the Twitter a little bit. Why take a little summer break from it? Try to be outside more. But um, but yeah, you know, but you can definitely still follow me there. I’m still putting in appearances. And yeah, check out the link tree and it’s got some other strange links to other stuff I’ve been up to. So awesome. Well, Jeff,

Will Jarvis 52:41
thank you so much for coming on. I really appreciate it.

Unknown Speaker 52:43
Yeah. Thanks so much. It’s been a pleasure. And yeah, hope you enjoy the rest of your summer. And yeah, just thanks for the invitation. Definitely.

Will Jarvis 52:58
Well, that’s our show for today. I’m Bill Jarvis. And I’m will join us next week for more narratives.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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