Friday, June 15, 2007

Crisis of Distinctions

Over at Vox Nova, Katerina Marie posted news about the Hamas/Fatah fighting happening in Gaza. The comments contain the usual "news analysis" one comes to expect from the respective liberal / conservative arenas: it's the Bush/Cheney Regime's fault; no, it's the UN's ... Sigh.

None of this addresses the problem at the "tectonic level," if you will. For this, one must turn to the unique revelatory witness of the canonical New Testament for the deepest anthropological underpinnings of human culture, human interactions, human violence. And, in the service of the Magisterium of the Church, no one has explicated the ramifications of biblical understanding in anthropological terms better than René Girard. If you don't know a thing about Girard or are convinced that your mentor/interpreter of human life is much better than Girard, c'est la vie.

This blog is not an apologetic, but a forum for "Squaring the Circle of Our Rad Trad Catholic Girardian Conserberalism." So, in the words of Father Goose, if you don't happen to like (us), pass (us) by.

Hamas and Fatah, structurally, are rivals. To the observer, one would have a difficult time discerning many differences in them. Both lay claim to leadership via authority from the people and, more importantly, from Allah. Both see Israel an abomination to Islam. Both strive to observe Shariah, with subtle and slight differences that are hardly noticeable. And that is the issue: a crisis of distinctions. That which causes conflict is not difference but similarity. As Girard notes:
Sometimes the cause is internal -- political disturbances, for example, or religious conflicts. Fortunately, we do not have to determine the actual cause. No matter what circumstances trigger great collective persecutions, the experience of those who live through them is the same. The strongest impression is without question an extreme loss of social order evidenced by the disappearance of the rules and "differences" that define cultural divisions. Descriptions of these events are all alike ... We should not be surprised since all the sources speak endlessly of the absence of difference, the lack of cultural differentiation, and the confusion that results. For example the Portuguese monk Fco de Santa Maria writes in 1697:

As soon as this violent and tempestuous spark is lit in a kingdom or a republic, magistrates are bewildered, people are terrified, the government is thrown into disarray. Laws are no longer obeyed; business comes to a halt; families lose coherence ... Those who were burying others yesterday are themselves buried today ... No pity is shown to friends since every sign of pity is dangerous.
What terrifies the onlooker is that one worries with a not-insignificant fear that what is happening in Gaza (or Sarajevo not so many years ago) may happen in Paris, in Madrid, in New York, or Dearborn before long. What happens when ad-hoc "priests" (aka "street youth") light very dry tinder near me? Thus, Girard lays open the anxieties of the post-modern western person who is beginning to realize with Girard that the inchoate fall-back religion of the human race is not a sweeping, Rousseau-esque "Co-Exist" naïveté of so many New Age bumper-stickers, nor is it the Golden Rule (that is a hard-fought value as every Christian parent knows).

Rather, the natural and fallen human religion is bloodthirsty, violent, and sacrificial -- other, not self-. The anthropology of the Bible knows this. The deposit of the faith safeguarded and dilegently taught by Mother Church knows this. Modern westerners have forgotten or rejected this, and those not under the influence of Christ's teaching never knew this.

The "crisis of distinctions" in Girard's stunningly accurate analysis is the world we now live in. How we shall address this crisis when it draws near to us is the task given us to perform.


David Nybakke said...

I'll jump in here with you, Ath. First though, I could not link to the Girard book. Could you check to see if it is my problem or your link?

You know, the problem of an observer reading our post is that they probably aren't the Walker Percy or Flannery O'Connor character type of true observer. Our visitors will find it difficult to separate themselves from "the usual "news analysis" one comes to expect from the respective liberal / conservative arenas". In other words they totally identify with the differences and cannot see the similarities as what Percy of O’Connor would help us see from one of their novels.

truepeers said...

Greetings Athos,

to extend your argument, would you say there are no essential differences between the Palestinians and the Jews of Israel (even when the situation is reduced to two lonely men locked in mortal combat)?

I think it is not so much that conflict is caused by similarity as that conflict develops when people, from envy, resentment, or pure existential struggle for survival, erode, forget, or refuse once legitimate and meaningful differences. The question of the legitimacy of differences must thus take us to the question of whether all differences are simply the product of mythic misrepresentations of violent sacrifice, or whether important differences may precede the sacrificial violence, act to defer it, and remain a legitimate basis for justifying one's side in a conflict.

Thus I am not so sure whether journalists are always in the wrong about the myths of difference they spin (though when it comes to the Palestinians they usually are). Sometimes some of them may actually be visionary enough to articulate differences around which a future peace might emerge.

Porthos said...

Excellent roundup here by Michael Totten.

IMO, this is no bubbling up of a differential crisis between Fatah & Hamas but a calculated putsch by the Hamas-Hezbollah-Iran axis. Bad news all around.

Athos said...

You're right, Porthos. This is well past the point where MT might help quell violence through conscious intervention, peacekeeping efforts, etc. But I don't think it puts Girard's insights into question at all.

Consciously, the "axis" has their ostensible rationale which is consistent with their take on Islam, political aspirations and so forth. Unconsciously and surreptitiously, MT "reveals code" re: the typical fallen human "funny business."

Girard wd be the first in line to say he isn't saying anything original here; it's all in the New Testament. He simply thematized what the gospel was eventually revealing to our slow as mud to get it species.

Athos said...

From today's WaPo: "Radical Group Pulls In Sunis As Lebanon's Muslims polarize.

Porthos said...

Well, I think what I mean is that a straightforward Girardian rivalry/doubling analysis works, kind of, but in the same way such an analysis of, say, early post-revolutionary Russia might work: the Bolshevik putsch COULD be analyzed as the doubling rivalry with the ensemble of idealistic Socialists/Anarchists the Bolsheviks crushed, but IMO the deeper tectonics would in fact (Monday morning quarterbacking of history here) be the crystallizing of the form of purer form of revolutionary resentment embodied in the triumphant Bolsheviks (and that became the model for so much to follow, including Naziism). There IS a mimetic approach to this (and a GA approach), but I think it would go broader than a rival/double/undifferentiation analysis. I think Gil nails some of this well in his analysis of the French Revolution and aftermath.

Athos said...

I think Gil nails some of this well in his analysis of the French Revolution and aftermath.

You mean it is more of a sacrificial "melt down" without such clearly defined rivals? The two go hand in hand, in my u.

Hamerton-Kelly, Bailie quotes, says that democracy is the outcome of the death of kings (Louis XVI & Charles I). In such a sacrificial crisis (during which doubling rivalries are the coin of the realm), they're spawned like tornadoes from the sacrificial hurricane; part of the symptomology.

I don't know if GA applies; I've never heard anyone speak to it in such a way that doesn't sound more like an economics class (yawn).