Liberal virtue mimesis mad libs

A few days ago I threw a design tantrum on my blog dedicated to design tantrums:

Apple seems to think its Jobsian Reality Distortion Field is still operational. It thinks that if it keeps pretending its botched syncing is a magically simple cloud experience — if it sings out “ta da!” insistently enough — its cult of uncritical boneheads will just believe what Apple wants them to believe. And you know what? Apple is 100% correct.

But I do not believe. I do not believe because I notice things and think about them. That is what smart people do. Stupid people copy the thoughts of people they think are smart, and then stupidly imagine that copying smart person thoughts makes them smart.

In that last I suspect I am dumbing down Girard’s theory of mimetic desire and applying it to the contemporary virtue of virtues: smartness.

It is interesting though, how much contemporary progressivist culture rejects mimesis in word, while embracing it in action, producing some pretty comical effects for spectators positioned outside progressivism.

Nobody — or at least nobody in in the ascendant professional class — wants to be a cultural copycat. Everyone wants to be the originator of his own beliefs, attitudes and practices. And every fails dramatically, because originality doesn’t come from intense need to be original and determination to achieve it. Originality comes from noticing what one notices (not just what everyone else is fixating on) and trying to find a way to make clear, coherent and persuasive sense of what strikes one as relevant. It’s the “persuasive” part that is hardest. It requires intellectual honestly beyond what most people have — because most people believe mimetically, and play little or no attention to whether they, themselves, are persuaded.

To put it into my mimetic liberal virtue mad libs formula: Unoriginal “original” people copy the ideas of people they think are original and imagine copying Original Person Ideas makes them original.

A person urgently seeking answers to questions they themselves feel urgently — or, even better, the capacity to resolve perplexities they themselves have entered, with any form of positive or negative resolution, whether it be question, answer, problem, solution, or response — will accept help wherever they can find it. They’ll borrow, steal, copy, whatever — and they won’t stop until they experience genuine persuasion and relief from the question, problem or perplexity. The originality follows from this uncompromising pursuit of clear, cohesive persuasion. As James Dickey said “Amateurs borrow; artists steal.”

So, now I’m wondering what happens if the other virtues of progressivism — those remaining traces of waning liberalism — are subjected to this same mimetic virtue mad libs formula. I’ll make a quick list of the liberal virtues progressivists still prize: Liberalism (as opposed to illiberalism), Strength (as opposed to weakness), Uniqueness (as opposed to conformity), Objectivity (as opposed to ideology), Empathy (as opposed to self-centered).

Let’s mad lib these and see how it goes:

Illiberal “liberal” people copy the ideals of people they think are liberal and imagine copying Liberal Person Ideals makes them liberal.

Weak “strong” people copy the behaviors of people they think are strong and imagine copying Strong Person Behaviors makes them strong.

Conformist “unique” people copy the qualities of people they think are unique and imagine copying Unique Person makes them unique.

Ideological “objective” people copy the beliefs of people they think are objective and imagine copying Objective Person Beliefs makes them objective.

Self-centered “empathic” people copy the emotions of people they think are empathic and imagine copying Empathic Person Emotions makes them empathic.

It seems to work, at least for liberal virtues.

And also, just as Girard says (or I think he does, because I still have only read about his thought and have not yet read him) competition to possess these virtues exclusively and deny them to the out-group produces hostility and an overpowering need for scapegoating.

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