Considering Battling to the End by René Girard with The Triumph of the Therapeutic by Philip Rieff

“Like Christ” After the Death of the Scapegoat

O.G. Rose
29 min readNov 22, 2022

Modeling, Mimetics, Sacrificial “Givens,” the Non-Zero Sumness of Apprenticeship, and Desire as Seeking Flow

Photo by Daniel McCullough

There is no doubt that René Girard in his theory of mimetic desire gave us a powerful predictive tool: if you had to wager, it’s better to assume that two nations that become like one another are more likely to fight than not, that a given person will just “happen” to want thing similar to his neighbor, and so on. Furthermore, turning to a scapegoat to control mimetic desire indeed seems to describe social mechanisms by which class divisions, mobs, and conflict can be abated and addressed. The work of René Girard matters, and Dr. Thomas Hamelryck is a tremendous source for exploring the depths of Girard’s theory. I suggest him highly.


How and why does desire arise in the first place, and why does it tend to be “mimetic?” Girard in Battling to the End notes the discovery of “mirror neurons,” and indeed those neurons seem to be part of why humans mimic those around them. The larger the sample size, it does seem to be the case the “mirroring” explains a large part of human want and desire. But why? Is it simply because we have “mirror neurons?” Regardless, we seem primed to fall into “mimetic desire” by the raw fact that ‘imitation is the initial and essential means of learning’ (as Girard put it).¹ Children must model themselves after their parents and environments if they are to have any hope of living in a world that is intelligible to them, but that means we all seemed primed from the beginning to end up in “mimetic desire.” If modeling is how we must learn, then we all must start learning by doing something that could easily end up in mimetics.

For me, there seems to be a difference between “modeling” and “mimetics,” and where there is “modeling” there is a trajectory to end up in “mimetics” (which means we are primed to end up in “mimetic desire,” though I don’t mean to say “all mimetics is mimetic desire” — only that “mimetics” is very close to becoming such). This begs the question: How do people engage in “modeling” yet not end up in “mimetics?” Well, it would seem the majority don’t avoid “unavoidable modeling” from becoming “mimetics” (and then it’s extremely probable that they end up in “mimetic desire”), though it should be noted that avoiding this fate is at least theoretically possible (how this is avoided is a profound and critical question).

“Mimetic desire” seems to arise in the majority because we all must start in “modeling” to learn and survive, and then it is only probable that “modeling” translates into “mimetics.” Furthermore, in school, we are taught that we “ought” to model and imitate, and so there is arguably also a subconscious “ethical imperative” which primes us to end up in “mimetic desire.” Even if no teacher or elder directly tells us that it is “moral to imitate,” the very medium and structure of education suggests this (to make a point inspired by Neil Postman), and it is easy for this subconscious association to carry through into life.

In addition to this point for why “mimetic desire” seems probable for the majority to end up in, in “René Girard and the Problem of Justification,” I attempted to argue that another reason we tend to “mimic desire” is precisely to avoid facing the lack (think Lacan) of a “transcendental grounding” for our desire. There is ultimately no “objective” reason for why we desire what we desire, and if we realized this it would threaten to hallow our desire of its meaning and lead to anxiety and terror. If “why” we desire what we desire though is outsourced to others, we can always claim we don’t experience “the ground of our desire” because “it’s in them,” and our inability to access the minds of others then creates a situation where there is always “plausible deniability” that this is the case. If they desire x, there must be “good reason” to desire x, and the fact we don’t know that reason doesn’t automatically function as evidence that the “good reason” doesn’t exist. And, funny enough, when we believe something is worth desiring because others desire it, since our desire lacks a “transcendental grounding,” there is nothing to stop our desire from shaping and forming itself to fully desire the thing for itself. And so in desiring something because others desire it, not only do we avoid the possibility of directly encountering a lack of “transcendental grounding” for our desire, but we also then “train ourselves” to actually and deeply desire in accordance with what we mirror. Since indeed desire itself lacks a “transcendental grounding,” there is nothing to stop us (from doing this at all and making our mimetic desire our desire).

We should note that when we look at desire, a question arises: “What do we see?” The very act of looking might change desire, for we in that moment “desire to see desire,” and thus the desire we will to see is “a desire desiring to know desire” (a kind of “Observer Effect”). We seem stuck in a “self-referential loop,” a problem which suggests the impossibility of getting to “desire-in-itself” (Kantian). This suggests that desire is a “self-relating negativity,” to use language from Žižek, which is to say that it can only relate to itself “negatively,” never realizing any “positive substance.”² This is a terrifying and anxiety-producing realization, and the majority of us will do everything in our power to avoid it. And do you know what is a great way to assure we never experience this anxiety? To place its source in “the other” (whose consciousness we can never access). To consider Lacan, we can forever “imagine” that our desire has a “transcendental grounding” (thanks to “plausible deniability” and the raw fact that others want the thing, so surely there must be something worth wanting), which can then structure our “symbolic world,” all while we never have to worry about encountering “The Real” of negativity. In this way, “mimetic desire” becomes a hedge against encountering what might prove too much to bear, and if we can successfully convince ourselves that our desire “is our own” and not “mimetic” (via self-deception, mental gymnastics, etc.), then we won’t even experience “mimetic desire” as a hedge but authentic. We win on all counts, which suggests that “mimetic desire” is rational — hence why it is so common and why its source might not just be “mirror neurons.” Yes, those neurons are part of the equation, but so are humans efforts to avoid negativity and “The Real.”

We all must start from somewhere (alluding to Thomas Nagel), and yet if desire lacks “an objective foundation,” how do we determine from where we should start? Well, desiring what the other people around us desire is a great and rational option, as is modeling what our parents and teachers do (ever necessary). Imitation and modeling place “the grounding” of desire (which doesn’t ultimately exist) in others, and that allows us to “plausibly deny” that our desire isn’t worth desiring. This allows us to feel “justified” to desire what we desire, and that feeling is one of comfort that combats and controls anxiety. And so we readily indulge in it.


From Battling to the End, a quotation I think captures the essence of Girard’s thought, useful for our purposes here:

‘[H]umans imitate one another more than animals, they have had to find a means of dealing with contagious similarity, which could lead to the pure and simple disappearance of the social. The mechanism that reintroduces difference into a situation in which everyone has come to resemble everyone else is sacrifice.’³

Where there is a lack of sacrifice, there is likely to be violence and “mobs” which terrorize the social order. Sacrifice contains “mimetic desire,” which suggests the example of Jesus Christ, who for Girard was of particular importance. Unfortunately, Christ was “the last sacrifice,” per se, which is to say Christ unveiled the function of sacrifice to contain “mimetic desire,” thus depriving sacrifice of its ability to address “sacred violence.” We today live among the remains of Christ’s work, still trying to figure out what we might do.

It has been 2000 years since Christ — has “mimetic desire” not been contained since? Why hasn’t the world ended quicker? It seems the addition of nuclear weaponry changes the calculus, yes, as does the internet, but I also wonder if there might not be other “means of sacrifice” that have filled in the void Christ left us with in deconstructing “the scapegoat mechanism.” Yes, I think Girard might say it has taken 2000 years for us to “get” what happened at Calvary, hence “the scapegoat mechanism” has been with us longer than it should have been (like “the shadow of Buddha” in Nietzsche), and furthermore Girard might still note the ever-escalation of warfare since Christ, suggesting that we now lack a mechanism to stop the escalation of violence (which today is extremely dire, seeing as we now have nuclear weapons, which have only stopped conflict after WWII “until now” — always “until now” — thanks to deterrence, which is a “negative mechanism” that doesn’t address “mimetic desire” itself, which builds up under deterrence, always about to burst). Still, I think alternative social mechanisms of “sacrifice” might still be at play besides “the scapegoat mechanism,” a point which makes me consider Philip Rieff.

I consider The Triumph of Therapeutic a work of genius, and my hope is that Belonging Again honors and explains the work in adequate detail. I’m tempted here to write another paper on Rieff, but I will restrain myself instead to summarize his views with the following:

‘Culture is another name for a design of motives directing the self outward, toward those communal purposes in which alone the self can be realized and satisfied.’⁴

‘A reorganization of those dialectical expressions of Yes and No the interplay of which constitutes culture, transforming motive into conduct, is occurring throughout the West, particularly in the United States and England.’⁵

Society is generally composed of “givens” (which we can associate with Freud’s “reality principle,” the “No”) and “releases” (“the pleasure principle,” the “Yes”), and where there are no societal “givens,” anything becomes possible, and faced with this radical freedom, humans can be overwhelmed in encountering “The Real,” which can lead to “The Meaning Crisis” and widespread pathology. In this context, ‘we embrace a gospel of personal happiness, defined as the unbridled pursuit of impulse [and yet] remain profoundly unhappy.’⁶ Totally free of “givens,” we live and exercise our autonomy ‘not embedded in human association [and/or] cultural meaning — [which] plunges people, already temperamentally inclined toward estrangement, deeper into the abyss of the psyche.’⁷ The world today, I believe, bears evidence of this case, which means ‘our culture has shifted toward a predicate of impulse release, projecting controls unsteadily based upon an infinite variety [positioned as] needs.’⁸ Our “anti-culture,” as Rieff liked to call it, is ‘merely at an eternal interim ethic of release from the inherited controls,’ which is to say we are attempting a society of “pure pleasure principle” (“pure release”) — which means we have no culture at all (for Rieff, where there is no “reality principles” or “givens,” there cannot be culture).⁹

For more on Philip Rieff

A book is indeed to expand on the depths of Rieff’s work, and hopefully Belonging Again addresses that need. Still, I hope enough has been said here to make the move I’d like to make next: “givens” and “constraints” are means of “societal sacrifice,” which is to say they constrain “mimetic desire” like “the scapegoat mechanism” once did before Christ. Societal “givens” entail practical function of orienting “releases” to “sacrifice themselves,” per se, which is to say what Freud called “the pleasure principle” sacrifices itself with and to “the reality principle.” In this way, we can see “givens” as providing ways to contain “mimetic desire,” for even if we want what our neighbor wants, Christ commands us not to “covet” or “envy.” That said, “givens” can also cause “mimetic desire” in that they can increase similarity, which for Girard was a recipe for conflict, so the particular details of the “givens” are important to consider. If the “givens” emphasize self-sacrifice and self-denial, then the “givens” could help us deal with mimetics, but we shouldn’t assume that “givens” alone are enough to solve are problems: it depends on the details, and they can ultimately be misused for “the banality of evil.” At the same, the loss of “givens” also entails its own risks and troubles.

Anyway, if Christianity is true, then it is “given” that envy is wrong, and so even if we do it, we will fight within ourself to stop feeling that envy, which is to say we will “check and balance” what we want to do with the reality of Christ (and Christ’s teaching). This is important: if you believe in Christ, you believe Christianity is reality, and thus the teachings of Christianity become “the reality principle.” What Freud described doesn’t just apply to finite society, political economy, or the like, for we must also understand that religious belief transforms what constitutes “reality” itself. If we believe in Christ, then “The Sermon on the Mount” becomes an expression of “the principles of deepest reality,” and then we are commanded as Christians to apply “the reality principle” to ourselves internally. Why this is important to note is that because it is not the case that Christ overturned “the scapegoat mechanism” (according to Girard) and then left us with nothing, but rather Christ gave us “new principles of reality” according to which we could “bind ourselves” and “bind our desire (and desire’s tendency to be mimetic to avoid facing self-relating negativity)” that we could then employ after “the scapegoat mechanism” was no longer present to address “mimetic desire.” Furthermore, we sacrifice our desires to “the reality principle,” so in this we see internalized the rituals and mechanisms of sacrifice which preceded Christ.

This is an important point: if you believe in Christ, you believe Christianity is reality, and thus the teachings of Christianity become “the reality principle.” What Freud described doesn’t just apply to finite society, political economy, or the like, for we must also understand that religious belief transforms what constitutes “reality” itself. If we believe in Christ, then “The Sermon on the Mount” becomes an expression of “the principles of deepest reality,” and then we are commanded as Christianity to apply “the reality principle” to ourselves internally. Why this is important to note is that because it is not the case that Christ overturned “the scapegoat mechanism” (according to Girard) and then left us with nothing, but rather Christ gave us “new principles of reality” according to which we could “bind ourselves” and “bind our desire (and desire’s tendency to be mimetic to avoid facing self-relating negativity)” that we could then employ after “the scapegoat mechanism” was no longer present to address “mimetic desire.” Furthermore, we sacrifice our desires to “the reality principle,” so in this we see internalized the rituals and mechanisms of sacrifice which preceded Christ.

Christ may have overturned “the scapegoat mechanism,” but I’m not sure if we can say Christ overturned all methods of sacrifice. Instead, “sacrificial rituals” were internalized, which generally seems to be a big and regular move of Christian teachings. It’s no longer enough to avoid murder, but we must also avoid anger and hatred internally; it’s no longer enough to avoid adultery, but we must also avoid lusting in our minds; and so on. Christ teaches a movement from “external restriction” to “internal restriction,” from “social law” to “laws of the heart,” and so also we can see “sacrificial rituals” internalized. It is the social ritual of “the scapegoat” that Christ denies, which aligns with his mission and tendency to deconstruction what is external and collective. But internal acts of sacrifice, and thus internal ways to control “mimetic desire,” are still very much active and shaped by Christ.

Why I think this is important to note is that we can see how being “like Christ” entails a new formation of “givens,” which addresses “the need for sacrifice” that Girard stresses for managing “mimetic desire” (in this, we can also bring together the thinking of Rieff and Girard, which I think is important). No, the growing severity of violence and possibility of “total war” is still something Girard is right to be concerned about, but if we note how “givens” can address “mimetic desire,” then we can start to see how the question of “restoring givens” or “addressing the loss of givens” might also address the problem which concerned Girard, which is the question of how to address “unbound mimetic desire” after Christ overturned “the scapegoat mechanism.” (Indeed, if these concerns can be combined, then addressing the question on if “Absolute Knowing” can function as a new “given” and “spread” to the majority will also address the question of what we should do now after Christ to handle “mimetic desires” (both lines of exploration overlap).

Addressing “the problem of givens” is also addressing “the problem of mimetic desire,” which is all the more pressing after Calvary. Yes, there have been “givens” throughout history, but their function of “addressing mimetic desire” is all the more critical now that “the ultimate failsafe” of “the scapegoat mechanism” no longer functions to therapeutically relieve the collective. After Calvary, the potential of the Apocalypse which concerned Girard emerged, but that potential was not totally realized (despite escalating conflict) thanks to the next line of defense, “societal givens.” Now though, as described by Rieff, those “givens” are ceasing to function, and so we seem to maintain little defense to keep “mimetic desire” for stumbling us into the Apocalypse, for today we stumble with nukes.


“Givens” contain “mimetic desire,” though not perfectly, hence why “the scapegoat” was a useful and perhaps even necessary “failsafe” to keep societies from collapsing totally. When “givens” move to the realm of being profoundly internal, the effectiveness of “givens” perhaps lessens all the more, but if everyone around me is Christian and thus I can assume they have similar “internal constraints” as me, I can feel “socially supported” and expect societal institutions and the like to provide me with a sense of “belonging.” If I feel as if the people around me are constraining their “(mimetic) desire,” then I can more easily feel that I should do the same and like I am not some “naive traditionalist” (for example) who is missing out on pleasure and fun (all while the people around me, ignoring Rieff, talk about how fulfillment is found in “pure release”). I feel like I am engaged in “self-sacrifice” when the people around me ascribe to the same “givens,” but when I feel alone, I can start to wonder if I am actually engaged in “self­-sabotage,” and at that point the likelihood I faithfully live out my “internal constraints” will begin to lessen. The likelihood of “(mimetic) desire” being unbound hence increases, which would then need a “scapegoat” to address, which after Christ no longer seems possible.

Where there is “pure release” and no “givens,” desire is left to its own devices, and when it finds itself able to “desire for itself,” it finds itself having to potentially confront its own “self-relating negativity,” which is tiring — hence suggesting that “the loss of givens” will accelerate the spread and prevalence of “mimetic desire” in ever-more people who seek ways to avoid encountering “The Real.” This means that as “givens” collapse, there is more (unbound) desire that is more likely to be “mimetic” precisely when the hope is that there would be less of it. As the “givens” which addressed our problem fail, so the problem grows, both in its magnitude and in the likelihood of its manifestation (it doesn’t necessarily have to be the case that both of these grow at the same time, but in this case it seems like that they do). Multiply all this with the internet and Globalization (as discussed by Dr. Hamelryck), which might have partially caused the collapse of “givens,” and we have ourselves a “Meaning Crisis” amongst interconnected people with nuclear weapons.

“Sacrifice” and “risk” are deeply connected, for if I sacrifice my envy to the will of Christ, then I risk not following my envy in the name of a religion that ultimately proves to be a superstition. To live and sacrifice according to “givens” always entails “risk,” for it is always possible that I am tricked and manipulated by those “givens,” and yet there is no other way to avoid “unbound desire.” If I choose to have children, I choose to submit myself to a “given” (I am forever “someone who has a child”), and it could turn out to be the case that having children is far more difficult than I thought. Since “givens” cannot be “grounded” (as can’t be “desires”), I am always dealing with “speculation” in ascribing to them, not mere dialectics or mimetics (to suggest the move in Hegel from “dialectical reasoning” to “speculative reasoning”), and where there is speculation there could be error.

In this, we see how “risk” and “sacrifice” are deeply connected and mechanisms of containing “mimetic desire,” which suggests a risk-averse society could be a society that also suffers “unbound mimetic desire.” It is a risk to desire for ourself (we might encounter “The Real”) and much safer to engage in “mimetics,” hence that is what the majority are likely to do. O.G. Rose will discuss the need for “a real choice,” and indeed that seems to be a mechanism of containing “mimetic desire,” which is all the more important after Calvary. “The real choice” is required for “Absolute Knowing” to be possible, and so again we see how questions regarding the possibility of “Absolute Knowing” and possibility of containing “mimetic desire” after Calvary might overlap.

‘Christianity is the only religion that has foreseen its own failure,’ Girard tells us, which perhaps makes it appropriate that the concerns of Girard might overlap with Hegel, who follows the movement of Spirit according to its own failures and shortcomings.¹⁰ “Absolute Knowing” is precisely the point where thought realizes it can never achieve “autonomous rationality” (a philosophy that is its own grounding without ascribing to anything outside of it) or even answer what Samuel Barnes calls “The Meta-Question,” and upon realizing this “absolute limit” (note I didn’t say “creating”), this “absolute final point,” Spirit then must choose how it will respond. Hegel entails a coming to terms with failure, which seems to be partly what Christianity comes to terms with as well. And this failure, following Girard, is perhaps the impossibility of “desire to provide its own transcendental grounding” (both “autonomous rationality” and “autonomous desire” are impossible), at which point we must decide how we will desire — a point I believe brings us back to the choice between “mimetics” and “modeling,” which will ultimately lead us to argue that the problem is that most of us eventually stop (consciously) “modeling” and instead (unconsciously) slip into “mimetics.” Since we must fail, we can only be “like Christ,” which is to say we must “model,” not “mirror.” Efforts to mirror can be heresies.


Earlier in this paper, we asked if desire arose “simply because we have ‘mirror neurons,’ ” and here we will revisit that inquiry. We noted ways for why “mimetic desire” arise beyond the neuron explanation, and indeed alternatives explanations are needed, for we have examples of saints like St. Teresa of Ávila and people who help others at their own expense — mimetics doesn’t seem to describe their behavior and/or desire. And if all humans have “mirror neurons,” why are they so different?

Girard didn’t believe that the desire of a given individual could always be explained or understood mimetically, and indeed we should view Girard’s theory as primarily social more than individual (and honor it’s predictive power accordingly). Still, if it’s possible not to desire mimetically, then that means we are not fated by our “mirror neurons,” and that means it’s possible to change and shape our desire. And that means mirror neurons cannot be “the source” of our desire, only perhaps a very powerful influencer on them.¹¹ This being the case, we are not doomed to end up mimetic, but what does that mean constitutes the alternative?

We explored earlier how children must models themselves after something to live in a world that is intelligible to them, all while also being intelligible to themselves. This means there is some degree of “unavoidable modeling” that composes human experience, and the problems seem to arise when this “unavoidable modeling” discreetly transitions into “mimetics,” which then slips into “mimetic desire.” We cannot avoid modeling, and certainly there are forms of models that are very good, so it would seem the name of the game is figuring out how we can keep ourselves in a moment of “modeling” versus slip into “mimetics.” In other words, how do we move from “unavoidable modeling” into “intentional modeling” (or “chosen modeling”) versus slip unconsciously into “mimetics” and then “mimetic desire?”

Alright, but what is the difference between “modeling” and “mimetics?” In my opinion, “modeling” is where we make ourselves “like someone,” while “mimetics” is where we “mirror someone.” This distinction is very slight, I understand, and in some if not many circumstances there might not be any practical difference at all, but the difference between “being like someone” and “mirroring someone” strikes me as paramount. Where I am “like someone,” there is room for customization and individualization, which allows there to be a reduction of the “similarity” which leads to conflict in Girard, and indeed if I consciously know that I can only be “like” someone, then I expect levels of individualization and distinction. This also means there is a degree of myself that is engineered by myself, and that means there is a degree of me that can expose me to “The Real,” as I need to experience. No, none of us can handle all of “The Real” all at once, but with time and practice, we might prove ourself able to handle some of it, then more of it, and then even more of it. Where there is “modeling” versus “mirroring,” this gradual habituation might prove possible.

“Mirroring” is when we try to “be someone else,” which is impossible and a recipe for pathology. Furthermore, now that “the scapegoat mechanism” is overturned, none of us can be Christ, for “the scapegoat mechanism” cannot be overturned again. Furthermore, we can’t even be like Christ in that way; instead, the only door still open to us is being “like Christ” in terms of his life, ministry, and example. And in this we can model ourselves after someone, which is to stay we can keep ourselves in the modeling that we all must start out doing but most of us end up slipping into mimetics later on in life. Imitation is not inherently bad, and in fact is necessary: the problems arise when imitation in “modeling” slips into “mimetics” (as it seems to naturally do). Avoiding this seems to require intention and conscious effort, neither of which come easily or readily to any of us — what exactly that means requires an exploration of “habit” and “skill-formation,” which is a topic explored in The Absolute Choice (which will suggest that “love” is important, for I believe Dr. James K.A. Smith is right: we are what we love).


A reason “mimetic desire” is so problematic is because there are limited resources, meaning that “mimetic desire” must lead into a “Zero Sum Game”: there must winners, and there must be losers. A “Non-Zero Sum Game” is when everyone wins or loses together, and generally a successful global order will consist of more “Non-Zero Sumness” than “Zero Sumness.” This gets us into Game Theory, but the main point is that “mimetic desire” plus limited resources lead to trouble. In Christ overturning “the scapegoat mechanism,” a key way that “Zero Sum Games” were kept from becoming Apocalyptic was lost; now, the need to create new ways to achieve “Non-Zero Sumness” is utterly paramount. Before Calvary, if there was rampant “Zero Sumness,” it could eventually be addressed with “a scapegoat”; now though, we cannot allow “Zero Sumness” to take things that far and too such an extremity without ending up in massive conflict, WWIII, and Girard’s Apocalypse. This being the case, the question of how to create and spread “Non-Zero Sumness” is paramount, and I believe modeling, apprenticeship, and the like can prove part of the solution.

The West has mostly lost the culture of mentorship, and though we have “career training,” mentorship doesn’t seem identical. Bosses and leaders at work train us in the skills of the job, but a mentor trains us in the art of life, wisdom, in matters of particular knowledge that can only be garnered from experience, and the like. “The crafts” and hobbies seem to have been replaced by “jobs skills” and entertainment, where we become masters at football stats and memorizing awards for best picture, but with this we seem to have lost something important. If I master woodcutting, I do not “take away” from someone the ability to woodcut; if I try to increase my cultural understanding of Oscar Wilde, I do not make another stupid at Wilde in that act. Crafts, skills, “arts,” and hobbies are not “Zero Sum Games,” and arguably if I master various skills, I can share them with others, benefiting them. In this way, we see the potential for “Non-Zero Sumness.”

If I submit myself to the practices needed so that I don’t feel anger in my heart, if I challenge myself until I’m at the place where I cease to be controlled by envy, if I learn how to be the kind of person who can raise orphans — if I become “like Christ” — I engage in “Non-Zero Sum Modeling.” I work to “be like Christ,” which seems to be what Christ leaves us to do after he overturns “the scapegoat mechanism” (for Christ did not merely “die on the cross,” but rather Christ primarily “followed the Will of the Father”). In this, as already described, we see a way to contain and manage “mimetic desire,” which is to say that we learn how to stay in a mode of “modeling” versus leave “unavoidable modeling” as we grow up (and slip into “mimetics”). To be “like Christ” is to engage in acts of sacrifice, as Girard has taught us is needed to address “mimetic desire,” and so it goes with mastering a craft, a skill, and the like — no one gains mastery without blood, sweat, and hard choices.

When we are young and model ourselves after our parents and community, our parents and community do not lose something as a result: everyone gains and changes together. When the blacksmith teaches a young teenager how to master the craft, the town gains two blacksmiths, and an art is passed down that a young man can spend all of his days perfecting. Skills, arts, and “ways of life” direct desire, time-use, and motivation, and does so without it being at the expense of others. Teaching, mentorship, apprenticeship, and “modeling” reduce “Zero-Sumness’ in favor of “Non-Zero Sumness” in that they bind, direct, and manage desire: they help us focus on wanting things that are in our potential future selves versus our neighbors.¹² To master a skill, I indeed try to “mirror” my teacher, but this use of the word “mirror” means something more like “model myself after,” which is very different from “mimetic desire.” To seek mastery in a skill or “way of like” (“like Christ”) is for me to want something of myself versus want something that others have. To hold myself up to a standard someone else models for me is for me to place my focus on myself versus on others, and in this act I engage in “internal sacrifice,” which by extension binds my desire from becoming “mimetic.”

Throughout O.G. Rose, the topics of “intrinsic motivation” and “flow” are discussed regularly, and it would seem that both of these are paramount for addressing “The Meaning Crisis” today, which torments many. Both of these entail radical transformations in our sense of time and emerge when we are radically absorbed and “drawn into” a task. For me, it would seem the cultivation of skill and ability are part of how we gain the ability to experience “flow,” and that would suggest learning to stay in the realm of “(intentional) modeling” versus slip into “mimetic desire” is paramount if we are to experience both “intrinsic motivation” and “flow.” In many respects, “flow” is simply the rawest manifestation of “intrinsic motivation,” for it is when we so purely “drive ourselves” that we lose sense of time and the world around us: we are our own mover, and in such a state we find a special mode that seems to address “The Meaning Crisis.” Furthermore, I think “intrinsic motivation” is the exact opposite of “mimetic desire,” for “intrinsic motivation” is also “intrinsic desire,” which is when we are our own source of action and want, whereas “mimetic desire/motivation” is when we look to others outside of us to determine what we should want and do. In this way, I believe the spread and cultivation of “intrinsic motivation” is the binding and overturning of the problem of “mimetic desire” after Calvary.

The Absolute Choice by O.G. Rose, which focuses on Hegel, associates “Absolute Knowing” with “intrinsic motivation,” and this would mean that “Absolute Knowing” is a way to overcome “mimetic desire” without “the scapegoat mechanism.” In this way, the question of if we can “spread’ “Absolute Knowing” (as discussed throughout “The Net”) is the question on if we can bind and avoid an Apocalypse brought on by “mimetic desire.” In this work, as also discussed in The Absolute Choice, we have connected this question with the topic of mentorship, “modeling,” skill-development, and the like, which is to say that a world with widespread “intrinsic motivation” will likely be one where skills and habits are prioritized and cultivated. This doesn’t mean just any habit will do for integrating one’s self with “Absolute Knowing” (and corresponding “lack”), but something involving “habit” seems important. Indeed, the habit of “being like Jesus” seems very different form the habit of “mastering fishing,” but even there both require time, discipline, and focus, so they seem to fall on the same gradient. Still, the difference seems to have something to do with “the discipline of being a kind of person,” which entails skills and habits, but isn’t simply a habit or skill. This suggests we need to become disciples of some kind, which again suggests that Jesus did not overturn “the scapegoat mechanism” and leave us doomed, for he commanded us to go make “disciples of men.” Have we followed that command? Judging by the spread of “mimetic desire,” I fear the answer is no.


Calvary is where Christ forces us to return the story of his life, for in removing from us the effectiveness of “the scapegoat mechanism” to control “mimetic desire,” we are left with the option of modeling ourselves to be “like Christ.” Christ ministry becomes a process by which Christ equips us with the “model” we need to handle a world in which “mimetic desire” is no longer contained through “scapegoats,” which turns out to be the very world Christ will force upon humanity by dying. The Gospels then should be read not only as “leading up to Calvary,” but also as needing to be read “from Calvary.” Since it was Christ’s death that would overturn “the scapegoat mechanism,” the model for how we should live after the end of the “scapegoat” had to come first. Christ’s life is the answer to how we must live after Christ’s death, and Paul can then be seen as “working out” how that “model” might apply and be implemented relative to issues on which Christ didn’t directly speak — the search for a “model,” for a way to be “like Christ,” becomes central.

Humans seem to be “homo speculum” — we are fundamentally creatures who “mirror,” but not all “mirroring” is the same. There is “unavoidable modeling” and then there are “mimetics,” and the trick seems to be to keep ourselves in a state of “modeling,” which requires intention, both by the individual and the society, to assure. Arguably, a critical function of society is to prove resources and ways to keep us “modeling” all the days of our lives, which contains “mimetic desire” through the cultivation of internal mechanisms of sacrifice. Today, with the collapse of “givens,” to allude again to Philip Rieff, these mechanisms are failing, and with them go our line of defense against experiencing what exactly Christ made possible at Calvary — the Apocalypse.

‘The fetters put in place by the founding murder but unshackled by the Passion, are now liberating planet-wide violence, and we cannot refasten the bindings because we now know that scapegoats are innocent’ — with that, Girard frames our plight.¹³ And with the collapse of “givens,” a “symbolic order” in which we can “fit” and meaningful find ways to “model” ourselves and our lives, ‘we are accelerating swiftly towards the destruction of the world.’¹⁴

Where we do not “model” ourselves and train our desire to desire modeling, our desire will prove “unbound,” and in that state it is probable that our desire will end up in “mimetic desire” to avoid facing its lack of a “transcendental grounding.” But in the “flow state” we act out transcendece — we do not need “the grounding” — and it strikes me as nonsensical to ask if we experience “mimetic desire” when we experience flow. We experience raw “doing,” raw “becoming”: we are what we desire. In this state, I think we might glimpse what desire really seeks, which often ends up in “mimetics” but doesn’t necessarily have to so end up.

Almost by definition, desire seeks something “beyond itself,” to gain or be part of something that desire “lacks,” that is “other.” Desire seeks to transcend itself as a “lack,” which means that desire naturally “lacks the ability to not experience itself as lacking,” which suggests that desire is both constituted by a “lack” and seeks something it “lacks.” This is the strange “double move” of desire that suggests what really constitutes its source, which I do not think “mimetics” or “modeling” along can explain. Desire is a “lack” and also “lacks,” but what we see in a state of “intrinsic motivation” and “flow” is a state where desire lacks nothing and find bliss in the “is” of the moment. “Lack” is a kind of “nothing,” and so when desire “lacks nothing,” it seems to lack itself, which means desire “lacks lack,” and thus desire is negated. This is what desire seems to essentially seek that often ends up in “mimetics,” which is “self-negation” and by extension a sublation into “flow.” Thus, desire is fundamentally the absence and seeking of “flow.”

Desire is the seeking of “intrinsic motivation,” as hunger is the seeking of food. As hunger seeks to “negate/sublate” itself with food, so desire seeks to “negate/sublate” itself with “intrinsic motivation.” This is what desire is, but since we have mostly failed to realize this and create social institutions aware of this reality to help desire negate/sublate itself, desire has mostly ended up in “mimetics” and/or contained by “givens.” Now though that “givens” are collapsing (following Rieff), the need for us to intentionally cultivate and seek “intrinsic motivation” is paramount, seemingly the only way to avoid the “Girardian Apocalypse” brought on by “unbound mimetic desire.”

All of us are born lacking “flow” because we don’t have the skills to enter into “flow” yet, in the same way we are born unable to feed or bath ourselves. Most things though we are born unable to do are very evident and clear, and so there are naturally social and familiar mechanisms that come into play to assure we gain these abilities so that we might survive. But when it comes to “meta-dimensions” of human beings which require a shared philosophy and hermeneutics to “get,” it is not so obvious that people need to have these “meta-dimensions” addressed. And so though we are all born with desire that seeks flow, it is not so clear that this is the case, and as a result the “human need” is left to its own devices. Fortunately, for most of history, society had mechanisms like “scapegoats” and “givens” to “bind” desire and keep it from becoming Apocalyptic, and so though we didn’t understand that “desire was the lack of flow,” we still got lucky and managed to keep the world turning. But now after Calvary and the collapse of “givens,” it is paramount that we understand what desire “is,” for now we must address it directly. And that means learning to cultivate the conditions for characters of “intrinsic motivation” (“like Christ”) on a widescale, which suggests we create Communities of Absolute Knowing. If we cannot accomplish this task, I do not know what awaits us.

“Flow” is “Non-Zero Sum,” and spreading “flow” is perhaps how we might address “The Meta-Crisis,” as discussed in “The Net” and by thinkers like Daniel Schmachtenberger. As I’ve discussed with Tim Adalin and Guy Sengstock, “dialogos” seems to a space in which we might experience and study the dynamics of “flow,” and the more we understand the operations and phenomenology of “flow,” the more we might glimpse why it works, which in turn might help us determine how we might spread the conditions which make it possible. But all of that will require other papers to explore — for now, let us try to cultivate “flow” in ourselves, which can bring with it an “integration with lack,” which would be a state of “Absolute Knowing.” In that, we see “lack” and limitation as necessary and needed, and we would indeed struggle to be motivated and to act if we lacked desire. Where there was no “lack,” there would be no “desire,” and though that means there would be no risk of “mimetic desire,” there would be no life either. In “Absolute Knowing,” we accept that risk is a part of life and model ourselves accordingly so that we might flow with its dance as a daring art of life.





¹Girard, René. Battling to the End. East Lansing, MI. Michigan State University Press, 2010: x.

²Now, when I discuss the topic of “Alterology” (which includes Theology, Technological Singularity, Psychedelics, and the like), I note that we must “choose” what we think it means that we relate to ourselves as a “self-relating negativities,” so I’m not saying here that the fact we are “self-relating negativities” necessarily means that “nihilism is true” or something like, only that we must relate to ourselves “negatively.” Now, if we want to “speculatively reason” (to allude to Hegel) that this “negative relation” is evidence of a Transcendent Being we can only relate to apophatically, for example — well that is another consideration for another time.

³Girard, René. Battling to the End. East Lansing, MI. Michigan State University Press, 2010: ix.

⁴Rieff, Philip. The Triumph of the Therapeutic. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2007: 3

⁵Rieff, Philip. The Triumph of the Therapeutic. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2007: 3.

⁶Rieff, Philip. The Triumph of the Therapeutic. “The Introduction” by Elisabeth Lash-Quinn. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2007: vii.

⁷Rieff, Philip. The Triumph of the Therapeutic. “The Introduction” by Elisabeth Lash-Quinn. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2007: viii.

⁸Rieff, Philip. The Triumph of the Therapeutic. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2007: 13.

⁹Rieff, Philip. The Triumph of the Therapeutic. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2007: 17.

¹⁰Girard, René. Battling to the End. East Lansing, MI. Michigan State University Press, 2010: x.

¹¹And so, we must ask, “From where does desire come?” That inquiry desires a paper of its own, but the answer seems to have something to do with “(ontological) lack,” which is possible because we are not everything — there are things which, relative to us, are “not.”

¹²As I’ve discussed in my work on The Iconoclast by Samuel Barnes and in conversations at “The Net,” I associate “modeling” as such with being “intersuppositional” versus “presuppositional,” for the grounding of my action is found between me and “some-thing/one other” versus in “an other,” the later of which is “mimetic.” Critically, in “mimetic desire,” I live “as if” the other is my “presupposition” and/or contains it, and so I am still in “mimetics” operating according to “presuppositional logic,” though it might seem “intersuppositional.”

¹³Girard, René. Battling to the End. East Lansing, MI. Michigan State University Press, 2010: xi.

¹⁴Girard, René. Battling to the End. East Lansing, MI. Michigan State University Press, 2010: xv.




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O.G. Rose

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