This essay, based on notes from a lecture by Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and now a hedge fund president and venture capitalist, uses Rene Girard’s mimetic theory to analyze the founding of businesses and nations. Inexplicably Girard is not mentioned. Among the many things Thiel explains is an answer to the question, why does the Occupy movement focus its wrath on the one percent? Why not the top five or ten percent? Why not the top .01 percent? The answer relates to the movement from monarchy to democracy: from a unitary leader, who is simultaneously very powerful and dangerous and at mortal risk through the mechanism of scapegoating, to the mob, who wants to depose him/her. According to Girard, cultures learned to avoid the war of all-against-all by focusing their wrath on a single victim, who was at once an extreme insider and an extreme outsider. This scapegoat was charged with sole responsibility for all of society’s problems, making him/her very dangerous. At the same time, his/her execution brought about temporary unity, for which the scapegoat could be recognized as having god-like powers. The monarchs were those who figured out how to postpone their own sacrifice and seize that god-like power.

The 99% vs. the 1% is the modern articulation of this classic scapegoating mechanism. It is all minus one versus the one. And it has to just be the one. 99.99 people or percent is too granular. Scapegoating 0.1 doesn’t really work. You need a whole person to play the victim. Similarly, 98-2 doesn’t quite have the same ring to it either.

This might also explain why the Occupy movement seems to have so much trouble gaining traction. The number of people in the unitary “one percent” is quite large and diverse, and includes many individuals against whom the activists are reluctant to focus their wrath, such as Warren Buffett, who accumulates for himself vast fortunes and power, while seeming to support some of Occupy’s positions. Buffett would seem to be an expert in evading the scapegoating process.

At any rate, this is an excellent primer on Girardian analysis and its implications for the modern world. Read the essay here.

 

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