“Central to both torture and terror is the political psychology of degradation” Paul Kahn, Sacred violence: torture, terror and sovereignty
Violent imitation, which makes adversaries more and more alike, is at the root of all myths and cultures. Rene Girard, Battling to the end.
It is a characteristic of our time that as political authority disintegrates, political violence for a cause is resurgent.
This is a troubling phenomenon, but its difficulty should not lead us to avert our eyes.
Its most obvious form is in the appeal of Islamist terror to a small group of Western muslims.
But we have also seen acts of extremist violence from across the political spectrum. On one side, so to speak, Antifa and its violent protests, a Bernie Sanders supporter shooting Republicans at a charity baseball match, and a comedian pictured with a severed head of a democratically elected President. On the other, the spectre of white supremacists, nostalgic for the confederacy, shouting “jews won’t replace us,” and then driving a vehicle, the mobile weapon of choice in these times, into a crowd of leftist demonstrators.
Identity politics, in all its forms, from the rainbow coalition to the white supremacists shouting “you won’t replace us” , lives on the edge of violence. In asserting identity, it soon insists on the degradation of those who differ in their identity. Tolerance and respect are not values of importance for identity politics. They tend to be sneered at as the condescending gestures of a hegemony to be replaced.
And authority – the one essential attribute for the effective exercise of governing power – is despised. Yet authority alone can constrain violence.
Is the return of sacred violence across our world closely related to the cultural decay described in this blog? Here, in closing this brief fragment, are the thoughts of Rene Girard:
“I began to see the end of war as a subject in itself. The last days of an institution whose purpose was to control and restrain violence corroborates my central hypothesis, namely that for three centuries all rituals and institutions have been crumbling. War, through its rules and orders, also helped to create meaning by establishing new equilibria over an ever growing geographical area. It has generally ceased to play this role since the end of World War II. How did the system suddenly disintegrate? How has political rationality finally become powerless?” Rene Girard, Battling to the end
Image source: Science News