Merging stories

Last night’s meeting of my fraternal group of guys was one of the most intellectually challenging ever. The presenter traced, through human history, the concept called mimesis (the mediation of resentment), a concept that some philosophers (notably Nietzsche and Girard) believe is the primary influencer of human behaviour, both individual and group.

(To be sure, it is a philosophical discussion too deep for this post, and which I will certainly not do justice to, but bear with me, as I reflect on it a bit.)

Mimesis is about transferring resentment between individuals onto a victim, which then restore harmony, and returns society to a shared ethos. From its ancient expression of sacrificing the victim (often human) to bring about social cohesion, its practice has now come full circle; instead of sacrificing the victim, it’s now achieved through advocating on the victim’s behalf, to bring about social cohesion. That transformation was brought about through western democracy.

With that practice now entrenched, seemingly its latest expression is to claim victimization as a route to righting (what are perceived as displaced) social structures. There tends now to be a clamour for victimhood. It’s hard to find anyone who can’t claim victimization of some sort.

But, do we really need victims to create social order? It’s something worth pondering, I think.

As I did just that, it brought to mind a charming aspect of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra presentation I and a friend attended at the Orpheum last Friday night.

The second of three segments was that of the VSO accompanying accomplished cellist Chris Derksen, part First Nations (Cree) and part Caucasian (Mennonite). She skillfully merged the sophisticated orchestral strains of the European tradition with the native sounds of her First Nations heritage, simultaneously celebrating both cultures. It was not some of each; it was a fusion of the two.

I reflected also on my listening to “Against the Grain Theatre’s” Messiah presentation last Christmas, a reinterpretation of the classic work that beautifully integrated a variety of cultures (and their respective spiritualities) into both the music and the words, while maintaining the main features of the original work by Handel. It was a powerful fusion of various traditions.

I also recalled, in the past, having witnessed whites performing black gospel (formerly called “negro spiritual”) music, integrating the cultures that were once victims and victimizers.

These, and many more attempts abound, to replace the concept of victimhood with a shared reality.

And I thought: how interesting that we should have this discussion on the same day that our prime minister finds yet one more apology in his bag to bring with him to Kamloops in an attempt to correct his error of judgement on the Day of Truth and Reconciliation. (That coincidence was not raised at our karrass meeting.) Will that effort bring about any convergence or a shared reality, or further fuel the victim narrative? I’m not sure.

If mimesis, the ressentiment (Nietzsche’s term), competitive, spirit that supposedly drives people’s behaviour, is innate within us, can it ever be assuaged? Or are we bound to simply find new ways to express it?

What will happen when everyone has finally succeeded in declaring themselves a victim of something?

Or is the answer to stop all this talk of victimization and simply start sharing—and merging–our stories.

Just wondering . . .