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Whom Do We Imitate?

We imitate absolutely everybody, at least potentially. We will imitate homeless drug addicts with psychiatric disorders, our boss, celebrities, and anyone we interact with socially. When anyone at all says “Hi” to you, you will say “Hi” back, unless you are angry with them and are passively aggressively refusing to speak to them. In a small town, when we walk down the street, other pedestrians might give a little close-lipped half-smile, we give exactly the same close-lipped smile back. You extend your hand in friendly greeting, I extend my hand in friendly greeting. Someone, such as the homeless person, addresses me rudely and angrily, I address them rudely and angrily, unless, for instance, I am worried the homeless guy might be a physical threat. We cannot exist socially without constant imitation. Conversationally, you wait for me to finish my sentence. I wait for you to finish your thought. You reveal some intimate thing about yourself, I do the same.

We style our hair as others style their hair. We dress as others around us are dressing. We shower in order not to smell offensively, as others shower. Or, we try to “express our individuality” by imitating all the other people who want to “express their individuality.” We read books, and desire to be “well read,” because other people read books and desire to be “well read.” We stop reading books because other people are not reading books. We eat pepperoni pizza because we grew up eating such pizza and we imitate what our parents fed to us. Or, we rebel against the food our parents served and copy some other group of people’s cuisine. When my father asked me where I wanted to eat when I was an older teenager visiting him one time, I said “Any ethnic food from anywhere in the world” (other than Anglo-Saxon cultures). There was nothing remotely original about this predilection for the foreign and exotic.

Sometimes we imitate someone with mini-prestige. Often our desires are affected by comparisons, as Rousseau pointed out, and our comparison group changes according to our own self-perceived place in society. Some of the time, we imitate those who are very much like ourselves, but maybe a little better – hence “mini”-prestige, in internal mediation. We compare ourselves most to people who we consider to be like ourselves. Olympic athletes compare themselves to other Olympic athletes. Apparently, people who have won a Nobel Prize often feel bad because there are other Nobel prize winners who have won it twice, so the single-winners consider themselves failures. I once told someone who was complaining about various things in her life “at least you, as a dentist, can regard yourself as a financial success.” She was making a sum approaching a million dollars a year at that point. She responded in the negative because some other dentists she knew had invested in the UK housing bubble and sold before it burst, netting them several million pounds, and she regretted that she had not done something similar. Someone commented once that a man is happy with his life if he is making slightly more than his brother-in-law. But oftentimes, it has nothing to do with prestige but is the result of social conformism, and social conformism is about fitting into the group, not standing out from the group. I suppose the word “prestige” is elastic enough to say that being in the “in group,” along with 73 million others, is more prestigious than being in the out group, so long as one recognizes that there is nothing particularly prestigious about this kind of prestige. One is not going to be an object of admiration – just “one of us.”

Jordan Peterson points out that men invent hierarchies – who’s the best… drag car racer, scholar, chess player, stamp collector, poet, etc. and women, responsible for sexual selection, pick the winners, if they can, in a game that men have largely defined. That is how prestige can be good for you and why you might want it. It is a cliché that rock stars and comedians often get into the business “for the girls.”

Not all desires are infinite. The desire for food and drink is moderated by our physical capacity to eat and drink. Infinite desires, as stated by St. Augustine, include those for objects, money, and people. Those are infinite for most people because we are trying to fill a hole in our souls. Sometimes it might be related to prestige, if that is your current problem – feeling like you are suffering from a lack of prestige. For most of us, this is just one, occasional motivation among others. People window shop or actually shop, as “retail therapy,” as it is self-derisively called. Now, we can go on Amazon and see if we can be the recipient of some fun little package or other, again in response to some inner emptiness.

The core reason for substitute religions is the need to worship and strive for something; to feel that our lives have some meaning and that we headed somewhere. It turns out that any substitute we try to find for God does not work out, just as St. Augustine suggests. Empirically, no society has ever come into existence based on atheism, so the need for theism does not seem particularly linked to democracies. Globalism appears to be fragmenting partly because of this atheistic innovation. Yuri Bezmenov stated that “No one would sacrifice his life and freedom for the truth of 2 x 2 = 4, but they would for God and Jesus Christ. The moment we turn to 2 x 2 = 4, and make it a guiding principle of our life, our existence, we die. Even though this (2 x 2) is true, and this (God) we cannot prove. We can only feel and have faith in it. The answer to ideological subversion is faith.”

God, as the highest ideal, cannot sanely be something we are in competition with. When the model is so far away, there can be external mediation, but not internal mediation. Only internal mediation involves rivalry – and rivalry is with someone very similar and close to ourselves. Thomas Sowell points out that intellectuals are inherently in competition with God and religion, because they want to determine what values we have and how we should think about things. They can engage in internal mediation with God because they have demoted Him to a mere absence; a nothing.  If God has “prestige” it is externally mediated and not something we need to worry about. Certainly, having God as God, and not something else, can hope to curtail man’s overweening pride. The Great Chain of Being can include angels, daimons, archangels and the like, further distancing us from God and forestalling any possibility of internal mediation. The fact that Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, are in actual mimetic competition (all competition is mimetic) with God, amply demonstrates their insanity and the dangers of atheism. We cannot compete with someone who refuses to show up. The tennis champion cannot compete if his rivals never appear, and if no one else wants the trophy. The fact that Dawkins and Harris continue to struggle against religion means, in their minds, God is very much there pushing back.

Richard Cocks

Richard Cocks is an Associate Editor of VoegelinView and has been a faculty member of the Philosophy Department at SUNY Oswego since 2001. Dr. Cocks is an editor and regular contributor at the Orthosphere and has been published at The Brussels Journal, The Sydney Traditionalist Forum, People of Shambhala, The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal and the University Bookman.

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