THE FAILURE OF SOCIETY AND HUMAN NATURE
Back in ancient Greece, Aristotle opined how man, by nature, is a social animal, and this stands true even centuries later. It is almost impossible for humans to survive without social interactions and this is more palpable than ever due to COVID, even if restrictions on interaction are for the greater good of the society. Even in the worst of times, it is social interactions that make our society functionable. We have even found innovative methods to develop efficient methods of functioning in a society. We have gone from a time when Hobbes called our nature as brute and nasty to having a relatively organized political and economic organization. The political and economic institution has made our lives less complicated. Obviously it still stands a complex process considering underlying issues like red tapism, corruption and general human inefficiency. But all this is better than having no system at all in the first place. And this is exactly reflective of what humans have been able to achieve within a social structure.
All this considered, there is no lack of pessimistic societies which see human society in a negative light and in turn showing these very institutions in a poor light. From Hobbes to Nietzsche, there are a lot of substantial arguments which probe the downturn of human society.
One such theory has been proposed by French philosopher Rene Girard which is termed as the mimesis theory. The theory, just like quite a few of its predecessors, looks at the core of human nature and uses it to dissect how such a human nature can lead the society into turmoil. The term mimesis basically represents the process of imitation and mimicry. The theory does not stray away from the basic human act of imitation. Let us say that a child sees their friend with a new toy, bought by his parents. The child will have an innate desire to imitate the friend and get the new toy. Similarly, a lot of our behaviours are affected by those around us and it is quite natural that our actions are as well. I think all of us can look back at our job, college and school life and find examples where we have been affected by others and tried to imitate them. This is not exactly a physical act of mimicry but a very internal process. Now to look at it from the lens of someone competing in a competitive job market or for that matter any aspect of life where there is cutthroat competition. If you see someone successful in politics, you will be struck with an innate desire to gain more power. If you see a rich CEO in their fancy cars and big house, it is but natural to want something similar. This kind of behaviour, which otherwise would be considered positive competition, can turn into violence. Physical confrontations would be common. All this is simply because resources are limited in our society. There is only a limited amount of people who can have power. Only a limited group can and does hold the highest monetary advantage over others. And in a society without the aforementioned economic and political institutions, it would be fair to suggest that Darwin’s survival of the fittest will be taken literally more often. However, as stated before, humans have made enough social advancement to have these structures in place which prevent a brutal method of resolving conflicts. However, it is far-fetched to suggest that such institutions are able to effectively suppress the innate desire of wanting more and more.
As stated before, issues like red tapism and corruption come in the way of resolving the natural conflicts in our society which was supposed to be the original task of these institutions. In India especially, we are quite acquainted with the idea of ‘sifarish’ which basically means having a person in a position of power to make a call and get something done as a favour. On a micro level, this might not seem that big of an issue but when we talk about administration at the state and national level, these issues become problematic. Now it is argued that not all of us are born with an innate natural inclination to use the wrong methods to get things done. But that is the whole point of the theory proposed by Gerard. Regardless of who we are, watching our colleagues become our superiors through corruption and red tapism without facing any consequences (not in all cases) is exactly what gives us that little nudge to mimic the person. On a larger level obviously it gets accentuated.
Now another common criticism of the theory is that there can be the possibility of installing safeguards and as we call in a democracy, ‘checks and balances.’ But the basic response to this criticism remains that no matter what safeguards we put in, loopholes are discernible. If the military buys Kelvar protection vests, the terrorists will buy armour piercing rounds. If you put checks on governmental departments, corruption seeps into these very checks. The basic point that remains consistent throughout is that conflict remains regardless of the safeguards and institutions we develop. Now it is possible and is pretty much the case that the level and intensity of conflict is reduced. We don’t see people fighting on the streets simply because the government office did not fix the roads, at least not every time.
However, the issue is not about small groups of the community, having conflicts about everyday things. We have to look at the theory through a wider lens. With the idea of a nation in mind, one can consider how society is affected. The most obvious example that seems to fit the case that I feel a lot of us can relate to is the transition from UPA II to NDA I. The period between 2011 and 2014 is one of the most turbulent ones in the history of a wide ranging public administration and political system. Corruption was as common as new cases being filed under UAPA is today. Scams were being unearthed just like communal undertones are today. And to BJPs credit, they took a commendable advantage of the anti incumbency wave. But it is also widely argued why regardless of the Modi and Achhe Din wave, Congress was destined to lose. And there is some truth in that as well. But first let us look at that time period through the lens of the mimesis theory.
I don't feel it is necessary to explain the relationship between the corruption under UPA in view of Gerard’s theory since it has been outlined before and going into finer details of specific cases does not serve much purpose since the concern at hand is understanding a philosophical reasoning behind the political instability of the time. One of the solutions that Gerards suggests is the ‘Scapegoat theory’. Now, this is where I feel some distinction can be seen. Whereas Gerard tries to create a scapegoat to give a reason behind the failure of the society so that it can subsequently move, scapegoats similarly have been found in every society faced with conflict: corruption and Congress back in 2012-13, Jews under the Weimar Republic, Germany after the first World War, and so on. Whenever a situation arises where conflict reaches a high point in a particular country or region after accumulation of various other conflicts at smaller levels, the only way to get through the stage seems to be making someone the scapegoat. Now it is arguable that Germany was responsible for the first World War and it holds true to some extent. But the overall conflict was not because Germany solely tried to gain control over the whole of Europe. One of the main reasons for the War was an active armaments race. If Britain was forming naval bases, so were other countries. Similarly, other reasons like control of resources, clash over historical power, all play into the theory of Gerard. So the method of resolving the issue is not just identification or labelling someone or something as the reason behind it.
Gerard includes a religious aspect to this whole conflict. Just like almost every religion has some sort of messianic figure, Gerard feels that the change that arises out of the scapegoat has to be someone or something that fits this messianic ideal figure. And humans have made a lot of attempts to find such a figure in almost every society faced with conflict. When Caesar took control to prevent a system that was getting highly undemocratic, he himself was murdered because he got despotic. Similar thing happened with Napoleon. Hitler was seen as the messianic figure who would save Germany and restore the old glory of the Reich. But we all know how that ended. Even in modern times, Trump, Modi, Bolsanero, all have been elected democratically, because they were seen as this very messianic figure who would save a country in ruin or at least supposed ruin. All of them are today being highly criticised by the media all around the world. All this reflects the failure of our society to properly replace or fix the conflicts that we face, and there is a certain degree of inevitability in what we presently face. We do not have a problem identifying the problem but that of finding a proper fix. All this is because we repose our faith in people, who very much are victims of the Mimesis theory and therefore will prefer gaining power, money, etc. over the general welfare. And as long as we continue depending on people to restore conflicts and to be fair, we do not have a lot of other options, we are bound to fail.
By Siddharth Kaushik