Hacker News new | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Golden Thoughts for a New Nuclear Age – from a new biography of René Girard (nd.edu)
87 points by hoffmannesque 74 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 22 comments

Never mind the "new nuclear age" clickbait. It's considerably out of date, of course. It's said that generals often fight the last war, not the present war. Theology departments (like this one at Notre Dame University) typically fight the war before last. The headline writer for this article, well, yeah, theologian writing for church people. Ignore the silly headline.

But read the article. Our trade is strongly influenced by Rene Girard's understanding of competitive mimetic desire and its violence. Why? The people who organize the ad-driven internet know all about Girard. Peter Thiel invested in FB because he saw its potential for harnessing mimetic desire to drive engagement. (reference: https://www.lrb.co.uk/v39/n16/john-lanchester/you-are-the-pr...) FB-style social media is addictive precisely because of the fear of not being as good as "friends." Mimetic desire is the the human yearning behind the Fear of Missing Out. Driving engagement is most effective when it exploits that fear. It works very well indeed.

Other attempts at building social media networks (Stack Overflow, Linked In, Slack, for example) try to avoid that exploitation. They try to use other motivators than FOMO to drive engagement. Can they be successful without overusing mimetic desire? It's the key question they must answer to be successful.

The obligatory panel of customer logos just below the fold on SaaS landing pages engages mimetic desire in IT buyers. "Wow! Schwab uses this! I want to be like Schwab!" It's benign in these cases.

Girard offers a good unifying framework for understanding the human nature behind all sorts of marketing work. Convincing people their hair is ablaze and offering them ways to put it out is the heart of building new businesses. Getting people to set each others' hair on fire, then putting it out, is the holy grail of new businesses.

It's no accident that Silicon Valley employs that framework in lots of ways: he was a scholar at Stanford's Hoover Institution. It can be a hard slog to learn about him. But it's worth your trouble.

LinkedIn is going the way of Facebook

StackOverflow uses badges and fake internet points as the mechanism to encourage usage.

Not sure what Slacks pulling factor is

Slack's pull factor? My boss told me to use it. And, it's better than email for workplace communication.

Stack Overflow's? In my case, reciprocal altruism. I get a TON of benefit from it, so I like to contribute to it.

Y-Combinator's? I'm not sure, but here I am using it.

Y-comb for me is "broadcatch" (Kevin Kelly?) over a range of side-interests (tech, science)

> Not sure what Slack's pulling factor is

Initially, it was better than alternatives. So the draw was that it actually did something useful. Now, it's where everybody is, so FOMO is a big part of it now.

I've never used Slack, so it's just my hunch.

Which book do you recommend to start reading Girard?

The Girard books I've read are REALLY tough slogging, and they are focused on interpreting the content of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Gospels. That's why I'm looking forward to the biography in this article; maybe it will be more accessible.

But, you asked a question. Try The Scapegoat http://www.worldcat.org/title/scapegoat/oclc/13124168

or Things Hidden From the Foundation of the World. http://www.worldcat.org/title/things-hidden-since-the-founda...

It's radical theology but well-worked-out anthropology.

Thanks! :-)

Good article! I'm going to hijack this comment section to raise a question: is memetic desire weakening with the mass personal communication of the internet?

I think that up until the 1990's you would identify more with an entire group. Are you a rebel? Then style your hair like this and wear these clothes; so much so that when someone sees you, they know exactly that you're a rebel.

But in the last twenty years, it seems that the internet has allowed us to pick and choose our memetic desires in a more fine-grained way. Instead of belonging to one group we are an amalgam of many groups, and you can no longer as easily look at someone and say, "That person is of the group 'x'."

And if so, doesn't this give us hope that while we are (if you agree with Girard's premise) not our own desires, we are more and more a unique collection of desires and that itself is more and more unique?

Technology is an amplifier of human nature (for better / or worse)

> Technology can be an amplifier of human nature (for better / or worse)


> Modern technology is an amplifier of human nature (for better / or worse)

FTFY: There's no inherent reason in "technology" that it has to amplify deficiencies in human nature. Our current tech likely does amplify human nature, but future or theoretical alternatives don't have to do the same.

On the internet, we spend even more time looking at other people, so I’d say mimetic desire is even more intense.

Tho it hasn't always been like that. Mid-90's Internet feels like utopia compared to our modern social reality dominated Internet.

When you met somebody online back then, you were just happy to have found somebody else. They didn't have profiles and pictures allowing you to put people into boxes before even talking with them.

People actually had to talk to each other to find out more about whom they were talking to, it required actual back and forth interaction and not just browsing a half-invented profile page to use that as "ammunition" to put somebody else down for their listed views/positions.

There were rudimentary profiles. If you "fingered⁕" someone, you could see the contents of their ~/.plan and ~/.project files, which formed something like a profile.



     finger – user information lookup program

Back in the day John Carmack's .plan file was my social media feed.


In some sense, for some people, I think that's true. FB and IG certainly foster certain types of mimetic desires. But I think for the rest, it's less homogeneous in what we're seeing. When people used to watch TV, there was much more of a consensus on how we defined ourselves. That's going away.

Thats the first time I've seen the abbreviation IG. I'm guessing Instagram?

Yes, Instagram

Relevant XKCD: https://xkcd.com/1095/

Literature, metaphors and social science for mankind and a single, final word on nuclear warranting the clickbait title? These words show trepidation but have not aged well, do they?

Girard Startup lessons:

- the founders set a contagious mission that infects the company

- competition can be destructive, work hard to be a monopoly

- the founders take all responsibility and share all success

TLDR; emulate Christ

or as Thiel puts it:

"To believe yourself invested with divine self-sufficiency is not the mark of a strong individual, but of a person who has mistaken the crowd’s worship – or jeering – for the truth. The single greatest danger for a founder is to become so certain of his own myth that he loses his mind. But an equally insidious danger for every business is to lose all sense of myth and mistake disenchantment for wisdom."

TLDR; Balance madness and wisdom of the crowds - Find the balance between humility and self-belief

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact