There’s a remarkable analogy between political, dictatorial regimes that uphold themselves by using violence against dissident voices, and economic behavior that is based on the idea of scarcity. Both social phenomena are tragic in the sense that they accomplish exactly what they are trying to avoid.

Paul Dumouchel and Jean-Pierre Dupuy offered an analysis of modern economics from the point of view of René Girard’s mimetic theory, among others in a book entitled L’enfer des choses. Similar analyses are made by people like Hans Achterhuis (Het Rijk van de Schaarste) and André Lascaris. I’ve tried to summarize what I’ve learned from these efforts so far, as it sheds some interesting light on contemporary international social and political issues – the elimination of Osama Bin Laden being one of them.

To read my essay, click: Tribal tradition or scarcity?

“The rich man glories in his riches, because he feels that they naturally draw upon him the attention of the world, and that mankind are disposed to go along with him in all those agreeable emotions which the advantages of his situation so readily inspire him … In a great assembly he is the person upon whom all direct their eyes; it is upon him that their passions seem all to wait with expectation, in order to receive that movement and direction which he shall impress upon them.”

Adam Smith, in The Theory of Moral Sentiments (London, 1959 (Ed. Oxford, 1976) 1, iii, 2).

The direction which, according to Adam Smith (1723-1790), the rich man impresses upon other individuals often has had some shattering consequences for tribal societies and the natural environment. The difference in the way tribal communities deal with the gifts of nature and the way individual capitalists handle with them perhaps never became any clearer during the years of massive buffalo hunting on the great American plains. For centuries the native American indians hunted no more buffalo than they needed and shared what they had caught among the members of their respective tribes. Individual community members didn’t enrich themselves too much, because that would have led to envious quarrels. As is sufficiently known, the business men who originally came from Europe displayed a reverse attitude (imitating ‘the rich man’), which nearly eradicated the mighty animals of the great plains – literally creating ‘scarcity’ of the buffalo. My essay tries to point to the origin of this turn to individualism in Europe. Some of the negative consequences of this shift are shown in these pictures – more than words can say…

Above: Buffalo Hides at Dodge City (Kansas, 1874).

Below: Pile of Buffalo Skulls (1870’s).


This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.

(Words ascribed to Chief Seattle – to read more, click here).

What no man can own, no man can take…

(Bono, singer in rock band U2, from their song Yahweh).


In 1952, Scottish-born Canadian film director and animator Norman McLaren (1914-1987) released his hugely acclaimed short film Neighbours. It won both a Canadian Film Award and an Academy Award, and has been designated as a ‘masterwork’ by the Audio-Visual Preservation Trust of Canada. Moreover, in 2009, the film was added to UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme. Neighbours is a revolutionary piece of art, both in content and in style. McLaren is a master in using the so-called pixilation, an animation technique which treats live actors as stop-motion objects. As for the content, Neighbours can be considered an anti-war statement.

Asked about the inspiration for his film, McLaren answered: I was inspired to make Neighbours by a stay of almost a year in the People’s Republic of China. Although I only saw the beginnings of Mao’s revolution, my faith in human nature was reinvigorated by it. Then I came back to Quebec and the Korean War began. My sympathies were divided at that time. I felt myself to be as close to the Chinese people as I felt proud of my status as a Canadian. I decided to make a really strong film about anti-militarism and against war.”

The film clearly demonstrates the mimetic origin of rivalry and its escalation into violence. Two neighbours, living together peacefully and enjoying shared interests, become each other’s rivals once they both lay claim on a flower. The film plainly depicts they not only pay attention to this object, but also that they increasingly keep an eye on each other until, finally, the attention for the object completely disappears. As they imitate each other’s claims and try to manifest themselves over against one another, the object is even destroyed during the process.


Neighbours not only ironically reveals that one’s desire for prestige, pride and power is actually based on nothing (but an imitation of another’s desire), but it also shows the tragic and horrifying, shocking outcome of escalated mimetic rivalry. The former friends are tricked into becoming each other’s monstrous doubles. The Latin word praestigia means deception or illusion and it indeed points to the misleading nature of mimetic desire.


The rock band Extreme made a video for their song Rest in Peace which all too overtly draws on Neighbours. A tribute, nonetheless. Watch it here:

The Old Testament books of Kings tell the story of the prophet Elijah. At a certain moment, while being haunted by his enemies, Elijah finds himself to be totally disillusioned. He even longs to die. Then the angel of the Lord encourages him, and after a final meal, he sets off on a journey that will last 40 days and nights (his period of ‘Lent’), until he reaches Mount Horeb – the Lord’s mountain. There, in the midst of his despair and loneliness, he catches a glimpse of the tender but steadfast power of Hope. A Hope that is not in tempests, earthquakes or fires, but in a ‘gentle breeze’…

Composer Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy retells this moment in his beautiful oratorio Elias (German text and translation below) – listen to it by clicking the image of the tree:

Der Herr ging vorüber, und ein starker Wind, der die Berge zerriß und die Felsen zerbrach, ging vor dem Herrn her, aber der Herr war nicht im Sturmwind. Der Herr ging vorüber, und die Erde erbebte, und das Meer erbrauste, aber der Herr war nicht im Erdbeben. Und nach dem Erdbeben kam ein Feuer, aber der Herr war nicht im Feuer. Und nach dem Feuer kam ein stilles, sanftes Sausen. Und in dem Säuseln nahte sich der Herr…

Behold, God the Lord passed by! And a mighty wind rent the mountains around, brake in pieces the rocks, brake them before the Lord. But yet the Lord was not in the tempest. Behold, God the Lord passed by! And the sea was upheaved, and the earth was shaken. But yet the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there came a fire. But yet the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there came a still small voice. And in that still voice onward came the Lord…

(From Elias – Oratorium nach Worten des Alten Testaments, op.70, by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy; this part refers to 1 Kings 19:11-12).

Amidst earthquakes and other natural disasters, the Japanese always held on to their refined and subtle cultural traditions. Our thoughts and prayers go to the people of Japan, who suffer from the most terrible earthquake in their recorded history: may they find strength in their own ‘still small voice’…

“We want to live by each other’s happiness — not by each other’s misery.

Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. More than machinery we need humanity. You are not machines! You are men! You have the love of humanity in your heart. You don’t hate! Only the unloved hate…

In the 17th Chapter of St. Luke it is written: “the Kingdom of God is within man” — not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you! You, the people have the power — the power to create machines. The power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.

Then, in the name of democracy, let us use that power! Let us all unite! Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give youth the future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power, but they lie! They do not fulfill their promise; they never will. Dictators free themselves, but they enslave the people! Now, let us fight to fulfill that promise! Let us fight to free the world, to do away with national barriers, to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness.”

– Excerpts from Charlie Chaplin‘s Speech in his movie The Great Dictator.

As relevant as ever.

What are we waiting for? A different kind of King, and a different kind of Kingdom, “not of this world”?

Lent is a season for reflection…

This great video by one of my favourite singer songwriters, Dan Reed, might be of help…