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Human behavior is a concept that is often discussed along with questioning its origins, reasons and consequences. No one is absolutely sure where human behavior comes from, but there have been several philosophers and psychologists who have offered explanations.
Rene Girard is one of the theorists and writers who have extensively written on the particulars of human behavior. His major points include scapegoating amongst people, mimicry and interconnection between culture, religion and human desire to repeat previous behaviors, as well as reach for similar and same objectives.
Behavioral competition and rivalry
The fact that all human beings are connected through social and family or individual ties is apparent. Thus, the repetition of behaviors and mimicking are observed in many instances. Rene Girard explains that people observe others and develop an idea for own desires. One person becomes a “model” for another and a similar behavior or pattern in the attitude emerges. In “Mimesis and Violence” it is described how people’s wants and needs eventually align into very common desires (Girard, 1978).
Individuals start wanting the same thing and this leads to competition. As there is a limited and hard to get to amount of material objects, moral satisfactions and other acquisitions, people’s competition becomes more aggressive and in the end, violent. As such, the aggression becomes mimicked also, and a person focuses on the negative and competitive behavior their rival exhibits towards them. This is a valid point that is constantly seen in any social setting.
Often, people want to have the life that others have, which is characterized by the amount of material possessions, emotional happiness and general success in life. From one perspective, people do give each other ideas of what their own dreams can be made of, but from another there is a constant modification and increase in desire. Considering an example of material objects such as cars, boats and houses, even though everyone wants to have one which is bigger than their neighbor’s is, they also want it to be “prettier” and more original.
One of Rene Girard’s podcasts brings up the point that the more similar individuals and their personalities are, the closer their desires will be which in turn, leads to a more similar rivalry and tighter competition. The observation of others and their success makes people strive for the same level of evolvement, getting them closer in rivalry and goals (Cayley, 2011). But, the competition and comparison between individuals becomes a healthy motivator that leads to a creation of new and previously unseen objects and concepts.
Even in the moral sense, people want to have deeper and richer experiences with their loved ones and the external environment. An individual cannot fully learn the internal intricate nature of their own being and so, it becomes a constant development and evolution of emotional knowledge and comprehension. As a result, even though people base their goals and dreams on similar and alike models, a great part of human behavior comes from own imagination and individual differences in character.
Culture, scapegoats and religion
Rene Girard mentions another important connection between modern society, all of humanity and its past. History plays a significant role in the way people view the world today, and many laws, as well as social norms and schemes are linked to the past and other cultures.
This is connected with scapegoating and true reasons for such behavior. Throughout human history, there have been individuals who are weaker or less fortunate than others. Those with more power and resources have and take advantage over larger numbers of people who are not as successful.
This makes some humans stronger and their behavior becomes abusive of those who can be used as “scapegoats”. Not only individuals can display this sort of attitude, great numbers of people and whole societies could unite against a single or several individuals and make them “scapegoats”. Rene Girard connects this to religion and how people rely on the organization of beliefs in social life. As discussed in “Mimesis and Violence” there are many religious rituals that come from finding a victim.
There is often a single figure who suffers more than others, thus becoming an object whom people unite against (Girard, 1978). This sort of concept might have both positive and negatives inclinations, but more importantly, it serves as an example to great numbers of people. The same can be seen through rituals and the repetition of traditions and other pre-set actions by the following generations.
People will base their behaviors and prohibitions on the sacrifices that their ancestors have made, which will be the origin for their beliefs and cultural regulations. Even the suffering of greater proportions on the global scale, such as natural disasters, repeats itself through the written religious texts. Not to mention that folklore, legends and tales that each society has, give basis and examples of the way people lived and how the present must be aligned with the past human behavior.
For a very long time, religion has been one of the major determinants of people’s attitudes and causes for action but the modern times have seen a shift. Presently, people mimic originality and look for something new and unique. The more one person is unlike the other in their choice of physical attributes and moral standards, the better, which is a feature that leads to more differences and ways to accomplish one’s dreams.
Perspectives and natural order
Philosophy and psychology have long tried to pinpoint the definitive and singular reasons for human behaviors and attitudes. There are very many common variables, but each individual is unique in the end. Mimicking others is one of the links in an enormous chain of individuality that makes each person up.
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It is very true that proximity of individuals heightens the sensitive nature of interaction within the human world. In a podcast, Rene Girard says that “the closer people are, the greater their rivalry becomes” (Cayley, 2011). It is clear that people are very much connected to the family, relatives, friends and partners and so, they gain great knowledge and illustration of what these people want in their life. This gives a person a closer look and comparison in regards to own personality and wants.
A suggestion is made that there is a possibility of the person who is most admired becoming the “obstacle” for the observer. This suggests a negative nature of closeness and relation between people. But, an important point is that humans are social beings, and cooperation, together with mutual dependence and help are inevitable. There are many examples of people being more successful through positive competition and unity of interests where one person does not let greed and egoism to overtake their existence.
The wisdom of many societies and religions teaches people to respect the dreams and lives of fellow humans, and only through honor and respect can one come to the realization of own dreams and wants. It is very much possible that elimination of positive competition and rivalry will halt the progress of evolution and there will be nothing new developing for humanity.
People will not want to take an extra step and effort to better themselves and the world around. It becomes clear that people will always compare themselves to their environment and others, which will lead to new efforts and imagination of each individual and the collective humanity. Another confirmation that mimicry and competition is an important and needed part of the world is that it is present throughout animal kingdom, where cruelty and violence should not be necessarily labeled as greedy and selfish.
Often, animals compete for resources and power, which goes to show that all living organisms strive to evolve and develop new characteristics. It is interesting that lower animals and humans have been known to mimic each other in behaviors and instincts. This shows that repetition of seen behaviors is one of the simplest forms of action evident in all of nature (Rogers, 2013).
The similarities between human behavior and the results that originate through observation show that people depend on each other for evolution. The force that finds advantageous uses through similar behavior is key to survival. Mimicking and repeating give rise to imagination and originality which are an inseparable part of any society. All the advances and incomparable divinity of features between individuals and societies make the world as unique as it is.
Cayley, D. (Producer), & Kennedy, P. (Presenter). (2011, February 28). The Scapegoat: René Girard’s Anthropology of Violence and Religion, Part 1–5 [Podcast radio programme]. Toronto: CBC. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/
Girard, R. (1978). Things hidden from the foundation of the world. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Rogers, A. (2013). Human behavior in the social environment. New York, NY: Routledge.