Psychopolitics

Psychopolitics: Conversations with Trevor Cribben Merrill

Jean-Michel Oughourlian
Translated by Trevor Cribben Merrill
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 98
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.14321/j.ctt7zt95b
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  • Book Info
    Psychopolitics
    Book Description:

    For thousands of years, political leaders have unified communities by aligning them against common enemies. However, today more than ever, the search for "common" enemies results in anything but unanimity. Scapegoats like Saddam Hussein, for example, led to a stark polarization in the United States. Renowned neuropsychiatrist and psychologist Jean-Michel Oughourlian proposes that the only authentic enemy is the one responsible for both everyday frustrations and global dangers, such as climate change-ourselves. Oughourlian, who pioneered an "interdividual" psychology with René Girard, reveals how all people are bound together in a dynamic, contingent process of imitation, and shows that the same patterns of irrational mimetic desire that bring individuals together and push them apart also explain the behavior of nations.

    eISBN: 978-1-60917-339-5
    Subjects: Philosophy, Religion, Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-x)
    René Girard

    Today, the world faces problems that political science is unable to solve. Terrorism is one; the ecological crisis is another. In the long run, the latter is more worrisome than the terrorist threat, and there is a very serious chance that things will get worse. In reality, the two threats are one and the same. If an atomic bomb exploded tomorrow in Manhattan, it would in a sense become part of our ecological problems: the environment would be contaminated, but above all, we would be living on borrowed time. We would know that the threat was not some made-up story....

  4. CHAPTER ONE Psychopolitics
    (pp. 1-12)

    TREVOR CRIBBEN MERRILL: I met you at Stanford University at a meeting of the research group put together by Dr. Scott Garrels, the Fuller School of Psychology, and the Templeton Foundation to study the application of René Girard’s ideas in various disciplines of the social and hard sciences: anthropology, psychology, psychiatry, theology, neuroscience, ethics, literature, epistemology, each one represented by one or more world-class researchers.

    Since 1972, you have been working with René Girard, and in 1978 the two of you publishedThings Hidden since the Foundation of the World.Already, in the third part of that book, you laid...

  5. CHAPTER TWO War and Terrorism
    (pp. 13-24)

    TCM: In his preface to Clausewitz’s magisterialOn War,Gérard Chaliand declares that the Prussian general considered wars to be “the reflection of the societies that wage them.” From this vantage point, what is the state of things today and can René Girard’s theories help us to understand the problem of the current crisis?

    JMO: Let us first recall René Girard’s sociological hypothesis: a primitive community in a state of sacrificial crisis, a community where undifferentiated violence reigns, is abruptly calmed, bound together once more, and pacified by the collective immolation of a victim most often chosen by chance and...

  6. CHAPTER THREE The War of the Gods
    (pp. 25-30)

    JMO: All of the feelings that accompany terrorism and antiterrorism are symptoms of the Clausewitzean “escalation to extremes,” which is one and the same as the mimetic spiral and the escalation of rivalry. Rivalrous desire is escalating to extremes, which is to say that “my” desire is or corresponds to the absolute good, and “yours” is absolute evil: you are my enemy, and consequently no holds are barred, on one side just as much as on the other, the two sides mirroring each other. There is moreover a kind of “war of the gods”: because it is fighting evil, my...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Mimetic Rivalry on an International Scale
    (pp. 31-38)

    TCM: Is this psychopolitical approach to the problems that the world is facing today totally new or can it be found in the writings of past authors?

    JMO: I think that one can see in Gustave Le Bon’sThe Crowd: A Study of the Popular Minda step in this direction. What he calls the soul of the crowd, the behavior of a crowd reacting as one, leads to conceiving a crowd or a nation as a psychological entity. Freud builds on Le Bon’s insights inGroup Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego.He confirms Le Bon’s insights, enriching...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Politics and Religion
    (pp. 39-46)

    TCM: I am struck by the very considerable convergences and points of contact that you have underlined between the religious and political domains and now between the political and psychological domains. With the help of these three pillars, which together make up the foundation of psychopolitics, what is your analysis of the current crisis at this stage in our reflections?

    JMO: The current crisis seems global to me and it is characterized by the failure of politics. Politics is no longer able to designate a precise and credible enemy, one that is capable of earning the approval of the entire...

  9. CHAPTER SIX The Apocalypse
    (pp. 47-56)

    JMO: You are right. That is what René Girard writes from the very first page of his bookBattling to the End:“the possibility of an end to Europe, the Western world and the world as a whole. Today, this possibility has become real. This is an apocalyptic book.”⁵⁴

    Apocalypse means revelation. That is why in his French translation of the Bible, André Chouraqui entitles this chapter not Apocalypse but “The Unveiling of Johanan.” And he specifies in his introduction: “The word apocalypse . . . constantly translates in Greek, in various forms, the Hebrewgala, to unveil. In the...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN Is There Any Hope?
    (pp. 57-78)

    TCM: We have just described the symptoms of the apocalypse, or at least some of them. Given this clinical profile, do you think it is possible to suggest a treatment, and is there any hope of preventing the apocalypse from taking on the meaning that it has in most people’s minds, namely “the end of the world”?

    JMO: As you know, once the diagnosis has been made, there is no hope of a cure unless the patient cooperates in the treatment. The gravity of the situation comes from the fact that the vast majority of humans are absolutely unaware that...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT In Conclusion
    (pp. 79-86)

    TCM: As we bring our conversations to a close, what advice might we give to people bearing political, religious, and psychotherapeutic responsibilities?

    JMO: I doubt that anyone is asking us for advice. However, perhaps they could derive some small benefit from reading this little book, or in any case the works listed in the bibliography.

    TCM: In the final part of his book, Sloterdijk gives some advice that he addresses to the French and the Germans in particular, but also to the rest of the world in a more general way. He writes that reconciliation should ultimately lead to “mutual...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 87-92)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 93-94)
  14. Index
    (pp. 95-98)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 99-99)