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Mimesis, Technology, and the Apocalypse

Tobias Huber & Byrne Hobart's Presentation at NOVITATE 2023

“I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” — Matthew 10:34

Happy Mothers Day!

Academic and investor Tobias Huber and his collaborator

(who writes the excellent The Diff newsletter) were first on my radar after they published the paper “Manias and Mimesis: Applying René Girard’s Mimetic Theory to Financial Bubbleson SSRN in October 2019, which made it into Wanting as a citation. (The Kindle version of Wanting, by the way, is only $2.99 on a special promotion on Amazon for the next few days. I don’t know any rhyme and reason to Amazon pricing, but this is the lowest price you will probably ever find it.)

I was thrilled when Tobias and Byrne accepted my invitation to present their new essay, Things Hidden: Mimesis, Technology, and Apocalypse, at the 2023 NOVITATE conference in Washington, DC last November. I am grateful to Tobias for flying all the way in from Switzerland to be with us.

Their essay will be part of a book on on technological stagnation and the nature of innovation which will be published by Stripe Press.

Below is the opening of the paper they submitted to the conference, which will give you some taste of what their presentation (which you can watch in the video above) contains. Their motivating question centers around the meaning of the words spoken by Christ in the Gospels: “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Is conflict necessary in this world?

They open:

In his last book Battling to the End, the French philosopher René Girard made the following unsettling pronouncement: “More than ever I am convinced that history has meaning, and that its meaning is terrifying.” Even more disturbingly, he concludes: “Violence can no longer be checked. From this point of view, we can say that the apocalypse has already begun.” Ominous prophecies about AI and climate change-induced doomsday, intensifying bursts of social disorder, symptoms of cultural decline, and renewed threats of nuclear annihilation all seem to confirm the imminence of the apocalypse. What is accelerating the descent into the apocalypse is, according to Girard, the fundamental and universal mechanism of mimetic desire. As we “do not know what to desire,” we, as Girard puts it, start to desire, “what others desire because we imitate their desires.” Mimetic desire—humanity’s intrinsic imitative propensity—is, thus, not predetermined or innate but always socially mediated. As mimetic desires inevitably converge and intensify—and ultimately explode into contagions due to the proliferation of mimetic rivalries—they critically destabilize the social order. This conflictual mimetic cycle has been controlling social dynamics “since the foundation of the world.”

I think you will enjoy this introduction to their work. I hope to see, and participate in, a robust discussion in the comments.


Luke Burgis Newsletter
Luke Burgis Newsletter
Pursuing the mysterium tremendum et fascinans and writing at the intersection of philosophy, culture, art, technology, and religious wisdom.