Disgusted and outraged by American politics? Raven Board Member and Colloquium on Violence and Religion President Martie Reineke explains the psychology of disgust and outrage to aid us in navigating these often overwhelming emotions. She also offers suggestions on neutralizing disgust in ways that foster better politics in our nation and in the world. This conversation was recorded in September 2018.
Martie Reineke is Professor of Religion at Northern Iowa University. Her most recent book is titled, Intimate Domain: Desire, Trauma, and Mimetic Theory.
Here is a transcript of the conversation between Adam Ericksen and Martie Reineke.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Hi, everyone, and welcome to this edition of the RavenCast. I am excited to show you this episode with Martie Reineke but, before I do, I just want to give you heads up, that we had a little bit of audio problems, especially on my end, there was an echo in my audio, and I went through and fixed it pretty well. Fortunately, it didn’t have any effect on what Martie had to say, and Martie says some really great stuff. Here is Martie Reineke on Disgust, Outrage, and Politics, hope you enjoy.
Hi everyone and welcome to this episode of the Raven cast for April 6, 2017, I am Adam Ericksen and I am here with our special guest Martha Reineke. Hi, Martha!
MARTIE REINEKE: Hi.
ADAM ERICKSEN: How are you today?
MARTIE REINEKE: Well just fine. It’s sunny in Iowa, but it’s cold.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Oh goodness, well it’s raining here in Portland Oregon like it will be forever. Hey, it’s what we do, I am so excited to have you on today because we are going to talk about Politics and Disgust and Outrage. And there is a lot to be disgusted and outraged about in our politics these days. So thank you for being with us.
MARTIE REINEKE: Well am very happy to be here.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Awesome. Before we get into our discussion, am just going to introduce the show, and introduce you. So this is the RavenCast, a product of the Raven ReView, which is an online magazine where we write and talk about mimetic theory and the rivalry, violence and scapegoating that so often divides our communities. Our motto at the Raven review is “Change your view. Change the world.” So if you like to hear a new perspectives on religion, politics, pop culture and current events and perspectives that seek to bridge the divide and bring people together, then please subscribe to the Raven ReView at Ravenfoudation.org.
But today am so pleased to have Dr. Martie Reineke on the show, Martie is a professor of religion at the University of Northern Iowa. She teaches courses on religion and society, world religions, religion and the web, and existentialism, and gender. And she is the author of numerous articles and books including the wonderful book that I will put up for those watching called Intimate Domain, here it is.
Martie, I first met you 10 years ago or so at a conference, I think probably in Amsterdam at the Colloquium on Violence and Religion and I was just learning mimetic theory at the time. I have always experienced you as somebody who is not only really nice and warm but helpfully informative about all things mimetic theory. So thank you for your presence and helpfulness in our lives and also just a little story. We were flying home from Amsterdam and I was sitting right in the row in front of Martie, and I was so excited that Martie will be behind me and for this like 12 hours flight. Then I sat up and I leaned into the space between us and I said, hey, Martie, and I totally freaked you out, and I am sorry about that.
Girard says the problem of others is not their difference, but their similarity.
MARTIE REINEKE: That’s okay.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Yeah, good, it was a long flight and I kept my space.,That’s good. Awesome. So Martie, I just wanted to ask you how were you first introduced into mimetic theory?
MARTIE REINEKE: Well, that’s a great question. It was a long time ago. It was actually just a year after Girard’s book, The Scapegoat has been published and I was talking to a colleague about my interest at the time, and he said, you need to read The Scapegoat, by Rene Girard. I was like okay. So I sat down and got it immediately, I read it and everything changed. I often, oH I guess about once every three years I read a book and I feel like the top of my head is just coming off as I read. And The Scapegoat was one of those books.
What captured my attention about The Scapegoat was I had been studying difference particularly sexual difference, gender. And the feminist scholars I was reading thought that one of the issues about gender bias was the difference of women from men and that women, were considered deficient in certain respects. When I read The Scapegoat, Girard says the problem of others is not their difference, but their similarity. And he actually gave us an example of disability in The Scapegoat, and he says, what bothers us about the disabled person is not their difference from us, but, that they are too close. They are similar enough that we feel threatened that perhaps, their situation, their disability might be a contagion. It might spread to us. And the absence of boundaries is what we find disturbing and that initiates the social consequences in terms of sexism, racism, etcetera. And that that turned my world upside down. And I thought well; let’s see if we can work with this theory. And I have never stopped working with it. I tested it in my first book it was like, yes, this helps. And I just kept asking the theory to serve, to help me answer other questions and that interest me.
ADAM ERICKSEN: It is very counter-intuitive.
MARTIE REINEKE: Yes.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Because we always think it’s our differences that cause these problems like René says it’s our similarities. So it’s always something that takes a while; for you, it was a click right away, it sounds like but for me it’s always…
MARTIE REINEKE: Well it clicked in the sense that I hadn’t been satisfied with other answers. So I thought maybe that was the problem that the reason I hadn’t been satisfied is they just were not going to work. So I was very open to his ideas and I think the similarity, the angle that we often start with is a positive similarity. That, in Girard’s theory, we have a model that we admire and we need discover that we want everything to be like the model. But the closer we get to the model and to the kind of competition with that model, then the model’s face instead of being a model, becomes a monster and then it flips over to the threat of similarity. So The Scapegoat picks up the conversation when you have gotten past the point of modeling, desire and admiring the person and wanting to be just like that person, when it flips over to no, this is too close, this is a threat.
ADAM ERICKSEN: So it begins in a positive sense and generally moves in that negative mimesis?
MARTIE REINEKE: Right.
ADAM ERICKSEN: One of the books, your most recent book I think, Intimate Domain deals with family, which is where we find our first models in life. And it’s a fascinating book, Intimate Domain: Desire, Trauma, and Mimetic Theory. As you say, Girard talks a lot about sibling rivalry, and he warns us throughout his career about negative mimesis, but you claim that families can be a place of intimate domain. And what you mean by that is a space for healing from trauma and a place for positive mimesis. Can you talk more about family as a place of intimate domain?
MARTIE REINEKE: Right, well, I came to work on the family because of Girard doesn’t. He, apart from siblings, he has very little to say about the family. And I think one reason is that he was distinguishing himself in his early work from Freud and the model of mimetic desire that Freud has is the Oedipal triangle. It is a familiar model and I think Girard thought that model was a little forced. He also talks about how his own recollection of family life as a child were the family where the family was a safe space and that kind of trauma that Freud sees, he said that doesn’t fit with my experience.
So, Girard stopped looking at the family and I think he lost something in that. Now he does look at siblings as an example of rivals and we know if we have siblings that that is the case. We often are rivals and we can get very intense in our competition with our siblings and Girard was right about that. But he also needs to look, I think, he needs to look more at parental dynamics as setting patterns of how we relate with others for the rest of our lives. And some of these patterns are negative. So that the patterns we learn for interaction were with certain types of persons are set in childhood, for better or worse. I had a colleague who had it work out quite well, he ended up working for a dean of my university, now gone. He was the only person in his college who get along with this dean. And someone asked, “how do you do it?” And he said he is my dad. He is just like my dad and I learned how to get along with my dad and the pattern. And many times the pattern doesn’t work. We get set in a pattern and it becomes counterproductive and limits our experiences.
So Freud focused largely on how that happens, how familiar experiences create trauma that we carry with us in our lives and that limit our ability to be open to other options. But in my book, I wanted to also look at the possibility for a positive structure of family life and I went way, way back to childhood prior to the acquisition of language. And there we have encounters with parents, not through the words they share with us but through their bodies, through their voices, even though we don’t understand their words, their touch. And several philosophers among them Merleau-Ponty and Judy Kristeva have talked about that early experience as setting the stage for an openness to the world. Kristeva actually uses the language of the ur-parents, the pre-parents before we know that how to call them mama and papa. Their sense of being we are for-given by them and she means we are given for the world by these parental presences. That they carry us literally into the world with a feeling of safety. And we need to return to that somehow in adult life to experience healing in adult relationships.
Now with siblings, prior to the competition where you want the same toy and you are fighting over or your brother gets an ‘A’ and you get a ‘B’ and your parents are happier with your brother than they are with you. In early childhood, when a 3-year-old discovers that he or she is going to have a sibling, their initial response, developmental psychologist tells us is positive. There’s going to be more of them, their world will expand. So the idea I had in intimate domain was for all aspects of the family before they get into the complexity of the world have a positive turn to them – a promise of relationship rather than a failure of a relationship. And then, my interest is how do we recapture that in adulthood. Religion, particularly rituals, symbol systems are ways that we can return to that hopeful stance that we had when we first entered the world and had our most fundamental first relationships.
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ADAM ERICKSEN: It reminds of a conversation I had with Vanessa Avery a couple of weeks ago. And she was talking about in Genesis 48 where Menasseh and Ephraim are blessed. They are brothers, and it’s a story that doesn’t get a lot of attention. but they are both blessed, which is a reversal of Esau and Jacob who have this rivalry for blessings. And here both these brothers are able to accept the blessings. It’s a ritual that Jews do every Sabbath, this blessing of these children is an imitation of Ephraim and Menasseh.
MARTIE REINEKE: Right, that is a perfect example of what I was saying that where do we recapture the hope of early childhood, and it’s in religion, Kristeva says it’s in art and literature. A blessing is both physical recollection of the parental touch as a healing touch, a welcoming, a safe touch and also being able to articulate as adults in words, those early sentiments of blessing, of feeling part of a larger community.
ADAM ERICKSEN: So Martie, this conversation about family, is so important especially now because families are divided over our political situation. I am feeling disgusted and outraged for family members that I love. And in a recent paper that you wrote called, Disgust, Violence and Politics, you named what’s been so difficult during the last few months, especially at the Thanksgiving dinner table, when it was just hard for us to be in the presence of family members. You write that the prospect of eating with someone who disgusts us, makes us want to puke, and a lot of people felt that over the Thanksgiving dinner table and ever since. It’s a feeling of disgust, a social disgust. Can you talk about, what is disgust and social disgust?
MARTIE REINEKE: Well, I came upon the topic of disgust because it’s really falling two ways at the dinner table when we have these strong political disagreements with each other. We may even say it, use the word disgust to describe how we feel about what someone else is saying. But it’s also I noticed in our political commentary, so that, one of the things that I have been trying to understand is how disgust is featuring on our political landscape. During the campaign, there were some incidents that candidate Trump talked about in terms of his disgust. So, when he did the debate, and Megyn Kelly challenged him, he had comments about her and the fact that she must be having her period and he found that disgusting. When candidate Clinton took a bathroom break, he said, I know where she went, I won’t say where she went, it’s too disgusting to say. During the women’s march, Madonna was on the stage and he said that her appearance was disgusting.
So that’s a word that comes out of his mouth, fairly often. And the other thing that’s concerning to me is that in some of the public incidents about the Islam that Muslims have been referred to with words are part of the vocabulary of disgust. So a number of mosques, a couple of weeks ago, received the same letter; a mosque in Des Moines received one which was the same as the one that was received in Indianapolis and various other places. And the language of that letter talked about Muslims being vile, which is very close to being a synonym for disgust. It talked about them needing to be removed and used the language that America needs to become clean again. Which again is right out of the vocabulary of disgust.
So when we talk about disgust, I discover, while I was research in it that Martha Nussbaum who is one of our top philosophers of law had written a book called Hiding from Humanity that’s about disgust. Helpfully, for my interest, also about outrage because in our political scene if we are not disgusted, we are outraged. So we go to our computer screens and we bring up the news and we either say that’s disgusting or that’s outrageous, it’s one or the other. So, I looked first at what she said about this disgust, and disgust is not subject to reason. It is something that wells up in us and it’s a kind of magical thinking associated with it. And one reason that we know that it’s not subject to reason is we can test that by confronting someone with a reasoned explanation of why they should not find something disgusting.
So for example, bats; some persons are fine with bats, they love bats. I am talking about the flurry things that fly around silently. They eat mosquitoes and they are helpful for our environments, etcetera, etcetera. No amount of explanation for me about how wonderful bats are is going to change my mind. I find them disgusting. I have some close encounters with bats and I find them creepy and disgusting and I don’t want them to be part of my life. So reason doesn’t stop disgust. Disgust operates on a pre-reasonable level, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be analyzed. And it’s actually it’s all the more important that we analyze it.
So that’s one of the things that I set out to do in the last few months is to see can we get a better sense of what we going on with disgust than we have had in the past, because if that’s a driver in our political presence then it’s very unreasonableness suggest we need to look very closely at it.
ADAM ERICKSEN: One of the interesting examples that you give when it comes to politics is the politician, I forget who it was, who have the mud oreo and the worms coming out of it’s… Can you talk about that?
MARTIE REINEKE: Yes, so that’s actually there is a whole area of psychology it’s called disgust psychology; I think that would be fascinating. I mean I can imagine if I were teaching a course disgust psychology, everyone would want to take it. There is a group psychologist working in this field and they are interested actually in the relationship between politics and disgust. So, one of the things that they did was that they did some surveys of persons in their study for their political attitudes. And they discovered that persons who describe themselves as conservative politically and also very pro-military defense when shown pictures of disgusting images, such as someone eating worms, will have a much stronger reaction than if the ones they survey are politically liberal.
So one of our Senators every year, he does a… His name is Jeff Flake, he is from Arizona and every year he does a little booklet on wasted federal research funds. Last year, the top waste in federal research funds was for this group of psychologists in that particular study. And so Senator Flake at his news conference gave the pudding cups that have gummy worms in them to everyone as an illustration. But I actually think that their research is important and we need a multi-disciplinary approach to disgust. So we need persons who are doing the kind of empirical research, large survey studies that other disgust psychologists are doing. We need folks like Girard who talks about contamination and pollution and we need folks like Martha Nussbaum who says well, what are we going to do about it as political philosophers. So we need a multi-dimensional approach to solving the problem of disgust.
ADAM ERICKSEN: So does disgust and disgust is often met with outrage…
MARTIE REINEKE: So let me talk about the difference. So disgust we said is something that comes over you. At some level you have a physical reaction, you may feel nauseous. Right? So it is and that cannot be eliminated by telling someone a reasoned explanation for the experience. So, if you give someone something to eat that looks disgusting, for example, that looks like a bug or a worm and you say no, it’s actually not that, it’s actually a delicious chocolate. They may still not be able to eat it because it’s an irrational feeling.
Outrage, Martha Nussbaum says outrage is quite different. Outrage has an affective component, I mean, we feel ourselves, welling up with what looks like anger. But she distinguishes anger from outrage. An outrage has, if you say, what are you outraged about, you be able to say, well, and you be to say facts and figures. Sometimes more sometimes less. She says that the affect in outrage is moving towards social justice. So that you are summoning facts and you are summoning emotion on behalf of a larger agenda, social justice. So there is a kind of method in your madness whereas disgust doesn’t have that dimension.
Now she is very careful because some of us, will be saying, oh, I have outrage, I am a good person, am a liberal, and outrage is good, disgust is conservative, that’s bad, and we will be patting ourselves on the back. Martha Nussbaum tells us, no, no, no, don’t do that. And she doesn’t use the language of scapegoating but that’s what she is talking about that we can end up scapegoating others by placing ourselves in the position of the better side of the story. And also our vocabulary, she says sometimes we say we are outraged but we are actually disgusted, and she says that happens because there is isn’t a good adjective. If you were extremely outraged you can say, am very, very, outraged and you are just not getting there, you are not getting to the ultimate degree of outrage. So she says, some people flip over, and say am disgusted at that point because they are looking for a stronger word. But if you ask them, what are they disgusted about then they go into reasons etcetera and you discover no, they meant outraged, but their vocabulary fell short.
And she also says, for example, the 19th century; they are a lot of trials focused on homosexuality which purported to be reasonable rational trials. These are court cases for the illegality of homosexual behavior. And they purported to be about outrage and justice, but if you look at what they attorneys said there was no reason to what they were saying. They were clearly disgusted by behaviors and the rational language was secondary to the motivation of disgust. So the words are not always complete reliable and in letting us know what’s going on, but they are definitely two different places that we can stand in the world. And she wants to look further at outrage as having positive potential and disgust as something that we need to work our way around as much as we can to neutralize its affective powers.
ADAM ERICKSEN: One of the great examples that you gave of outrage, is Martin Luther King. So he was able to use outrage, in a way as you said works for social justice in the world?
MARTIE REINEKE: And she doesn’t have a lot of examples because she actually, in a later book, she calls Anger and Forgiveness. I think after the book on disgust and outrage, she started thinking more about whether she had offered too positive review of anger as outrage. So in Anger and Forgiveness, she unpacks all varieties of anger and she actually says that almost all anger is what we call in Girardian language scapegoating anger is anger towards vengeance, towards destruction. And she actually stopped using the word outrage because she thinks because it’s so much part of common vocabulary we will again pat ourselves on the back, and say, no, I don’t have vengeance, I have outrage, I am a good person, am leaning towards social justice. She picks a new term for outrage called transition anger. She says, am picking it, it sounds like an academic term, and I want to pick a term that won’t roll off your tongue, because your chances of actually having outrage leading towards social justice, transition anger, are so slim you are not going to need to use this word in your life.
So she says Martin Luther King Junior is an example of prophetic voice, a voice where compassion actually is stronger than the vengeance and therefore the anger is constructive. We sometimes use the phrase speaking truth to power. And so, when outrage is speaking the truth, has a clear line on social justice, then it’s a good affect but it’s joined with reason. But most of the time we fall off the rails, she says. I think one of the things I’m noticing in our experience today when I go on Facebook, for example. I am part of a couple of Facebook groups with Indivisible is that the outrage does either turn into angry expressions that don’t seem to be pointed towards a productive resolution or into paralysis and where you just sort of step back because to pursue your outrage is to go in directions you clearly recognize, at some level, are not productive. And I think it’s important for us to, therefore, look at both outrage and see how we can get back to its healthy components, how can we make it more than just academic as Nussbaum seems to be thinking. It’s so rare, that’s it’s just academic, meaning it’s in an ivory tower… no one ever gets to experience that.
ADAM ERICKSEN: It makes me think that maybe we should if outraged leading, to something good is so slim, should we seek other ways of being in the world, should we seek to lessen our outrage?
MARTIE REINEKE: Well, that’s a really good question. I think, in my own thought, I have actually been encouraged by Nussbaum to think we might have more than an impact on tackling disgust, than on outrage, because outrage does have a capability of being responsive to reasoned arguments. And I think we’ve probed and push with our, we call it at the university teaching critical thinking skills, as much as we can. I think we can always do better, we can always encourage more civil dialogue, we can have models of civil dialogue, for example, the tone that’s taken by commentators on National Public Radio or by Public Television tends to have that quality of reasoned discourse which suggest a model for managing outrage and not having it to turn into vengeful anger. But at the moment, I am more concerned about and I am more interested in tackling disgust, because I think that’s is the more dangerous problem we have particularly when we look at political objectives coming out of the White House, such as the travel ban and other efforts to address perceived threats with what appeared to or are purported to be rational suggestions such as the ban with I think by those trials in the 19th century on homosexuality are really being driven by disgust and an affect that has not been examined.
ADAM ERICKSEN: That’s great, Suzanne has a question that leads us back to disgust, she also has a question I think about outrage. So let’s do disgust -and I am getting echo. So, Martie, I think you can read, you can see Suzanne’s question over there.
MARTIE REINEKE: Right, so Suzanne is asking if disgust works the way that differences in conflict do. We are disgusted by things is to close or similar to us. I think yes, that’s the case. One of the things I found very helpful is that Richard Beck, who is a psychologist and also a theologian, has unpacked the dynamics of disgust to identify three kinds of disgust. I think all three of them point to a problem of insufficient boundaries. And it’s really interesting that you ask that because one of my concerns about focusing only on conflicts and scapegoating as Girard has is that we won’t be able to work our way out of that until we look at one of the other prime drivers of threatening similarity, which is disgust, rather than the anger that leads to violence, that leads to scapegoating. Because I think they are two distinct trajectories and that’s why it was very helpful that Martha Nussbaum also treats them as two. Disgust is one track of the train and the other is the violence and scapegoating.
So Beck starts with what he called core disgust and core disgust is the most embodied form of disgust where someone or something makes us gag, literally. And it has the most involuntary response and that’s really is embodied. So that, when we are standing close to someone who we find disgusting, something about their body is disgusting, in terms of either their smell or they happen to be to be throwing up or whatever, we will have a gagging response. They are hopefully like twelve inches away from us. We are not really physically threatened by their person in terms of whatever is happening with them having a kind of contagion to us, but we experience it as kind of involuntary reaction. And persons, you can see in a room, where multiple persons start gagging is a contagion of gagging. So that’s the most basic and some persons will say, well, why worry about that, that’s so, fundamentally physiological how could it ever issue in anything that has social consequences. Well, I think it’s important to start with that layer because, it reminds us that disgust is always embodied no matter how complex it becomes and filled with sort of a language parameter around it, it is an embodied reaction, so we need to look at that.
So then he goes on to animal reminder disgust and that is disgust where we are acquainted with our own fragility, mortality and potential for disease, death, disability. And that fits right into what Girard talks about when he gave the example of disability. That the problem with persons who look differently than us, who remind us of our own mortality, and the fragility of our own circumstances is an over-identification at a very fundamental level, it can happen to us. So one of the sad things that humans tend to do if we don’t have enough rituals in our lives is after someone we know has a loved who dies, and needs all their friends around them, people report over and over that they left after the funeral, after the baked goods stopped coming to the door, that they are left alone, and people that used to be friends tend to avoid them at a time they need them most. And that’s, I think, contemporary testimony to the concern about the contagion of death. And we’re concerned not at a reasonable level, but at an irrational level that death is a contagion. And that level of disgust is met finally at the most complex level is socio-moral disgust.
Socio-moral is where a group of persons, we find them, as we say, disgusting. And actually, that level is identical in its construct to the scapegoating mechanism that Girard has identified with the difference that with socio-moral disgust, those who study it focused on the embodiment of scapegoating. So, Beck talks about the table,-because he is also a theologian, the table fellowship in Mathew. The debates about who can sit at the table with us, which were very much political debate for a developing early Christian group, a Jesus movement that was still meeting in the synagogue, and trying to decide if Jesus is the future of Judaism and were in the process of worrying about who they were eating with, and the disgusting prospects of polluted food, but also were moving towards potential scapegoating of those that they saw as a threat to the purity of table fellowship. So they all fit together and I agree, I think, it is a problem of over similarity. That’s why we are building a wall. That’s why we build literal walls to create barriers where the fundamental fears are contagions that can be stopped by a wall.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Well I love the table fellowship point because it brings me back to Thanksgiving, and these are issues that we have been dealing with for a very long time. So, one of the other things that I have a question about is monsters. You mentioned this earlier, what is the difference between scapegoats and monsters?
MARTIE REINEKE: Right. Well, first let me follow up, for just a second, on that table fellowship because when I was growing up in a Christian congregation where there were sermons on the table fellowship debates, all these conversations were about rules. So the focus of… supposedly what these debates where about were whether the rules are for sitting down together and having a sacred meal and then it would extend the rules of rituals supposedly Jesus was wanting a kind of flexibility and inclusiveness and there were these rule-bound persons. But what Beck points out, he is saying, that’s not what this is about. Think about sitting at a table, a Thanksgiving table with people who are differing from you in whatever respect they are differing from you and they make you want to puke. That’s what the debate is about. It’s not intellectual, it’s not about rules that actually scapegoating of the Pharisees to say that it is about rules. It’s about what do we do when we are invited into a community to seat at a table with kinds of people we have never sat with before and we can’t eat because we literally can’t stomach the thought of eating with those people. And that gets it a radicality of what Jesus was trying to do, to break the barriers that reason can’t address. Barriers those are so deep and referred to the kinds of deep threats of our mortality, of our fragility, our incompleteness, etcetera that we need to some other way of getting at that.
So, I think Beck helps that particular conversation in the New Testament come alive because we domesticate Jesus way too often. We want to control the message, because when we control messages we get to be placed in a good position and we are like, yeah, we got the message and we are on the right side of that message. What a profound experience of those Mathew texts does is to destabilize that certainty and disenfranchise us from that security and it’s from that unstable position that we can experience something quite different which would be the radical message of Jesus. So I like to stick with that story, I think, Beck his book is called Unclean and he frames the entire book around the table fellowship question.
Now, the other really big contribution Beck makes to the discussion of scapegoating is, and he cites Girard when he does this, is that we have become sophisticated when it comes to identifying scapegoats, at least everybody’s scapegoats but our own. In fact, the word scapegoat as Girard tells us, the vocabulary now has a scapegoat as an innocent person who has been wrongly accused of something. Whereas the power of the scapegoat historically before that revelation that scapegoats are innocent was that the scapegoat was guilty and the scapegoat was the being that a divided people agreed upon is being the cause of their collective problems. And instead of fighting each other, they say oh, it’s that person’s fault or that group’s fault and that group, the scapegoat, would be led out of town, expelled, or killed, and everybody can go back to living as normal.
And so scapegoating defused cultural violence by excluding it from the community over time. And the biblical message, Girard says, taught us and we finally have observed that scapegoats are not guilty, they are innocent. So scapegoating doesn’t neutralize the on-going dynamics of what we been talking about today, anger or violence. It just kind of runs on and on and on. And so, in Girard, one of his last books, Battling To The End, he muses about the risk of runaway violence when the scapegoating mechanism, which was supposed to stop it by placing that in a receptacle, the scapegoat, and moving it outside the community to protect the community from that threat. That doesn’t work, whether we have it.
Beck says there is one place, where scapegoating still works, really, really well and that’s the beings we call monsters. All you have to do is go on Google and type the word monster, in next to any candidate who monster Muslim, monster homicide, when we want to ostracize someone from our community, and find them what we say beyond the pale and still give them the power to do what scapegoats use to do, we call them monsters. And monsters work in the area of disgust. Who becomes a monster? There is no reason for that. It’s not subject to facts. You can say ‘oh no, you’re mistaken, that person is not a monster and cite all their credentials, and no, if they are a monster to us, they are guilty as charged. And so Beck’s final suggestion is if we want to have intervention in social justice today, don’t look for scapegoats, after all, we are not going to recognize the ones that we still are creating. Look for monsters. Monsters have that, the power that scapegoats use to have. And then, if we want to reform our communities and not pick on individuals and groups and label them monsters and exile them or kill them, then we need to address the monster work that we are doing rather than the scapegoating work.
ADAM ERICKSEN: And the way that you do that is by neutralizing disgust?
MARTIE REINEKE: Right. So that you look for mechanisms that will interrupt that affective current of the disgust, the core disgust, the animal reminder disgust, and the socio-moral disgust.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Julia Kristeva is influential in your work, can you talk about her and program for disgust?
MARTIE REINEKE: So I have identified two remedies for disgust and the two that Kristeva really specializes in are the core disgust, which is really hard to remedy, and the animal reminder disgust, which is the fear of our mortality. And then, I identified the socio-moral disgust avenues that Beck has, but for Kristeva she suggests that the avenue that we could follow for working to neutralize, and if you think about a poisonous liquid and pouring something into it that neutralizes it -that’s what am really thinking- and she talks about forgiveness. And she is not talking about cheap forgiveness like oh, I forgive you, we are not talking about that. It’s feeding into or deploying or I guess resurrecting from our depths that initial capacity we have to live with others without fear that for-giveness, with a hyphen between the for; for meaning before, and given, something has been given to us before. Before what? Before we ever entered into the complexities of social life, we were for-given, we were given over to that by hopeful parents by a promise that we could live with each other in this world. And she identified as, we mentioned before, three places where we can actually experience forgiveness. She thinks that the rituals of religion, particularly healing rituals, when we think about Jesus, in addition to all of his sermons which were guides for life that we can summon as words to live by, his primary power was as a healer. And he healed persons who in that day disease was considered a moral failing. So if you had something wrong physically with you, it was a mark of a failure of your being, not just that you had what we today say a virus, or a bacterial infection, or whatever. So he healed broken people, he healed people who had contaminated others. And if we can capture through religion, through rituals of healing, that will be something to do.
She also identified we live in a world where many persons are not religious, the nones, N-O-N-E-S are growing every year. So she identifies arts and literature as places that we can turn to for healing affect. Arts doesn’t have often words so we can say, oh, yes, I look at a painting or there is something that is transforming. But much art, theatre for example, plays, literature, have words, but she says it’s not the words that are healing, it’s entering into a world of affect. And I was reminded of a political statement actually I heard the other day. There is been talk about defunding the National Endowment for the Humanities. During the war, Churchill asked about the arts and he said something to the effect that what we are fighting for. And the sense that, art is the crucible of the hope of civilization is one that I think secular people can recognize that art can heal in that way.
So those are the places to look for interventions in disgust. Now the other place Becks suggest socio-moral disgust is practices of hospitality. And the biblical religions are experts on practicing hospitality in lands and times in which it’s difficult to be hospitable. And they were really a transforming Judaism, Christian, Islam where really transforming presences in the Middle East in terms of promoting hospitality towards the stranger. And he talks about hospitality as an outreach to others. You reach out. If you can be hospitable to the monster, and I know it sounds, I mean we are dealing with huge issues here and especially if we look at the news the last two days we are so overwhelmed by geopolitical problems that don’t have easy answers, but they say all politics is local. And I think one of the things that many communities are doing are having interfaith dinners. So that in our community, we have outlets where Christians, Jews, and Muslims meet together to share a common meal. And I think that hospitality to persons who before they show up to eat together have been strangers to each other and who in some cases have been called monsters by others. I don’t think we can underrate the potential of the individuals, small community’s gestures of hospitality as a way of breaking through the powers of disgust.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Yeah, you end your paper on this note of hope, that violence can be exchanged for forgiveness and hospitality. And I appreciate that so much, precisely because as you said, we are in this geopolitical situation where were we have North Korea with nuclear weapons, Syria using chemical weapons on their own people, the United States continues drone attacks throughout the Middle East. And everybody just thinks violence is a way to solve our problems. and maybe it’s just being hospitable towards the people who are around us living in the spirit of forgiveness, that gives me hope.
MARTIE REINEKE: Yeah I think there is a really important concept I know, in my World Religions class, we are actually about to start the unit on Islam and there are three three minutes videos of young Muslims who are talking about their being a Muslim. And the first one is a highly a stimulated group of young people talking about how they can dance and do things just like anyone else. And the second one we call observant young Muslims, we talking about the strength of their faith. And then the third one actually is by young people who say, it’s not my job to make you comfortable with my faith, or and really posing challenging questions. And I ask my students, if I could show just one of these to another class, which would you pick. And I have done this for two years now. And they pick the challenging one. And I think what that reminds me is the hospitality isn’t this easy, oh, well just open our doors and be nice to each other. You can be hospitable to a stranger and welcome a stranger who challenges you on presumptions that you had that have made that other person feel more of a stranger than what was rightly should have been. So I think it’s important hospitality isn’t rolling out a carpet and just engaging in banal conversation with others. It’s listening to others, and hearing where they are coming from and their pain, and a kind of risk. The word responsibility has a word response in it, responsive, is part of the family; so I think the responsibility responsive and is part of hospitality.
ADAM ERICKSEN: It reminds me that whenever I try to do interreligious dialogue, it’s always with progressive Muslims or progressive Jews, and we always end up believing the same things. Maybe it more important to do intra religious dialogue like with conservative Christians.
MARTIE REINEKE: Right, I agree, because that’s the more challenging task of how we are going to manage our potential for discourse and potential for anger as opposed to an outrage that might have some productive possibilities in conversation.
ADAM ERICKSEN: At this point in the live conversation we have really bad echo, so we decided to stop. I just wanted to thank Martie Reineke for being with us. I love what she said about anger and outrage and disgust and how to neutralize these emotions, really starved these emotions through radical forgiveness which is not cheap forgiveness but a forgiveness that seeks the capacity to live with those that we tend to other-ize by a promise that we can live with each other in this world. So great. And also hospitality, not just hospitality towards people that we like and think like us, but hospitality also towards those that we other-ize, this intentional way of being in the world, that we really get a first glimpse of in the biblical stories including the Koran. So really powerful stuff, thank you, Martie, for being here and thanks to everybody who had joined the live show, and thank you for listening right now. If you are listening on YouTube or watching on YouTube as the case may be, please give us thumbs up and share this video if you think it deserves it with your friends. And if you are watching, actually listening on iTunes and Stitcher, please give us a 5-star review and again share this with anybody you think might like it. And if you want to stay up-to-date on the RavenCast, please like the RavenCast Facebook page or the Raven Foundation Facebook page. And you can stay up-to-date on everything on the Raven ReView or by subscribing to the Raven ReView website at www.RavenFoundation.org. Grace and peace be with you. Bye-bye.