How Social Media Has Made Us All Rivals
In the isolation of the pandemic, our need for social media has been especially acute. It helps us to make sense of who we are. We didn’t know what to desire. So we turned to other people, on our phones, to tell us:
Watch Tiger King, drink negronis, adopt dogs, avoid doing dishes, fight for justice, watch Bridgerton, support local bookstores, Zoom, take extravagant local getaways, take up bird watching, redefine self-care.
We look to other people — as flawed and volatile and contentious as some may be — in order to see ourselves.
There’s something buried deep within human nature — something we rarely want to acknowledge, and which the French cultural theorist René Girard called the “thing hidden since the foundation of the world”: our deep-seated propensity to covet our neighbors’ goods.
So perennial is the conflict caused by the concern for what our neighbor has that a prohibition against the desire itself was enshrined as the Tenth Commandment.
“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house: neither shalt thou desire his wife, nor his servant, nor his handmaid, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is his.”
It commands that the ancient Israelites not covet anything of their neighbor’s. The Tenth Commandment suggests that there is a principle of rivalrous conflict at the very heart of human relations. And the emphasis on the neighbor is strange — so strange, in fact, that we normally overlook it.
It is a “fundamental revolution in the understanding of desire,” according to the great French social theorist René Girard.
“We assume that desire is objective or subjective, but in reality it rests on a third party who gives value to objects. This third party is usually the one who is closest, the neighbor. To maintain peace between human beings, it is essential to define prohibitions in light of this extremely significant fact: our neighbor is the model for our desires.”