The Art of Disengagement

Luke Burgis
10 min readSep 18, 2023

Midsommar, Scapegoating, and the Anti-Mimetic Mind

A scene from the movie Midsommar.

The French social theorist René Girard once remarked that the Egyptian pyramids — stone monuments constructed over the tops of dead kings — were architectural designs that symbolized something more profound in human behavior. The pyramids, he said, are a reflection of what a pile of rocks looks like after a collective stoning. Art reflects nature.

“There is no culture without a tomb and no tomb without a culture; in the end the tomb is the first and only cultural symbol. The above-ground tomb does not have to be invented. It is the pile of stones in which the victim of the unanimous stoning is buried. It is the first pyramid.” ­ — René Girard

The pyramidal design of the Egyptians was not used for aesthetic reasons. It was used because it most accurately reflected a cultural truth: ritualized violence, covered up under layer upon layer of culture.

This week I’ll give the hidden backstory to the events that take place in the 2019 horror film Midsommar.

First, a word on stoning.

The Mimetics of Stoning

Where did the phrase “casting the first stone” come from, and why does it carry such cultural power? The words themselves come from the eighth chapter of the gospel of John, the story of Jesus subverting the ritual stoning of a woman caught in adultery.

But why the enduring power? Why has the phrase been passed down for thousands of years? What is it, really, about the first stone that is so important? Why did Jesus refer to it in the first place?

As Girard has written, the uniqueness of the first stone is something easily overlooked: it’s the only stone without a model. The person who throws the first stone has no mimetic model to follow, no example of violence to mimic. That’s why casting the first stone is so difficult.

The second stone is magnitudes easier to throw than the first because there is mimetic desire involved. The third is even easier — it has two models. Every stone thereafter has more and more models. The ninth or tenth stone can be thrown hardly without thinking. These stones have the force of eight or nine models or example stones behind them.

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Luke Burgis

Author of “WANTING: The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life.” Find more at read.lukeburgis.com