/ theol / cover / bulletin / xtexte / bulletin02-5.html

COV&R Logo

Colloquium On Violence & Religion



COV&R-Bulletin No. 2 (March 1992)


Jean-Pierre Dupuy, La panique (Collection: Les empècheurs de penser en rond). Edité par les Labora toires Delagrange. Paris 1991.

In the empirical research of panic reactions there are two major schools of thought: the French and the American. Among the French researchers the paradox surfaces that the phenomenon of panic is first described as the dissolu tion of the individual consciousness into a "collective soul", but then soon afterwards as just the opposite, that is, as the disintegration of the collective group cohesion into individual reactions. A similar paradox is to be seen in the American school of research which views panic partly in the context of everyday behavior ("competition situation") and partly in what is totally contrary to such behavior. There are other, more theological investigations of panic in the context of the problematic of the market system and stock market speculations. The theories to date contrast the regulated market system and the masses with their panic reactions (properties of the market: egoism, no central authority, protection against contagion; properties of the masses: libido, a strong leader, contagion). Dupuy is able to show how this traditional view contains a whole series of paradoxes. Furthermore, he is able to make clear that all the parado xes which surface in the French and American schools and in regards to the market system can be resolved by means of the Girardian concept of pseudo-narcissism and mimesis. The result: there is no fundamental opposition between the market system and the reactions of the masses or between everyday behavior and panic reac tions.

In other analyses which delve further, Dupuy exami nes, under the heading of "mimesis and rationality", the logic of the market system and the rationality of speculati on. In so doing, he shows that in crisis situations the only reasonable mode of behavior consists in imitating the behavior of others. Objectivity is only seeming, and fixed points of reference are not given beforehand, but rather arise out of an interplay of mutual imitation which is brought about through pure chance: The same mecha nism brings about the crisis and the resolution of the crisis. In a closing reflection Dupuy concludes that mass psychology is no longer to be developed from depth psychology but rather from the tenets of dynamic sys tems.

The analyses of Dupuy are incisive and document the fact that many phenomena in today's society are to be understood, in fact, as due to mimesis, a mechanism which produces its own form of rationality. But the ra tionality of which Dupuy speaks is the rationality for survival and success in a situation of crisis and not the rationality which tries to find a long-term perspective. This latter kind of rationality is very different and must try to break the mechanism of mimesis.

Raymund Schwager