This post discusses the confluences of the Prospecting Lens and the Mimetic Lens in the context of a modern example. You will want to read The Lenses tab if you are not familiar with them.
There is an obvious intersection between the System 1 and System 2 model of Kahneman and Tversky and the mimetic mechanisms and resulting archaic sacrificial societal model, including the scapegoat mechanism, described by Rene Girard.
For use of discussion, we can consider modern celebrity culture as an example of the archaic sacred model in action. In said culture, the ultimate virtue is fame. The top performers become paragons who set the cultural standards in dress, behavior, speech and attitude, which are dutifully mimicked by the masses aspiring to the virtue. Individuals climb the ladder of virtue by mimicking those higher up the fame ladder. Order in the system is maintained by periodic shaming and shunning of scapegoats, who may appear on levels as low as contestants in talent and reality television shows and as high as the most successful. Shaming, like stoning in ancient times, is a crowd activity often led by gossip columnists and other members of the press, but picked up and spread ad nauseum on social media by crowds who delight in a certain catharsis in the process of building up and tearing down celebrities.
The mimetic mechanism of desire and the scapegoating mechanism of controlled violence are clearly creatures of System 1. The most important common parallel characteristic is that the behaviors are essentially unconscious in both System 1 and Girard's model; the innocence of any scapegoat by a participant in the archaic sacred model is always vehemently denied. As Girard often quotes "They know not what they do." In our celebrity culture example, the press and the crowd consider it a duty to point out and exaggerate flaws in shaming the scapegoat, no matter how insignificant or commonly held the flaws may be -- hypocrisy is no object. The scapegoats are always found to deserve the shaming, and even hounding to the point of mental or physical collapse, which appeases a crowd cheering for a dramatic downfall. Cue Don Henley:
Looking at the heuristics (rules of thumb) of System 1, we can see that many describe the behaviors of the actors in the archaic sacred celebrity model, including:
PRIMING and COGNITIVE EASE. The ubiquitous nature of celebrity culture primes people to "wonder what all the fuss in about" first, and then to participate. The message that fame is a virtue is repeated until it is ingrained and unconsciously desired.
COHERENT STORIES (ASSOCIATIVE COHERENCE). The story of fame as a virtue makes sense because the famous are rewarded with attention, money and power.
THE HALO EFFECT. The virtue of fame imbues the paragon with other virtues -- she can do no wrong -- unless she becomes the scapegoat in which all virtues are immediately lost.
REPRESENTATIVENESS. Celebrities are valued on lists, where one representative of the "A List" or the "B List" is held to have the same level of virtue, regardless of actual attributes.
OVERLOOKING LUCK and the NARRATIVE FALLACY. Celebrities are generally held to "deserve" their fame based on talent or other actions. The all have powerful and dramatic back-stories of triumphing over obstacles. Alternatively for the disappointed climber, all celebrities who have a higher level of fame are considered to be lucky and undeserving.
TRUSTING EXPERT INTUITION. High status celebrities are often deemed to have superior insight into whatever they talk about, whether it be something they have experience with or just a pet project. They are trotted out to gain attention and lend credence to political, charitable and other campaigns. Celebrities are also allowed to curate what people should pay attention to and consume. Mentions by a high status celebrity (e.g., an appearance on Oprah) can "promote" a lower status celebrity up the ladder.
THE POSSIBILITY EFFECT and OVERESTIMATING THE LIKELIHOOD OF RARE EVENTS. The belief that "anyone" can become famous with just a little talent if they want it bad enough. This leads people to make fools of themselves and become scapegoats for shaming on reality television in search of fame that is highly unlikely.
So where does System 2 come in? In two ways. First, on the negative side, System 2 can be used to gather data and create narratives that support the archaic sacrificial system. For example, in the celebrity culture example the press may invoke appeals to "free expression", "investigative reporting" or "giving the people what they want" as a justification for continuation of the sacrificial shaming system.
On the positive side, System 2 is necessary to break away from the system altogether. “The way to block errors that originate in System 1 is simple in principle: recognize the signs that you are in a cognitive minefield, slow down, and ask for reinforcement from System 2." -- D. Kahneman.
An analysis of the celebrity culture system under System 2, would like lead the thinker to conclude:
I leave you with a prescient combination of an ancient archaic sacrificial culture and the modern celebrity culture that emulates it:
I have always been curious about the way the world works and the most elegant ideas for describing and explaining it. I think I have found three of them.
I was very fond of James Burke's Connections series that explored interesting intersections between ideas, and hope to create some of that magic here.