The function of the sacred in indigenous communities and archaic societies across the planet was always the power to keep violence at a distance; the capacity to somehow protect the community from the specter of internal destructive violence.(1)

This sacred power was always accessed through ritual, ceremony, and in certain cases, the use of psychoactive plants, a point noted specifically by Terence McKenna in his theory of hominization and the early developments of human community.(2)

Today, the sacred, this mysterious power that keeps human beings at a distance from open violence against each other, is thoroughly rooted in the mechanisms of both technology and consumerism — the integration of global capitalism and computational power — versus formal rituals geared towards a metaphysical horizon.

From this perspective, when you stop and think about it, something like Twitter has a weirdly similar function on the planetary level as a shaman has on the communal level: in either case, what you are dealing with is the power to somehow keep violence at bay.

The shaman tries to keep the community safe from violence through ceremonial or ritualistic intent, whereas Twitter tries to keep Planet Earth safe from violence by holding the increasingly aggressive intersubjective energy online within its own servers; by keeping our disagreements, resentments, or political and racial hatred for each other online without having it spill over onto the streets.

In this sense, I claim something like Twitter is in fact “sacred” in its basic anthropological function. It is precisely sacred in the strict anthropological definition of the term.(3)

The problem we are beginning to encounter today is the uneasy fact that this “sacred” function spontaneously performed on a site like Twitter every single day, or a site like Amazon that keeps us busy shopping instead of hurting each other, can no longer effectively maintain the boundary between the virtual and social reality.

It is now only a matter of time before the violence that we see online in our social media feeds as a structural feature eventually seeps over to the other side and hits the streets.

  1. see, Girard, R. Violence and the Sacred
  2. see, McKenna, T. Food of the Gods
  3. see, Girard, R. Violence and the Sacred

writer, filmmaker, cultural theorist / author of 15 books and writer/director of 3 films.