Last Night's TV: My Resignation/BBC4
The Code/BBC2

 

René Girard knew better than most what made Christianity Christian. Primitive societies, he argued, are overcome by "mimetic desire". Rivals within any group are driven by a fierce competitive instinct to do the other down, and own what he owns. The solution is to identify a potential victim, the vanquishing of whom temporarily restores peace and civility. In Roger Scruton's unbeatable analysis, "scapegoating is society's way of recreating 'difference' and so restoring itself. By uniting against the scapegoat, people are released from their rivalries and reconciled."

Girard argued in his study of scapegoating, Le Bouc Émissaire (1982), that Jesus of Nazareth was a visionary who understood mimetic desire uniquely well. He offered himself as a scapegoat for this mimetic desire, but in granting his killers forgiveness before he died – "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" – he emancipates society from the vicious cycle of vengeance from which it is trapped. At least that is the idea. As Scruton puts it: "The climax... is not the death of the scapegoat but the experience of sacred awe, as the victim, at the moment of death, forgives his tormentors. This is the moment of transcendence."

All public resignations are a replay of the Passion. Every time politicians or the press squeal about the need for such and such person to resign, they are answering our primordial yearning for mimetic desire. There is a need to vanquish, to defeat, to conquer the wrongdoer – and so assert justice and begin the process of moral renewal.

The trouble is, it often does more harm than good. That was the chief insight of My Resignation – most public resignations are futile. Usually, they answer short-term demands and create long-term regrets. There is constant chatter about the need to "take responsibility", "show leadership", or "restore honour" and "integrity". When I hear such talk I reach for the bucket.

Why should John Profumo have resigned for liaising with an attractive whore? Why should Greg Dyke resign for being the victim of a whitewashed report from the Establishment? Why should Jacqui Smith resign because of her husband's fondness for porn? In all cases, there was a public pretence that the relevant figure behaved immorally. The accusation was bunkum. Mimetic desire took over. Profumo might have been a hypocrite, but, as his later career proved, he was an outstanding public servant. Dyke was a superb director general of the BBC. Smith was a competent and respected home secretary.

This, then, is another feature of resignations: they often conflate the public and the private. A sin behind closed doors can lead to a withdrawal from public life. And usually those resigning do so at the time when they least ought to. Tempers are frayed, emotions are high, and rationality and reason are relegated to the hinterland of all discussion. Momentous decisions are made just when no decisions should be made.

What's more, there is a certain hypocrisy about resignations. It is instructive to compare leadership with management. Management is déjà vu (seen this before). Leadership is vu jàdé (never seen this before). The former involves engaging a well-known response – a standard operating procedure (SOP) – to a familiar, or tame, problem. The latter involves constructing a novel response to an unfamiliar, or wicked, problem.

We spend our lives demanding leadership from public figures. The minute they transgress a silly, tabloid morality (Profumo, Smith), or fall to an Establishment stooge (Dyke) we allow them to avoid the demands of leadership, and engage the simplest SOP of all – resignation. Perhaps mimetic desire is overwhelming, or irrepressible. But we should have the courage to challenge it, if only because those featured in this show so obviously wish they had.

The demands of the public understanding of science on one hand, and televisual narrative on the other, are sometimes in conflict. Professor Marcus du Sautoy traverses both magnificently in The Code, and is in danger of becoming our finest explainer of scientific wonder. Previous claimants on that title – Robert Winston, Richard Dawkins – found that such a position led to opprobrium from tabloid journalists and religious fanatics.

I therefore have two suggestions for this noble professor. First, abandon the upturned collar. Second, wear slim-fit rather than skinny jeans. The last thing you want to do is compound the coming interrogation by looking like you spend Saturdays in London's Hoxton Square.

Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

film
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

film
Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

film
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat