Why Memes Rule The World | The Pomp Podcast with Luke Burgis

Key Takeaways

  • Desire is a social phenomenon, and it’s highly contagious; it’s not something we generate ourselves
    • Luke Burgis wants to understand how desire is generated and how it moves through society via mimetic theory
  • The mimetic theory of desire (derived from mimesis) originated with French polymath René Girard
    • The whole idea of mimetic theory is that desires are more external than we would like to believe
  • “Meme stocks have always been around, we just didn’t have a name for them.”Luke Burgis
    • When there is a parabolic rise in the asset, we know that people are imitating other people (mimesis)
  • Mimetic desire can work positively in forming a sense of community (people with a shared desire)
    • “[Cryptocurrency] is filing the need for a sense of community of like-minded people that quite frankly the major religions in the US have not done a good job at.”Luke Burgis
  • When there is a lot of fear-driven mimetic desire and uncertainty, just sit back, wait, and learn as much as you can
  • When Elon Musk is behind a meme, it changes everything
    • People who have the power to generate mimetic desire are lead indicators of cultural trajectory

Key Books Mentioned

  • Wanting: The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life by Luke Burgis
    • Learn why the world seems to be going crazy due to everybody imitating everybody else without knowing who the right models are
    • Illuminate your influences; decide if you want to stay or change lanes
    • How to avoid desires that will leave you unfulfilled in the long run

Intro

  • Why do you want the things you want?
    • Luke Burgis (T: @lukeburgis and IG: @lukeburgis) is an entrepreneur, creator, professor, and the author of “Wanting: The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life”. Influenced by the work of René Girard, Luke explores the powerful force of mimetic desire to decipher why we want the things we want and how to free ourselves from chasing unfulfilling desires
    • In this conversation, Luke deep-dives into mimetic theory, how it affects our investments via meme stocks, and gives examples on how to avoid becoming “that mimetic idiot”
    • Check out Luke’s website
  • Host: Anthony ‘Pomp’ Pompliano (@APompliano)

Memetic Theory Versus Mimetic Theory

  • Memetics is the study of memes – cultural units of information that replicate, comparable with Darwinian evolution
    • In memetic theory (Richard Dawkins) it’s not well understood why memes spread, it’s somewhat of a mystery
  • Mimetic theory is how and why memes and desires spread
    • What are the origins of our desires, and how do they transfer to other people
  • Desire is a social phenomenon, and it’s highly contagious; it’s not something we generate ourselves
    • Why is Elon Musk the greatest generator of mimetic desire in the world?
    • Luke wants to understand how desire is generated and how it moves through society via mimetic theory

Desire Is Contagious

  • The mimetic theory of desire (derived from mimesis) originated with French polymath René Girard
    • Desire is hardwired into human nature, and it’s been around forever
    • We can never extinguish mimetic desire from life. It’s part of how we’ve always been
  • René Girard first identified mimetic desire in classic literature; every great fictional character has a model of desire
    • They don’t just get out of bed and start wishing things
    • Then he started studying it in real life, how it relates to Christian theology, warfare, violence, etc.
  • Are we told what to desire or are our desires entirely ours?
    • Most people believe that desires are 100% internal, but René Girard calls that a romantic lie
    • We are not in complete control of our desires, the whole idea of mimetic theory is that it’s more external than we would like to believe
    • We don’t know if they are completely external, but most desires have more external forces than we realize
    • Social media especially accelerates mimetic desire
  • Everything or nothing is mimetic?
    • Luke believes the truth is in the middle; mimesis and mimetic desire falls on a spectrum

Impact on the Financial Markets

  • “Meme stocks have always been around, we just didn’t have a name for them.”Luke Burgis
  • How to measure mimesis in the markets?
    • Digital on-chain transactions are transparent, there is more visibility compared to the stock market
    • It’s possible to measure mimetic sentiment in the market; maybe not equivalent to sharp ratio, but Luke believes it’s worth trying
    • When there is a parabolic rise in the asset, we know that people are imitating other people (mimesis)
  • 2020 – Tesla’s parabolic rise
    • The number 1 search on Goggle was “Should I buy…”, which Google was auto-filling with “Tesla?”
    • Technology accelerates mimesis and mimetic desire and diffuses it throughout the whole world
  • Is Bitcoin the ultimate meme?
    • Definitely in the hall of fame of memes

Mimetic Desire and Religion Are Negatively Correlated

  • Mimetic desire is not inherently a negative thing 
    • It can work positively in forming a sense of community (people with a shared desire)
  • Luke is a Catholic, and he acknowledges the power of mimetic desire in informing the community and the church
    • Italian immigration to the United States – mimesis for a shared object of desire and community was a tremendously positive thing
    • The same is happening with the move to digital finance (communities forming like DAO’s, Discord channels, etc.)
  • “[Cryptocurrency] is filing the need for a sense of community of like-minded people that quite frankly the major religions in the US have not done a good job at.”Luke Burgis
    • The community aspect is lacking
    • Luke believes we are all religious beings by nature, and that has to manifest itself in some way
    • A lot of people are fulfilling their need for community and religion in bitcoin and crypto

“Sometimes We Are That Mimetic Idiot.” – Luke Burgis

  • How do we change our mimetic ways?
    • What do we do once we become aware that we are in a mimetic environment or are behaving in a mimetic way?
    • Radical honesty, self-reflection, and introspection – it’s more challenging to discover our mimetic behavior than to see it externally in other people
    • Thinking about people that are influencing your decision-making
    • Luke learned to identify certain signals; people who influence him over Twitter and in real life
    • Check yourself; maybe your desires to act are driven by wrong reasons (insecurity, pride, ego, etc.)
  • How to avoid bad investment decisions?
    • It’s about developing a certain kind of disposition for patience, sober waiting, and recognizing your emotions
    • In early 2020, Luke got caught up in the mimesis of the markets in the dark days of the COVID-19 pandemic
    • He thought it was a good idea to try and day trade the markets, in/out of highly volatile stocks
    • When there is a lot of fear-driven mimetic desire and uncertainty, just sit back, wait, and learn as much as you can
    • “If you are ever caught in a riptide in an ocean, the worst possible thing that you can do is to try to resist and swim against.” Luke Burgis
    • Wait, learn, and pay attention to when the time is right to enter in a less mimetic state

Offensive and Defensive Components to Mimetic Desire

  • You can manipulate people via mimetic desire (marketing, political campaigns, etc.)
  • “One way to weaponize mimetic desire is to forge identity among people by creating a powerful scapegoat, some enemy on the other side that makes people cohere and band together with a shared hatred for some singular object or person.”Luke Burgis
  • Some people are being very intentional about it, but it can be done by accident
  • The goal of Luke’s work is to raise awareness about the mimetic desire to avoid being controlled

Is the Meme the Message?

  • Both age and demographics play a role in mimesis
    • Teenagers are famously mimetic
    • As people get older they are less mimetically driven because they know themselves better
  • Some people are not easily influenced by others, they have less need to agree
    • Highly agreeable people tend to be more mimetic people
    • Part of that is due to their personalities, but a large part of it is a learned behavior
  • Is the meme the message?
    • The carrier is far more important than the meme itself
    • The people spreading the memes are the driver of the contagion
    • When Elon Musk is behind a meme, it changes everything
    • People who have the power to generate mimetic desire are lead indicators of cultural trajectory

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Notes By Dario

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