Luke Burgis on Mimetic Desire and Getting What You Want in Life on The Daily Stoic Podcast with Ryan Holiday

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Key Takeaways

  • Human desire is influenced by the desires of others – it’s contagious
  • People imitate or mimic because they want to be a certain kind of person
  • Social media and influencers heighten mimetic desire
  • “Material accomplishments or external things can never fix internal problems” – Ryan Holiday
  • Understanding mimetic desire:
    • Helps you make better decisions
    • Provides clarity about things you hear and see
  • Break the cycle of never being satisfied by learning to desire the career and things you already have
  • Everyone thinks they are an independent thinker but there are no 100% independent thinkers
  • Taking time to establish critical distance allows you to figure out what YOU think about a topic
  • Strive to have people around you who think differently to test your assumptions

Intro

Luke Burgis (@lukeburgis) has co-created and led companies in wellness, consumer products, and technology. He’s currently Entrepreneur-in-Residence and Director of Programs at the Ciocca Center for Principled Entrepreneurship and also teaches business at The Catholic University of America and is author of a new book, Wanting: The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life, the philosophy of French polymath René Girard

Rene Girard’s Theory

  • Rene Girard was a French polymath who believed human desire is not autonomous and independent or entirely our own = mimetic
  • The prevailing notion in the last century was ‘existence precedes essence’ but Girard didn’t agree
  • Human desire is influenced by the desires of others – it’s contagious!  
  • “Mimetic desire is the root of conflict” – Luke Burgis
  • Because humans imitate wanting what others want, just because other people want it, they can be pulled into rivalries

A Question of Identity

  • Humans imitate because they want to be a certain kind of person
  • Ask yourself where a particular desire originated to better understand it
  • “Sometimes a win or achievement leaves you feeling unfulfilled because you realize you‘ve gotten something you never really wanted because it wasn’t your desire” – Luke Burgis
  • Thin desires are highly mimetic or adopted desires
  • Over time, you convince yourself the desire is your own without taking the time to examine it
  • Thick desire = friends, family, or the pursuit of truth

Social Media and Mimetic Desires

  • Social media and influencers heighten mimetic desire creating a sense of “I think their life is better than mine” even though you don’t know anything about their “real” life
  • Break the cycle of never being satisfied: “Learn to desire more deeply the career and things you already have” – Luke Burgis
  • Don’t take your life and the people in it for granted
    • Look at what you have
    • Look for ways to be fulfilled
  • “Material accomplishments or external things can never fix internal problems” – Ryan Holiday

Peter Thiel and Mimetic Theory

  • Peter has credited Girard for his insights and helping him how realize how powerful Facebook would be
  • Although Peter’s interpretation of Girard is not the only one, he makes Girard more accessible in his book Zero to One
  • Girard writings are written in dialogue and in an obscure style French academic style
  • Understanding mimetic desire helps:
    • You make better decisions
    • Provides clarity about things you hear and see

Critical Distance

  • You can be a mimetic person and still be a contrarian
  • Not all truths are contrarian – if we think the truth is always contrarian and is the thing that no one else is saying, it can lead you down a wrong path
  • “Peter takes what he calls critical distance from issues – he distances himself from the crowd without getting caught up with what the crowd is saying”  – Luke Burgis
  • Taking time to establish critical distance allows you to figure out what YOU think about a topic

Avoid Emotional Reaction

  • Avoid emotional reactions by asking yourself:
    • What are the facts here?
    • What are my beliefs?
    • Why do I have those beliefs?
    • What are the possible outcomes?
  • Everyone thinks they are an independent thinker but there are no 100% independent thinkers
  • Strive to have people around you who have different ways of thinking to test your assumptions
  • Judge yourself on your criteria and not someone else’s

Seek the Contemplative Life

  • Spend more time contemplating i.e. have a long dinner conversation with someone different
  • People who talk about how happy they are, are probably not happy
  • Ideas are like fashion, people cluster around them
  • The pandemic put people on a hyper mimetic track because everyone’s more tied to the internet
  • The internet/social media does not replace deep human contact
  • People get sucked in by what’s said on the internet because they’ve forgotten how to think for themselves or question things

The Pandemic and Mimetic Desires

  • The pandemic has helped some people figure out what they want to do with their lives
  • Others are more confused than ever in the post-pandemic world – there’s a lot of “noise” right now
  • Some people used the extra energy and time the pandemic afforded to invest in conspiracy theories
  •  “A huge chunk of society found themselves unmoored and untethered from society all together” – Ryan Holiday
  • Look at your desires prior to the pandemic and find the ones that will endure for the next few years
  • “People think they just need a few days to get into the right headspace but it can take months to “detox” yourself” – Luke Burgis
  • Just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you should
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Notes By EWerbitsky

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