Wanting: The Power Of Mimetic Desire In Everyday Life

Rene Girard says most of what we desire is imitated, not intrinsic. 

We don’t want the successful career because we intrinsically value success. 

We want the things (and life) some more successful, happier, wealthier, cooler, more attractive, better sleeping, rock star of a human has in their successful career. 

The brilliance of Girard, and the brillianter brilliance of Luke Burgis, who seems to be doing for Girard’s “mimetic desire” what Ryan Holiday did for the Stoics, is finding “the why” isn’t just defining purpose, it’s defining the wanting behind it.*  

In my mind (over simplification perhaps), purpose is a noun, and wanting is a verb. It’s the idea that you have to “-ing the thing” at the grandest scale. And since we’re all imitating someone else in our conscious and subconscious actions, stepping back to see the whole ecosystem is a powerful exercise. 

When we look at a job to be done, we should reduce everything down to a goal. And, we should also consider how the goal nests inside of a network of wants. 

The parent doesn’t swing into the drive-through for nutrition alone. They need the kid to eat and be happy with the food, to feel like they didn’t overpay, and like they checked the “feed kid to keep alive” box on their endless to-do list. Fast food endures because these companies nail understanding the multi-dimensional needs of the people they serve. 

There’s a lot to digest here. I highly recommend checking out Wanting by Luke Burgis. 

*I personally find a lot of philosophy hard to read. I was more ambitious to try when I was younger. Now, a la Holiday, Burgis, and others – I know I do better when I start with a modern take. Then, with their help and insight, I can sometimes brave the original texts to go deeper.