This is a short note from my Roam Research second brain. Here’s a free guide where I introduce you to Roam & Building A Second Brain.
Metadata of Note
Tags: #mimetictheory #mimeticdesires #philosophy #religion
Date: June 3rd, 2022
Below are my notes taken based on watching the lecture series by Jonathan Bi. This is one of the three notes I took based on the lecture series: the others are Rene Girard’s Scapegoat Mechanism Explained and How Christianity Unleashed 4 Forces According to Rene Girard.
For a comprehensive introduction to “Mimetic Theory” and Rene Girard, check this article.
Mimesis and College
“It wasn’t the presence of wrong. We weren’t tortured or starved. Rather, it was the absence of right.”
He refers to how the “highs” felt so fleeting because the desire to achieve something didn’t stem from us, but rather planted by watching others.
He discovered Girard in the last year of college and says, “Giard saved me.” In my case, I feel like I was out of this “mimesis” toward the end of 2019 (age 23/24) when I realized how hollow I felt in my job, but then still had to figure out a way to leave it, problems that non-immigrants don’t tend to face.
“Mimetic Theory does not give us the power to resist damaging instances of mimesis at the moment. But, it gives us the foresight to avoid them altogether.”
Mimetic Theory vs Psychoanalysis
Mimetic Theory is “cheaper” than Freudian psychoanalysis because it can do much more with much less. E.g. Freud’s Oedipus complex describes only one phenomenon (i.e. why children have a rivalry with parents of the same gender) but Mimetic Theory can explain that + a host of other phenomena.
From here: “Girard grants that Freud was a superb observer, but was not a good interpreter. And, in a sense, Girard accepts that there is such a thing as the Oedipus Complex: the child will eventually come to unconsciously have a sexual desire for his mother, and a desire to kill his father; and indeed, perhaps this complex will endure throughout adulthood. But, Girard considers that the Oedipus Complex is the result of a mechanism very different from the one outlined by Freud.”
Also: “Freud’s Totem and Taboo presents a thesis that the origins of culture are founded upon the original murder of a father figure by his sons. Girard considers that Freud’s observations were only partially correct. Freud is right in pointing out that indeed, culture is founded upon a murder. But, this murder is not due to the oedipal themes Freud was so fond of.”
What leads to a divergence of our human species from our ape ancestors, according to Girard, is not reason/truth, it’s mimesis.
Mimesis: our fundamental capacity and tendency for imitation. E.g. violin strings that co-vibrate when you flick one. Our tendency to ingest the behaviors and values of those around us, and attribute a value greater than is warranted for an object purely because of the mimetic desire of others.
Humanity would be unrecognizable without mimesis.
Metaphysical Desire is the type of mimetic desire that has moved beyond “acquisitive” desire (e.g. buying a car because you genuinely like/need it) to the realm of metaphysical desire (e.g. buying a car because you want to be perceived as the person with the most expensive car on the block).
- We do this under the false premise that it is the acquisition of the objects that grant our models the “fullness of their being.”
- What we’re really after isn’t the object, but to become more like our model.
- We begin measuring our progress based on how close we are to the object.
Physical desire aims at the utility. Metaphysical desire aims at identity.
Rejecting Memesis is also destructive
Rejecting a group/path to prove a point is just as inauthentic, if not even more than conforming to it due to mimesis.
He quotes the example from his life of first trying to build a company in freshman year after dropping, crashing, and burning, and then switching majors to philosophy and spending time at Buddhist monasteries. He didn’t switch majors and lifestyles just because he enjoyed and felt it was valuable, but rather also because by rejecting it he found some solace in his “perceived” failure and gained an upper hand over his entrepreneurial friends.
“Admiration led me to converge in the first case and resentment led me to diverge.”
We can just as easily be socially determined by rejecting a group as much as we can be by conforming to a group out of admiration.
To carve one’s own path is thought to be a sign of independence, but is not.
“You’re confusing difference for autonomy, distance for independance, and originality for freedom. We think the reason is our steward, but in reality, it’s a lawyer and spokesperson. We reason after taking a stance on something based on social motives.”
Side effects of engaging Girard
Alienation from yourself: Your core desires will likely be alienated and shown to be external, and not in fact your true core desires. This will also lead to alienation from others as we begin noticing scapegoating and deceitfulness everywhere.
Inaction: Girard is ambivalent sometimes to a fault. He shows the good and bad of all sides of a coin, leading to paralysis of action. He also has a deeply pessimistic view of the human condition.
Hopelessness: (seems similar to inaction) if you do wish to remain hopeful after consuming Girard, that has to come from you.
“Abandon all hope ye who enter here.” — Dante.
I wonder how many people would choose A over B in the following scenario. My guess is, that most people would choose a version of B over A. When we begin thinking from the end state, we all tend to break out of mimetic theory. But it’s being aware of that knowledge more in a momentary, day-to-day scenario.
A: You are the kind of person who wants to constantly please others. You do so by buying objects and behaving in a way that would gain others’ respect, especially the respect of people you don’t like and care about.
B: You are the kind of person who focuses on buying objects and behaving the way you truly want to and makes you happy. You are accepted by those who you really care about, and they accept you for whatever decision you make.
The world is filled with extremes. There are those who conform to a group because the desire they have to be more like their models overpowers their autonomous wants. E.g. someone whose dream is to become an entrepreneur for the sake of it. But then there’s also the dichotomy. Those who reject a group because they think that would give them some “salvation” from knowing they will never reach their desires by being a part of it. E.g. someone who vehemently looks down upon investment bankers because deep down they desire the money that they possess.
What does the in-between look like? Is it being aware of what influences us? Constant reflection and questioning of our choices?