Mimesis: A Reflection of Desire

Lifestyle Jan 14, 2021

What I call a mimetic crisis is a situation of conflict so intense that on both sides people act the same way and talk the same way even though, or because, they are more and more hostile to each other.


"What do you want?" "I don't know." "Do you feel like there's something that should be happening in your life, but it just isn't?" "Yes. I'm not happy with my life."

This is the conversation many of us have had at one point or another in our lives. The problem is that we are looking for happiness outside of ourselves, using those around us as models of desire! In this post, we will look at what it means to have mimetic desires and how they can affect us positively or negatively.


What is Mimesis?

Mimesis is a type of desire that is based on imitation. This word comes from the Greek term "mimetics," which means "to imitate." In other words, what we want or desire because someone else has it. This could be anything from a person's clothes to their mannerisms and behaviors. The world around us constantly sends messages about what we should want-or who we should be-and this shapes our desires in ways both big and small.

Some of our most popular social media sites like Facebook and Instagram rely on mimetic desire as their primary income source, but this concept goes far beyond these websites.

It can be seen in how we dress, what we do for a living, and even who we date. If you want to learn more about mimicking other people's behavior or thoughts, then it’s worth looking into the neuroscience principles that govern this phenomenon.

Mimesis is defined as the representation of reality in art. It's an important concept for understanding how we think and what motivates us, but it can be difficult to grasp at first glance. This article will break down the key concepts behind mimesis and show you how it affects your thoughts!


What is Mimetic Desire?

Mimetic desire is the idea that we are not satisfied with what we have and want something else because someone else has it. This concept was first introduced by French anthropologist Rene Girard in his book "Things Hidden since the Foundation of The World."

'Mimetic desire' is Girard's central concept. Since Plato, students of human nature have emphasized human beings' exceptional mimetic capacity; that is, we are the species most competent at imitation. Indeed, imitation is the fundamental mechanism of learning (we learn by imitating what our teachers do), and neuroscientists are increasingly reporting that our neural structure enables imitation very well (for example, 'mirror neurons').

Furthermore, most thinking about imitation, according to Girard, pays little attention to the fact that we also imitate other people's desires, which can lead to conflicts and rivalries. People who imitate each other's desires may end up desiring the same things; and if they desire the same things, they may easily become rivals as they seek the same objects.

Girard usually differentiates between 'imitation' and 'mimesis.' The former is usually interpreted as the positive aspect of replicating someone else's behavior, whereas the latter is usually interpreted as the negative aspect of rivalry. It should also be observed that, while the former term is commonly used to refer to mimicry, Girard proposes that the latter term refers to the deeper, instinctive response that humans have to one another.

The power of mimetic desire can also have negative effects on people as well as society at large. For example, many young girls grow up feeling like they need to look a certain way to find love or gain acceptance by others - not realizing that their self-worth is not dependent on the approval of others.

"The weird thing about hanging out with Regina was that I could hate her, and at the same time, I still wanted her to like me." – Cady in Mean Girls, 2004

The object value is not objective; rather, it is subjective. And our subjective value is determined mimetically by our interactions with others. We could say that value is intersubjective: we assign value (and thus desire) to things based on what other people want.


The term "mimesis" was previously referenced in Issue #44 of David's newsletter
44: What you feel in your bones
A note from my journal on conviction and mimesis I wasn’t going to write a newsletter this week, and then my morning journal turned into a 1000+ word essay. So I’m going to publish it in its entirety. Seriously, I just hit copy/paste right out of my

Concepts Behind Mimetic Desire

1. Communication

Mimetic desire is all about communication. That feeling of constantly trying to fill a gap, but your actions never seem to be enough, is probably due to a lack of communication. We fill this void in many ways: going online to seek social validation, giving in to other temptations that provide false affirmation, or simply feeling empty inside as time passes without resolution. Talking about your feelings with someone else can help break this pattern. Ask them how they see the situation and if their perspective gives you any new insights.

2. Desire

Mimetic desire satisfies communication needs by imitating those we see as models. We want what they have and our first instinct may be to imitate them. This can be a good thing if you're learning a new skill or trying out a new hairstyle with someone who has more experience than you. This can be dangerous if fail to find your own north star and base your interests and aspirations on the models of others.

It's a simple concept, but it's everywhere. We usually don't realize how much it affects us until we stop and look at our lives from the outside in. This can help us understand ourselves and others who may be struggling to communicate their needs without going too far into unhealthy territory. Don't be afraid to express your views. Just be careful not to go overboard!


Models of Desire

Those people we look to for advice on what we want (often without realizing it) change objects before our eyes.

Assume you and a friend walk into a vintage shop and see racks upon racks of shirts. Nothing catches your eye. But once your friend falls in love with a particular shirt, it's no longer just a shirt on a rack. It's now the shirt your friend Tina choseβ€”the Tina who, by the way, works as an assistant costume designer on major film sets. She distinguishes one shirt the moment she begins admiring it. It's not the same shirt it was five seconds ago before she became interested in it.

It doesn't have to be a shirt, either. Anything could become a subject of desire once modeled.

Mimetic desire diagram

The road between us and what we desire is never straight. It's always curved. Models are passed through or around.

A desire, on the other hand, is an object that we pursue for reasons other than instinct. We don't have a built-in mechanism (like instincts) to help guide us toward wanting one thing more than another when it comes to desire. Which new car model should we buy? What should we study in college? What kind of clothing should we wear? The more abstract the thing, the more mimetic desire usually enters the picture. Our central nervous system is not going to provide us with any clear or intelligible answers.

Models, however, can. Models are people who show us what is desirable.

Models are like people who appear to be further ahead on the path we're on; they can see around a corner that we can't. We assume they know which path to take while we do not. In short, we assume they have something we don'tβ€”that they have a quality of being that we don't. As a result, we follow them.

Mimetic desire assumes that we depend on many of our decisions on the desires of othersβ€”our models.


Conclusion

Mimesis can be a powerful force in the world, but it is also a relatively simple idea with far-reaching implications. Understanding mimetic desire and its influence on our everyday lives are critical for people to truly understand themselves and their desires.

In our quest for self-improvement, there are few sources of wisdom more compelling than other people's stories... Whether in person or through social media, by observing others' lives, we gain a glimpse into their worlds that serves as inspiration for our own.

But if we aren't careful, this tendency can also lead to negative behaviors that are unhealthy and unhelpful...

In the end, mimetic desire is a complicated concept that can have both positive and negative effects on our lives. In some ways it offers structure and stability in society - after all, if everyone tried to be an original thinker or artist then there would be no shared cultural values or language. But at the same time understanding why we want what we want can help us gain a better sense of self and move beyond the messages we receive from society or popular culture.


Further Reading

44: What you feel in your bones
A note from my journal on conviction and mimesis I wasn’t going to write a newsletter this week, and then my morning journal turned into a 1000+ word essay. So I’m going to publish it in its entirety. Seriously, I just hit copy/paste right out of my

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