René Girard's Mimetic Theory - Lecture 2 - Deepstash

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Mimetism as the Strings of a Violin

Mimetism as the Strings of a Violin

Mimetism was not Rene Girard original idea. It can be traced to David Hume who observed one's actions reverberates to the rest like the strings of a violin. It describes humans as a social specie, prone to co-vibrations aka under the influence of other people's actions.

  • Mimetism is a social technology to get to the subjectivity of others. But ...
  • Mimetism is a tendency, but also a capacity. It leaves room for individual agency. At any time, you, the player, can choose the next string to pluck.


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Normative Evolution, Prestige and Gods

Normative Evolution, Prestige and Gods

The basic mimetic behaviour manifests in society in more meaningful ways:

  • Through prestige. The respect, admiration, and high regard that is accorded to someone has less to do with the objective qualities of the person and more with the adherence to normative values.
  • A step higher is the real of the sacred. For Girard this is just a dial up of mimesis. The power of a sacred relic lies just with the collective admiration that one feels compelled to mimic. Gods live only as long as there are rituals of belief.


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Mimesis is both the strongest and necessary authority for us to hold normative values. It more than any faculty decides what we think of beautiful, as good ... what laws we think of just or what sexual relationships we think of as legitimate or depraved. Even what we strive to be like. 



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The 2 twin components of mimetic desire

The 2 twin components of mimetic desire

Mimetic desire can be separated in:

  • a desire to experience (physical desire)
  • a desire to be (metaphysical desire). We chase objects for what they say about us on for the fullness of being that we expect them to confer upon us.

ex: We may chase a sexual partner for how they make us feel or for the social status of being with them. We may start a company for the thrill of the struggle or because we want to be like like the Silicon Valley tech bros. 

The balance of the 2 will vary from person to person, but pride and ambition are strongly correlated with metaphysical desire.


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The 3 Components of Being

Metaphysical desire is focused on our identity, our ego, our spirit ... the core of what we are. This itself can be broken down into 3 components:

  1. Reality. We want our existence to be observed and noticed by others. What really matters is not the physical experience but what others think it's real.
  2. Persistence. We want our identities to last through time. We are obsessed with achieving some immortality. 
  3. Self-sufficiency: Deals with having the power of the social realm to fulfil our thirsts. It's what Nietzsche calls "the will to power". It has a lot to do with domination over others.


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The Faulty logic of Object Acquisition

We crave objects because other people we look up are associated with those objects: a celebrity, a parent, a colleague etc... The faulty logic being that our acquisition of the object will grant us the same sense of being as our role-model. 

Desire is not a straight line from subject to object, but a triangular path to object through the role model. 


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The Power of Metaphysical Desire

The Power of Metaphysical Desire

Not all our actions will be motivated by metaphysical desire, but out of the possible motivations ... it is the strongest. In commercial terms it means products that focus on it will command the most value. 

It explains the success of branding, the celebrity culture and consumerism as a whole. 


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The 4 Qualities of Metaphysical Desires

  • Malleability. They are highly dependent on our mediators. If I grew up with a Don Juan father I may seek superficial relationship
  • Power. The more we get motivated by it the more we loose our agency. The tulip buying mania, the 2001 dotcom crash etc.
  • Deceitful: We are oblivious that we are confusing an object for a state of being. 
  • Ungovernable: It is not ruled by reason. Reason becomes a spoke-person to our spirit. Not the source of action, but its justification.


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Life-long learner. Passionate about leadership, entrepreneurship, philosophy, Buddhism & SF. Founder @deepstash.

The second part of the lecture on Girard. More in depth look at desires.

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