"A groundbreaking exploration of why we want what we want, and a toolkit for freeing ourselves from chasing unfulfilling desires."
As an undergraduate studying philosophy at Stanford, Peter Thiel met French polymath René Girard and was introduced to his theory of “mimetic desire”—the idea that most human wanting comes from imitating what other people desire, rather than from an innate sense of need. Inducted into the Académie Française as the “Darwin of the social sciences,” Girard is largely unknown outside academic circles. But because of Girard, Thiel knew that Facebook would thrive because it offered a window into people’s curated presentation of the best parts of their lives, thereby satisfying our need to look for “models” who tell us what to desire.
According to Girard, each of us is surrounded by people who generate, shape, and manipulate our desires at every turn. Mimetic desire is no mere tool of advertisers but a reality that affects our daily lives in romance, work, fitness, politics, and parenting. Mimetic desire is a secret, unacknowledged, sophisticated form of adult imitation that drives a larger degree of human behavior than anybody ever realized.
The consequences of mimetic desire are startling. Because people learn to want what other people want, they are easily drawn into rivalries and conflict. According to Girard, people don’t fight because they want different things; they fight because, though mimetic desire, they start to want the same things. But mimetic desire does not have to be in control. We are free to choose. And those who understand mimetic desire have a tremendous advantage over those who don’t—they can use it for good or for ill.
Drawing on his experience as an entrepreneur, teacher, and student of classical philosophy and theology, Luke Burgis shows how to counteract the mimetic forces of the market by turning blind wanting into intentional wanting—not by trying to rid ourselves of desire, but by desiring differently. Intentional desire is what propels us to create a better world. Burgis shows how to achieve more independence from trends and bubbles, how to feel more in control of the things we want, and ultimately how to find more meaning in our work and life by grounding them in desires that will never fade away.