Summary of Wanting by Luke Burgis

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  • Post last modified:January 6, 2024

Part II: The Transformation of Desire

While we can now observe mimetic desires, rivalries, and scapegoat mechanisms, we must remain careful as the more we see it in others, the less we see it in ourselves.

We can use mimetic desire to enrich ourselves, but it will force us into rivalries and prevent us from accessing our real desires, the ones that lead to meaningfulness and fulfillment.

In a world where we are non-stop tempted to mimic others due to the Internet, we will have to develop anti-mimetic practices.

What does that mean?

Being anti-mimetic is having the ability, the freedom, to counteract destructive forces of desire.

The second part of this book is about resisting the mimetic urge to do like other people.

Chapter 5: Anti-Mimetic: Feeding The People, Not The System

Moving Goalposts

Setting goals isn’t about setting goals. It’s about choosing them.

Most people don’t choose their goals, they just choose the goals chosen by their models.

What’s the purpose of a goal?

The purpose of a goal is to make some progress. But how do we know that the goal will help us progress? How can we verify that the progress made is positive?

After making sure his restaurant kept its three Michelin stars, chef Sebastien Bras called Michelin to ask to be removed from the Michelin guide. He realized his goal of keeping his stars was killing him. It was a “bad” goal.

If we want to choose “good” goals, we need to find out where they come from.

Every goal is embedded within a system. Mimetic desire is the unwritten, unacknowledged system behind visible goals. The more we bring that system to light, the less likely it is that we’ll pick and pursue the wrong goals.

Mimetic Systems

Social media, the education system, and the VC industry are mimetic systems aka mimetic desires sustain them.

  • The education system: students work hard to get to the next year because that’s what everyone is doing, thereby forgetting what the purpose of school really is.
  • VCs: VCs seek to earn as much money as possible as fast as possible by investing in companies that can scale quickly (aka tech companies). This compels entrepreneurs to start startups to get funded. Who funds you becomes a status good, like the Michelin stars.
  • Social media: SM encourages mimesis by showing likes and stats about the content that works and the content that doesn’t.

Systems of desire are everywhere: groups of friends, prisons, families, etc.

A mimetic system is only taken down when a stronger one comes to replace it.

Being Watched and Rated

When a chef opens a restaurant, he dearly hopes that a Michelin inspector will come visit his restaurant and give him a positive note so he can get Michelin stars.

This can be life-changing for a chef.

Over the years though, chefs have begun to care more about their stars than they care about making good food. They become prisoners of the Michelin system.

In 1999, British chef Marco Pierre White gave back his three stars, the first to ever do so.

Anti-mimetic tactic 8: Map out the Systems of Desire in Your World
Every mimetic system has a system of desire that ranks things from desirable to non-desirable.
EG: school’s grades.
Lots of systems have been built to kill desire too. For example, the desire to create companies has been killed by the desire to regulate. We now hence gravitate towards the path of least resistance and “monetize videos of people reacting to other videos”.
When you identify a system of desires, you can look the other way and find new opportunities. Mark the boundaries of your world, and you’ll be able to transcend it.

The One Less Traveled By

We can’t know ourselves without knowing the history of our desires.

Anti-mimetic tactic 9: Put desires to the test
Compare your different desires and see where they lead. Imagine yourself on your deathbed.
Which desire do you regret you did not pursue?

Modeling a New Mindset

Can we say no to a desire without trying it?

Think about it this way: can you say no to being a part of reality TV without ever trying?

Yes, you can.

It’s harder to say no to something we have never tried because it feels disingenuous and hypocritical. But it’s not.

Don’t forbid yourself to say no to desires.

Chapter 6: Disruptive Empathy: Breaking Through Thin Desires

Emotions like fear, anxiety, and anger are amplified by mimesis. Someone sends you an email that may seem rude, and you respond in kind. The dispute escalates.

Imitation expresses agreement, says Girard. If one fails to imitate the other, the former then imitates the latter in disagreement by being as rude as the latter -> beginning of a negative mimetic cycle.

The only way to stop is to get both people to stop seeing themselves as rivals through empathy.

The Problem with Sympathy

Sympathy is much easier to practice than empathy.

  • Sympathy means “feeling together”, according to the Greek language where it originates from.
  • Empathy means “going into the feeling of the other person”. It is the ability to feel what the other person feels without imitating them, or without identifying oneself with them -> empathy is anti-mimetic.

Empathy enables us to connect with other people without becoming like other people.

Thick Desires

Discovering and developing thick desires protects against cheap mimetic desires—and ultimately leads to a more fulfilling life.

Thick desires cannot be changed through mimetism.

Thin desires can.

You can’t distinguish them based on feelings alone. Desires feel strong when we’re young (making lots of money, dating hot girls, etc).

The stronger desires feel, the thinner they are.

As we get older, thin desires from our teenage years disappear because we are experienced enough to recognize they will leave us unfulfilled. The thicker desires stay.

Shaking the Dust

Envy is coveting what other people have. Girard believes the reason we speak so much about sex is that we don’t speak about envy.

Envy destroys your thick desires for thinner ones.

image 28
Think VS Thick desires.

Focusing on your thick desires is only the beginning of hard work. Thin desires aren’t easily dismissed and it sometimes takes years before the tick desires can be fully formed.

Your thick desires are motivational energy. They have been influencing your decision to go towards certain types of things and not others.

You can uncover the pattern of your desire by sharing stories about a time in your life when you did something that ended up being deeply fulfilling.

This “fulfillment story” has three elements:

  1. It’s an action: you’re the hero in the story – not someone else.
  2. You believe you did well: by your own account, not someone else’s.
  3. It brought you a sense of fulfillment: not fleeting joy

The fulfillment story aims to answer the question: “why does this matter to you”?

Another way to uncover the fulfillment story is to work with the MCODE, a motivational pattern assessment tool.

The MCODE recognizes 27 motivations, among which stand the following three:

  1. Explore: you want to understand new things. Once you have understood them, they no longer interest you.
  2. Master: you want to gain complete command of a skill.
  3. Comprehend and express: you want to understand something to tell it to someone else.

Anti-mimetic tactic 10: Share stories of deeply fulfilling action
Ask other people to share theirs, and share yours.

Let’s talk about the positive cycle of desire (cycle 2). It starts when someone takes on a non-rivalrous approach in the relationship, one where the imitation of desire is for shared good.

That’s what great leaders do.

  • They empathize with people’s weaknesses.
  • They want to know and be known
  • They cultivate thick desires
  • They transcend the destructive mimetic cycle to open the world that exists beyond our immediate desires.
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The positive cycle of desire, also called creative cycle. Observers will highlight this isn’t, in fact, a cycle.

Chapter 7: Transcendent Leadership: How Great Leaders Inspire And Shape Desire

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Desires don’t spontaneously happen. They are generated by the intertwinement of human relationships. Someone has to have the desire before it spreads.

The role of a leader is to compel people to want more, less, or differently than before. Same thing goes for a company. They don’t only meet the demand. They shape the desires.

Out of all industries that shaped desires for self-serving purposes, no one has done any more damage than the porn industry.

The reason why new desires can be introduced is that desires are transcendent – we always want more.

The question isn’t whether desires move, but where they’re moving to.

image 29
Desires move and can be influenced toward the greatest thing they can be, or the lowest thing they can be.

Immanent Desire

Systems of immanent desires (where desires emanate from the system) are systems where there’s no model of desire outside the system. Therefore, people remain stuck in it.

Leaders stand at the center of these systems and make everything revolve around them.

Transcendent Desire

Transcendent leaders have models of desire outside the systems they are in.

That is, they have desires that don’t yet exist in the system. This way, they help people discover and get new desires themselves.

Eg: going to the moon.

image 30
Immanent VS transcendent desire.

Transcendent leaders help us avoid remaining stuck in a system. But inertia is strong. People don’t like change, and they often fight to remain in the system.

Transcendent leadership does not limit itself to the immediate layer of reality but pushes beyond it to find something more meaningful.

The first step to reach transcendent leadership is to be aware of the battle between immanent and transcendent desire.

The second is to choose to move out of the immanent system (aka the comfort zone) and into the transcendent one.

Transcendent leaders do the following five things.

1. Shift Gravity

Transcendent leaders shine the light on transcendent goals that everyone is concerned with – not their goals.

A good leader never becomes an obstacle or rival. She empathizes with those she leads and points the way toward a good that transcends their relationship—shifting the center of gravity away from herself.

2. Skill 2: The Speed of Truth

The health of an organization is directly proportional to the speed at which truth travels within it.

The health of an organization is directly proportional to the speed at which truth travels within it.
The health of an organization is directly proportional to the speed at which truth travels within it.

Truth is anti-mimetic by nature – it doesn’t change depending on how popular or not it is.

Spreading truth fights mimesis and rivalry. If truth moves slowly, it is bent by mimesis.

Companies must adapt to survive and that adaptation depends on how fast and willing its leaders are to work with the truth.

Anti-mimetic tactic 11: Increase the speed of truth
Make sure no one slows it down in the organization. People should know who should know what.

The seeking of truth is anti-mimetic because it strives to reach objective knowledge. Doing so, you prevent mimesis from happening.

Skill 3: Discernment

There are things in which we can act with reason, and things (marriage, for example), in which we cannot.

Problems of choices can only be seen as dilemmas of desire. It’s important to discern the options well.

To do so:

  • Pay attention to how you feel about each desire. Which one gives fleeting satisfaction, and which one gives long-lasting satisfaction?
  • Ask yourself which desire is more dangerous and loving.
  • Put yourself at the end of your life and think about which desire you wish you had realized.
  • Figure out where the desire comes from originally.

Desires are discerned, not decided. You can discern by placing yourself in a space between what is now, and what is next. Good leaders create this space.

Skill 4: Sit Quietly in a Room

Silence is where we learn to be at peace with ourselves, where we learn the truth about who we are and what we want.

If you don’t know what you want, the best is to enter a period of silence.

You can go to a silent retreat, walk El Camino de Santiago, or simply rent an Airbnb deep into the woods.

Anti-mimetic tactic 12: Invest in deep silence
Reserve three days per year for a silent retreat. No music allowed, just books.

Skill 5: Filter Feedback

Companies that poll customers for new product features fail to understand that their customers’ desires are immanent (thin) desires, not thick.

Transcendent leaders are not afraid to undertake companies based on thick desires, that is, companies that don’t always need a “confirmation of the market” to move forward.

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