Summary of Wanting by Luke Burgis

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  • Post last modified:January 6, 2024

Chapter 8: The Mimetic Future: What We Will Want Tomorrow

According to mimetic theory, conflicts arise when two people want the same thing.

As a result, the most dangerous (and overlooked) problem with AI is if it one day wants the same things we want.

Engineering desires in robots is a dangerous thing. As Yuval Noah Harari said at the end of Sapiens, “what do we want to want”?

This leads to two questions:

  • Who decides what we want?
  • On what model is it based?

What we will want in the future will depend on three things:

  1. How desire was formed in the past: the West has grown more mimetic these last 60 years (polarization, social media as a scapegoating machine, etc). No idea has been transcendent since “putting a man on the moon”.
  2. How it is formed in the present: we’re in a mimetic crisis. Desires have turned inward. People are fighting for the same thing.
  3. How it will be formed in the future: it will depend on how well we can manage desire.

Cultural Quicksand

By connecting everyone to everyone, the Internet (and Facebook) have accelerated mimetic rivalry which diverted attention from innovation in other areas.

We’re no longer trying to build spacecraft. We’re trying to make more money than the neighbor, or date a hotter girl than the neighbor.


  • No significant improvement in the treatment of diseases like Alzheimer’s.
  • No cure for cancer.
  • Quality of life is decreasing in lots of places.
  • People aren’t earning much more in terms of purchasing power compared to fifty years ago.
  • No innovation in cars, trains, ferries, buses, or planes

-> there has been a spiritual stagnation during this period too.

The world became disenchanted. People have been exiting religions in the West since the 1960s.

According to Burgis, this is because superficial desires have come to displace thick desires.

These thick desires are tended to by…the Big Four.

  • Google: deity that answers our questions.
  • Facebook: need for love and belonging.
  • Amazon: need for security and abundance.
  • Apple: need to be attractive.

These companies don’t only cater to our desires, but they can help us decide what we want next – and provide it, of course.

Mimesis rivalry is the cause of the stagnation in the West.

We lack a transcendent desire outside of our current system. As a result, we remain stuck in it.

image 32
The mimetic crisis and how the transcendent desire can help us get out of it.

This explains why people are so moppy about the present and the future.

We lack hope for something that is:

  1. In the future
  2. Good
  3. Difficult to achieve
  4. Possible

-> we need to find something worth hoping for.

Instruments Versus Relationships

People get out of Cycle 1 (destructive) in two different ways:

  • Engineering desire: people desire wrong, so we will change it for their own good. “Silicon Valley/Authoritarian/Experts” vision.
  • Transforming desires: happens through relationships.

Engineering Desire

Tech companies can engineer desire because they mediate the desires they show users.

In the case of Google, they have enough data to anticipate these desires.

Authoritarian governments came with reeducation camps not to reeducate, but to change desires.

This is the purpose of ideology: to make people want “what’s right”.

Ideology is the idea that everything is either good or bad.

René Girard

Holding two conflicting desires at the same time is a sign of humanity.

Anti-mimetic tactic 13: Look for the coexistence of opposites
Pay attention to the coexistence of opposites, to things that are not supposed to be together: Eg: being meek while being bold. (Aure’s Note: I have a friend who is a rock band singer and a political philosopher). These point to something transcendent. Find a transcendent model for the future to mimic.

Transforming Desire

Engineering desires is calculating thoughts: going from A to B in the most efficient way; beating the stock market; etc. Relentless pursuit of the objective without thinking about the quality of the objective -> allows the scapegoat mechanism to thrive.

Transforming desire is meditative thoughts: slow thoughts.

Anti-mimetic tactic 14: Practice meditative thought
Pour yourself a drink, look at a tree for an hour, and pay attention to everything you see.

Meditative thought opens the door to transformation. The meditative part of your brain can (finally) take the helm and show you things your more rational side of the brain would not have been able to see.

Pivotal Spaces

Many relationships are held together by mimetic bonds: siblings compete for the love of their parents, students compete for the first spot, etc

When mimetic rivalry is too strong, tensions arise.

To avoid that, one needs to recognize in which ways the relationship is weakened by mimetic rivalry, and confront it.

Doing so, one can transform desire.

The Three Inventions

Throughout time, there have been two mechanisms that mitigated the negative consequences of mimetic desire:

  1. The Scapegoat Mechanism: lost its efficacy after it was revealed by Judaism and Christianity.
  2. The Market Economy: took the place of the scapegoat by channeling anger into the creation of companies rather than violence. Consumerism channels rivalry. The competition went from sword fights, to who’s got the biggest car.
  3. None of the two above will save us. Humans will have to find a third way to channel desires. This must be some sort of mechanism where people can express their individualities freely.

Single Greatest Desire

Mimetic desire manifests itself as the constant yearning to be someone or something else.

This is a never-ending game.

The only way to win it is to stop playing.

The world is full of models and schemas that may help you navigate the future.

Yet all are inadequate.

“Desire is a contract that you make with yourself to be unhappy until you get what you want

Naval Ravikant

Ravikant advises choosing one, great desire, and suffering for this one, only.

And to refuse (to suffer for) others.

You will have to use models to find that one desire. It’s ok. Just…choose your model well.

We have two choices in life:

  • Go after thin desires.
  • Go after thick desires.

Chances are that at the end of your life, you will regret not going after your thick desires.

Anti-mimetic tactic 15: Live as if you have a responsibility for what other people want
Your desires influence those of others.
Keep this in mind.

The transformation of desire happens when we become less concerned about the fulfillment of our own desires and more concerned about the fulfillment of others.

The positive cycle of desire works because the primary thing being imitated is the gift of self.

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Summary of the Anti-mimetic Tactics

Anti-mimetic tactic 1: Name your models.

-> Naming things gives us more control over them.
– Name your models. Who are they? Who influences your decisions?
– Some are easy to name. Others aren’t, like a fitness influencer, or a superior at work.
– Then there are the bad models, the ones we don’t want to have as models. These are the people you don’t want to see succeed.

Anti-mimetic tactic 2: Find sources of wisdom that withstand mimesis.

The best way to know how wise a source of wisdom is is whether they’ve been around for a long time or not (Lindy effect). Experts in the hard sciences (math, physics, etc) are usually real experts because their expertise can be verified. But experts in productivity? Self-development? Don’t trust a source before doing the work.

Anti-mimetic tactic 3: Create boundaries with unhealthy models

We all have unhealthy models: an acquaintance, a former colleague or classmate, a romantic rival. You go see what they’re up to on social media… Stop that. It’s critical.

Anti-mimetic tactic 4: Use imitation to drive innovation

Imitation and innovation aren’t opposite concepts. Innovation often comes after imitation, when imitation is improved. Those who try not to imitate are stuck in a mimetic rivalry with everyone else by trying to be original.
As the fastest way to humility is not thinking more about humility but thinking less frequently of oneself, the safest route to innovation is also an indirect one.

Anti-mimetic tactic 5: Start positive flywheels of desire

1. I want to wake up early so that
2. I can go to the gym so that
3. I sleep well at night so that
4. I can wake up early.

Anti-mimetic tactic 6: Establish and communicate a clear hierarchy of values

This is an antidote to mimetic conformity. This way, you will know what to do in times of crisis.

Anti-mimetic tactic 7: Arrive at judgments in anti-mimetic ways

When people vote or poll in groups, it’s essential they make their decision without any models aka they need to make the decision by themselves.

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.

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?

Anti-mimetic tactic 10: Share stories of deeply fulfilling action

Ask other people to share theirs, and share yours.

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.

Anti-mimetic tactic 12: Invest in deep silence

Reserve three days per year for a silent retreat. No music allowed, just books.

Anti-mimetic tactic 13: Look for the coexistence of opposites

Pay attention to the coexistence of opposites, to things that are not supposed to be together: Eg: being meek while being bold. (Aure’s Note: I have a friend who is a rock band singer and a political philosopher). These point to something transcendent. Find a transcendent model for the future to mimic.

Anti-mimetic tactic 15: Live as if you have a responsibility for what other people want

Your desires influence those of others. Keep this in mind.

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