What gravity is to physics, mimetic desire is to psychology.
Wanting is a groundbreaking exploration of why we want what we want, and a toolkit for freeing ourselves from chasing unfulfilling desires.
Gravity is a powerful force that affects every aspect of our physical being. But there’s a psychological force just as ubiquitous. It’s responsible for bringing groups of people together and pulling them apart, making certain goals attractive to some and not to others, and for the escalation of interpersonal rivalries. Luke Burgis draws on the work of French polymath René Girard to bring this hidden force to light and shows how it shapes our lives and societies.
René Girard, called the “Darwin of the social sciences,” discovered that humans don’t desire anything individually, entirely on their own, but mimetically—they imitate the desires of others, which causes them to pursue people, places, and things, even their very identity, based on what other people model as desirable. This “mimetic desire” explains why Shakespeare’s plays have resonated so deeply through the ages, why Peter Thiel made the first outside investment in Facebook, and why our world is growing more divided as it is growing more connected.
Wanting shows how anxiety and conflict comes not from our differences, but from our sameness. Because we learn to want what other people want, we are on a collision course with one another unless we understand what’s driving us.
Like our gravity-defying missions to space, we don’t have to be passive in the face of mimetic desire. We are free to choose our response to it. That starts with knowing how it works. Those who do have a responsibility to be leaders who are intentional about how they affect the desires of others.
Drawing on his experience as an entrepreneur, teacher, and student of classical philosophy and theology, Burgis shares tactics for counteracting the destructive forces of mimetic desire. We can turn blind wanting into intentional wanting―not by trying to rid ourselves of desire, but by desiring differently. It’s possible to achieve more independence from trends and bubbles, to be more in control of the things we want, and to find more meaning in our work and life by working with rather than against others to build a better world.
The future will be the one that we want. This book is about how we’ll come to want it.