Mimetic Monday: January 25, 2021

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Hi everyone,

Here is this week’s Mimetic Monday: the art, people, and news that inspire imitation—for better or for worse.

  • ⬆️ What I’m reading. Even the world’s greatest ideas die in the skull-sized kingdoms of the people who have them—unless they know how to communicate them effectively with others. Despite the mimetic explosion of Tik-Tok, Instagram reels, and now Clubhouse (drop-in audio chats), the written word isn’t going anywhere. An essay, for example, allows a writer to “formulate and organize an informed, coherent and sophisticated set of ideas about something important.” But when freedom of speech is threatened, logical arguments written as non-fiction don’t always work. Throughout history, many writers have put their most heterodox or dangerous ideas in the mouths of court jesters, drunks, and social outcasts so they don’t appear too threatening. Nietzsche did this in The Gay Science. The film A Quiet Place contains a powerful message about the family and human life, but it made it past the Hollywood censors because it was wrapped in horror. You need to get creative. You need style. This brings me to my recommendation: I’m loving a book about how to write with style by Kurt Vonnegut and one of his former graduate students, Suzanne McConnell. It’s called “Pity the Reader: On Writing With Style.” I dare say it’s the best book on style I’ve ever read. (Sorry to my trad readers—I still love Strunk & White.) The most important point when it comes to style, of course, is to find your own—but that doesn’t mean you have to go at it alone. We’re social creatures, and our styles—just like our desires—develop in the course of our interactions with others. This book should be one of them.
  • ⬆️ Who’s inspiring me. Jamil Zaki, a professor of psychology at Stanford University and the director of the Stanford Social Neuroscience Laboratory. I heard him recently on Dax Shepard’s Armchair Expert podcast. Zaki is speaking and writing about the importance of empathy, but doing so with solid research to back it up. He opens his book The War for Kindness with a heart-wrenching but powerful story about his childhood navigating the minefields of divorced and warring parents who wanted to conscript him into their own side of the war. He learned to empathize with both his mother and his father, which allowed him to stay connected to each of them despite their severed connection to each other.
  • 🤔 What I’m Struggling With. How do we build a healthier human ecology when it comes to communication, particularly with social media? There are no easy answers. A friend asked me the haunting question this morning: If you had had $1 billion and known what you know now 10-15 years ago, could you have done anything to change the situation we’re in? Could you have created something better? I have to admit that I don’t know. But there are now signs of hope. My friend Sarah Cone has started a promising new platform called Column/, which encourages thoughtful, text-based discussion. (And it has a beautiful aesthetic.) I curate a “column” about Girard there.  On the other hand, there is Clubhouse—a popular forum for drop-in audio chats that has the potential to be majorly disruptive to podcasts and other forms of traditional media. I’ve been poking around on Clubhouse, too (I formed a “Mimesis & Culture” club, which you’re welcome to join). I have no idea what will emerge as the important social innovation that we’ll still be talking about 10 years from now. For now, I’m kicking a lot of tires, creating as much value as I can, and seeing what sticks. I suspect that’s the most important component to the social platform of the future: the one that focuses just as much on value capture as value creation. And by “value capture” I don’t just mean captured value to the creator or the ability to “monetize” one’s “content”—I mean captured value for society. For the human person.

Comments or questions? You can send me a tweet @lukeburgis (adding #mimeticmonday helps me find it). You can also text me at (+1) 202-918-3743. Was this email forwarded to you? (This email 🥰’s forwards, by the way.) If so, you can sign-up anywhere here.

Have a wonderful week, everyone—
Here’s to us all wanting more by Sunday,

Luke

P.S. My publisher, St. Martin’s Press, is giving away 100 copies of my upcoming book, Wanting. You can enter the Goodreads contests here for a chance to win. The contest runs until February 24.

P.S.S. A new edition of the Anti-Mimetic newsletter, Cargo Cult Startups, is out featuring excerpts of a conversation between me and Peter Thiel.

 

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