Monday, September 6, 2021


People and things worthy or unworthy of imitation.

Positive Mimesis

Last week I featured Chloé Valdary in this email. She is someone who I believe is taking an Anti-Mimetic approach to the issue of racism. It’s grounded in rich personalism.

I was lucky enough to get Chloé to do a Q&A with me. Here’s the full interview. And here’s one highlight:

our theory of change is that once you’re able to perceive your own complexity, you will be able to perceive the complexity of others and will be less likely to stereotype or caricature or reduce others to one single thing

Negative Mimesis

The Elizabeth Holmes trial started last week, with opening arguments slated to begin this coming Wednesday. Holmes is being charged with multiple counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud after the medical technology company that she founded, Theranos, was exposed as having made bogus claimed about the efficacy of its product—but not before Holmes was able to raise over $700 million from investors, garnering her company a valuation of around $12 billion. It went to zero almost overnight after John Carreyrou of the Wall Street Journal reported on the massive scandal inside the company.

What the press has missed, though—including Carreyrou—is the tendency for a type of narrative formation to occur that obscures the foundational truths on which the entire case rests. The truth is that mimetic desire is what allowed Holmes to raise $700 million in the first place—because mimetic desire distorts the perception of reality, especially when there are powerful models involved like Henry Kissinger and Silicon Valley titans. That same mimetic desire is in the form of a fight-or-flight response is now converging on Elizabeth Holmes as the single-source scapegoat in a complex case in which many people should be sharing blame.

Nobody likes to hear anything in Holmes’s defense—not even the fact that she was a barely-turned eighteen-year-old seduced by a 39-year-old man—and that’s precisely the problem. We can’t talk about it. We just need her head.

And the deeper point is this: even if Holmes is found completely guilty on all counts—and I suspect that she might be—it doesn’t mean that she isn’t being used as a scapegoat. Remember: the scapegoat mechanism is a social technology. It doesn’t rely on the guilt or innocence of the victim. It’s the definition of the Kantian prohibition against using someone as merely a means to an end. Guilt or innocence doesn’t matter at all; utility does. And Elizabeth is a perfect tool.

What I’m Reading

The Power of Glamour by Virginia Postrel is stellar. It’s a phenomenology of “glamour,” shot through and through with insights into mimetic desire. The phrase is never used, but it doesn’t have to be. I have to thank my new friend, A. Natasha Joukovsky, author of the novel The Portrait of a Mirror, for recommending this to me. It was a major inspiration for her work, and I had never heard of it. Now it is one for mine.


Have a beautiful week.

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