In a book called Wanting by Luke Burgis, the author explores the concept of mimetic desires. The word mimetic was new to me, and means ‘to imitate’. What does this mean, to imitate a desire? It is effectively nothing but community desire. And what does this mean?
Think of your immediate circle, say your colleagues at work. Most of them might have the same type of education, same type of job, and same type of career aspirations. If many of your friends are raising venture capital for their startups, suddenly you feel like starting up too. If you live in a posh apartment complex, most discussions will centre around what car you drive, what title you hold at work and which (upmarket) school your kids go to. If you live in a posh city, the comparison points are likely to be what plays you watched over the weekend, which top end restaurants you got reservations to, which concerts you attended. Spend time with scientists, and you’ll want a Nobel prize. Spend time with musicians and you’ll want a Grammy. Spend time with writers and you’ll want a Pulitzer. And on and on it goes. Each and every group of people is it’s own little island of mimetic desires.
The challenge with mimetic desires, is that they do not make us happy. They make us want things because others have them, but the happiness buck stops there. Is there an ‘un’-mimetic desire? It may not have a specific name, but these are those desires that come from within. Maybe you love to play the piano, or to go for a drive on the weekend, or for a lazy walk on the beach. These are desires that you’d enjoy irrespective of external approval, and even if no one knew or cared about it.
So it’s really up to us to figure out what we truly desire, to follow that path, and to weed out the mimetics.