Girardian theory of Imitation
I first read Girard after hearing about him from Peter Thiel. I should admit that I haven’t read any of Girard’s books completely but Mimetic theory made a lot of sense to me. Mimetic theory proposes that most human desires are imitative in nature. We desire what others desire. We all have role models who we want to emulate. We imitate desires that our role models desire. This is why celebrities are paid millions to endorse brands. We see that our role model satisfying his desire and we want to imitate his desire. We want to look cool like our friend who can talk to girls easily. We want to drive the Tesla that the Elon Musk is driving.
Wanting to be liked is hardwired into us. I think I understand the importance of this because I know how hard I want to be popular. Everytime I tweet, I am worried that people might not find what I said funny. I want to think of something witty, something insightful, something that makes others raise their eyebrows. Something warm and fuzzy goes on inside me when I see someone like my tweet.
There are a lot more drafts in my medium profile than published posts. I want my draft to be perfect as it should appeal to my existing followers. They should like my writing and tweet about it. Just because I have gained a couple of followers on my Twitter feed, I feel that I should publish only stories that they would like. If I publish anything of inferior quality, I would be disappointing them.
Maybe we strive to be identical because we strive to be popular. Maybe popularity is hardwired into us, because we are social animals and our need to be in the centre of a herd dominates our thinking. In our pursuit to be popular, we want others to think we are like them. And in this, all of us collectively put on an act as if we are are all likable. We want others to think we are virtuous, that we care about the environment, that we care about the world, that we are smart, that we care about science. We want to show off our 5 minute knowledge that we got from Trevor Noah about how Trump is a blithering idiot.
This Key and Peele sketch perfectly summarises the state we are in. If we are asked one original opinion, we freeze on the spot. Our mind clamps up, our mouth dries up and we shut down. We have lots of opinions that we are given by our media, but we don’t have clarity of thought. If we are asked what the future will look like in a year, not a single one of us will have any opinion. But our mind supplies the answer for us- ‘Reality is too complex and that is why you are not able to make sense of it.’ We are angry but we don’t know at what. We are tired but we don’t know why. We want to do something but we don’t know how.
The truth is we don’t have any understanding so we take the easy way out. We don’t know how to form an opinion, we don’t know how to judge an argument and we don’t know how to think. Our minds are muddled garbage dumps that we have never attempted to clean. How many of us have questioned if driving a Lamborghini is our own desire or an imitative desire. Yes, I would love to own a Lamborghini to show off my wealth but will I ever be able to drive it in Indian traffic.
Mimetic theory explains the importance of being contrarian and going against the herd. Today, if I believe something that is popular, I really tend to worry that I am wrong. If being popular is interesting, you need to be boring. You would rather be unique and different rather than be popular. I would ask you to dare beyond popularity.