LUKE BURGIS: We all exist in this world where we can tweet at somebody or engage with somebody, could even be the President of the United States. And they might react to us back. Social media has thrust us all onto the head of a pin, socially speaking, existentially speaking. Even if they’re on the other side of the planet, even if they have a lot more money than we do, we can still interact with them. We can still compete with them on engagement. They’re inside of our world. We have a mimetic machine in our pocket where all of these people exist.
So, what is mimetic desire? Mimetic desire means that we’re adopting another person’s desire as our own, usually without even realizing that we’re doing it. So, social media has given us millions of mimetic models that we now have to contend with. Some people have went from having 10 mimetic models to now having a million, and we haven’t quite come to grips as a culture with what that means for our mental and emotional health.
There are two kinds of mimetic models. The first kind is called an external mediator of desire. These are models that are outside of our world; whether because they exist in a different social sphere than we do, there’s no possibility of us coming into contact with them and certainly not becoming rivals with them. They’re in some sense, outside of our world of desire, outside of our world of competition. Now, these external models of desire can be real, or they can be fictional. The other kind of model is inside of our world called internal mediators of desire. These are people that we do come into contact with, and there is a possibility of conflict or rivalry with these people. These are people that are in our family; these are people in our workplace; these are people that could even be our friends. It’s easier to compare ourselves to them. These are the kinds of people that we look to as benchmarks, and we’re far more likely to be envious of somebody that we went to high school with who now has a great job and a beautiful spouse, than we are to be envious of the richest person in the world. The danger with external mediators of desire, with keeping up with people that are very successful, with people that have modeled a certain kind of lifestyle, is that there’s no end to that process.
All desire is a form of transcendence. We desire to go beyond the boundaries, to go just over the mountain, to be the kind of person that we don’t feel that we currently are. Having positive models of desire to emulate is a very good thing. It’s important to have people that model virtues and goodness that we would like, but we have to understand the limitations of any model. And understanding how the dynamic between us and our models changes in that scenario is really, really important. It’s also important to understand when somebody is an internal model of desire to us because, in that case, we have to have boundaries.
All desire comes from us feeling like we lack something, and that can bring us into a dangerous, vicious cycle because there will always be another model to find. We have to choose our models wisely. We also have to know when the model is inflaming us with the desire for something that’s gonna bring real fulfillment or whether it’s going to bring a dopamine hit or allow us to fantasize about a life that we’ll probably never have. And even if we did have, it would probably make us miserable. All you need to do is go on Instagram and spend five minutes, and you see lifestyles modeled, you see vacation destinations modeled, fashions, manners of speech, ways of engagement, ways of speaking, political preferences. All of these desires are modeled for us 24 hours a day, billions of them, and we need to understand the mimetic landscape of social media or else we’ll become totally controlled by it.
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