Mimetic Desire

Carter Thomas
7 min readNov 19, 2022

Hello friend. What a month it’s been. Don’t worry, I’m not going to waste your time with more analysis on what every Discord is filled with. Instead, I want to talk about the second of the Big 5 Struggles facing our generation today — the insidious, paralyzing power of mimetic desire.

For anyone who doesn’t know, mimetic desire is described this way by philosopher René Girard:

Man is the creature who does not know what to desire, and he turns to others in order to make up his mind. We desire what others desire because we imitate their desires

Most of you have heard about this. You heard about it on Joe Rogan or Hidden Forces or maybe some clever blog post. It’s one of those ideas that frames our thinking for about a month until the next interesting mental model comes along and fits more perfectly. The most viral ideas are the ones that make you think you’re a bit of a contrarian, out of the box thinker. A little too ironic, don’t you think?

The fact remains that this idea is underlying a majority of society in the first world. Steroids are to muscle mass as social media is to identity. Before 2005 (Facebook), television, movies and books shaped most visions of the future. It taught us what we should value and how we should think about our life. The options were simpler and the decisions fewer. It was also much less pervasive — you couldn’t be constantly connected even if you wanted to be.

There was time to…think. To create your own, viable version of reality.

As the decade rolled on and software ate the world, we began to imbibe in unadulterated access to information. Never before could we read blog posts from CEOs, listen to interviews with world leaders, see the daily life of fashion models. The fantasies that had been driving our dreams suddenly became real. They became tangible. Social media humanized the most extreme examples of success, making anything seem possible.

Oh you want to be rich? Just do what your high school classmate did with internet marketing. Want to be popular? Just do what your cousin did on Instagram. Want to have the best travel experience? Just follow the itinerary of the blogger who’s already done the work for you.

Of course, once you do these things, you must let the world know you’ve done it too. You must establish yourself in a new level of social standing in order to complete the circle of life. You must find clever ways to show the world you’re on top without telling the world you’re on top. You must establish yourself as the happy, successful person in order to now be happy and successful, right?

This is the game most people are playing…whether they realize it or not.

Years ago I was at a conference and had my world turned upside down in the most unlikely way. A sharp marketer was giving a presentation about neurotransmitters. Most interesting was serotonin, the chemical we have associated with happiness. “More serotonin = Happier” has been the Big Pharma pitch for 30 years.

What this presentation argued, however, is that serotonin is actually released when humans feel status. This can be true on many levels. It can be on the worldly level through things like money, material goods or beauty, all of which are recognized by strangers as Status Boosting signals. It can also be done on a smaller level with friends or family — you feel like you “fit in” to the group in some way that you like. Maybe you’re the provider or the person who takes care of everything or the comic relief.

No matter what level it’s on, humans need to feel status to be happy. If you know someone who’s depressed, chances are they don’t feel like they belong anywhere. They feel like they have no status.

For the last century, members of society learned to cultivate this status through different ways. Because of technology constraints, it was usually focused on the local level — family, friends, community, work. There was less FOMO because people simply didn’t entertain the idea of expanding their status ecosystem.

As a result, serotonin was most likely higher and people were more satisfied with their life. I don’t know this for sure, obviously, but I’d venture to guess it’s true. Just look at the physiognomy from decades past — people look…different. There is a biological reason why truly happy people are attractive.

In the last decade the yardstick that we use to derive our status has changed considerably. No longer is it about the local network, it’s about competing with the entire system. If you are connected to a broad social network it is almost impossible not to fall victim to this. Your brain thinks “If I get status in this bigger network, the amount of serotonin will be incredible.” So that million dollars you made, which is more than you will ever need, suddenly becomes the first stepping stone towards $20M.

Crypto Twitter has made your small victories seem insignificant. YouTube has brainwashed you into thinking that your progress is not enough. Instagram reminds you each day that living a simple life is not what you want, it’s just a cop out.

It is only when you share your personal victories with your small Discord community do you feel a real sense of accomplishment.

Yet we continue to spend our time in these grand arenas, vying for a spot at the top, promising ourselves that it’s all worth it.

With unbridled connection to the top performers around the globe, our brains have become impotent slaves of envy. And somehow it’s impossible to give up.

If you are a millennial or younger, you are firmly connected to the world through social media. Sure you may quit one network but you’ll probably end up on another one eventually. We have been infected by dopamine addictions that are now spilling over into serotonin deficiencies. This is a bad combination.

Mimetic desire completely fucks up your ability to feel like you belong somewhere in this world…and we are unable to turn it off.

We are unable to turn on the awareness, tune in to our internal voice and drop out of the greater community. Doing so would be painfully lonely unless there is a strong support system in our current life.

If you don’t believe me, ask yourself what you would do if Twitter does in fact cease to exist. Or if Instagram shuts down for good. Or Discord and Slack stop working.

We would be forced to think about our own journeys and our own yardsticks. We would have to face the reality that we may not feel like we have a place in this world and are spending most of our lives telling ourselves that we should follow some blueprint to make it all worth it. It would be painful and terrifying.

In the past few years the greatest moments of my life were not the biggest accomplishments, they were when I felt like I had enough. I will never forget last year sitting on my balcony reading Will Smith’s biography at 2pm on a Wednesday without a care in the world. I was going to play beach tennis in a few hours with my friends. I was healthy and the weather was perfect.

There was no anxiety about hitting financial goals or worrying about if I was doing the right things in my life. For some reason, it just didn’t matter.

I was filled with so much happiness I almost couldn’t take it. It felt like coming home, that feeling of arrival when you are just so blissfully satisfied with the current moment. There is no “better than” and no fear that it will run out. It’s a sustainable feeling built on sustainable inputs.

The best part, I now realize, is that this dream was fully mine. I didn’t care if other people knew about it or were envious of it because it made me happy. It was such a sharp contrast from convincing myself I needed XYZ amounts of money or needed to travel to some amazing country or go to the best parties.

It was kind of a boring and simple life, the kind that does not get clicks but makes me feel a deep sense of peace. It has happened a few times in my life but not enough. Every time it does, all I can say is “what have I been stressing about for all these years?”

These days I spend my time trying to visualize and live what my perfect day is. I listen to what my body is telling me. I am trying to remove the “mimetic” and focus on the “desire.”

I think about how it feels to swim in an outdoor pool when the sun is coming up, my body light and sleek as it carves through the cool water. I think about eating fresh fruits and vegetables that were grown a mile away. I think about playing sports with my friends and being outside. I think about all the people in my life and how lucky I am to have them.

None of these are unique ideas but they matter to me. I don’t care if other people like it or not. It’s for me. And each day I need to remember that this is the only thing that matters.

I say this to remind you that this is your life but the world we live in is trying to hijack it from you. It’s trying to convince you that you should want certain things and need certain accomplishments or must do certain acts to get there.

That’s all bullshit. It’s your life and you get to define what makes you feel like you are connected to it. I don’t know if the answer is to get off social media entirely but I do know that the more time spent on those networks, the more you will struggle to define your own dreams and the less time you will spend feeling like you are actually happy.

Continuing to do what society says you should do is an amazing way to fuck up your life.

This is the world we live in. It is a capital S-Struggle to separate our own identities from what surrounds us each and every day. The matrix is powerful and wants you to want what everyone else wants.

Define your own life, get back to basics. You will see why when you do.

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