“In the universe of desire, there is no clear hierarchy. People don’t choose objects of desire the way they choose to wear a coat in the winter. Instead of internal biological signals, we have a different kind of external signal that motivates these choices: models. Models are people or things that show us what is worth wanting. It is models—not our “objective” analysis or central nervous system—that shape our desires. With these models, people engage in a secret and sophisticated form of imitation that Girard termed mimesis (mi-mee-sis), from the Greek word mimesthai (meaning “to imitate”).” — From Wanting by Luke Burgis (view my highlights)
We want things—money, love, fame, respect, prestige and power. A fantastic abundance of desires graces our western culture. We think of desire as a linear relationship between us and the thing we want. If somebody questions our reasoning, we often explain ourselves in one of two ways. Either we want an object because it suits our preferences, or we highlight its objective qualities. Claiming that we choose autonomously, away from the influences and desires of others, is what René Girard calls ‘the romantic lie’. René Girard (1923-2015), a French social scientist, changed the world of desire with mimetic theory. In Girard’s view, desires are not intrinsic but external, determined by those around us. We traditionally think of desire as a relationship between ourselves and the desirable object. However, Girard’s mimetic theory explains the triangular relationship of desire as beginning with the subject and mimicking a model to obtain the desired object. Models are people who signal what is worth wanting, motivating us to imitate those around us.
“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.” — René Girard
Mimetic desire occurs in the following order: models desire objects; subjects imitate the models, which mimics the desire for the objects. Desire is not a straight line but flows through invisible models.