Thanks to my subscription to Jim O’Shaughnessy’s Infinite Loops podcast, I have been exposed to some of the philosophy of Rene Girard. A few times, he has got philosopher Johnathan Bi on the show, to talk about Girard’s philosophy.
Bi has also done a series of YouTube lectures on Girard’s philosophy, though I haven’t watched any of them.
In any case, Girard’s basic thesis (based on my basic understanding so far) is that we are all driven by “mimetic desire”, or a desire to mime. This means we want to do things that others want to do.
So you see an instagram post by a friend who has gone to Sri Lanka, and you want to go to Sri Lanka as well. Your cousin has invested in Crypto, so you want to invest in crypto as well. Everyone in your class wants to do investment banking, and so you want to do that as well.
(actually now that I think of it, I was first exposed to mimetic desire by a podcast episode sent by my school friend Hareesh. In a way, Bi’s appearance on Infinite Loops only enhanced my liking for this philosophy).
This is yet another of those theories that “once you see you cannot unsee”. You see mimetic desire everywhere. Sometimes you copy the actions of people who you want to impress (well, that’s how I discovered Heavy Metal, and that has now turned out to be my most-listened-to genre of music, because it turned out I like it so much).
The theory of the “mirror neuron” is unclear (at least I’m yet to be convinced by it), but either by gene or by meme, we are conditioned to mime. We mime people’s actions. We mime their desires. We do things because others do them.
As the more perceptive of you might know from my previous post, we had our 16th year IIMB reunion this year. Not many turned up – about 30 from my class (2006) and 45 from the class of 2005 (thanks to covid both our 15th year reunions had been postponed, so we ended up having our 16th and 17th year reunions respectively).
It was an amazing experience. I don’t know what it was, but I liked it far more than the 10th year reunion. One major thing was the schedule – the 10th year reunion lacked a focal point on the main day (I’ve written about it) because of which we were rather scattered around campus. The 10th year reunion also had a much more formal structure, with “sessions” which meant we had less time to chat.
This time round, the Saturday schedule was very good – an interaction with the current director RTK from 10 to 11, and then NOTHING. That interaction was enough of a focal point to get us in one place, so everyone was accessible.
Then, fewer people having turned up meant we ended up having deeper conversations. We spoke about life, philosophies, kids, spouses, divorces, other people’s divorces, random gossip and all such. Absolutely no small talk, and infinitesimal work talk, and that made it more satisfying.
This morning, Bi tweeted again about Girard and mimetic desire.
People think the US and China are fighting because they are too DIFFERENT.
The philosopher René Girard thinks they are fighting because they are too SIMILAR. pic.twitter.com/3UcxwWbCEN
— Johnathan Bi (@JohnathanBi) December 28, 2022
One of the corollaries of Girard’s theory is that people get into conflict not when they are different but when they are similar. And mimetic desire means that people will try to become more similar to each other, and that increases conflict.
If not anywhere else, that is true in a business school, especially one where the class is rather homogeneous. Mimetic desire means everyone wants the same jobs, the same grades. And so they compete. And get into conflict.
16 years post graduation, we have drifted apart, and not in a bad way. Over this period, a lot of us have figured out what we really want to do and what we really want, and understood that what we want is very different from what others around us want. Not really being around our former peers, we have no desire to mime them any more, and that has freed us up to do what we really want to do, rather than just signalling.
And so, when we meet at a reunion like this, we are all so independent that we just never talk about work. There is no sense of competition, and we just focus on having fun with people we went to school with. The time apart has helped us get out of our desires to mime, and so when we get together, we compete less.
Maybe I should read / understand more philosophy. Or is this desire just mimetic?