The Philosophy of Rene Girard, Luke Burgis
How memetic desire, the scapegoat and other crucial ideas shape our world
One of the most frequently referenced names among many of the thinkers we've been following on Rebel Wisdom has been that of Rene Girard.
He was a French polymath, historian, literary critic, and philosopher of social science, who was described as the "new Darwin of the human species".
He came up with concepts that have profoundly shaped the world we live in, for example his insight into ‘memetic desire’, how we tend to want things because others also want them, was why influential investor (and Girard obsessive) Peter Thiel decided to become the first major investor in Facebook.
The writer Luke Burgis is one of the leading experts on Girard, recently writing the book ‘Wanting, the Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life’. He joined us to introduce this fascinating thinker and to answer any RW members' questions about why this work is so significant now. Check out the video below.
One of the other concepts that Girard pioneered was the role of the ‘scapegoat’ in societies, and how societies always tend to find some ‘other’ or ‘sacrificial victim’ to focus our negativity towards and to ‘take on the sins’ of the collective. From this perspective Christianity can be seen as the ultimate scapegoat mythology, which is why Girard has also been influential on other Rebel Wisdom guests like the religious scholar Jonathan Pageau.
Luke says: “Wanting shows how anxiety and conflict comes not from our differences, but from our sameness. Because we learn to want what other people want, we are on a collision course with one another unless we understand what’s driving us.
Like our gravity-defying missions to space, we don’t have to be passive in the face of mimetic desire. We are free to choose our response to it. That starts with knowing how it works. Those who do have a responsibility to be leaders who are intentional about how they affect the desires of others.
We can turn blind wanting into intentional wanting―not by trying to rid ourselves of desire, but by desiring differently. It’s possible to achieve more independence from trends and bubbles, to be more in control of the things we want, and to find more meaning in our work and life by working with rather than against others to build a better world.”
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