3 Ideas in 2 Minutes on Understanding Our Desires
Mimetic Desire, The Diderot Effect & What We Desire Most
I. Mimetic Desire
“I’m having what she’s having.” According to the theory of Mimetic Desire, we don't really know what we want. Instead, we unconsciously observe what other people desire and imitate their behaviour accordingly. Sadly, deep down we remain unsatisfied.
The term was coined by French philosopher René Girard. He hypothesised that imitating other people’s wants and wishes leads to rivalry and societal conflicts. Collective scapegoating would be the only way out. Instead of figuring out what we really want, we can be united in blaming some random schmuck for all the confusion.
II. The Diderot Effect
Denis Diderot was full of excitement when he was gifted a new red dressing gown. It was magnificent. Fashionable. Expensive. Only now, the old possessions of the 18th-century philosopher seemed dated and inadequate in comparison. Diderot’s solution was to spend money on replacing his cheap-looking old stuff to match his fancy new gown.
Called the Diderot Effect, this social phenomenon states that new possessions can lead us to buy even more things. Even though these reactive purchases are usually completely unnecessary. The effect goes back to Diderot’s essay Regrets on Parting with My Old Dressing Gown in which he notes:
I was the absolute master of my old robe. I have become the slave of the new one.
III. What We Desire Most
It looks like we’re naturally bad at mastering our desires. But here’s a banal yet counterintuitive rule of thumb when it comes to understanding our real needs:
The things we desire the most are the things we need the least.
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P.S.: In case you’re interested, I’ve updated my Reading List with the most insightful books featured on The Mind Collection.