Mimetic Theory

Weekly I/O#33

Mimetic Theory: We desire mainly according to the desire of the other because we don't know what to desire and, therefore, we imitate other's.

Article: What is Mimetic Theory?

I first learned Mimetic Theory from the article Peter Thiel's Religion, which stated that Rene Girard's Mimetic Theory forms the bedrock of Thiel's worldview.

Girard states that human desire is not a linear process that a person just autonomously desires an inherently desirable object. Instead, he sees the world as a theater of envy. We don't know what to desire. Therefore, we imitate other people's desires, like mimes.

This mimetic nature can be a shortcut for learning since we can rely on those models to help us understand who and what to desire. However, it can also lead to conflicts and envy because the models might soon become our competitors for the same desire or object.

Therefore, Peter Thiel suggested that we should be careful who we copy. If we want to follow a role model, find somebody in a different stage of life that we won't compete with. In David Perell's words, "If you're going to model a famous writer, pick a dead one such as Tolstoy or Hemingway".

In the book Zero to One, Thiel applied Mimetic Theory to business by saying companies should avoid competition and always seek differentiation and monopoly. Hence, "All Happy Companies Are Different." He also uses the idea to describe how Facebook gained users: "Facebook first spread by word of mouth, and it's about word of mouth, so it's doubly Mimetic."

You can look up the article, What is Mimetic Theory?, to find a more detailed explanation of the theory, including its three stages: Mimetic desire, Scapegoating mechanism, and Revelation.

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