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Luke Burgis

In the isolation of the pandemic, our need for social media has been especially acute. It helps us to make sense of who we are. We didn’t know what to desire. So we turned to other people, on our phones, to tell us:

Watch Tiger King, drink negronis, adopt dogs, avoid doing dishes, fight for justice, watch Bridgerton, support local bookstores, Zoom, take extravagant local getaways, take up bird watching, redefine self-care.

We look to other people — as flawed and volatile and contentious as some may be — in order to see ourselves.

There’s something buried deep within human…

“More than ever, I am convinced that history has meaning — and that its meaning is terrifying,” wrote René Girard.

The apocalyptic social theorist René Girard, whose work centered around the dark forces of human desire, saw that history was trending toward increased mimetic, or imitative, conflict. For the first time in history, humanity had all of the technological means to destroy itself almost instantaneously.

The only thing more terrifying than believing that history has a meaning and that its meaning is terrifying is everyone believing that history has a different meaning. That would mean a war of narratives, each…

Photo by Yichuan Cao/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The criminal trial of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of the blood-testing startup Theranos, began last week. As the trial drew near, I had a foreboding feeling that games would be played with the ideas of victim and victimizer — games that would leave many people, possibly even including the jury, confused about how to apply the law.

Understanding the sociological mechanisms that influence our perception of guilt has been my key work over the past several years. …

September 11, 2001, was a Tuesday. In 2021, it was a Saturday.

It is the opposite of what Ernest Hemingway called a Moveable Feast — it is a kind of Fixed Famine, which we remember on the same date each calendar year regardless of the day of the week it falls on.

It’s different than the first day of Advent, for example, which falls on the Sunday nearest to November 30 — but always a Sunday.

It seems to me that this day-of-the-week detail is not trivial. Maybe this is coming from my liturgical sensibility. …

I first encountered Chloé Simone Valdary‘s work while I was in the throes of writing Wanting. It was the summer of 2020. I was concerned that race issues in America were turning into a full-blown mimetic crisis, replete with scapegoats.

I reached out to her late last year after exploring her curriculum, Theory of Enchantment. I sent her a galley copy of my work. We connected over Zoom. I’m grateful for the opportunity to dialogue with Chloé on this issue of vital importance.

Why the Q&A Form

This is the first in what I hope will be a series of dialogues. I’m taking my…

Photo: Paul Chinn/The Chronicle

“We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.’“ — C.S. Lewis

The Great Divorce

The infamous “Fire Walks” of the Not-Your-Guru Tony Robbins — at which participants at self-help seminars attempt to walk over burning hot coals, and sometimes get severely burned — is but a thin, superficial, NLP-induced version of a concept that C.S. Lewis illustrated in his fantastical book, The Great Divorce.

I’ll say it upfront: I find the Robbins Fire Walks to be a sad summation of the thinness of our culture —…

So steeped are we all in the great Innovation Game—everyone needs tobe original! everyone needs to innovate! something isn’t worth saying if it’s been said before!—that it’s easy to forget that innovation used to be an extremely dirty word.

The great French thinker René Girard, whose mimetic theory of desire has been highly influential in Silicon Valley, wrote one of his most important essays on the topic of “Innovation and Repetition.” (Found in this volume.) In it, he explains the evolution in our understanding of imitation and innovation — and just how radical a view of innovation we hold in…

I lost power at my home in D.C. yesterday morning. I woke up to a Flash Flood alert on my phone. The rain was so heavy that I couldn’t see my neighbor’s house. By 11am, it looked like 11pm.

I’ve been in low spirits lately — the constant drip of content content content, the tragedy in Afghanistan, and the ethical incoherence over the virus have given me a kind of Kierkegaardian existential angst.

I needed to write, but I didn’t want to write alone in the dark. I needed to be around other people, but not talk to them.


Photo: AK Rockefeller

I wrote an older version of this piece on my Substack in early January of this year issuing a dire warning to those who were celebrating Trump’s Twitter ban. It wasn’t about Trump—it was about the forces that were unleashed under the visible surface.

Now the issue has been rekindled. A recent poll from Pew showing that a full 48% of Americans support government intervention to restrict “false” information online, even if it means curtailing freedoms to access and publish content. That’s up from 39% only three years ago—a 9% rise.

The great French social theorist René Girard spent a large part of his career studying plagues and pandemics in ancient literature. He noticed something fascinating: in every instance, the psychological contagion that spread fear and anxiety and led to faction-forming is inseparable from the microbial and infectious contagion that caused a health crisis.

In fact, the word most frequently used for “plague” in ancient Greece (in both Sophocles and Thucydides) is nosos, which simply means “sickness.” When there is a civil war between Greek cities, it is described as a nosos. …

Luke Burgis

Author of “WANTING: The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life.” Find more at

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