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Luke Burgis

Book Excerpt

Understanding the systems of desire that influence what we want

​We hear a lot about goal setting, but hardly anything about why we are so obsessed with goal setting in the first place. Many of us relentlessly pursue goals — which we take for granted as good — without pausing to ask ourselves whether we should.

​There’s a meta dimension to goal setting. What are the circumstances and environments out of which certain kinds of goals emerge? Where, or who, do we adopt our goals from in the first place?

It turns out that there are systems of desire behind nearly every goal — from education to investing to social…

The Problem with (Most) Podcasts, and the Mimetic Processes that Govern Chat

I’ve attended two large social gatherings (sometimes called “conferences”) these past couple of weeks. I’ve been struck by how many times some strange, non-sequitur thing would be said during the course of a conversation — or sometimes even by way of introduction. I am surely guilty of it myself. A few examples that come quickly to mind:

“I don’t know your politics, but it’s just nasty out there, and we all know the ____*!&?____ started it. They clearly started the arms race.” (Spoken by someone who announced he was running for congress in 2022 within 60-seconds of meeting me. …

5 Ways to Create Boundaries with Unhealthy Models of Desire

Most of us have at least a couple of people in our life who function as unhealthy mimetic models. We need to know what they’re up to. We care what they think. We care what they want.

A friend of mine worked for Goldman Sachs after college. He quickly became embroiled in a competitive rivalry with a fellow analyst. When he learned that this fellow had received a slightly higher year-end bonus than him, he was infuriated.

Over the next year, my friend started watching his rival closely to see when he left the office each night. He made a…

An Interview with A. Natasha Joukovsky

This week I interviewed novelist A. Natasha Joukovsky, whose new novel The Portrait of a Mirror happened to be published — in the infinite wisdom of the literary gods — on the same day as Wanting.

Unbeknownst to both of us, the new Beauty Editor at the magazine Coveteur, Ama Kwarteng, came into possession of both books. She was familiar enough with my work by the time she read The Portrait of a Mirror to realize that it’s a novel shot through and through with mimetic desire. (As anyone who follows this Substack closely knows: once you see mimetic desire…

It’s a Chamber of Desire from which there is no escape

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…

Since its inception, the stock market has always been a game of chasing what other people have

The stock market isn’t irrational, it’s mimetic.

What we now see clearly happening in a few special assets (termed “meme” stocks) — movement fueling more movement — is merely an amplification of what has always happened in the stock market: price action matters because it is, above all, a reflection of what other people want; and what other people want affects what other people want. And that is a product of mimesis, not memes.

The great social theorist René Girard (1923–2015) speaks prophetically to us from beyond the grave in the writings he left behind. No thinker in the twentieth…

An armed debt collector showed up on my doorstep to teach me an unexpected lesson in empathy

This article is an adapted excerpt from my book Wanting: The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life.

Debt collectors are an obstinate bunch—not easy to rattle, and with little regard to your excuses. During the financial crash of 2008, my company was in trouble. I pleaded with a few of my vendors and banks for more time to solve my cash flow problem, but appeals to humanity and understanding and restraint fell on deaf ears.

As time went on, I found myself returning aggression for aggression. Treat me like a number? I’ll treat you like a number back. Threaten…

To thrive, don’t force the adoption of a single mission—connect the personal mission of each person to a purpose. Here’s the story of one “Missions-Driven” company.

The story that follows was part of the draft manuscript for my new book Wanting: The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life (out now). This story didn’t make it into the book — not because I don’t think it’s important, but because it would’ve broken the flow of a chapter. (Not to mention this thing called ‘word count.’) I’ve adapted it for Medium.

In the summer of 2019, I traveled to Seville, Spain, to visit the Jiménez Maña corporation, an auto parts distributor headquartered in an industrial park about twenty minutes south of the city.

I’d heard about the…

A blown-up business deal made me confront the mysterious forces behind what I thought I wanted

In the summer of 2008, I experienced the moment many startup founders live for: I learned that I would be able to cash out on my company’s success. After an intense period of courtship spanning several months, I was on my way to have celebratory drinks with the CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh. Zappos was going to acquire my e-commerce company for wellness products,

About an hour earlier, Tony had sent me a direct message on Twitter (his preferred form of communication at the time) asking me to meet him at the Foundation Room, a bar on the 63rd…

René Girard’s genius was directed to human nature, not math. But his insights are no less important than Einstein’s.

My book about mimetic theory, Wanting, will be published this coming Tuesday, June 1st. Pre-order it here.

René Girard (1923–2015), the great Stanford professor known by some as the mentor to Peter Thiel, called “the Darwin of the social sciences” and the “Father of the Like button”, was a genius of a different order. He made visible what is normally invisible: the delicate dance of desire that human beings play from the moment they’re born, and which explains some of humanity’s more “irrational” behavior.

As we’ll see, it’s not irrational; it’s mimetic. Because pundits on CNBC don’t understand the mimetic…

Luke Burgis

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

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