Chad's Reviews > Wanting: The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life

Wanting by Luke Burgis
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it was ok

This book serves to popularize the work of Rene Girard, and I think it succeeds at that. There's an enticing insight at the outset of the book—we don't want in a rational vacuum, we learn how to want from observing others (models)—Unfortunately, the book doesn't build much more on top of this insight.

The book spends part 1 explaining what memetic desire is and why it is so powerful, and then spends part 2 discussing ways to transform your desires to "thick" desires that will stand the test of time and ultimately be satisfying. Peppered into both sections are "tactics" which are strong nuggets, but I find their implementation awkward. It breaks the split of "understand mimetic desire" and "here's what to do about it" by having the tactics scattered throughout, and the tactics themselves are mostly supported by anecdotes rather than procedures on how to best execute the tactic. I believe books like Atomic Habits or the 4-Hour Workweek would serve as a good guide of how to implement tactics in a way that's likely to be followed and helpful for the reader.

I was introduced to some new ideas from the book, was entertained with some of the anecdotes, and it was a good reminder to reflect more, further examine my life, and ensure I am striving for things that will bring me satisfaction (or maybe not striving so much to begin with, and instead just being satisfied/equanimous). I found the organization of the book a bit chaotic, found the tactics less-than-actionable as laid out, and found too many claims that left me wondering how the author made the logical jump on such little evidence.

To be clear, the ideas here are interesting and do have a big impact on the world. I just didn't find this to get at the deep questions with the level of rigor I was expecting.

P.S. I do find it funny that I mainly bought this book due to the praise from Adam Grant, Jonathan Haidt, and Tyler Cowen (models).

There are also many instances where I didn't find the evidence sufficient for the claim being made, or where Burgis doesn't fully explain his argument.

Early in the book, when discussing an anecdote about a VC who lost a deal by not signaling his aggressiveness, Burgis says this should be a warning and cites the Paradox of Importance. It's not clear if the lesson was the VC was wrong to not mimic others (unlikely), or if the founder was wrong not to go with the VC.

I also found the section on the suicides in Las Vegas related to the Downtown Project to be a very large claim. I don't know that there was enough evidence to say they killed themselves because they couldn't keep up with everyone else around them without a clear hierarchy informing who to model.

There's another section (in Chapter 4) where Burgis talks about using the language of natural disasters to describe human/societal failures that "always seem to sneak up on and shock people." This seemed week, especially since the examples listed were famously predicted in The Big Short, and the quote from Ackman is a prediction.

Further in The Invention of Blame chapter, Burgis mentions how "nearly all people are religious in the sense that they subconsciously believe that sacrifice brings peace." He goes on to talk about how destroying your enemies is a form of "sacrifice." I think this could be an argument that violence brings peace, but it seems a stretch from the understood definition of "sacrifice" to think that an enemy being destroyed is a sacrifice. This is shortly followed by the quote "We didn't stop burning witches because we invented science; we invented science because we stopped burning witches" which leaves me wondering what was the impetus to stop burning witches?

In The Mimetic Future chaper, Burgis makes the comparison the "thin" desires beating out "thick" desire was similar to Gresham's law where bad money drives out good. This seems like a misunderstanding of Gresham's law, which as I understand it depends on both forms of money being deemed legal tender. In the absence of a law stating the good and bad money are equivalent, the good (hard) money wins out ("Thier's Law"). There's no connection to the requirement of legal tender that would have led to thin desires beating out deep desires—there was no mandate that both be deemed equal.

There's another statement "Sometimes the market isn't a good indication of what people want. It's good at price discovery for thin desires, but not necessarily for thick ones." This has no justification, aside from following an anecdote that one CEO cut his salary, increased employee salaries, and the company was successful. I don't completely disagree with the statement, but I do think it's a large and nuanced claim and deserves more evidence and exploration.

In the second half of the book, Burgis is building the "Cycle 2 - Creative Flywheel." I'm not sure if he gave up on it, or if it is only supposed to have 3 stages, but the final graphic of the flywheel has 3 parts and looks unfinished (there's no arrow going from the 3rd level "Transcendence" to the 1st level "Mimetic desire").

- The distinction between Celebristan (far models, okay to imitate) and Freshmanistan (near models, imitation seen as competition)
- How we are attracted to people who *want* differently (Steve Jobs)
- The principle of reflexivity ("In situations that have thinking participants, there is a two-way interaction between the participant's thinking and the situation in which they operate")
- People fight when they are similar (more than when they are different)
- The need to keep your rivalries in check, else be consumed by them (Lamborghini, Michelin chef)
- The idea that we all implicitly accept the compromise of the society we live in (The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas)
- The suggestion to talk about the most deeply fulfilling experiences in the lives of those around you
- The plug for Montessori schooling
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Reading Progress

July 10, 2021 – Started Reading
July 19, 2021 – Shelved
July 19, 2021 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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Marcus Thanks for the detailed review! I love how you were able to critique the book thoughtfully while still recognizing its strong points.

message 2: by Zaina (new) - added it

Zaina Ahmad Thanks for your review ! It’s a great reminder to question the claims in books as the evidence could be not there or strong enough.

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