Social Mimetic Desire

"We borrow our desires from others. Far from being autonomous, our desire for a certain object is always provoked by the desire of another person — the model — for this same object. This means that the relationship between the subject and the object is not direct: there is always a triangular relationship of subject, model, and object." [Mimetic Desire, from wikipedia.]

I'm not sure how much the claim that 'All desire is mimetic desire' can be defended, but mimetic desire definitely seems to be true about a large number of desires that I see people experiencing around me. In particular, there are desires that are socially endorsed; they exist by virtue of their large host population and they try to infect anyone coming into exposure with them. There are so many such desires, imperceptibly and unconsciously acquired through this mimetic mechanism. The Model in this case is the abstract Society. Mobiles, cars, houses, money, jewelery, love, engagements, marriages, vacations, education, jobs, fame... how much of it is the result of our society implanting the desires in us? Social Mimetic Desire makes us a slave to the society, because our desires and hence our happiness chains us to it.

You cannot truly be independent of the society until you also cast off the desires that still make you dependent on it; to whatever extent it is possible.

Of course, the desires you replace them with would probably have Models of their own. The champions of social rebellion, the people who inspired you, be it Russell or Marx, or your friends.

Nevertheless, a person who desires an Independent life, a Free life, is still chained to his desire, and to his Model... but it is not a desire that chains him to the abstract society.

Can there ever be a non-mimetic, truly original desire (apart from the desires born out of our physiological needs)? I would like to believe so, but I am not so sure how it can be explained in terms of the prevalent discipline of deterministic psychology.


After writing the post, I feel that the distinction I have made above between Social and Individual desires may not be entirely satisfactory. First, because "society" is a matter of subjective perception, and its boundaries are blurry. Secondly, individual desires may be as psychologically enchaining and harmful as social ones. Anyone who has experienced strong jealousy can understand that. And it is a particular type of jealousy: when you are jealous not because the particular person has something you want, but you want something because the particular person has it and you don't. Independence from such mimetic desires is also necessary for anyone who seeks independence.

Perhaps we can make another blurry distinction: we can divide desires into "superficial" and "deep". Deep desires would be those that are closest to our inner being, the person we are inside. Superficial are those that we have picked up from the society and individuals through the mimetic mechanism... desires that we would want to cast off if we become conscious of them and ask ourselves "Is this something I really want?" The more we can get rid of the superficial desires that burden our mind, the more free we would be.


Anonymous said…
The only path to true freedom is to find what is Divine within yourself. God is the only completely free entity.
Anonymous said…
Very nicely written. But what exactly do you mean by freedom and independence? Secondly, I understand that consumerist items perhaps qualify as superficial desires but what are our deep desires closest to our inner beings? If you mean innate physiological desires like food, sex etc. then they are just as superficial. But if you are implying curiosity and a natural urge for companionship and sociality then you are right. But in the latter case wouldn’t the idea of freedom and self-reliance become contradictory to this conclusion?
Anonymous said…
It's unlikely there might be such a thing as an 'inner being', one which is in some way separate from our totality. I believe we are one person and all our desires are channelled through the same internal thought processes and emotional responses. These in turn have been informed (and sometimes ordered) by influences outside ourselves. That which we desire is subjected to and evaluated by our whole imperfect being, according to its unique disposition, and tempered by external influences implanted in us, which have varying degrees of power over us - varying according to their own strength and our own capacity to reject them. I don't believe we have different beings within ourselves in which we hold our deep desires. We may have things - emotional, intellectual, and physical - which we hide from other people, but that which we conceal is nevertheless still part of the whole. Our desires' value to us is not a mystical matter but one of practicality.
Asad said…
You are trying to sum up the entire debate between internalism and externalism in normative rationality into whether a person's desire is his 'own' in some obscure sense or inspired by society. This is incredibly reductive.
ahish said…
I think the following article in Guardian might is relevant in some sense: