Over the past couple of years we have highlighted the powerful ideas of the French philosopher Rene Girard who created the idea of ‘mimesis’ (see our June 2019 blog: https://marcellus.in/blogs/marcellus-things-hidden-since-the-foundation-of-the-world/) and his most famous student, Peter Thiel: “In 1978, Rene Girard published a remarkable book called “Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World”….Girard’s hypothesis unfolds sequentially:
1. Human beings have an innate desire to compete with each other and rise in the world. At the outset, this desire to compete and create new things, conquer new frontiers is a healthy thing as it spurs creativity, innovation and differentiation.
2. Then a complication kicks in because human beings, being social animals. learn from each other and copy each other. As a result, we start coveting the same things as others. For example, in isolation I have no incentive to covet a diamond which to my mind is a worthless stone. However, if 20 people around me begin coveting diamonds (or admission for their children into a certain school or flats on Altamount Road or holiday villas in Goa), then I too am likely to covet the same. Girard calls this “mimesis” i.e. we mimic each other in our desires….
3. As hoards of people start seeking the same things, competition (or mimesis as Girard calls it) intensifies. Then, in the heat of the battle, differentiation takes a back seat as all of us strive to outdo each other in acquiring these symbols of prestige. The logical escalation of this competitive battle is aggression vis a vis each other which sometimes culminates in violence.
4. During this period of intense competition, as unhappiness increases and grievances multiply, society seeks a scapegoat. The scapegoat is deemed to be responsible for all grievances although, in reality, the grievances arise from mimesis. The scapegoat can a be a person (see next bullet) or a community (eg. Jews in Germany in the 1930s, Jews in Hungary today, Muslims in India today, Latino immigrants in Trump’s America).
5. Punishment is then meted out to the scapegoat so as to assuage the masses. In extreme cases, the scapegoat is murdered (eg. Jesus Christ, Julius Caesar). In less extreme cases, the scapegoat serves out a period of punishment (eg. Ram & Sita going into exile, ditto for the Pandavas). Figures in positions of power & influence – Kings in the ancient world, CEOs, Presidents and senior politicians today – partly exist to serve as scapegoats.”  
Now, the entrepreneur-turned-academic Luke Burgis has done a fabulous job of presenting Rene Girard’s powerful ideas in an accessible format in his new book titled “Wanting”. Burgis’ book shows how Girard’s ideas have relevance in financial markets, in business and, as explained above, in our day to lives.
Those who do not have the time to read Burgis’ book, can read the summaries/previews of the book that Burgis has posted on Medium and on the Next Big Ideas Club. As Burgis explains, mimetic desire can also act as a positive force: “The default cycle of mimetic desire leads people to want what other people have, and eventually leads to rivalry and conflict. But desires can be mimetic in tremendously positive ways. Heroism is mimetic—we saw it on 9/11. When a firefighter runs into a burning building, it might become a little easier for the second and third to run in.
We’re inspired by people who take a stand for what they believe in, who refuse to give in; we’re inspired by people who demonstrate extreme empathy and vulnerability. That, too, is mimetic. When we see it in others, it makes us want to be more like that.
We can start a positive cycle of desire for ourselves even in simple things, like fitness. It’s like turning a giant flywheel, which builds momentum as we go. One turn of the flywheel might work like this: I commit to showing up for my workouts with my highly disciplined friend, who holds me accountable if I don’t; which makes me want to eat well so that I have enough energy for our workouts; which makes me want to wake up….”

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Note: the above material is neither investment research, nor financial advice. Marcellus does not seek payment for or business from this publication in any shape or form. Marcellus Investment Managers is regulated by the Securities and Exchange Board of India as a provider of Portfolio Management Services. Marcellus Investment Managers is also regulated in the United States as an Investment Advisor.

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