Luke Burgis introduces us to the power of mimetic desire and how it influences our wants, fears, fulfillment and much more. Understanding why we want what we want helps us to desire differently, influence the desires of others and build a more fulfilli...
Luke Burgis introduces us to the power of mimetic desire and how it influences our wants, fears, fulfillment and much more. Understanding why we want what we want helps us to desire differently, influence the desires of others and build a more fulfilling future.
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Srini: Luke, welcome to the unmistakable creative. Thanks so much for taking the time to join us
Luke Burgis: Hey Srini.
Srini: It is my pleasure to have you here. So I found out about your work by way of your publicist. And right when I saw the title of your book wanting, I was immediately intrigued by it because it felt like your book was the answer to so many questions.
Srini: I've had that I've never been able to get answers to by talking to people on this show. But before we get into all that, I want to start by asking what I think is a very fitting question, given this subject matter of your book. And that is what social group, where you're a part of in high school. And what impact did that end up having on the choices that you've made through your life and where you've ended up?
Luke Burgis: Oh, man, that's a great question. I don't know if I knew then and I still don't know if I know now I was, I had a really weird high school experience. I got kicked out of one high school at the end of my sophomore year for just getting in a fight, like defending somebody else and broke my femur my freshman year.
Luke Burgis: So I was on crutches for most of that year. So I went from being. A star quarterback to being depressed, due to a hobbled around and needed people to carry his books for him the whole year, really rough starts in my high school which made my identity formation all the more difficult am I a jock?
Luke Burgis: Am I a nerd? I'm smart, but I'm don't know how much I should show it or how much effort I should put in like theater so I had a real identity crisis. And I like as a pretty much, I think everybody does when they're in high school. So it's super hard for me to put my finger on it.
Luke Burgis: But if I was to try to describe like who I was just a guy who was. Thinking too critically about the environment that he was in, like from I extracted myself, like I refuse to go to prom and homecoming and I was like, I don't, I'm not going to do this stuff. So I was a loner to be honest with you.
Luke Burgis: I was all I could think about. I went to high school in grand rapids, Michigan. All I could think about was college and I need to just get through this and get to college. And I w I know I want to go to college in New York city. That's about the only thing that I know. And and I just counted down the days.
Luke Burgis: I know that's a depressing way to start the podcast.
Luke Burgis: I
Srini: think it's an incredibly insightful way to start the podcast. Cause like my first thought was isn't all of adolescents. Just one gigantic identity crisis.
Luke Burgis: Yeah. Yeah. It certainly felt that way for me. Yeah I
Srini: don't think you're alone because I felt that way. To me, high school was just basically a barrier between, living with my parents and getting the hell out of there to go to college.
Srini: It was just a pit stop, especially because I moved so many times. But what I wonder, based on the background that you have and your research that you've done, why is it that adolescence is such a gigantic identity crisis for so many people? And why do you get that sort of hierarchy that exists of popular kids and, not so popular kids when you look at this, just based on your experience, because like I said, I think that was one of the things I just kept seeing examples of what you've done in this book.
Srini: Just I could trace them back all the way to eighth grade.
Luke Burgis: So one important thing to know about me is I'm an only child which probably affected the way that I approached high school. I didn't have any older siblings who had mild. You know what it means to be cool for me, I just had to figure everything out on my own.
Luke Burgis: So I think that affected my perception and the way that I navigated it and dealt with everything, my read on it now on what was happening for me. And what I think happens for most people is that we have models in our life from the moment that we're born. The first one usually being our mother, we look into our mother's eyes and of course father our, so our parents are models for us in, in many different ways, right?
Luke Burgis: They're models of speaking, like we learn language from them they're models of lifestyle and their models of desire. So what our parents want, what they think is valuable, we assimilate that into our own understanding of what's Wantable and what's not political. Career stuff. If your parents are both doctors and they feel very strongly that you should be a doctor, that's going to do one of two things, it could really make you obsessively focused on that for the right reasons or the wrong reasons, or it could make you totally rebel.
Luke Burgis: I'll get to that in a second. So we have these models, a few models in our life. We have older siblings, they're models for us as well. I didn't. And what adolescence is we get to this stage where we're just let loose, like we've stopped believing our parents are gods. And, we've stopped like looking to them as our models of what we want to be.
Luke Burgis: We're trying to differentiate individually at that point. And all of a sudden, specially in junior high and high school, we're just thrust into this environment with a bunch of other kids that are our age, Lisa in our class. And. We have more in common with them than we don't. And in a certain sense, what do I mean by that?
Luke Burgis: I just mean you're 14 years old. Everybody else is roughly 14 years old in your classes for freshmen, you mean you don't have any money, like you're all even though you might come from families of different degrees of wealth, you still have to ask for money if you want it. Unless you have a job and you're all in the same boat, you're all like thrust into this situation where you all have to figure everything out. Everybody is insecure but nobody thinks that anybody else has accepted them usually. And nobody's really talking about it.
Luke Burgis: Everybody's forming their sense of identity against everybody else. And this is why the different little groups form the classic, archetypal high school categories they form and people migrate into those very quickly. Because they find kindred spirits and that is, it's oh, I've, this is who I am.
Luke Burgis: But usually I find that when people are honest and they've taken a journey where they're able to continue to step out as they get older in life, that was just a temporary kind of phase that they had to pass through. It's tragic. Like when I, I'm 39 years old and I do have a couple of friends that are like still the same person, like today that they were in high school and they're like trying to be that person, like, all right, like you're a jock.
Luke Burgis: We get it. And, I wonder cause like part of the journey of maturation for me was finding like different models as a. As I grew up and leaving sort of old ones behind and constantly stepping out into new territory, which is super uncomfortable to do.
Luke Burgis: But high school is that period adolescence in general is that period where you're overwhelmed with models. You're overwhelmed with people that are modeling different lifestyles and different ways of being in relationships, different ideas, different career paths. Think about it in high school, everybody's talking about where they want to go to college and where you shouldn't go to college and what cities are cool to move to and what kind of careers they want to have.
Luke Burgis: And you don't know whether they're like trust them or not. You're like, are they just as clueless as I am? Or do they know something that I don't know? So I would call it a crisis of knowing who to trust is to me is like the crisis of adolescence. But it's something that not a lot of people talk about.
Srini: So one thing you said. Was that everybody is insecure and everybody thinks that everybody else is not insecure. And I distinctly remember that feeling thinking, oh, does the hottest girl in school? No, she's the hottest girl in school. Does the guy who's dating her. Think he's the coolest guy in school because he's dating the hottest girl in school.
Srini: And it's only, I think when you reflect on it as an adult, that you look back and you start to see, wow, everybody is way too. Self-absorbed to actually give a damn about, what you think about them, because they're so worried about what everybody else thinks about them. But, having had that experience, what would you say to parents were listening to this?
Srini: Who might have children who feel insecure about their sort of status and adolescents?
Luke Burgis: I'm not a parent yet. So I, I'm like highly uncomfortable to say anything about that. And, I'm still trying to figure that out. And luckily I have a, I just got married a few weeks ago I may have about 10 years to figure this one out, man.
Luke Burgis: I think, let me just tell you a quick story from my high school. My parents were great. Love my parents and just so supportive of me and giving me room to roam and run and explore new things and were never critical of me. Just okay, go try that. And if you fall on your face or if you don't like it, then you learn the lesson and you moved on.
Luke Burgis: They never really tried to steer me really strongly in one direction or another. My dad was never adamant that I played a certain sport or a certain position in that sport. It never were insistent that I go to a certain college. They're all about. They were great about giving me like a sense of freedom to figure things out on my own.
Luke Burgis: And I, like I said I did have that identity crisis and it manifested itself in all these weird ways where just to give you an example, and this is common example, actually, I was I met this particular girl who was in my class, who I wasn't physically attracted to. And, but she was smart and weird and like into this stuff.
Luke Burgis: And I didn't really give her a second thought. Then one of my friends, a guy that I really admired who like all of the girls were crazy about, just took an interest in her, all of a sudden and thought that she was the most fascinating barrel in the whole class and almost instantaneously my perception of her and her attractiveness.
Luke Burgis: Changed all of a sudden the things that I had just thought about and thought, ah, I can't really, I don't know if I want to ask her out because what will other people think? All of a sudden that changed in a heartbeat. I remember going to my mom and talking to my mom about the situation and she was just very good about helping me to not give such a shit about what other people thought about me and to, just made me feel okay with not being okay.
Luke Burgis: If that makes sense. This is applies to all of life. Like sometimes it's okay to not be okay. Like we all just need to be doing great all the time. And she was very good about not like making me feel even more insecure than I already was. So the only advice I can really give is, you know what I think my parents did.
Luke Burgis: And that's really given me the space and the time to figure things out and to not make me feel the pressure to have it figured out sooner than I would. Original Australian drama is back. Five bedrooms returns with season three, take a deep breath, all episodes now streaming exclusive to paramount plus viewer.
Luke Burgis: Hey, you did you know that at Stockland. We strive to create positive lifestyles for everyone who lives in our communities to make them livable and lovable places where people can thrive. We focus on five key areas of belonging, connection, health, and fitness, safety, and environment and sustainability.
Luke Burgis: So at stockland.com.edu/nsw to find your community.
Srini: Yeah the thing that's interesting to me, particularly the way that we socialize and educate people in the United States and, especially in my culture is that we definitely are taught to have something figured out before we're ready to, people are making plans for their life in high school.
Srini: And I remember going back to my high school, AP English teacher's class and all these people were so worried about what they were going to do with their life after high school. And what I realized was that no matter how many plans I made life, definitely didn't go according to plan.
Luke Burgis: Yeah, and I deal with this on a daily basis because one of the hats that I wear is I teach college undergrads in business and they come their freshman year of undergrad and feel an extraordinary amount of pressure.
Luke Burgis: Professor Burgess, what internship am I going to have this. And they're freshmen. I'm like, I don't know. Like I was like, I was a server at pizzeria UNO, like south street Seaport, after my freshman year of college, it's like one of the best decisions I ever made. Like I learned service.
Luke Burgis: I learned how to put up with people that are pretty mean to me sometimes. It don't tip. And it took me a really long time. And they just feel like such pressure. And sometimes I feel like the greatest gift that I can give them is the one that my parents gave me. It's there's no ticking clock on your life right now.
Luke Burgis: Just because all of your classmates know what they're going to do this summer doesn't mean that you have to, it might just mean that they're, making bad choices too soon because they feel pressured to do or they're just like, following some, a medic path because they think that if they.
Luke Burgis: It's like a video game where you have to get this thing at this level. You can't move on to the next one. My life has not been that linear. I don't know about you, but it just hasn't quite, it just hasn't quite worked like that. Like I can go like three years. It's like being a writer.
Luke Burgis: You'd not write anything for a long time for months and months. When everything comes to you in one day, you've been banging your head against the wall. And my life in general has been like that. Yeah, mine too.
Srini: No, my it's been anything but linear as somebody who spends part of your time in a college classroom, and this is something I ask educators every time I get to talk to one, if you were tasked with redesigning our education system for the future, what would you change about it?
Srini: What do you think works? What do you think? Doesn't?
Luke Burgis: I think that there should be a huge emphasis on mentoring. From an early age, mark Andreessen has written about this and it's time to build. I think there should be a real emphasis on mentorship from almost like an apprenticeship model, so people can experiment doing different things rather than simply reading textbooks and taking quizzes.
Luke Burgis: So I'm a huge fan of Montessori education. I talk about that in the book either, even though I didn't I didn't have it when I was a child. The more that I've learned about it, the more it is in line with what I've learned in my research about mommy says, and the medic desire that the teacher introduces a student to, to some topic and then really gives them room to roam.
Luke Burgis: But I don't think that there's any substitute for having personal mentorship. And one of the things I worry about as we. Try to scale new models of education and more of it is technology driven. More of it's moved online. Of course the pandemic has accelerated that. And that's a different story.
Luke Burgis: I am old school and I just think there's no substitute for personal encounter. There's no substitute for, Robin Williams, and dead poet's society, like looking you in the eye and, believing in you and caring about you. Like people don't care about what you have to say until they know that you care about them.
Luke Burgis: And, it's going to be very difficult to recreate that the way that we're moving, if it's, if everything just becomes technical. So I love the humanities and the liberal arts. I think they're important, but I think the most important thing is that humanity in that personal encounter, because there's just no way to recreate that.
Luke Burgis: We're humans. We need the contact and I'm almost like a smallest, beautiful guy. I would, I understand as an entrepreneur and a startup guy, the importance of being able to scale things, but there's a real tension there with the way that I think we learn best the way that we learned to be in relationship with other people.
Luke Burgis: And my wife and I have talked about this with our kids. I think we're going to want to have them in a smaller environment where they can be nurtured and where they can just be exposed to a lot of different kinds of people with different ideas and get some hands-on work.
Luke Burgis: And also the physicality, I think is important too. I think that education also happens in and through the body. And then I think that's really important. I realized that we're in a knowledge economy and that, stem is very prominent right now, but there's really something to be said about, a healthy mind and a healthy.
Luke Burgis: And we learn many things through doing, I think I'm a particular doing kind of learner. And there's like a tacit knowledge that comes with that. That is impossible to describe. It's if you asked me, Luke, how do you ride a bike? And I tried to describe to you how to ride a, but if you followed my instructions, first of all, I probably wouldn't even be able to articulate in any kind of coherent way, how to ride a bike.
Luke Burgis: And if you followed my instructions you would never be able to ride a bike. You'd be better off just learning it by doing it because that's like an example of something that we have tasks now tacit knowledge about through this sort of physical action.
Srini: What, it reminds me of learning how to surf.
Srini: I can't teach somebody how to learn how to surf anymore, because I did it for so long that even if I deconstruct the process step by step it's so unconscious to me at this point that it's useless when somebody gets in the water. And it's funny because that's literally what a surf lesson is. The instructor basically teaches you how to stand up on sand and then moving water is a very different beast than sand.
Srini: So the land lesson, they teach you on how to pop up. It comes completely useless. The minute you get in the water. And one of my friends said, how do you actually figure out the timing? I told him? I said, just come to the beach every day.
Luke Burgis: I've had the same experience. I tried to learn how to surf. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done.
Luke Burgis: And I just had to just, I was out there all day and, I ended up being able to stand up and right away then for 10 seconds and I was stoked and I thought I was going to be a lot better than I was because I know. And, I've had a very similar experience with snowboarding. There's you can only tell somebody so much.
Luke Burgis: When I tried to teach my wife, my then my girlfriend, how to snowboard, it's just, it's shocking that we're even still together after that day, like really I was so bad and she was like, Luke, why didn't you just tell it to me this way? And I'm like, I don't know. I don't remember, like I'm doing fall on your butt, like 25 times.
Luke Burgis: Sorry.
Srini: I'm an avid snowboarder as well. And it's funny because I made the transition from surfing to snowboarding. That was easier because when I tried like 15 years prior, I couldn't snowboard to save my life. And so now my rule is, look, if you're coming snowboard, snowboarding with me, I'm going to get you to hire an instructor because I can't teach you.
Srini: I know that you'll and it's funny, I've heard the breakup story from a day on the mountain from numerous people before.
Luke Burgis: No, I'm the same way. I will never try it again. I think I have the humility to be like, no, an instructor. They actually do this for a living. I.
Srini: So you brought up the physicality of education.
Srini: And this is something that really struck me because my old mentor, Greg Hartle he did this project called $10 on a laptop where he traveled around the country, wanted to visit all 50 states work one-on-one with 500 people and then start a business in an industry he knew nothing about.
Srini: And, he ended up doing all of that. And the caveat to that whole project was that he could only use the $10 and a laptop to accomplish all those goals. And that $10 ended up being worth like 10 million in equity and cash. But one of the things that he said that really struck me, he said his biggest regret about that project was how much time he actually spent on the internet.
Srini: He said that he would have been far better off if he had done nothing related to a blog, did the project kept a very minimal online presence. And he said, look at the difference between when I talked to you on the phone and when I come and meet you in person, look what we did in two weeks versus, six months of talking on the phone.
Srini: As somebody who, mentioned that, like, why is it that, that in-person learning leads to such a sort of exponential curve and, rapid uptake that you don't necessarily get through a virtual mentorship,
Luke Burgis: We're incarnate preachers, we have bodies and eyes and ears for a reason.
Luke Burgis: And we pick up on so many signals, but from body language to tone of voice that we lose some of them, even in zoom, like we, we think that it's replicating a real situation, but it's not at all. It's weird, like what other situation are you like looking at yourself while you talk?
Luke Burgis: It's not normal. And I've just seen it we had to move mostly online for the last 12 months and the learning is slower. I don't know if all in-person education is necessarily, moves that much faster because the main there's bad. In-person. Education and learning, but when it's done well, I think that a good teacher knows how to communicate in a myriad of like subtle ways with cues, just like a good sports coach does, like a really good coach is able to let's just say basketball coach is able to basically give subtle cues and use language that gets you to do certain things that he would never be able to do in a, like a written context or a phone context, because it's there, right?
Luke Burgis: It's like the look of the eyes, right? Like never make that pass again or whatever. Like the amount of things that are communicated in an instant are impossible to replicate in other formats. It's hard to fully explain. I just think this is the way that social life is in general. Like we're picking up so much more the, the learning is happening without us knowing that 99% of it is even happening.
Srini: Yeah. Let's shift gears a little bit. What has been the trajectory of your career that ultimately led to writing this book and focusing on this topic?
Luke Burgis: I graduated from undergrad business school, worked on wall street for a very short period of time in New York and Hong Kong. I was just, I was an investment banker and was miserable and had this realization that if I don't get out now I may never get out.
Luke Burgis: I'm like too competitive and too ambitious and everybody says they are, and the nobody does. And I didn't want to go the traditional route of going to business school. So I had an opportunity to start a company with my cousin in Califia. Moved straight from Hong Kong to Hollywood and started a company out of a little two bedroom apartment, right under the 1 0 1 in LA and ended up grew that company exited that company and spent the rest of my twenties, starting a few more companies.
Luke Burgis: So startup role, I was never in Silicon valley. I was in Southern California and and eventually I moved to Vegas where I met Tony Shea and I opened the book with a story about one of those other three companies fit fuel, and the potential merger that I was working on with Zappos. And I had this kind of idea of like how my life as an entrepreneur would go and it never went according to plan.
Luke Burgis: I had accomplished something that I wanted to accomplish and feel extremely unsafe. And it really felt Sisyphean to me, like this is just a never-ending loop that I seem to be caught in and I don't really want to go the rest of my life feeling like that. We know we're like, nothing is ever enough.
Luke Burgis: What am I out to do here? What am I trying to prove to myself or to other people? Like I got to figure this out. And I had, was fortunate to have some 2008. I had a business deal blow up on me. I had a relationship and a romantic relationship and a lot of things that forced me to just settle down and ask myself some hard questions.
Luke Burgis: I don't know if I would have been able to do it myself. Like sometimes it's almost take something outside of you to force you into, to, to do the things that you need to do. Whatever that is. Sometimes unfortunately it's like a tragedy a health scare or whatever, for me, it was just having my sense of identity really shit.
Luke Burgis: Bye bye. Some events. Like I didn't think that I could I didn't think that I could do anything wrong at a certain period of time, right? Like just revenue increases month over month. And that's the way it goes. I got myself into too much debt and ended up taking a little sabbatical from everything. And it started out as a few weeks and it turned into a few months, and then it turned into, over a year where I stepped away from a company that I was absolutely miserable running.
Luke Burgis: And I was like, I guess Luke, you could fight and scrap. And you could save this company, but is that really the way that you want to spend the next year? Why don't you just cut your losses and take some time? I didn't I was lucky that I didn't have to work during that period. So I had enough to be able to travel and to read and to just explore some things.
Luke Burgis: And that's what I did. And I. I wish I had done it 10 years earlier, I just never there's things that they don't teach you in school. Like they don't teach you how to discern, which of your desires is illusory and driven by your ego and which of them are a little more genuine and are going to lead to fulfillment.
Luke Burgis: What's, who are you, right? What project are you going to work on? What creative thing are you going to make? That's a reflection of kind of who you are and what's important to you versus what the market wants. And often there's a real disconnect there between what the market wants and what you want to do.
Luke Burgis: This is classic artist's dilemma, right? And I had this artist dilemma as an entrepreneur. If I didn't do the lean startup and just build what the market wants me to build, because that might make me miserable. Even if I'm successful, I could be absolutely miserable. So over the course of those few years, I I came back to myself.
Luke Burgis: And I am using language a little deliberately, cause it was the words that opened the, the Inferno, the divine comedy, lost in a dark woods and had went out of himself and didn't know where he was or who he was. And I had that moment for sure.
Luke Burgis: So I ended up still starting a couple of companies in my early thirties, but I went back to school to studied philosophy, studied theology. I lived in Italy for a couple of years and I felt like I was able to integrate a bunch of like different aspects of myself that I hadn't been able to integrate when I was in my twenties.
Luke Burgis: A intellectually curious side, a contemplative side, a spiritual side, and. I was able to then come back to a place when I was in my mid thirties and put everything together and formulate a new vision of how I wanted to be an entrepreneur kinds of things that I wanted to work on.
Luke Burgis: The creative outlets that I needed writing a book was one of them. If I don't have that form of expression, I'm just not happy. So that's how I got to this place where, I took a very non-traditional route discovered some things pretty late in life. And, that's just the time that I needed and I never would have written this book.
Luke Burgis: Had I not had that time away. My book would have just been purely like a, your typical kind of hustle porn book if I hadn't taken the time away. And instead I realized that I wanted to show that it's okay. To have. Your value shaken up and to have different values as an entrepreneur, which you then find a way to, to manifest in your life and in the world.
Luke Burgis: And that's been my journey so far.
Luke Burgis: Original Australian drama is back you. Five bedrooms returns with season three, take a deep breath, all episodes now streaming exclusive to paramount plus fewer.
Srini: Wow. I think that makes a perfect segue into talking about the book. So one of the things that you say in the opening is that memetic theory, isn't learning some impersonal law of physics, which you can study from a distance. It means learning something new about your own past. That explains how your identity has been shaped and why certain people and things have exerted more influence over you than others.
Srini: It means coming to grips with a force that permeates human relationships in which you are at this moment involved, you can never be a neutral observer of the medic desire. I think for the sake of our audience, can you define what you mean by mimetic desire?
Luke Burgis: That phrase comes from a French thinker named Rene Girard taught at Stanford for many years.
Luke Burgis: He was a mentor to Peter teal and many others. And what is in the medic is a fancy word for imitation. So it means that desire is fundamentally imitative and that contrary to popular belief. Our desires are not generated totally spontaneously. Even though we think that they are our desires, especially when they're more abstract are generated socially and we're, they're generated and shaped through models of desire.
Luke Burgis: Like we look to other people who help us know what to want and what to pursue, and that we never autonomously decide on those things. It's, we're always caught up in this web of desire and it's social. And just to be clear, it doesn't mean that everything that we want or desire is like that.
Luke Burgis: There, we know you have certain needs and we have a physical physiological basis for being attracted to certain people. If I'm super thirsty, I don't need a model of desire to show me that what I want is water or. Or warmth, if I'm cold, I don't need models for those things. And in the book, I differentiate those as, we should call those needs just to be clear, even though those can also be desires, right?
Luke Burgis: Because now we don't just want water. Like we now have a hundred different brands of water. So like even the world of needs has become the world of desires, which means that even now just wanting to drink water, we can look to models to tell us w which kind of water to drink and an easy way to think about this would be like, for certain things, we have biological wiring.
Luke Burgis: That's like a radar and it shows us like what we need to survive. It's just built in to who we are. Okay. For most things though, in our world today that are in the universe of desire, we don't have any real, like biological signal that shows us whether we should. I don't know, become a doctor, a lawyer, or whether we should go live in Iowa, in Florida.
Luke Burgis: Those are things where we rely on models of desire. And often, while we convinced ourselves that we're making our choices or we're pursuing our goals or desires based on purely objective criteria, we're in fact probably being influenced by some hidden models of desire in our lives.
Srini: So one thing you say is the medic desire because it's social spreads from person to person and through culture, it results in two different movements.
Srini: Two cycles of desire. The first cycle leads to tension, conflict, and volatility, breaking down relationships and causing instability and confusion as competing desires, interact in volatile ways. This is the default cycle that has been most prevalent in human history. It's accelerating today. So how did.
Srini: Prevent yourself from becoming a victim of that, given that it's accelerating, because to your point, we all have models of desire. And the other thing you know is how do you figure out which models of desire are appropriate? Because I, I wrote this article on medium about why outliers are terrible role models for most of us yet.
Srini: Who do we put on the covers of magazines? Who do we read self-help books about Oprah, Steve jobs, even though none of us are ever going to become those people.
Luke Burgis: Yeah. And we shouldn't become those people because then we'll never become ourselves. Yeah. So there's an interesting paradox in that. We need models to, to become ourselves in a sense.
Luke Burgis: It just happens. But we can be intentional about the kinds that we choose. And there are positive ones and they're negative ones. They're negative models. The key here is that most people just don't think that they have models at all. After we're like above the age of seven and we've stopped openly acknowledging our role models.
Luke Burgis: Most of us, at least we go out into the world as adults. And we assume that we've left that behind. When in fact we're affected by both positive and negative models of desire all the time. And, being aware of that and naming them is really important. And, like we can then catch ourselves when we're being negatively affected by models.
Luke Burgis: Gerard said that it the default path that mimetic desire takes, if we're not aware of it, is that it pulls us into rivalry with others and an obsessive focus on measuring ourselves against other people. Because if if we're, if we want what somebody else has wanted and we're paying attention to.
Luke Burgis: There their path and what they're achieving there. We can't get them out of our head. We're constantly forming our identity over and against them and leads to conflict and it just leads to misery. And I see this happening in our culture. A lot of times, happens in politics too, where we become obsessive, we focused on, people that we would consider our rivals or enemies.
Luke Burgis: And it ends up determining like a large part of our behavior. If they do acts, then we have to do Y or there's constant sort of needing to outdo the other. And we compete for power or status or reputation or whatever it is. And recognizing that we're, we can get caught up in these kinds of ridiculous.
Luke Burgis: Games. We've lost sight of what we wanted in the first place, because the problem with having powerful models is they can become larger than life and we can become fixated on them, which impedes our own growth and development, and there are certain models we need to let go. There are certain rivals that we need to just forget about, and we'd be much happier, but that's a process that doesn't come natural to us.
Luke Burgis: We don't want to let go of those things because in some sense, our identity has been formed through them. Like we, our identity is that we're anti-VEGF or anti that. And think about how weird that is or how unhealthy that can be if the core of our identity is being not what another person is.
Luke Burgis: And this is, I think what we see today and in America I hear more about what were against them than what anybody is for. And I think that's incredibly unhealthy, and this is one of the core parts of the book is that is a function of the medic rivalry that other person that you're against or anti is actually in some ways, a powerful model of desire for you.
Luke Burgis: Like you care what they want, and you probably can't want the same thing as them, or if you do want the same thing as them, you have to get more of it or something like that. And we're all caught up in this. And I think the only way to heal or to move forward is to be a little anti-medic in some ways.
Luke Burgis: And it's to resist that temptation to simply react and to regain the self possession and the freedom to respond, not in kind, but in a more generous way to be able to move out and forge our own path and not accept the narratives that have been given to us by who. By our family by our society, by the news, because these narratives are only forming more division and more the medic tribalism, in my opinion.
Luke Burgis: Yeah.
Srini: It brought up something for me. I had a listener once who emailed being, he said, sorry to tell you this. He's I love your show. But the people who you have are making me feel far worse about my own life. So I'm unsubscribing and I didn't get offended at all. I said, I can relate because these are all outliers, but so is that raises another question?
Srini: When you look at mimetic desire, I feel like self-improvement is rampant with the medic. Everybody from Tony Robins on down seems to be doing this. So how do you deal with that? Because we also did a series on cults, which kind of goes back into sort of mimicry and mimetic desire.
Srini: People often end up in cults because they're trying to improve some aspect of their life. And then instead of improving some aspect of their life, the cult itself becomes their life. Like I went through this, I know you alluded to pick up artists. I went through the city selection community. Only to realize I'm like, wait a minute.
Srini: This whole thing is my life, but I'm not actually any better off than I was before.
Luke Burgis: Yeah. So you would lose the self-improvement community, I think is rampant with unrecognized mimesis, and in fact it often runs off of the medic desire. There was a whole section in the book about goal setting, right?
Luke Burgis: Why, right? Like how often do we question why. Chosen certain goals in the first place. There's a lot of books written and a lot of money made by people that will try to help you achieve all of your goals. But not a lot of people talking about why we choose those goals in the first place and whether those goals are actually just like helping other people sell books and, whatever.
Luke Burgis: There's a discussion that we're not having. Cause this is almost too, it's almost it's uncomfortable, right? It's almost like a layer deeper than what I think people are talking about. So for me, self-improvement is, obviously we all want to develop and improve. I don't really like the term though.
Luke Burgis: And I, I've found that the less I focus on my self-improvement and the more I focus on, helping other people like oddly, my life is better. So there's a, Were other regarding creatures, we're social creatures. And for me, like the paradox of self-improvement is like the more I, the less I'm concerned about myself, the more I'm concerned about, the people I love the better it goes.
Luke Burgis: And usually I like indirectly end up reaching those goals that I, I would have taken a more direct route towards, had I not taken that stance. Yeah. I just think it's something to be.
Srini: Absolutely. I think that's a perfect segue to talking about these two distinctions that you make between what you call celebrity stone and fresh minister on.
Srini: First, can you explain what those are? But the reason I wanted to talk about that is you said that people exaggerate the qualities of their models, constantly, whether the models are in freshmen, Aniston, or a celebrity, Don. And I think the one I want to make sure that our listeners have a background on what those two things are, but I realized how easy it is to exaggerate the qualities of people on the internet simply based on potentially manufactured perception.
Luke Burgis: So there are two kinds of models. Primarily the first kind of a model is outside of our world. They're the kind of people that we don't have any social contact with will never come into conflict or rivalry with them either because they're dead. We're just separated by them, but from. Some social gap or existential gap, maybe they live on the other side of the world and we don't even know they exist.
Luke Burgis: So these people are what Gerard calls, external models of desire, external to our world. That's why they're called external models of desire. And I coined the term in the book, celebrity, Stan, to describe them. They live in this world called celebrity Stan. They're like celebrities. We don't we don't really view them as like threats necessarily to our own sense of self.
Luke Burgis: Like the way that like somebody was very close to us would, so th that's the second kind of model. So the second kind of model called an internal model of desire or internal mediator of desire to be technical. And they're the people that, exist in our world. They're the people that we can come into contact with that we can compete with, that we can become rivals to.
Luke Burgis: Call this world fresh man, Stan, because the best image that I could come up with for it is like the wave. It's to be a freshmen in high school or in college where, you have all these things in common, you can come into contact with anybody else. And we project all kinds of things. Onto these people, we do it in celebrity stand too, right?
Luke Burgis: Like we probably, assume that these, crypto new crypto millionaires and the billionaires are way happier than they probably are. They didn't have a curated persona. We don't know anything about their lives, but we project all kinds of things onto them. It's even worse though, in freshman to Stan.
Luke Burgis: Because we, these people are in our worlds. And there's something Freud calls the narcissism of small differences, that is very unique to this. Where we noticed like the smallest differences in anything, because we're so close in proximity, right? So it's like more important apparent to us.
Luke Burgis: Like we're paying more attention to it. If Jeff Bezos makes an extra a hundred million dollars or something over the next year, I might not even know that. But if like my colleague that has this works in my office or is in the same line of work as me gets a $5,000 raise and I don't, and that is a massive deal to me.
Luke Burgis: So it's interesting how things take on greater or less importance based on proximity, not of distance, not of geographic proximity, but in terms of how similar we think we are to another person, we start to notice these small things and we project a lot onto other people that is probably not real in any way.
Luke Burgis: And this is, we're talking about this reduction community earlier that we've both had some contact with part of the game that people in that community play, because it works, frankly. And the ethical issues aside not in time to get into that, but people that project a high degree of confidence, for instance a colleague or, a member of the opposite sex or whatever are they're incredibly attractive because in, in the world of desire in the world of the medic desire, they make powerful models because we don't know what to want.
Luke Burgis: And when somebody else presents themselves as knowing what to want with some high degree of confidence, we start to think what do they know that I don't know, like they seem to have their desires figured out in this, by the way, captain's unconscious. We don't actually usually have this dialogue in our heads doesn't sound like this, but we follow them or we pay attention to them.
Luke Burgis: We imitate them because they seem like they, they know what they want, whether they do or not. People can project confidence and be deeply insecure inside. And we can really, there's a lot of distortions that take place in this world that I call freshman Stan, like in high school, like everybody in high school is assuming that the other people have things figured out a lot to a much greater degree than they do.
Luke Burgis: And then I, this continues, I think, through life. So there's a game, right? Like a kind of, live, live action role playing in a way where everybody is trying to project a certain amount of confidence and, nobody quite knows, who's telling the truth or not.
Luke Burgis: And this is what I, I talk about in the book that, social media has contributed to this. Yeah. People present a curated version of themselves on social media. They make these statements and think about how much we actually have to go on. We don't know anything about the, especially like anonymous profiles, know anything about this person, other than the avatar and the things that they tweet.
Luke Burgis: And we can find ourselves conjuring up a whole image of their lifestyle and like how much money they have and all kinds of things. And probably none of it is actually true. Yeah.
Srini: It's funny. You mentioned desire in the selection community because I remember, at the beginning of it, I think almost all of us went there because we were just looking for a relationship.
Srini: We had struggled to meet women who were like, oh, I want to go friend. And you're taught that. That is the source of all of your problems. That's not what you should want. You should want to sleep with as many women as possible. And that's where everything goes off the rails.
Luke Burgis: It's a little, yeah.
Luke Burgis: It's like a pivot. You go in just wanting to be in a relationship, fulfilling relationship. And and you're told that in fact the relationship's not going to fulfill you, what will this mean with a lot of women, right? Yeah. Yeah. I was never in the seduction community. I just read the book.
Luke Burgis: And and I happen to know a couple of people that were, and I didn't know about mimetic medic desire at the time, but it's when one of the interesting things that I noticed and thinking back on it now is that a lot of the principles in my book can be used in positive ways or in manipulative, negative and destructive ways.
Luke Burgis: Let's just be clear about that, right? There are things in the book, if you know them, you can use them for good, you can use them for ill. And I noticed that a lot of people in that community almost had a tacit understanding or intuited the way that mimetic desire works, because they're like baked into a lot of the tactics that those pickup artists used.
Luke Burgis: Yeah.
Srini: So I think it's fascinating that you brought up social media because I saw over and over how many times you referenced it throughout the book. Cause social media really is a breeding ground for a mimetic desire. So how do people learn from models of desire, whose content they consume on social media without letting it go so far off the rails that those people basically are influencing every single choice and action and determining their values and distorting their values.
Srini: More importantly,
Luke Burgis: I think this has to do with boundaries, it has to do in that respect of and that's hard because the social media companies, aren't going to do that for you. That's not in their best interest to create any kind of boundaries. We have to somehow find a way to to separate I don't want to get too philosophical here.
Luke Burgis: And so we, we have to separate the content from the. Almost a metaphysical like trans that certain people or communities can put on us where they take on we invest them with with far more importance than we should. So there's a matter of filtering things out, like picking out what's good.
Luke Burgis: Being able to spot bullshit when we see it and just consuming in a really intentional way. I don't have that quite figured out yet. I don't know if there's any technology that will be built that will do the job for us. I just don't know if there's really any answer other than, I, and I referenced David Foster Wallace in the book who was concerned about this 20 years ago, like other than developing some serious machinery in our guts and awareness of what this stuff is doing to us that will help us to take the benefits.
Luke Burgis: Because I learned stuff on social media all the time. And I hear interesting things. I see things without without necessarily having to ingest the poison along with the good stuff. And that's really hard to do. And, if you figure that out, I'd love to come back on so you can tell me all about it.
Luke Burgis: Cause I don't,
Srini: I wish I could say I have, I'm a, I'm a Cal Newport fan, so I try to limit my use of social media. But yeah, I'm with you. That's one of those things. I think that's been a challenge for me, even as somebody who hosts the show, because what do I do?
Srini: I talk to people like you all day long and it took me a long time to stop benchmarking against my guests.
Luke Burgis: Yeah, I think we all, I think we all felt that, and not in our own ways, right? In our own domains of life whatever we're most deeply in and whatever we spend a lot of time in whatever world we're in.
Luke Burgis: Those people are our benchmarks. And it's funny how, like when you move away from an industry or you move away from a job or you're off of social media for a little while or whatever, isn't it funny, like how you look back on, on things or people or whatever it is. And it's like a no longer, it has quite as of a hold on you because you have perspective, it's like looking back on your life five years ago.
Luke Burgis: I'm like, wow. I really was like, so into that it's eye-opening, but I think like constantly baking in practices into my life that helped me get perspective. Like I try to take at least a week every year and go on a retreat. If those are the things that kind of, where I redraw my game plan, I learn a little bit more about myself.
Luke Burgis: I learned a little bit more about the kind of relationship I want to have to social media in this coming year. I've been on more than ever because of the book, and I'm going to reevaluate that probably when I do that retreat later this year. And I think whatever that is for you and for the listeners, I would say, it might look very different for you than it does for me, but whatever you need to do to get that space and that's critical.
Luke Burgis: Yeah.
Srini: I think that, that makes a perfect segue to where I want to wrap up. And that is with this idea of fulfillment stories, because I feel like there's so much in your book that it would take us four hours to actually go as deep as we want to. But the fulfillment story really struck me because I think it was a really interesting distinction between something that is fulfilling and something that's pleasurable.
Srini: And I felt like too often we tend to confuse the two. So can you talk about the three essential elements of a fulfillment story and how people apply that to their.
Luke Burgis: So a fulfillment story is a story about a time in your life. When you did something, you took some action, so it can't be passive, right? You acted to accomplish something or take on some project and it brought you a deep sense of satisfaction and fulfillment after you accomplished whatever that thing is.
Luke Burgis: And it was enduring. So it lasted to the point where, you're fulfilling the I dunno, a football game in high school, and it still brings you joy to think about it today. And that satisfaction was enduring. It lasted and I have encouraged readers because this is something I've been doing for 10 years.
Luke Burgis: When I was introduced to this exercise, I went back through my life and I found. A dozen of these fulfillment stories. And it took me a while to even remember some of them, shocking. Like I'd forgotten some things that happened to me early in my life that were deeply important to me. And isn't it strange that something that was deeply important to me was like covered up through the noise and the memetic noise that I hear in my daily life, but I recovered them and it was almost like recovering a part of myself.
Luke Burgis: And as I thought about these fulfillment stories and I began to think so what was it in particular that seems to be so satisfying to you, Luke, about achieving these particular kinds of things. And by the way, they don't have to be impressive to anybody else. The first time I did this, like my most successful company wasn't even on my list, it was literally a fifth grade science project, a couple of games that I had when I was an athlete, things like.
Luke Burgis: And I tried to put my finger on what it was that was really driving me and what it was that was so fulfilling to me. And I began to see some patterns and a promise, anybody that does this, you'll begin to see some patterns in your life too. And the reason that's important, I think having read a little bit of your book, right?
Luke Burgis: I would imagine surfing would be probably one of those things, right? And the patterns begin to emerge and it's an indication it's almost like a fingerprint begins to form like a fingerprint of your identity of your, what I call in the book, thick desires, as opposed to thin desires and thin desires, highly mimetic change on a dime thick desires seem to be the ones like built up like layers of rock in Zion, national park or something, where they're just solid. And even though they can get covered up by leaves and snow that blow away, there's just something like enduring there. And, all of us should really take the time to try to figure out what those desires.
Srini: Oh, wow. I feel like I could talk to you all day about this.
Luke Burgis: I will have to do it again sometime.
Luke Burgis: Maybe.
Srini: Definitely. I have to do it again. I have one last question for you which is how we finish all of our interviews at the unmistakable creative. What do you think it is that makes somebody or something unmistakable?
Luke Burgis: I think that it is discovering who they truly are in the sense of Michelangelo's sense of removing all the extraneous stuff.
Luke Burgis: And there, there is a sort of a unique identity. I'm, what they call and philosophy and a centralist. I think that, people do have an essential kind of creative design and part of life is about figuring out what that is and the people that are able to do the best job excavating the best job, removing all of the fluff, all of the non-essential things.
Luke Burgis: Are the ones that discover that sort of unmistakable unrepeatable core and they use it to, to make beautiful things and to leave a fingerprint on the world when they leave this world that only they could leave. And that's pretty awesome. And I truly believe that everybody has something that they are meant to do that only they can do.
Luke Burgis: And if they don't do it, it's lost to the world forever, which is a tremendous responsibility, but also pretty awesome to think that, we all have a really important mission.
Srini: Amazing. I can't thank you enough for taking the time to join us and share your story, your wisdom, and your insights with our listeners.
Srini: Where can people find out more about you the book, your work and everything that you're up to.
Luke Burgis: I so enjoyed this conversation. Thanks so much for having me on. They can read firstname.lastname@example.org. I published a sub stack at least once a week, a lot of stuff that didn't make it into the book. And you can find me on social media, too.
Srini: Awesome. And for everybody listening, we will wrap the show with that.