Frank Chen

Frank Chen

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mimesis, differentiation, competition

I recently finished a book called "Wanting" by Luke Burgis, which was a pretty comprehensive riff on Rene Girard's philosophies surrounding mimetic models of desire.

The basic premise is that most of what we desire is copied from models around us and not intrinsically motivated. Carried out for long periods of time, this leaves us unfulfilled, eventually culminating into two states: competition with your peers that destroys both parties and/or the realization that our lives are not what we actually want.

What's interesting is that it's not usually about the actual value of the resources that we pine after, it's about what we perceive as valuable according to others. This can run the gamut from awards, materialistic possessions, status games, and relationships. What others around us deem valuable rubs off on us.

These "others" are the external and internal models we unconsciously choose to imitate.

External models are akin to celebrities, there's something that separates you from them - wealth, power, status, something inextricably unachievable. Because we perceive them to be on a different "level", we don't perceive them to share the same resources like we do with our peers. Internal models are those resource-sharing peers. We exist at the same level. If we don't manage our relationship to internal models correctly, we end up playing zero-sum games and competing for the same resources.

Sounds bad, right? A younger version of me would've seen this as more black and white, as something to "overcome", but as I've grown older and many of the answers to my questions have become "well, it depends", I've realized that it's something we just have to be constantly aware of. There's really no getting rid of it.

Mimetic competition is especially visible throughout social media. It's very easy to desire what you see on people's feeds. I see and feel this routinely in the sport of jiujitsu, so much to the point that I have to put distance between my models and myself (this means killing my Instagram feed, etc). I have to routinely ask myself what it is that I want and can give back to the sport, not determined by my peers around me. This helps me to stay on track and feel like a normal human being.

Because I can't completely get rid of the feeling that I'm in competition with my peers, I have to manage it. This management is critical, not only for my own health, but also for the proliferation of the sport. The faster I can understand that above all else, my teammates are just as integral to my own growth as the personal attention I give myself, the faster everyone grows.

These concepts transcend to communities outside of jiujitsu. Look out for others, listen, and be communicative. What are they working on? What are you working on? How can you work together to each achieve the goals you've set out? Understanding intention and separating yourself from imitation goes a long way to create unique, thriving relationships outside of the mimetic loop.

There is a time and place for competition, but generally, you want to compete to be the best version of yourself, not to simply be the best. Even the best are first and foremost, the best versions of themselves. If you compete with others you ultimately create an environment of zero-sum games where only one can win, be the best, or be a winner. Competing with yourself means to develop your own uniqueness, your own style. You're innovating, and when you're innovating, you help others innovate as well.

Differentiation moves us forward, not competition. Seek to understand yourself first, then others.