The last two weeks we discussed how the opposite of Purpose is boredom and the opposite of Mastery is rigidity. Finally, the opposite of Autonomy is mimesis.
“Desire is a virus that mimics other desires." - René Girard
I was surprised when I arrived at Columbia that most of my classmates already knew what career they wanted. I thought you went to college to find out what you wanted. Actually, that’s a lie. I had no idea why I even went to college except that’s what you did after high school.
By the time my sophomore year rolled around, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do after school, but my friends all started looking for banking internships. I didn’t know what an internship was. I didn’t really know what banking was. But I knew I wanted a banking internship.
This, in a nutshell, is mimesis. We get our desires by echoing the desires of others. The problem is when you fulfill someone else’s desires, you’re still empty.
And that memetic desire paved the way for the rest of my life. I got an unpaid internship after my sophomore year and a paid internship after my junior year. I wound up having an eighteen-year finance career, which looking back, was due to the college I wound up at.
And, in case you think that was part of a master plan, I went to Columbia because my seventeen-year-old self wanted to go to school in a city, New York is the best city, and Columbia is the best school in that city.
You can’t get less autonomous than that.
Autonomy is doing what you want. Mimesis subverts and warps what you want. Since you don’t actually know what you want, your autonomy is in question.
Now, it’s not possible to not be mimetic. If you choose to do things because people don’t want to do them, you’re still letting other people dictate your desires.
Between greed and jealousy, we all want things that other people have. We have to accept the reality that we do not choose what we want. We can only try to be aware of what guides our opinions.
The key is to be as aware as possible of where our desires come from. This allows us to ask the question, “Do I really want this?”
Mindfulness meditation is one way to raise your awareness, but other self-reflective techniques are also effective. While I haven’t come close to achieving autonomy, I’ve noticed that my level of FOMO has gone down considerably.
1️⃣ Colin and Samir investigate plagiarism. The conclusion is that transformation is good, but copying is not. Use others as inspiration, not as a template.
When you make things based on quantified results, it changes the work you do. It changes the way you do work.
Creation is seeing a pattern and filling in the blanks. Imitation is seeing a pattern and copying it.
🔗 The Copy and Paste Culture of YouTube
2️⃣ Sasha Chapin writes how surrender is “relaxing into the ongoing motion of what is already occurring.”
Realize how much of your perceived agenda is designed to serve an outdated story about who you might have been, and what you might have wanted, in some other hypothetical existence. This can narrow down your to-do list a lot. You can suddenly realize that four-fifths of what you had planned to do in life was completely irrelevant.
3️⃣ Over the course of seven lectures, Johnathon Bi and David Perell go over the details and insights of René Girard’s Mimetic Theory.
4️⃣ Infinite Loops, hosted by Jim O’Shaughnessy is one of my favorite podcasts. Here, he interviews Will Storr, author of The Status Game. They talk about how “our unconscious desire for status ultimately drives our behaviour.”
🔗 Infinite Loops - Will Storr - The Status Game
Quote of the Week:
“Listen. Every time you’re given a choice between disappointing someone else and disappointing yourself, your duty is to disappoint that someone else. Your job, throughout your entire life, is to disappoint as many people as it takes to avoid disappointing yourself.” - Glennon Doyle
You can find more of my writing at chr.iswong.com.
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Leaving you in peace,
Loved this piece, Chris. I was on autopilot a lot and perhaps some of it was peer pressure. I'm still not there at the point where I can be fully aware of where a desire comes from. Btw, my uncle is a prof at Columbia :)
What if I want to be like you? 🤠