“Wanting” by Luke Burgis

Book Notes

The Notepod 19: “Wanting” by Luke Burgis #

Talking about “Wanting: The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life” by Luke Burgis.


Wanting: Naval on desire #

“Desire is a contract that you make with yourself to be unhappy until you get what you want,” he said. Ravikant is drawing on the perennial understanding of numerous spiritual traditions about the link between desire and suffering: desire is always for something we feel we lack, and it causes us to suffer.

You can focus on what you lack or you can focus on what you have.

Not much in between.

This is why gratitude journals are recommended so often. And why the guidance is often to just write down small things, the trope example always being morning coffee.

But I am grateful for my morning coffee, in its different forms.

At the same time I can see some wanting when I think of my various morning coffee routines.

I miss the Upper West apartment where I first set up an iOS shortcut to order an iced quad from the Starbucks around the corner.

I miss the midtown apartment where my now-wife and I would take our Dunkin Donuts refillable cups to get them refilled.

I miss the East Village apartment where I would alternate grabbing a coffee from the corner store or the fancier place with terrible paper straws.

And when I lived in New York I would miss Philz Coffee, which now I can get a few minutes away. But I’d have to drive.

So yeah, I want that to be closer.

But I’m also grateful for my mornings pouring a cup of bottled cold brew with Booster at my feet, glancing at my wife rubbing her eyes walking to the bathroom, chugging the glass, saying “ok! let’s go.” and heading out the door for a walk.

What are you wearing? (Reading Log: “Wanting” by Luke Burgis) #

Wrote this thread about a short exercise for anyone to start thinking about mimetic desire.

Some additional notes, just going through each of the items in the sketch.

  • A Visualize Value hat — Bought this because I needed a hat and also just like Jack Butcher’s work and the community he’s built. And there’s some connection here to the book itself because Jack collaborated with Luke Burgis on some visualizations to celebrate the book launch. For years, he worked in advertising agencies, which roughly have a sole purpose of manufacturing desire.

Some of us like to think we recognize advertising and are above being manipulated. But you can advertise to that target as well. From Wanting:

The goal is getting people to think, “Oh, those lemming-like, silly people in the commercial.” The moment a person exempts themselves in their own mind from the very thing they see all around them is the moment when they are most vulnerable. As David Foster Wallace pointed out, “Joe Briefcase,” sitting on his couch watching the Pepsi commercial alone, thinks he has transcended the mass of plebeians that Pepsi must be advertising to—and then he goes out and buys more Pepsi, for reasons that he thinks are different.

We’re all the same: we want to be different.

  • Uniqlo oversized pocket t-shirt — Bought this because it’s comfortable. I bought like 7 of them because I don’t want to think about what I wear on most days. Yes, the whole uniform thing. It gets a little more meta, because I don’t want people to think that I do it to try to mimic Steve Jobs in some way.

I didn’t go full turtleneck. From Wanting:

Elizabeth Holmes, the former CEO of the now-defunct biotech company Theranos, openly imitated Steve Jobs. She wore black turtlenecks and hired every Apple designer she could find. But imagine if a junior employee at Theranos started mimicking Holmes, walking around in black turtlenecks, sporting blue contact lenses, mimicking Holmes’s intense stare, even speaking in Holmes’s low pitch and dry style. What do you think would happen? They’d lose their job.

  • Lululemon joggers — Again, comfort first. So I say. But there are plenty of much much cheaper pants that are comfortable. These also look good. Another thing is that a decade ago I definitely didn’t think “I need men’s pants, I should go to Lululemon.”

From a CNBC article about lululemon in 2019:

“We have very low brand awareness with men,” CEO Calvin McDonald told analysts during a meeting in New York on Wednesday. “The opportunity isn’t just to be known,” he said, “but also being understood” as a brand that men — not just women — can shop.

And from Men’s Health:

Initially, I doubted whether such unicorn pants existed. Ultimately, I discovered my new favorite pair: the ABC Pant Classic from lululemon. When the pants were recommended to me by a colleague, I was skeptical. Doesn’t lululemon make yoga pants? But it turns out they have a really sharp, functional-yet-classy menswear line and after wearing the the ABC Pant for a full week, I’m now a lululemon convert.

  • Darn Tough socks — Again, comfort. I knew my 5th and 6th pair would be comfortable because I had a few already. But what about the first pair? I probably went online and searched for comfortable socks on Amazon, looked at customer reviews, then searched Reddit for confirmation. In this case of footwear, I wasn’t following the lead of an elite athlete. I’m slowly replacing a drawer full of Nike Elite Basketball socks, which are also very comfortable, just hot for California. But I also would sometimes overthink wearing those out, because I’m not particularly good at basketball. Which shouldn’t matter, but mimetic desire is kind of all about taking things that shouldn’t matter and making them matter.
  • Nike Metcons — Working backwards: I want to be healthy so I try to work out so I want to try the thing where you treat yourself to nicer workout clothes as motivation so I bought Nike shoes but wanted shoes with a low heel to toe drop because I think it’s supposed to be better for some leg movements but mostly I learned that from blogs and podcasts I listened to when I was really into Paleo (and lightly into CrossFit for the 1-2 months before lightly injuring myself) but didn’t verify it beyond that by reading any primary sources (not that I’d understand them anyway) and I got the black and white color because it matches with most things and matching matters because I don’t want to go out in completely unmatched clothes but I also don’t want to go out too color coordinated but but but…

And if you don’t want to match, you can choose not to match—the same way as everyone else. From Wanting:

When mimetic rivals are caught in a double bind, obsessed with each other, they go to any length to differentiate themselves. Their rival is a model for what not to desire. For a hipster, the rival is popular culture—he eschews anything popular and embraces what he believes to be eclectic, but he does so according to new models. According to Girard, “the effort to leave the beaten paths forces everyone into the same ditch.”

Next thing I want: to stop overthinking.

Done Well x Fulfilling #

From “Wanting” by Luke Burgis

The storytelling process that I use involves sharing stories about times in your life when you took an action that ended up being deeply fulfilling. Today it’s one of the first questions that I ask in any job interview because it helps cut through the thin stuff and goes straight to the essence of the person. “Tell me about a time in your life when you did something well and it brought you a sense of fulfillment,” I ask.

I just spent the last couple hours going through old posts on this site and adding books to the Book Notes section.

Activerecall co book notes
#First version of this book notes page#

I can’t say it was deeply fulfilling or done well but I feel some satisfaction. Through the past, maybe, 15 years I’ve rolled up my sleeves and written some PHP and CSS to hack on the WordPress installation of whatever site I was writing on at the time was.

Often times the things that have been deeply fulfilling have been side projects. Other times it has been work projects. I have noticed in the past few years that often times prototyping and demo’ing to teammates can be more fulfilling than digging into the details required for a public release.

These things are challenging in different ways.

It’s not an original comparison, but the past couple hours really felt like digital gardening.

And relating this to the mimetic desire topic of “Wanting”—I’ve always wanted to have a book notes page like Derek Sivers has. He continues living a lifestyle that matches up with values I want to have.

Not all mimicking is bad, so maybe this small step of making a book notes page and cleaning things up is a step in the right direction.

Wanting: Pre-read and first impressions #

I have a better understanding of what I want than I did this morning.

Not specifically what I want. But the concept of wanting things at all. All from the first couple chapters of Luke Burgis’s “Wanting: The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life”.

Summary: I want things but should probably spend time considering why and where those desires come from.

I’d love to read books, listen to podcasts, and draw notes all day. But I also like income that comes in through my job.

Someday I’d want to make those things intersect.

But why?

(I’m guessing the book won’t tell me the answer directly, but I’m hoping it’ll give me some guidance to frame that properly at all.)

Presumably I’d have more free time to… fill with more desires more likely.

  • How’d you find out about “Wanting”, the book?

Luke Burgis was interviewed on Ryan Holiday’s podcast. I checked his book out on Amazon and remembered seeing the cover in the past.

Ok the episode they started talking about mimetic theory and Peter Thiel and Girard.

Now here’s where some of my cogs started turning.

I was in a Write of Passage breakout room and someone mentioned their enthusiasm for Girard and their enthusiasm for another member’s writings about Girard.

No first name mentioned, so I knew (1) this “Girard” person was important and (2) the rest of the cohort is much smarter than me.

After that, I’d notice his name mentioned more and more (like how you notice VW bugs when you’re playing the game where you punch someone in the arm when you see a VW bug), often in discussions about Thiel.

Which all just reminds me of the “That Funke!!!” scene in Arrested Development. Spread the name around the water cooler.

So back then I thought “okay I’ll check out some Girard stuff” and did and saw how dense it was and quickly thought “okay I won’t check out some Girard stuff”.

Back to my comfort zone of books mentioning the marshmallow study.

I was somewhat relieved listening to the Daily Stoic episode because they talk about how unapproachable Girard’s writing can be. A lot of it isn’t meant to be taken at face value.

So I was happy to hear that Burgis wrote this book with people like me in mind. Interested in learning more about memetic theory but looking for some more approachable material.

Some random ramblings before I head off to sleep (a need, not a want—though 8 hours of restful scientifically optimized sleep does creep into the “want” side of things…)

  • Ryan Holiday and Luke Burgis discuss book success. The failure in the process happens when you start thinking about how a reader might dislike or attack your writing. Success in the process is laying out the truth as you see it as clearly as possible.
  • Still, authors of modern philosophy books aren’t immune to mimetic desires. Of course it’d be great to be a New York Times bestseller. Ryan doesn’t go as far as to say he was jealous, but he does make the comparison between his book “Conspiracy” and “Bad Blood”. One of them was a runaway hit you’ve heard of. The other is an excellent book with my childhood hero Hulk Hogan as the primary pawn.
  • Similar to Daniel Kahneman (who seems to go by Danny the way teammates called Kobe 1-syllable “Cobe”) saying he still falls for cognitive traps but might be slightly better at recognizing it’s happening — Burgis hopes to help us understand our desires better, not get rid of them entirely. That’s a fruitless exercise, because at some point you’ll _want_ to _not want_.

Looking forward to reading the rest.