25 Anti-Mimetic Tactics for Living a Counter-Cultural Life

Sometimes going with the flow is nice. Nobody wants to be the disagreeable, anti-mimetic guy in a group that makes it impossible to gain consensus among a group of friends about where to grab a beer or a bite to eat. And I consider it a positive thing to be infected by the calm, even lazy, disposition of a non-workaholic friend if that helps you chill on Sunday and make good on the day of rest.

The word ‘mimetic’ was coined by the French social theorist René Girard. It is related to the word ‘mimic’—the human propensity to mimic what the people around them are doing. But Girard’s finding went deeper: it’s not only what they do, but what they want that we also mimic. We adopt their desires as our own, unconsciously—and then convince ourselves that our desires are entirely our own. He called this mimetic desire, and I’ve written about it extensively in my book Wanting.

Below are some of the ways that we might cultivate some ‘anti-mimetic’ habits so that we’re not constantly struggling to keep up in the hamster wheel of desire that most of the people around us are running on—and reinforcing the wheel for one another. I hope some of these tactics will help you step off and chart your own course a bit more easily.

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  1. My morning alarms are set at 5:34 and 5:47. When I tell someone I’m going to meet them somewhere I use a precise time and don’t round up to the nearest 15 minute interval. This behavior causes my wife to question my sanity on occasion. I ask her “why does your alarm have to be 5:30? Why does breaking from the pattern of quarter hour intervals make you uncomfortable?” She…does not like that line of questioning. But she also can’t explain why everyone does it the same way.

    As far as your point regarding writing to please, well, I think you can go even more wide than that. One should both stop writing and speaking to please. Most of cable “news”, talk radio, and Twitter are filled with people, both left and right, who are terrified of their audience.

  2. Avatar for Zenzei Zenzei says:

    If you ever want to make sure someone actually gets on the phone with you when you need to steal some time - ask them for 7 or 13 minutes of their time. It is such an oddly specific number that people are more likely to jump on. Everyone knows that everyone knows that five or fifteen minutes means 30 minutes or an hour. :slight_smile:

  3. Hi @Luke_Burgis - Thanks for contributing - I liked your article so much, I just ordered it (Hardback of course) from the local book store.

    A rough anti-mimetic idea for your consideration - it always seemed to me (with a US perspective) that taking a semester or year of your college experience abroad is a big anti-mimetic indicator…lots of your classmates don’t want to miss football games or parties or fraternity/sorority events and never experience figuring out another country/university/language mostly on their own.

    What do you think?

  4. Avatar for Hongse Hongse says:

    In 1984, David Reynolds wrote “playing ball on running water,” a book centered on the life work of Dr. Shoma Morita. Morita’s princples are the base for a Japanese system for constructive living (a method for overcoming neurosis and its symptoms). At its core is the fundamental observation that "Life is Attention… Purposeful attention (marshalling one’s energy) focused is a powerful force. Thus, capturing peoples’ energy to attend to and act upon a narrative is a very high stakes game. Breaking from the narrative is fearful (both real and imaged consequences) which is why most people don’t .
    Morita thought fits very well with the themes in this post.

  5. #13, Are comments on an ET Forum considered social media?

  6. Avatar for Pat_W Pat_W says:

    To me, forums and social media are quite different. Forums invite deeper though and discuss. Social media is disorganized and pings around like popcorn popping without a lid.

  7. Luke,

    This was a really invaluable piece and I am grateful that you shared it here at ET.

    It made me conscious of the few anti mimetic actions that I already undertake, without realising it. It also highlighted a few that I can achieve with some conscious effort. I doubt that I could achieve all 25 and that’s OK.

    What it has done is that it has taken a highlighter out over the areas of my life that are mimetic. It’s connected the dots between those behaviour and thoughts / feelings that are toxic, that I’ve always known about and yet have been unable to shake.

  8. Interesting article and Wow, just finished reading the Women Caught in Adultery link. Mentally exhausting.

    The idea of scapegoating to bring community together, Pharmakos as it relates to Pharmacy, de-escalation etc. How all that relates to the widening gyre. Is finding a Pharmakos (victim) one possible path to healing/closing the gap? What does the victim look like when an entire country needs healing? The metaphorical stoning that goes on via social media. Phew

    This article is going to require multiple rereads and a lot of pondering.

  9. I do the same thing as far as the little bland formalities of the “how was your weekend?” variety of banter. I always give someone the chance to withdraw their questions if they are only doing so out of habit or adherence to the social contract. I also never give a real answer to the question “what do you do?” because honestly I don’t want to talk about my work. If I expect to see this person again and care about the future relationship I’ll simply say “I do money stuff, it’s boring” and move on. Most of the time I’ll give a very obviously absurd answer—‘I’m a shepard’—and that will indicate that the topic is not on the menu.

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