Mimetic Desire

Mimetic desire is the unconscious imitation of others, such as parents and peers, whose desire signals for us what objects are desirable. That is, desire always has it’s source in the other, making it acquisitive – always seeking to possess the object of the other’s desire. Thus mimetic desire quickly leads to competition and conflict and is perceived, consciously or not, as a threat to the peace and stability of any community.

Many of our cultural norms, our social institutions arise from society’s need to control and redirect desire and the potential conflict arising from our competition over objects into safer channels.

Instinctually, mimetic desire makes sense. Most of us can quickly identify examples in every day life: children competing over a toy. But don’t assume you’ve got the full picture. While at first it appears that our desire is for the object, Girard is clear, our desire is not aimed at the object itself, but at the mediator (the person who possesses the object). So while the elderly women may want her husband’s attention, it is not long that she loses sight of him and becomes fixated on the young women, the rival for his attention. In the process she forgets the original object, her husband. The same is true for both men: they appear to desire the young women, but before long become fixated on each other.

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