Archive for July 5th, 2021

“I want what she’s having.” London lauds a new book on the nature of our wanting.

Monday, July 5th, 2021
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The movie that inspired the meme: “When Harry Met Sally”

We want what others want. It’s a law as old as mankind, going all the way back to Eden. It was the subject of René Girard‘s corpus, and the French theorist’s work inspired Luke Burgis’s new book Wanting. “Movements of desire are what define our world. Economists measure them, politicians poll them, businesses feed them,” he writes.

René Girard began with literature, and moved to anthropology, religions, history, and more. Burgis brings his lens to a new domain: the world of entrepreneurship, of business, of technology, of international finance. Christina Patterson writes about it her review, “I Want What She’s Having” in the Times of London review yesterday.

From The Times review:

The key issue, he says, is “What do you want?” and “What have you helped others want?” The answer shapes our lives and our life satisfaction, but we are, he argues, fighting some strong tides. Powerful figures have always changed our desires. Now we don’t just have PR Svengalis and the influence of peers and celebrities such as, say, the Kardashians. We have the tech giants stoking our desires every time we glance at our phone. And the cycles of “thin desires” they are generating are creating division and stress.

Burgis is open about his key ideas coming from Girard, but he fleshes them out witty stories, personal anecdotes and research that bring them alive. His prose is punchy. His anecdotes are entertaining. There are even witty cartoons.

Writing from an entrepreneur’s perspective

It concludes:

It isn’t “Celebristan”, the world of celebrities and influencers, we have to worry about, he says. It’s “Freshmanistan”, the world of models from inside our lives who can drive us to destructive cycles of envy, exhaustion and distress. We should learn, he says, to pursue our “thick desires”, like Sébastien Bras, the chef who asked to be removed from the Michelin guide because he wanted to see more of his family and do things his way.

“Part philosophical tract, part self-help guide, Wanting is a thought-provoking book. It’s also a deeply moral one. Like many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, Burgis wants to create a better world. The ideas he presents, and his suggestions for action, seem to offer a more realistic hope than most.

Read the whole thing (warning: paywall) here. And you can read an excerpt from the book, “The Joy of Hate Watching” here.