Mimetic Theory – Thou Shalt Not Desire

It is human nature to learn by imitation. When a newborn is beginning to learn to speak, it repeats after it’s parents. Even adults learning a new language in class would be told by the instructor, “Repeat after me”, using imitation as a technology to learn.

I’m on a path of mastering how I learn or essentially, learning how to learn. As a developer, it’s been my greatest tool. Teaching myself to code has not been easy, it’s actually a very slow and painful process. Learning is painful.

One thing that’s helped me very well in this process is building projects that other people have built. Watching videos of others programming. And the most effective, pair programming where I watch a developer write the initial parts of the code, and I copy them but insert my own functions, variables, and instances.

Memetic Theory was developed by a French-American theorist named René Girard, but this concept dates back many centuries.

“The instinct of imitation is planted in man from childhood, one difference between him and other animals being that he is the most imitative of living creatures.”

~ Aristole

To simplify it, before I dive in, think of when you use “memes”. One of the most famous is the Michael Jordan Crying Face Meme. crying-jordan-tv-01-960x640-2

This, as comical as it is, is a form of memetics. The definition of a meme is basically any behavior, idea or attribute that spreads from one person to another.

CXNUbG5UoAEHlyY.jpg

Though this is the comical and jest aspect of memetics, Rene Girard theory talked about the destructive nature of memetics on humans as well. When our basic needs of food, water, and shelter are met, we look for others to find our desires.

Memetics now manifests in our lives in the form of jealousy, envy, and greed. We begin to want what others want, and do what others do. When people see an athlete or celebrity wearing a brand, they also want to wear that brand. We call them brand ambassadors, but we might as well dub it mimetic marketing.

It’s human nature, ingrained in us since our birth. It’s instinctive. If you put two toddlers in a room full of toys, they will end up fighting over one toy, just because the other has it. We take this attribute into adulthood and you see bodily harm being caused all over material things.

This was such an issue, that God commanded Moses to inscribe it in stone, as one of the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt not covet”, or, desire.

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

~ Exodus 20:17

Yet every day, we break this commandment. We want what our friends have. We want to dress like other people, talk like other people, and in this day of social media, literally live other people’s lives.

As innocent as it may be, this fundamental human flaw often leads to violence. It’s what caused Cain to kill Abel, Oedipus to kill his father and marry his mother, and the many countless instances of the desire creating conflict, and memetic leading to violence.

Most of us can mediate our desires and it prevents us from it leading to violence. But that doesn’t make it any less destructive to have those desires, to begin with. To end our suffering, we must end our desire.

It may feel stagnant, but a boat in the water still moves with the current. The universe is moving and our Earth is spinning. Being still, is the greatest effort necessary to move forward.

Peace be upon you all.

 

About the Author O.K. Arowolaju

Youth Minister, Product Manager

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