10 Anti-Mimetic Ideas for 2023
Travel, Cooking, Reading, Podcast-Listening, and more—A Christmas Special
One of the most popular editions in this newsletter’s short history is the article “25 Anti-Mimetic Ideas”, which I published last December—so I figured I’d start a tradition and share 10 more as we prepare to head into a new year together.
10 More Anti-Mimetic Ideas
Here they are, in no particular order.
10. Create Anti-Memes.
An anti-meme is described by the SCP Foundation like this: “Think of any piece of information which you wouldn't share with anybody, like passwords, taboos and dirty secrets. Or any piece of information which would be difficult to share even if you tried: complex equations, very boring passages of text, large blocks of random numbers, and dreams…” In a world where every social media post and artistic work seems designed to be meme-able—to spread by generating the maximum amount of mimesis—there is a special place for things that are designed for the opposite: anti-memes. Do you remember the little journals that some of us had as kids, which came with a tiny key? We’d write something and lock it up. We’d write something because the very act of writing it and recording it for ourselves (or to keep it between us and our closest friends), had value. Does any content have value in itself—value that is not to be found in its reach—anymore? I say rage against this system and create a few new anti-memes in your adult life.
9. Read and Listen Differently—and get a library card.
The classic book by Mortimer Adler, How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading, is required reading in my view. But it probably needs to be updated to include other things now: “How to listen to a 3-hour podcast”, for example, and roadmaps to the intelligent consumption of other, new forms of content. There are very few non-fiction books that I read every word of; most of them are easily summarizable in 10 bullet points (I try to avoid buying these books altogether). But the ones that do have content that needs development (Girard’s great work, Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, certainly falls into this category), always benefit from being in dialogue with other books. In other works, these books don’t exist alone. So what? Well, I’ll often make a relationship map (sometimes just in my own mind, sometimes on paper) of how one book is in dialogue with others, and then I’ll jump back and forth between different books in that ecosystem in order to most fully develop the thoughts, since one book does not usually pull all of the threads on its own. The same can be said for audio content. I’ll go on 100 podcasts and talk about largely the same things because I realize that it’s important to introduce new ideas to a new audience in small steps; however, I’ve often wondered why every podcast operates on a stand-alone basis. If you apply my “relational books” principle to podcasts, you can begin to imagine something like an “Anthology of Soundbites” around an idea—various segments of different conversations on different shows that are all in dialogue with one another (perhaps without knowing it). Now creating this by hand would be an arduous task, but it would be a good use for an A.I. tool… (Any builders here?). Lastly, I mentioned in the title of this tactic to get a Library Card. Here’s why: I have noticed a striking increase in the number of interesting people getting advanced degrees in Library Science. They have often helped me, in my research, make discoveries that I never would’ve made on my own—things that no piece of software could help me with. I have come to the (maybe contrarian) belief that the importance of physical libraries will increase, not diminish, over the next 100 years. It was, after all, monastic libraries that ended up preserving most of the ancient wisdom that we now take for granted for hundreds of years while the rest of the world fell apart. Do we think we’re better than that?
8. Read Affective Books.
Okay, one more point on books before I move on to other things. As longtime readers will know by now, I believe we live in a Gnostic age. Everything, especially all value, is framed as valuable “information”, and the acquisition of knowledge has become the most important form of acquisition (one driven by acquisitive mimesis, I might add)—knowledge that saves us from the misery of the masses, or from misinformation, or from whatever other form of modern death. (One feature of the early Gnostics, in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, was the idea that Christ had communicated secret knowledge to only a select few, and members had to move up the ranks in this acquisition of knowledge until they achieved enlightenment—not unlike modern-day Scientology. People behave like this all the time. Much of the early crypto ecosystem was built on “white papers” that often made no sense but acted as talismans of some new knowledge which would unlock untold wealth and world-transforming cultural change. To live anti-mimetically in a Gnostic age, I actively seek out books that speak less to the mind and more to the heart. I read plenty of intellectual books, but I can’t live on them alone. I always have at least one or two books on my “active reading” bookshelf that I would classify as affective reading, or spiritual reading. These are books that activate me emotionally (but not in superficial ways), or which help me to contemplate the great mysteries of faith, or to come into contact with deeper levels of humanity in a manner which allows me to turn off my hyperactive mind for a bit and feel something different in my bones. Dietrich von Hildebrand wrote a classic and important work on the affective sphere of life called The Heart; John Henry Newman also spoke to this in his classic maxim, “cor ad cor loquitur”, which means “heart speaks to heart.” Who is doing that anymore? One of my goals here is to try to do that in my own writing from time to time (i.e. the latter parts of last week’s essay). So I hope that I do do that for some of you. And I am also constantly on the lookout for my own food to eat. For many years, I misunderstood the lyrics in Mumford & Sons’ song “The Cave” as saying “the heart has left no food for you to eat” (the actual lyrics are “the harvest left no food for you to eat”). It resonated deeply with me. Aren’t misunderstood song lyrics great? There is sometimes more truth in our mis-knowing than in our knowing.
7. Cooking with No Recipes.
I enjoy cooking. I’ve often dreamed of writing a book called (something like) “The Entrepreneur’s Cookbook.” No, it wouldn’t be about weekly meal planning of plant-based meat dishes and Soylent. The better title, I suppose, would be “Cooking Like an Entrepreneur”—or “Cooking as an Entrepreneurial Act”. Because I can think of few activities that more beautifully demonstrate the required interplay between imitation and innovation. Recipes are not meant to be followed; they’re meant to be baselines, guidelines, roadmaps to a certain flavor profile. Cooking becomes fun when you combine 4-5 different recipes, or look at one and decide to go in a completely different direction but draw some inspiration from a base ingredient. Even better is cooking with no recipes at all, after one has learned all of the basic skills of the kitchen. You try new things knowing that there’s a 50/50 chance it could go south. That’s half of the fun. (Btw: I don’t know if I necessarily recommend my approach with baking quite as much since it’s a much more precise art—but the number of things I’ve learned in the kitchen by going off piste are too great to enumerate, and it’s even led to new ideas outside of the kitchen that I incorporate into writing, building, and teaching.
6. Pick Travel Destinations by Sight and Intuition.
During the summer of 2019, my wife and I spent a couple of months in Collioure, France. It’s where I wrote the first couple of chapters of Wanting. We knew we wanted to be somewhere in southern France because I had to meet a few people there (an interview with chef Sebastien Bras, among other things)—but we wanted to stay somewhere interesting that didn’t necessarily pull up on any “Top 10” lists, or which showed up on Google searches or in travel magazines where we’d be paying inflated hotel and restaurant prices. We found our French sea-side town because we did what we often do when we want to find a new destination—we literally pulled up a digital map and used Google earth to find geography and terrain that looked interesting and met the required characteristics (close to water, etc). We scanned the entire shoreline of France from Spain to the north, and then zeroed in on the small towns that looked like they might fit the bill simply based on the number of streets and the size of the commercial center that was visible on a quick zoom-in. It turns out that Collioure is very popular with European tourists, but not so much with Americans. And admittedly, it’s on a few lists today. At the time, though, one thing was clear: we never would’ve found it or traveled there and rented an AirBNB near the water had we relied on the usual methods; asking friends and searching algorithmic suggestions. The world is a vast and beautiful place, and sometimes leading with the map and with the geography itself can help one discover places beyond the artificial digital boundaries—simply by looking.
5. Randomize Some Choices.
Randomness is not well understood. In a hyper-rational age, we don’t like to think that our choices are not our own—when we discover something good, we want to take credit for it. But I wonder if we don’t need to actively put a little randomness in our lives when it comes to certain choices. One of my favorite things to do is to walk into an antique store or vintage shop and grab a vinyl record at random out of the wooden bins. I give zero thought to it. I reach my hand in and I take whatever I pull. Sure, I might also look through the bins afterwards to see if there’s anything interesting that I might also like—but introducing some degree of randomness into some of our choices is an easy way to break out of staid patterns of choice and popularity and to expose yourself to unexpected surprises. Obviously, some of the record picks turn out to be blah—but it’s an extremely low-risk move that has nothing but upside. What are some other things that randomness could be used for? (I hope to have a robust comments section on this point!)