January 19, 2009
Get On The Bus; or the Mimetic Desire for Democracy
I’m pretty amazed by just how many of my friends are going to the inauguration tomorrow. It helps that I live a short train ride away in Philadelphia — Obama himself came through on the way to Washington — but I think it’s still testimony to how much enthusiasm and goodwill there is towards the new administration.
The thing is, though, when people talk about it, they tend to talk about Pres.-Elect Obama* only once you’re pretty deep into the conversation. This Facebook exchange is pretty typical:
- [Friend X]: is Inaugurating. Or at least legitimizing the Inauguration by observing with sincerity, excitement, and dedication (despite the cold).
- [Friend-of-Friend Y]: You in DC? [Friend-of-Friend Z] and I are masochistically hitting the Mall tomorrow. Yesterday was pretty amazing.
- [Friend X]: We are here! What are your nighttime plans? We should attempt to run into each other perhaps? [Z] has my #. And also, it is VERY COLD. I guess that’s just how much I love democracy.
When was the last time you heard twenty-year-olds talking about how much they love democracy — and more important, viewing the ostentatious displays of democracy as something they want to get in on?
There’s a theory with a fancy name called “mimetic desire.” It boils down to this. You may want something or someone, but sometimes you want that something that someone else wants. I was never big into the “cult-of-personality” diagnosis of Obama supporters, but if there’s any truth to it, I think it stems from this desire to get in on Obama’s big vision of what democracy is all about. Our love for him is inseparable from our sense that we want what he wants.