NFTs are mimetic

Buy the rumor, sell the news

A few days ago I tweeted this:

It’s worth unpacking a bit, since the connection between Bernard Arnuault’s luxury goods and JPEGs is not immediately evident. Arnault runs LVMH, the world’s pre-eminent luxury goods retailer. He caters to luxurious desire. Desire is mimetic: if your friend desires clothing from a particular brand, you likely will too (even if you claim you’re resistant to marketing). If all of your friends shop at Whole Foods, you likely do to.

Mimetic Desire

A French theorist, René Girard, came up with the notion of mimetic desire, from which we get the term mimesis. Peter Thiel studied with Girard at Stanford, and based his investment in Facebook, in part, on Girard’s theories of mimetic desire.

And mimetic desire is powerful stuff. Here’s Luke Burgis writing about Girard’s conception of desire:

A desire, on the other hand, is an object that we pursue for which there is no instinctual basis. When it comes to desire, we don’t have a built-in mechanism (like instincts) to help guide us toward wanting one thing more than another. Which new model of car should we buy? What should we major in at college? What style of clothes should we wear? The more abstract the ting is, the more mimetic desire usually comes into play. Our central nervous system certainly isn’t going to give us any clear or intelligible answers.

People, in other words, imitate other people. This is the foundation of religion. There is a reason that religion, with its associated iconography, has survived for thousands of years. Cultural affiliation and mimesis are extraordinarily powerful human instincts.

How this is all connected to NFTs

People have a desire to connect with other people, and one way they do so is to imitate other people. If you are brought up in a certain religious sect, you likely imitate the rites of your peers. If you are brought up rooting for a certain sports fan, you likely imitate the rites of your peers. If you associate with a certain demographic, such as young urban professionals, your cultural referents are likely very similar to other people similarly situated.

In other words, the whole of human cultural output is mimetic. Everything that humans do is culture, and all culture is about affiliation and imitation. I fail to see any appreciable difference between NFTs and any other cultural output, the collection of which imbues a sense of community and belonging, among the collectors.

NFTs are simply a digital recapitulation of this very human tendency. No one seems to have a problem with the stock market according Bernard Arnault a net worth of $200 billion or so. The luxury products he sells are merely physical versions of NFTs.