Gilles Lipovetsky, philosopher: “The meaning of life is to feel like it”

In the 80s, when it was consumed with joy, nobody questioned the management of individual existence à la carte. Until the French philosopher Gilles Lipovetsky (Millau, 1944) published ‘The era of the void’ and anticipated the features of a neoliberalism that exhausts resources and future. Invited by the Social Observatory of the ‘la Caixa’ Foundation, on Monday he answered the question: are we happier in a society of hyperconsumption?

I am happy when I have desire, when I long to do things, particularly books.

It is not a useful formula for everyone.

The meaning of life is to feel like it, to be seduced by existence. Otherwise, you fill the void with consumption.

“When you play an instrument and put together a small orchestra, on Saturdays you don’t go to the mall”

Accustomed to satisfying all desires, it will tell how.

If we want to limit the power of consumption we must give weapons to young people, and one of them is art. When you play an instrument and put together a small orchestra, you don’t go to the mall on Saturdays. But if you don’t have that software you will continue to consume.

To happiness for culture?

Absolutely! I know a lot of unhappy and anguished philosophers. But the arts are different. When you make videos, write or sing gospel in a club, moments of happiness ensue. Artists must be involved in the school.

“If there is no personal activity, there is only Netflix”

Education is work oriented.

And that’s fine, but you can devote a certain number of hours to the development of the person. If there is no personal activity, the only thing left is Netflix, buying branded clothes or traveling anywhere. It is not ignoble, but it is not desirable.

It is the logic of capital, which you do not challenge, despite starting out as a Marxist.

I am a true liberal. Capitalism rewards profit, enterprise, free exchange. But there is not only capitalism, there are institutions with a lot of power such as the State, the school, the family. We have all had a teacher who has changed our lives. His role is huge. That is the true seduction, more than a Prada or a Gucci.

To think that he wrote a bunch of essays on brands and luxury.

‘The empire of the ephemeral’, ‘Eternal luxury’… But personally, they don’t fascinate me at all. There is nothing more boring than a conversation about brands and fashion.

“The real seduction comes from a professor who changes our lives, not from a Prada”

How about betting on sobriety?

It seems fine to me as a personal ethic, but not as a solution on a planetary scale. Soon we will be 10,000 million individuals who must be fed, educated and ensure a roof; that a few rich Europeans eat organic and ride a bike is an insignificant portion. In addition, the same ones who go by bike, in summer take a plane to Bangkok.

Does ecology give you set of teeth?

I am against a blaming environmentalism, but I affirm that hyperconsumption impoverishes existence. We must move towards a society that allows people to take ownership of their lives, that can do things that they deem enriching, beyond being producers and consumers.

A political program is needed that is integrated into the schools. So that young people have other desires than to earn money and buy. Living is not just working. There must be an ideal of personal development. We must create a school of desire.

“There must be an ideal of personal development. We must create a school of desire”

The majority wishes that no more calamities be chained.

The nonchalance has disappeared. People are restless about everything, all the time. Because of the weather, immigration, the pandemic, the war in Ukraine. We lived in the society of seduction and storms have fallen on us for which we were not prepared. There will be more and more collective controls and restrictions, but the aspiration to individual autonomy will not disappear.

The engine of this aspiration is consumption.

We spend three times more energy than in the 60s, with the impact it has on the environment, and we are not three times happier. Consumption is a palliative that allows us to replace and alleviate the dissatisfactions of everyday life.

Nothing alleviates Putin’s dissatisfaction.

It makes me sick! I see in him an unimaginable megalomaniac narcissism. In the name of his greatness, he wants to write a page of history. He has decided on war, and it is the decision of a madman. Moved by a kind of historical revenge, he mixes the image of Russia with his own image.

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Grandson of a Russian Jew who fled the pogroms. I do not retain a single Russian feature. I am French.

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