What if hyper modernity were celebrated?

For today’s “Day of the Thinker,” I would like to welcome Gilles Lipovetsky, who has just released in France L’Occident mondialisé (The Globalized West—in English) a sequel to 2008 previous book, La culture-monde (The World-Culture).

Gilles Lipovetsky was born in 1944 in Milau, France. He is a professor of philosophy at the University of Grenoble, and is a consultant for the French organization “Progress of Management”.  For more information, here is a translation from (French) Wikipedia: “One of Lipovetsky’s most important works, L’ère du vide (“The era of emptiness”), analyzes a post-modern world where the public sphere, and its large institutions, have receded.  In this “open” culture, society has put narcissistic individualism at its forefront, ushering in a “second individualist revolution”…Lipovetsky refers to our current era as ‘hyer-modernity’.

For Lipovetsky, this second individualist revolution is reflected in our mores, in fashion and in our ethics.   According to Lipovetsky, we as a society refuse to sacrifice ourselves for any one ideal; our ethics have become painless, circumstantial, plural and emotional.  However, Lipovetsky does not see this individualism as a moralistic decline in values.  He emphasizes the persistence of shared values, the rising importance of volunteer work, and the struggle for humanitarian and ecological justice as proof against a reactionary worldview…If hypermodern society has created what Lipovetsky terms an “irresponsible individualism” it has also created a “responsible individualism”.  Following this logic, we must stop equating individualism with egotism.  Lipovetsky analyzes the final phase of capitalistic consumer-based societies: hyper-consumption.  In our current day and age, Lipovetsky sees brands seeping through every aspect of life.  Consumers are experts on these brands.  No longer constrained by the cultures of their social classes, these neo-consumers purchase erratically and impulsively, in order to gain emotional fulfillment…for Lipovetsky, this hyper-consumptive society creates a “happiness paradox”: wherein unprecedented numbers of people report being happy, while at the same time, we live in an era of unparalleled depression, anxiety and worries….”

In his most recent book, L’Occident monidalisé. Controverse sur la culture planétaire (The Globalized West: Controversies on a Planetary Culture) that was co-written with Hervé Juvin, Lipovetsky defends the thesis of a positive mixing of cultures and of an overall global “westernization”, by analyzing 5 “vectors of modernity”: capitalism, consumption, technology, media culture and individualization.  Despite its many critics, Lipovetsky is still optimistic overall about globalization.  According to him, “…globalization has allowed Earth’s life expectancy to be increased by 8 years, has brought 1 billion people out of poverty, made way for education and has created a global sensibility.”  In reality, globalization is a paradox guided by conflicting sensibilities.  These contradictions can create leveraging possibilities. Not taking into account all the ambivalences inherent in globalization gives us a caricatured view of modernity.

For those English speakers who would like an introduction to Gilles Lipovetsky, I would recommend reading Hypermodern Times, or The Empire of Fashion: Dressing Modern Democracy— two excellent works from a thinker who celebrates our (hyper) modern condition.

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