by Zheng Yefu, professor of Sociology at Peking University
This is a speech he gave on October 12, 2014, as part of the series speech organized by “Gao He Fen Xiang (Go High)” (高和分享). The theme of this series of speech was “the arrival of post-materialism”.
1, Planned economy made people starve, while capitalism encourages people to explode their belly. There is no perfect system.
2, There are four major areas of critique. First, a big shift of values and their providers. In today’s Western world there is no second ideology. There is just one ideology, which is consumption. The biggest promoters and providers are business people, instead of politicians.
3,Only business people could display the good life in great detail with beautiful depiction. They could tell you what to eat, what to drink, where to live and which car to drive. They tell you, “open a bottle of Remy Martin, and good things will come naturally”. Therefore, if the good life is advocated as a kind of life value, businessmen definitely are the monogamy of this power of discourse.
4, (After basic needs are satisfied) how to fulfill the void of meaning of life has become a question. Two forces compete to fulfill this void. One is from businessmen. We have mentioned earlier that on one hand businessmen strive to promote promotion, and on the other hand they create the life value that’s centered on consumption. However, another kind of work can’t be conducted by businessmen alone. Businessmen can only sell them. The second work needs the help of theorists. Businessmen need the right kind of theorists to help with their campaigns. That’s where happiness-centered philosophers come from.
5, Second, critique on happiness philosophy. I believe it is ridiculous to say that people live on the pursuit of happiness. I think it trivializes and simplifies life. I think there are three pursuits in life, instead of just one. Which three pursuits? Comfort, stimulation and recognition (cow’s vagina, 牛逼). The third pursuit. “Cow’s vagina”, which reveals its meaning - the admiration and flaunting of sex. How did modern society go wrong? It went wrong because it confused these three and hoped to use one method to satisfy all these three pursuits.
6,Third, critique on consumerism. Flaunting consumption has exceeded since the ancient time. It is because there are two kinds of needs in human nature, one is comfort, the other is flaunting (recognition).
7, In this process businessmen are the leaders. They dominate society and they create the consumption ideology. Of course in the process of creating ideology, theorists of happiness philosophy help businessmen.
8,In my understanding of capitalism, there are several intrinsic contradiction. One intrinsic contradiction is the perfection of machinery and the flaws of human being. The second intrinsic contradiction is that it makes everyone have a split personality. One side of human being values work ethic and becomes workaholics - they work super hard. Another part of them becomes shopaholic. These two work together naturally. If you don’t shop till you drop, do you need to work as hard?
9, Fourth, fulfilling the void after being physically fed, and gain recognition. After people have satisfied their basic needs to be fed they face two possibilities: one is degradation, the other is upgradation. Material prosperity and the concept of democracy stimulated one thing: people’s desire to gain recognition. In the past only few people aspired to be acknowledged by others. As the increase of material wealth and the promotion of the concept of democracy, there are an increasing number of people who hope to be acknowledged. This is difficult. More people want to be noticed, more people don’t want to be forgotten.