Yann Dall’Aglio: Love — you’re doing it wrong | Video on TED.com


Yann Dall'Aglio


Why you should listen to him:

Yann Dall’Aglio is a philosopher who thinks deeply about modern love. He writes about love in the digital age. His two books, A Rolex at 50: Do you have the right to miss your life? and I love you: Is love a has been? explores the challenges and triumphs in the modern era, where individualism and consumerism reign. His work is a declaration of his faith in love, a major feat for a skeptical philosopher.  He studies “the joyful effects of nihilism”, that is to say, the happy and comical consequences of a non-meaningful life.

(Edited transcript of the Ted talk: “Love — you’re doing it wrong!“)

“What is love? It’s a hard term to define in so far as it has a very wide application. I can love jogging. I can love a book, a movie. I can love veal. I can love my wife.

But there’s a great difference between veal and my wife, for instance. That is, if I value veal, the veal, on the other hand, doesn’t value me back. Whereas my wife, she calls me the star of her life. Therefore, only another desiring conscience can conceive me as a desirable being. I know this, that’s why love can be defined in a more accurate way as the desire of being desired. Hence the eternal problem of love: how to become and remain desirable?

The individual used to find an answer to this problem by submitting his life to community rules. You had a specific part to play according to your sex, your age, your social status, and you only had to play your part to be valued and loved by the whole community. Think about the young woman who must remain chaste before marriage. Think about the youngest son who must obey the eldest son, who in turn must obey the patriarch.

But a phenomenon started in the 13th century, mainly in the Renaissance, in the West, that caused the biggest identity crisis in the history of humankind.This phenomenon is modernity. We can basically summarize it through a triple process. First, a process of rationalization of scientific research, which has accelerated technical progress. Next, a process of political democratization, which has fostered individual rights. And finally, a process of rationalization of economic production and of trade liberalization.

These three intertwined processes have completely annihilated all the traditional bearings of Western societies, with radical consequences for the individual. Now individuals are free to value or disvalue any attitude, any choice, any object. But as a result, they are themselves confronted with this same freedom that others have to value or disvalue them. In other words, my value was once ensured by submitting myself to the traditional authorities.Now it is quoted in the stock exchange.

On the free market of individual desires, I negotiate my value every day. Hence the anxiety of contemporary man. He is obsessed: “Am I desirable? How desirable? How many people are going to love me?” And how does he respond to this anxiety? Well, by hysterically collecting symbols of desirability. 

I call this act of collecting, along with others, seduction capital. Indeed, our consumer society is largely based on seduction capital. It is said that our culture is materialistic. But it’s not true! We only accumulate objects in order to communicate with other minds. We do it to make them love us, to seduce them. Nothing could be less materialistic, or more sentimental, than a teenager buying brand new jeans and tearing them at the knees, because he wants to please Jennifer. Consumerism is not materialism. It is rather what is swallowed up and sacrificed in the name of love, or rather in the name of seduction capital.

In light of this observation on contemporary love, how can we think of love in the years to come? We can envision two hypotheses:

  1. This process of narcissistic capitalization will intensify.

It is hard to say what shape this intensification will take, because it largely depends on social and technical innovations, which are by definition difficult to predict.But we can, for instance, imagine a dating website which, a bit like those loyalty points programs, uses seduction capital points that vary according to my age, my height/weight ratio, my degree, my salary, or the number of clicks on my profile. We can also imagine a chemical treatment for breakups that weakens the feelings of attachment.

Of course, this race for seduction, like every fierce competition, will create huge disparities in narcissistic satisfaction, and therefore a lot of loneliness and frustration too. But such a future doesn’t have to be.

2. Recognize that we are use-less.

Another path to thinking about love may be possible. But how? How to renounce the hysterical need to be valued? Well, by becoming aware of my uselessness.  Yes, I’m useless. But rest assured: so are you.

We are all useless. This uselessness is easily demonstrated, because in order to be valued I need another to desire me, which shows that I do not have any value of my own. I don’t have any inherent value. We pretend to be with an idol; we all pretend to be an idol for someone else, but actually we are all impostors – a bit like a man on the street who appears totally cool and indifferent, while he has actually anticipated and calculated so that all eyes are on him.

The pretense to be someone else

By becoming aware of this general pretense to be someone else, we could ease our love relationships. It is because I want to be loved from head to toe, justified in my every choice, that the seduction-hysteria exists. And therefore I want to seem perfect so that another can love me. I want them to be perfect so that I can be reassured of my value. It leads to couples obsessed with performance who will break up, just like that, at the slightest underachievement.

Love as tenderness

In contrast to this attitude, I call upon tenderness – love as tenderness.

What is tenderness? To be tender is to accept the loved one’s weaknesses. And there’s plenty of charm and happiness in tenderness. For example, there’s a kind of humor that is unfortunately underused. It is a sort of poetry of deliberate awkwardness. I refer to self-mockery. For a couple who no longer relies on the support of tradition, I believe that self-mockery is one of the best means for the relationship to endure.”

~The End

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