According to BVA-Gallup, the French have become one of the most unhappy people in the world. With a negative index of -79, France is the latest ranking of the 51 countries surveyed by the institute. This is a historical record, since no country has ever reached such a low score in the 34-years history of the index.
Besides the fact that this survey shows that there is no relationship between material wealth and happiness (the countries with the highest indices are generally poor countries: 80 in Nigeria, 51 for Vietnam 50 for Ghana, etc.), it questions the evolution of France, which has steadily become more sad and pessimistic, to finally experience a true implosion, as if the energies that could not be freed to the outside started to devour the people internally.
These studies do, however, give only vague clues about the real causes of this situation, when it seems crucial to understand them in order to find a solution. Here are the ones that seem the most striking to me:
1. The absence of collective challenges
One of the main causes of depression is the inability to take a clear stance in the face of a crisis. Henri Laborit, French researcher at the origin of the theory of the inhibition of the action, has shown that an individual who is in a situation where he can neither flee nor fight falls in prostration and sees his immune system collapse. And it is a fact that France has not experienced a combative collective posture for a very long time, whether facing internal problems or external challenges.
The horrors of World War traumatized the country. Collaboration during World War II fueled the collective guilt. Subsequently, France did not overcome any great challenge (whether social, economic or cultural) that would have allowed the country to regain a sense of self-worth.
Worse, France to become accustomed to prefer a debilitating security to any form of trial. An illustration of this trend is given by the ambivalent attitude of the country at the time of the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Of course, the French were happy to see this wind of freedom. But at the same time, a less noble part of them their whispered to their ears that because of reunification, France would gain years of economical advance to Germany. And of course, the opposite happened: it is precisely because Germany had to overcome a great collective challenge it has become as powerful today.
2. Diversion of attention
Healthy communication between the leaders and the people is a guarantee of collective harmony.
This is especially true for times of crisis, when the whole of society must be unified to face an ordeal. When Churchill succeeded Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister, he summarized his political program as follows: “I have nothing to offer but blood and tears.” But far from demoralizing the population, this statement galvanized the English people and gave them the strength to resist.
In France, this determination is expressed only in words, but fails to be translated into action. François Hollande has been elected on a simple promise: to fight the financial world after the 2009 crisis, when states have injected billions to save an industry that now controls the nations through debt:
However, its mandate is mainly reflected in a series of debates that have diverted attention from the French: marriage for all, right votes for foreigners, Dieudonné affair, etc. He is not the only politician that took the “diversion way”, and you must go back to Charles de Gaulle to find a French leader who dares to address the people bluntly.
In other words, France has engaged in a vicious circle: the more the French are afraid of the future, the more they cling to the promises of security. And leaders, instead of daring to make tough decisions, choose the status quo and divert attention to subtopics that merely postpone action. Result: the problems are getting worse and collective neurosis increases.
3. A bureaucratic nightmare
The last point is the extraordinary heaviness of bureaucracy of France. Country ruled by administrations, France is one of the most bureaucratic countries in the world with North Korea: 80,000 pages pile up on the desk of the prefects each year, more than 46 different and contradictory regulation are applied in public hospitals, 500,000 state employees are working in more or less opaque structures, the labor code has 3000 pages, etc.
The truth is that french democracy has been gradually confiscated by specialized representatives, either those of the administration, unions, employers or political parties.
While these should normally be the emanation of the people, they now have a power without any connection to their real representativity: the French are unionized at only 8%. As for political parties, the divorce between the leaders and the people is so deep that members of all French political parties are less than 1% of the population. Only the overexposure of politicians in the media gives them a remain of legitimacy.
The solution? Turn France into a global innovation laboratory
You will ask me how this Kafkaesque picture is positive. In recent years, I was the first one to complain about the situation in France. As an entrepreneur and innovation specialist, I kept grownling against the lack of courage and fear of change that I constantly felt around me.
Until I realized that this depression was a fantastic opportunity. There is nothing more precious in life than those moments when we realize that we have nothing to lose and when we allow ourselves to do everything that we never dared before.
France is a case in point. It has the worst handicaps in terms of collective psychology but at the same time, it has exceptional qualities: way of life, depth of thought, incredible talents in the scientific, literary, artistic, entrepreneurial field…
Since France is heading anyway to a doomsday scenario with the coming to power of the extreme right and the risk of widespread collapse, I have a simple proposal for the country: put it under guardianship of UN and make it a global innovation laboratory for the World.
The State essentially became a drag, so why not eliminate it completely (as politicians) and appoint instead an authority in charge of essential government functions?
All innovation specialists could then use France as a huge “sandbox” to open new paths and find bold solutions to build the society of the future. Since half a century, France has tried an incredible amount of social and technological experimentations in the field of education, employment, health, management, etc. None of it has ever been generalized. It is high time for the country to apply all these solutions blocked by the state power for half a century and start a true collective empowerment cycle in the country.
Just as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that everyone looks and say: “Hey, if one day they can make peace, there is hope for the rest of humanity,” the current situation in France has become a symbol of the worst bottlenecks that a society may encounter. Save a country like France from the maze it get lost into will create a useful heritage for the whole humanity.
This will be the subject of a future article where I will look at the precise actions that could be imagined.