Friday, January 13, 2006

The persistent heaviness of being

Sarko joins the pod people, and Joel Shepherd goes home. Like a media with built-in limitations which requires a prominent polititian to circumvent them, the young in France feel the economic malaise (emboldened by, and emboldening the social malaise) all around them, and circumventing their own society. They are tuning in, dropping out, and, how to put it, um, leaving, dammit:

«My French teacher at the language school on Boulevard de Grenelle is well aware of the malaise. She’s young, blonde and pretty with startling blue eyes and that effortless Parisien fashion sense that manages to make her look like a model while utilising only one or two accessories. Her favourite topic for discussion in class? ‘France en reinseignement’... or France in decline, broadly speaking. The politicians are crooked, the unions are always striking, the schools are no good, unemployment is terrible and the government doesn’t give people any freedom. Clearly she loves her country, she’s just annoyed that it doesn’t always function as advertised.

A lot of young French people appear to feel the same. Whatever the traditional French disdain for private enterprise, commerce and business degrees are amongst the most popular university courses. Many graduates then leave the country for better opportunities elsewhere, the kind of brain drain usually found in poor developing nations. Everyone seems to want to learn English. Passports to success, it seems, are no longer trusted when they’re issued by the state.

And small wonder. For many French, ‘liberal’ remains a pejorative. The French Revolution didn’t just lop off the king’s head, it enshrined the State in his place as the new sovereign. In some ways, perhaps, it was easier to kill the king than it was to kill the notion of kingliness. In France, someone is always in charge. Today, the bureaucracy is bloated and all-powerful. Bureaucrats rule their petty fiefdoms like little Napoleons, and the state regulates everything it can see. Welfare rules the lives of millions, and entrepreneurialism as understood in Australia or America is almost non-existent. People don’t just go out and do things, people wait to be told what to do.»

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