Monday, August 17, 2009

égalité and anatole
"autre motif d’orgueuil, que d’ tre citoyen! cela consiste pour les pauvres soutenir et conserver les riches dans leur puissance et leur oisivit . ils y doivent travailler devant la majestueuse galit des lois, qui interdit au riche comme au pauvre de coucher sous les ponts, de mendier dans les rues et de voler du pain."
an august weekend indulging in my somewhat predictable melange of physical and mental meanderings with penguins and the computer always lurking. then came the convergence moment which i love so much. the result is an opportunity to begin a blog with one of those nonenglish quotations that imply sophistication in the writer.
i never put together two things i knew about a nobel prize winning french writer who chose the pen[guin] name of anatole france. françois-anatole thibault lived from 1844 -1924.
wikipedia describes him as a french poet, journalist, and novelist. ‘ironic and skeptical, he was considered in his day the ideal french man of letters.’ his official nobel prize bio has a formal history of his literary life which concludes coyly: ‘in his later years france became increasingly interested in social questions. he protested the verdict in the dreyfus case and developed some sympathies for socialism'
it seems that monsieur france and i share a healthy disrespect for the religion of our upbringing, christianity, and a perhaps resultant appreciation for irony* to help deal with its omnipresence. france let his feelings out in a wonderful satirical novel which i am finally reading on line as the weekend goes on. it’s the only novel i know of featuring my little flightless friends:
penguin island. in it france tells us about an aging nearly blind priest who lands on an island inhabited only by penguins and mistakes them for humans needing baptism in his faith. his actions provoke a meeting of the divine powers that concludes the only solution is to convert the penguins into humans**. so far i have read what happens as the now human birds are lead to the need to wear clothes and have their own property. i wont force feed anyone his description of the results and their religious base except to note that they do fit with my own preconceptions.
france is also responsible for another literary statement of things i myself believe. i have long quoted one english version of the quotation i started this thing with.
"the law, in its majestic impartiality, forbids the rich and poor alike to sleep under the bridges of paris."
france identified a basic flaw in application of the principle of equal treatment of disparate people. today, as in his time, the law creates crimes and procedures that fall harder on minorities and the poor. a current bad example: paying for your jail stays. in many cases they are more likely to have orders to pay for their jail stay and less able to pay while richer lighter defendants are less likely to go to or stay in jail and can buy a more comfortable incarceration.
it recently occurred to me that there is also a parallel fault in those cases claiming ‘reverse’ discrimination against white people and/or males. i’ve always been deeply offended by this whole idea. i have lived thru the time when discrimination went from an unchallenged norm to a time when the constitutional protection of equal treatment was brought into ‘real’ law by being acknowledged in statutes and judicial decision. there have been positive results - can you say barack. but those claims are part of a recent history of coopting and undercutting of the protections. suddenly equality is what lawyers sometimes call black letter law - law that must be enforced literally. those who received the benefit of discrimination now receive the benefit of laws against it. the fight against real continuing discrimination is demeaned by reinforcing the right of all to sleep under the bridge.
i wonder what blind justice translates to in french
* "irony is the gaiety of reflection and the joy of wisdom."
** france’s description of the formal conclusion reminds me of the comments of bertrand russell who first taught me that i need not believe everything i was told: "'let us not deliberate any longer,' said [god]. the opinion broached by gentle old hermas is the only one conformable to my eternal designs. these birds will be changed into men. i foresee in this several disadvantages. many of those men will commit sins they would not have committed as penguins. truly their fate through this change will be far less enviable than if they had been without this baptism and this incorporation into the family of abraham. but my foreknowledge must not encroach upon their free will.
in order not to impair human liberty, i will be ignorant of what i know, i will thicken upon my eyes the veils i have pierced, and in my blind clearsightedness i will let myself be surprised by what i have foreseen."

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