Loyal Upset Patterns reader My Dad e-mailed me a link to this entry (also posted here) at the progressive Vermont blog Green Mountain Daily.  I think that it and some of the comments that follow express a widespread sentiment among left-leaning Americans that France has this great, mobilized political left that holds the government’s feet to the fire and defends progressive values whereas in the US, by contrast, the citizens are too lazy and complacent to effect any real change.  Not to be pretentious, but  this made me think of the famous Aristotle quote about anger:

“Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”

Widespread protests and strikes like what they have here in France are incredibly disruptive.  Of course, this is the point, and sometimes being disruptive is good.  If your government is carrying out an immoral or unjust policy, then a huge protest, perhaps even a violent one, might be justified, if that’s what it takes.  But protests and strikes have significant costs: they’re disruptive and wasteful.  So if you have a political culture like the one in France, where the public is constantly eager to unleash large strikes and protests that reflect unfocused populist anger in response to even mild reforms, it can be really pernicious.

I’m all for civic engagement, but it really is important for anger to be directed at the right person to the right degree for the right purpose and in the right way.  Granted, this is a lofty ideal, but until the current Gallic rabblerousers (whom I had to walk through to get to the cafe whose wifi I’m using right now) get closer to it, I think that a few more American-style politically apathetic couch potatoes among the citizenry might not be the worst thing in the world for France.

Sorry for the long time without posts.  I moved to Bordeaux, France, about a month ago, and I’ve been scrambling around trying to find an apartment and jumping through various administrative hoops in order to comply with French employment and immigration laws.  I don’t have internet set up in my apartment yet, so I haven’t really been able to blog.  As I get settled in I’m hoping to start writing here more regularly.  One of my friends just posted on my Facebook wall inquiring about the lack of posts, so here’s a quick update, with more to come soon.

I’m working here as an English teaching assistant in a public lycée, which means that I’m responsible for running conversational English classes with French high school students.  But ever since I’ve been here, the French public has been protesting/striking in response to a recently passed retirement benefits reform that changes the age of retirement for many French workers from 60 to 62.

The high schoolers that I teach deploy a method of protest that I’ve never encountered before.  Rather than just skipping class and marching around chanting slogans and waving homemade signs, they actually gather as groups in school entryways and form blockades so that even students who want to attend school are unable to do so.  Interestingly, teachers and students who are part of an intensive program preparing them for the ultra-selective French Grandes Ecoles (sort of like the Ivy League of France) are allowed to pass through.  So when I approach the gatekeepers of the blockade and explain that I’m a teacher, they let me by.  But often students who want to go to class but cannot because of the blockade attempt to slip in behind me, sometimes successfully and sometimes not.  The absurdity of it all is amplified when I remind myself that all of this excitement is ostensibly about retirement reform, but that’s France for you, I suppose.