Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Two nights ago I saw "Man on Wire." It's a wonderful film that portrays the realization of an extremely beautiful dream. It's the story of Philippe Petit, a young Frenchman who happened to read a newspaper story announcing that the World Trade Center would be constructed. He immediately began dreaming of walking a highwire strung between them. The tale is captivating, the film gorgeous and gripping. More importantly, there's Philippe's dream and its realization. For me, these capture what life is about. I'm reminded of my own adventures in ultrarunning, mountaineering, triathlons, and the like. There are these things in life that you do, and when you do them, you don't worry about inane questions like "what is the purpose of life," because in the experience you’re fully alive, and that's enough.
This is something that is not at all foreign to the French. The French invented adventure racing. At every major American marathon I've run, the biggest contingent of foreign runners has been the French (mostly back-of-pack runners, the ones with the truest spirit of adventure). Paris-Dakar, Tour de France, world class mountaineering, parkour... I won't try to list all the French contributions to adventure, it's too long. Suffice it to say that there's something in the French sense of life that I really appreciate, and that we all should adopt.
Or as Robert Heinlein put it, vivamus, dum vivimus!
Francophilia like francophobia are completely irrational forms of collectivism. You happened to have met French speaking people at major marathons. Perhaps they were not even all French by the way. Some of them might have been from Canada, Belgium or Switzerland. Anyway, that does not make of France a marathon running nation. In fact, the more logical explaination might be that marathon is such a marginal "discipline" in France, that French runners have to gather in the US (or wherever you met them) to attend major events, because: they simply do not exist in France
I can assure you that Mr Petit is not representative of all French. Actually, now that I come to think of it: I can't remember the last time I balanced between two skyscrapers...But that must be my German side, and if I were you I would problably add: of Course Nat, you Germans don't balance between skyscrapers, you B U I L D them!
To sum up, Mr Petit is a French citizen, that is no great merit, he should be congratulated for his talents, not for a citizenship which is merely a footnote.
Still gruntingly yours, Nat
PS: I hate being Cossack about it (as in fight til the end even if is a pointless detail) but... "Mais néanmoins" is a typical mistake of French native speakers, it is redundant.
But anyway... Re philias and phobias: I don't agree that these are examples of irrational collectivism. Rather, they are generalizations about cultures that include evaluations. I understand that generalizations about components of culture, or in this case subcultures, do not apply to every individual within the culture.
It's difficult for me to understand how France could be so devoid of any redeeming characteristics as to warrant the blanket condemnation it receives from its detractors. I cannot fathom it.
The reason for my original post was that I've had my fill of ignorant American conservatives who rattle on about how much they hate the French, while entirely mischaracterizing things French, and at the same time squealing that any shred of criticism of U.S. foreign policy means one is "blaming America first." Good grief.
BTW, I'm not an uncritical advocate of everything French, nor have I ever claimed to be. I've often argued (although not here) that the heart of the French contribution to the E.U. is 1. making Europe safe for French bureaucracy, and 2. getting everyone else in Europe in on the subsidization of the French farmer.
But to claim, as some do, that there are no praiseworthy French contributions is beyond reason. Again, some of my favorites: The Enlightenment was in large part a French undertaking. And it in turn was the inspiration for the Scottish Enlightenment. The Physiocrats, Jean Baptiste Say, Frederic Bastiat were superior in many respects to their colleagues in any other country you can name -- in pre-marginal revolution economics, only Adam Smith can stand with them, IMO. And I'll certainly endorse Leon Walras over the Marshallians any day.
(I will never live down my rude mischaracterization of the German language, I fear. I can only plead for understanding and forgiveness; if you heard the way German sounds when I speak it you'd get my point.)