I just landed in France with the elegance of the death star among minnows. A contributor to this site, Kevin Berger, attracted my attention to an editorial of Roger Cohen, “France Decapitated”, amplifying moaning from Michel Serres, a philosopher.
Probably to set the tune of fundamental idiocy that was going to overshadow his entire editorial, Cohen complained, to start with, that the Tour De France started in Yorkshire. In his crass ignorance, the connection between France and England eludes him totally (although Cohen is now a USA citizen, he originated as a South African Jew).
French Light Speed Communications, 18th Century
Cohen whined that having the Tour in England showed that “nothing was sacred anymore, and pigs will fly”. Well, since pigs already write for the New York Times, they may as well fly. As this essay will show, given enough ignorance, anything flies handsomely.
Mark Cavendish, the (ex) number one sprinter in the world, tried to force his way in the first sprint of the Tour, in Yorkshire (he himself recognized). He fell, dragging others in his fall, injured himself and then had to abandon the Tour, on day one. On day four and five, Christopher Froome, who won the Tour last year, fell three times on Northern France’s cobblestones, and also had to abandon. Cavendish, Froome, are British. At one point they owned the Tour. It’s only natural the Tour comes by where they are from. The roads were packed along the Tour in Britain, driving many a rider furious from too many cameras in their faces.
Ah, lest Cohen did not get the news, the Franks conquered England in 1066 CE, and stayed permanently after making an alliance with the people and freeing the 20%-25% or so, of the population who were slaves. English democracy was definitively launched by a number of Frankish rebels.
The Franks ruled what they called “Renovated Rome”. Indeed they spoke Latin, used Roman Law, and originated as the Roman army.
The original Roman army had evacuated Britain in 406 CE, for budgetary reasons caused by plutocratic will. (On the continent, the Franks had officially replaced the legions in 400 CE.)
Knowing there was no more highly trained, superiorly armed legions facing them, but only local soldiers, the unconquered savages of Northern Germany and Scandinavia attacked in the following six centuries and overran Britannia, including the Roman successor states (Northumberland, etc.), in a succession of complex invasions.
For centuries Britannia and Gallia had been part of the same Roman state. Earlier both were part of the same Celtic civilization, for more than a millennium. After 1066 CE, they were again part of the same polity, itself officially the “Renovated Roman Empire” explicitly proclaimed under Charlemagne… But effective for more than three centuries.
However, the rulers of Western Francia, gained by Gallic arrogance, proclaimed that the Paris/French king was “emperor in his own kingdom”, sometimes around 1000 CE. This brought a mess of little leaders, all over Europe, with no central authority until the European Union.
The mess of too many little great leaders after 1066 CE, all over Western Europe, led to no less than 50 major wars.
This is the fundamental reason to make a united Europe that Europhobes do not know about, in their crass ignorance, and immanent treacherousness.
Cohen, by refusing the Tour in Britain, on the ground that makes pigs fly, rejects history, plays dumb, and embraces hatred for European unity. In the garbage, please.
Cohen: “That the French are unhappy has become a commonplace. A nation that loves ideas is living in an ideological void. If that void is filled by anyone it is the rightist leader Marine Le Pen with her cleverly dosed venom about Europe, immigrants, crime, globalization and the other supposed culprits behind French national decline.”
That is roughly correct. Except that rumors of a French decline have been much exaggerated. And the solution is thriving next door in an independently managed part of Francia: Switzerland. (Let alone Germania, also independently managed Francia.)
Cohen: “France is a modern country as well as a beautiful one. Its attributes, from its health system to its rail system (when not on strike), are well known.”
I had a very personal demonstration of the superiority of French health care this week: my four year old daughter was cured within hours, from French antibiotics, after a harrowing flight. Californian doctors were apparently firmly set to leave her fate to the will of God. In the USA, antibiotics are for plutocrats and their animals, much dying keeps We The People in check.
French rail has held the world speed record for rail for seventy years or so (but for a few months of German domination). In the late 1950s, the Japanese bought and deconstructed French electric engines for building their own high speed trains.
The French health care system is not just good, it’s innovative, and the world profits from it. In the 1950s an observant French surgeon discovered the modern psychiatric drugs. Meanwhile a French woman discovered that Down syndrome was caused by an added chromosome. More recently deep brain stimulation was discovered in the Grenoble CHU as a method to cure Parkinson’s and other diseases.
A serious French effort has been underway for years to make a permanent artificial heart (a patient died mysteriously, so it’s not easy).
Cohen: ”But the French dislike modernity. They mistrust modernity. That is the nub of the problem. They dislike and mistrust it for two reasons. Modernity has redefined space and relegated the state. This is intolerable.”
A “modern” country that dislikes “modernity”, while inventing all sorts of “modern art”, and “art deco”, and “nouveaux philosophes”? And the number one inventor of “Relativity” was Henri Poincaré, who even named it, not Einstein. France, as the country that brought E= mcc (Poincare’ 1900, Einstein, 1905)? Intolerable. Quick let’s attribute that to a German Jew.
Lest you ask, Poincaré also invented topology. Among other things. Unfortunately he died while middle aged. If Einstein was turkey size, Poincaré was T Rex.
Modern, modernity and modernism are French attributes, thus are absolutely not the nub of the problem. Cohen, parroting three pence philosopher Michel Serres, is wrong as wrong can be.
Cohen is off the deep end here.
France is not just modern. France’s fundamental tradition is modernity. France’s Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, rests on modernism.
And so it shows. France invented the first cars (Eighteenth Century), hot air balloons and planes. All the preceding were private efforts under government (military) contracts. But the first submarines or helicopters were also made in France. And also cameras (both black and white, and color). Also the first (and, so far, only, ever) ram jet plane. The Concorde, by the way, still holds many speed records (the ones without air refueling).
The nuclear chain reaction and how to extract energy from nuclei, was so discovered in France, that the French government yanked all the patents out in January 1938, lest the Nazis read and understand them (fortunately, that understanding dawned on the dumb Nazi physicists led by Heisenberg only August 7, 1945).
More recently, the Minitel was a highly successful precursor of the internet. Astoundingly, and little known, the transistor, the integrated circuits and the PC were all invented in France (and quickly stolen by Silicon Valley and other USA propagandists). Optical pumping, a necessary precursor to the maser and laser, was also discovered in France.
On Mars the Curiosity Rover is mostly Americano-French. Besides scientific instrumentation, a French company made its supersonic parachute, another, Thales, made its laser.
Thales makes the world’s most powerful lasers, when it’s not building the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers. The most advanced American material science labs purchase Thales lasers. French laser physicists are scared that, if they do not stay financed enough, they will lose their edge on the rest of the World. In ten years. (The NSA is supposed to fix that.)
The major advance of the Franks beyond Antique Rome, freeing Europe of slavery, was made possible by more advanced technology where it really made a difference (mechanical advantage, hydraulic hammers, super-horses, more advanced agriculture, including the new genetically engineered beans of the Tenth Century).
That was also necessary. The moral advance of “Equality, Fraternity” occurred only because more advanced technology allowed to get rid of slavery, in the 7th century. Just as, someday, it will allow to get rid of work.
Let’s not forget that the Franks replaced the Romans, first of all, because they had better, and that means more modern, weapons. Similarly, four centuries later, the steel of the Franks proved superior even to the superb Damascus steel of the Islamists.
So modernism is the essence of France: no modernism, no Francia. One does not change essence overnight. Cohen does not know what he is talking about in the matter of French culture: it is centered, in the fullness of time, around modernity. To put it mildly.
Cohen: “The redefinition of space has involved the technology-driven elimination of distance. As Michel Serres, a prominent French philosopher, put it in a lecture last year at the Sorbonne on the digital world, “Boeing shortens distances; new technologies annul them.”
Philosophers are like blades of grass in the French prairie. Yet, I like Michel Serres. Once a mariner, his feet are firmly planted in the waves, essence of the universe. However, why did Serres use the sentence: “Boeing shortens distances…”. This is a deliberate lie, a sophisticated lie, but still, a lie: it is construed to give a misleading impression. Serres could have said: ”Jets shorten distances…” Jet engines were not invented by Boeing, but by Messerschmitt, a European company. The Brits were the second to realize jets. Even several years later, captured Me 262 operated by American test pilots were much better than the best jets made in the USA.
Boeing, indeed, is an American company. Airbus is European, French dominated, and makes as many planes. So Serres wants to depict France as under aggression from the USA, rather than from Toulouse (where Airbus churns out more than 50 jets a month; arguably the world historical capital of aviation).
To deliberately inflict on the naïve a misleading impression, that’s behavior unbecoming a philosopher.
All the more as the French were big time pioneer of aviation to the point many parts of planes wear French names. French military aviation was huge as early as 1914. The Aeropostale in the 1920s and 1930s, inaugurated long range airmail, all the way to Chili (as readers of the Petit Prince may know).
Besides the French invented the proto-Internet with Minitel, and it was a massive success. A French government program, as early as 1945, enlisted top German scientists, to make fast signalization for very high speed trains.
Hard for me to take seriously philosophers who make such stupid mistakes.
Cohen: “Humanity has also changed its relationship to the state. The French place deep faith in the state. It is the righter of wrongs, the mediator of human affairs, the source of social justice, the object of duty, and the repository of power. The very word deregulation is odious to the French.”
Humanity is changing its relationship to the state in Switzerland. Elsewhere, not as much, if at all. Actually the argument is common in Europe that the state, in the guise of the European Union, is taking too much importance, and that the EU is regulating too much.
Cohen, aping Serres: “A revolution in communication is underway, not seen since the invention of the printing press, but it is not a French revolution. It is in fact an anti-French revolution. It challenges fundamental French values, the French sense of self, and the French attachment to the state.”
Whatever. The French state, centuries ago, had set-up a semaphore signalization system. France was covered with 556 stations. In tall towers placed upon hilltops, 10 to 35 kilometers away, a two armed device depicted symbols read through a telescope. That was retransmitted, just the same. This signalling system could transmit a signal 250 kilometers (150 miles) in two minutes.
According to Serres and his parrot Cohen, that’s supposed to be anti-French? On January 7 1785, a Frenchman, Blanchard, having thrown his pants out to lighten the ship, succeeded to cross the Channel in a Montgolfiere. A few weeks earlier Pilatre de Rozier, who had flown over Paris 15 months earlier, died, when his hot air balloon caught fire during the crossing. Were all these attempts at modernism, anti-French?
Articulating one’s logic around idiocies, amplifies idiocy. Let’s heap spite on such critters, in Quranic style.
The question still arises: what ails France? As France, clearly, is ailing. If not Serres’ dumb hypothesis that France hates modernity, then what? I will answer this in another essay. Interestingly, while presently the greatest fuel for the right wing Front National, it is easy to fix.