The events happening in France with the Yellow Jackets (GJs) movement already gave me the opportunity to publish a letter last February. I have since discussed the situation with a lot of people, especially about the deep origin of this movement. Today's letter attempts to summarize and format my latest thinking, and tries to make sense of what has been happening in France for several months, while no one really expected these events.
It is important, from my point of view, to fully understand the underlying reasons that can motivate a part of the society to rebel and conflict with some other groups of that society.
At first I think we should recognize that human nature is not automatically good. In any form of society, and this can be seen if one looks back to history, a number of individuals sooner or later try to enjoy and abuse their status (be it social, physical, monetary or otherwise) to enslave other groups who are in a weaker position. This can take many forms, but in all cases, this leads to various abuses.
Examples at the level of an individual or of small groups, come quickly to mind, such as bullying at school, or discrimination in African villages against albino children. Sexual harassment and rape are also an aspect of this predatory behavior, when the individual feels so superior to the other in front of him, that he feels free to use insults and physical violence, including murder in extreme cases. Fortunately, only a small part of the population will engage in this kind of action, but many people have this behavior within themselves in dormant mode, always reactivated in exceptional or chaotic situations, as seen during each war or chaotic situation.
At the level of large groups, the same behavior is often more discreet and subtle, but many other individuals can be affected by group effect. The feeling of superiority and power within some groups in society makes them believe that it is legitimate to take advantage of the work or the existence of other groups, in order to acquire more wealth or power. An extreme case is slavery, visible and widespread in history, and still existing today, even in a more discrete form.
All the behaviors mentioned above have a destabilizing effect on society and their generalization usually brings chaos and disaster. Again, history shows that over the centuries, social organizations have always fought against these predatory tendencies, trying to suppress them, or at least to put a limit to them. History also shows that stable societies are those that are most successful in limiting these trends, and that societies tend to collapse when these limitations lose their effectiveness.
As a constant feature in the history of our societies, there is always a regulating force that counterbalances the predatory tendencies of individuals and groups. If we consider the history of Europe since the Middle Ages for example, we can identify different periods of stability, based on different regulatory forces. Until the 18th century, the regulatory force of choice was the Christian religion, constantly present in the lives of all, from Princes to peasants. As indeed many other religions, the rules to save ones soul tended to regulate predatory attitudes: Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not deceive your wife, etc. Of course, the message was simple and the threat clear: if you misbehave, you shall end up burning in hell for eternity. Something to think about, even for a Prince or a rich nobleman.
Of course, no system works ideally, and some are still willing to risk even hell to satisfy their greed or thirst for domination. But European societies remained relatively stable during this period (if we disregard other external factors such as regular invasions or wars between Lords who probably thought that their gold would save them from hell). The relationship between the local lords and the population was based on a system of common values, mostly derived from religious virtues. My genealogy researches also allowed me to see that the relationship between the family of the local Lord and the peasants were based neither on contempt nor indifference. Indeed it was not uncommon to see children of Lords having a godfather or a godmother from the farmers population, or the reverse. When we know the importance of the godfather or godmother in the lives of families at that time, it is clear that confidence and affection actually existed between Lords and peasants or servants. Moreover, they shared the same hard life, even if the Lord was better dressed and fed. All lost many young children, and all were equal before epidemics and barbarian invasions!
But an invention from the 15th century would shake the building for ever: the printing of books. The impact of this invention is often underestimated, but it plays a significant role in the history of Europe, although it took 2 or 3 centuries to produce its full effect. Literacy initially was limited to the wealthy and the middle class, that began to develop at the same period. Literacy allowed an evolution of spirits, with for example the raising of the Protestant Reformation, and in the end, the beginning of the de-Christianization of European societies.
The de-Christianization initially was confined to the middle classes and the nobility, and this may be at the origin of the development of a predatory behavior in the nobility, that began to impoverish populations with more and more taxes. Indeed, the greed and arrogance of a part of the nobility at the end of the 18th century in France does remind the behavior of oligarchs of our 21st century. Imbalances were then exploited by those who could: the bourgeois and nobles who had sensed the end of an era coming. The population was, as often, only following, only motivated by years of latent famine and blatant injustice. And not surprisingly, the least de-Christianized regions like the Vendée where the core of the resistance to the revolutionary wave.
The Enlightenment period before the French Revolution is often presented, with that same revolution, as the origin of democracy, but I do not think so. The biggest names in the Enlightenment are all either nobles or bourgeois, and developed a new conception of the world and society that actually freed them from the moral constraints of traditional religion, paving the way to a new freedom, welcome in some areas, but whose negative effects generated all the conditions that made the 1789 revolution possible. This revolution has not only contributed nothing to the establishment of a Democracy (people's power), but in fact allowed to establish a fully bourgeois power, liberated from moral and humanistic constraints of religion. It paved the way to the industrial developments in the 19th century and the free exploitation of workers, including kids.
We then came to an imbalance point, and a new moderating force had to be found. It was of course not invented by the workers, but by philosophers. There were many of them, but the name of one is enough to understand everything: Karl Marx. The development of socialist theories and movements marks the 19th century. In France, it defined the ideological background of the revolutions of 1848 and especially 1870, which unlike 1789, were carried out by the workers, not the bourgeoisie, with the violent reaction that we know in 1870 and the crushing of the French Commune in blood.
But socialism and communism remained dangerous forces in the eyes of the elites, especially with the establishment of the first Communist state, after the Russian Revolution and the stabilization of the Soviet regime in the early twenties. From that time onward, the communist enemy has actually played the role of religion, representing an alternative to capitalism. Regulation of greed was based on the fear of the "red", especially when the PCF (Communist Party) in France regularly got around one third of the votes in most elections. Hell was replaced by the threat of collectivism, pushing the most power and money hungry bourgeois to make all concessions necessary to maintain social peace, and the PCF in the opposition.
This new balance allowed, before and especially after the Second World War to ensure social stability, and the vast majority to fully benefit from the after-war economic boom.
But this nice balance was destroyed in the 90's with the end of Communism, by knockout in the USSR, by conversion in China.
Although the fear of Communism gradually declined in the 80's, the implosion of the USSR and indirectly the dramatic loss of speed of the various Communist parties in the countries of Western Europe, opened the door to a fully uninhibited behavior of the ruling classes. Slowly and covertly, we returned to a situation comparable to the period before the revolutions of 1848 and 1870 with a significant and rapidly growing social divide between a small minority getting richer at high speed, and a popular mass feeling increasingly marginalized. This is were we are now, with the Yellow Vests movement lasting since November, and no perspective of a solution in view without a total redefinition of the political and economic system.
Shall there really be another bloody revolution in France or not? I have no answer to this question. But in any case he will one day have to reinvent a new balance and a new power to limit the appetite of oligarchs predators.
I think we should think outside of the box and use the new paradigm that is now created by digital technologies and the Internet. Indeed, the fear of hell is unlikely to resurface, and neither the fear of Communism, as forced equality between individuals failed, drowned in chronic inefficiency and the emergence of apparatchik predators.
The word democracy means government by the people, but a true democracy has scarcely existed except in ancient Greece or Switzerland, but limited to a small size population. Since 1789, the French government remains a parliamentary democracy, in fact controlled by the bourgeoisie, popular classes being not educated enough to participate actively in political life. But since the end of World War II, we have seen in France a phenomenal increase in the number of graduates, which rose in 50 years from 20% to nearly 80% of the school population. It seems to me that this implies a number of changes and opens up new possibilities.
First, the educational level of the middle classes is high, even in the most disadvantaged segments of the middle class. In 2019, the Yellow Vests, although despised by the elite, and treated as primitive idiots, actually have sufficient education to understand how works the political and economic world - and they are interested in it! Population categories at the limit of illiteracy are not found among the Yellow Vests, but in some suburbs - areas of lawlessness, as we decently call them ...
In short, the vast majority of the population can actually contribute to the life of the city and take an active part in political life. And looking at the inarticulate and undocumented declarations seen on TV by several members of parliament and government, the Yellow Vests have nothing to fear!
Repeated requests by Yellow Vests for a popular initiative referendum is relatively unrealistic within the voting procedures used so far. But a more systematic use of the Internet and electronic signature (or any other reliable means of identification) can bring its true meaning to democracy. With such means, an initiative and a referendum can be implemented and carried out in a very short time, in case of emergency in a few days or even less. Such a system should of course be framed and integrate information systems, so that each option and choice can be explained and detailed by those who support it, so that voters can make their choice knowingly.
With the Internet and a reliable identification of the voters, we can now establish a true democracy, with informed voters voting from home, on their PC or Smartphone, with full transparency.
It is obvious that such a system goes completely against the interests of the elites of today and that such change can not possibly be done in the context of the current republic. A complete disbanding of the current oligarchic system is needed before we can put in place new democratic structures. Such disbanding should bring a lot of radical changes, including legislation limiting the excessive enrichment of some, and ending any type of lobbying based on money.
Technology will help us create a new stable system, and fear of God or Collectivism will be replaced by the fear of the majority opinion. The very definition of democracy!