The French & N.C.'s Marriage Amendment

Last week when the wife was hanging out with a friend, the topic of French people came up. The friend was frustrated because she had been treated rudely and condescendingly by a French person. So this sophisticated and cultured woman vented a bit, making the comment that every French person she'd ever met has been rude.

There might have been a bit of exaggeration on her part, due to the offense she'd taken. I've certainly known some nice-ish French people. But most of the Frenchies I've known have been sort of rude.

Of course, what's taking place is simply cultural crossed wires. These rude French people aren't actually being rude to us on purpose, are they?

Well, yes and no. Mostly yes, but it's nothing personal.

[caption id="attachment_10134" align="aligncenter" width="346"] Contemplez-vous cette femme ridicule, cavalier.[/caption]

To the French, conformity to the normes courantes are a requirement for respectability. Americans are individualistic to a vicious fault; this leads to a self-regard that is relatively unaffected by the opinions of others. "Self-esteem" is a real thing to Americans, but is meaningless to a Frenchman, to whom estime is the admiration you develop for people you have a relationship with. The French have no self-esteem, but they have their honneur, which is defined by others. The estime that others hold you in is what defines your self-regard as a Frenchman. Whereas Americans have historically been aggressively individualistic, the French are as thoroughly a face-saving honor culture as the Japanese.

That is what leads to the bullying and rudeness. Being witty and clever is rewarded in French culture, as is philosophy and academic research. But only when it falls into accepted norms. This is why the French Academy spends so much time making pronouncements regarding the French language, and fighting change to a point that looks ridiculous to us. It is why their philosophers and fashionistas are so famed for their brutality toward les étrangers. It is because that which we have all agreed upon is what is right.

Therefore an intellectual mob mentality. When French people were rude to you (assuming a real conversation, not a request for directions to the metro) you noticed that it was done in a very laissez faire sort of way, which only offended you more. But it was done casually because it was done instinctively, not personally.

Europeans all agree that you should have few children; it's not rude of a French person to talk about how you have too many kids because it is you who is outside the norm. Europeans agree that religion and religiosity are barriers to enlightenment; it's not rude of a French person to tell you that you're stupid and superstitious because it is you who is outside the norm. The French agree that there's a radical separation between one's work and one's "private life"; it's not rude of a French person to tell you that you're overreacting to that politician's scandal because it is you who is outside the norm.

French society allows for a range of what is intellectually and behaviorally acceptably, of course. It is, after all, a human society. But you'll know it when you bump up against the boundaries of what is acceptable. The French learn early on that they'll get bashed by those who are older and more established if they step outside the norm, so they become masters of navigating that river. But they will (almost) never put the boat up and go exploring in the woods.


Well, that was a nice little article, wasn't it? What does it have to do with the controversial recent amendment to North Carolina marriage law?

It has to do not so much with the referendum and amendment as it does with some of the reactions I've seen.

On Facebook you could tell the moment the results were cemented. That's because there were hordes of people ready with one-liners, photos, cartoons, and memes galore. They all exploded out early in the evening. These were not attacks on the theological, anthropological, or political ideas in play. They were all "look how stupid those people are".

[caption id="attachment_10138" align="aligncenter" width="434"] This is one of the least rude ones out there.[/caption]

A republic is representational, but is structured to protect the rights and political power of minorities as well as majorities. It is easy to see how the political life and structure of these United States has changed over the years as it became less of a republic and more of a democracy, in which the straight majority decides all. American intellectual life, of course, has always been ahead of and informing the political trajectory.

The glory of American intellectual life was its individualism. Sadly, the natural entropic course of that is atomization to the point of becoming the demos masses. We have decayed intellectually to the point that our thinking is utterly defined by the polarized group we belong to. Anyone outside that norm is to be ridiculed instead of engaged.

We are becoming like the French. If you say something contrary to what the Academy says, you are only to be mocked. Public dialogue and political discourse has never been so easy!

If anyone disagrees with you and your group, they must be stupid. You don't need to talk to them or even respect them. Just start calling people names and bashing away.