Monday, November 28, 2005

The Happy Middle

I found this image via the Drudge report. The reuters caption reads as follows:

People walk past as a homeless person takes cover from the cold on a Paris sidewalk November 28, 2005, as six homeless have died in France since the arrival of winter temperatures. French authorities have raised their weather alert in 31 departments and asked for increased vigilance to the homeless in Paris.

If it's not a major heatwaves that kills the elderly in France, it's now an extreme coldspell that kills the homeless in France. The message is clear: If you are on the fringe of helplessness don't expect your government to save you from the whims of nature. We hear constantly of the great French social model, but I must admit my ignorance on how this system is supposed to protect its most vulnerable. I get the feeling that this system favours the vast middle, who go about their lives taking care of few things on their own while letting the state make the most important decisions for them. As for those who are unable, either by age or by mental incapacity, to take charge of their own lot, they're rather seen as an inconvenience for the happy middle. The photograph clearly illustrates the nature of the French happy middle, going about their day to day lives in their gently pleasant ho-hum way, willfully ignoring the few that are not part of their content state of being.

This picture is not unique to France, nor is the idea of society's weakest being more vulnerable to neglect and death all that new. Such a scene can be found all over the world, and almost makes one wonder whether it is a natural state of affairs within human society. But for a country that loves to boast to everyone who will listen about its culture of humanity and of equality, such scenes of homelessness belie the rhetoric. The "SDF" (Sans Domicile Fixe) in France are numerous througout the entire country, and never have I been subject to as many pleas for help as I have in Paris. In every subway trip, regional train, and every subway stop there were people who bluntly asked for change, often preceding it with some tear-jerking story. I preferred those who could sing French standards, but overall, I was confused about why the French virtue of social solidarity did not prevent these people from having to beg. The frequent generous donations from the other passengers on the train might be explained by their unspoken agreement that their soci0-economic security depends on the utter exclusion of a minority. The happy middle has consented to a system that benefits the large majority at the cost of excluding the weakest, a very zero-sum kind of mentality. Therein lies the power of socialist guilt, similar to its American strain of liberal guilt.

Once you stop believing in zero-sum, that all people in a society have something to contribute, and that it can infinitely enrich us all, then the guilt disappears. My success no longer depends on the exclusion of a few, but on the choices I have made. The most vulnerable will still remain, but we are now free to choose to help them instead of relying on government. We are in control of helping others, and to rely on government to assume control denies us the choice to help. When we relinquish our power by choice, we go back to feeling a kind of guilt similar to liberal guilt.

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