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The anonymous French The anonymous French
by Joseph Gatt
2019-02-02 10:27:47
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When I was in a relationship with a Korean woman, I would often complain to my Korean friends about the way the relationship was heading. We had no future plans, she was taking too many risks for my taste, she avoided one-on-one conversation at all costs, and she only took me to bars where we had personal connections with the owners, that way I had to watch my mouth as the owner was listening.

My Korean friends often told me I had a typical Korean girlfriend and I should adapt to Korean life. In sum, that I should try to be more Korean. That I did, but she left me nonetheless, and cultural differences had nothing to do with it.

french001_400An abusive relationship is an abusive relationship is an abusive relationship. When I interned at a French company from January 7th to March 21st 2005, I shared an office with a French Moroccan and a Northern Italian. The French Moroccan insisted he was Moroccan because he was in charge of African projects. He had free Moroccan tea in the office, and hundreds of people came by our office to drink Moroccan tea. Hundreds. I was visible in that office. But of the hundreds who came for tea, not one asked me my name. Not one asked me where I was from. Not one asked me what I did. Not one asked me what my background was. One asked me about the books I had on my shelf, and the minute I started discussing them, he ran away with his plastic cup of tea, basically left the office.

One woman came to our office and I asked her how she got the job. She said her English skills were the determining factor because she had spent her teenage years vacationing in New York City during the summer. I was about to ask where do I sign my contract, but refrained from doing so. Another Filipino colleague was the only one who ever asked me questions, but he would never let me answer those questions.

My boss was the typical French boss. He quickly caused me to fear him, was irritable, and apparently did not appreciate my presence. He asked me to summarize every single project report that had been done on a certain project, 500 in total. I was not paid for the internship, and thought summarizing 500 reports was pushing it. This was back in the day where my typing skills were mediocre and where I still had to write each summary with a fountain pen on a sheet of paper before I proceeded to typing it. I couldn't get the spell check to work, and I didn't know half the words that were on the report.

My boss never told me what he wanted those summaries for, and never contextualized on what the reports or general project were about. My boss also organized a party for the birth of his granddaughter that he did not invite me to. Everyone else was invited.

The yellow vests are a symbol. Motorcycle riders in France have to wear a yellow vest as a security measure at night to be visible. Just like in my internship, which many French friends told me were a normal part of French life, a large proportion of French people feel that they are invisible at work, invisible in the political sphere. Decisions are taken for them without consulting them, no context is given behind the decisions, and social factors are not taken into consideration in the political realm.

Just like my relationship with that Korean girl, no amount of cultural rationalizing can explain French worker's frustrations. No one asks them their names, no one asks them what they want or where they come from. In sum, they are not individuals, but objects. Disposable objects.

The education system and French philosophy have something to do with it. In French schools, although teachers tend to know your name, they rarely ask you about your hobbies or your opinions. Asking teachers a question is challenging their authority, and so is sharing your opinion with teachers on a subject.

Regarding French philosophy. I've been to French sociology lectures where I was excited to discuss French social questions, only to find myself being lectured on social concepts devoid of human beings. Human beings are objects. I've been to psychology lectures where it was cells and neurons that were objectified, and there was no human dimension whatsoever. I went to a conference of Ludwig Wittgenstein, where Wittgenstein was not discussed. Wirrgenstein was born in Vienna to a Jewish family, and the lecturer stopped there, preferring to discuss Vienna's 19th century architecture. Incidentally, perhaps coincidentally (I doubt the coincidence) Hitler in his Mein Kampf also spends approximately the first 10% of the book discussing how he wanted to be an architect and was fascinated by Vienna's late 19th century architecture. I read Mein Kampf after escaping a concentration camp in South Korea, trying to understand what leads human beings to designing such experiments.

In sum, French politicians rarely care about the social, economic, anthropologic dimension of the political landscape they are leading. The economy tends to be objectified, so is society objectified, reduced to numbers and raw facts. And like in the psychology lecture, the French did not believe that French workers would eventually be fed up with being anonymous objects.

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