It is hard enough getting the big picture right in your own life, your own family, your own community. When asked to consider what is happening on very large tapestries we face serious problems. Kahneman’s System 2 reasoning is often a necessary corrective for the biases inherent in System 1 intuition but the bigger the picture the less traction reason has and the more we are captive of narrative, which is to say bias.
In the very strange year 1968 we were faced with rhyming reverberations all over the world–counterculture and radical politics in the United States, revolt in Mexico, the Events of May in Paris, Prague Spring. How were all these things connected, or were they connected much at all?
2018 is the year more like 1968 than any other I have encountered in the past half century, and once again I feel I am faced with odd synchronicities that tax the brain.
Take the Yellow Vest phenomenon. Perhaps Steve Bannon is right that this kind of thing is deeply connected to Trumpism, rejection of the EU and other international trends and forces. And it is certainly the case that we live in a more intensely globalized world today than we did in 1968 so I suppose it could be the case that beneath all of the disruption there is an underlying thread attempting to emerge as a movement.
But it is usually best to distrust the satisfying jump to connect all the dots, and to resist the rush that comes when one feels that one has discovered the key to some secret narrative structure. As Kahneman observed:
The world makes much less sense than you think. The coherence comes mostly from the way your mind works.
Of course this does not mean patterns are not there. Just that one’s method always ought to leave ample room for skepticism about order, and to approach any events suspecting that more disorder exists than we like to think.
So consider the Yellow Vest in this spirit. Are they what Bannonites think or is there more going on that is a function of the singularity of the French?
FPR is the voice of . . . what? It stands for an odd melange of ideas on its own. It is for localism and limits and so broadly speaking you can say it is on the “small is beautiful” side of things but it is often unclear what this means when the rubber hits the road. Left-wing? Right wing? Ideologically driven? Pragmatic?
The FPR article about the Yellow Vests is written by one Stephen Heiner.
Stephen lives in Paris, where he writes and manages small businesses. He writes on culture, the permanent things, and all things French.
Judging from his choice to live in Paris, and from the article itself, Heiner is an admirer of the French way of doing things.
A French writer was quoted a couple weeks ago as saying that France is a paradise full of people who think they live in hell. It is a relative paradise for many.. . .The reason that many of us who aren’t French choose to make our lives here is because the French really know how to live, and live well.
One might think that someone predisposed to the French way of life, someone writing for Front Porch Republic, would come at the issue of the Yellow Vests in a sympathetic way. After all, despite all the focus on the Parisian rioting a great deal of the energy of the movement originated locally, from the bottom up. FPR might be expected to give three cheers to that as against the dead hand of the EU that is causing so much local pain.
But at best Heiner seems to summon up one cheer for the Yellow Vests.
(F)or these protesting, whose comrades voted in Trump in America, Salvini in Italy, and nosed Britain out of the EU, the pain is genuine. They feel a squeeze, with no jobs and no future.
On the other hand . . .
the problem is that no one wants to tell the French you can’t have your brioche and eat it too. . . . The French have been demanding more and more benefits with slower and slower economic growth for decades now. The numbers simply don’t add up.
Looked at this way the French have long been attempting to live a life more or less in keeping with FPR values–but it does not work all that well, at least if you are looking for the good things that a neoliberal economic order can bring as a supplement to living well in the French manner.
Given how poorly Macron is doing at the moment you have to think hard to recall what propelled him to power just a short time ago: the notion that the French had to get real about “more benefits with slower and slower economic growth”.
This is not to say that the Yellow Vests are hypocritical or that Macron’s politics represent an honest realism against a fanciful Frenchness that is unsustainable It does suggest that the world makes less sense than you think.