Of riots & rioting

It is the policy of the High Doganate to discourage rioting, even in France. My acting Chief Paris Riot Correspondent reports a lot of property damage recently; I daresay the meejah have covered it lovingly. The cause appears to be the government trying to put its books in order. “The peeple” are unhappy because they are deprived of some entitlements, and charged closer to actual costs for services. They are getting what they voted for, and of course this makes them violent.

Under pretext of environmentalism, for instance, they will be taxed more for fuel. This was unimaginable to them, and the “reforms” are overall broad enough that they are now being goaded from both Right and Left. The usual searing envy has them marching into the better neighbourhoods, torching cars, spray-painting, smashing windows, and so forth; looting, very earnestly, the upscale stores.

Tear gas, stun grenades, water cannon. The police get to have their fun, too.

For many of the older citizens, this must bring 1968 to mind. I know that I felt a twinge (ah, to be fifteen again, and wiser than those passing through their “terrible twos”). Indeed, Paris — where I once learnt the cobbles are numbered on the bottom so they may be put back in place after they’ve been used for missiles — has been unusually peaceful this last half-century. There used to be a revolution every ten or twenty years, and lesser annual uprisings over this and that. I can understand nostalgia.

But, according at least to me, the French are not unrepresentative of humankind. Give people something they cannot afford, and they may be grateful, briefly. Stop giving it, or reduce the subsidy, and they will combust. This is the fate of all politicians’ promises. It happens the faster when “the peeple” in question have been raised in a state of post-Christian barbarism, with no conception of Hell. A scant thousand years ago it was the Norsemen we feared; now it is ourselves.

Among my eccentricities is the habit of reading histories. (Shakespeare’s are wonderful; but even Voltaire’s have their moments. Thucydides, hooo!) Let me assure gentle reader I seldom research to any great depth; it is mere curiosity. By now I am convinced that nothing can be fixed. Even in Christian times, people behaved atrociously, and those with power were as bad as the rest.

I used to indulge counter-factuals, the “What if?” questions. What if some kindly and intelligent soul, with a knowledge of the consequences of human stupidity, were parachuted into an earlier time, with a remit to alter the course of history for the better. It would be like insider trading. He would probably use his knowledge to get absurdly rich, and be utterly corrupted.

But suppose he didn’t, and instead did what he could to avert some pending catastrophe. Suppose, for sake of argument, that he succeeded. In that case, I am now fairly sure, there would be an alternative catastrophe. Thanks to his good intentions, it would probably be worse. Which is sad, when you think of it, for the world could be a paradise if everyone behaved. They will not, however. It’s that “Fall of Man” issue.

For you see, gentle reader, men are what we are. Our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked. I have this from the Prophet Jeremiah (speaking through the liturgy), and ain’t it the truth?