Equally free to sleep under bridges


Anatole France (1844–1924), one of the most brilliant French men of letters, who had the heart of Zola and the wit of Wilde, said, “In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges…”

His point, of course, is that what we call fairness is often something incredibly unfair, imposed by luckier people who have no need of the things they ban.

As far as I can see, we in the west are having a horrifying moment when we have been given a rare opportunity to face ourselves, and recognize that the exact predation we’re resenting from monopolist greed gone out of control (sorry, giving out decent jobs just doesn’t fit our shareholder model), is a feeling of helplessness and unfairness which we in turn, through our collected appetites, have been imposing on the poor around the world for so long now, that we’ve actually come to think of it as our right.

Some of our wealth is innovation, productivity, cleverness — and some of it is a bayonet in the back of a starving person.  We have ZERO moral high-ground in the world so long as we continue to deny this.  Three major famines in the world right now — western greed deeply involved with every one of them.

The idea of the poor as sub-human vermin replicating to outstrip resources is perhaps the oldest form of violence-doing racism.  What controls population growth?  Development — nothing else has proven to work yet.  Which is to say that the rich themselves (including us), by withholding this in order to preserve our never-deserved commercial advantages, are in fact causing the difficulty we most deplore.

I know, I know — “I’m not supposed to have to think about any of this.  I’m supposed to just be selfish and happy and spend and consume as I like.”

Had I ever in my life met anyone who had become truly happy on that route, I might at least tip my hat towards its desirability for those who aim there.  Unfortunately, that’s an illusion of happiness, fundamentally distancing from the real sources which are, as they have always been — other human beings, and good work done with and for them.

Two small bits to finish.  The fellow who used to sleep under this very bridge for many years (since moved-on) was very sweet, and enjoyed historical novels, as long as they weren’t too overtly dramatic (got more off my shelf, than Catherine’s).  He did not share his name (I always figure for a person with nothing — that intimacy is their call entirely), but we talked regularly about literature and the city.  Very, very smart guy — wise and kind, too.

Also — back-checking the quote which this picture brought to mind, I was quickly reminded that Anatole France is incredibly fantastic — and very much under-appreciated these days.  Just check his Wiki-page quotes, you’ll flip!

I am always curious about what you are thinking

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