Heritage and Height Limits: A Parisian Problem

A city of tradition, revolution, and reaction, Paris has managed to be both charmingly old world while simultaneously extremely progressive and forward thinking. Paris proper, the twenty arrondissements encircled by the périphérique hasn’t undergone a major change since Hausmann and Napolean III set to work making the city what it is today. They widened boulevards and streets and redid architecture down to minute details like the newstands. Since then the city has been loathe to change.

When the era of skyscrapers can and massively changed cities like New York City and London, Paris relegated them to a suburb, La Défense. The business district of Paris actually exists outside the city itself. The center retained extremely strict height limits and historically important buildings were more or mess untouchable. The Eiffel Tower being a very rare exception that was built to celebrate 200 years of revolution. However, several buildings and structures have gotten through these limits. And they are almost amways greeted with hatred.


Tour Montparnasse

The most notable is the uniformly detested Tour Montparnasse. Easily the second most prominent building in the skyline of Paris (after the Eiffel Tower). This uninspired black mark on the city inspired even stricter restrictions after it’s construction. Other monstrosities have made it through, with slightly less opprobrium than Tour Montparnasse: Centre Pompidou and the Louvre Pyramid.

After Tour Montparnasse the city had a kind of ‘never again’ moment and imposed even stricter height limits on the city. However, this is changing again under mayor Anne Hidalgo. Since views of the city are so expensive and sought after (the city alone contains 30% of the real estate value in France), developers really want to build things that are over the old height restrictions so that owners can have beautiful views of the city (before it fills with other buildings full of people seeking similar views… then suddenly the city is as ugly as London). Mayor Hidalgo recently got the City Council to lift height limits to over 500 feet and to approve a building called Tour Triangle. Described as ‘having a dialog with the city,’ a polite way of saying ‘it is glaring different and will not fit in at all.’

Paris is not the most visited city in the world because people want to see garish modern architecture. They could see that in any major city. People come to Paris to see what major cities of Europe used to be like before the World Wars destroyed most of them (Paris was spared by being declared an open city).

There has been quite an outcry against this move and the building has yet to be built. But does the city really need another Tour Montparnasse to know that it should be more careful and selective?


Sanskrit and the West – Discovery and Loss

Classical learning in the west primarily consists (or consisted if you want to take a pessimistic view of the state of classical learning) of the study of the major ancient languages – Latin and Greek. However, at the end of the 18th century another classical language entered the tradition: Sanskrit. Having always existed at the periphery of the Classical World (from a Western perspective, of course), Sanskrit the other great ancient descendant of PIE  or Proto-Indo-European.

This is something that British scholars quickly realized during the process of colonization – the similarities between Sanskrit and the languages that they had studied in University were too striking. It couldn’t be coincidence. And returning to Europe with the staggering volume of writing that they had found, Sanskrit had something of a renaissance in the West – or rather, a naissance. It was quickly introduced into English and German universities where the similarities between it and the Greco-roman tradition ensued. During the 19th century this cross study of the three major languages led to the development of a whole new field of study: comparative linguistics. As well as the theory of a much, much older origin language, PIE.

Sanskrit verbs conjugation was very similar to that of Greek, though slightly less complicated. What was extremely complicated, and hence very interesting to this generation of European scholars (these were the people that eventually deciphered cuneiform and hieroglyphs) was the complicated rules regarding sound agreement, called Sandhi. These sound changes where significantly more complicated than those found in Greek (sound agreement and elision in Latin is hardly worth mentioning as it is almost entirely relegated to poetry and in the form of small contractions in the active perfect 3rd plural and a few other cases). This, combined with the fact that there was an enormous amount of material to be read led to a huge explosion of academic interest. The results of which can still be seen today as the major centers of Sanskrit studies are in the USA, England, and Germany not India.

However, this interest was not sustained and the study largely died off after the comparative aspects came to be understood. The demise of the classical education (at least as a requirement), began after the first Word War and as fewer men took up the study of their own tradition, even less took an interest in foreign traditions. Western classicist now fear a similar decline of Latin and Greek that they have seen with Sanskrit: that is, it is now relegated to a very small number of extremely specialized academics. And last time Latin and Greek retreated into the monasteries it took centuries for it to return in the form if the Renaissance.

If you have any interest in this study, University programs still exist at schools that still have serious classics programs. There is also something of a Sanskrit renaissance going on in India as the country rediscovers its roots and it’s own tradition resurfaces (it never stopped being used in a religious context). One of the best things about Sanskrit is the fact that the best literature (or what is generally regarded as the best), that of Kalidasa, is much easier to read than the majority of the Vedic works. His writing was mostly drama and truly excellent poetry.

Despite its complicated Sandhi system, the ancient Indians were extraordinarily serious about the study of grammar. Their intense study resulted in the language not changing nearly as much as one would expect over such a long period of time. This work all started with one of the first true grammarians: Panini.

I studied Sanskrit in school for a few semesters and it was extraordinarily rewarding. However I could not maintain three classical languages no matter how related they were!

Here are some resources for those interested.

Government, Greek, Latin

Ancient Governments and Modern Iterations

There is nothing more indicative of our epoch’s desire to emulate the greatness of our ancestor’s civilizations than our governments. The ideal Western government, to most citizens anyway, is the democracy. Most modern Western governments are actually republics. These very words show how much we owe to the civic innovations of our predecessors. The very words ‘Democracy’ and ‘Republic’ comes from Greek and Latin, respectively. Modern Western governments have made very few innovations to the systems beyond adding to the pool of people who can participate.

In the fifth century BC, the Athenian Democracy was founded. It is one of startlingly few examples of a successful direct democracy, but even then it was short lived. And was hardly ‘inclusive,’ that all important yard-stick by which we measure success in our age. To participate in the Athenian Democracy one had to be male, a freeman, and own land. Hardly acceptable requirements in the modern era! This limited those who could participate to around 1/5 of the population of Athens. Those who could participate, however, were allowed a great impact on the course of government as they could vote on all major matters of state.

This may be acceptable insofar as the administration of a small city-state, but certainly not a large nation. Rome made her entrance as another small monarchy in Latium, but due to internal conflict and growth, she transformed into something novel in 509BC: a republic. A small group of men representing the will of the families of import took over as the main legislating body. To participate in the senate one had to be a male patrician, so it was far less inclusive than the Athenian Democracy. The vast majority of peoples, the plebes, were, over time, given rights and powerful representatives in government – tribunes. This is a government that lasted from 509BC – 44BC, it continued to exist under the Emperors until 476AD (or 1453AD in Byzantium). This is a form of government that proved to be elastic enough to survive a millenium. It certainly proved itself more durable than that most famous modern European Republic, what with its five iterations in three centuries.

Several important points can be drawn from successful governments of the past. One is that the voting class was much better educated than the hoi polloi. If one owns land, or is a patrician, he almost certainly has been educated to a comparatively high degree (especially in the latter case where societal pressure would require one to study both Roman and Greek literature, government, and oratory). Secondly, only those most invested in the economic success of the nation could vote: land owners and patricians. They have farm more to lose and therefore act far more carefully and conservatively. The masses are incitable (see the nike riots) were tempered by the government. Furthermore, the Greek system required one to be actively contributing to the polis, one would not end up with a situation like modern America where a very large percentage of the population is a net drain, yet can still vote for policies that, say, give them even more. This leads to pandering for votes by promising what are tantamount to bribes. But I digress.

Aristotle strongly supported an aristocratic ideal and so does this writer. Especially in Rome to be a successful politician one had to be superbly educated. The study of Latin, Greek, Oratory, Literature, etc. was required merely to have a good chance of a successful political career. Just as importantly these men were culturally obligated to serve in the military if they had political ambitions. Imagine if all of our politicians were required to serve in the military, be heavily invested in the success of the state, and meet very demanding educational requirements. I can think of many American, British, and Australian Presidents and PMs that don’t fit even two of these!

World Events

On Integration and Responsibility

After the horrific attack of 13/11/15, western Europe has come to a point where it simply must face the mess it has allowed to fester for the last five decades. The problem being immigrant ghettos. Almost all of the perpetrators of the recent violence in Paris was done by citizens of the EU. All of them were tied back to a location in Belgium known as Molenbeek. A location that has grown to be so violent that the Belgian police have admitted that they are loathe to even enter it. Perhaps most importantly, it is also home to one of the highest concentrations of Muslims in western Europe.

It is this environment that allowed the plan to be laid. But even worse, this is a location that allows for the gestation of a violent ideology in the heart of the West. A violent foreign ideology. And it is the foreign part that makes the issue so sticky. Many have begun to blame the problems on the lack of initiative that the west shows in integrating them. These same people blame poverty, indoctrination, anything they can, except for one thing. Islam. For to blame the ideology that results in these attacks is xenophobic. Such pretensions to political correctness must end.

How can one blame poverty? The government provides housing, food, education, and health care. There is access to cellular phones, the internet, and obviously places of worship. In comparison to the supposed horrors that their home countries contain, it’s the Ritz Carlton. And to break up the ghettos would, and ought to be, illegal. They have to right to self congregate, as does anyone. Forcing people to live apart is a vile thing to do. What is of concern is the ideology that springs up in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th generation immigrants within these communities. But poverty is not the issue. There are far poorer neighborhoods elsewhere in the world that manage to avoid such religious violence.

What needs to be looked at is the ideology itself: Is Islam compatible with European values? The holy book of the religion is filled with intolerant musings against infidels, gays, etc. So is the Bible, you might say. But all the horrid parts of the Bible (mostly Leviticus) are exempted for Christians by the coming of Jesus. The law was fulfilled and superseded by Christ, according to their ideology. Jesus taught to love your neighbor, that the meek, the widows, and the orphans ought to be protected. Jesus even accosts the one man that tries to save him from the cross.

Most importantly, the Bible was not written by God. The words of Christ were written down by men, one can’t get around this as the gospels are named after their authors and contain many obvious discrepancies. Ergo, there is ample room for interpretation and the message itself is quite pacifist. The same cannot be said of the Koran. The Koran was given by Gabriel to Muhammad directly from God. Interpreting or ignoring a part of the Koran is to directly twist or ignore the word of God.

This, in addition to the influx of refugees, as well as money from the gulf states, should lead the European governments to strongly reexamine their position. Most of these refugees are young men, young religious men who will quickly be dissatisfied with the Europe which they have built up for themselves. Suppose the vast majority of these men want to integrate peacefully, think of the example we have seen in France, the UK, and the West in general over the last 4 generations. It is not good. And many of these men will likely be unable to find partners in Europe that will fit their predisposed idea of how women should act, which can cause a whole separate problem.

So what can be done? Europe has done everything it can whilst sticking to the present political vogue of unquestioning acceptance. Benefits, housing, health care. The ball is in their court and has been for the last 50 years. But if one thing is clear the fault does not lie with the efforts of the European governments to integrate them. The burden of integration lies with the immigrants themselves and no one else.

Over the next fifty years one can expect to see either the most successful integration of an antagonistic group ever or a massive swing to the right. The V4 nations have already looked at Molenbeek and the banlieus and they have decided they want none of it.

As an aside, how does the United States do such a good job of integrating? That is a topic for another time, but the bulk of the reason is that the USA, due to the Atlantic, can be far more discerning in who it accepts. And those it does accept as usually highly educated. This either tempers severely or eliminates entirely the faith which has caused so many problems in Europe.


Multiculturalism and the Police State

The day after the shootings and bombings in Paris, I read a plea from a concerned internet denizen. He was concerned about the possibility of the French government passing further surveillance legislation. There is certainly precedent for this, and with 11/13/2015 being considered the French 9/11, the PATRIOT act springs to mind. This concerned internet denizen pointed to recent French legislation that had already expanded surveillance, and apparently it failed in its purpose, so why add more? Setting aside the fact that just because a law failed once in its purpose, it isn’t by that fact alone damned.

The real outcome that concerned cyberspace citizens fear is that of an Orwellian ‘big brother’ constantly watching out for the slightest deviation from the prescribed norm. It is, of course, a fair bet that many of these individuals deviate from the norm in ways they don’t want known, but many likely have nothing to hide, but merely don’t want to be observed. Unfortunately for them, the internet, in exchange for its unparalleled speed and utility, is the perfect platform for observation. As the news, banking, communication, and, in some countries, even elections move online, it becomes even more enticing to certain agencies.

These agencies can’t be blamed, they know full well that should another major attack occur the first question they’ll be asked is ‘how did you not know?’ They are merely doing their jobs, it is politicians that decree what can or can’t be accessed.

But what is with the large increase in surveillance in the West? Is freedom of speech and expression not one of our greatest rights? Is not privacy? Why should privacy be taken away?

It is on account of one thing, something that we have all been told is an undeniably good thing: multiculturalism. Or, more specifically, unmitigated cultural relativism in combination with it. The blending of cultures can be good, a Frenchman is as likely to enjoy Bach, Handel, and Verdi as any Englishman or Norwegian. No one in England is complaining about the introduction of French and Italian food, and few shun German cars. In many ways the artistic world of Europe has always been multicultural. Certainly since the Renaissance.

But all of these cultures already share a similar history: most were part of the Roman Empire. all were part of Christendom, all call upon a classical Greek and Latin canon. The foundations of each European culture is the same, the surface permutations are never going to be too far apart. If cultures were islands, Europe would be an archipelago. But what about war, you ask? I’m not speaking to politics, politics can even drive brothers against one another. No, I’m speaking to culture.

Now with the post-1960s (that decas horribilis) attitude, one must judge all cultures on their own. Judging in relation to one’s own would be incorrect as it assumes that one is right and another wrong when they lead one to differing conclusions. With the mindset of cultural relativity, one doesn’t pick the best parts out of another culture, because that’s wrong. No, one has to accept them as they are. This mentality, combined with enormous amounts of mass migration has led us to where we are now: in a bit of a pickle.

On one hand we don’t want mass surveillance, it violates our privacy. On another we can’t say that a certain culture is incompatible with ours because that would be that most horrid of all words: racist. What to do?

Currently we are just looking the other way. We let migrants pile up in Calais, Saint-Denis, Marseilles, and Molenbeek. We will purposefully avoid using terms to out perpetrators of crimes as belonging to a certain ethnicity or religion, we will avoid going to these areas, and life will carry on. Until, that is, they decide to break into our cozy world and rile it up. Which is where surveillance comes in, it monitors these areas and those peoples. And us in the process, a nice treat.

The very fact that this is necessary indicates that in practice multicultralism doesn’t work. At least not with incompatible cultures. One often hears that the reason Africa and the Middle East as so strife-ridden is because of the arbitrary lines that the European powers drew as borders. Borders throwing incompatible ethnics groups and religions together. Why would they get along any better in Europe, among even more different cultures?

As things stand, stay tuned for increased surveillance.