Do you know what the first victims of the Gilets Jaunes (yellow vests) movement were? When, prompted by a tax on diesel, thousands of men and women emerged from nowhere last November to take over the roundabouts of France, it was a total surprise. Political leaders, journalists, sociologists--no one saw this spontaneous outbreak coming, let alone that the movement would last over two months.
Strangely, the first targets of these postmodern sans-culottes were not corporations, or public agencies, or police. They were--radar speed traps! By the end of November, the Toulouse newspaper La Depeche du Midi reported that in just ten days more than 600 radar units had been vandalized on the roads. Some were destroyed or burned. Others were covered with paint or a simple tarpaulin. According to specialized agencies, fully two thirds of the radar units in France are currently out of service.
These insurrections on the roundabouts were described as Jacqueries, after the spontaneous and violent medieval peasant revolts which were directed against the nobility, and from which the nascent middle class quickly dissociated itself. Under the Ancien Regime, peasants and yokels were called Jacques, in much the same manner as today's new bourgeoisie 2.0 from gentrified neighbourhoods casts judgement on inhabitants of the outlying suburbs by ridiculing them as beaufs (mononcle is an equivalent term in Quebec).
At the same time, attacks on radar units evoke the distant rebellion of the first workers of the industrial age, who destroyed weaving and carding machines. Marx described these early worker mutinies, such as the Luddite movement in England in the early 19th century, at length. It was an era that, like ours, was undergoing profound changes. Laws protecting craft producers were repealed in favour of what is still called laissez-faire. In 1812, destruction of machines was a capital crime and several Luddites were hanged.
Coincidentally, the hero of French writer Michel Houellebecq's latest novel, Serotonine [coming out in English in September as Serotonin], makes it his duty to destroy smoke detectors wherever he goes. Two centuries separate the Luddites from the Gilets Jaunes, but is it any wonder that a movement as spontaneous and disorganized as its distant ancestor attacks radar units? These "money machines" bring in $6.5 billion to the government each year. And the primary victims are the inhabitants of these regions that have become wastelands, who...