Heidi Fuller-Love and her husband created a bed and breakfast in France a couple of years ago. They asked the village to make a small change to accommodate them, and all hell broke lose.
Over the next few years we suffered every kind of persecution imaginable. The neighbour’s scruffy mongrel with close-set eyes was left outside to bark day and night, adolescents with mopeds revved for hours on end outside our front door, the cantonnier sprayed our roses with weed killer, fisherman tramped through our flowerbeds and horsemen tore down a part of the fence, then rode roughshod over our newly planted lawn. When we complained they said our garden was on a right of way and we had the devil’s own job to prove them wrong.
Apparently, this happens a lot.
Our lawyer in Angoulême regaled us with a host of similar tales. “Making people leave” was a well-loved local blood sport, apparently.
Finally, a Catholic priest helped clarify.
“You can get on fine in rural France if you don’t take initiatives. But if you scare local people and anyone who wants to change things inevitably will then God help you!”
Its tempting to dismiss this as simple xenophobia. But I couldnt help thinking that that this little village on the Charente/Dordogne border was once more the rule than the exception.
Most anthropologists find themselves dealing with people who exhibit an implacable hostility for innovation. They may not quite as bad a French villagers. (Clearly this is the special accomplishment of La France.) But by and large, most human communities, especially, second and third world ones, dont like innovation or initiative, and fight them hard.
This makes mysterious the fact first-world Westerners should embrace change so readily and manage it relatively well. Actually, the first mystery is how we went from a dirge march as hunters-gathers to the full out sprint of the present day. Its as if something remagnitized our feeling for change. Its as if we wouldnt change until we started changing, and once we started changing, we couldnt stop.
The second mystery is how we do it now. We are changing just about all the time. We accept change as the constant of our lives. Sometimes we grouse and grumble, but mostly accept each new new, and all the rippling innovations that come from it. Email, birth control, Linux, Anthony Robbins if we were hunter-gathers (or French villagers), we would have murdered all of these innovations in their crib.
We have effectively reengineered the person. Speaking of Anthony Robbins, we may take his program and career as part of the reengineering, as an attempt to give the self new properties, to give the individual a new willingness and agility in embracing change. In fact, we could treat a good deal of the cultural change in the West in the last half of the 20th century as a cultural response to change. This would stretch from Anthony Robbins backward to Objectivism and forward to the electronic enablements (PDAs, etc.) at our disposal. Indeed, we might even think of the MBA as a set of preparations for a professional life that will be nothing if not a process of constant innovation and adjustment.
But the strangest thing of all from an anthropological point of view is that we cut ourselves no slack. We dont say, “Yikes, we have created a world of new dynamism. What, systematically, are the problems it creates? What, systematically, are the solutions we require. No, we make ready often badly and by halves. The anthropologists wonders, “when are they going to snap out of it, and see that they have a new set of problems that are better addressed structurally and strategically? Anthony may be the right person to lead us into the promised land of proactive dynamism. On the other hand
Fuller-love, Heidi. 2005. Fear and loathing in rural France. The Telegraph. February, 14, 2005. full text here