Between Defect and Excess - sunday 2012-10-28 0120 last modified 2012-10-31 1339
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He asked himself whether human society could have the right to force its members to suffer equally in one case for its own unreasonable lack of foresight, and in the other case for its pitiless foresight; and to seize a poor man forever between a defect and an excess, a defect of work and an excess of punishment.

Whether it was not outrageous for society to treat thus precisely those of its members who were the least well endowed in the division of goods made by chance, and consequently the most deserving of consideration.

These questions put and answered, he judged society and condemned it.

Victor Hugo via Jean Valjean, Les Misérables

In a French Revolution mode, having just finished A Tale of Two Cities. I'm sure we spent weeks in secondary schooling on the various iterations of governance the French staggered between as tyrants bearing various modes of rule set themselves up and dealt death to their opposite numbers. What a horrifying time to live through when the next day could be in question, life hanging in the capricious hands of the newly power mad. And yet Hugo's insights transcend the times (so far; this is 1/15th of the way in), and while many of us may live in quite a bit more security than revolutionary tribunals afforded, Valjean could still be describing the experience of the poor of today equal to a century and a half ago.

Side note, the first paragraph above in the free e-text is mistranslated or mistyped, taking the original defaut once for the correct "defect" and once for the incorrect "default." It's corrected above; I get the sense there are a lot of little mistakes spread throughout and disseminated about the web. Maybe The Gutenberg Project needs to go wiki.

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