Curfew

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A recent law, effective July 1, prohibits the lighting of offices, buildings, churches and shops during the night. We are being told that such practices are useless and wasteful, therefore they should obviously be prohibited. Such a prohibition is good for the Planet and is meant to allow city dwellers (as in cloudy Paris) to watch the night sky, which UNESCO has recently classified as part of mankind’s heritage (it is unclear to me whether UNESCO has officially recognized that we share that heritage with aliens).

Of course, conceivably, some people may want to light a building for good reasons. For example the mayor of a town may want to light a historical building during some celebration. Or, say, a fashion house may want to light its headquarters on the Champs-Elysées, which contributes to the “image of France” abroad.

Well, in this case there is no problem. You just have to ask the “préfet” (a local official nominated by the central government) for a derogation. This is the same guy who decides where and when you may want to open your shop on sundays or have a sale.

You cannot get a derogation for murdering you grand mother or having a picnic on your neighbour’s yard. But you can get a derogation for violating the curfew or opening a shop on sundays. There are crimes for which the degree of criminality is a matter of judgement.

You see, everything is simple and nice. What’s the point of having this outdated concept called “rule of law” if people abuse it to do useless things and harm the Planet? Instead, let’s have people submit their motives to bureaucrats, and let them decide on a case by case basis which motives are noble and which ones are ignoble. And since the government is the source of morality (otherwise there would be no point in letting it grant derogations to the prohibitions it has made), there is no need for public officials to ask for a derogation to the curfew should they want to break it. By definition, their motives are noble.

For example, the “Nuits Blanches” is a cultural event sponsored by the Paris municipality which precisely consists in engaging citizens to spend the entire night out, visiting museums and attending cultural events (this link gives you an idea). A naive mind might ask why it is good that these events, which could happen during the day, or at least not during the curfew (which the law sets at 1 am – 7 am), have to be scheduled at a time when most people normally sleep, and why suddenly the health of the planet is no longer a concern when politicians stage massive festive events, while it remains so when it is the private people who want to have their own festive events.

It is hard to believe that breaking the curfew in order to have the Nuit Blanche would follow from a pure utilitarian argument.  After all, if the happiness of the Planet is important enough to warrant a curfew, surely the utility loss from having the Nuit Blanche events during the day instead of the night must be small (assuming it is a loss at all) compared to the marginal unhappiness inflicted upon the Planet.

So the reason why Nuit Blanche 2013 will stand despite that the government just passed a law making these sort of things illegal is that the event has some special moral meaning. In a recent interview, the Paris Mayor, Bertrand Delanoë, gives us a hint on the true meaning of the Nuit Blanche: “Nuit Blanche has a political dimension. The night is not owned. The night is shared”.

I suppose Mr. Delanoë really meant that the night is shared under the terms of those who own it. And the Nuit Blanche and the curfew both remind us who owns the night.