Thieves We Like

Thieves We Like

Two extraordinary heists made the headlines this week: A security guard in Lyon absconded with 11 million euros after ten years of good and faithful service; and a postal worker calmly departed with a million euros. Heists without any violence, both pulled off by people of modest circumstances, apparently without any fuss, acting openly, having perfectly prepared their moves, evaporating immediately after them into the woodwork. Robberies where, in fact, no one was robbed except the banking institution.

Heists that don’t incite any indignation, any revulsion of public opinion, rather, on the contrary, a sort of collective jubilation. Their authors (still at large, as I write [translator note: but one no longer even though a significant part of the loot from both jobs has been recovered) were, in fact, the immediate beneficiaries of tremendous popularity: blogs, T-shirts, Facebook, and other networking site groups they inspired were created. And what one may read there is an unbelievable, truly global, gusto, the telltale signs of several dimensions of the spirit of the times:

1. The tremendous disrepute of the global financial system, which may be robbed without a soul protesting because it is itself seen to be a thief. And which, de facto, at least in the case of American banks, has been the main force triggering the present crisis.

2. The sympathy a small person, a weak person, an anonymous person attracts when he proves to be clever enough to beat the best-guarded, the most powerful systems to the point of crystallizing the admiration of a great number of people who express that admiration openly, even going so far as to openly excuse the plundering.

3. The fragility of a financial system that can be so easily fooled – in cyberspace by sophisticated traders and, in material reality, by clever security guards. In both cases, real money, the kind people use and covet, meets up with virtual money, the kind the financial system uses, in incommensurable amounts.

4. The disproportion between the means devoted to finding and punishing thieves when they are security guards and those used to find the people outside the law when the are bankers. For the former, prison. For the latter, tax havens and bonuses.

5. The inevitable decline of any society in which thieves have a better reputation than honest folk, a society unable to assure the loyalty of those who live in it; in particular when the issue at stake is the legitimacy of the financial system, on which everything depends.

6. The necessity for rethinking all security systems, physical and virtual, discredited by routines and attacked today on every side.

7. Finally and above all, the necessity for recreating legitimacy with respect to the money, the wealth, the fortune that ought to be able to be considered fair when it is earned in a way useful to society and censored when the one who accumulates it brings nothing to others but his contemptuous gaze on their vulnerability.

Translation: Truthout French Language Editor Leslie Thatcher.