Jean-Baptiste Descroix-Vernier, Nietzsche, and the Rioters

Undoubtedly Opinion, in its prodigious versatility, has already moved on to something else.

But just the same I want to return to the strange experience my friend Jean-Baptiste Descroix-Vernier just had -- he who was ultimately responsible for the Internet company that organized a "free money giveaway" in the middle of Paris ten days ago.

This is the same man, a man who loves only discretion, solitude, his houseboat in Amsterdam, and the silence of his computers, that saw himself catapulted to the top of the news cycle because of the grim story of the "bus of fortune" that turned into a riot.

He whose great pride is the Foundation that he created to aid the most disenfranchised of the disenfranchised, in Europe and beyond; he whose credo is that of a morally-conscious Internet whose goal would be to serve just causes (how many crusades has he joined me via the very site that he created to archive my own texts and positions!), here he is depicted as a greedy monster, a pornocrat, when not as -- and I quote -- an "exploiter of social misery."

Since we're at this point, since he has been treated to these charming portraits, since he has not allowed himself from to respond, and since we have heard ministers -- and not minor ones -- lose all sense of caution and measure in describing the "horror" that this man, his methods, and by extension, the Internet world in general inspire -- again, I quote -- in them, let's try to look at things once more, but calmly this time.

Everything started with an online company that came up with the absurd idea, based on a similar promotion that had more or less worked in the United States, of a free money giveaway.

It was then the pas de deux of the authorities who, displaying a negligence almost as serious as that of the Pandoras who started everything, authorized without authorizing, but authorizing nonetheless, the event that they eventually forbad, but should have been stopped immediately.

It was Descroix-Vernier who, at the end, grabbed the helm, canceled the event, gave the entirety of the money that couldn't be given away to Secours Populaire (a public aid agency), and apologized (BFM radio, November 18) in a way that we would like to see from all public figures who, like him, occasionally commit a "colossal mistake."

We can already take three significant lessons away from this affair.

First of all, about the Internet which, it appears once more, can be -- like everything, and in particular, like the traditional press -- the best and the worst of things: the best when it helps derail the bid of an enemy of culture and thought -- Mr. Farouk Hosny -- to become Director General of Unesco; the worst when it assembles in the middle of Paris, on the strength of what we now call a "buzz," 7000 suckers and rioters drawn by the promise of literal pennies from heaven.

Secondly, about the monumental tartuffery revealed by the whole sequence of events, when we really think about it: because, ultimately, the scandal was announced; it had been made public on every French website under the sky several days in advance. The majority of those who are today trying to teach the black sheep a lesson about "easy money" knew about it and didn't object at the time. So had the event had been a success, would they have called it a "gag," or "fun," or "modern"? And how can we not conclude that the venom of crazy money is so profoundly instilled in the whole of the social body, that it is because everything turned out badly that this essentially shocking event has, all of a sudden, become immoral?

And finally, the third lesson -- the hooded gangs who didn't hesitate to join the fray and sow terror with the swing of their machetes: "the ghettos," as those who have turned a blind eye and a deaf ear have been saying for years; the ghettos, just the ghettos, the fools counting on some act of God to get the rioters to stay quietly at home; no, not the ghettos; it takes little, very little, for the ghetto, the place of ostracization, to take over the posh part of town; it only takes a single word, a spark for the "public thugs" (Nietzsche) to find out how easy it is to leave the ghettos and how nothing, absolutely nothing, prevents them, if they want, from venturing into the middle of the city. There also, it's a done deal; there too, the event proves the argument of those who proclaimed that the 21st century would be one of furious, nihilistic effervescences, with no other aim but to destroy for the sake of destroying; and there too is the proof that, when the social link -- the link Valéry that said was held together only by magic -- breaks, nothing, or almost nothing, can stand in its way.

So we are not going to give a medal to people for having provided in living color the proof of the eminent fragility of the citizen's pact. But is it forbidden to see in this affair a valuable mirror, a savage scanner, of deadlock and of malaise in French civilization, and in democratic civilizations in general? There, like elsewhere, I hate wrong focuses and the too-convenient production of scapegoats.

Translated from French by Sara Phenix.