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Bernard-Henri Lévy Headshot

The Criminal Childishness of Those Who Believe in the Triple A

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Could we be living in an era of such madness, one that has lost its compass and its points of reference to such an extent that this affair of one of the three major rating agencies' withdrawal of America's and then France's triple "A" has taken on such importance?

Let's go over the facts.

Here is a firm, Standard and Poor's, which fulfills its company's mission, earns its shares on the market, augments and consolidates its profits, and benefits its shareholders by offering -- as it is entitled to -- a specific product called a rating.

Here is a firm that -- and it remains within its rights, but this should at least raise some suspicions -- has never stopped making mistakes, failing to foresee any of the crises that have led the world to the edge of the abyss, from Enron to the subprimes, from Lehman Brothers' bankruptcy to that of the Greek debt.

And here is a firm, still Standard and Poor's, whose criteria of appreciation are marked by subjectivity, as is the case for every human endeavor, one whose methodologies are not only vague, but opaque and, from the little we know of them, stamped with the seal of a singular amateurism. For, if we believe what we read in Le Monde (15-16 January), this withdrawal of France's triple-A rating was the work of a German analyst who, seconded by a Slovene assistant, spent "a few months" gathering "public data", blending them with the results of "some interviews" with "ministers, members of the opposition, and bankers", and then, finally, being "bombarded with questions" during a "visioconference" by a group of "five to fifteen people", none of whom were particularly familiar with the dossier.

Yet, when the verdict falls, when, ending the mounting suspense cleverly orchestrated by its communications service, the agency renders its decree, when it publicly announces the result of the little reflection concocted by these two analysts, goaded on (once again, Le Monde's investigation) by the five to fifteen other individuals who are "more or less experts", it's a thunderbolt, a tsunami of comments and contrition, a national and global earthquake. It's as though Jupiter had roared, as though God had spoken, it's as if truth itself had just fallen from the sky -- and the few voices that attempt to qualify things with, "Yes, it's an interesting point of view, but it's only one point of view and perhaps we would do well to compare these uncertain conclusions with others" are promptly swept away by the tidal wave.

I am not mentioning the concrete consequences this rating will have.

I am not mentioning the austerity plans, the massive series of layoffs, the fairly brutal measures that will automatically follow.

Nor do I mention the fact that the destiny, the lives of millions of men and women hang in the balance at this moment, depending on the throw of the dice of an Agency whose point of view, I repeat, is never "objective" or "scientific" and, anyway, will be countered by that of a rival agency a few days after, as it should be.

The most incredible thing concerning this whole business is the way political actors and public opinion have gotten carried away; it is our immediate acceptance of what must be termed a diktat, if not a downright abuse of power. It is this phenomenon of collective intoxication -- almost hypnosis -- which makes us agree to a downgrading (what a word !) of which no one, or nearly, questions the sources, the grounds, the motives. It is the fact that so few of us rebel against this absurd fetishism, this caricature of dictatorship on the part of the much-vaunted financial markets; it is the docility that makes us unanimously accept that the policies of France and of the world should be made, as General de Gaulle said, "on the trading floor" of these super stock markets of illusions the agencies have become. It is, in a word, the strange consensus surrounding this new form of what Etienne de la Boêtie once called voluntary servitude and which has just reached an unparalleled degree of excellence.

A few years ago, with psychoanalyst Jacques-Alain Miller, we were alarmed by this mania, already termed the mania of evaluation, that was becoming current in the field of mental health.

We were waging war on the infantilization of the mind implied by this obsession with evaluation and against the inevitable correlate that would result from it, the transformation of beings into things, dehumanization.

At the time, we imagined neither the degree to which we were right nor the ubuesque extremes to which this ideology would go when it would become predominant, after an ironic reversal, among those who, at the time, attempted to pass off their powers as knowledge.

This is where we are today, and we have the choice of two attitudes.

We can either be amused at seeing the tables turned, the evaluators evaluated, the former masters of power-knowledge finding their own masters.

Or we can judge that the school of subjection has just reached its ultimate stage, and that a world in which there is no one, governor or governed, who is allowed to decide as a free agent is a world that is condemned.

As I am repelled, here as elsewhere, by the policy of the worst and the sad joys of nihilism, I would naturally choose the second option. It is never too late to resist; we must take up the struggle again.