Back on the (Trojan) Horse

“Dear chancellor Merkel. Please accept this gift in honour of your solidarity and help in this time of need. Sincerely, the Greeks.”

1. NAI — in which your blogger explains his absence

(Feel free to skip ahead until the Greferendum bit. This post starts with some dithering.)

I’ve forgotten what writing for pleasure feels like. A visceral sensation: the French philosopher Roland Barthes talks about the pleasure of the text. The erotics of just writing for no particular reason. And the sensation of writing as a way of externalising thinking, of taking thinking outside the body.

The pleasure of the text is that moment when my body pursues its own ideas — for my body does not have the same ideas I do.

Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text

I’ve been away for a good long while now. Not so much writer’s block as a writer blocked from writing. I used to have a job which had the bug / feature that I couldn’t say my opinions out loud. Then I changed jobs to something of a dream job of mine, which means that I now can speak my mind, about the very things I want to speak my mind about, but I have ridiculously little time to do it (and I’m sorry folks, but the family is getting the rest of the free time. I love you all dearly, but if we don’t share DNA or a bed, you’re at least number three on my list of priorities). So here we are. And yet, there’s something to be said for this anonymity. And this place which I already have lying around. So maybe it’s time to begin writing again?

These sorts of throat-clearings are a genre convention of sorts for blogging. Like diary entries from adolescence, months apart, this blog has decayed until every post begins with an apology for not posting. I’ll try to get back on the horse. I might even surprise myself by keeping it up. But writing should always be a tour of surprises, of thoughts surprising yourself by appearing, fully formed as if out of nowhere, as you write them down.

*

2. OXI — in which your blogger talks about the latest events in Greece, wherein contained many extraordinarily dumb and unnecessary references to Greek mythology and antiquity, as is customary when writing about Greece.

And speaking of surprising horses, how about those Greeks? I’ve been riveted to the unfolding events in Greece these past days. I’ve found the spectacle unfolding to be not only of great historical significance but also somehow deeply moving. Having grown up in a family with deep dedication to leftist ideals, the sight of people cooperating massively, courageously, against the entrenched powers of the elites is something which triggers that profound, childish sense of aaaw, yeah — justice in me.

You don’t need to be the oracle at Delphi to know that the Greferendum isn’t the end of Greece’s trouble. But at least this way the Greeks chose democracy (which was invented, sort of!, in Greece!) self-determination over the tyranny (from the Greek! Tyrannos!) of the leaders of the Eurozone. To be honest, the behaviour of the European leaders has been shameful. You can learn a lot about people and institutions from how they treat those weaker than themselves (like in all those Greek tragedies where the gods mess with the people just to mess with them). You can learn even more from how they treat the weak when they have something to gain. 

In this case, there was zero concern in the European community of political leaders for the Greek population. It was, as the great Cassandra of our time, Paul Krugman, said, shameful:

The campaign of bullying — the attempt to terrify Greeks by cutting off bank financing and threatening general chaos, all with the almost open goal of pushing the current leftist government out of office — was a shameful moment in a Europe that claims to believe in democratic principles. It would have set a terrible precedent if that campaign had succeeded, even if the creditors were making sense.

I think there are two things which keep suprising me about the situation in Greece.

The first is that there is actual surprise that the Greek population rejected an impossible dilemma. The troika asked them to destroy the future of Greece in one of two ways. The Greek leadership responded by cutting the Gordian knot: the dilemma was a false one. That we are surprised at the choice made by the Greek people should be a cause for alarm in us. It means that we are blindly accepting a false paradigm of economy. Austerity has a terrible track record. It should be cast out in shame, like Oedipus at the end of Oedipus the KingAs Thomas Piketty, Jeffrey Sachs and a group of notable economists are saying in an open letter to Merkel in today’s The Nation

The never-ending austerity that Europe is force-feeding the Greek people is simply not working. Now Greece has loudly said no more.

As most of the world knew it would, the financial demands made by Europe have crushed the Greek economy, led to mass unemployment, a collapse of the banking system, made the external debt crisis far worse, with the debt problem escalating to an unpayable 175 percent of GDP. The economy now lies broken with tax receipts nose-diving, output and employment depressed, and businesses starved of capital.

The humanitarian impact has been colossal—40 percent of children now live in poverty, infant mortality is sky-rocketing and youth unemployment is close to 50 percent. Corruption, tax evasion and bad accounting by previous Greek governments helped create the debt problem. The Greeks have complied with much of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s call for austerity—cut salaries, cut government spending, slashed pensions, privatized and deregulated, and raised taxes. But in recent years the series of so-called adjustment programs inflicted on the likes of Greece has served only to make a Great Depression the likes of which have been unseen in Europe since 1929-1933. The medicine prescribed by the German Finance Ministry and Brussels has bled the patient, not cured the disease.

They finish with a full broadside against Merkel:

To Chancellor Merkel our message is clear; we urge you to take this vital action of leadership for Greece and Germany, and also for the world. History will remember you for your actions this week. We expect and count on you to provide the bold and generous steps towards Greece that will serve Europe for generations to come.

The second thing which amazes me is this: that this simplistic way of thinking about debt is still completely dominant. I keep thinking this week about David Graeber’s wonderful book Debt: The First 5.000 Years. It shows how the language of debt, a semi-fictitious construct, is completely taken for granted, and yet falls apart when picked at. Debts are not some great Moloch which has to be fed regularly. They can be extended, relieved or forgiven. Of course they can. They have been all along.

And it should be obvious there is equal responsibility on borrower and lender for the transaction. When the debt of Greece became impossible to pay without great human suffering, the time had come for the Eurozone to get creative, to help and show solidarity with their Greek partners. They did not. It was a profound failure of both empathy and the imagination. A bit of a Greek tragedy. Sort of.

(Sincerely sorry for all the bad Greek references. It’s just that all the bad commentators are doing it. I find it annoying.)

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