TODAY’S CRISIS JUDGMENT ON
On the occasion of the world financial crisis, which in my country -Greece- looms large as a potential bankruptcy, I would like to correlate historically, through the present text, the financial crises with the crises of moral values and civilization, attributing them both to human character.
I think that human nature essentially remains unchangeable, in spite of religious beliefs, legislative provisions, philosophical currents -as the Enlightenment, educational systems and other collective activities, as well as the tremendous, indeed, scientific and technological progress.
I will try to document my thesis citing excerpts from ancient and modern thinkers’ works, in order to illuminate our nature and its impact on our planet and our descendants.
Reason and measure (‘metron ariston’: the Greek motto for ‘everything in moderation’) are in constant conflict with instincts and passions since the beginning of time. For the ancient Greeks ‘Hubris’ (the arrogant exceeding of limits) entailed ‘Nemesis’ (the unavoidable punishment). Isn’t it, perhaps, too late -either for us, Greeks, or for all our fellow men on the globe- to regain harmony of balance, on time, thus safeguarding our age-long moral, spiritual and material achievements and reserves?
Let’s now see things from the beginning:
The collapse of the Communist Bloc, more than two decades ago, was initially welcomed with optimism by large masses ground down by conditions of oppression and abject poverty. However, waves of escalations followed, both of nationalisms, with breakaway states and of fundamentalisms, with intolerance and violence, phenomena that scarred indelibly the New World Order. At the same time, arbitrariness and speculation were developed in neo-liberalism and world markets, already dominating our agitated planet -with the occasional alliance of nationalistic and fundamentalist networks. These international markets and their attendant Credit Rating Agencies and similar Institutions literally guide states, governments, politicians, parties, mass media, enterprises, organizations and various other agents of public opinion formation. Only isolated voices of individuals and collective groups attempted to resist, articulating alternative political discourse and bringing out protest proposals.
The new type of citizen, emerging more or less everywhere, has become an instrument of over-consuming greed, as the latter is promoted by mass media, with their mine of advertisements for the new brands launched relentlessly, thus, creating both consumers and demand, at an extremely costly price. Imports of luxury products, in the main useless, keep piling up. The Lernaean Hydra of ‘prefab needs’ dulls human will and our elementary capacity of resistance to all kinds of packed, vain ‘desires’, which -although going beyond any natural limit- yet, multiply the expenses for their acquisition and, consequently, generate a vicious circle of consumer and other loans, deficits -financial and moral- and debts in households, enterprises and states. The gap between social classes is being extended alarmingly everywhere, while recession sounds a note of warning, entailing austerity, unemployment and violence!
In the countries with considerable growth, known as B.R.I.C. (Brazil, Russia, India and China), the first signs of decline in both their exports and growth rate start slowly emerging, while in Europe -once mighty- the P.I.G.S. (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain) are plagued by unprecedented recession, which keeps increasing and deepening.
Here in Greece, bankruptcy (which has already occurred five times since our liberation from the Turks, i.e. during Kapodistrias, king Otto, Trikoupis, Venizelos and Metaxas) now apparently constitutes, once more, a serious political risk, while several Memos, Programs, Reforms, Finance Documents, Troikas, Special Governments and Elections, attempt to deal with it, or postpone it and dull its repercussions, through experiments and dodges.
Surveying today’s world crisis, I would like to refer succinctly only to some of its points, which are more or less familiar to all of us, throughout our planet.
Today, the very few that keep earning, assert that life is a lottery. Yet, most of the people keep loosing: working people their jobs, farmers their land, children their childhood, youngsters their wish to believe, the elderly their pension and words their primary meaning:
· The option -freedom of choice- has become right of purchase.
· The mysterious future has turned out into a contract.
· The markets, once noisy squares, have now become workings on computer screens.
· The offshore, from anchorage and fishing area, now shelters oceans of business and tycoon wealth.
· The laundries, nowadays, wash dirty money, and
· Today’s facelifts deludes us that some magic hands will grant us eternal youth!
· There is no rain anymore, except for the acid one.
· There are no more parks, except for parking.
· There are no more societies, except the S.A. (Société Anonyme).
· There are no citizens anymore; there are only consumers.
· There are no more cities, except for city planning areas and ghettos.
· There are no individuals anymore, there is only the public.
· There are no more visions, except televisions!
O tempora, o mores!
However, the economic crisis that disturbs us, whose outline has been sketched briefly, is but an epiphenomenon of the collapse of values and civilization, the tools that helped our species to progress and reach its present stage.
Our everyday struggles for our daily bread, our freedom from oppressors and tyrants of all kinds and the securing of elementary justice and dignity, have shaped both our long history and our enduring genes.
Consequently, major importance must be given to focusing our attention and interest in the priority of moral values and visions, in order to shape our character, our behavior and our mentality. This heritage must be preserved as the ‘family silver’, for our survival and our overcoming of both ancient quarrels and successive economic crises -domestic or imported- that seem to be an unavoidable torment to us.
Let’s now see things affecting our daily routine, starting from scratch, in order to evaluate the environment and the conditions of our life. To what extent do our cities meet our needs, with their infrastructure and services? How adequately and sufficiently designed is the town planning network that encompasses us?
But, also, considering the other side of the coin, are the decisions of our Municipality and its Districts, that concern us directly, taken in our absence, or, perhaps, with our participation, as active citizens?
One crucial issue is the evolution of urban building construction. The maximization of profit -a sign of the times- has formed distorted construction conditions, based on factors and coverage areas that result in a maximum density of clusters of towering buildings, at the expense of areas of green, recreation, sports, etc.
Nowadays, the luxurious skyscrapers, with steel framework and glazed bricks, as well as the vast shopping centers, that have overflowed both our capital and all other metropolises, are sometimes just window-dressing, usually mobbed by surrounding crowds, wishing to feel the illusion of the fabulous wealth, even by a fleeting, symbolic purchase…Yet, it is so much better if small houses are inhabited by great souls, than luxurious mansions by mean puppets, victims of the circumstances, to which they have become addicted. Oblivion effaces all prospects of life! Besides, the pillars of this distorted model of world development, perhaps, forget that nature’s resources are but limited, while wealth sought by human vanity has no limits! Thus, one must be exasperated, rather against the rich that cause harm than against the poor. Since…the rich have no excuse at all, as they cause harm due to their profiteering, greed, arrogance, and in order to show that their associations are above to the law.
Thus, it seems that the ruling class -both of the past and the present- forgets or neglects the fact that the finest and most cultivated characters are developed only in a state which does not abound either in wealth or in poverty, since arrogance, injustice, jealousies and envies are rare there. Indeed, possessing goods in moderation is the best, and the middle class easily disciplines itself to reason. In contrast, people extremely strong and rich or extremely deprived and of humble birth can hardly yield to reason. The rich become violent and immoral, while the poor, knavish and mean… The former do not know how or ever want to obey, while the latter are undignified and obey authoritarian power like slaves. The rich, however, do not obey any power at all, since, they themselves rule and they govern despotically. In such a city, the poor envy, while the rich despise them: feelings incompatible with the necessary friendly relations within a human community!
Furthermore, a politician who loves the state, but cannot resist the temptation of profit, would be capable of selling out everything!
Indeed, both poverty -that comes from need and makes man bold- and wealth or power, that makes him insolent, arrogant and greedy…incite men to risks…In this way, major disasters occur in the states, resulting from their internal quarrels and revolutions, which -as a matter of fact- always happened and will keep on happening till the cows come home, since human nature will remain the same forever!
Nevertheless, thinkers of the Enlightenment and of other philosophical currents believed -on the contrary- in man’s continuous improvement, so that he becomes more moral, fair-minded and pure. Leading figures, such as Voltaire, Kant, Condorset, Herder, Saint-Simon, Hegel, Kont, Spencer, etc. believed that our species is liable to an uninterrupted becoming of humanization, through social and technological evolution.
Hegel predicted the complete abolition of slavery, in front of the universality of the Spirit’s Freedom and the liberation of passions -being a visionary of life with love, without hatred, egoisms and interests. Kant had, already, foreseen the transition from anarchy, tyranny and oppression, to legality, democracy, freedom and peace. Furthermore, he anticipated, rightly, that legality is not always compatible with moral principles! Voltaire was amongst the first thinkers that believed in progress and that the prosperity of technology would liberate us from fanaticisms and passions.
Yet, in the course of time, and due to the harsh experiences of both wars and unemployment, more recent thinkers, such as Kirkegaard, Russell, Toynbee, Heidegger, Horkheimer, Malraux, Sartre, etc. asserted the very opposite of Voltaire’s views, being quite pessimistic, regarding the devastating risks resulting from technology’s bad usage.
However, man’s character is unchangeable throughout the course of time (past, present, or future). In spite of religion, philosophy, legislation, science and technology, he will always be actuated by instincts and passions. Human societies will be governed not by equality, but by psycho-spiritual inequality, cause of all good or evil actions.
Our stance vis-à-vis technology is, indeed, strange and contradictory. While we blame it for our misery, we do our very best to acquire all its achievements. We keep trumpeting that technology has spoilt us. Yet, how could technology possibly mend our ways? Men always mend technology, never the opposite.
Andreas Kapogianopoulos, doctor and thinker, meditates our future with extreme pessimism: Today, while technology has really taken off, virtue has stagnated. Homo technicus, delivered from gravity, flies in the skies…Homo sapiens remains pinned down to the ground and mud, by his wild instincts and passions, not letting him rise. While our passions -unchangeable, incorrigible and brutal- have come to naught, our brain gallops to infinity… We are, thus, degenerated into monsters of asymmetry and ugliness. Man’s beauty exists only in inanimate statues, last remnants of his glorious past!
Mankind, thus, invariable in instincts and passions, since age-old times, is full of violence and revolutions, as we have seen. The cause of these revolutions is man’s insatiable thirst for power, due to greed and ambition, that prompts partisan conflict, through which men gain advantages for themselves, fighting to prevail against each other and daring the most terrible things for revenge on their enemies…by the wildest actions…In this way, all kinds of perverse crimes among the ancient Greeks were committed … every sense of morality became ridiculous and vanished, due to sharpest party conditions…without a trace of mutual trust. Indeed, there is no single wild beast crueler than man, when obsessed with the passion of power. Therefore, the people in power must neither exceed the limits of the power granted to them…nor entirely humiliate the homeland…as a few people do, by putting great and small issues, irrespectively, under the judgment of the rulers, thus trivializing it and rendering it enslaved, depriving it of every trace of self-government and political authority on the international political stage!
Under these circumstances, which are adverse and crucial, more than ever before, the responsibility belongs to all citizens, without exception, since every one of us literally decides how to manage his own fate.
As the poet thunders:
“When commanding need, merciless, heavy, presses down,
Whoever hesitates is unworthy ”!
Civil Engineer, Writer
Athens, March 5th 2012
 Excerpts from various books of the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano (1940 -), selected from Sotiris Hagighakis’s book, titled: ‘Atoms of Knowledge and Wisdom’ (Kastaniotis Editions, Athens, 2004, p.223).
 Cicero: First Oration Against Catiline.
 Epictetus (from Stobaeus work, Μ, Στ’, 81).
 Epicurus, Main Beliefs (Diogenes Laertius, XV)
 Demosthenes (Against False Evidences of Stephen, A – 349, 67).
 Plato, (Laws, Γ, 679, Β).
 Aristotle, (Politics, Δ, 9, 1295, Β, 1).
 Thucydides, Oration of Pericles, B, 60, 5.
 Thucydides, Oration of Diodotus, Γ, 82.
 Andreas Kapogianopoulos, (Sensible Man, Athens, 1984, p. 84-91, 118).
 Thucydides, Oration of Diodotus, Γ, 2 – 83.
 Plutarch, Cicero, 46.
 Plutarch, (Political Precepts, 814, E).
 Kostis Palamas.