Monday, 20 April 2009
Why the folks running Greece cannot possibly be human
I have this theory.
That three things set humans apart from other animals: our ability for reflection, abstraction and compassion.
What do I mean?
I mean that unlike other animals, humans can deeply reflect on their behaviour, on life, on the universe. We have an ability and often a need to link the dots, poke in the shadows, truly seek to understand how things fit, why things are the way they are, why things feel the way they feel. Why did so-and-so do this? Why was I left feeling this way?
On top of that, we can do all this in the abstract. We can think about our own liberty and freedom writ large. We can think about rights, ethics, social reform. We can write poetry and debate religion. We can deal in things that cannot be touched or seen and yet we feel strongly about them.
And, most important of all in my mind, we are capable of compassion. Not just the fierce love of the lioness for her cubs. Not just the acute territorial protectionism of a wolf for his pack. Compassion. For complete strangers. On grounds of our shared humanity.
So, after thinking about it at length, I have concluded that, if my taxonomy is taken to its logical conclusion, we are left with only one option: the people running Greece are not human as they demonstrate no ability to reflect, no capacity for linking up the abstract with the concrete (the law they are passing with the problem they are trying to solve, say) and above all, no compassion whatsoever.
Let me demonstrate.
Mr Markogiannakis – successful lawyer, public prosecutor under the dictators and high and mighty within the current government. If he is not proof enough in his continued service that our leaders don’t reflect, let me give you more. He is one of the forces behind the stun guns our policemen carry – notorious for causing permanent health problems or even death – and is currently clamouring for the hire of ‘foreign’ policemen with the express job description of informing and keeping an eye on their compatriots, saving the day by arresting scores of illegal immigrants selling home-made CDs on street corners
Leaving aside his belief that illegal immigration is Greece’s most pressing problem at the moment (being stupid, sadly, fails to disqualify him as a human), his proposed solution fails to even for a moment consider what sort of society he would be building if the measure went through. No abstraction. He fails to consider how relations within the force and between the force and the community would fragment, sour and militarise. No reflection. And he fails to see – or fails to care – that this measure is preying on the poverty and despair of many an immigrant who would agree to anything that would feed their families in an honest, if not honourable way. So compassion is out the window too.
The really bad news, of course, is that Mr Markogiannakis is not alone.
Our glorious police force demonstrate a pitch-perfect ‘pack mentality’ looking after their own, covering up trespasses, crimes, violations of the law and police code of conduct. Evident is an inability to think in abstract terms of public service, order and an active contribution to democratic governance. Evident is their total lack of compassion for those they are meant to protect. Evident is also a total lack of willingness to reflect on their own conduct.
A recent study revealed that 4 or 5 policemen go down every year on charges of drug and people trafficking, blackmail, pimping and murder. That’s a tiny number in a corps that is notorious for its corruption. Yet even these few invariably come back into the force, having lost a few months’ earnings.
With more and more cases of evident police brutality being written up as people ‘beating themselves up’, tripping and, of course, suicide, ‘looking after one’s own’ is not just a figure of speech. The boys in blue don’t just keep an eye out for each other. They take out any eye that witnessed wrong-doing in a fierce protection of the pack.
Now ‘looking after your own’ is a natural instinct. Meerkats do it. Hyenas do it. Policemen do it. All humans do it, if we are honest. But they don’t do it to the complete detriment of everyone else. That’s the difference between hyenas and humans living in society. The latter know that survival does not need to be a zero sum game.
And while I’m at it – the priests? Not human either.
Sex scandals, appropriations scandals, land sale scandals and pure theft from charity coffers. Wanna talk compassion now? Wanna talk reflection? Why am I here, why am I wearing this funny black dress and what was it I set out to do?
Animals live meal to meal.
When humans have to live like that, we feel a crushing sadness as this life robs them of the basic tenets of their humanity – the ability to make complicated choices, the ability to live in the abstract, the luxury of showing compassion which you just don’t have when your own belly is empty.
But when you are fed, watered and sheltered from the elements, abstraction, reflection and compassion are possible. And essential.
Which brings me to the subject of our prime minister.
Well-fed, undoubtedly. Safe, warm – even though a trifle tired.
He is in a position to engage in reflection, abstraction and compassion. And yet he does not. He allows his government to pass laws that at best fail to address the problems he has to solve and at worse manipulate society closer and closer to a repressive regime.
There are three options here.
Option 1: his ability for reflection and abstraction is impaired because he’s dumb. That doesn’t make him any less human although it does throw his suitability for the post he is holding into sharp relief.
Option 2: the lack of reflection and compassion suggests he is not actually human. And that explains a lot.
Option 3: he is reflecting all right. And he has a perfect visualisation of where he is taking us, so his powers of abstraction are unimpaired. The slow but sure descent into a controlled state of fear and state repression is part of the plan and the prime minister and his cronies are simply members of that species that can think like a human but not feel like one. Abstraction? Reflection? Yeah, sure. Compassion? No, not today.
And here we are, trapped in a weird fairy tale, a work of science fiction, with a dark and sinister plot, unexpected twists, beasts, demons, battle scenes, plenty of villains – and no good guys.
But if this is a fairy tale, and having demonstrated that we are governed by wolves and ogres, are we not due a prince to slay them all roundabout now?