Wednesday, 31 March 2010

The future is what you dream of it

'No future' sang my beloved sex pistols. Maybe they had Greece in mind. Maybe they had the world in mind. Maybe they were talking of us all. This country is also going to the dogs, say my English friends. Seriously guys, get in line.

Yes our economy (let's not forget, I am a UK tax payer after all) is still not showing signs of recovery. Yes the budget was a bit of a joke. Yes the upcoming election is scaring me (Brown or Cameron? It's a voter's Sophie's choice). Yes I am slightly bemused by the eviction of an Israeli diplomat and the nursery school language used to describe it: 'the Israeli government promised never to do this again' ('this' being the forgery of UK passports) but the UK government stomped its feet because 'they told us the same thing the last time' (they forged passports) and this is a major blow to our 'friendship' so no kissing and making up.
One diplomat gets kicked out, Milliband doesn't go to the Israeli Embassy party (I kid you not) and we are all very stressed about 'what it all means' about the future of British-Israeli relations, about whether forging traveling documents is common practice among spies and international men of mystery and about whether sending the diplomat away was excessive, appropriate or inadequate.

And the Greek in me goes 'seriously folks, you call these problems?'.
And the rest of me (the adult, the political scientist, the voter, the tax payer) thinks 'these are serious problems. They are serious enough without being systemic. They are serious without marking the demise of the entire socio-economic edifice of the state'. That's the sort of thing that should be worrying the media and citizens in a civilised, stable, European democracy.
Not whether there is a future, but how to make the future better than the present.

Not 'how do you deal with your select troops (see SEAL equivalent) who decided that a national holiday parade was a good locus to shout out racist abuse of the worst kind?'
Not 'why did a 15-year-old Afghan refugee die of what sounds scarily like an IED hidden in a rubbish pile in downtown Athens?'
Not 'how do you stop gunmen from robbing diners at point blank in fashionable Athenian restaurants?'

With shouts and screams of 'we will spill your Albanian blood' and 'we will sew ourselves suits made of your skin' Greece's select troops have waltzed into a massive inquiry at the end of which, I trust, heads will roll. But will the damage be undone?
Will the people who watched these soldiers perform hate chants in unison, chants that had evidently been practiced, sporting weapons and the insignia of the state: flag, badge, uniform, will these people ever forget the fear? The shame? The anger? The horror?
Is the damage to the future to be undone by a committee?

And only days later a young boy, running away from the random death meted out on the streets of his native Afghanistan, dies of an unclaimed bomb/IED on the streets of Athens. Was he rummaging through the rubbish to find food? That in itself is heart-breaking. That in itself deserves a million posts. But that in itself is not the full story. Was he simply curious to see what lay in an abandoned bag? He had fled to safety, after all, to a place where curiosity doesn't kill the cat. Only it does and it did.

And it's not an isolated incident.
Random violence has been on the news and on our minds since the day Alexandros Grigoropoulos died. It's not all connected. It's not continuous. It's not all part of one story. But it is now constantly there. Be it police or anti-police violence, random gunmen, random explosions, stray bullets.
Be it armed men relieving people of wallets and jewelery in Athens restaurants.

What are we dealing with here?
It sounds like law and order is suspended, expectations of mutuality and social self-healing are irreparably breached and fear reigns supreme. Add to that a thick lather of financial insecurity, shame and fear at what the future holds, poverty and grim fiscal prospects and what have you got?
A country that has long since gone to the dogs and sees no way out.
Which is what many Britons think is happening to their country at the moment.

'Don't compare Greece to England' is the rejoinder I get from everyone. And I understand why they say that but, by the same token, it's the fact that we can't compare these two EU-member states, these two European democracies, that holds all the answers to our current predicament.
Why can't we compare them?
Because despite the crises, the problems, the corruption (don't forget Britain is currently in the midst of a new scandal whereby key Labour figures were busted trying to 'sell' their influence to the highest bidder and, on the back of the expenses fiasco, British politics is beginning to look distinctly continental all of a sudden) there is an expectation that the institutions will hold. Disintegration is not on the cards. Over here, the 'country going to the dogs' does not entail a genuine fear of complete lawlessness.
Going to the dogs does not entail the fear of 'shutting up shop' that underlies Greek political discourse over the past few months.

But why not? Are things really that different?
Corruption, poverty, unemployment are plaguing both countries.
Violence too.

A boy was stabbed to death in Victoria station a few days ago. In plain daylight.
A boy died of a rogue bomb in central Athens a few days ago. In the middle of the night.

Bad news all round.
Maybe we are all going to the dogs.

Yet in Greece we are rolling our eyes and shrugging our shoulders and saying 'what can you do' and 'oh it's bad, isn't it' whereas over here people have an unshakeable faith that they deserve more. Where the Greeks expect worse to follow, the Brits demand that their representatives pull their socks up. 'We are going to the dogs' they say 'and we won't be having with that'.
Where the Greeks sing along with the Sex Pistols, the Brits demand Annie.
'The sun will come out tomorrow' to our 'no future for me'.

Maybe that is the main difference after all.
Maybe we have forgotten how to believe in better, how to hope for more.
Maybe we are going to the dogs because we don't know how to think up a different future. Maybe we should start by hoping again. And believing.
For now, the Greeks proudly think that hope is for wimps and small children.
And we despair with our heads held high.


  1. Η διαφορά για μένα είναι ότι στην Ελλάδα ο κόσμος έχει μάθει να αντιμετωπίζει καθημερινά τα αρνητικά και παρόλα αυτά να βλέπει και τη θετική πλευρά. Οι άνθρωποι δεν σταμάτησαν να βγαίνουν έξω, να διασκεδάζουν. Άλλωστε με μια απλή βόλτα στη παραλία που δεν κοστίζει και τίποτα η διάθεση σου ανεβαίνει.

    Όσο για την Αγγλία νομίζω ότι παραδοσιακά δεν ήθελε και δε θέλει να θεωρείται Ευρώπη. Πρόχειρο παράδειγμα το ευρώ. Θέλει να είναι εκτός. Θέλει να πιστεύει ότι είναι καλύτερη, ανώτερη από τους Ευρωπαίους αγνόοντας ή σφυρίζοντας αδιάφορα στο γεγονός ότι εδώ και χρόνια αποτελεί σκυλάκι των ΗΠΑ. Άρα δε δικαιούται κατ'εμένα να παραπονιέται όταν τα προβλήματα των φίλων τους αμερικάνων περάσουν τον ωκεανό και τους βρουν. Είναι μια οικογένεια και όπως μοιραζόνταν τα καλά έτσι τώρα μοιράζονται και τα αρνητικά. Αν δεν τους αρέσει tough luck!

    Όσο για τους Γερμανούς... η υπεροψία τους τον τελευταίο καιρό μου θυμίζει προ-χιτλερικές εποχές. Μακάρι να 'χω άδικο.

  2. επειδή παίζεις πολύ ωραία με τα τραγούδια θέλω να το συνεχίσω. Δεν είναι τυχαίο λοιπόν ότι το αγγλικό φλέγμα τοποθέτησε κάποτε πάνω σέ ένα σταυρό μερικούς απίθανους τύπους να τραγουδάνε always look on the bright side of life. Ίσως να χρειάζεται πού και πού μια επανασύνδεση με τα εγγενή χαρακτηριστικά κάθε λαού και ίσως εκεί να βρίσκονται και κάποιες από τις απαντήσεις. Όσο για τη φτωχή μικρή μας χώρα, ο Ζορμπάς -αυτή η τόσο ωραία απεικόνιση των εγγενών μας χαρακτηριστικών- πάνω στα ερείπια χορεύει...

    α, ναι, οι Pistols κάποτε είπαν επίσης I don't know what I want but I know how to get it, ενώ κάποιοι Έλληνες χιπχόπερ "έχω ένα πρόβλημα για κάθε σου λύση". Μήπως έπρεπε να απλά να ζούσαν ο ένας στη χώρα του άλλου;


  3. Καλή Ανάσταση και καλό Πάσχα να έχεις με υγεία και χαρά!!! Να περάσεις υπέροχα!!! πολλά πολλά φιλιά! :)

  4. @ DaisyCrazy: δεν έχεις άδικο στο ότι η Αγγλία δεν είχε ποτε μεγάλες κάψες για την Ευρωπαϊκή Ένωση αλλα εδώ δεν αναφέρομαι σε αυτό παρα στην Ευρώπη ως πολιτισμική περιοχή στην οποια ανήκει η Αγγλία ιστορικά και πολιστικά. Και οι Ευρωπαϊκοί πολιτισμοί θεωρητικά έχουν κατακτήσει θεσμική σταθερότητα. Θεωρητικά. Και αναρωτιέμαι αν η Ελλάδα χάνει αυτή τη σταθερότητα πλέον.
    Όσο για τους Γερμανούς προ-Hitler, δε θα έλεγα ότι υπάρχει σύγκριση στην πολιτική, κοινωνική, οικονομική η γεωπολιτική κατάσταση της χώρας. Τα σούργελα με την Ελλάδα αν και τραγελαφικά, δεν έχουν επεκτατικές προεκτάσεις.
    Όχι ότι τα πράγματα είναι ευχάριστα γενικώς. Ελπίζω όμως να πέρασες καλά το Πάσχα ανεξαρτήτως!

    @ el Romandante – σωστός... και στην τελική, όπως λένε και οι Rolling Stones, You can't always get what you want, But if you try sometimes you might find, You get what you need

    @ Leviathan – ελπίζω να πέρασες υπέροχα τις γιορτές. ’Aντε και πιάνει καλοκαιράκι σιγά σιγά (όχι εδώ... εκεί...!)

  5. "Where the Greeks expect worse to follow, the Brits demand that their representatives pull their socks up."

    How do you reconcile comments like this with a general point you made in one of your other posts that there is no longer a consensus and we cannot speak meaningfully about what a culture thinks or does? I've noticed you tend to shift between the two poles quite regularly. I'm not criticising you nescessarily, i just find it interesting.

    I myself believe that humans, to a large extent, are conditioned by their social and political environment. The direct consequence of this is that we can make generalisations about people in a culture, provided that are used solely as a heuristic aid. Because as fragmented as a culture may seem, there are always points of identification, whether real or imagined, and this is true in Greece as well as Australia or America.

    I guess i'm just a cynic. Having grown up in a country that has increasingly emphasised the tenets of 'individualism' within the context of atomisation and free markets, yet displays such a high level of social and political conformity, i've naturally become weary of claims that attempt to privilege the individual over his social environment.

  6. @ Mark – you are absolutely right. I contradict myself there. And as Waltman put it: do I contradict myself? Of course I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.

    But on a more serious note... I think you can hold both views without a fundamental contradiction. In other words, you can observe behavioural trends. A majority within a certain community may behave in a certain way at a certain time. But such trends do not translate to beliefs, emotive states of cognitive processes. In other words, any group behaving a certain may do so for a variety of motives that would lead to disparate behaviours under different conditions. Hence although it is fair to say that a group is behaving a certain way, I do not accept that you can ever say a group thinks or feels a certain way. You may consider this distinction a cop-out but to me it's extremely significant because I would accept, say, that the 'Germans' currently are not so keen on helping Greece out but I would not accept that 'they don't like us'. The same way as for the last 20 years the Turks have 'wanted' to join the EU but for reasons so diverse and disparate that to extrapolate anything from that 'want' would be highly misleading.

    I totally agree that socio-political habitats mould individuals. And sadly it is a known fact in political science that what has been influences what will be: you carry your political history with you like the tortoise's shell and it limits your options. Sad but statistically true.

    I don't think you are a cynic – assuming I am allowed an opinion on this! You are just a realist. Which is what I aspire to be, even though my internal realist is fighting with the dreamer most days. So although I know the constraints of the environment and what they do to people, I also believe the individual can rise above his social environment. Even if he mostly doesn't.

  7. "A majority within a certain community may behave in a certain way at a certain time. But such trends do not translate to beliefs, emotive states of cognitive processes."

    But what if they are consistent across time though? such as modern history? What if context itself is just a facade that reveals a similar malaise across an extensive period?

    I agree that it's problematic to make assumptions about a culture due to the actions of people, but surely those actions suggest a certain complacency and/or complicity? And if not complicity, at least a potential weakness of (moral) character? Is there really no point being an honest man in a colony of thieves?

    There may well be a fundamental disconnect between the desires of individuals, and the general order of day-to-day living, but i wonder at what point the two merge into a whole and become virutally indistinguishable outside the realm of dialectics and discourse.

    I'll admit i tend to be a periphery/core theorist in terms of my understanding of social and political organisation. For me the 'core' rules. Change is possible, but it's slow and gradual and an endless struggle against the dominant powers.

  8. I accept continuity of behaviour even across time. But I am wary of extrapolation and 'reading in'. Drawing on the examples of Turkey – which is my area of expertise so forgive me if I go back to that all the time: between 2001 and 2007 support for EU accession was over 80% but motivations varied wildly which is why support plummeted as some of the conditions changed. Most observers were surprised because they took A to mean B and although both A and B were true to some extent they were not connected in the ways that had at times seemed obvious. Similarly, for the girls wearing the headscarf within Turkey's secular environment, motivations are varied and often surprising and to read a straight increase in religiosity in the increase of numbers 'covering' their heads, would be misleading.

    What I am trying to say is that you can observe behaviours – even across time – but those behaviours don't necessarily tell you much and often they don't tell us what you are trying to read into them and over-interpretation is very dangerous.

    All that said, I take your point on complicity as a separate issue. A moral, theoretical question and a really valid one. Is there any point being the honest man in a colony of thieves? And when one presumes that one lives in a colony of thieves – possibly by over-interpreting, as above – what choices is one left with?
    I personally think there is a point in being the honest man in a colony of thieves. You are who you are for yourself and you live by your own codes and standards and if honestly matters to you then it matters irrespective of its popularity. But as a rational choice dilemma it is a very good one and it kills the thieve's dilemma dead on its tracks.

    And that is why perceptions matter so much. Because if you interpret, generalise and extrapolate and in doing so decide that you live in a colony of thieves and decide that, by extension, there is no point being honest given your environment, then you act as if your assumptions were true even if they are not. And if every one else makes the same assumptions and the same choices then you have your self-fulfilling prophesy and our worst nightmares are made reality courtesy of us. Sounds a bit like Greece, doesn't it?

    You are absolutely right. The core does carry the day most times. And change tends to mostly be gradual. But individual choices matter. Perceptions matter. Breaking the mould matters. Being more than we were yesterday matters. And that's an active choice we each have to make for ourselves and then hopefully one day make it as a community. This is the bit where you pat me on the head and tell me to sleep tight because I am already sleep-talking but still, a girl can dream.