OPINION

Civilization Year Zero

civilization-year-zero

An elderly man got into a fight over his telephone bill with the owner of an electronics store where phone bills can be paid in the southern town of Kyparissia, came back armed and killed him. Less than 24 hours later, a Covid-19 patient at Athens’ Red Cross Hospital murdered another patient with the virus who had been placed in the same room, because the ventilator’s noise disturbed him. Apparently, he unplugged the machine, which continued operating on battery power, and then pulled the oxygen tube out of the patient, who died.

These are not the only examples of murders committed in a fit of rage: A few months back, a man barged into a tax office in the northern city of Kozani with an ax and wounded four employees, one of whom later died; a biker had an altercation with a car driver, came back with a gun and killed him; a farmer killed five hunters for trampling on his clover; a 15-year-old killed another boy, 17, with a rifle in the schoolyard. Different crimes, with different but insignificant causes.

It’s a hair-raising culture of settling personal accounts, maybe a leftover from before the dawn of civilization, but still acceptable for parts of society where loss of control, crossing the line and eruptions of violence are seen as a natural outcome of upsetting social interactions. The ego takes over in a feral way, logic is decoupled from the suddenly excited emotion, and the filter of social conventions and controls is unable to check the homicidal urge.

These events are called one-off and are often banished from memory. However, oblivion does not fight barbarism and hotheadedness, it does not empower values. These everyday flashes of irrationality, the ageless human passions, the rut in which humans waste their lives, the poison that invades immature minds, build the forthcoming dramas.

The microcosms where everyone forges a path alone, refusing to question what has settled inside themselves, with no use for those they do not consider of any use, without a care for the problems of others, those microcosms flourish in periods of crisis, making societies less cohesive. But the instinct of solidarity that the pandemic activates could help break those glass walls – inside which everyone who forgets the common human fate, forgets their own selves and returns to primeval chaos for trivial reasons.