OPINION

Critical mass

Society is under intense pressure in its structures, behavior and mentality. Like a powerful flame concentrated at one point, the crisis breaks down what we were, changes what we knew, creating a new alloy of people and society. The eyes of the world are on this great experiment, as Greece may have many special problems, but the problem Europe faces is common: How will its states give citizens the benefits they were accustomed to without falling deeper into debt or provoking revolution? When does a people?s anger become unmanageable?

It is difficult to isolate the point at which a society begins to lose its cohesion, when the instinct for self-preservation is relaxed. Is it because austerity keeps worsening the recession, with all its tragic consequences unleashing destructive forces among marginalized groups? Is it caused by our society?s inability to produce enough to cover its needs, or by the chronic dysfunction of our state and the systematic undermining of its institutions? Maybe it?s because, as a member of the eurozone, Greece can?t devalue its currency and so it devalues the incomes and living standards of its people?

Whatever the pressures, that which will determine the future is whether there will be a critical mass of citizens who feel they have lost so much that they have nothing to fear from greater political and economic turmoil. Now that wages and pensions are being cut, taxes raised, when one in four stores in central Athens is shuttered and one in five workers unemployed, we see what we are up against. Energetic youngsters without jobs and the unemployed without hope create an explosive mix.

What we can?t predict is when those who are neither unemployed nor dependent on the next paycheck will reach breaking point. When will the homeowner feel trapped by his own home, unable to pay his taxes, unable to find a buyer for it? When will bank deposits be used up, or lost (if we exit the eurozone)? When will those whose savings went into government bonds realize they?ve lost more than half their money? When will we see the consequences of lost pension funds? The huge debt reduction and the new loan (or new debt) can?t compensate for such losses.

What?s at stake is the backbone of society — citizens who have worked, succeeded and invested, who now carry the country on their shoulders. It is their patience, endurance and hope for an end to the crisis that keeps society in the shape that we know. The deprivation of the fruit of their labors will create a deep rage where no one expects it, one whose power will be as dangerous as it is unpredictable.