American psychologist Abraham Maslow, writing in 1966 about the dangers of reductivism in science, noted, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” This thought was reduced (of course!) to the theorem called “Maslow’s hammer.” The irony is that when we do what Maslow warned against – viz, use this simple, direct concept as a tool – we can get a better understanding of our very complicated public life.
Today’s crisis stems from the fact that our politicians, our bankers and other business leaders, our unionists, our judges and other state functionaries, did not deal with the challenges of our time. They allowed the country to drift onto the rocks. Very simply, like hammers that see only nails, they all did the only things they knew: The politicians doled out money and avoided responsibilities; the businessmen were comfortable with an economy in which many grew fat off state funds; unionists made maximum demands and pushed for them with all means; professionals and every other interest group cared only about securing their own benefits. We all spoke of “Greece,” of “Hellenism” and of our idealized version of History. In truth, though, every small group took care of itself and demanded that Greece take the shape that this group’s members demanded. With borrowed money, all this was feasible. But – then as now – no one cared for the majority.
Life, though, does not wait. If you don’t adapt, if you don’t change with the time, time will change you. We would have been happy to carry on as we always did. If the markets had not stopped lending us money, the crisis would not have broken out in 2009. Until then, our lenders saw Greece just as they saw every other country in the eurozone – as an opportunity to lend money in return for profits. Until they grew scared of losing their investments.
Now, when only cool heads and national consensus can get us out of the crisis, what do we do? With the possible exception of our coalition government (a rare and fragile creature in Greece, as the ambivalence of its three members proves), our political parties continue to outdo each other in flinging charges about, in making impossible demands, in creating a false version of reality. Many interest groups continue to wage strikes and block traffic to press their demands, forgetting that whereas in the past this was the way to get what they wanted, whatever they gain now is at the expense of everyone else.
The fear that change provokes is understandable, because it often leads outdated groups and frameworks losing their reason for existence. But our national failure has shown that when groups look only after their own interests, in the end everyone loses. Because the world is not made only of hammers and nails, but also of windows and shards, hopes and opportunities, defeats and victories.