Divorced from reality

Prompted by a public outcry, the government is reportedly re-examining the decision to appoint Christos Papoutsis, a former Socialist minister, as Greece’s representative to the World Bank. It took nearly a month-and-a-half for administration officials to realize that voter reactions to the appointment cut across partisan divides. It’s always interesting to see the political class being completely out of touch with society.

But it is not just politicians who are divorced from social realities. Reports last week confirmed that a large chunk of the nation’s elite – be they businesspeople, artists or academics – are, to put it in Brechtian terms, in full alienation mode.

Lena Divani, a university professor and author, was quick to post a message on Twitter after a 19-year-old fell to his death from a trolley bus last week after being caught without a ticket. In her tweet, Divani dubbed the victim a “freeloader.” But she was frustratingly slow in realizing the anger caused by her remark.

Regardless of the unacceptable wave of online vitriol hurled at her, Divani’s stance during the turmoil that broke out following the death of the 19-year-old betrayed a complete lack of risk awareness. The writer appeared oblivious to the fact that at times of crisis like this a rushed, thoughtless tweet can be the spark to light the flame.

Stelios Stavridis was one more figure who claimed to have been genuinely surprised. The former chairman of Greece’s privatization fund, TAIPED, displayed zero emotional intelligence in his handling of the OPAP sale. Indeed, was it so hard to see that traveling on the private plane of a member of the consortium involved in the purchase of the gaming company carried enough symbolic weight to effectively discredit the entire deal?

Similarly, it was hard to make sense of director Yiannis Smaragdis’s mantinada in praise of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. Note that Smaragdis is a candidate for chairman of the board of directors at the National Theater. If he does get the job in the end, it will be rather difficult to prove that his appointment was made on purely meritocratic criteria.

Over the course of just a few days, we have seen people from the fields of politics, academia and business act as if nothing has changed when the lives of everyone else have been turned upside down. Sure, intellectuals have an obligation to question social norms, to deconstruct stereotypes, to upset the collective bliss.

But the bliss has long been upset and many intellectuals are failing to show the necessary understanding. For their part, “the people of the market,” as it were, have failed to live up to their role as political managers.

As for the artists, they are once again looking for new wealthy patrons of the arts. Our elites are asleep, while society is being torn apart.