Reality testing

Greece’s long tradition of national division has accustomed us to living with many alternative versions of history and reality. The years of the crisis, the harsh adjustment of our living standards to our country’s economic capabilities, did not bring about a more realistic version of things, in which, regardless of our party allegiances and personal differences, we could share at least some understanding of the problems that we face and reach a minimum of agreement on what needs to be done. On the contrary, the nation has been divided again, this time between those who are in favor of the memorandum tied to the international bailout agreement and those who are against it without any real effort to evaluate the reforms that the country needs. The following weeks, in which Parliament’s possible failure to elect a new president of the republic would lead to national elections and all that this would entail, may just bring us to understand where we are and help us decide where to go.

The two main versions of reality, as presented by the protagonists of local politics, differ greatly. Antonis Samaras’s government depicts Greece at the entrance of the harbor of stability and growth, claiming that Alexis Tsipras’s SYRIZA is the storm that could sink the ship of state. Tsipras, on the other hand, describes the government and the austerity and reform program as a danger from which the nation must be saved as soon as possible. The government wants to avoid parliamentary elections, the opposition sees them as salvation. One side does not acknowledge its mistakes, the other sees no good in all that has been achieved. We, the voters, have to choose between these alternative realities, while living in our own virtual world. In this world we reconcile ourselves to the fact that we have democratic institutions in name even though in reality they are subjective and ineffectual. Many of us learned to demand benefits without making the necessary effort. We got used to “political solutions,” putting client-patron relations above the law (often above common sense). We built a kingdom of arbitrary actions, based on personal or group interests. In the end we believed that whatever suited us was true.

In psychiatry, the inability to comprehend reality is a dangerous disturbance that can lead to psychosis. “Reality testing” entails looking at the world and understanding how this relates to our subjective understanding of it. In Greece we tend to think that if we want something, that is enough to make it real. We ignore the existence of others – whether they be political rivals or foreign creditors or international markets or geopolitical threats.

Whoever we are, whatever we believe, our collision with reality is coming. Before the dust settles, we will have to understand where we are, who we are, what our capabilities are, where we are headed. We did not agree on the course, now we will live with the consequences.