Doing as we please


I was walking out of a metro station in Athens a few days ago, the flow of people leading me toward one of the exit gates wide enough for wheelchairs and prams. I had just placed my ticket on the scanner when a young woman pushed past me. The gate opened and closed; she disappeared, I was stuck. To get out, I had to scan my ticket again, losing the price of my next ride. If the ticket had not contained another 1.40 euros, I would have had to cross the gate illegally, perhaps pushing through with a passenger from the next train. I was amazed that the woman had not considered that she was not striking a blow against the state, nor against Greece’s creditors, nor against capitalism; she was stealing from a fellow citizen and placing him in a difficult situation.

On Thursday, I was walking down a quiet one-way street – in the middle of the road, of course, as sidewalks are nonexistent, narrow, broken or have been turned into parking spaces – when I heard the sound of a car approaching quickly behind me. I had kept my eye out for oncoming traffic, as this was, after all, a one-way street. I leaped to the side and turned, shouting “One way!” The driver, a woman with white, curly hair, flashed a sweet smile, waved her hand as if to say, “Don’t worry about it,” and drove on without slowing down. She too was rebelling against the bonds of civilization, indifferent to the possibility of my not having heard her car in time, or of its brakes not being as good as she may have expected on a wet street.

What the devil is going on when it is not only the brute male archetypes of our race who do as they please and do not give a damn? When it is not only politicians with a sense of entitlement, narcissistic faux rebels and backstabbing terrorists who force their will on the rest of us – we who must deal with them, who must tolerate them while looking for ways to survive?

The crisis and the great deprivation that it has brought has resulted in everyone having a complaint – against mainstream politicians, against “foreigners,” against “life.” In an unjust world, many argue, we have the right to do as we please; activism – often so useful – becomes an end in itself, an excuse for pursuing selfish interests. At the same time, repeatedly we see arbitrariness and selfishness rewarded: Illegal buildings are legalized; taxpayers shoulder others’ debts; cunning, incompetent individuals achieve brilliant careers in the public eye. The suckers – most of us – play by the rules, do the right thing, improvising continually in order to survive. This shadow civil war, this normalization of arbitrariness, is most probably contributing to the country’s demographic death.