Individual versus collective good

There’s a young boy, an immigrant with amputated toes, who stands at a traffic light in central Athens near the Temple of Olympian Zeus, baking under the sun, day in, day out, asking drivers for some help. It is a terrible sight that moves even the most indifferent of us. Whatever the response from a particular driver, the boy lowers his head and moves on to the next car. Bowing his head has become second nature to him. He keeps his eyes on the ground so he can see where he’s stepping. His feet have been hardened by the hot asphalt, but he still looks wary about where he places them. Though it may simply be that he’s ashamed of his wretched state. And I (or maybe, we?) give him a tiny amount and quickly look for an «escape,» either the gas pedal, my cigarettes, the radio, anything. We could end this commentary right here, without having to go on about an uncaring society. «Uncaring» may sound rather harsh to those who like to come up with easy explanations as to why this young boy has ended up as he has. It also sounds harsh to the people who like to cast the blame on a disorganized state and an inadequate welfare system – inadequate not just for foreigners, but for Greek taxpayers too. But who, after all, makes up this state? Who are the people that constitute a just state if not its citizens, those who shamelessly and mercilessly trample on the socially and financially weak, who use them to build their immoral affluence, use them from a position of power only as a means to demonstrate their sensitivity and then go on to forget them completely. And this behavior is directed not only toward immigrants or foreigners; even our neighbors have become strangers to us. The inability of the Greek state to progress is due, to a great extent, to the inability of Greek society to actively support it collectively, rather than their individual rights, to strive for the common good. For example, how often do we hear people complaining about lousy public services, trash on the streets, anarchic construction, the travesties of the public service, indifference and laziness? But, when their own special favors are met, when their illegally built home is legalized, when they get placed in some cushy government job or get their bit of paperwork done, they forget all about their complaints. And then they get that cool, relaxed look in their eyes again, and walk with their heads held high, certain of the firmness of the ground on which they tread, eating fresh strawberries from Ileia sprinkled with icing sugar.

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