The vacuum and the extremes

It’s understandable that a society that is under great threat should be divided between those who want to find a way out toward a new normality as soon as possible and those who want to fight to the bitter end, refusing any thought of compromise. In Greece we are living in such a time, with parties and individuals (and supporters within parties, as well) separating into those who see the crisis as an opportunity to carry out painful but necessary reforms and those who want no change and reject any compromise, demanding only the perfect and the absolute. Thanks to our people’s long history, we have seen many such moments. The results of critical choices are mixed: At times they lead to catastrophe, at others to positive upheaval, and, at others still, to a fruitful synthesis. The result depends on whether society’s conflicting forces remain at odds or whether they cooperate. Will one continue to negate the other until they tear everything apart or will they achieve a better result than they could on their own? In Greece today there is greater acceptance of radical changes in the labor market and the social security system. There is also great reaction. Most citizens find themselves caught between two extremes: fatalistic acceptance of the reforms or outright rejection. The latter comes from those who see a wonderful opportunity to foster trouble in pursuit of greater political influence. Both sides betray a strange and paradoxical optimism. Those who accept the need for reforms express the hope that their sacrifices will help Greece avoid bankruptcy and may even lead to the country being re-established on more rational foundations; those who oppose any change express their own blind hope that the absolute collapse of society will lead to revolution, to their own domination. Those who accept the measures do not seem capable of reacting to even unjust ones, whereas those who react to anything do not accept even the most necessary, commonsensical reforms. Now we see the great chasm between the extremes. This is made even deeper by the fact that our society reached this impasse by following the dictates of the more extreme of its members. And yet, even now, many behave as if this great black hole in our economy and society does not exist but is just a bluff that can be called by Greece simply refusing to honor the memorandum that it has signed with the International Monetary Fund and the European Union. This leaves no room for anyone who wants to find common ground. We see that the unbending power of extremes discourages any effort to improve the changes, because whoever dares will find himself under attack from both sides. This is why we go – divided and bitter – from one defeat to the next, from one impasse to the next. The reasons for the division between the «more flexible» and the «tough guys» among us, between the «surrender monkeys» and the «300 Spartans» are many and are determined by history and circumstances. The «300,» the women of Zalongos (who also chose death over dishonor), the defenders of Arkadi Monastery on Crete (who blew themselves up rather than surrender) and so many others who chose an heroic end rather than accept defeat, have left a bright but difficult example. In every dispute, whether in support of our favorite soccer team or in defense of our homeland, we act as if there is no solution other than total triumph or absolute defeat. Such an absolute way of seeing things, of fighting against all odds and at any cost, is laudable when facing a foreign invader. It becomes dangerous when our task is to rebuild our country. The domination of extremist positions serves to rally the supporters of a given position and to attract others but it makes life very difficult for those who might want to find viable solutions to real problems. Those it undermines, mocks and rejects. The rest it makes blind, so that they cannot know how they came to this defeat nor how they will survive. No foreign help can help avert this bankruptcy.