ECOCLUB.com Team Blog
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Between Sisyphus and Epicurus
Deceitful King Sisyphus was condemned by Zeus to eternally carry a boulder to a top of the hill with the boulder rolling down again. Sisyphus has been interpreted as representing vain politicians, aspiring for eternal glory and eternally failing. Epicurus on the other hand praised the virtues of a pleasant, just and detached - including from politics - life. On the second day of a general strike in Greece, it seems we have to choose whether to follow Sisyphus and the illusion of capitalist abundance, or Epicurus and his doctrine that "natural wealth is both limited and easily obtained, but vanity is insatiable".
Compared to what lies ahead, life in Greece until 5 years ago seemed quite good for the vast majority of the population (with the exception of immigrants), reflected in us reaching the top 20 of the Human Development Index at the time. However not all was well however, as a result of history, geopolitics and other factors, the two major parties (New Democracy & Pasok) had created a bloated bureaucracy and a clientelistic state, with a large unofficial (untaxed) economy, funded with EU grants and international loans, with draconian and complex, unenforceable laws, tax evasion and money laundering. The adoption of the Euro was the coup de grace to an already failing industrial sector which could not compete either with the quality of other EU partners, or with the low price of non-EU imports. Strong unions and a relatively progressive labour law legislation and pension schemes led the remaining greek industrialists of northern Greece to take their factories to Bulgaria. Environmental awareness was quite low, innovation was absent, R & D non-existent, most universities in a permanent state of unrest, the best minds kept migrating to UK and US universities and labs. To all of the above you may now add that unemployment has doubled from 9% to around 18% (and rising fast) in just 2 years and it is as much as 40%+ for people under 30 and for women, pensions have been cut in half, and taxation is really biting for the first time. One in three family shops have closed but even large foreign supermarket and consumer goods chains are in trouble as sales have nosedived. Consumerism is also dying, which is perhaps an opportunity.
One solution, for some people at least, could be for them to start a peaceful revolution not (only) to change the government, but to change the way they live, work, deal with their fellow citizens, thinking along the lines of self-managed entreprises (as in post-IMF Argentina), collectives, local exchange trading systems, local/alternative currencies, urban farms. We should not and will probably not return to the ex ante situation, even if they decided to write off all our national debt or kick us out of the Euro. But more importantly we should not be led to cannibalize each other, to a new civil war or to become a colony. Currently there is nothing really stopping us from good or disastrous solutions apart from inertia and a general state of disbelief and shock. Reasons to be optimistic include that this country has been through much worse and that thanks to globalisation allowing Greece to fail may be too dangerous for the ailing, actually-existing capitalism.