Kto-ne-rabotaetWork, drudgery, imposition of impossible weights and standards, working with one’s own hands, lawlessness, austerity, the apocalypse, temptations to be relieve from suffering, opposition, and sayings like “If anyone is not willing to work, neither should he eat” which end up in the Soviet Constitution of 1936all of these themes have forced themselves upon us in discussions concerning Greece, international economics, and the global debt crisis. But these themes already presented themselves in Thessaloniki at least 1900 and some years before our crisis in the writings of St. Paul the Apostle to the city and the church there. The debate around the debt crisis in Greece over the past ten years or more has mainly been about whether its Germany’s fault or France’s fault or the fault of the European Union or the fault of private banks or the fault of Goldman Sachs…and add to that list the racist insinuation that its the Greeks fault because they are lazy. But our generation is not concerned about the fault anymore, we are beginning to question whose courtroom it is.

     It seems to many of our generation, the generation for whom 9/11 was the central event, that the current socio-economic and political order of our world is bursting at the seams, and that everyone shares in the fault, though may be the ‘1%’ more than most. Perhaps, like many generations before us, we are far to self centred in the belief that the end of the world will be in our life time, and that we should just merely consider history to know that life is ever permeable. Nations may rise, nations may fall, climates may warm, climates may cool, but the ‘end is not yet.’ The Greek debt crisis is but one of the many evidences however that urge us and throw us head-long into the belief that we really are at a pivotal stage in history. St. Paul also wrote to a generation that believed the end was coming soon, and while the rest of the world yelled ‘Peace and Security’, their generation, like our generation, knew that the cataclysm was nigh. What is so amazingly energetic about our situation now however is that for the first time secular people, people who would consider themselves ‘non-religious’ are having to ask questions about the apocalypse that up and till now were left to the faith communities of various traditions. What any faithful Christian at this moment should do is propose the Christian Gospel as the positive vision for society in the midst of the apocalypse.

     In looking at the Greek debt crisis as the exception that will not much longer be exceptional we need a confessional acknowledgement of two theses based on faith- that the situation really is as dire as we believe it to be globally, and two, that we are in need of a new vision for our socio-economic and political order. We could try to tell ourselves that things in the past have been worse, and perhaps they have been. But what cannot be denied is that, as Noam Chomsky rightly argues, “For the first time in the history of the human species, we have clearly developed the capacity to destroy ourselves.” We could also tell ourselves that the vision we are living in our current moment is permanent and eternal.  But in the tradition of the Buddhist and of the Psalms, we must accept that everything and “everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.” (Psalm 39:5) Greece will be explored as a microcosm of the macrocosm of our fleeting wind of a socio-economic and political order. Furthermore, that our ‘radicals’ whether ‘left’ or ‘right’ are scrambling for new words and visions to utter should be seen as the cry of a desperate people for a God they no longer believe in. Lastly, St. Paul the Apostle, it will be shown, already breathed out the new vision that we need to embrace now more than ever should we wish to even ‘stand firm until the end‘ let alone survive.

     How has Greece, arguably the foundation of Western Civilization in birthing science, philosophy, and democracy, now become increasingly marginalized and subjugated in the world it helped create? What is the debt crisis in Greece? How did it come about? Why is the poverty that has resulted become such an extreme obscenity? Why is the Greek debt crisis, and not the impoverishment of third world countries in much worse conditions, become in particular the obscenity for us in North America and Europe? In assessing any economic situation we should always be reminded that if we are lost in the jargon of economics, so are most of the specialists too because this highly specialized lexicon is designed so that it, as Chris Hedges points out, “…thwarts universal understanding. It keeps the uninitiated from asking unpleasant questions.” (Empire of Illusion90) What is most interesting is that the debt crisis in Greece is actually not difficult to understand once you use terms that most of us would use in our regular economic day-to-day activities such as credit, debt, theft, and lying, rather than credit default swaps, haircut, troika, and much else. What is happening in Greece goes as follows if we were to imagine Greece as a person rather than a nation.*

     Greece is someone who believes profoundly in the social welfare of his friends. He doesn’t just ‘wish them well’ he believes that if he has the means he should take care of those who can’t work, those who are retired, and those who aren’t able to find work. He doesn’t believe that capital is something you should have to earn by yourself to survive but rather that capital should be spread in some minimal way as an act of grace, and that this is what creates a good and loving community- a social safety net.  The problem for Greece though is that he doesn’t earn enough money anymore to take care of his family but is confident that he will, so like many of us he applies for a credit card to cover some expenses that he can’t pay for right now- what Greece ignores however is that many of his expenses are made by much more wealthy and military minded family members, but that is another story. But, unlike some of his other wealthier and more prominent friends in other parts of the world, he does not earn enough money, and the credit card companies know this but lend to him anyway, perhaps to their irresponsible detriment. To cover some of his losses Greece begins, like many of his friends do, to supplement his income with some extra questionable ‘funds’ just to cover his deficit in the short term.

     Soon, some of Greece’s more prominent and wealthier friends formed a union of sorts, where they shared expenses, made things easier for each other in terms of sharing resources for parties or for their families or for their work. Eventually things in this union got a little out of hand with crazy rules about the sizes of pillow they could buy, but things were looking good generally and Greece wanted to be a part of his friends union. But, this union was a little stricter with their regulations about how expenses and funds were to be spent and how budgets were to be done- a little stricter than Greece had been use to up and until that point. Nevertheless, Greece wanted in because the dreams of this union seemed really promising, and Greece thought that if he tried hard enough, he too could be as prominent as his friends. So Greece had to lie to them about the state of his finances. Stuff like covering up some of his debts and making his business opportunities sounding a bit more promising than they really were- with the help of his friend Goldman- but Greece was convinced that in a short time, this wouldn’t matter. It was a convenient lie for a greater promise.

     But Greece was irresponsibly generous continuing to rack up his debts for his family’s social welfare (and their other more illicit expenses)- good hearted but living on an imaginary wealth, taken advantage of by the credit card companies. So Greece just got more and more credit cards to pay for his last debts from the previous credit cards, so on and so on. Well, Greece’s economic opportunities were even worse than he could imagine because some family members of one of his friends, America- with Goldman- messed up with their finances thus affecting everyone. They had tried the same stuff Greece did earlier and it hit reality hard. The credit card companies that were lending to some of Greece’s friends in his union were getting burned when those friends couldn’t make their payments to them, as a result these companies cut Greece off who they already knew was in a much worse situation, and suddenly Greece had no hope of paying off his huge amount of debt that he had racked up. The rest of his friends in his union were not pleased but they still liked the guy, plus some of them were tight with the ones who irresponsibly lent him money in the first place that they were reasonably sure of that he couldn’t pay, thus Greece’s failure would have put pressure on Greece’s friends to cover his losses- something they were not prepared to do given that they had to take a bunch of money from their own families to pay off their own credit card debts due to America’s failure-main-qimg-aea55569ee48fecdfc04299ea5f66faa were they suppose to take care of Greece too?! So they brought in another union that they knew of, but Greece’s friend Germany, who was really in charge of the union, wasn’t please. All of them lent Greece more money but on the strict conditions that he had to tighten up his spending for his family’s welfare and use those funds to pay off his creditors (who probably should have never lent it in the first place- but perhaps those creditors knew that?)…Greece didn’t because his family considered disowning him if he did, it didn’t seem fair to them that suddenly they had their lives pulled out from under them because Greece was so irresponsible and that these credit card companies took advantage of him. They had no idea, Greece had lied to them just like everyone else, and the credit card companies were perfectly fine being lied to, saying that things were better than they were.

     Greece now is caught in a cycle that seems impossible to get out of with no good outcome. See, if Greece defaults on his debit then his family will be left in ruin and Greece’s friends will have to pay off his debts to the credit card companies- something their families will not be happy to be asked to do again, since some of them are not as well off as they would like to be. Furthermore, if they have to pay Greece’s debts it would put the legitimacy of their union in question- something they can’t afford right now given everyone else’s doubts about it. If Greece does not default then he’ll be forced to cut his family off from paying for their rent, helping them with their medical expenses, providing them with food, or helping them get jobs. Greece’s family would be in dire straits, and who knows what they would do next to get their livelihood back! Greece would more than likely be paying off his debt forever as well, given that at this point his debt is almost double what he makes. It would be a terrible state of affairs for Greece’s friends as well because if Greece’s family is left to such conditions they might seek help from Russia, an old classmate that they are all still very afraid of, and Greece will have to sell off more and more of the most valuable things that he has just to pay a debt he cannot sustain. Again, there are no good options, and things for Greece continue to get worse and worse. If things continue for Greece this way, what will be the case for some of Greece’s other friends like Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and Italy, who are in similar positions, but have yet to be asked to pay up?

     We can see from our brief anthropomorphized analysis that it is difficult to assign full responsibility and ‘blame’ to any one particular entity- though some may share more than others depending on the narrative. Is it the fault of Greece’s family in wanting such social welfare? Is it the fault of Greece for not being more responsible even though the credit card companies assured him everything would be fine? Was it the fault of his friend’s union for not putting more pressure on him early on? Was it Germany’s fault for insisting on the repayment of the debt, though he himself was forgiven of massive debts in his own history? Was it Goldman’s fault for assisting Greece in hiding the true extent of his debt in order to help him get in the union? Was it America’s fault for being so irresponsible with his own credit finances and thus upsetting Greece’s chances of ever becoming prosperous? Was it the fault of the credit card companies for knowingly loaning out so much credit that they must have known Greece could never repay? An entire country is collapsing before us, and was it most frightening is that all the elements that made up this crisis are prevalent in all of our economic lives- thus, this is no random occurrence but more than likely the model for our coming socio-economic and political apocalypse which we need to prepare ourselves for. Our ‘radicals’ whether ‘left’ or ‘right’ are scrambling for new words and visions to utter in the awake of this coming collapse, what are the visions being offered? What do they bespeak of? Furthermore, what do they reveal about the nature of our crisis, not merely its causes and effects- but firstly and foremost, what is it rooted in?

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*For the following analysis, and metaphor usage I am in particular highly indebted to: The New School. Austerity and Neoliberalism in Greece with Richard Wolff and Barry Herman. YouTube Video. Room A404, Alvin Johnson/J.M. Kaplan Hall, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_WhZXhRS3F4.; Colvin, Evan. “In layman’s terms, what is the Greek debt crisis?” Answer Search. Quora, August 23, 2015. https://www.quora.com/In-laymans-terms-what-is-the-Greek-debt-crisis.

 

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