The Greek Debt

In Hydra 1969

In Hydra in 1969 with Dougal, Janice, Nikos, and unknown.

In 1969, a few months after graduating from high school, I flew to Europe, where I spent several months exploring by thumb and by train. Of all the countries I traveled through, my favorite by far was Greece. It was a beautiful land with its own distinct culture. The old Mediterranean peasant world still had a strong presence, which made a big impression on me. The Greeks in general were extraordinarily friendly, openly curious about people from other countries, and generous. One day, at an outdoor market I asked a farmer if I could buy an orange. He seemed puzzled and asked, “One kilo?” “No, one orange,” I said. He frowned and shook his head. No, he wasn’t going to sell me just one orange. He gave it to me. One of the special aspects of Greece, especially Crete, was the sense of timelessness—by which I mean I had little awareness of being in a particular historical era. Visually, everything was distinct. As Henry Miller said of Crete in The Colossus of Maroussi, “You see everything in its uniqueness—a man sitting under a tree: a donkey climbing a path near a mountain: a ship in a harbor in a sea of turquoise: a table on a terrace beneath a cloud.” I’d already begun my lifelong loathing of modernity—the tawdry commercialism, superficial relationships, the hustle—and I loved Greece for the slow pace of life and its beauty. Living life was more important than business. (It’s pitiful that people who believe life should be beautiful are regarded now as romantics. It’s a symptom of how lost we’ve become.)

In 2007 I returned to Greece to do research for my book Street Song. I wasn’t expecting it to be the same, but the degree of change was startling. Everything that I loved about Greece was gone. It had lost that special sense of timelessness. Greece had become a resort for wealthy northern Europeans and Americans. And the Greeks themselves had become sullen. All they wanted was your money. It took me a few days to figure out exactly what had happened: globalization. Greece was now just an outpost on the international corporate circuit. One day I tried to talk to a Greek about it, and he blew me off. He was gruff and uncommunicative. I finally did talk to a Greek about it,  a man who owned a laundromat and spoke English. He agreed with me—very passionately—that something had gone very wrong in Greece. All anybody did was work and work, and they were all unhappy about it. They all believed that they had no choice. Much of their work consisted in serving the fat Germans who lounged about on the beaches and treated them like serfs.

There is a lot of anger directed at Greece in the Western World because of the new government’s threat to default on its debt. A tremendous amount of pressure is being put on them to stay the course of austerity and to open the doors wider to those who have no interest in Greece other than to rape and pillage. I, for one, hope they can resist. If it means default, then bless them. The insane, pointless workaholism of the Germans and Americans goes against the character of the Greeks—against the character of human beings, really. We are not designed to live this way and we’re heading for a nervous breakdown.

America, Germany, and England as well as some other countries have declared to the rest of the world that globalization is the only way to go, that every country must be part of it or it won’t survive. No one is given a choice. The global economy is very clearly a great evil to me. It’s tawdry and shallow. We’ve gone far beyond any level of comfort that we actually need, and yet we’re still not satisfied. Our levels of anger and frustration grow continually because materialism can never satisfy. Something is going to bring the whole thing down one day. I think of the bankers as drug dealers. They try to get you hooked and then send in their enforcers if you don’t pay up. It’s probably too much to hope that a default by Greece would begin the unraveling, but it would be most appropriate if it did. The Western World’s enshrinement of rationality and logic began in Greece, and it is rationality and logic that have led us to the horrific level of materialism that we live by today. If Greece can begin the process of the collapse of that system—which must collapse for the world to survive—it will be one of those beautifully ironic moments that history sometimes serves up.

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4 Responses to “The Greek Debt”

  1. Tim Mueller Says:

    Indeed and amen. The dollar sign and/or the Euro have replaced the Cross as the most venerated symbol in Western civilization. What do we expect when so many churches, figuratively speaking, put dollar signs atop the steeple? In a very “civilized” fashion, we are pitting citizen against citizen, nation against nation–seeking salvation through self-destruction. Go, Greece, Go!

  2. joe Says:

    I agree with you on globalization,corporations effectively replacing our governments which is what any “free trade pact” effectively means,corporate supplants All other law,even national,we actually agree to that when we sign,were we to actually bother Reading & keeping ourselves informed of what it is we’re signing exactly,this being said,i’d always thought of material,wealth,success,power(over others),status,sex appeal & wanting to be remembered after one’s death(empire building,fame),as being as old as the world,a way of Irrationally convincing ourselves we’re warding off death; & “modernity” (1850-1950)(everyone from jung to nietsche to emma goldman to whitman) as being,aside from tech,also a deep understanding of tech’s limits,from diogenes to edward abby to ani difranco a great many critical thinkers would take quibble with our present circumstances originating in any way in reason or logic;rationalization of our worst human caracter flaws,yeah,sophistry posing as logic,sure;but our seeming ardent embrace of collective suicide through excess survives no proper critique,it clearly makes no sense.(never mind survivability!)

    “reason before passion” –pierre eliot trudeau.
    (the give peace a chance bed-in? he invited them to lunch! had no problem with cubans,& knew china waaaaay before nixon 😉

    passion starts wars,reason stops them.

    p.s,my sincerest sympathies at being stuck in the middle of the beginning of the western world’s first official water war,2 words:rain barrels,loads of info on the net as per super low usage of city water if necessary,the ‘net may turn out to be eco/bohemia’s best friend in years to come,for sure 😉


  3. William Gordon Says:

    I completely agree with the general thesis, globalization of capitalism, materialism, making money and working to excess to attain it. Negation of happiness, love, meaning ,nature, art and life. It is a recipe for disaster. People have to stop believing it and find new systems.

  4. Oliver Holzfield Says:

    “Every satisfaction he attains lays the seeds of some new desire, so that there is no end to the wishes of each individual will.”

    “In order to increase his pleasures, man has intentionally added to the number and pressure of his needs, which in their original state were not much more difficult to satisfy than those of the brute. Hence luxury in all its forms; delicate food, the use of tobacco and opium, spirituous liquors, fine clothes, and the thousand and one things that he considers necessary to his existence.”

    Arthur Schopenhauer

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