Greek tragedy: behaviour and experience
Greece seems to have been on the brink of crashing out of the euro for so long that what looks like the final instalment of the drama, the Referendum on Sunday (July 5), may yet prove to be something else. Commentators swing first one way and then the other when considering the pros and cons of a Greek exit, but what does seem to be agreed is that in the short term things for the Greek people are likely to get worse before they get better.
In these circumstances it is only natural that people seek explanations for what has happened and wish to hold to account those who seem responsible for the events that have occurred.
Some commentators suggest that the problem is essentially a design fault in the euro project itself. A monetary union between such divergent economies and cultures before a political one was never going to work.
Others say that the problem lay less in the design of the project and more in its implementation. Greece didn’t meet the entry criteria for the euro and so fiddled the books - something which European bankers knew full well.
Additional comments point the finger of blame at the inefficiencies and corruption of the Greek economy, while some choose to blame the role of German bankers and politicians. Even the Greek electorate must bear some responsibility for voting in the governments they did – we tend to get the government we deserve, do we not?
It seems likely that there is truth in all these observations and whilst they might appear to contradict each other, what they have in common is the simple truth that there is a link between behaviour and experience. That is to say that the actions we take, and the decisions we make, affect people.
The trouble is that the people who make decisions are not always the ones affected by them!
Writings within the Bible recognise this. Broadly speaking, The Book of Proverbs, for example suggests that there is a direct link between action and experience – ‘A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger’ (Proverbs 15.1.). But the Book of Job, on the other hand, implies that the misfortunes that happen to Job are entirely random and not linked at all to the way he has behaved.
In Greece and elsewhere in the euro zone, events do have an explanation and root causes can be traced. The explanations may be various and some may be contradictory, but what they stem from is a kind of wishful thinking – a failure to grasp difficult issues (divergent economies, dishonest figures, too much spending and not enough income) in the hope that they will go away.
In September 2009, on the first anniversary of the collapse of Lehmann Brothers, the then Archbishop Canterbury, Rowan Williams, appeared on Newsnight. As the discussion about the cause of the banking crisis developed, Jeremy Paxman suggested dismissively that the Archbishop would find a place in the general scheme for Original Sin. To Paxman’s surprise, Rowan Williams agreed with him: "Humans", he said, "have a dangerous taste for unreality".
This ‘dangerous taste for unreality’ has been exercised by a number of people who should have known better and the consequences are there for all of us to see.
But they are consequences which are being lived out and endured by people in Greece – who now need our support and not our hectoring. It’s not clear what form that support might take, but let’s hope there are practical things we might be able to do.
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