Well, it’s been a while—only about three weeks, actually, but even Greece lives at (on) Internet speed, so, true to neo-Hellenic form, the revolution was not only televised (prime time, all the time), but heavily sponsored (by political parties and detergent-makers alike), split into marketing packages (depending on the demographic, as they say in the boardroom, human interest in the morning, political theory late at night), and is now already in (anarcho-)syndication, with repeats available, to compensate for an occasionally slow news cycle, anywhere from NET’s Ta Akra to MEGA’s Anatropê to ALTER’s Zoungla to Vouli TV. Πού ’σαι, Debord, να δεις τα παιδιά σου.
Which is all to say, it’s over. More precisely, we’re now in the middle of (and, again, glued to our TV sets watching) the gripping—and, of course, occasionally violent (let’s face it, if it bleeds, it leads)—nightly episodes of the new spinoff from the previous, hugely popular docudrama: from Youth at the Barricades, we now come home every night to Farmers’ Blockade. A media executive’s got to do what a media executive’s got to do. Ratings wait for no man, woman, or child. A little Les Miz here, a little Grapes of Wrath there. Whatever works.
Both “politics” and “theater” are, of course, Greek words. In fact, the Greeks invented the very concept of theater as political (that is, civic) ritual (and melodrama). Actually, long before Milton Friedman, the Greeks conceived of the (literal) notion of “the marketplace of ideas.” We all know what αγορά means. The verb αγορεύω means to speak in a public forum; hence, the famous question asked of ancient Athenians at their municipal assembly: τις αγορεύει βούλεται, or, Who wants to speak?
The problem is that modern Greeks, or—to use the more acidic (and accurate) Greek self-description—νεοέλληνες, have transformed melodrama into soap opera: The Suppliants is one thing; Desperate Housewives, quite another. Or, put in the current context, demanding the (late) refund of your (already government-subsidized) VAT on gas consumption used to produce your (EU-subsidized, CAP-administered) industrially farmed, ecologically unsustainable crops might be a lot of things, but it’s not Kileler. Then again, this sort of “agrarian revolt” matches, image for image and sound bite for sound bite, the “student uprising” of last December in which a Christmas tree played the emblematic role of the Bastille as the object of “the people’s vengeance.” The spectacular society, indeed.
So, what is to be done? Um, how about…nothing? Social thinkers ranging from Mike Davis to John Gray to James Lovelock have been warning us for years that our—that is, the human race’s—problem is systemic and analytical, or, more precisely, epistemological. (Gray, and probably Lovelock, would say that it is innate; that it inheres in the very psychobiological nature of the human beast.) Our perception of what we think we know, our notion(s) of “knowledge,” our ideologies of social purpose (“free markets,” “progress,” GDP, the Obama cult and other manifestations of secular messianism), our transparently mystical faith in technology, which is to say human capacity, to undo and redo our social world(s), our planet, our biological presence in any manner, shape, or form we so desire: these are the reasons we are, quite literally, exterminating ourselves as we “grow” exponentially, but without any morally (or even intellectually) coherent rationale—until, naturally, we slam into the wall of market collapse, of incomprehensible breakdown (which is, not at all coincidentally, as systemic as our inability to understand it), of social disaster and economic chaos, of no growth, no future, nowhere, no how, no way. We are all Icelanders now.
Which is why this is not a Greek problem, or an American problem, or a French or Chinese or Bolivian or South African problem. But culture can be, often is, destiny. At least, the Americans have Barack Obama. And the French have Sarkozy, and the Chinese Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao (never has enlightened despotism looked so good), while the Bolivians are trying to reconstitute themselves as a nation and a society (if the US—that is, from here on in, Barack Obama—lets them), and, in South Africa, the oldest revolutionary party in the world (older even than, when it was still around, the Soviet communist party), the African National Congress, has split in two. In Greece, however, plus ça change…is the unchanging order of the day. Just about 35 years ago, at the dawn of this definitive iteration of Greek democracy, political power was contested by a Karamanlês and a Papandreou; today, a Karamanlês and a Papandreou continue to contest—except that, in both cases, the successors are such diminished (in truth, degraded) heirs to their predecessors that they, unfortunately, genuinely appear to be, not so much the latter’s descendants as their simulacra.
(To be continued)