Saturday, 3 January 2009

Greek riots: lawlessness or social change?

Thanks to Stavros over at My Greek Odyssey for pointing out that the esteemed academics of the Modern Greek Studies Association deigned to use my little post Anarchists, immigrants, hooligans, gypsies, the mad, the curious and the unbalanced to have a little discussion on the Greek riots. They didn't like my assertions that the violence of non-citizens, demi-citizens and ‘other flotsam of society’ is not a legitimate or meaningful response to Greece's social ills but a symptom of Greece's crisis and that the most striking (and shocking) aspect of the disorder has been the failure of the Greek state to stand up for itself and assert the law.

One MGSA commenter, Anna K said this: '[Anarchists, immigrants, students, pupils, leftists, hooligans, gypsies, the mad, the curious, the unbalanced] are precisely the groups that need to challenge the state and make it more accountable for its abuses, corruption, violence… because it is through state and other social policies that people are marginalized and form the groups they form. Neither God nor nature creates these, only men (and women also these days) in power. So yes, demi-citizens and “other flotsam of society” do have the right to challenge the Greek state. It is not those who are doing well, for whom the rules/laws/institutions are working that will challenge things now, is it?'

Anna K goes on to claim that she is a 'reflecting individual', and boasts of basing her understanding of the 'uprisings in Greece’ (her words, my emphasis) on having taken 'Introduction to Sociology'.

Now, here's the thing: only the crudest of crude leftists daydreaming about the Paris communes or the Potemkin rebellion (and certainly not a reflecting individual) can arrive at the conclusion that blatant thuggery, looting and teenagers playacting in the streets amounts to an 'uprising' or a vital response to the ills of Greek society. The rioters and their apologists are not offering an alternative vision of Greek society or a superior morality, but are taking advantage of the state's bewildering passivity and failure to assert itself to live out, as I have previously said, their destructive fantasies and enjoy for a short while a primitive state of freedom. Thus, as a result of the riots and Karamanlis' surrender, Greece is not on the brink of progressive social change but toying with lawlessness.

(And if you want proof above and beyond the recent wanton destruction of what lawlessness means, then look at the video above from last Sunday's MEGA news, in which trade unionists ‘protesting’ Sunday shopping are harassing and haranguing citizens and workers, telling them to close their shops, stop working, go home and spend time with their families. The silver-haired trade unionist – or mafia bully, depending on your point of view – shrieking at shoppers and shopworkers (and who ought to take his own advice and go home and spend time with his family) is declaring that he represents the law and that he has taken it on himself to uphold the law. And maybe, in the current climate in Greece, he has a point).

Finally, what emerges from the Greek riots is not only Karamanlis' desperate and complete failure to fulfill his government's self-declared task of transforming Greece into a modern, liberal society based on free enterprise; but also the crisis affecting the Greek left, which still thinks radical social change means 'bloodshed and gunfighting', whereas in fact it should mean 'radical change in the institutions of society' (Castoriadis). Now, radically changing the institutions of society would involve effort, commitment, patience, organisation, selflessness, a belief in the common good and, above all, innovative thinking – none of which are on display anywhere in Greek society at the moment; nor, Anna K, will you find these qualities in ‘Introductions to Sociology’.


Anonymous said...

And here I thought that revolutions happened due to a combination of swiftly rising expectations and a weak state. NOW I know better; thank God for leftist academics that can show me the way!

Poor Anna K will never recover from her brainwashing; the Rousseuvian fantasy is far too addictive for one unschooled in history. Every society will have an elite to make decisions, as well as those who enforce the laws as civil servants and police. There will always be a vast ballast of population immersed in the market place and their own affairs, providing stability (Plato knew about this structure in antiquity, outlining the schema in his "Republic").

Finally, there will always be the marginalized, who will never accept any societal organization. This doesn't make them unusually insightful...just maladjusted, at the very least. The good of the many, and of the State that acts as an instrument for the welfare of the many, should never be sacrificed to the whims of the mad few.

"Liberalism is a philosophy of consolation for western civilization as it commits suicide." - Jerry Pournelle

Dimitrios said...

Sorry, the above was me

john akritas said...

Greece may or may not require radical social change – I reckon it probably does; but one thing is for sure: this social change is not going to be brought about by anarchists, hooligans and the mad, as Anna K seems to think. That she – and others like her – allow themselves to believe that there is something noble, heroic, justified, legitimate, purposeful about the violence in Athens – which inevitably has taken on terrorist forms – is mind-boggling and deeply depressing.

john akritas said...

I should add that when I say Greece requires 'radical social change', I don't mean the sort the left means – more permissiveness, liberalism and so on. Greece is not a repressed or repressive society. It is the opposite, and the radical social change should concentrate, in my view, on reversing some of the changes that have taken place in Greece in the last 30 years. Fat chance of my kind of radical social change happening, mind you.

John said...

Hey! Leave the sociologists alone! You've no way of knowing whether Anna K will change her opinions. I took Introduction to Sociology over 25 years ago, and I taught it 15 years ago. And in between I first encountered the work of Castoriadis. It took me a long time to change my mind to the extent that I'm on the same page as you guys. Why expect anything else from youngsters but the romanticizing of anything outside of the mundane? It's a bit of excitement. I felt the same way about the riots in the 80s and the Miners' Strike.

Patience, orgranization, selflessness, a belief in the common good, and innovative thinking: These are skills and attitudes that take time to develop. You fellas should show some patience toward the young. Indulge them a little, won't you?!


john akritas said...

You know, J. I don't disagree with you that much. I, too, expect youth to be wild and seek out excitement, get attracted to radical politics and all the rest. I even expect them to tear up the place if they get the chance. HOWEVER, what I don't expect is that the state just lets them get on with it; or that people who should know better – politicians, journalists, academics, intellectuals – regard these kids as a revolutionary vanguard, insist the riots are an 'uprising' and so on. I, too, am all for indulging kids; but there is such a thing as over-indulgence. Kids are there to be made adults and citizens, not to teach the rest of us how to be citizens and adults. And since you mention the miners' strike and the race riots in the UK in the 1980s, I ask you: who came out on top in these confrontations? Certainly, the state didn't surrender in the UK as it has in Greece.

As for Kazantzakis, I don't know why the brothers at Macheras would regard Christ Recrucified as blasphemous. It's the story of refugees from Asia Minor who put on a passion play and the shepherd they choose to play Jesus gets into his 'part' so much, believes in Jesus' teachings and destiny so much, that all sorts of conflicts and troubles for him develop. The book that did get Kazantzakis done for blasphemy was The Last Temptation – made into a not very good film by Martin Scorsese – which is, I suppose, the gospel according to Kazantzakis. Neither books are blasphemous in the style, say, of The Life Brian; and in fact when Kazantzakis was excommunicated by the church for The Last Temptation, he wrote back to the priests: 'You gave me your curse, holy Fathers. I give you a blessing: May your conscience be as clear as mine, and may you be as moral and religious as I am.' Kazantzakis' reply gives you an idea of how serious and religious in intent both novels are.

John said...

Hi John--

Thanks for the precis! I went onto amazon to have a look and it looks like an interesting read. I put it on my wishlist, which means I may get round to it in a couple of years.

I didn't mean for indulgence to be extended to the rioters, only to Anna K. and teenage theorists of her ilk, since that was where I was once too. The rioters aren't a vanguard and I don't want a vanguard anyway, but the temptation to regard them as such has been around since Marcuse's day, and i'm sure students in particular find it a very tempting interpretation.

I'm only too well aware of the outcome of the Miners' Strike, of course. Even back then, many of us knew that it was a mistake, but we nevertheless felt morally obliged to support the miners materially, even though we knew it was a losing battle they were in. We did our best to mitigate the hardship.

Thanks again. I love the blog, btw.

john akritas said...

I don't know that I really want to indulge Anna K. When I saw on Greek TV all these journalists, politicians, academics – mostly middle aged – coming out and telling society it had to listen and learn from the kids, that the kids' actions represented some kind of meaningful rebellion, I thought this amounted to a kind of paedophilia, an exploitation of children, a projection of adult fantasies onto unsuspecting youngsters – and naturally I was appalled.

Honestly, I'm all for rebellion and radical change – where necessary and especially in art and as an artistic pose (I like punk rock and surrealism too) – but what happened in Greece recently was nothing like this. The miners' strike was a good cause, worth supporting, and it's wrong to assume all 'protest' is the same. Some protest is good, some is bad. Some is progressive, some is reactionary.

It's interesting you should mention Marcuse, because it is Marcuse Castoriadis had in mind when he had a pop at Marxist psychologists and libertarian psychoanalysts for suggesting ‘that we only have to let desires and drives express themselves for universal happiness to follow. The result [Castoriadis' says] in such a case would rather be universal murder.’

I'm glad you like the blog. Sometimes it crosses my mind to tone down the Greek nationalist angle so's not to put off non-Greeks who read the blog, but then I think too bad, I have to say what I believe.

John said...

Hi John--

For my part, I would say, don't change a thing. Your blog is a refreshing voice; I think the title says it all.

I suspect your attitude towards what's happening in Greece differs from mine on account of your proximity to events, which was why I, from a distance, suggested indulgence of folk like Anna K. in the first place. I am comparing her to people like myself 20 years ago, and perhaps it is an invalid comparison. I don't know. I just thought Dimitrios was being too harsh in saying she will never change her mind and that even cynics like us can be tempted to give too much weight to teenage opinion just because the media does too. And as far as politicians and media folk are concered, I just think they are catering to their market. I wouldn't take them seriously either!

Without sharing Castoriadis's negative attitude toward the human psyche (and I've only just managed to obtain World in Fragments, so I've a way to go yet), I'm with him on Marcuse all the way. Ridiculous but very much of his time.

All the best


john akritas said...

I live in London, so we must be about the same physical distance from Athens; though, admittedly, emotionally, I'm probably closer.

Actually, today I came across this article – or tired, old anti-captialist rant, depending on your point of view – by Professor Anna K on the Greek riots. If you, or anyone else, cares to read it, here's the address:

John said...

Well, I started to read to it. :-(