MASSACRE OF THE INNOCENTS
The recent murder of young Alex Mekhishvilli in the northern Greek city of Veroea by five of his classmates has shocked the Greek nation to its very core, though not so much as one would expect, given that the Veroea municipal council has refused to endorse a silent vigil held by some of the city's inhabitants, in protest at such a heinous and unnatural crime.
The murder of children by children is horrifying. Its prospect is as bewildering as if the natural order of the world was turned upon its head. This is especially so when one considers that the Greek word for child, «παιδί» shares the same root as the word «παιδεία» (education) or «εκπαίδευση» (training). Thus, at least etymologically, the Greek conception of the child is of a living being whose essence is finite but whose nature is still developing. It needs to be trained, educated and formed before it can properly call itself by its name.
The concept of Greek society having to come to terms with such beings, not yet formed, assuming the energies of that which they will become long before they are ready comes in direct parallel with the biblical story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. They too lived in a blissful state, they too ate of what they were not ready or permitted to eat and as a result, they brought upon themselves a loss of innocence and ultimately death.
We have all been living in a Garden of Eden of our own vis a vis Greek society. The myth that we have constructed around ourselves is of a cohesive, generous society, founded upon a sound moral basis and humanitarian precepts. According to that discourse, the Greek is infinitely more attentive to his neighbour, generous to strangers, possessed of a strong social conscience based not upon abstract western liberal principles of utilitarian law and order but rather, upon one to one social interaction and experience. While in the interests of the exception proving the rule allowance has to be made for the existence of crime, such crimes are usually of a benign nature, or they are hushed up or otherwise explained away.
Thus, one of the most common perceptions, at least in the eyes of the public is that extrinsic factors are to blame for any perceived increase in crimes or their severity. This gloss upon the discourse propagates the myth that prior to the arrival of immigrants in Greece, people enjoyed security and a low crime rate. The other, is that even though the crime rate may have increased, the nature of Greek society is infinitely more cohesive and inclusive as to preclude the incidence of such extreme crimes as the Columbine massacre, which is held as evidence in chief of the breakdown of the much reviled American society.
Whereas behaviour in Greek society was traditionally predicated upon and limited by the vigilance and criticism of others to enforce social norms, western society is based upon each person excerising self-restraint. The increasing mindless adoption of superficial accoutrments of western culture without their ideological basis results in people unused to self-restraint and liberated from traditional extrinsically imposed compliance that once regulated their behaviour, facing a moral vacuum. Alex’s murder is the most extreme example of this.
Now that we have supped upon the fruit from the tree of knowledge, our eyes have opened. We see ourselves naked and our innocence is lost forever. No longer can we propagate the myth of our own social superiority. Instead, we stand face to face with that which we have known all long but feared desperately to admit: Who we are and who we say or think we are, are as disparate now, as the poles. The cultural, historical and traditional underpinnings of our 'great' society are exposed as eroded or discarded a long time ago and despite our reliance on those deceased underpinnings in order to inflate our sense of self-importance, all we see in our portrait of Dorian Gray, is an Anti-society, a coarse, vulgar and decontextualised parody of the Western society that we on the one hand reject but on the other hand so slavishly subconsciously follow. In truth, despite ours being a civilization of remarkable tenacity and longevity and despite our boasting of its superiority, since the time of Adamantios Korais, we are unhappy and insecure about who we are. The first act of this tragedy therefore, is that a young child was brutally killed by his peers. The second is that our society fostered the dysfunctional environment in which this act occurred. And the final tragedy is that given our illusory conception of the nature of our society coupled with the rejection of the society that we emulate, does this not mean that conceptually at least, we have cancelled the concept of society out all together?
And then again, maybe this is not a tragedy for us after all. Aristotle theorized in his Poetics that tragedy results in a catharsis of healing for the audience through their experience of the main characters' emotions in response to their suffering in the drama. He considered it superior when a character passed from good fortune to bad rather than the reverse. Only time will tell if the passions of the main protagonists can provide such a cleansing for us. I doubt it, if the conduct of the Veroea municiapl authorities is anything to go by. For it is unclear whether we are actually the audience of this drama or rather, the main protagonists. If this is so, then the plot of our own suffering is only just developing as Act One, Scene One and it is unfolding, not for our benefit but for the instruction of others.
In his Poetics, Aristotle spoke of the main protagonist in a tragedy being possessed of «αμαρτία,» in its character, usually translated as a 'fatal flaw.' This translation implies that the character makes one fatal mistake based on incomplete self knowledge, which will bring about its doom. In our case, is it not our own hubris in convincing ourselves that we are something which we are not that is resulitng in the stripping of the bandages of self-delusion from the sarcophagus of mummified ideals?
A favorite theatrical device of many ancient Greek tragedians was the «εκκύκλημα», a cart hidden behind the scenery which could be rolled out to display the aftermath of some event which had happened out of sight of the audience. This event was frequently a brutal murder of some sort, an act of violence which could not be effectively portrayed visually, but an action of which the other characters must see the effects in order for it to have meaning and emotional resonance. A prime example of the use of the ekkyklêma is after the murder of Agamemnon in the first play of Aeschylus' Oresteia when the king's butchered body is wheeled out in a grand display for all to see.
Perhaps our «εκκύκλημα» is the seemingly senseless murder of poor Alex Mekhishvilli. It has great meaning and emotional resonance, but that in itself will not obstruct us as protagonists (which literally means the primary sufferers) from careering along our path to self-destruction, due to our own willful blindness not only to ourselves but to our past and thebeliefs it hasengendered..
Rene Guenon, a French thinker of the early twentieth century postulated that the reason why western society had become so dysfunctional was because it had consciously let go of its traditional roots and embraced concepts not only alien to its way of thinking, but also, destructive of a society that was the product of centuries of their manifestation. Characteristically, he wrote: "It is as if an organism with its head cut off were to go on living," and then went on to rather pedantically define a set of criteria to distinguish orthodox and regular traditions from their 'counterfeiting' and 'satanic' caricatures.
But is the answer to go return to the traditional basis of our society? Herein lies the greatest, most final tragedy. In Greek tragedy, a μηχανή was employed to hoist a god or goddess on stage when they were supposed to arrive flying. This device gave origin to the phrase "deus ex machina" (god out of a machine), that is, the surprise intervention of an unforeseen external factor that changes the outcome of an event.
For the final act comes as a deus ex machina telling us that our tragedy is not that in our loss of innocence, we can no longer perceive or find value in, or return to those 'traditional roots' as a panacea for all our ills. Rather it is the nihilistic belief that those traditional values were ever adhered to at all. If there never was a Golden Age, then there can be no excuse for our 'fall' and subsequently, no predetermined chance of elevation and redemption.
The word tragedy literally means "goat-song" and this is fitting considering the animalistic attributes that in our carelessness we have adopted. It is high time that protagonists and audiences alike acquire the gnosis needed to correct their terminal decline before they lose all conception of themlselves for eternity. We leave you for this week, with the particularly apt George Orwell's conclusion from Animal Farm: "Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."
Fist published in NKEE on 19 June 2006