Saturday, December 24, 2011


At the end of the cold war, when walls, barriers and ideologies came crashing down, the eminent social thinker Francis Fukuyama described the new world order as " the end of History." Simply put, the failure of utopian ideologies throughout the ages signifies a triumph of liberalism and laissez faire economics as the most efficient and enduring systems to regulate society. Further than promoting individualism and self-interest, no improvements may be made. Humanity has reached its apex.
Far removed from whether indeed the triumph of self-serving fascistocapitalism is a desirable phenomenon in itself, and certainly the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage market certainly indicates otherwise, the circularity of time defeats Fukuyama's contention. Much as the mosquito continuously circles a light globe, so too does humanity revolve itself around the pursuit of the ideal. Occasionally, as with the Minoans, the Romans or the Babylonians, human endeavours reach an apex before they come crashing down, awaiting a new phoenix, in the form of the Ionians, the Renaissance man or the Mujaheddin to re-light the pyre of "progress." This is all very Heracleitan. In accordance with that ancient philosopher's theories, all matter exists in an essential form, the outward manifestation of which is constantly changing and transforming. If we view the concepts humanity has been grappling with since the extrication of their minds from the bestial fetters of instinct, they are in essence, the same, given a polish or pruning here or there, changing their veneer and in pursuit of which, civilizations perish.
It is therefore important to have a conception of the circularity of the human condition, especially if in accordance with Fukuyama, we have come to yet another impasse and are precariously perched upon the periphery of yet another abyss. It provides us not only with unique insight into our plight, but also consolation that we have been here before many times and in the words of Gloria Gaynor, we will survive.
Unfortunately, western conceptions of time are linear. Thus, the past does in some way impact on today, but in today's consumerist world of fast-food and drive by experience, what has passed is past. We focus on the present and then embrace tomorrow in a state of blissful ignorance. However, time is circular, the past, present and future exist simultaneously but sadly, knowledge of history in the West is not seen as integral, but as peripheral to one's existence. This is why barely any Australian schoolchildren know who their first prime minister was, while in a recent survey of Greek high school students, most believed 28 October 1940 marked the anniversary of the Greek Revolution.
As Lewis Lapham points out, the study of history furnishes what Dionysius of Halicarnassus praised as "philosophy learned by example." It instills a sense of humour, wards off what Hamlet decried as "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" and through analysis of similar past situations, know what to expect for the present and future.
Indeed, people unfamiliar with the world in time find themselves marooned in the ceaselessly dissolving and therefore terrifying present, divorced from both the future and the past and surrounded by a siege of images in the news. The mass media promote the impression that urgent issues, such as the various Middle East imbroglios or the Global Financial Crisis arrive like monstrous apparitions, uninvited and unannounced from the four horseman of the apocalypse. Those devoid of history are at a loss to comprehend how and why events come to pass. Not knowing their place in the cosmos, they become an ephemeral audience for three-day wonders and one line jokes. Here today, gone tomorrow.
How tragic it is that people will themselves to a status as orphans. Deprived of the feeling of kinship with a larger self and unable to fix their position in time, they do not know the story in old books is actually their own. How then can they make sense of the context of the presence or measure the emptiness or cynicism of society or marshal the strength of their minds against what G K Chesterton called "the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to walk around?"
Rather, devoid of a conception of their identity, they confine themselves to a wraith-world of shadow in which reality remains elusive, a world in which they do not partake and upon which they will leave not a trace.
This year has been a year of intense turmoil and suffering. In particular, our country of origin has seen its economy collapse, its society erupt in protest and its example held up to ridicule for the rest of the world. Yet all these things have befallen Greece before, and largely, for the same reasons. It is for the Greeks to search within the detritus of their past in order to understand the causes of their current plight. As the Archbishop of Albania and thinker Anastasios stated in a recent message to the Greek people, we all need to look within ourselves and our history in order to find not only the causes for the current condition, but also the moral and ethical building blocks, in the form of ideals, to overcome it, triumphantly.
Similarly, this year has seen the toppling of three oligarchic regimes in the Arab world and the attempted toppling of another two. Yet the origins of the Arab Spring lie in the clash between orientalism, colonialism, imperialism, socialism and Islamic fundamentalism, which has its origin in geo-political realities that go back at least as far as the Roman and Parthian Empires. Analysts and global leaders would do well to plumb the depths of these realities if they truly are committed to solving such problems and putting an end to so much suffering, for, and especially so in Egypt, where the large Christian minority is facing daily persecution of such a vicious and primitive nature that it would put the worst depredations of the Ottoman Empire to shame, it appears that the problems of corruption and intolerance, continue to persist.
Do we bet on a horse without reading the form guide? Possibly, but we should be stupid if we did so. History is the form guide of life. And we are all co-authors. The Afghan and Iraq Wars, and the short-lived triumph of reactionary capitalism within the fertile soil of globalisation reap a bloody harvest. For two hundred or so years repressive geopolitical theories have extended their sway over the world with the sole aim of combating the spirit of Enlightenment. Let us pray therefore that history is not at an end, for it protects the future against the past and that the coming year ushers in a period of understanding, peace and humanity. To all of you, avid readers of the Diatribe, we wish, forst having thanked you for your patience and condescension throughout the year, Καλά Χριστούγεννια και ο,τι καλύτερο για τον καινούργιο χρόνο.


First published in NKEE on Saturday, 24 December 2011