Or, the Show must go on at the Amphitheatre
It is now 19.30h on Friday night, 10 July 2015. I, like many others, have been following the unwinding of the Debt Crisis narrative and more recently the Greek chapter of that story. Initially mine was the general interest of an adult citizen, then with closer interest as Ireland grappled with austerity, and for the past few months I have been following developments in the Greek Crisis daily, blow by blow. I have also been introduced to a phenomenon that I have experienced under another name. Aporia, from the Greek, a– and poros (‘without’ and ‘passage’), a word that is rich in meaning and occurs frequently in the works of Plato. It is often used to describe the state of anxiety and puzzlement that one (or even a society) faces when a new situation arises that cannot be explained in terms of the present complex of mental images and understanding. It occurs frequently in Yanis Varoufakis’ “The Global Minotaur” to describe the situation that governments, institutions, and individuals found themselves in when the Debt Crisis hit during the first decade of this century. It is incorporated into the process of experiential learning where the role of the consultant is to confront the group with an analysis of a situation that they are struggling to face, when their group endeavours reach an impasse on the mountain path of learning and they can see no way past it.
I read the opening position of the Greek side and that of the Troika. It was clear, and I remember remarking upon it some time ago, that their positions had nothing in common. Two “Circles of Certainty” with little or no overlap between them to provide a space whereon to built a consensus. The Greek side stated clearly that the previous bail-out hadn’t worked and the country now faced a humanitarian crisis as well as a financial crisis. The new Government led by Syriza was strongly influenced by Yanis Varoufakis, an academic and also finance minister, who claimed that the strategy of the previous bail-out was flawed and that the bail-out had to be re-negotiated to give the required debt relief plus a fiscal approach to increase taxes. On the Troika side, the position was that Greece must continue with the same strategy that had been used in the first bail-out. They insisted on debt restructuring and on cuts in spending to create a budgetary surplus. There seemed to be no common ground between them. What is more, the Troika did not acknowledge any validity in the aims of the other side, whilst the Greeks, for their part, and showing the strong influence of Varoufakis’ analysis of the global economic model, showed no intention of compromising.
The negotiations, which had characteristics of a Big Brother House late night session, was “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”, it would appear. Time dragged by, deadlines were not met, promises were made and not kept, nothing happened, nothing changed. Early on in the exchanges, I read a tweet from Yanis Varoufakis, that he had enjoyed a night at the theatre before the negotiations started, attending a play by Samuel Beckett. I must say that the negotiations reminded me a lot of more than one Beckett play! It was reminiscent of the plight of Vladimir and Estragon in Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”. In fact, I began to believe that the whole negotiation process had a lot in common with Theatre of the Absurd! Commentators and economic correspondents have been enjoying a field day, with Greek myth heaped upon Greek myth. Hard-headed experts have been sounding like purveyors of conspiracy theories. And I felt very puzzled. And I am still puzzled. Because it doesn’t make sense. Enter Aporia, stage left!
The prospects facing Greece are truly terrible whichever route they take or whichever route is forced upon them. The Troika appears determined to have their way and to force the Greek government to administer strong medicine to their people. More of the same medicine that failed in the first bail out. What parent has not despaired when their child refused the medicine with “I don’t like the taste”, and they replied “But it will make you better”! I cannot see how Alexis Tsipras can possibly accept those conditions, given the position he has consistently adopted from the beginning. To do so would be to accept abject defeat. He is not a stupid man, and he has kept a very balanced demeanour under the most difficult of circumstances. If anything, it is on the side of the Troika that the signs of stress are showing. There appears to be a gap developing between the IMF and the other two, the EU and the ECB. Yet the Troika is pursuing a strategy that will force Greece to leave the Euro-zone, and like the scape-goat of the Old Testament, be cast out of the encampment to wander in the desert with the symbols of the “scapes” (i.e., sins) of the tribe on its back, and left to forage alone in the wilderness. The scapes were symbols that allowed to community to rid themselves of guilt for their misdemeanours and return to normal relations with one another. The scape-goat died in the wilderness. Alternatively, the strategy may allow Greece to remain within the Euro Group in some kind of helot role, enslaved to its masters in the Troika. A reminder to other countries that might dare to entertain thoughts of dissent. The former option seems to be that prefered by the majority of EU leaders and will almost undoubtedly destabilise the entire EU project, and precipitate problems for other EU countries, like Ireland, Portugal, Spain, and possibly Italy. Even more unsettling is the possibility that the rise of right-wing extremism, already evident in some European countries, will gain strength. So it appears that within this crisis, there is a riddle embedded in a conflict of ideologies. And all because the Troika is not aware yet that they face aporia. And if they are aware, then that makes them even more defensive lest it be found out that they do not know, that they do not understand. Understand? Understand what? What happens now? Will Sunday’s meeting of Heads of Government be the last hurrah? And for whom?
I try to be aware of the danger when looking at a situation like this, of failing to see a pattern other than the one that my own comfort zone suggests. It is hard not to project my own favourite narrative onto the confusing data before me, because it will reassure me that I understand what is happening. Are we witnessing here the clash of two different approaches to the wealth of nations? Or would you prefer the other common analogy, as in the clashing of tectonic plates that throw up mountains and swallow vast plains while reconfiguring the landscape?
It is time, as in the best traditions of investigative fiction, to “cherchez la femme”! Who is lurking in the dark cave of the Minotaur, casting a terrible spell over those who would destroy her offspring, the half-man, half bull? Is Pasiphae, mother of the Minotaur, too ashamed to show herself? Or in today’s version, could it be Brunhilde, from the myths of Northern Europe, who in this modern age has migrated to Greece, or possibly even come on holiday, as so many Northerners do? Let’s retrace our steps and look again at the roots of the crisis. James Galbraithmakes very direct accusatory statements recounting the testimony of Phillipe Legrain, former adviser to the then-EU President José Manuel Barroso, at the hearing of a Greek parliamentary commission investigating the Greek debt.
“The original crime in the Greek affair, Legrain said, was committed in May 2010, when it became clear that the country was insolvent. At that time, the IMF staff was convinced that Greek debts must be restructured, and that debt relief was not only necessary but also just, given that reckless borrowers are always matched to reckless lenders, and that lenders are compensated, in part, for the risk of loss.”
He went on to claim that restructuring did not happen, but instead, that “a trio of Frenchmen”, namely Dominique Strauss-Kahn (who wanted to become President of France) at the IMF, Jean-Claude Trichet at the European Central Bank (who had bought up 27 billion euros in Greek bonds to support the original lenders whom he identified as mainly French banks), and an unnamed person at the Elysée who is, presumably President Hollande, together with the support of Angela Merkel” decided to pretend that Greece’s problem was a merely temporary phenomenon. This quartet realised that there was a darker cloud on the horizon, a larger financial crisis, that was infinitely more threatening. Accordingly, Galbraith claims they decided that the largest bailout in history should be directed not to save Greece, but “to off-load the exposure of French and German banks onto all the European states, with Germany’s taxpayers taking the largest share”. In this way they would be able to divert the huge impending losses away from the French banks and spread the losses around more broadly.
Now consider this, what usually happens when a bank’s client goes bankrupt? The precept is “don’t lend money to a bankrupt”, so they restructure the debt. But that didn’t happen in the case of Greece’s first bail-out. France and Germany, then joined by the Netherlands, took a hard line. We now know from information coming to light from the IMF, that some of their staff were very worried by this. We also know that the harsh regime of austerity did not produce the claimed goals of the bail-out, but in fact made the situation catastrophically worse. And that is what puzzled me. But now in the light of what I have learned, I am beginning to understand that the root cause for this behaviour lies initially in the inability, and later, in the unwillingness, of the European leaders to accept a situation to which their preconceptions and efforts at evasion had blinded them. Aporia is now centre stage. We wait, bolt upright in our amphitheatre seats, for the denouement. Will it be the twilight of the Gods, or a brave new day?
It would be out of kilter and beyond my ken to attempt to say what I think, or even what I hope, will happen in the unforeseeable future. But I believe it is appropriate to consult the oracle on this occasion. You may laugh, and indeed, you may snigger, but for over fifty years I have consulted the oracles in many forms and on many occasions and they have always given me pause for thought. This is one occasion when I believe that it is de rigueur to do so. I shall record the live reading on video, just for the record. But here is the written record for you to consider and compare with the results of the meetings planned for this week-end. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
The Oracle’s Narrative:
The Government and people of Greece are now balancing the gains and losses inherent in the present situation and pondering what to do next. The main obstacle facing them is that the Troika sees them as beggars looking for a hand-out. The Greek Government aims to develop growth using practical targets based upon the aims they have and the kind of society they want to encourage. This new beginning will test their power to explain and implement these changes. It will also test their ability to articulate these aims in a way that are understood clearly by the Troika. For their part, the Troika must agree a programme that addresses the needs of the Greek people, that is accepted by them, and is one to which they are committed.
The main strength in the Greek position is that the new Government believes that they can cope with and overcome problems from the past by facing up to them with courage, determination and perseverance, protecting their society from further deterioration and trying to avoid creating further problems. This will require them to implement new strategies and programmes, to focus with extreme attention on the task in hand, and to stabilise their economy. They have learned from the results in the past three years, and there is a hopeful attitude towards the future. Some loss and disappointment is also indicated particularly with relation to personal relationships. A positive attitude is required to find new direction and hope.
The Greek Government and people will need to draw on their inner strengths to bear the temporary insecurity they face. This requires strong and resourceful characters to lead them. They must draw heavily on this to overcome the difficulties and problems that are looming. They must use the strong foundations and connections already established between Government and people, and move forwards as, and when, opportunities arise.
One cycle in the life of Greece is coming to an end and a new one is beginning. This may be the result of events or circumstances outside their immediate influence, but nevertheless they are positive. It also indicates that these changes will have the greatest impact on the way in which they approach and handle the present situation. Success will depend upon their ability and commitment to behaving with a level of prudence and caution in the way they go about their affairs. They will get successful results if they apply organisation and pay attention to detail in their preparations rather than merely follow a programme laid down by others. It must be a programme that they believe they can implement and that will merge with the needs of the Greek people.
This change will not be achieved without some pain or a sense of loss, because it may involve the ending of some relationships and structures, but it does not necessarily have negative connotations.
The end result will cause some deflation in attitudes after the tension and excitement of the negotiation period. The result, however, will be a wake-up call to everyone to deal with the new reality. Security will be felt as boring and mundane. This means that euphoria must give way to a daily reality. The life and aims of the society must be re-evaluated in the light of the new situation in which they will live, in order to provide new directions, new challenges, and a new way of managing their society.
Appendix: What the Oracle saw
If you wish to understand how the Oracle’s Narrative was arrived at, you may care to examine the process I used to collect the information I needed using a divination technique with Tarot cards.
The Tarot cards, for me, are not about fairground fortune telling, but as Carl Gustav Jung has pointed out, the archetypal symbolism of the cards is a way to bypass the restrictive and defensive Ego and gain access to the Individual and Collective Unconscious. With this in mind, I use the layout of the Tarot cards to help me access information stored in my own unconscious mind that relates to the question posed. By using a structured layout, the information generated by the symbolism of the cards is formulated in an integrated manner and related to the question. It should also be noted that a Tarot reading is like the answers given by the Oracle at Delphi. They are deliberately designed to force the Querant to take on the task of interpreting the answers in a manner that is relevant to them, thereby helping them to break out of any previous thought patterns that may be restricting their ability to solve their problems. In that process, new learning is born from experience.
The question posed
The question to which I wish to focus the Tarot process is as follow: Given the circumstances surrounding the negotiations between the Greek Government and the Troika, and the effects these are having on the aims of both parties, what is likely to happen next?
I use a short period of meditation to focus my attention on the question in hand. I also burn sage to clear away any stagnant energies in the room. I shuffle the cards thoroughly, cut the deck of cards into three piles, re-assemble the piles randomly. I then discard the top card and lay the bottom card aside face down. This latter card, which I call the Clarification Key, I use later as an aid to clarification if any of the cards is difficult to interpret. As I turn each card to place it on the spread, I relate the information from the card to the position in the spread. This enables me to develop a narrative that helps the Querant to find an answer to the question. In the procedure described below, I add notes for those readers not familiar with the Tarot to explain the significance of each position in the spread.
The “spread” refers to the way in which the cards are laid out on the table. This one is based upon a popular spread refered to as the Celtic Cross Spread. In fact, this fanciful name does not appear to have anything to do with Celtic spirituality. The Querant refers to the person or persons who are the subject of the question posed, in this case, the Government and people of Greece.
Position: This position gives information about the current situation of the Querant and indicates the relationship of the reading to the environment of the Querant. Note also that the Cups suit of cards relates primarily to emotional issues.
Meaning: The Querant is balancing the gains and losses apparent in the present situation and pondering what to do next.
Card #2: Six of Coins
Position: This position is a comment on the nature of the obstacles facing the Querant now. Note that the Coins suit refers primarily to material factors in life, such as wealth, finances, possessions.
Meaning: They are perceived as beggars looking for a hand-out.
Position: This position refers to specific goals and desired aims of the Querant, but also casts some light on the best that is likely to be achieved under present circumstances.
Meaning: New growth is indicated based upon practical actions and achievements. A new beginning is also indicated where the power of the querant will be tested.
Position: This position indicates events or influences in the past from which the Querent’s present situation has sprung.
Meaning: In the Tarot deck of cards, there are twenty two special cards referred to as the Major Arcana. These are archetypal images of particular characteristics that carry great weight in a reading. Here Strength indicates that subtle use of strength, has enabled the Querent to cope with and overcome problems in the past by facing up to them with courage, determination and perseverance, rather than by trying to avoid them. Knowing something of the history of the debt crisis in Greece I used the Clarification Key to extend the meaning. The Clarification Key drawn earlier is the Ace of Coins. In this context it refers specifically to new beginnings, to extreme attention to the task on hand, and to stability. This suggests that the reading refers more specifically to the period since the last general election when new thinking was applied to the situation in Greece.
Position: This indicates a more recent influence that is now waning.
Meaning: Learning from the past is indicated, as is a hopeful attitude towards the future. Some loss and disappointment is also indicated particularly with relation to personal relationships. A positive attitude is required to find new direction and hope.
Position: This position indicates future influences that may soon come to bear on the Querant.
Meaning: The Querant will need to draw on their inner strengths to bear the temporary insecurity they face. This requires a strong and resourceful character in their leaders. They must draw heavily on this to overcome the difficulties and problems that are looming. They must use the strong foundations already established and move forwards as and when opportunities arise.
Position: This position provides further insights about the Querant and how they feel about or relate to the present circumstances.
Meaning: This is a generally optimistic card. It signifies the end of one cycle in the life of the Querant and the start of a new one. This may be the result of events or circumstances outside the influence of the Querant, but nevertheless are positive.It also indicates where these changes will have the greatest impact, in this case, on the way in which they approach or handle the present situation.
Position: This position reflects on the home environment of the Querant. It reveals their influence on the people around them and how they fit into the situation that they face.
Meaning: This card comments on the possibility of successful application of the Querant’s skills and knowledge. It indicates a level of financial prudence and caution in the way they go about their affairs and suggest that they will have successful results if they apply organisation and pay attention to detail in their preparations.
Position: This position indicates the hopes and fears of the Querant. It may also give some insight into any unanticipated event that may influence the final result.
Meaning: First all, I must emphasise, that the public image of this card as presented in Hollywood movies and popular fiction, is totally misinformed and wrong. In the context of the Tarot, which has always been used in a spirituality founded in a close relationship with the natural environment, is based upon the traditional interpretation of the meaning of Death as sudden and dramatic change, a crossing over from one reality to another, the possibility of a new life, new beginnings, or a complete severance from an existing set of circumstances. It also says that this change will not be achieved without some pain or a sense of loss, because it may involve the ending of some relationships and structures, but it does not necessarily have negative connotations.
Position: This position shows the final result, the outcome of all the other influences in the spread.
Meaning: This card suggests the outcome of the whole process will produce a sense of apathy, the solution will not necessarily be accompanied by the sense of excitement and tension that accompanies the current process. The result will be a wake-up call to everyone to deal with the new reality. Security will be felt as boring and mundane. This means that euphoria must give way to a daily reality. The life and aims of the society must be re-evaluated in the light of the new situation in which they will live, in order to provide new directions, new challenges, and a new way of managing their society.
Meaning: A new beginning in financial affairs. Unexpected benefits. Emphasis on satisfactory achievements. Deep sense of satisfaction
 From Wikipedia: The separation of aporia into its two morphemes a– and poros (‘without’ and ‘passage’) reveals the word’s rich etymological background as well as its connection to Platonic mythology. Sarah Kofman asserts that these two components are crucial to a fuller understanding of the word, which has been historically translated and understood somewhat reductively: “translators, who usually escape their perplexity by translating poros as ‘expediency’ and aporia as ‘difficulty’…leave the reader in the dark as to all the semantic richness of poros and aporia and give no hint as to their links with other words belonging to the same ‘family’”. Such links inevitably demonstrate that the terms are part of a “tradition” that Plato borrows from, a tradition which “breaks with a philosophical conception of translation, and with the logic of identity that it implies”. To demonstrate such a break, Kofman reviews multiple instances of the term throughout Plato’s work. Her discussion of the myth of Poros, Penia, and Eros in Plato’s Symposium especially reveals the concept’s untranslatability. Penia, the “child of poverty,” decides to forcefully impregnate herself with the inebriated Poros, the personification of plenty, who is always in opposition with aporia and thus defining aporia. The result of this union is Eros, who inherits the disparate characteristics of his parents (25). The perplexing aspect of the myth is revealed as one realizes that Penia is acting out of resourcefulness, a quality normally attributed to Poros, and Poros’ inaction reveals his own passivity, a poverty of agency or poros. Such a relationship intensely affects not only the context of aporia but its meaning as well: