Sydney Morning Herald: The Greeks Invented Narcissism, and it has Caught up With Them


Paul Sheehan is a columnist and editorial writer for The Sydney Morning Herald, where he has has been Day Editor and Washington correspondent. His position, below, is that the Greeks have been arrogant and he argues that the ancient story of Narcissus is playing out in modern Greece. Read his opinion piece below:

Narcissus was Greek. That explains a lot. The Greeks created the figure of Narcissus and thus were the first to diagnose narcissism. The consequence for Narcissus in Greek mythology was severe.

The great “Oxi” no vote of the Greek people on July 5 may have been a national outpouring of defiance but it turns out to have been a national act of self-delusion. After the referendum, social media around the world were full of euphoria for the glorious outcome, but the referendum was a tactical charade by the Prime Minister.

Greece is in default. Its banks have been shut for a more than a week. Cash machines are running dry. The country has become a cash economy. Factories are closing down. The nation is subsisting on an estimated 40 billion euros hoarded during the past year. Foreign suppliers are refusing to provide goods or credit. Greek companies with large foreign-held debt face bankruptcy. The tourism industry is facing a melt-down of forward bookings.

Most bizarre of all, the Communist-led Syriza government has capitulated to creditors’ terms that were expressly rejected by the people in the referendum. The government itself campaigned in favour of rejection. Yet, just days after the people spoke, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras accepted the reviled terms of the creditors.

It is chaotic. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, international business editor of The Telegraph in London, wrote from Athens last week, after interviewing key ministers: “Greek premier Alexis Tsipras never expected to win the referendum … He called the snap vote with the expectation – and intention – of losing it … leaving it to others to implement the [creditors’ terms] and suffer the opprobrium …

“To their consternation, they won, igniting the great Greek revolt of 2015, the moment when the people finally issued a primal scream, daubed their war paint, and formed the hoplite phalanx … ”

“Syriza has been in utter disarray for 36 hours. On Tuesday, the Greek side turned up for a make-or-break summit in Brussels with no plans at all, even though Germany and its allies warned them at the outset that this is their last chance to avert ejection.”

On Saturday, as another round of emergency negotiations took place in Brussels, the former Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, wrote exasperatedly in The Guardian: “Greece’s financial drama has dominated the headlines for five years for one reason: the stubborn refusal of our creditors to offer essential debt relief …

“In 2010, the Greek state became insolvent. Two options consistent with continuing membership of the eurozone presented themselves: the sensible one, that any decent banker would recommend – restructuring the debt and reforming the economy; and the toxic option – extending new loans to a bankrupt entity while pretending that it remains solvent.

“Official Europe chose the second option, putting the bailing out of French and German banks exposed to Greek public debt above Greece’s socioeconomic viability … It takes the mathematical expertise of a smart eight-year-old to know that this process could not end well …

“Our government was elected on a mandate to end this doom loop; to demand debt restructuring and an end to crippling austerity …

“Greeks, rightly, shiver at the thought of amputation from monetary union … To exit, we would have to create a new currency from scratch. In occupied Iraq, the introduction of new paper money took almost a year, 20 or so Boeing 747s, the mobilisation of the US military’s might, three printing firms and hundreds of trucks. In the absence of such support, Grexit would be the equivalent of announcing a large devaluation more than 18 months in advance: a recipe for liquidating all Greek capital stock and transferring it abroad by any means available … ”

In other words, Greece has never had a Plan B.

Varoufakis is half right. Greece self-evidently needs and deserves debt-restructuring to offset the austerity it has been forced to endure. It is incapable of restoring economic viability under present terms. But it is rich for Varoufakis to decry the “stubborn refusal” to accept common sense when that is exactly what Greece has done in its refusal to slash its enormous, unsustainable public sector (and political base).

This is narcissism writ large. The narcissist is highly critical of others, has a grandiose sense of entitlement, is incapable of accepting blame, and lashes out at criticism.

The Greek government cheated its way into the Euro. Successive governments wasted hundreds of billions of euros expanding public sector payrolls and obligations. Greece indulged in the multi-billion vanity of the 2004 Olympics. It wants to be treated differently to other Eurozone debtors. It wants another $80 billion in loans even as it defaults on existing debt. Yet it has refused to slash and reform its bloated public sector, even to the point of economic suicide.

With Greece now reduced to foreign aid – by any other name – to avoid economic collapse, it is the latest in a history of chronic political instability. In the past 100 years Greece has seen war, coups, republic, monarchy, occupation, civil war, military rule, socialism and now de facto bankruptcy.

Greece is exporting instability. The 19-member Eurozone is split over Greek Bail-out III. In Finland, the nationalist True Finns party says it will bring down the government if it agrees to another bailout for Greece.

The Greeks have railed against the “bullying” of its largest creditor, Germany, yet Greece itself has been a bully for decades. It worked to keep Macedonia out of the Eurozone, constantly denigrated its small neighbour, and even sought to deny Macedonia the right to name itself.

In Greek mythology, Narcissus was undone by Nemesis, the spirit of retribution against vanity. In the evolving modern Greek mythology, Nemesis has another name: Germany.

The original opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald is here.



  1. Amichael kougellis on

    Is he joking ?? Macedonia has always been WITHIN Greece ‘s borders . Now apparently they are our northern neighbours. We will never accept this foolish notion . NEVER !!!!

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