Scene In Passing: Beware Greeks bearing promissory notes

Archimedes and Epictetus, two ancient thinkers in Greece, undoubtedly would roll over in their graves these days had their bones not disintegrated long since.

These brilliant men, the first a scientist/mathematician and the other a philosopher, saw the world for what it was and is. Their critical thinking helped spawn a legacy that led to much progress. The glory that was Greece then, however, is now in shambles. First let’s look at a couple of pertinent quotes from Archimedes.

“Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world,” is his first contribution relating to current Greek angst. “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line,” is the second.

Archimedes in his lever/fulcrum/place observation spoke of physical reality. But lever is the root of leverage, and leverage applies in both physical and financial worlds. Leverage, in effect, is debt, Wise use of debt gives people leverage to enhance holdings. Dunderheaded use of it does the opposite, Suffice to say Greek holdings haven’t been enhanced, nor is Greece’s position strong. Belated band-aids to change things are too little, too late.

How long a lever does Greece think other Eurozone countries will offer it before abandoning the lever/fulcrum because no place is left for the apparatus? We’re talking European and international financial politics here, so perhaps longer and perhaps not. But northern European Eurozone members are beginning to contemplate another way to deal with massive debt. Painful though it be, they can cut off the debtor.

After all, the shortest distance between two points is getting more obvious.

Now to Epictetus. Let’s start with this: “The essence of philosophy is that a man should so live that his happiness shall depend as little as possible on external things.”

Greece could do worse than heed this counsel rather than keep riding modernity’s financial roller coaster. Greeks ought to heed Epictetus’ counsel on other matters as well.

“It is not he who reviles or strikes you who insults you,” the philosopher said, “but your opinion that these things are insulting.” So much for dignity in Greeks voting no on austerity, to say nothing regarding the howler about being blackmailed. Things are way beyond dignity or blame and calling names.

My favorite counsel from Epictetus along similar lines, consequently, is this insight regarding self-containment and understanding: “To accuse others for one’s own misfortunes is a sign of want of education. To accuse oneself shows that one’s education has begun. To accuse neither oneself nor others shows that one’s education is complete.”

Such lessons apply to everyone, not just Greeks or Eurozone members. Modernity is built on an edifice of debt. On more than one occasion produces an avalanche of leverage boomerangs with the results clubbing debtor and creditor alike. It turns holdings into hell, even to dust. The United States, along with our state and this community, just went through a smaller version of such in the housing/finance mash of 2009-10.

To call that a crash would give it too large a place in financial history. Even though it hurt like hell, it’s but a mini-version of what Greeks likely face in the next several years.

They’re about to find out the efficacy of Epictetus’ most important admonition of all: “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it.”

John Barrette covers Carson City government and business. He can be reached at


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment