The worst crisis Greece has ever known

A couple tweets from Dan Snow regarding Greece:

BBC reporter: ‘This could be the worst crisis Greece has ever known’. There speaks a man without a history degree.

Greece has been ravaged by Persian Immortals, Roman legionaries, Huns, Janissaries, Russian cossacks, Nazi stormtroopers. She’s seen worse.

9 thoughts on “The worst crisis Greece has ever known

  1. What’s worse, not having a history degree, or not having a sociology degree? They are equally bad in their own ways, since without a history degree one tends to mouth inaccuracies regarding times and places. However, those without degrees in sociology perpetuate ignorance by reifying a piece of land, or more specifically, reifying the idea of human activity that has occurred there. In neither case are we dealing with a sentient being, one capable of ‘knowing’ a crisis. That is, the land known today as Greece has certainly been the site of numerous occasions of conflict, but that land feels nothing in regard to what has occurred at its coordinates. If it did, one might think that it would have put a stop to the human foolishness long ago, if it were capable of doing so. Because the alternative assumption, if one were to think land possesses human characteristics, suggests it enjoys watching humans suffer. However, evidence suggests that land cares little what humans do on top of it. It is just there.

    Likewise, the idea of land having a consciousness that is capable of intelligent thought, as in ‘Greece has . . . known,’ is just as ridiculous as thinking that land could experience a crisis. Any crisis on that land is by definition one of human creation, since the land will still be there tomorrow, whether any humans are, or not. The surreptitious danger of anthropomorphizing a piece of land by stating that it possesses the capability of intelligent thought, such as ‘Greece has . . . known,’ is similar to the one in which other inanimate entities are assigned human qualities, thus falsely attributing a sentient existence to them. Such as, ‘the market enjoyed its biggest month in over 10 years.’ The only reason i can find for attributing the capability of sentient experience to non-human entities is to shield the humans who are responsible for those experiences from retaliation by those who have been harmed by them. Fortunately, it appears that there are enough people with sociology degrees who are bright enough to know that you can’t occupy a market, although you can occupy the offices of an investment bank.

  2. Well, the ancient Greeks share the same name as the current ones, but is it fair to consider them all just ‘Greece’? Wikipedia sez the current country was established through independence from the Ottoman Empire in the first half of the nineteenth century and besides that the current constitution only dates from 1975, when the Third Hellenic Republic was established. If you consider modern Greece as dating from 1975, then none of Dan’s examples even apply. It may well be that the current crisis is the worst one faced by the government which was established in 1975. So could we equally smugly accuse Dan of not knowing his (modern) Greek history?

    One could equally assert that a hypothetical attack on Israel would not be the worst crisis faced by Israel, and cite the Old Testament as proof.

    Or for that matter, delve even deeper into history — what about the mass extinction 65.5 million years ago? Now *that* was a crisis, affecting every land on earth.

  3. Christopher Allen-Poole

    @Sal Your argument boils down to, “We should not use anthropomorphism with regards to nations.” Your reasoning is that it “shields the responsible parties”. This is balderdash and portrays a distinct lack of understanding of linguistics (a crime far worse than either lack of knowledge of sociology or lack of knowledge about history).

    Metaphors (which is what all anthropomorphism are) are used as a linguistic short-hand because using a literal set would be too verbose. To use your argument about the markets, they are often called “bear,” which means “in a period where the mean price of stock is descending”, and “bull”, which is the opposite of bear. Now, we could forgo the analogies and use the elongated version, but that added verbosity would yield no benefit while making the syntax far more cumbersome. Similarly, use of anthropomorphism is a metaphoric mechanism to condense what would otherwise be a prolonged and complicated syntax. “Greece” is much easier to say than “the governing body of the people who currently reside on the peninsula between the Aegean, Mediterranean, and Adriatic seas as well as the relevant islands contained therein,” and since it conveys the same meaning to the majority of people it is the most appropriate means of expressing the idea.

    Therefore, since we can take the word Greece to mean the nation’s body politic, and since we can take metaphoric assertions as being a proper mechanism of language, then it is completely appropriate and, in fact, desirous that such tools be used in this conflict.

  4. Christopher Allen-Poole

    @John I am only partially inclined to agree — Greece, as a geographic territory, has experienced worse: there was a civil war in the late 1940’s. As the borders of the nation have not altered over that period of time (or, if they have altered, it has not been substantial), then it is completely inaccurate to assert that this is “the worst crisis”. On the other hand, if we are to assert that this is a reference to the governing body of Greece, then you are completely correct — this current crisis is something which must be measured against the history of this government: something which was spawned less than a generation ago.

  5. @Christopher — Absolutely, there have been much worse crises since the independence from the Ottoman Empire in Greece. For one thing, I think we should give the reporter the benefit of the doubt. If the reporter is someone who has covered the Greek government as his or her main beat, he or she probably is thinking in terms of the government formed in 1975, and may think it goes without saying that the context is the same. However, I do thing that regardless the phrasing was unfortunate.

    For another, it rankles me that people are so quick to jump all over statements like this, and to take a kind of sophomoric glee in pointing out supposed ignorance. I doubt anyone who is a reporter at the BBC could have gotten that position while remaining completely unaware of World War II and the wars in ancient Greece, not to mention plagues, famine, and so on, with or without a degree in history. I’d wager that most people reading this blog are aware of these things, and that few have a degree in history of any kind. In fact, the claim “There speaks a man without a history degree.” is completely accurate in my own case (my degrees are in math and statistics) and I would imagine if we replaced “man” with “person” the statement would describe the large majority of people here.

    Pick your choice for the worst crisis America has ever known. Got it? OK, how does it match up to the decimation of the peoples native to the Americas when Columbus arrived?

    What’s the worst crisis Rome has ever known? Is that even a coherent question, given the history of Rome and the ambiguity of the name? Should we then claim that any proposed crisis is proposed by a person without a history degree?

    I recall reading that the “Far Side” cartoon which generated the most feedback was one depicting a mosquito coming home after a hard day attacking people to what is clearly supposed to be his wife, as if they were a married couple circa 1960. Gary Larson said he got letter after letter berating him for making the mistake that the male mosquito would attack someone, when it is the female of the specied that draws blood. He thought it interesting that nothing else about the cartoon bothered the writers, not their wearing clothes, speaking, living in a house, or anything else. If I recall correctly the genders of the mosquitoes were only impied by their clothing and domestic roles in the first place. I guess it is hard to resist the impulse to cry, “Gotcha!” when you know something you think someone else doesn’t. I doubt Gary Larson, for example, was unaware of the general knowledge that female mosquitoes are the ones looking for a blood meal.

    I can just imagine Dan in a social setting. A friend sighs, “This was the worst day ever.” Dan comments, “There speaks a man without a history degree.”

  6. human mathematics

    So … what is the worst crisis Greece / Hellenic empire has ever known? Peloponnesian war?

  7. The Peloponnesian war would have to be near the top of the list. Certainly worse than defaulting on credit. They’ve defaulted on their credit several times before.

    Again quoting Dan Snow: “Greece is a serial defaulter. It has had to default or restructure loans at least five times in the last two centuries. Between independence in 1829 and 2008 Greece was in default or rescheduling 50.6% of the time.”

  8. Then there is the story of a few Greeks who came to Sparta to beg for food. Quoting WIkipedia which quotes Herodotus:

    Also from Herodotus: “When the banished Samians reached Sparta, they had audience of the magistrates, before whom they made a long speech, as was natural with persons greatly in want of aid. Accordingly at this first sitting the Spartans answered them that they had forgotten the first half of their speech, and could make nothing of the remainder. Afterwards the Samians had another audience, whereat they simply said, showing a bag which they had brought with them, ‘The bag wants flour.’ The Spartans answered that they did not need to have said ‘the bag’; however, they resolved to give them aid.”

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