NO MAN IS AN ISLAND

By Jeanne Matthews

John Donne’s poem, written four hundred years ago, seems to have perfectly anticipated the modern age of social media and interconnectedness.

We are all Linked-in, a part of the Twitterverse, eager to friend one another on Facebook, which now boasts that one out of every seven human beings on the planet is a member. Our Facebook friends know our birthdays. They know where we’ve been and where we plan to be next. They know we recently played games. They know how to get in touch. Never send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee – wanting your vote, wanting your donation, wanting your patronage.

As a matter of fact, no island is an island anymore. Every island’s economic crisis diminishes me because my retirement funds are invested in the same mutual funds. The world has been mutualized. On the Greek island of Samos, where I recently spent a few weeks researching my next Dinah Pelerin mystery, the buzz at the tavernas was all about globalization and the Greek debt crisis. The Greeks resent being scolded for their lackadaisical attitude toward work and their irresponsible attitude toward borrowing. They don’t quote Donne, but they might. If so much as a clod of the continent be washed out to sea – or out of the European Union – Europe is the less.

Some Greeks would like to show the continent just how much less. A disgruntled Samian named Yannis told me that as far as he was concerned, the Europeans could take their Euro and shove it. If Greece defaults and the currency collapses, it will serve them right, he said. I couldn’t help feeling a bit disgruntled, myself. Does he not understand that “them” includes me and that millions of non-Europeans would also be financially diminished by a Greek default? Shouldn’t he think of the common good and give up part of his pension so that the German banks can recoup their losses and my 401K doesn’t tank?

In fairness, Samians are new to the concept of one for all and all for one. They tend to look at the world through the lens of power – empires and nations vying for control. Over the centuries, Samos has been controlled by Ionia, Sparta, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, Venice, Genoa, and the Ottoman Empire. During World War II, it was occupied by the Germans and the Italians and there is a continuing dispute between Greece and Turkey over ownership of the island. It’s not surprising that they see the German efforts to impose economic austerity measures as one more conquest.

There are, of course, exceptions to the theory of connectedness and interdependence. Here in the U.S., President Obama caused a kerfuffle when he declared that no one succeeds completely on his own without having received some degree of help along the way from somebody else. Outrage erupted from the nation’s self-made men. These rugged individualists and devotees of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” fume at the suggestion that they are beholden to any outside force or instrumentality. The notion of the self-made man derives from Frederick Douglass who maintained that a self-made man owes nothing to the conditions of his birth, relationships, political climate, friendly surroundings, inherited wealth, education, or even good luck. Everything that he is and everything that he has is solely the result of his work. Such men are, indeed, islands – entire unto themselves. Small wonder they are tumescent with self-esteem.

The Greek people could use a shot of self-esteem right now. They have had to swallow a lot of insult and condescension from their allegedly harder working and more frugal neighbors to the north. They have been ill served by their own government, manipulated by foreign governments and corporate lenders, and they have grown accustomed to a first-world lifestyle, on easy credit. Reform comes at a very high price, socially and economically. Yannis told me about a cartoon he’d seen that sums up the divide between northern Europe and southern Europe: Two men are sitting in a canoe in the middle of a lake and one says to the other, “Your end of the boat is sinking.”

As Donne said, “Tribulation is treasure…but it is not current money.”

7 Responses to NO MAN IS AN ISLAND

  1. We are genetically programmed to be tribal. There is an old Arab saying: I against my brothers. I and my brothers against my parents. I, my brothers, my parents against my entire family. My entire family against my tribe. My tribe against all other tribes. The tribes against my country. My country against the world.

    If anyone doubts about the nature of our genes, watch the documentary about the behavior of bands of chimps and how they behave within the troop toward each other and toward other chimps that approach the boundary of their range. Swift, cruel and bloody.

    There is an old English industrial revolution song: “The working class can kiss my ass, I’ve got the foreman’s job at last.” Or as they say: I’m all right, Jack.

    The Greeks do not surprise me.

  2. I seem always to attract the angry ones, although Yannis was quite plausible and charming in his way. Thanks for your perspective, Jeff. I, too, hope that the Greeks work things out without falling for Golden Dawn’s fascist party line. Maybe Yannis was just blowing off steam. Maybe I
    looked like somebody a guy could blow off steam with and not worry about being quoted in a mystery writer’s blog a continent away. So much for that notion. No man is an island.

  3. With that introduction Mary, how can I hide:)

    Jeanne’s friend Yianni’s take on the problems of Greece is not unusual. It’s fueled out of justifiable anger at a lot of things. Most of which many Greeks will admit are self-inflicted by Greeks upon Greeks. The important thing to keep in mind in these situations is that when you point a finger at someone, three are pointing back at you, something missed by many who share Yianni’s attitude and have propelled the meteoric rise of the socialist party, SYRIZA, and the neo-Nazi party, Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn).

    What they miss in telling the EU to ‘shove’ its euro is that even should Greece return to the drachma the engines of its only true economic base, tourism (hotels, restaurants, etc.), will undoubtedly still deal with their customers in euros, leaving the drachma to languish as the currency of last resort and driving inflation for common folk to the point of …

    The Greeks have a proud history, but it is the present they must address with clarity and objectivity and I, for one, believe that they can. Please God.

  4. Jeanne,
    Just for the poets (Moi) out there I am including a link to John Donne’s poem; a poem which you so beautifully utilized in your work. http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/no-man-is-an-island/
    So glad you seized the opportunity to visit Greece. So wonderful that a person, not an island, in your life encouraged you to visit. Keep up the writing and I will keep reading.
    Cheers!

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