A sorrowful numbness defines the psychological coordinates of the present Greek crisis. The tint of sorrow is due to the multiple losses people experience: They lose material goods, earnings and acquisitions. They lose the entertaining illusion complex cultivated by consumer narcissism, that is to say, imaginary pleasures. They lose confidence in the world, in the other and in what they considered good and likeable in themselves. Loss of material status and loss of the voluptuous illusion cause a violent mourning process. However, the dominant psychological specificity of the present crisis corresponds to the numbness of thought, of speech and of action, which determines people’s attitude, especially of those overwhelmed by the crisis.    

The fundamental mental mechanism causing this numbness is that of “double bind”. It corresponds to the embroilment of thinking, arising when people become target of paradoxical messages cancelling each other out while, at the same time, thinking about, meta-communicating and commenting on this paradox are qualified “impossible actions”. In Greece in crisis, this communicational mechanism producing mental embroilment consists in the following complex: A first message, carried by the official political discourse and the dominant media, is “If you resist, you are lost” (since resistance to the memorandum policies of internal devaluation entails bankruptcy and destruction…). A second message, emanating from bitter everyday experience, is “If you submit, you are lost” (vowed to poverty, unemployment, misery, destruction of the welfare structures, despair…). And a third message powerfully forbids any thought and objection since “This is a one way course” because “The troika said so”. In a nutshell: If you say yes, you are damned. If you say no, you are damned. And no room is allowed for thought commenting on this paradoxical mind cage.  

The protracted immersion of minds in this paradoxical communication milieu ends up by being internalized and functioning hereafter as filter/ code of perceiving and representing reality, independently of the actual presence of all its constituents. This causes in Greece the shared sense that people “get nuts”, “are driven crazy”, “are dazed” and the like.

Double bind, an extreme pattern of paradoxical communication and aggression against the mechanisms of thought itself, creates the pervasive sense that things and minds both get insane. Moreover, it undermines, embroils and neutralizes the capacity to think – and, a fortiori, any sober and rational thought. Obviously, such a communication storm, through the numbness it causes, cultivates mentality of submission and renders impossible any coherent resistance and mobilization even by those crushed by the crisis.

The communicational environment of double bind has been established in the years of the political implementation of the memorandum – that is, the treaty dictated to Greece by its lenders. More and more systematically designed and intense, this communicational strategy culminated during the elections of 2012. That was the exact moment of the impressive take off for the neo-nazi party “Golden Dawn” which preaches and practices the negation of thought – that is, the nuclear derivative of double bind. The Night of Mind leads to Golden Dawn in an infernal sequence: The principal discursive tool of Golden Dawn is not persuasion − it is fascination; while, at the same time, it offers an outlet to rage and vengeance non-mediated by thought, through recourse to demonization of the other, especially the stranger (racism as cannibalistic nationalism), and through brute force. This reaches far beyond any instrumental use of violence, the realm of enjoyment of violence, in resonance with most profound currents of sadism and destructiveness inherent in human psychological setup. When thought and civilization fail to contain these trends, they end up exactly where they have in Greece in crisis: In a state of embroilment of thinking favouring the rise of psychological and physical violence that recently culminated in political assassinations. On the other hand, numbness explains the political inefficiency and the poll stagnation of the opposition, which seems “incomprehensible” in terms of economistic analyses, and “inconceivable” in the frame of any political analysis lacking appropriate conceptual tools such as the “double bind”. Even powerful arguments cannot substantially influence embroiled minds unable to articulate sober and rational reasoning. This means that, as long as the opposition does not achieve the deconstruction of the double bind situation, disregarding the embroilment of thought and the locking of minds, people will remain numbed and politically confined.  And Golden Dawn will dispose of a fertile soil for its venomous seduction.

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Nikos Sideris, M.D., is psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and writer. In his essay “Talking with Children about the Crisis” he thoroughly analyzes the Political Psychology of the Greek crisis and the mechanism of Double Bind.

The present analysis has been published on 10-10-2013 in the Greek newspaper “Efimerida ton Syntakton”.