The choice: Scylla or Charybidis?


The Greek ‘bailout’ neatly embodies the choice that now faces Western societies. In thinking about it I was reminded of Homer’s celebrated difficulty with the mythical sea-monsters, Scylla and Charybidis, summarised thus by Wikipedia:

Greek mythology sited them on opposite sides of the Strait of Messina between Sicily and the Italian mainland. Scylla was rationalized as a rock shoal (described as a six-headed sea monster) on the Italian side of the strait and Charybdis was a whirlpool off the coast of Sicily. They were regarded as a sea hazard located close enough to each other that they posed an inescapable threat to passing sailors; avoiding Charybdis meant passing too close to Scylla and vice versa. According to Homer, Odysseus was forced to choose which monster to confront while passing through the strait; he opted to pass by Scylla and lose only a few sailors, rather than risk the loss of his entire ship in the whirlpool.

(Fuseli’s painting doesn’t quite capture this. Artistic licence, huh!)

OK: how does this play out in our time? Answer, we’re caught between two pernicious economic dogmas: neoliberal austerity from the Anglophone world on the one hand; and, on the other, the German phobia about debt.