These days in Europe, in times of fiscal crisis, a highly dramatized image of the modern Greeks is being propagated. What this image has in common with the classic, stylized figure of the ancient Greeks in humanist Europe is, at most, the right to leisure, understood as a leisurely idleness, which is contrasted time and again with the world of labor. In the writings of Plato and Aristotle, however, leisure is contrasted with political life, and leisure is again made possible by liberation from economic considerations and also accompanied by existential disinterestedness, in this case, in the world of politics. In today’s democracies, however, the separation of politics and economics, of the public and the private, is becoming blurred, as Vilém Flusser – much like Hannah Arendt – retrospectively diagnosed the situation.
What, according to Flusser, links us elementally to the ancient Greeks is that they, too, witnessed a fundamental upheaval: a turning point in the sense of Karl Jaspers’s “Axial Age,” in which ways of thinking and human existence transformed over the centuries with the advent of new cultural technologies and codes (Zwiegespräche, 1996, p. 46). If Flusser sees us as currently stumbling into an emerging image of the human being, the ancient idea that saw “the goal of life in leisure and theory” would gain currency again, and the economy would be regarded as an infrastructure that makes “politics, that is, freedom and creative activity” possible – naturally, “under very different conditions” (Telematik. Verbündelung oder Vernetzung?, 1991; translated from the German). It would now be a “theory in a new sense of this word,” not in the Platonic sense; not so much looking at, but rather playing in an intersubjective dialogue (“Private und öffentliche Räume,” in: Haarmann, Hanke, and Winkler, Play it again, Vilém!, 2015, p. 311). Thus what is being proposed is by no means a return to Greek origins. Following Martin Heidegger, Flusser also believed that the crime of reification, of objectification, was rooted in ancient Greece. This crime determines the problematic concepts of entities that are seemingly antithetical, such as body and mind, individual and society, subjectivity and objectivity, science and art. According to Flusser, this “nonsense” must be abandoned and a new anthropology developed; an anthropology that sees people as with mutual respect for one another and as knotted together in responsible relationships (“Gedächtnisse,” in: Philosophien der neuen Technologie, 1989, pp. 47–54).