Amaia Egaña, age 53, taught Spanish literature at the neighborhood public school. Lorca was her favorite author to cover. She had divorced ten years ago — an always frustrating marriage with a high school sweetheart. Her three boys had all graduated from university, though the youngest, Alberto, still lived at home, unemployed, like most 25-year olds in Barakaldo, a small town in the Basque country. The two of them lived in a quaint apartment on the fourth floor of a gated complex. From the terrace, where Amaia regularly spent her afternoons correcting homework, you could see the school building in the distance.
In March, the director of Amaia’s school regretted to inform that all salaries were frozen for the following school year. Amaia canceled the family’s annual vacation to Biarritz, in southern France, where they had close family friends. In August, her salary was reduced by 10 percent. The mother and her son had less meat for dinner, probably only twice a week. Alberto complained. He always slept in, and was always high, always hungry. In September, Amaia’s salary was cut by another 15 percent. No meat, no Christmas vacation. The mother sold her car so her son could buy a motorbike. She told herself that she would enjoy walking and taking the bus to work. It would be good exercise and it would build character.
In October, Amaia defaulted on her mortgage payment. The phone calls from the bank, the letters in the mail, the agony, the sleepless nights seemed endless. They sold their television, but only in vain — its value was nowhere near the thousands she owed on the payment. On Nov. 7, two bailiffs from the bank were sent to deliver a 24-hour eviction notice to their apartment. Amaia opened the door, read the letter then dropped it, turned around, hobbled to the terrace, grabbed a chair and threw herself out the window. A neighbor later commented that her landing sounded like a twig snapping under a footstep.
Amaia Egaña has been reduced to a mere statistic on the spreadsheets of policymakers and politicians in Brussels and Madrid. Indeed, governments across the world have responded to the economic crisis with austerity measures to stimulate economic growth at the cost of an increasingly catastrophic social crisis. This consequentialist rhetoric has, by definition, limited respect for human dignity. Amidst all this frenetic “belt-tightening”, the economic and social well-being of the Spanish population has been subjugated to the crippling demands of the global economy. The sacrifice of social services has become acceptable “collateral damage” for economic efficiency and higher levels of productivity. Human dignity has become expendable.
When explaining my opposition to austerity measures, I am often asked, “If we don’t first survive, how are we to value human dignity?” But my question is precisely the opposite: If we don’t first value human dignity, how are we to survive? Amaia did not survive. Several have not — Amaia was the fourth evicted homeowner to commit suicide over the past year. The news channels once enthusiastically reported on a woman who sold her organs to pay the rent. These are extreme cases of an entire society that has been held captive by a profit-driven market system that lacks any inherent morality of its own. This economic nihilism has pragmatically decimated public health, education, transport and other essential services of the welfare state.
Today, Nov. 14, thousands in Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece have called for solidarity against these repressive measures through a mass strike. They are striking against an economic and political system that fails the most trivial definitions of democracy. They are striking against a rampant free market capitalism that calls for the removal of economic regulations, the privatization of public enterprise (health, education, social security, water) and the destruction of the collective good. This neoliberal ideology is entrenched in many Western institutions, affecting certain departments and programs at Yale, where profit-driven, positivist, utilitarian approaches are used to tackle global problems. By dismissing the fundamental importance of respect for human dignity, this ideology has led to a sharp deterioration of the livelihoods of millions in southern Europe. The suicide of Amaia Egaña expresses the true struggle of those on strike: They are fighting for their lives.
Marc DeWitt is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .