There’s an online community of people called Twitter, you may have heard of it. Recently, Margaret E Ward, Gerard Cunningham and a few others began talking about why people in France take to the street and people in Ireland tend to make cups of tea and talk to Joe. I’m no professional journalist and nor am I given to news and current affairs on this blog but Gerard and Margaret encouraged me to pen a few words about yesterday’s dialogue. The conversation revolved around the inactions of a population scared by the postcolonial spectre of the IMF or why ‘the Irish’ don’t get out on the streets to express their dissatisfaction with the policies being pushed down our throats.
I’m not at all interested in finding some kind of ‘Irish psyche’ explanation for our inaction in the face of economic evisceration. The people who will be affected by this FF/GP fiscal hosing in the name of ‘stabilising the banks’ do not have a common interest. To mistake proximity for commonality is some sort of locational fallacy that obscures a deep rooted structural inequality caused by some people and their ideas. For a moment yesterday we ran around the inaction issue with another matter of the causes of our political passivity. I ascribed much of it to the faux pop-psychology of ‘learned helplessness’: the idea that “depressed people became that way because they learned to be helpless. Depressed people learned that whatever they did, is futile.” This too of course is an analysis partially based on a locational fallacy: things that exist alongside each other are the same.
I think Gerard was bringing us back around to the main point which was that Margaret thought that emigration cannot be the only response to economic crises. We have to stay and fight the policies that and the people who rationalise greed, impose socialism for the rich and ascribe environmental causes to other people’s poverty. (Margaret has written some good stuff on this over the last number of years.) Gerard argued that emigration is a tradition, one that he did not agree with but a tradition nonetheless. Postcolonaility, I argued, frames the responses to our own situation in a way few other European peoples have to contend with. It is not a question of chips on shoulders but a material and factual reality that, from about 1800, numbers of people from Ireland left (and continue to leave) to find a better life for them and their kin. The hopelessness of emigration cannot be put to one side in any analysis of political thought and agitation in Ireland. It infuses our political consciousness: one person’s ‘safety valve’ is another person’s reason not to turn out at a demo. FF and their supporters favour the former narrative by the way. Emigration’s inevitability is what keep us passive it might be argued. Elaine Byrne and others have been doing a very good job of charting these ideological precepts of our fundamentally flawed political culture. Margaret had to endure the deeply unpleasant experience of debating Martin Manseragh. Think not what your country can do for you etc. (The TD is the personification of almost every Irish political trope of the last 85 years: patronising, patriarchal and loyal to the point of profound foolishness.)
Meanwhile, socialists bicker and the third sector pulls on a nice warm and fuzzy green jersey that abstracts itself, thank you very much. So what do ‘we’ do to get the guardians of mediocrity out of power, those who insist that pushing private debt on to this particularly passive public is international best practice of TINA? Do we read and compile posts like this? Do we tweet with impunity? There is a reason that larger numbers of people living on this island do not take to the streets like in France and it has to do with class interests. On the night Tipp beat Kilkenny off the park, Eddie Brennan, herself and I talked about how Mark Fielding’s ISME misrecognised their members’ class interests. They looked ‘up’ the scale to the Intels of this world when their financial interest actually lies ‘down’ the scale in the local economy. It seems to me now that Ireland’s complacent, property-obsessed middle classes (yes, that’s me) are in a similar position. We think that making the banks work ‘properly’ again is the objective of these ‘adjustments’. It is not for this objective that the hospital wards are closing this year. This is little short of the Irish economy being turned inside out for shareholder value. (Hint: we’re not the shareholders.)