Archive for June 13th, 2008

Just Seven Numbers

OK, this seven songs for summer thing doing the rounds: ‘they must be songs you’re really enjoying now, shaping your summer’, whatever that means.

  1. The 4th Branch, by Immortal Technique. Off Revolutionary Vol 2. Angry, angry hip-hop. Angry.
  2. A Postcard to Nina, by Jens Lekman. Off Night Falls Over Kortadela. Jens visits Nina’s father pretending to be her boyfriend so that the father doesn’t find out she’s a lesbian.
  3. Care of Cell 44, by The Zombies. The opening track to Odeesey and Oracle. To a bouncy melody, the elated voice of someone writing to tell his lover he’s looking forward to him (her?) getting out of prison.
  4. Mediterraneo by Joan Manuel Serrat. Off Mediterraneo.
  5. Standing Next to Me, by Last Shadow Puppets. Off The Age of The Understatement.
  6. Young Americans, by David Bowie. Off Young Americans. The bit where it kicks in with ‘I heard the news today oh boy’: genius, even if the song is so-so.
  7. The Sodom and Gomorrah Show, by the Pet Shop Boys. Off Fundamental. Young unworldly man visits discotheque, with slightly predictable results.

Hubris

Call it hubris,” said one senior figure, “people seem to have forgotten what Ireland was like before we received European funding. They seem to think that we created our success all by ourselves. They are wrong.”

No hubris there then.

It really isn’t

From RTE:

The latest round of media comment was sparked by a letter the principal of Gorey Community School wrote to the Department of Education. Nicholas Sweetman wrote to the Department looking for guidelines. His letter was released under Freedom of Information legislation.

The Department of Education says Mr Sweetman’s letter is one of what would appear to be just two received from schools with queries related to the Hijab. That’s just two schools out of 732 second-level schools, out of more than 4,000 schools in total.

Mr Sweetman may want guidelines, but he says the wearing of the veil is ‘not an issue’ in his school or, in his view ‘in any schools currently’. His school does not have a problem with pupils who wish to wear it. In a conversation last week, he told me: ‘the media has sought to make this an issue which it really isn’t‘.

and

I began this article by saying that the wearing of the Veil or Hijab is ‘currently’ not an issue of concern in Irish schools. It would be deeply regrettable if a media-driven debate, that’s taking place outside the reality of student and school experience, were to make it one.

To reuse the quote from Zizek:

…the metaphor of an alien Monster eroding and corrupting the fabric of “our way of life”. Here, the “deconstructivist” approach would point out the fundamental ambiguity of this “alien” element, its double status: it is simultaneously within the structure as its subordinated, contained element (the immigrant who accepts the superiority of the British way of life) and outside it (the threatening, cancerous foreign body).

Perhaps there was an element of aping British practices to media reporting. But that shouldn’t blind us from the fact that capitalist Ireland is well capable of producing its own ideology of demonisation. The Irish Times -which ran a poll specifically on this issue, publishing it in terms of whether the public favours allowing Muslims to wear the hijab (imagine if a Northern Ireland newspaper published a poll on whether the public favours allowing Catholics to wear crucifixes) – and the Irish Independent -which published characteristically demagogic columns such as that by Martina Devlin, who -quite breathtakingly- argued, if that is not too strong a term that it was ‘not discriminatory to ban the hijab in a country that is culturally Christian‘. Eilis O’Hanlon said that Muslims in Ireland had ‘been a peaceful presence so far; they in turn have also benefited fully from all the luxuries attendant on being Irish citizens’, the implication being that there was a possibility that these aliens -who were not really Irish citizens- could always turn violent.

Veneritas

One of the worrying aspects of the No campaign coverage was the ease with which Libertas became de facto spokesmen for the ‘No’ vote. Those campaigning for a Yes vote who cried foul over this were right to do so. Last Saturday I heard several radio news bulletins across different channels, and Libertas needed no introduction on any of them. It was as though they had acquired the status of a long-established institution of Irish political life. There is a certain similarity to this in how news outlets report on the latest Big Brother or Apprentice casualty as though these people had been in our lives forever.

But by seeing Libertas as bothersome intruders, you could be mistaken for thinking that wealthy businessmen did not already exercise a large degree of control over news media, manifest in ownership of newspapers and radio stations. Even within what passes for news content, you have a remarkBable degree of deference and airtime given to the political opinions of people who are either extremely wealthy in their own right or acting on behalf of extremely wealthy people. For instance, how often are Michael O’Leary’s declarations reported as news?

Then you have the fact that the profit motive -in the form of a dependence on sales and advertising revenue- has a massive influence on news content, in terms of how politics is reported on and the relative space or airtime given to it compared to, say, ‘lifestyle’ features. One of the obvious reasons Libertas was so successful in getting so much attention was the fact that they had a product ready for digestion and regurgitation by news media at little cost. Because the only significant political party to oppose the treaty -Sinn Fein- is still radioactive to many in the establishment (and I’m somewhat loathe to use that term in an Irish context since, among other things, it puts me in the same camp as The Sunday Times, whose support for a No vote, in line with their proprietor’s well known anti-EU sentiments, was deemed by them, quite ludicrously, as ‘anti-Establishment’.), Libertas filled a gap in the market in that they presented an apparently cogent (however misleading it was in reality) case for a No, and did so in the dynamic, go-getting language of the free market: the sort of stuff that is particularly palatable to media barons. It was really pushing at an open door.

I think we can expect to see an intensification of this sort of activity -‘think-tanks’ with pompous titles hawking their free-market wares- now that it has been demonstrated that you can have a substantial impact on political proceedings. Indeed, David Quinn -columnist with the Irish Independent and director of the Iona Institute- has been quick off the blocks in making the case for more organisations like Libertas.

Revolution Still Here

Last night I was reading Slavoj Zizek’s For They Know Not What They Do, originally published in 1991 but now in a new edition. I find Zizek extremely irritating and very hard to follow at times, but there are moments of lucidity there where you think, he’s really nailed something there.

On Derrida and identity:

This very logic of identity was at work in the fantasy-image of Margaret Thatcher. Within a “deconstructivist” approach, it is easy to locate the paradoxical Outside by reference to which Thatcherism constructed its identity. The invasion of “alien” powers (“maladjusted” immigrants, IRA terrorism, Scargill’s NUM as the “enemy within”, and so on) threatens to undermine “British character”, the attitude of self-reliance, law and order, respect for values and industrious work; and thus to overflow and dissolve British identity. It is therefore highly significant that in her description of the adversary, Thatcher has often resorted to the metaphor of an alien Monster eroding and corrupting the fabric of “our way of life”. Here, the “deconstructivist” approach would point out the fundamental ambiguity of this “alien” element, its double status: it is simultaneously within the structure as its subordinated, contained element (the immigrant who accepts the superiority of the British way of life) and outside it (the threatening, cancerous foreign body).

This ambiguity forces us to reverse the spontaneous ideological perception of Thatcherism: it is not sufficient to say that Thatcherism was obsessed by the fear of the “alien” intruder supposed to undermine our identity; what must be added is that the very identity of the “British character” constitutes itself by reference to this intruder, not only in sense of a simple differential opposition whereby an identity can assert itself only via difference to its Other, but in a far more radical way. Our identity is in itself always-already “truncated”, impossible, mutilated, “antagonistic”, and the threatening intruder is nothing but an outside-projection, an embodiment of your own inherent antagonism…

He then goes on to speak about how that approach does not go far enough from a Hegelian-Lacanian perspective, which, if you’re interested, you can read about yourself (I mean, you can read about on your own).

The main thing that jumped out at me when I was reading the above was how much the governments of both Blair and Brown depend so openly, if not brazenly, on the same constructs. The normal take on this is that New Labour consciously and calculatedly adopted Thatcherite policies as a means of winning power and consolidating it through maintaining support from the British middle class voters and big business. The calculation is embodied in Peter Mandelson’s oft-cited remarks about being ‘intensely relaxed ‘about people getting ‘filthy rich‘. The second part of his remarks are often forgotten – provided they pay taxes. The point, then, was to provide capital with additional roaming rights so as to generate sufficient revenue for better public services.

But how much did they know about what they were doing? That is, was this calculation not formed within a paradigm already established by Thatcherism? To alter Zizek’s characterisation slightly: in the eyes of its key protagonists, was the identity of New Labour as an adversary simultaneously within the structure (Thatcherism) as its subordinated, contained element (as its manifesto put it ‘the political arm of none other than the British people as a whole‘) and outside it (the ‘new politics’, again, from the manifesto)?

What I am getting at here is the truly revolutionary nature of Thatcherism: how, played out in British parliamentary politics, it forecloses -and continues to foreclose- any response that does not assume its principles. Look at Brown and the 42-day detention vote: a clear an example as any of state legislation rooted in the antagonistic identity of Thatcherism. Brown’s intention, as Polly Toynbee correctly describes in today’s Guardian, is to ‘to out-tough the Tories and please a punitive public’. Meanwhile:

The bad news hidden away in the income distribution figures published by the ONS this week explains much of the rumbling disaffection with Labour in middle England. The real middle England – at around median earnings of £23,700 – has seen its disposable income barely rise at all. In the five years from 2001/2 to 2006/7 they had only a 4% rise, less than 1% a year, while the country was supposed to be booming. Amid the glitz and self-congratulation of high apparent average growth and obscene boardroom pay, half the country was left out. Worse still, the bottom third, which includes skilled manual workers, saw their incomes fall between 2004/5 and 2006/7.

Inequality – its highest since records began in 1961 – makes GDP growth a virtually meaningless statistic. Ministers apologising for the poverty figures said they had been running up the down escalator – but they could have controlled it with a higher minimum wage and a new top tax band for the explosion of super-wealth. John Hutton can celebrate city bonuses all he wants, but well over half of the country – what used to be Labour’s half – will not join him.

But if the people don’t like it, they can always vote for the Tories! The revolution continues.


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