B-Side The Point

I am at a loss for new stuff to write. So I’m going to release some of my B-sides: stuff I write and then don’t bother publishing it because I can’t be bothered drawing it to a conclusion, perhaps because it has none. What follows is one such snippet.

A fairly common critique of Irish nationalists and republicans and their attitude toward Northern unionists is a reliance on a sort of ‘false consciousness’, according to which unionists are not able to see that it is only under a united Irish state that they would be able to truly flourish, whereas the reality, it is argued, is that Northern unionists are fully capable of deciding for themselves the nature of their political affiliations, have been doing so for quite some time, and would prefer to be left well alone, thank you very much.

Whether ‘false consciousness’ has been used literally to any significant degree by Irish nationalists as a means of describing the situation of unionists, I am not well-placed to tell, though I would note that it becomes rather hard in many ways to convince unionists, given the reality of the existing Irish republic, that it would be in their best interests to abandon, for instance, free education and healthcare, for the purposes of establishing another state that at some point in the future would provide these things, once all the other details got sorted out. Rather, you get the sense instead that unionists would much prefer to abandon free education and healthcare on their own terms. This situation, to me, seems to reveal a truer picture of the nature of false consciousness, or, to use the correct term, ideology.

Clearly there are people in Northern Ireland, regardless of the constitutional position of the parties for which they vote, who think it’d be a very sound idea indeed to privatise healthcare, water, education, and so on. Then you have others, again, regardless of what the party they vote for says on the question of borders, who are opposed to such measures. I would say that most people in Northern Ireland, if buttonholed about it, would say that matters such as decent education, healthcare and water services are more important than national affiliations. Given the choice, it’s hard to envisage a population who would prefer a long-term scenario of raw sewage flowing from the kitchen tap as long as their national flag was flying from the courthouse, to a scenario where one could enjoy a nice glass of water and have to endure the humiliation of seeing the Queen’s face on banknotes. One question then, is why you have some working-class constituencies who vote unionist whereas others vote nationalist.

A possible answer is that national and cultural affiliations are represented, in the Northern Ireland situation but not just there, as a condition of possibility for everything else. For some people in Northern Ireland, this may not have been a question of mere representation, but actually true, that is, if you belonged to a certain cultural or religious organisation, this made it possible for you to get a good job, or decent accommodation. As a flipside to this, the true misery of your predicament could be alleviated by your identification with a certain movement or tradition, even if it was really taking you nowhere fast, or you were in fact being exploited on account of your identification with it. So, for instance, a housewife with an alcoholic husband and six screaming childer under the age of five could reconcile herself to her predicament by looking upon a crucifix and concluding that all this suffering and forebearance was, in the end, all in a good cause, round about the same time as the Cardinal was enjoying a spot of lunch before being driven off to the game at Croke Park.

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