Doublecritical Hippothink

Hypocritical doublethink, according to Sarah Carey, is what happens when you bring a case to court but you don’t like the state, in this particular case, the European Union. The fact that Robert Ballagh depended on European law to get a droit de suite principle implemented in Ireland apparently precludes him from engaging in legitimate opposition to Lisbon. Applying this ‘logic’ to Ireland, it means I have no grounds for opposing NAMA because I have a tap with running water in the house. Or, with specific reference to Lisbon, I should vote Yes because I once flew Ryanair. Whatevah.

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13 Responses to “Doublecritical Hippothink”


  1. 1 Longman Oz September 16, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    In fairness, Hugh, I never got the impression from her article, that Sarah Carey was arguing for this Robert Ballagh to be precluded from opposing Lisbon.

    Rather, she seems to be making the point that there is both a blatant and ironic irrationality to some of the arguments that Irish people use when they criticise the nature and role of the EU, as well as the changes that the Lisbon Treaty would now make to how the EU is run.

    Indeed, leaving Mr. Ballagh, his opinions, and his legal travails all to one side, I am inclined to agree with her generalised points on this occasion!

    At the same time, I am not precluding the fact that someone can find validity in her arguments and yet feel that Lisbon is a step too far in terms of the democratic deficit that they perceive is being opened up. Ultimately, making a decision on complex matters such as a legal treaty like Lisbon does boil down to beliefs such as trust.

  2. 2 Hugh Green September 16, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    Her generalised point seems to be, and I hope this isn’t the generalised point that you agree with, that if the state serves your interest in one instance and at one point in time, then it is irrational/hypocritical for you to subsequently say that it does not serve your interest at a later point in time. A generous interpretation of this is that it is bonkers. If it is rational, it’s rationally fascist.

    Sure, some No people make irrational and hypocritical arguments. But so do some Yes people. I am inclined to believe that this is down to a general propensity on the part of some people to do irrational and hypocritical things sometimes. However, Robert Ballagh’s activities as described in Carey’s piece strike me as neither irrational nor hypocritical.

    With regard to trust, I don’t agree, because governmental institutions and politicians lie and obfuscate all the time. Sure, if you’re confronted with a complex legal document, you better get a legal representative to provide an interpretation, and you’ll have to accept his/her opinion since there’s no point getting a law degree in order to sign your redundancy papers. But your acceptance isn’t based so much on trust as on the knowledge that you’re paying him/her to represent your interests and that he or she is legally obliged to tell you the truth. That doesn’t mean he or she is telling you the truth; it just means you can be reasonably confident about it. Now, in so far as trust relates to the Lisbon Treaty, I think it is perfectly sensible to trust the account given by the Referendum Commission as to what the Treaty means. But I do not think it sensible at all to trust the European Union (which, by the way, does not translate into thinking that the EU is out to get me: I just don’t think trust comes into relationships with institutions).

  3. 3 Longman Oz September 16, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    Aye, rational-yet-bonkers fascism just about sums me up!

    Equally, while Sarah Carey may have a blue blouse or two in her wardrobe and “Il Duce Enda” does have a certain ring to it, I think that your interpretation stretches what she wrote quite a bit!

    On the other matter, you seem to be commingling trust and truth. I would have thought that they are mutually exclusive concepts. Trust, at least in the sense that I mean it, is to have faith in someone to do something. For example, I may trust my child to behave themselves in school. The truth may be that they are in trouble daily and I am going to get a rude awakening at the next PTM.

    Equally, having weighed everything up, I may trust the EU to be generally acting in the best interests of its citizens, even after Lisbon is implemented. The truth may actually be that there is the invisible hand of some sinister corporate-military-fascist conspiracy at work here. Should I ever find this out, then I am going to write a furious blog about the whole affair – I can promise this now.

    Finally, I would have said that the fact that you do not trust the institutions of the EU implies that the matter is then one of trust – it cuts both ways, after all!

    P.S. On legal advice, it is not so much that they tell you the truth. Rather they give you an opinion or interpretation. Usually, they say something like “if this contract is ever put in front of a judge, then this is the likely outcome from having such-and-such a clause in the agreement”. What you can and cannot live with then is then up to you to decide upon.

  4. 4 Hugh Green September 17, 2009 at 7:53 am

    OK, I’ll separate my reply into two posts for the purposes of useful debate.

    Equally, while Sarah Carey may have a blue blouse or two in her wardrobe and “Il Duce Enda” does have a certain ring to it, I think that your interpretation stretches what she wrote quite a bit!

    It’s nothing personal. She accuses Ballagh (for whom I have no brief either) of ‘blatant hypocritical doublethink’ for benefitting from EU law judgements whilst simultaneously opposing EU treaties. His ‘hypocritical little oar’ is so objectionable she has to turn her radio off. She also implies that gay people would be similarly hypocritical for opposing Lisbon. I think that’s fascist – the idea that you have to be nice to the state because the state has been nice to you. It doesn’t really have anything to do with goose-stepping.

    • 5 Longman Oz September 17, 2009 at 10:05 am

      I was just being flippant with the Blueshirts thing and I know that is not what you meant. On the main point, I guess that I would just have a kinder take on her words than you do.

      As I qualified for in my original comment, I wish to stay away from the specific case of Mr. Ballagh, as I have no knowledge of his views on anything, not least the role and nature of the EU. Therefore, I would have to make too many assumptions to take on that part of her article.

      To my mind, though, her generalised point is that the EU benefits people in ways that this State would have been extremely poor at doing if it had been left to its own devices, especially in the area of social reform. Therefore, when people criticise the EU, are their remarks reasonably tempered by a proper understanding of this actuality?

      If I am correct, then this surely differs significantly from being meekly acquiescent about the role of the State in our lives just because the latter has been of some service to us in the past?

      As I said at the start, it is not inconsistent, for example, to think that the EU is a great thing for Ireland on the whole, but to still harbour genuine reservations about the Lisbon Treaty.

  5. 6 Hugh Green September 17, 2009 at 9:02 am

    On the other matter, you seem to be commingling trust and truth. I would have thought that they are mutually exclusive concepts. Trust, at least in the sense that I mean it, is to have faith in someone to do something. For example, I may trust my child to behave themselves in school. The truth may be that they are in trouble daily and I am going to get a rude awakening at the next PTM.

    OK, I accept the accusation of commingling. But I think my commingling boils down to two separate connotations of the word trust: trust in terms of empirical observation – whether you can trust that something is true, and trust in terms of intersubjective relations. So, to give an example of the first, I trust that when I use a calculator to find the cube root of 943, it will give me the right answer, because I know how calculators work and understand that there is no reason for Casio to issue me with misleading equipment. Or, when I look up and see the moon, I trust that it is the moon, and not some elaborate projection conjured up by the Russians. Now, I cannot be entirely sure that the moon as I perceive it is not the invention of Vladimir Putin, just sure that, based on what I know about the moon and Russia, it is very, very unlikely.

    But when it comes to trust as an intersubjective relation, I think there is a greater initial element of faith: that is, I trust you with something because if I didn’t, we would both find life more difficult. Similarly, my trust in you allows you to trust me. It is a mutually reinforcing relation.

    I don’t think there’s a great deal of difference between our basic understanding of the meaning of trust in the context of human relations. I think that where we differ is on the matter of whether you can trust an institution in the same way as you can trust another person. It isn’t on account of the fact that I don’t trust the state because of what the state is like as a person, it’s on account of the fact that the state is not a person, just as a football is not a person. So interpersonal trust -which strikes me as the only sort of trust that can cut both ways- doesn’t apply here.

    • 7 Longman Oz September 17, 2009 at 9:39 am

      Yep, I think that your point on trust is one that I agree with. I would add, though, that vigilence is still needed, even if you do trust someone or something.

      To broaden the discussion though, can you have a democracy if some degree of trust in institutions (or the people who run them) does not exist?

      For example, I do not trust Fianna Fail at all to be a party of government and my faith in the system of government here is rather weak on the whole. Hence, this is why I think that serious reforms are needed. Moreover, this opinion has been formed on the back of many incidents over decades that have served to erode my trust in how politics works in this country.

      On the other hand, my faith in how the EU works is a good deal stronger because they have tended to reinforce rather than challenge that belief. This is not to say that I trust “Brussels” blindly or anything even akin to that. Rather, that it does allow me to justify things like a “yes” vote in the Lisbon treaty referendum.

      • 8 Hugh Green September 17, 2009 at 10:20 am

        To broaden the discussion though, can you have a democracy if some degree of trust in institutions (or the people who run them) does not exist?

        I would have thought that democracy functions precisely on account of the fact that institutions are not to be trusted, and must be subject to the control of the demos. Now that doesn’t mean a paranoid citizenry who thinks that every time they go to the hospital the government is loading their brain with alien life forms. It means that citizens are sufficiently confident that institutions do what they are supposed to do, and if they need to change them, or dismantle them, they can do so.

        Rather, that it does allow me to justify things like a “yes” vote in the Lisbon treaty referendum.

        And that’s fair enough. But I’d suggest that your trust in the institutions of the European Union isn’t on account of the fact that the people who run them are nice trustworthy people, but that the institutions function as you expect them to, and that you can subject them to control or change if you wished to do so.

    • 9 Longman Oz September 17, 2009 at 12:45 pm

      Yep, this is the “checks & balances” point of having an opposition, transparency, accountability, etc., which then ties back into my earlier point on vigilance. You can also broaden that out to include limitations on terms in office, the mandatory holding of popular elections, the role of the media, the separation of powers, etc.

      At the same time, people do have to believe in the system, even if they remain wary of how those entrusted with the power that such a system bestows then choose to use it. It is this fundamental belief in the system that I was really referring to. If that trust starts to break down, then democracy risks not being able to function. At the same time, change/reform can probably only come about when such a nether point has been reached by a sufficient number of citizens.

      Your point about my view of the EU seems right, whilst always bearing in mind that institutions are only ever as good as the people who run them! 😉

  6. 10 Hugh Green September 17, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    OK, I’m going to go on a bit here. I don’t really have any fixed opinion or deep knowledge on how democracy ought to work, but I see no reason to believe that democracy nears its ideal embodiment in modern representative parliamentary nominally democratic states. I mean, if we’re talking about a form of state, then clearly the more subject that state is to democratic processes the better. I just don’t think that democracy need involve a state a priori.

    So to take your second paragraph, (and I apologise if I’m putting words in your mouth) I would read what you’re saying as that if people do not believe in the state as regulated by democratic processes, democracy risks not functioning. I would say that this situation means an absence of democracy, not its malfunctioning.

    If people cede control of the state to particular interests (in the form of, say, private corporations, but it could also be a state bureaucracy) because they have ceased to believe in their own capacity to exercise control over the state, then that is a very serious situation for the general population. I would also contend that it serves particular interests for the general population to relinquish their belief that they can control the state. So it is very much in their interest to engender cynicism, disgust, helplessness nihilism as far as possible. So, yes, belief in democracy is important, but I think it’s important not to confuse it with belief in the ideal functioning of the existing democratic state, since that state is always the site of a power struggle.

  7. 11 Longman Oz September 18, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    Yes, I would see things along similar lines here again.

    Firstly, when you look back over the centuries, it is clear how far we have come in terms of our system of government (including our fundamental freedoms and individual rights). At the same time, it definitely would be quite egotistical on our part to deem where we are right now as being anything other than just another step along the same path.

    Right now, though, the direction seems to be towards globalisation, the growing irrelevancy of individual nation-States, and an increasing homogeneity in terms of culture, language, etc. However, all of these matters are enormous discussions in themselves and I only touch on them lightly here. Still, where this is bringing us too, is interesting. Certainly, in areas such as climate change, free trade, and international diplomacy, it seems necessary. In other ways, it does risk the subversion and/or diminishment of the typical democratic model that is currently being used.

    Moving on, I think that you may be putting words in my mouth a little re that point on the breakdown of democracy. Where your point is valid is if you take my one to its logical conclusion. However, I was really looking at the issue across a wider range of possibilities. In other words, you do not need to rebuild the house every time the wind removes a few slates from the roof. Yet, some limited repaired are still needed. On the other hand, if a force-12 hurricane was to hit…

    Finally, your point on the relationship of the people to the State is an interesting one, especially as it seems to apply only too well to Ireland. However, do you think that, in the context of the modern Irish state, did the people “relinquish their belief that they can control the state” or did they ever believe this in the first place? I think that this is an important question, as the latter is much more problematic to address than the former.

  8. 12 Hugh Green September 21, 2009 at 8:39 am

    OK. First, I don’t see things in terms of a narrative of inexorable progress in political emancipation. So I don’t agree that we are on another step in any journey. I’m not denying the emancipatory advances that can come with a given political system, but I don’t see how those advances are of themselves an argument for persisting with that system.

    So to move from the abstract to the concrete, the fact that the institutions of the European Union have delivered a substanial number of advances in many areas by no means legitimises its current character or its continued existence. If you look at many of the pro-Lisbon arguments getting proferred, they are in terms of, you know, look at what a backwater Ireland was before, and look at all these improvements that ‘Europe’ has delivered, we’d be crazy to jack in all that.

    Well from my point of view the fact that Ireland was a complete shithole before can never be a justification for the European Union. However, I don’t see anything contradiction in saying that there’s no justification for the European Union, but it’s better than disintegration and balkanisation.

    I see what you’re saying re the house. But that would be no reason to accept that the house you’re living in is the right sort of house for your needs.

    I’m no great expert on people’s attitudes toward the modern Irish state, but I think people here are subject to the same sort of influences you get elsewhere, only perhaps with the historical background of a more viciously parasitical church working in close collaboration with the ruling class. I don’t read a great deal of modern Irish history, but the impression I get is of a narrative split of before and after independence, as though that were a defining moment, which it is, of course, but only in a limited sense. I’m thinking here about what Connolly was talking about when referring to painting the postboxes green: that the formal appearance of political independence is not the same as political emancipation. There is also a tendency either to step aside the fact that the Irish state is a postcolonial creation, or to promote the stance that there are so many factors unique to the Irish relationship to Britain that it must be considered in isolation from what has happened in other postcolonial areas. For example, one of the things I find striking, for instance, not having gone to school here, is how so many people tend to readily identify with Ireland primarily as a nation-state in relation to other nation-states. You know, the way people say ‘we’ are a small nation, and we need to adopt the position that maximises our power and influence relative to other nations. And then you have the widespread talk of specific Irish genius, the idea that being Irish confers particular capacities that other people have. (This is something that cuts right across the Lisbon treaty ‘debate’, by the way.) So the picture that emerges for me at the minute is a dominant discourse of the ‘national interest’, which is really a reflection of the concerns of the ruling class, and basically contrary to democracy, and regrettably something not enough people are able to confront.

  9. 13 Longman Oz September 21, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    A lot there!

    The optimistic I would argue for why we are moving towards ever-greater political emancipation. However, it would be tempered by the rationalist who says that progress is glacier-like in nature and characterised by a few steps forward, followed by a few steps backwards. (By the way, I also have some good hypotheses for how we will have reverted back to a barbarous state by 2050!).

    In any event, please do not misconstrue my points as arguments in favour of maintaining the status quo. Rather, you could say that my broad view of human nature in this regard is to compare it to Squire Cass in “Silas Marner”, who would always let things get really bad before he would suddenly turn around and do something about them, only to end up repeating this pattern again at a later date!

    Perhaps a less cynical analogy might be the panda, which visibly displays a common ancestry with bears. However, somewhere along the way, it evolved out of necessity from eating meat to eating bamboo shoots. In doing so, its lifestyle was fundamentally altered even if its appearance was less so.

    While a rejection of Lisbon is not a rejection of EU membership, my own view is that the overall benefits that we have gained from being a member have easily outweighed the negatives. There are then the broader considerations of what the EU represents, as I have already outlined above. In any case, we have to play the hand that history has dealt us with, in many respects, and, in that context, I perceive the EU as being a fundamentally good thing.

    On Irish history, all I know is that the books that I read in my early 20s painted a far less utopian picture of modern Irish history than my school books did! The latter were nothing but wretched propaganda that old Dev himself must have penned with help from John Charles McQuaid… Indeed, the Ryan Report is a better historical snapshot of Ireland than anything that I was ever examined on.

    On the whole, I think that the religious/nationalistic/conservative bias built into the examination syllabus has a big impact on our attitudes in later life. Certainly, I ended up going through a major period, after I had left school, of removing much of the gunk that had been pumped into my head.

    Finally, there is truth in your ultimate observation and it does reflect the conservative and non-dynamic nature of the electorate. For all of our anger, there is a general lack of articulation on how things can actually be different. There are not even any new leaders emerging who can convincingly speak of a different society. Instead, we remain mired in a universe where dramatic change counts as putting Fine Gael into power.


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