Archive for May 28th, 2010

Natural Inclinations

Two considerations afflict how often I post: time and inclination, and the two seldom coincide. So I leave you with the makings of a post I began the other day, but abandoned.

Our muted, conformist nation fears change – The Irish Times – Tue, May 25, 2010

Two years after the economic crisis began, President Mary McAleese belatedly tries to sum up the public mood. She is right when she says that “people are mad as hell” but it does not actually mean that anybody is going to do anything about it.

An intellectual consensus has resigned itself to pessimism and disengaged from caring anymore. A generation of indignant Bayern Munichs is content to watch decision-makers prevaricate on their political and economic futures.

The character of Brian Cowen’s reshuffle in March was personified by the same colour of caution that has stopped him from calling the three byelections.

Gordon Brown’s campaign in the recent British elections was characterised by a fear of change.

The Labour Party’s call for a new constitution, to be written substantially by the people and ratified on the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising, has not excited the public imagination. Neither has Fine Gael’s “New Politics” policy which seeks to, among other things, create a citizens’ assembly to drive political reform.

It is curious then that, while politicians of various hues advocate big-bang-style reforms, many academics in the fields of politics and law have poured cold water over the very concept of a second republic. Debate on the Fine Gael and Labour proposals – on and – is at times engaged in the scholarly straw-man fallacy.

Are academics as intellectually conservative as their students?

The Irish solution to an Irish problem is to vote No when we don’t know. This essentially translates as a phobia of any contemplation of actual change. The appetite for radical institutional reform is subdued by the natural inclination towards preserving the existing order. Would Barack Obama or Nick Clegg have ever been elected to political office if they stood in Ireland?

I think the answer to that last question is ‘What’re you, nuts? Of course they would’.

The main feature of both individuals is how their candidacy was ceaselessly represented as some tidal moment of change when, in the end, they were products of the existing order’s natural inclination towards preserving the existing order.

This is so forehead-slappingly obvious that it would take the combined absence of a forehead and a hand not to notice.

The natural inclination was demonstrated, in Obama’s case, with the appointments of Wall Street cronies like Larry Summers and Tim Geithner, with the continued bombing of Afghan and Pakistani civilians (and his joking about the use of predator drones), support for the laundered coup in Honduras, continued military and diplomatic support for murderous lunatic client states such as Colombia and Israel, and so on.

Somewhat less spectacularly, in the case of Nick Clegg, the ‘I agree with Nick’ phenomenon. There have been few spectacles so farcical in the history of the modern ‘democratic’ state than the proliferation of ‘I agree with Nick’ t-shirts, as though the fact of the leaders of two establisment parties being compelled to agree with the leader of a third party validated the idea that the third party stood for a radical political re-alignment. How does ‘Two Complete Twats Agree With Nick’ sound?

In so far as such a figure has not appeared yet in Ireland, I counsel: all in good time. There are ample resources for the existing order to cobble together a candidate for ‘change’ whenever the demand truly arises. I suggest that at present, it is merely finding its feet in this regard. Consider, for instance, the revelation, via that the ‘Your Country, Your Call’ initiative, which, via a vast media campaign, claimed that it would ‘transform our economy – or significant elements of it – by creating jobs and opportunity’, garnered the support from the following institutions:

Accenture, AIB, Alchemy Event Management Ltd., An Focal, Bank of Ireland, Bord Gáis, Business & Finance,Business Plus, Cawley Nea/ TBWA, Cisco, Clear Channel, College View DCU,Computers in Business, Computer Scope, Cork IT, CRH, Thomas Crosbie Holdings, Communicorp, Corporate PR Photography, Arthur Cox & Co, DCC, J C Decaux, Diageo Ireland, Digital Ireland, Digital Times, Drury, Dublin City University, Ernst & Young, ESB,Explicit Cork IT, Facebook, Glen Dimplex, , Google, Hotpress, HP, Independent Newspapers, Irish Computer,Irish Daily Mail, Irish Daily Star,Irish Examiner, Irish Mail on Sunday, Irish Mirror, Irish Sun, Irish Times Newspapers, Irish Voice, Kerry Group, Kinetic, Knowledge Ireland, KPMG, Loosehorse,Marketing Age, Mutiny, JP McManus, Ray Mac Mánais, National Gallery of Ireland, Neworld Associates, News of the World,Newstalk, Omnicom Media Group, Owner Manager, PC Live,Print and Display, PwC, Regional Newspapers of Ireland, RTÉTelevision, RTÉ Radio, Screen Scene, Silicon Republic, Sky Television, Smart Company, Smurfit Kappa, Sunday Business Post, Sunday Independent, Sunday Mirror, Sunday Times, Sunday Tribune, The Ireland Funds, Times Online, Today FM, Trinity News, TV3, John Walsh Tunes, University Observer, Wall Street Journal Online, Windmill Lane.

Let us allow the mind to wander in the direction of what manner of economic transformation might be wrought that would command the support of the biggest indigenous and multinational firms in Ireland, the near entirety of state-owned and private print and broadcast media organisations, as well as prominent consulting, PR and corporate law firms. The expropriation of the expropriators? A radical redistribution of income and wealth? Shorter working hours to enable the proliferation of new forms of democratic participation?

The point is not that Your Country, Your Call is some rough beast about to dish out hammer blows in the interests of preserving the existing order; merely that it puts the preferences of the existing order on display: corporate nationalist platitudes charged with a dose of ‘yes we can’-style sentimentalty.

In so far as neither Obama nor Clegg -both centre-right figures- has any analogue in the Republic of Ireland at present, this is because the political power of the centre-right is spread across two basically indistinguishable but competing political parties.

This figure will only appear when either one -or both- of these parties collapses in the event of continued economic disintegration, and some new formation dominated by the centre-right thrusts forth, bidden in no small part by many of the institutions listed above. The civil war baggage of the past will be shucked off, and ‘a new politics’ will come to the fore. One Ireland: that sort of thing.

As for the thrust of the article- that what exists is a conformist generation. Perhaps this is true, but it’s not a ‘natural inclination’ but a habit instilled by family, school, workplace and media. Nor is it a question of aversion to ‘change’ per se. On the contrary: those twenty- and thirty-somethings in work are conditioned to adapt to ‘actual change’ all the time, by working longer hours, taking pay cuts, doing whatever the boss says -or else.

I will have more to say on this, when I get the time.

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May 2010