Wake Up

Ireland’s apathy | Mary Fitzgerald | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk

There is something in this, but it’s only a partial explanation. This is a country, remember, that also underwent dramatic social liberalisation during the last two decades, and the Catholic church, rocked by abuse scandals and subsequent botched cover-ups, commands a fraction of the moral authority it once did. While the guilt of repentant Catholics may be a factor here, it does not fully explain the apathy with which the cuts have been met.

Much of the answer, I believe, lies in how Ireland’s dramatic social and economic transformation over the last 20 years changed the broader national psyche. Consider that Ireland went into the 1990s as one of the poorest, most underdeveloped countries in Europe – and emerged one of the richest. For so long used to being the poor cousin to Britain, its wealthier, more powerful neighbour, suddenly Ireland was a player on the global scene – and this bred a new sense of national confidence. Equally, though, because patriotic pride was so intimately linked to economic success, the sudden downturn was felt, keenly, in terms of collective shame and chastisement – and a fear of a return to the “bad old days”. It may be this fear, above all else, which accounts for the muted response to the regime’s disastrous policy choices.

I read a claim recently to the effect that it’s only a short dash between psycho-history and psycho history. We might say something similar about the sort of national psychologising on display here.

Lots of people -myself included- get drawn toward these intricate cultural explanations as to why Irish people are not launching RPGs at the IFSC. In the end, it doesn’t matter a shite. It shouldn’t be a matter of why meekness and outright capitulation is the order of the day, but how best to win people over to the idea that they would be better off taking to the streets. As they say, we are where we are.

Trying to work out some all-encompassing account as to why Irish people are this way is a waste of time. As a secondary effect it invites the idea that the people living on this island are all bound together in this, when they aren’t.

A former attorney general gorging on a fat EU pension while sitting on the board of one of the institutions trading in Irish bonds who calls for austerity is not in the same boat as an unemployed couple living on the outskirts of Cavan town. The managing director of an investment firm who sits on An Bord Snip Nua and calls for 30,000 public sector jobs to be cut is not in the same boat as a psychiatric patient whose treatment facility is about to be closed. A radio presenter who is paid hundreds of thousands of Euro each year and claims ‘we are all terrified’ of the upcoming budget is not in the same boat as a family living on benefits who claim ‘we are all terrified’ of the upcoming budget.

Sure, fear is a big factor. Fear of getting laid off, of sinking further into the mire, of losing pride, and so on. But in the end, the only important thing to be said about that fear is that there are plenty of people with a vested interest in stoking it. Take a look around, and ask yourself who benefits from demands that you don’t speak out, that you remain a good little doggie and that you take your medicine. For starters, you can be pretty sure that the person making the demand gets something out of it, whether in the form of money, power, prestige, or as a consolation for their own underlying sense of powerlessness. Get rid of the fear, and you get rid of an important part of the power they have over you.

Even if you could elaborate some winning tale about a common congenital complaint that establishes the precise reason as to why there is not much resistance (though there is some), who cares? People can change very quickly. And even if we see that precariousness is rocketing, that the calls for ‘austerity’ are cowing people into submission, that hardly absolves you of the obligation to do something about it. And even if the 50 billion for banks and the accompanying budget cuts seem like faits accomplis -one element of yesterday’s presentation was in order to shock the population into seeing them as such-, there is no good reason in the world why people should refrain from struggling against them, even if it turned out that the sum total of their efforts only brought it down to 49.9 billion. That’s 100 million euro, right there. Don’t let people tell you it isn’t worth it.

Anyway, have a nice weekend, and listen to this:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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