On the issue of public rights of way, I had plenty of sympathy for them. As anyone who has ever attempted to maintain a piece of ground to which the public has access will tell you, the public are disgusting. Every tidy towns committee and residents’ association will relate the heartbreak of watching everything from flower beds to street furniture to art vandalised with great determination.
Show me a square metre of ground open to the public and I’ll show you the poor unfortunate who has to protect it from constant littering. Boy racers and truck drivers will decorate it with their takeaway coffee cups, sandwich wrappers, empty alcohol tins and used condoms.
For good measure they might leave a bag or two of domestic refuse behind, perhaps with some nappies in it to ensure maximum filth.
You couldn’t expect Denis O’Brien’s number one media enthusiast to be too enthusiastic about the idea of the public. If the public were anything other than an unruly filth-caked mob incapable of behaving with propriety and civic-mindedness, there would be no need for benevolent billionaires to redeem them with their corporate social responsibility programmes. Not the ‘conquistador capitalists’ of old, mind you, but ‘ball-breakers whom you thank for breaking your balls‘. If ‘the public’ is ‘disgusting’, as Carey claims, then shouldn’t public institutions be handed over to private masterminds?
Dominant media institutions under neo-liberalism have every interest in selling the image of an unthinking, moronic population to its consumers: all the better to render the consumer dependent on its products. If I think I am living in a neighbourhood full of crackpots, psychopaths and egomaniacs, I am more likely to seek solace in the de haut en bas pronouncements of a broadsheet, or in cautionary tales about how the vile thugs might want to cut the family cat in half. As Dan Hind puts it in his new book on the public: ‘the population’s actual views are rarely considered worth reporting,
unless they confirm elite prejudices about the craziness of the masses,
or else provide evidence of properly directed engagement in matters that
the elite wish to see discussed’.
Moving elsewhere, last night my mother-in-law arrived home from work with a printout of an e-mail being circulated at work. She works as a public servant, and in Spain as in Ireland, they are getting hit with pay cuts. The mail quotes an ‘old anarchist theory’ that ‘any politicians belonging to a left-wing leadership, from the moment they occupy a post of any importance, undergoes a permanent displacement toward the right in terms of customs, tastes, hobbies, preferences, friendships, clothes, etc’.
The e-mail then goes into the habits of certain PSOE leaders and how, in terms of their class allegiance, they are indistinguishable from their counterparts in the Partido Popular and from other conspicuously rich people. I’m not familiar with the ‘old anarchist theory’ in question -the mail doesn’t source the quote- but when my mother-in-law handed me the mail approvingly, it was not out of some deep identification with anarchist thought, but because she thought the mail painted a picture of human nature which is on the whole a negation of anarchist thought but which in her view reflects reality: that the world is a place of unbridled egotism with everyone out for themselves, and in so far as people express socialist ideals, they do so as a means of acquiring personal power and influence, and money.
Her view comes in part from experiences under previous PSOE governments -she talks about how she went to cheer Felipe González when he held a public campaign meeting before he held office- and how the subsequent failures under his mandate had fuelled her disenchantment. She is dismissive of what she considers my ‘idealism’, i.e. my (realistic, in my opinion) refusal to submit to the idea that human beings are essentially corrupt and self-seeking -beyond the ambit of the family, of course- and that most of us are fated to live only to maximise our share of the crumbs under conditions of exploitation and domination. Maybe this is all a very roundabout way of telling me I should be making more money.