I am a little distracted from things at the moment and seem unable to pay attention to anything for any sustained amount of time. So I haven’t been dedicating too much time to finding out what’s been happening in North Africa, or Wisconsin, or the Irish general elections, for that matter. I have a vague sense of what’s going on, but not a good grasp of what it all means.
With that said, I think it is worth pondering the things that strike you when you’re not paying much attention. Because that’s most likely the moment when external agents really get to work on your mental processes. So the other night I caught a minute of some show on RTE where they were discussing what was going on in the Middle East. And there was someone on from Petrel Resources, a company that makes its money from oil, saying –if I recall correctly- that the revolutions had nothing to do with politics but with food prices. As though food prices had nothing to do with politics.
Last night I saw a bit of the Frontline, which seemed to be trying to make sense of how to deal with an influx of left-wing politicians in the Dáil. It was set up thus: Clare Daly (for whom I voted) and Dessie Ellis were asked some questions about the type of things they would be doing in the new parliament, and the studio audience was invited to give their observations. Although Pat Kenny’s contempt for left-wing ideas was evident once again, it was fairly innocuous stuff.
The interesting thing was the way the discussion was framed. You had the two left-wingers offered up before a studio audience, asked to justify their unorthodox views. Then, once the discussion had gone on for a bit, Dan O’Brien of the Irish Times was called upon to give his own dispassionate and objective assessment of what they were saying. So the economist guy was hovering above this stuff the whole time, observing things from an unassailable Archimedean point from which all politics had been shucked off. It offered a bit of insight into precisely how little things have changed, even when Ireland’s economic crash ought to have laid waste to the idea that economists are some sort of numinous authority. Economists –right wing ones- are still venerated as the go-to guys for the skinny on how things really are.
Then, this morning, exactly the same device involving Dan O’Brien on the Frontline was used with Brendan Keenan on the Today with Pat Kenny show. Richard Boyd Barrett and Pearse Doherty were invited on to speak their piece, and at the end of it Brendan Keenan –like an ornery economic Len Goodman- was then asked to assess what relation Boyd Barrett and Doherty’s ideas bore to reality. Kenny took pains to account for the (remote) possibility Keenan might have a political dog in the fight: he noted that Keenan worked for Independent News and Media, which had backed Fine Gael in the elections. As though politics only found meaning in terms of party affiliation and as though economics had nothing to do with politics.
Another thing that sticks out for me from my brushes with radio, TV and print this last few days are the inoculating synapses against the idea that political revolution –scratch that, I should really say politics- has anything to do with material interests. It is all to do with the cathartic release of libidinous energy. The Taoiseach-elect Enda Kenny took pains to point out that, unlike the Egyptians, Irish people had no need to take to the streets in order to obtain political satisfaction. No: what people were dying for in Egypt was the possibility of electing someone like Enda Kenny. It was not just Kenny – this was the considered opinion of eminent politcal correspondents and commentators. The Arab revolutions have nothing common with Ireland, they bear no relation to unemployment, poverty, exploitation and subservience to the demands of imperial power: it is merely a matter of obtaining the possibility of conducting a ‘pencil revolution’.
Faced with these depoliticising forces of pacification, which serve to launder the EU/IMF lockdown through a process of technocratic managerialism, we need to get the lead out and find our own Tahrir Square.