16 December 2009

More thoughts on Ireland's Public Sphere

Got a really nice book from the Very Understanding Girlfriend yesterday, "Philosophy in the Present", a dialogue between Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek on the tricky little question of whether or not philosophy (and philosophers) should intervene in current affairs and contemporary world events. I'm looking forward to reading it in the coming days not least because both philosophers are ones whose work I have only familiarity with through secondary sources.

Although based on a series of discussions at the Institut Français in Vienna, the concept of philosophers and other intellectuals engaging in the Public Sphere is one that has a long tradition in French society, and in his preface the editor, Peter Engelemann, makes reference to François Mitterrand and his habit of inviting philosophers to meet with him and discuss the events of the day during his extensive Presidency. Regardless of how much an influence these discussions had on Mitterand's policies, they fact that they took place at all signify something very much out of step with contemporary politics.
"The times when what philosophers like Simone de Beauvoir or Jean-Paul Sartre, Michel Foucault or Jean-François Lyotard had to say about contemporary events, or the suggestions they would make for the improvement of things, were regarded as important, belonging to the past. Today, even the impersonators of philosophers who displaced philosophers in the 1970s have themselves been replaced by entertainers and models, by footballers and boxers." 'Philosophy in the Present', p viii
The thought of Biffo extending regular invitations to a group of philosophers and writers and drawing upon their ideas and arguments as he shapes public policy is so implausible as to not even merit an attempt at satire, but sadly he is not alone in his anti-intellectualism.

I read with some alarm yesterday of Tory Leader David Cameron's praise for Simon Cowell, saying "There probably is something we can learn in politics [from him]", and the subsequent reports of Cowell's plan for an X-Factor style televised Vox Pop wherein political issues of the day would be discussed and voted on by the British Public, with a hot-line to Number 10 so that the Prime Minister could phone in live on air and explain why he shouldn't be voted off that week.

Not exactly Badiou and Žižek really, is it?

One of the main problems with Irish politics is its dynastic nature, seats are handed down from father to son and husband to wife. An Taoiseach Brian Cowen inherited his father's seat upon his death, the young Biffo was only 24 at the time. An Tánaiste Mary Coughlan inherited her seat from her father upon his death when she was only 22. Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan inherited his seat from his father upon his father's death, and the list goes on. In fact for a sizable portion of our political establishment the only skill they seem to have brought with them to political life was how to be the child of a politician. Very few have any experience or understanding of life outside the political bubble.

Given this dearth of real world experience one would imagine that our political masters would on occasion feel the need to consult with those outside the bubble. Barring Brian Lenihan's disastrously messaged GarlicGate meetings with economist-to-the-people David McWilliams, such reality checks are conspicuous by their absence.

With a Public Sphere that rarely rises above commenting on the hairstyles of asynchronous warbling twins on UK talent shows, a private sphere of oligarchs that systematically destroyed the economy of a nation and yet remain seemingly irreproachable and a sphere of Public Authority so inbred that televised Dail debates are often indistinguishable from the closing page of Animal Farm, as one looks from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again and it is impossible to say which is which, it is little wonder that our country is in the state it is in.

At this stage even following the advice of entertainers and models, footballers and boxers could hardly be more detrimental than the course we are on.

Good news for the Sunday Indo then.

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At 3:19 pm, Blogger 2BiT said...

I like angry Dave. I am interested in joining your revolution. Please forward me your manifesto and a copy of the Anarchists Cookbook forthwith.


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