24 February 2010

Encounters at the end of the world

Just back from the first TASC Encounters public lecture, featuring Mark Mortell in conversation with Fintan O'Toole. Much of the conversation was drawn from O'Toole's recent book, "Ship of Fools", the source of much of my wrath and ire in January, and although Mortell, coming from the opposite end of the political spectrum to O'Toole, had a tendency to cut O'Toole off from longer polemics just as they started to get really juicy (purely in the interest of fairness and balance, you see), overall the format worked and the night was in equal parts inspiring and infuriating, and completely engaging.

Much of the content revisited classic O'Toole themes; Ireland is stuck in a 19th century mind-set, our recent problems are caused by the aura of impunity that surrounds the actions of our Celtic Tiger gentry, we've never as a nation had to fight for our democratic institutions so they never have really taken hold in the hearts and minds of our citizens in the way they did in Europe post WWII, our political and civic development is hampered by the lack of a true left/right dichotomy in our political culture which in a very real sense suggests that we do not have a functioning democracy, and so forth.

As we worked our way through the Q&A session I found myself increasingly despondent by the lack of possibility for true change, as questioner after questioner asked where our anger was, and why the streets were not filled with citizens appalled by the injustices inflicted upon them. I wondered, not for the first time, if I wouldn't be better off to just pack my bags and leave the country for good and turn my back on the whole mess, just in time to hear O'Toole explain that traditionally emigration and not revolution had been our greatest form of social protest - if you don't like what's being done to you, historically you leave - much to the detriment of the nation as whole.


This is an interesting notion, and one that sadly did not occur to me in this way before, and on the walk home I realised that Ireland is a Darwinian model of hereditary subservience. The most rebellious of each generation faced with the frustrations of battling against the authoritarian institutions of church and state chose the easy option and upped roots and left, leaving behind the less adventurous and more complacent. Generation after generation of those left behind bred for complacency until we are left today with a nation that can barely muster the energy to sigh a collective "Meh" when the corruptions of our leaders are exposed and our futures publicly bankrupted by the cabals of our political dynasties and their financiers. It is survival of the apathetic, sure what can we do about it so why bother even trying?

At last TASC is trying. The formation of this progressive think-tank has been one of the most positive developments in what passes for Ireland's Public Sphere in recent years, and events like tonight will hopefully form the foundations of a new energy and will to make things better in the hearts and minds of all who participate.

Or give us all something to reminisce about in twenty years time in Paris, New York, London, Sydney, Boston, Berlin, Chicago...


TASC Progressive Economy blog
"Ship of Fools" by Fintan O'Toole

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At 1:31 pm, Blogger g man said...

Again, a well written and observant piece. I do find myself having similar thoughts and today I read this:
“This is the red line,” said Nikos Goulas, head of a union that represents 20,000 workers at Athens international airport. “Greece is not Ireland. If the government does not back down there will be huge unrest,”
- http://www.dangerousminds.net/index.php/site/comments/greece_is_the_word/
Whereby our disposed, disenfranchised mentality is highlighted by our friends in Greece. There is also the real problem in Ireland of issues being hijacked by the so called left, watering them down and manipulating them for there own sense of political opportunism. People leaving the country for generations is what left us living in the dark ages beating our bones on the ground, wondering when the big black monolith would go away. In fact emigration was actively encouraged as people ( my parents among them) sent money home thus keeping our economy from falling into the abyss. I think we need to realise the problem is not bad governance but the national mind set which is facilitating it. We also have to realise that Ireland is and has been a very conservative country and that this is very engrained which is all the more reason to stay so we can upset, cajole and mock. Usurp control back from those the institutionalised people who run the country like an institution.

At 1:34 pm, Blogger Unkie Dave said...

@g man - Great comments. In a meeting yesterday someone also commented on the Greek situation, referring to TV footage of protesters in the streets carrying placards that said "We are not the Irish", or words to that effect, expressing similar sentiments to Goulas.

I would however suggest that the problem is bad governance compounded by our national mind set that both continually returns the same bad governance to power and then refuses to act in any way to attempt to change/influence it for the better.

We can't excuse the government for their actions just because we are foolish enough to vote them in.

At 2:15 pm, Blogger g man said...

it is indeed the people who need to change, for a start they should all switch off the Angelas.


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