10 March 2012

#OccupyDameStreet - Haters got to Hate (but why?)



By now you all will no doubt have read the reports and seen the footage of the #OccupyDameStreet eviction. Early on Thursday morning, sometime between 3am and 3:30, upwards of a hundred gardaí sealed off all access to Dame Street from College Green, George's Street and Temple Bar, and moved in without warning to dismantle the camp. Reports from those resident in the camp at the time tell of black-clad armed police bundling people out of the kitchen, injuring a young woman in the process. Another resident spoke of being awoken in his shack by a pick-axe smashing through the walls before being dragged out and given no time to grab clothing or phone. Around fifteen residents were forcibly removed and had to stand by helplessly while two lorries with mechanical digger attachments ripped through the Camp, demolishing the structures and carting it all away to be dumped somewhere.

To say that the police response was disproportionate is a bit of an understatement, especially when it would appear that the sole motivation for dismantling the Camp were commercial considerations over the staging of the St Patrick's Day Parade, that Minister Varadkar and his Fine Gael colleagues (most of whom will not be in Ireland on the day itself mind you, enjoying taxpayer funded junkets abroad to tug the forelock at both our new and potential economic masters) were embarrassed that the world might see that not every Irish person is content to sit back and suffer in silence the indignities placed upon our shoulders.

That the Camp would be destroyed was almost a certainty from the start, an authoritarian system is not going to allow a parallel social and economic model to thrive at its centre, living refutation of its mantra that "there is no alternative", if anything the wonder is that the Camp was allowed to exist for five months during one of the most turbulent periods in our recent history. The big surprise for me in all this has been the reaction, particularly online, to news of the Camp's destruction, which from some quarters starts with smug satisfaction and then quickly ramps up to triumphant jubilation.

A quick read through the comments on sites such as TheJournal.ie and Broadsheet, not to mention of #OccupyDameStreet's own Facebook page, show the voices of sympathy almost drowned out by a chorus of trolls bleating out refrains of "get a job you communist" and "Take a bath, you dirty hippies", the vitriol is quite staggering, and, I have to say, altogether rather alarming.

Why is such hatred being expressed online towards a small group of people who took a stand and tried to make things better? The worst accusation that could be leveled at #OccupyDameStreet is that in the end it was ultimately ineffective, that it didn't realise its potential for being the mass-movement for social change that those first few weeks back in October hinted at, that it failed to seize opportunities for working with wider groups, that all too often its gaze was focused narrowly inwards, not outwards, that it failed to see the bigger picture. But the majority of the attacks leveled against it are not for failing, but for even daring to try in the first place.

The Irish internet is awash with trolls, that much is certain. There is a well known tactic of groups and individuals creating pop-up email and Twitter accounts purely for the purpose of pushing a particular agenda in the comments fields of online media sites, forums and social networks, in addition to those who simply like causing trouble for the sake of it. Any political debate on Politics.ie or Boards.ie frequently descends into accusations that one of more of the participants are just shilling for a particular Party, some wear their colours on their sleeves, others are far more circumspect.

The tactic of camouflaged online campaigns is widespread in Ireland, sometimes overtly as when in 2009 invitations were sent out to the Irish Internet community from Strawberry Media for a talk to be given by Joe Rospars, Obama's New Media Director during his successful election campaign, which turned out to be a soft launch for Fianna Fail's new website (much to everyone's annoyance), though most often covertly as with the recent Twittergate scandal that helped derail Seán Gallagher's Presidential campaign. Whether the offending Tweet read out during the live debate was the work of a lone gunman on an online grassy knoll or the orchestrated act of a political rival we may never know, but the strength of the online commentator coupled with the lack of understanding of New Media by the Old was amply illustrated.

During the George W. era, the Pentagon had a tactic of using retired Generals as unofficial spokespeople. These former military leaders would be given briefings on what the message of the day was, then appeared on the various news networks offering supposedly impartial analysis. The Pentagon called these Generals "Force Multipliers", as they greatly increased the effectiveness of the Pentagon's PR strategy by reinforcing the official line while maintaining the pretense of a neutral position. While the Gallagher Tweet may never be proven to be the work of a particular Party, it would seem obvious that all major parties have their own online Force Multipliers, and that they used the Tweetgate incident to great effect.

However it would be an act of paranoia to suggest that all of the hatred being directed towards #OccupyDameStreet is the work of an organised campaign, although that would make it easier to dismiss. Nor can it simply be attributed to the triumphalism of other groups on the Left that Dame Street rejected at a very early stage, though there may indeed be some element of that on the part of a handful of individuals. My sad conclusion is that many of these comments are simply from ordinary folks, and judging from the profile pictures (if they are indeed real) and language used, many of these commentators are in their late teens to mid twenties, exactly the demographic you would expect to be out supporting a radical alternative movement.

Ireland is a deeply conservative country, both socially and politically, that much we know. What surprises me is just how conservative the youth of the country are.

I'm thirty-nine now (how painful it is to see that in print), but being nineteen or twenty-nine is actually not all that long ago. Aged nineteen all I was really focused on was drink, girls and drinking with girls. I was arrogant and opinionated, and a bit of a jerk (nice to see some things haven't changed with age at all, at all). I knew everything, and wanted everyone around me to realise exactly how amazing I was, especially in comparison to them. Luckily for the world around me I was limited to sharing my brilliance with those within immediate earshot of me, for this was the dawn of the Internet age where email accounts were a rarity and Bulletin Boards the preserve of a few geeks. Today's young geniuses have no such limitations, being born with a silver mouse in their mouth, and their wit and wisdom can now be shared instantly with a billion people at the touch of a screen.

But in between the drinking, the girls and the drinking with girls, I found the time to go marching. At twenty-two I was marching, at twenty-three I was chaining myself to the railings of the Department of Education and being chased down the street by Youth Defense thugs wielding hurleys, at twenty-four I was in the Supreme Court campaigning for a woman's right to choose, and by the time I hit the ripe old age of twenty-seven I was in Prague being assaulted by riot police while protesting against the IMF. Drinking and girls didn't stop me from protesting, if anything the three were quite complimentary.

Now I'm thirty-nine, haven't had a drink in over a year, have been with the same woman for fifteen years and my life revolves around spreadsheets and presentations, but it seems that I still experience more revolutionary fervour over a cup of tea in the morning than the average Irish twenty-something does in an entire year.

What is wrong with this picture?

How have we arrived at a situation where the banks, developers and politicians who have destroyed this country can still maintain the reins of power, and those who resist are condemned by their fellow citizens, by the youth who will be shouldering this burden far longer than I will? How can a generation be so conservative? Its not just that they are self-absorbed and lethargic, every generation has falsely accused the subsequent of apathy and listlessness, it is the fact that through their words the online commentators paint a picture of a generation that aggressively condemns any who attempt to strike out and make a change. Perhaps this is the way they break with their parents, that they rebel through conformity?

I saw an interview with Dutch director Paul Verhoeven where he explained that he had always wanted to make a film about a group of school friends that joined the Hitler Youth, showing how ordinary kids through bonds of friendship, a snappy advertising campaign and the approval of an authoritarian society around them would willingly and enthusiastically embrace something of unimaginable evil, but he knew that this film would never get made. Then someone handed him the script of Starship Troopers.

Now I don't want to fall foul of Godwin's Law here, so let me instead reference Heinlein's original book (the basis for Verhoeven's film) or maybe Mean Girls, and suggest that the notion of a rebellious youth is just another advertising ploy dreamed up in the 60's on Madison Avenue, that the default condition of young folks is actually to conform, to be part of the crowd and to never, ever stand out. If the majority of their friends are riding to Brighton on mopeds, then that's what they want to do, if they're paying €200 to go to Oxegen and vomit Jaegermeister all over a gravel car park, then that's what they want to do. And if they see a group of their peers laughing triumphantly at the demise of a protest group, then that's what they want to do too.

Never stand out, always be the first to fit in, and what the internet does is shift the enforcing bonds of acceptable social behaviour from a small group of peers known in real life to a much wider group, and increasing the size of this pressure group ultimately engenders a far more restricted set of acceptable behaviours.

I'm starting to believe that growing up in the Facebook age stifles creativity and enforces conformity at a level that perhaps no other generation has had to face. Existing in an always-on world with no separation between their online and offline lives forces Gen Z into a homogenized and conservative existence that a despotic autocrat could only dream of, and the worst part of it all is that this is not a mental slavery imposed from above, they are shackles willingly and enthusiastically donned, each "Like", each "Share", another nail in the coffin of their individual autonomy.

Facebook is the Force Multiplier of social conservatism, and we are all the poorer for it.

(Breaking news, grumpy old man complains about the youth of today and their damn Interweb tubes, we'll have more after this...)

Note: The above video footage of the #OccupyDameStreet eviction was filmed by Spark Films. You can see more of their work here.

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17 Comments:

At 2:26 pm, Anonymous mickahoine said...

software exists where one person can easily control 10 to 15 persona online.Us military use it and god knows who else.its easy to have a network of people actived to respond on any topic and it seems like a hugh public response.
sadly i fear that this is not the case here to any great degree.

 
At 3:16 pm, Blogger Dr_Faulk said...

Impressive opinion.

I think the conformity you discuss is compounded and encouraged by our Island mentality and lack of diverse cultural heritage.

 
At 4:34 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ireland is full of yes men, it's really that simple...

Personally, I think a lot of this has to do with secondary school and third level education in the country. Many people from any of my secondary school(s) (Blackrock College, Presentation Schools, grind schools etc.) that I have met since have the exact same psychological outlook on the world as they did over 20 years ago...conditioning runs close to the bone.

I can say similar things about Trinity College, I found many of the lecturer's there to have particularly conservative (as in safely PC, and far too endowed with hierarchical eulogy) and, more importantly, self-concerned viewpoints on these more controversial political topics. This psychology is obviously going to precipitate down the ladder...and, to make matters worse: how rare anyone asks a question, or dares to confront a lecturer's point of view...students are simply interested in ticking their boxes and moving onto the next level...it's a despicable system. And, it's only going to get worse: these colleges are becoming more and more part funded by corporations. Can you imagine what it will be like when most of an institutions funding comes from corporate investment?

I would love to see an academic in this country stand up say something like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=qOP2V_np2c0#t=624s

Obviously I'm making a generalisation here based on my personal experiences, hence my opening "personally, I think"...

The Facebook point is very good, and I have in fact noticed some of this to varying degrees, however, I still think it is simply strengthening these pre-existing paradigms or perspectives...I don't see enough of a change in people's core ideas in recent years to blame social medias in any way, so far as I can see all it does is just sets things in text that would otherwise have only transpired in passing conversations.

The other problem is also that many years ago people were protesting for things that didn't quite undermine the core of our international system to the extent that something like Occupy is suggesting...as Bill Hick's once said: "Look at my furrows of worry...this has to be real." Their Ivory Towers are as much a part of the system as anything...

Well, that's a bit of an inchoate rant...
To be honest I wasn't a huge fan of the Irish occupy scene for various reasons, particularly as it progressed...however, I found so many general perspectives on the topic absolutely appalling, indoctrinated in a condescending pro-conformist psychology—it seemed so few even bothered to acknowledge that these people were actually trying, regardless of how futile it may have all been...

 
At 4:55 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I disagree Dr_Faulk, this is the kind of multi-cultural PC euro-nonsense that is being sold by this euro-project...it's certainly more amicable than the US's patriotic approach, however its motivations are exactly the same: economically and politically.

Ireland has a very diverse cultural heritage, however we don't have quite so diverse cultural-thievery as we were never an Imperial power. One thing that amazes me about the Irish is how little respect they have for their cultural heritage: particularly our language, or our traditional music, folklore, ecology, and even pre-historic achievements...other countries actually take pride in all this nonsense.

 
At 5:04 pm, Blogger Dr_Faulk said...

@Anonymous

Yes, we do have a rich cultural heritage - I agree that perhaps a lot of us take it for granted - but I don't think it's diverse.

As you rightly point out, we've never been a colonial power (odd that you highlighted that, as I was thinking of the UK's slightly more open and diverse cultural opinion, which is waning horribly as it converges more towards US senseibilities - digression over).

Perhaps even the ~400 years of colonial oppression has instilled an "us / them" mentality that again has encouraged this habit of willing to conform to public opinion.

The main question is, what am I having for dinner? God I'm so hungry....

 
At 4:36 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Dr_Faulk

I still think it is diverse, it depends on what aspects of culture you focus on...but anyway, I don't think that really has all that much to do with our contemporary attitudes...at least nothing over a 100 years...

I would say inbred-christianity coupled with myopic greed and all boiled up with a fresh dose of euro-capitalism are more the source of the problem...

 
At 5:06 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cynicism. Fear of commitment. Fear of failure. Class prejudices. Distrust of 'hippies'. Generational antagonisms. Failure to escape medias narrativemaking machine.Different traditions of resistance. Primarily maybe capitalist education/ zero sociological understandings of class, power relations.

 
At 5:16 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Anonymous

Nobody escapes medias narrative-making machine!

 
At 6:07 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ODS played right into the hippie puncher's hands by validating well-known stereotypes of dirty, scrounging, do-nothing hippies and/or slumming rich-kid trustifarians by sitting in a grubby shanty on the side of the street looking exactly like stereotypical dirty, do-nothing hippies and slumming rich-kid trustifarians.

If they made an attempt to combat that image, it was neither obvious nor effective.

ODS could have made a greater effort to courted popular sympathy by making common cause with people like the Priory Hall residents and other obvious victims of Crash.

However, focussing on maintaining their camp tied them to a physical location where they could be marginalised, mocked, ignored and eventually tidied away (which was the Achilles Heel of all the Occupys tbh, though the other Occupys ran better campaigns before they were shut down).

In short, ODS was a little bit shit.

So to extrapolate from the reactions to one lousily organised advocacy campaign to assume that Facebook is turning the Young People Tory is a bit of a stretch (not to mention a symptom of early onset young-people-these-days syndrome).

If the Internetz are so perniciously conservative, explain the Arab Spring or more effective foreign implementations of Occupy and other anti-austerity movements?

The Internet and social media are force multipliers for whoever can use them the best.

In my opinion, the real reason Irish youth aren't Occupying, or protesting or rioting like their brethren in Greece, Spain or the US is because huge numbers of them are in Australia, Canada or elsewhere.

If you're looking for the culprit in the case of the missing Irish radicals - don't blame the internet, blame emigration.

 
At 7:12 pm, Anonymous 8den said...

Dave my own flirtation with the left in Ireland died on Dame St nearly a decade ago.

After the more than half dozen criminal trials of Gardai who committed assault on may day.The defense mainly rested on throwing the video footage out of court, and once the footage was deemed admissible then the Gardai could be clearly identified. In one instance a Gardai was forced to admit that he had used excessive force.

However the 2nd tactic of the defense was much simpler, ensure the jury consisted of a least a handful of middle class middle aged men. The kind of men who would watch video of Garda kicking, hitting, and punching a bunch of dirty lefty protestors and think "well they just aren't hitting them hard enough".

All but one of the Garda were acquitted of assault. I was depressed miserable and sick. Because I knew there were now around 40 civil cases being taken by protesters who were assaulted. The thought of another 40 cases terrified me, I couldn't bare it.

But I was reassured by Garda involved in the prosecution, and the solicitors representing the protesters that I didn't have a thing to worry about. I'd never have to go to court as these cases would never go to trial.

And sure enough every one was settled on the steps of the 4 courts. Approx 40 ANTI CAPITALIST protesters happily took the 4 and 5 figure sums offered to them to avoid a civil trial. One woman who was arrested having a tug of war with a Ban Gardai who was trying to confiscate her beer got 35k.

I was left utterly disgusted that not one of these people would say "fuck the money, I want this to go to court and have a judge say yes you were brutally attacked by a Garda using unjustified excessive force". No one did.

Thus was born my deep cynicism at the level of commitment among many of those who claim they campaign for social justice in Ireland.

 
At 7:31 pm, Anonymous Shane said...

Thank you for this post. Very well written and interesting debate. I was equally stunned by the negativity on Broadsheet's comments section following the closure of ODS. Although I also agree that Occupy did little to engage the community it was supposed to be standing for, I did feel a pang of hopeless disappointment when the camp was removed.

Being a mid-twenties smelly irritable Bolshevik I do find it hard to make an unbiased justification for my generation, but I'll have a stab. In conversations with peers over the last few days I've noticed that the attitude toward ODS was that it was not connected with the problems being faced by Irish people at present. Occupy Dame Street was not Occupy Wall Street - it did not show positivity in social reform by encouraging interaction in a less money-driven community. Rather, it was seen as having a negative, anti-establishment stance that is perhaps counter-productive to the overall idea of protesting against late capitalism. There is also a strong opposition in Irish youth to grand nationalistic movement - we can still (just about) remember the troubles in the north, and ODS's negativity certainly had a whiff of the militaristic, even if that went against their mantra.

The amount of intelligent debate about this subject, which my peers seem to be extremely well informed on, has been brilliant for me. I have seen the response to ODS's collapse as an extremely positive one, as now people who feel that they need to protest but were nervous about being bulked with a negative movement have begun to put new ideas in place, in the form of art and music events, social gatherings and just general debate and discussion.

I think ODS's major downfall was that it did not appear to represent the 99%. It only appeared to represent it's own 1% (as a friend cleverly said to me - now we can form our 98% movement and carry on in opposition to the current situation).

I think the protest is happening, and even if there is still a visible presence of yobs getting smashed on Friday night, there is also a revolutionary youth movement that is gradually chipping away at the resilient social order. Perhaps this movement is more Menshevik than Bolshevik, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

I might just be being optimistic, but I think the Irish youth have a lot more revolution in them than is being shown in the response to Occupy Dame Street. I'll be putting up my own blog post about this shortly and will include a link to this excellent observational account.

Thanks again!

 
At 1:12 pm, Blogger Unkie Dave said...

Thank you to everyone for your comments, insightful, thoughtful and provocative. I've tried to respond to as many of them as possible (from both here and elsewhere on the web) in a new post, which you can read here.

 
At 3:45 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@8den

Be careful about your assumptions here: those protesters where most likely advised by their solicitors to take an out of court settlement...that's assuming that a solicitor would even take such a case to court: most wouldn't after the outcome of that criminal case.

 
At 8:09 pm, Blogger B Coughlan said...

Hi,

I read your post and want to offer some honest thoughts that may give you some insight into our generation.

First, I'm ashamed to admit that I'm one of those people who liked the Occupy Facebook page but rarely visited the place. When I first visited I was very excited - the movement was so loosely defined that I could have a say in shaping what it meant.

I know that these movements are often filled with people who are problem-oriented, they know what's wrong but believe that someone else should come up with solutions. The thing is though, I don't have any solutions. I was, and am still, trying to understand economics. Every avenue seems to be a dead end. Stop the bank bailouts? Doing so would destroy investor confidence and we'd be sent back to being a second-world country. Revolution? So that we could choose again between the three center-right parties which dominate this country?

What I do believe in is Localisation (as opposed to Globalisation). If we're so dependent on markets, a force outside of our control which imposes itself on our lives, and they impede our sovereignty and individual freedom, then why not work on supplying the necessities of life by bringing production to the local level? (The article that inspired this thinking in me is Ireland: Revolution 2.0 http://www.tirnasaor.com/07/08/ireland-this-is-revolution-2-0/).

My friends and I talk about these problems and solutions a lot, but we're plagued by one assumption (whether true or false): That our backs are against the wall, and anything we do is futile. Even if the youth were mobilised, the baby boomers would still elect the center-right.

That's the biggest complaint against Occupy that I hear even from my generation, not that they don't know what they want, but that they won't be able to achieve it.

Noonan stepped in it a few weeks ago when he said that emigration was a lifestyle choice. It was ill-stated and shouldn't be heard from a politician's mouth, but he wasn't wrong. Our "lifestyle choice" is this: Do we stay in Ireland, fighting our futile battle, while the middle-aged wave back and forth between voting FF and FG for the foreseeable future, with more austerity and the 24/7 depressing-inducing radio/TV/media news feed of doom and gloom, or do we leave this spectacle for Australia, where the sun shines all day, the party goes on all night and there's no talk of debt, bailouts or the rain.

I believe most people of my generation are at best torn between doing a runner, which is the natural course of action when you're cornered, or staying to fight. More and more of us give up hope each day, and book a one-way ticket out of here.

 
At 5:26 pm, Anonymous 8den said...

Anonymous

I disagree on two levels.

One it was an article of faith among the solicitors representing the protesters that the state would settle and settle each case because they were pretty much open and shut.

And you missed my point whether or not the protester would or would not win a trial surely at least one of them were more interested in seeing justice done, than a out of court cash settlement.

They were "anti capitalists" weren't they?

 
At 10:20 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@8den

Let's remember solicitors are here to make money, if a case goes to trial they stand to make a fortune in legal fees if they win...

An out-of-court settlement would mean a lack of confidence, or that the state simply offered a figure equaling a winning settlement...in each case the solicitor would have advised their clients appropriately.

I don't see how losing a trial and potentially facing huge legal fees would see any "justice done"?

You're making assumptions based on desired prejudices, I'm making assumptions based on cursory knowledge...let's leave this one for a professional in the field to chime in...

 
At 1:41 am, Blogger B Coughlan said...

I submit this as proof of my earlier comment: http://www.reddit.com/r/ireland/comments/rhx3x/hey_rireland_in_what_way_has_this_recession_of/c45zrpf

 

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