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A World Elsewhere
Thinking about some recent questions on Ireland's present and future, posed by Angela Nagle and Peter Ryan
In their joint article about the possibility of post-multinational Ireland, Peter Ryan and Angela Nagle conclude as follows:
The policy of multinational dependence is a policy of inferiority, self-doubt, and backwardness. Why is it that the Irish believe that they themselves can’t sustain and grow their economy, that it is uniquely difficult or impossible for us? Why is it that the Irish believe that they can only ever be a platform for temporary foreign capital? …Is this a lingering colonial legacy or have we replaced the old deference to institutional Catholicism with the World Economic Forum? Or perhaps like the landlords of the past, enough of Ireland’s own comfortable propertied class have grown to like things the way they are. What is clear is that the Irish must begin asking these questions and interrogating assumptions that hold Ireland back from a progressive, just and sovereign national future.
Why does Ireland have the constrained political culture it does; could it be otherwise, and what would it take?
I’ve written about our tendency to defer excessively to greater powers, and what I think it stems from; I won’t rehash it here, but to say that I defined the phenomenon as Goodboyism and that it is a narcissitic performance rooted in self-consciousness over Irish culture and history.
One thing I didn’t mention is that our tendency to orient ourselves to external sources of authority partly a function of our size. Ireland is a village, and all the best and worst things about our culture stem from that.
We don’t have the population to easily support a varied media market or (say) a variety of think-tanks. The comparison I often make is the selection of magazines you might find if you go into a corner shop in a one-street country town. You’ll find a copy of the national newspapers and maybe Hello Magazine, but you’re not going to find a copy of Marxism Today or American Affairs, or a local political magazine. Even if you did (to over-extend the analogy), you don’t want to be the village oddball who buys the one copy of that weird publication, because everyone will notice and comment on it forever.
The tendency of Irish politicians, media etc to hand power, precedence and decision-making to global players is because the lack of intellectual elbow-room makes figuring out that stuff for ourselves hard and risky. It’s easier to buy an out-of-box solution that already has the imprimatur of important people.
Not to say it’s impossible to develop and implement ideas of our own - naturally with the internet it’s easier than it’s ever been. I wouldn’t be writing if I thought it was a waste of time. But it requires a personal stake from the players, because the ideas are yours, and if they fail it’s on you. So for a lazy, timid and self-conscious person the status quo is perfectly fine - great, even. It’s a functional obstacle that prevents us from making Ireland a more intellectually lively and unique place.
The second obstacle, and the hardest one to swallow, is that there is often no appetite for change, even amongst those who should be least satisfied with the current set-up. This is very hard for people from outside Ireland to understand; I see lots of diasporans struggle with it. Ryan and Nagle say:
… or perhaps like the landlords of the past, enough of Ireland’s own comfortable propertied class have grown to like things the way they are…
I understand what they mean, but in my experience resistance to a change in our current outlook is not elite-driven. Any move away from a globalism-oriented policy is going to be seen as a return to the Ireland of the 40s and 50s - that is a road that we’ve been down that is a proven failure, socially, economically, culturally, emotionally. People enjoy reflecting on that time in a “reeling in the years” type way, but with the exception of Joe Duffy callers and some extremely handsome and charismatic twitter anons, the appetite for returning to that time (or appearing to) is zero.
To paraphrase Antonio Gramsci, the problem *consists precisely* in the fact that modernity has been good to Ireland; but that the finite and irreplaceable things that make modernity bearable are what it burns as fuel. This isn’t an obvious point and explaining it to people isn’t easy; getting them to act on it even less so.
Does Sinn Fein offer any hope for change? Of the the mainstream parties, they are the only ones that might plausibly act on the specific problem that Nagle and Ryan have identified, the over-reliance on multinationals.
I don’t think so. Our reliance on foreign capital is part of a larger outlook that has cultural as well as economic elements, and sadly SF are as bought into the pre-packaged globalist solutions as any of the other parties; probably more so.
In mainstream Irish politics if there is a party of (say) gender self-ID and Black Lives Matter, it’s Sinn Fein. During the current crisis they have totally failed to provide even the most basic level of opposition to the programme and have indeed congratulated themselves on the support they have given the government. In everything except the economic sphere they are in lock-step with FF & FG. They are the vanguard of Irish consensus and the biggest party in the country.
Our current cultural system isn’t interested in changing and wouldn’t be capable of doing so if it did, because it understands its function as transmitting ideas from elsewhere unaltered. But it’s weaknesses present opportunities to people who are dissatisfied.
The obsession with “what the neighbours think” means you can force change if you can persuade the neighbours to be interested in the problems our system won’t acknowledge. It’s essential to try and get stuff on Ireland published in non-Irish outlets, and to build friendships with people outside Ireland are sympathetic to our difficulties. Nothing is more hurtful to the soul of a goodboy than negative attention from abroad.
The laziness, timidity and self-consciousness described above means that mainstream Ireland’s reflective and defensive capabilities had atrophied. It’s very hard for anyone within the mainstream to come up with anything interesting to say, and very hard for them to defend their views because in many cases they’ve never given them any thought; they simply assumed imported elite priorities must be valid based on provenance alone.
So, notwithstanding the difficulty of developing your thoughts in a small country, there’s acres of intellectual real estate out there waiting to be claimed; and the mainstream won’t and can’t claim it.
The essential factors are using digital techology to build relationships with others in ways that wouldn’t have been possible in the past, and engaging interested people from outside, especially sympathetic members of the diaspora. The approach will be to build our own little world, one that engages like-minded people and thinks critically about the future.
The mainstream of Irish politics and culture will continue to be a brainless husk. If there’s no room for us to figure these questions there, we can by little make our own space to do it with the help of some Gallant Allies. Corailanus can speak for us when he says “I banish you; and here remain with your uncertainty… I turn my back: there is a world elsewhere…”
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