Friday, May 28, 2010

Self-flagellation and cultural memory

Always interesting to read the international medias take on what has been going on in Ireland. Two good overview pieces have recently been published in the Financial Times and The Guardian, and come recommended if you want to get a rough handle of what has been going on here. I thought the following two quotes were particularly interesting, one from a worker who has lost his job, the other from a protestor who has found it difficult to mobilise foot soldiers.

"We never really believed the boom. During the celtic-tiger period we were like, jeez, look at us, this will never last. Irish people were used to shit homes, shit education, shit hospitals. In England, there is a cultural memory of things working. There is no cultural memory in Ireland of things working. The self-flagellation gene in Ireland is very strong – 'cut us to fuck because we're used to being the downtrodden victim'. We almost feel better for it."

"The Irish are the good children of Europe. They take the rod, they don't complain and they all will get sweets at the end. Anger is a private thing in our country; it's there, but we don't express it in public."

The cultural memory of a few hundred years of colonialism, followed by a heavy dose of Catholicism, has seemingly produced a certain amount of fatalism and an expectation of failure and suffering. That the famine statues are placed next to the international financial services centre in Dublin is an interesting juxtaposition given the causes of the present crisis. If some of the recent analysis is correct ('It is no longer a question of whether Ireland will go bust, but when'), then the crises of the 1950s and 1980s are going look like minor blips. Personally, I'm reasonably optimistic that the country will muddle through without going completely bust, but its going to be a bumpy ride, and the self-flagellation gene could to get a good workout.


kathy d. said...

Being of Irish descent on one side of my family, I've always been proud of this heritage, which I have thought of as rife with standing up and resisting.

Even in the last few years of economic crisis, I've seen massive protests in Dublin, in the media, a sit-in lasting quite awhile at Waterford Crystal and all sorts of protests.

I'd never thought of the Irish people as passive, far from it.

Jose Ignacio Escribano said...

Rob I'm starting to appreciate your information about Ireland and Irish history, both in your book and in your blog. Very interesting. So far my knowledge of Ireland was limited to Leon Uris Trinity which I read a long time ago. Now I'm starting to get more interested. I'll have to plan a visit to your Country as well.

Rob Kitchin said...

Kathy, in my view the protests in Ireland with respect to the present economic crisis have been muted. Yes, there have been some marches and sit-ins and a couple of one day strikes. But these are relatively infrequent and small. As Brian Lenihan has noted, if the kinds of austerity measures that are being implemented here were introduced elsewhere that country would grind to a halt with protest (e.g., Iceland and Greece). That certainly hasn't happened and people have largely accepted the cuts and job losses. Yes, people are frustrated and angry, but that this has not translated into widescale radical action. As for passivity, my personal view is that whilst there has been instances of resistance, for the most part Irish society has been remarkably conformist to the state and Church since independence. It is only in recent years that the power and domination of the Church, for example, has been challenged and eroded. The situation in the North, was quite different, where clearly there was an active resistance to oppression.

kathy d. said...

You raise very good points here which I'll think about.

I'm thinking about the history of Irish resistance and even the more subtle forms of it, which I learned about years ago, at Irish pubs after midnight, listening to musicians and singers who'd just arrived from Ireland and sang their hearts out about resistance to oppression. (And the whole pubful of people would yell and cheer.) This was in the 1970s.

Yes, and the movies I've seen, too from Michael Collins to The Wind That Shakes the Barley, all part of telling the history. But it was earlier history.

And years of listening to the Clancy Brothers--and my Irish uncles.

It is true that although there have been protests, marches, and the Waterford sit-in, it is not like Greece, and perhaps Spain, too, as we shall see. And Portugal, too.

I'm sure there are a lot of differences in these countries' histories in the last 65 years; maybe it even has to do with the
organizations that developed resisting the Nazis in WW2 in Greece, and those that resisted
fascism in Spain and Portugal--and elsewhere.

But also the labor unions in Greece, Spain and Portugal (and elsewhere in Europe, too) are very politicized, and calling a 24-hour strike or a general strike is a frequent tactic.

Not so much in Ireland, although I can't think of my kinspeople as passive. It'll happen sometime.
I have hope.

I was a bit disappointed that there wasn't more active opposition to the enormous reports that came out last year about abuse within the Church that was systemic and had gone on for years within its institutions.

Rob Kitchin said...

Kathy, as you say, much of the songs and films etc relate to both the war of independence and the troubles in the North. To a certain extent they are an acting out of cultural memory in relation to an oppressor; but this is anger and resistance expressed outwards not inwards. Inwards, things have been largly conformist and conservative, with very slow change with respect to social and cultural norms (this is particularly the case with respect to the position and role of women in society, with a marriage bar existing, for example, into the 1970s). There certainly is protest, but it rarely mobilises into mass action. My sense is that the quotes from the paper are right to a certain extent - there is a degree of fatalism; that this is the hangover after the mother of all parties and we need to take our medicine. Ireland is used to tough times, a weak economy, high emigration, etc., and the crisis for some is a return to business as usual.

kathy d. said...

Well, my hope is that the unions get moving. At a certain point, people can't adjust to everything, but leadership is needed. Other groups, too, helping the unions and working people hit by the economic crisis.

I do wish someone would protest the abuse perpetrated by the officials in the Church, though. That's a different issue but needed.