Eurovision 2017 as a barometer of change?

I have grown up with “the Eurovision” as an annual “festival of entertainment” in my life. In the early days of the competition I revelled in the performances that were rooted in the European cultures from which they sprang. A kaleidoscope of the shared cultures that made Europe unstable yet inspiring of a dream – a Europe of the People. It inspired me and encouraged me to walk and hitch-hike around the Continent of Europe, meeting other young people and their families in youth hostels or on campsites, struggling to understand yet hungry for the stimulation of the diverse cultures of Europe. Over the years I have begun to despair at the way that commercialism, dumbing-down, and the force-feeding of a homogenised, skin-deep world of entertainment and communication has become the unchallenged norm.

That is why, in anticipation, I was dreading what the 2017 Eurovision contest might bring. The first semi-final round last Tuesday night was awful in my view. Monotonously pallid, and pallidly monotonous. Of the 32 countries in the Eurovision finals, the following sang in their first or home language and performed in relation to their own cultures: Portugal, Hungary, Belarus, Italy, France. The other 27 sang in English. Of those only the U.K., Australia, and Ireland speak English as a national language.

The second semi-final on Thursday night was an improvement. But the banalities of the Irish commentators wheeled into action in our radio and television studios left me sickened and depressed. They seem forever to tug the forelock in remembrance of their Irish mentors in scoffing at “foreignors and their strange ways” and generally promoting and living off a John Bull attitude that “wogs begin at Calais”. I felt sorry for Brendan Walsh, the Irish contestant, a young man with potential but one who, in my opinion, was squeezed into the mould of a “remember Johnny Logan” campaign. I am sure that when he develops his own persona he will succeed. But not when he is being used to promote and recall the dreams of former glories still treasured by those who were behind the scenes for former winners.

Tonight’s result, however, with Portugal’s Salvador Sobral “ag snámh in aghaidh an easa” (swimming against the flow), celebrating his victory with his sister, Luisa, and stating that music must be reclaimed for the people, for their cultures and for their emotions, was an indicator, a straw in the wind, a wind of change that hopefully will sweep across Europe when the U.K. leaves the EU or wakes up from its dream of empire and comes to its senses. Let’s get back to our roots and start planning now.

I have met too many Irish people abroad in my forty years of overseas work, whose way of surviving was snail-like, carrying their home and their culture on their backs, using the life-buoys of Irish pubs to help them survive in an artificially secure environment. Their insecurity showed in their apparent unwillingness to participate in other cultures for fear of losing their own identity. The world is a big place and we must learn to open ourselves to the anxieties and insecurities that it brings. No roots, no growth! In an interesting way I found this Eurovision encouraging for the future of Europe. Those people who are not afraid of change and of difference cast a vote tonight. The theme of this years event was “Celebrate Diversity”! What diversity? There is still a lot of work to be done, in Eurovision, in the EU, and here at home in Ireland.

Poverty in life and poverty of spirit

I find that this article (The Upsetting Reality Of Modern Day Poverty.uploaded in an earlier Facebook  piece)) gives a clear , even bleak, introduction to what poverty means to many people. It set me thinking about poverty in Ireland and about the other problems we face and prompted me to push my ideas a bit further and try to clarify them.

I am speaking here of a poverty of thinking as well as a poverty of circumstances. I wish that those who pontificate about their respect for electoral mandates and their dedication to working for the people who elected them, will read this and then recalibrate the urgency required in forming a new government. You asked for a mandate to govern and implement your policies. No party has reached the line to implement their mandate so it is doubtful that your mandate now extends that far because a coalition, an inter-party, a partnership, or any other arrangement will of necessity limit your mandate. Perhaps it would be wise to temporarily interpret your mandate from your share of the electorate as instructing you to negotiate a part for yourselves and them in whatever arrangement is eventually adopted. Any expectations greater than that is pushing it and would appear somewhat arrogant or chancing your arm.

Don’t keep telling us that “the numbers” dictate that it has to be EITHER a Fine Gael OR a Fianna Fáil minority government supported by a few tame independents whom the winner hopes that they can buy off. That is wishful thinking. The “numbers” you speak of are just like squiggles and blobs on a page, like a Rorschach test, and of themselves they have little or no meaning, other than that the electorate is as confused as you are. We are all in new territory. And that requires working with a new map. Any psychologist using the Rorschach (or Inkblot) Test will tell you that a candidate, asked to describe what they see in the random shape of blobs in the picture, will project the contents of their unconscious mind onto the chaos they see and organise it into a picture that they recognise and feel comfortable with based upon the information in their unconscious mind (See note #1 below). Like seeing meaningful shapes in the random pattern of clouds in the sky or of tea leaves on a bottom of a cup. Other observers may decipher different shapes but of you are right – from your own viewpoint.

Our devoted public representatives, suckled for generations on the spiteful milk of unkindness curdled by begrudgery, fraternal strife, clientalism, and political inbreeding, and at the same time remembering with satisfaction the successes that were gained on different occasions in the past, are now looking hopefully into the chaos of the new parliamentary galaxy of stars, and are scanning hopefully the fortunes and recipes of yesterday. They are seeing only the patterns that worked for them in the past and that once helped them to hold on to power and achieve their goals. The Independents, the Alliances, and the embrionic Parties in today’s Dáil are behaving no differently.

four-of-cupsHas none of them the vision, the imagination, and the character to seize the moment? Is there no one with the courage to break new ground, to show us a new vision of society? A revolutionary vision that will respond to what the electorate is yearning for, a better Ireland, a fairer and more egalitarian Ireland that will treat all the children of Caitlín Ní Uallacháin, both young and old, equally. An Ireland which, though small and struggling, has the heart, the creativity, and the spirit to do better, even to taking its place among the Nations of the Earth?

We have done it before and we can do it again. Digging deep and remembering the richness that lies at the roots of our history, we know that the people of this island once played a crucial role when, together with the Greeks and Romans, they rescued Europe from the Dark Ages. As was pointed out in a recent documentary on RTÉ 1 which was presented by former President Mary McAleese, that period in our history is more appreciated and remembered by continental Europeans today than it is recognised by Irish people. At various stages over the centuries since then, our country has contributed in many and varied ways to the development of a unique culture and community that has not baulked at taking and holding a world view, and is now ranked as number one for our peace-keeping efforts under the United Nations. We have gained recognition from those who valued what our ancestors both recent and ancient have contributed on the world stage. In the past week, a documentary on RTÉ, described eloquently how the 1916 Rising had provided the inspiration for the people of India and Pakistan to fight for and assert their countries’ independence from the British Empire. A respect shown by the people of India and Pakistan which is considerably more real and appreciated by them than is our awareness of their gratitude.

We are at a strengthpoint now where we need to form a government. We need a period of stability but not the static equilibrium of a ladder leaning against a wall. We need the dynamic stability and balance of a body moving swiftly and adapting with awareness, intelligence, and co-ordination to meet our changing circumstances, like a thoroughbred horse under a skilful jockey, like a skier on an icy downhill run, or perhaps more aptly, like a bare-footed person picking their terrified way over red-hot coals!

To achieve that, both we and our representatives must move out of our respective comfort zones; we must inhabit the visions of our youthfulness and not linger with the consoling dreams of old age. Poverty of vision and lack of courage are not the coinage for the journey we must undertake. And undertake it, we must.



 

References

#1: If you are not familiar with the Rorschach Test, you might like to try a fun version available online at Rorschach (or Inkblot) Test (click here).  I hasten to add that the clinical version is for serious use, but don’t worry about this one. Nevertheless, if you understand how the test operates then you will have a clear understanding of what I mean above. These were my test results:

Test Results:

Congratulations! At a 49% “Sickness Quotient”, you’re almost well-adjusted.

Detailed Diagnosis

  • Interpersonal Insights
    You have trouble being friendly to others, especially people who hate your guts and want to hurt you. You complain about everything regardless of what it is. You wouldn’t be happy even if you were hit by a new car.
  • Job Performance & Attitude
    Your attitude towards work is that you could watch others do it all day long. Although your work can upon occasion be very good, remember that even monkeys can be trained to do what you do. And they don’t call in sick.
  • Personality Insight
    Your personal motto is “If you can’t make them think, make them wonder.” Trust us – you’ve succeeded beyond your wildest dreams.

 

 

 

Back to the Future with Rip van Winkle

We fool ourselves if we think that we can change things on our own by the Flurry Knox antics of plying the Medea-like Mme. Lagarde, with drinks and banter in some late-night haunts in Dublin.

I am not a soothsayer, but I will be surprised if the dynamic duo of Tsipras and Varoufakis don’t emerge like the Phoenix from the burnt-out ashes of media toilet paper that has railed against them and what they stand for.

I suppose with the day that’s in it, Greek Referendum and all that, plus all the campaigns and the shouting of obscenities that is going on in the different threads of ersatz debate online, in pubs, around kitchen tables, over fences, alone in bedrooms, we all need to check our sanity and our wallets. I have been taking stock and I must say that the scene depresses me. It is clear that a general election is going to be sprung on us pretty soon, and a lot of the issues that are raised are going around and around in ever decreasing circles like the proverbial Wogga Wogga bird, where they have disappeared up its own dietary outlet, reappeared again, disputed and inconclusive, to fuel more abusive language and further displays of anger, but again without progress. So, to sharpen the appetite, I decided to push the boat out a bit further and challenge the thinking before the Sunday lunch hits the linen table cloth.

We will see later this evening the results of the Greek Referendum. I am not a soothsayer, but I will be surprised if the dynamic duo of Tsipras and Varoufakis don’t emerge like the Phoenix from the burnt-out ashes of media toilet paper that has railed against them and what they stand for. Even if they lose, the result will be the same anyway. Things will get tougher in Greece and there will be a knock-on effect on Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Italy, and probably in Britain at a later stage, when the unholy Trinity, hidden in the romantic image of the Russian Troika, (except that Dr. Zhivago has been replaced by Wolfgang Schaűble played by a Peter Sellers look-alike in a role like that of the mad German scientist) succeed in the beating down of better men and women.

We fool ourselves if we think that we can change things on our own by the Flurry Knox antics of plying the Medea-like Mme. Lagarde, with drinks and banter in some late-night haunts in Dublin. If the rapidly approaching snap General Election is to yield a change in Government, as the anger sweeping most of the country likes to suggest, then it is time for our political infants to perform or arise from their potties. I find it neither heart-warming nor encouraging that Irish parties claiming to represent left-wing ideologies are queuing for trips around the neo-mythology of Greek politics in the hopes that some of the glitter on the wings of Icarus might rub off and enhance their image. But the heroes on the Left in Greece are in the image of Theseus rather than the eejit who thought he could fly to the Sun by night and avoid the heat by day – anyway, I think that’s the way an Irish myth would have rationalised his endeavours! The dynamic duo of Tsipras and Varoufakis are following a well-conceived and carefully mapped visit to the chthonic Global Minotaur hidden in the labyrinthine caves of the EU/ECB/IMF. Unfortunately the image of our political Jasons will be judged by the policies they produce for the election and their share of the fleece of the electorate will be measured accordingly.

Accordingly, in the interests of stimulating thinking, I would like to throw some fresh bread on stagnant waters (officially supplied by a new State water quango with well-concealed Bonga Bongas arranged by a nearly=jailed former Italian showbiz personality.

Let’s think positively about this.

Enlightened voter (Homo selectus)
Enlightened voter
(Homo selectus)

DAFT DRAFT

First of all, for the voters, I would suggest the following:

  1. Elect the people you can trust, not those who promise to cheat the system to get you things to which you are not already entitled.
  2. If they offer to make applications on your behalf, for grants, medical cards, or anything like that, just ask them to explain the process to you so that you can do it for yourself. It will be a valuable lesson in citizens’ rights for you.
    • N.B. This work could be done in consultation with existing Citizens’ Rights offices and may require access to additional resources described below in item #6.A
  3. If you are constrained by having young children to mind which would restrict your spontaneity in getting information, attending community meetings (see #4.A below) or even voting, just ask them would they supply a registered baby sitter to mind the kids for you while you go on a citizen’s errand. Note that this would be infinitely more meaningful and useful than a Job-Retch programme. If by any freak of chance, they agree, be sure to bring your partner with you and get full value out of the night off.
  4. Each household should sit down now and draw up a list of their “red wine line” items in preparation for the ritual “You won’t forget us now, (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) when you’re voting, will ye” visits of canvassers.
    1. If households were to begin this activity now, then they could take it to a second level and have meetings of household representatives to share these lists and strengthen the bonds in the community. It would be certainly better for your peace of mind, than watching “Big Brother’s House” on T.V.
  5. Depending upon the list you draw up in #4, then you may feel you should ask for training programmes (see items #5.A, #5.B, #5.C, below) to be provided free with any necessary software and hardware required. (They do it for foreign companies setting up in Ireland, so why not for you). In this regard you might consider some of the following random suggestions. When you have read them, I am sure further ideas will come to mind. If not, then I have probably lost you already, so you can just go and
    1. A simple computer terminal for each home so that you can be polled immediately for your preference when the Government, acting on your behalf, needs to confirm their mandate, for example, to guarantee a bank or other financial institution on your behalf, and with your money, or to alert a community when Her Majesty or a member of her family is being brought on a tour of reconciliation-relation binges guilt-trips study tours, or advance notice of any unexpected intrusion upon your rights as a citizen by a government official acting on a tip-off;
    2. A local community centre or other suitable building that can also be used for community support activities. A part-time administrator and secretarial assistant will be needed. These roles could offer good work experience for local people in real work situations.
    3. A timetable for each group of local Senators and T.D.s, to attend monthly meetings with the local electorate to brief the people on what is being done on their behalf, to update them on any decisions that will affect them, or to announce publicly that they are coming out, before you read it in the media. I
    4. t is important that these meetings be organised by the community. The use of small sub-groups with each member taking it in turn to be the facilitator and another the recorder of the subgroup meeting will require training as described in #6.A and also provide valuable skills in community development.
  6. For those housing estates that have experience of dealing, shall I say, diplomatically with Irish Water contractors installing shiny new meters, then there will be some neighbours who can advise on ways in which you might seek to influence or deal with the party canvassers.
  7. Candidates should be asked, on behalf of their Party, to agree and sign the “Red List” as a gesture of sincerity and truth. Be prepared to explain the concepts of sincerity and truth, if needs be.
A dynamic government for a people who are not going anywhere somewhere
A dynamic government for a people who are not going anywhere somewhere

With regard to a programme for Government, then there should be a careful selection of choice items to appeal to the appetite of even the most jaded voter.

  1. A stop on capital movements out of the country must be put into effect immediately upon taking office and before any gougers consultants still left around the place on contract get a whiff of what’s in store, before the following items are leaked.
  2. Prominent or not-so-prominent citizens with Irish passports who hold offshore accounts and maintain a nominal home in Ireland should be requested to justify a renewal of their passports. A special designation of passport could be issued to such people and linked with their bank accounts. Legally, of course. ;-D <ROTGASM> New legislation, of course, will be required under the heading of austerity provisions.
  3. Pass special emergency austerity legislation to slash Dáil and Senate pensions to the national average.
  4. Cut all Dáil and Senate salaries and emoluments to a small multiple of the average industrial wage. They always say that it is a pleasure and an honour to serve their constituencies so be prepared for big smiles of gratitude when they are told of this.
  5. Instead of paying very doubtful travel expenses, issue all public representatives with a special free travel allowance smart-card that is operated on the basis of prepaid top-ups.This should make budgetary controls easier to enforce.
  6. Senators and T.D.s will no longer have need for constituency offices as more interaction will be encouraged under the arrangements indicated in item #6.A following.
  7. Use some of the money saved by these rationalisations (they are never to be referred to as cuts) to accelerate the training of front-line civil servants in customer service and counselling skills, thereby giving them new job enrichment prospects and wipe the smug smiles off the faces of their section heads.
  8. A-teams of the newly assigned civil servants (see remark above re customer service and counselling training) could be assigned locally to work with citizens on Interface Transactions (not to be shortened to I.T. for obvious reasons). These teams would report to an appropriate level in the civil service hierarchy but would also have a role in supporting T.D.s, so that the poor ould divils public representatives are kept “in the loop” and don’t feel completely cut off from their electorate but at the same time are not allowed to interfere in the processes of State. On second thoughts, a little office aide-memoire in bog-thick oak could be provided with the inspirational mantra “YOU are a legislator” (not pronounced “leg-is-later”) in green and gold letters in Roman Uncial on it.
  9. Introduce a national basic wage given to every citizen whose parents were sufficiently irresponsible to born them, including those seeking asylum or here, thereby removing the need for nasty and unpleasant jobs policing the unemployed, or preventing any unintentional effects being experienced by those held in prison-like conditions, alternative accommodation while awaiting deportation, citizenship, etc, etc.
  10. Each local authority should be given the following additional responsibilities and funded from central goverment sources for the following:
  11. A suitably-sized block of flats to be used for young couples who need accommodation but have not yet found a way of purchasing their own homes or getting on a council housing list.
    • It could be designed to allow some units to be used as hostel accommodation for the increased numbers of tourists who will throng to our shores to find out what the fcuk innovative ideas our communities are developing under our new system of participative democracy.
    • This accommodation could also be used for attendees at summer courses on local history, Irish culture, Irish lace-making, franchised sean-nós dancing, and local crafts, held at the premises mentioned above in item #5.B.

Do you get the idea, then? Good.

P.S. Be sure to get enough beers in to celebrate the Referendum results sometime in the small hours of tomorrow. One way or the other. I’m still positive about the results for the Greeks. Even after writing the above.

Simples, Even for meercats!

Austerity just for the craic!

It was once said of the Irish, that “all their wars were merry and all their songs are sad”. Without doubt many Irish ballads and sean-nós singing have a haunting air about them, expressing pain that is too difficult to describe in words, coming as it does from deeply hidden wells of history, of faded dreams, and of exploitation. There is also some substance in the allegation that our wars were merry. It is said that the ancient Celtic tribes of Europe went into battle naked, save for a helmet, a shield and a sword. When a captured Celtic chieftain was paraded before the all-conquering Alexander the Great whose empire once sprawled across the world then known to Europeans, Alexander is said to have asked him, with some grudging admiration, was there nothing that the Celts feared. After some thought the captive chief replied: “Every morning when I go out, I fear the sky is going to fall on my head!”.

I can empathise with that fear, living as I do in Ireland of the Austerities. Beleaguered citizens squeezed by the policies imposed by the Troika, the EU and the IMF as a corrective punishment are now suffering for sleepwalking into a world moulded by the fantasies of the Celtic Tiger years, “But we were only following our leaders. They told us we were wealthy, that we are the greatest little country in the world to do business in. Even foreignors told us the same. Why wouldn’t we take advantage of the money available? And sure, wasn’t it great while it lasted”. And yes, indeed, it was great for a small minority but a large majority were left blinded and crippled like wounded, would-be warriors of a new and glorious age of prosperity. Little did we realise that we were but bit-part characters in a larger and grander narrative satisfying the egos of the few and providing a story line of their greed. The same leaders are now standing before us like insufferable senior students, toadying up to the Headmaster and Teachers, our betters, as they chide us for “losing the run of ourselves”. We must submit to punishment and take what we deserve.

It is heart-breaking to see and hear the deluge of stories from families and individuals who were caught up in that narrative. The stories of emigrations, of suicides, of financial destruction, of homes and families being pushed beyond their all too human limits are stirring a cauldron of memories. We are being haunted by memories of informers who ratted on our attempts at freedom, of leaders who fled the country leaving the detritus of dreams behind them, but worst of all, the spectre of the Great Famine is hanging over us, chilling our dreams. One third left, one third died, one third remained, and for what? Is the same pattern to be repeated in the era of the Great Failure? If we don’t learn from the past, then it surely will be repeated.

I remember from my studies when I worked on projects exploring leaders and leadership, individuals, groups and organisations, that the “power distance” between leader and followers is an important dimension in defining the effectiveness and behaviour of that leadership. Different countries show a wide variety of tolerance for that “power distance”.  It is a bit like social distance. I am reminded of a joke abut what would happen if a man and a woman were washed up on a desert island. If they were French they would make love; if they were Irish, the man would wander off looking for the local pub; and if they were English, nothing would happen because they hadn’t been introduced!

We Irish do not feel comfortable with leaders who are socially distant from us. We don’t do anonymity. It’s a small country and a dense web of relationships ensures that we don’t need to search far to find a relative or a rival. We distrust leaders who get above themselves and we are quick to wind them in. But when we feel close to them, we are too trusting about their decency and fairness towards us. This has led to an Irish political culture based upon connections and influence. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, it is the normal currency of human society. But our TDs (members of the Dáil) are committed to “stroke” politics and doing “turns” for their constituents, often in opposition to the rules governing our society. In a strange way, it is almost as if our representatives view our government as being in some way alien and not the real authority. That was true when we were colonised, with the King or Queen in London and our other monarch, the Pope, in Rome. For 800 years Irish people had no native symbols of authority other than a precarious and threatened tribal system.

The political  system demands, and is structured so that our representatives will not be re-elected if those norms are not met. Political policies are largely irrelevant in the face of “the catch cries of the clown”. We don’t do political philosophy either. We don’t really have an intellectual framework for discourse about who we are, what we want, and how we can achieve that state. It is a culture built upon activities and not on thinking. It is a culture that we have exported, most obviously to the New World (for Europeans, I hasten to add), where it thrived and spread through the gangs of NY and the Unions and Irish American politicians.

That culture is one of the main reasons why we are now suffering turmoil in trying to cope with our problems. We have known only a corrupted form of politics based upon the Civil War, that was manipulated by an over-bearing Church that interfered with political processes but forbade any questioning of their diktats. Small wonder that there is confusion and growing levels of violence in the streets. We lack a patois, a people’s language for political discourse. Pent up anger, frustration and fear is erupting in the throwing of insults and shouting confrontations with authority figures. It is not a pretty or re-assuring kaleidoscope of possibilities. Our Uachtarán (President) is a mild mannered intellectual, a poet, a champion against oppression in the Americas. This did not save him from an ignomious and hasty departure from an event in Dublin this week.

Unfortunately for Michael D., and I once knew him well enough to address his so, when we were colleagues in the Labour Party that once aspired to socialism, but yes, again I say unfortunately for him, he has had to compromise himself and his principles by lying down with dogs over too long a period. I am sure he hoped sincerely that he could achieve progress and change gradually and democratically. And he has done so but on the very limited palette of the arts where the colour red was verboten. Alas, but when one lies down with dogs, one gets up with fleas. He has been making obvious efforts to use any semblance of power left in his constitutional role as Uachtarán to good effect, but I believe that the New Labour Party of the Roses, that left Connolly’s Starry Plough to rust, merely threw a bone in the form of the Presidency to keep him out of the way and put a veneer of decency on their politically obscene groping with Fine Gael.

We are now in an increasingly precarious position in Ireland. The volume of protest and dissatisfaction is growing to a crescendo. A lot of energy is being generated but, whilst it is clearly directed at the single issue of the privatisation and commodification of water supplies, there is little sign of a new wave rising in Irish political life. Different groups are defining themselves in terms of activities and in so doing are attracting support from citizens who just want the pain to end. Shouting and screaming at the Garda Síochána, hurling abuse at politicians and at anyone who is seen as Other, and communicating in the short-hand of obscenities and spitting byte-sized gobs of abuse is no basis for forming a coherent policy of change. If the mass rallies planned for Jan 31 do not produce a tangible result and an agreed plan for further development of protest, then disillusion which is hovering in the wings, will take centre stage.

And now Syriza and Alexis Tsipras has burst upon the stage in Athens. Is this relative unknown to be a Greek hero in the mould of Athenian theatre, or a tragic figure, or ultimately an Icarus burning his wings in the flames when he challenges the Sun Gods of Finance and Politics. If nothing else he is focusing minds. He is making brave demands that are threatening to rattle the foundations of the European dream but then the Gods of Brussels feel sure they can swot this impudent Greek. Or can they? A lot will depend upon whether we in Ireland, and others in suffering countries such as Spain, Portugal, and Italy, not to mention the newbies from the former Soviet Union who were getting their first experiences of what might be theirs of right in future, whether we will find common cause and stand together with Greece. That requires leaders who have the courage and the vision to lead. It requires followers who are willing to work together in a consensus rather than fight over compromises. And, above all, it requires people who will not flinch when they look the opponent in the eyes. It looks like we are living in interesting times and whether that is a Chinese curse, or not, is for us to decide.