The word “bandy” is bandied around all too often these days, but one term that’s been getting a thorough and undeniable bandying in recent months has been “social cohesion”.
Like many standbys of liberal discourse, it functions at a double remove from material reality, as a kind of euphemism for a euphemism. Since a precise definition is elusive, it can probably best be arrived at by a process of exclusion, following is usage amongst the Irish commentariat as a guide.
This phenomenon of “social cohesion” is never espoused as an end actively to be pursued. Rather, it is only ever invoked in terms of its negation – “loss of social cohesion”, “breakdown of social cohesion” etc, usually by reference to the salutary example of Greece, where such a breakdown is supposedly imminent (this is highly instructive, as we’ll discover in due course).
In fact, the loss of social cohesion is regarded not as an evil in itself, but merely a potential existential threat to business as usual (the bailing out of banks and the preservation of the euro at any and all costs).
A few things that aren’t considered a threat to social cohesion (again taking the pronouncements of the Irish establishment as our guide):
Mass emigration, and the tacit and explicit encouragement of same by government ministers.
The subjugation of all existing democratic models to the primacy of the markets, as a matter of both principle and practice.
The positing by the national media of the existence of a “coping class”, assailed from below by the parasitical poor.
The cultivation of a climate of suspicion and resentment, which encourages citizens to spy and inform on one another with impunity, and to regard teachers, nurses, firefighters and other social service providers as thieves from the common purse.
If none of this sounds like the stuff of harmony and fraternity, it’s because, once again, social cohesion is not the object here. The concern is merely that the host organism is beginning to run out of blood.
In Greece, the collaborationist Papademos régime has abandoned even the perfunctory evasions of its Irish counterparts, in favour of hysterical threats and outright repression. From the European media’s racially-aggravated depiction of events there, we can deduce that the following are considered threats to social cohesion:
Mass public expressions of social solidarity.
Hostility to the national and supranational architects of austerity.
Popular demands for democratic oversight of economic policy.
Identification of former imperialist aggressors with contemporary forms of imperialist aggression.
The pursuit of common cause amongst diverse strata of society.
At one level, this is simply a crude and transparent shell game, designed to offer the evangelists of austerity some measure of plausible deniability. In its peculiarly Irish manifestation, however, it nourishes itself from the fetid swamp of petty resentment which lies beneath the foundations of the state.
Liberals always believed that the curtain-twitching bien-pensance of post-independence Ireland had been transplanted wholesale from the pulpit to the parlour. The easing of the Church’s stranglehold over public policy (and it’s sobering to think that only the revelation of widespread and irrefutable child-rape made this possible) has changed little in this regard, however.
Instead, we’ve witnessed an ascension of the divine consciousness from heaven to Frankfurt. The pitting of citizen against citizen, the holy terror of becoming corrupted by the weakness of others, has not been abated by the transition.
The economic forces which dictate the ravaging of society are protected at all costs, with no sector of society – not the unemployed, not disabled children, not the old – exempted from service as human shields, in a crude parallel to the scapegoating of single mothers for problems arising from poverty.
At every turn, citizens are encouraged to see entitlement as privilege, and privilege as entitlement. The spectral hordes of fraudulent welfare claimants haunt Middle Ireland’s dreams, even as their taxes pay for useless multi-million euro reports by the ideological architects and beneficiaries of the crisis. Michael O’Leary becomes a put-upon underdog, while the teacher coping with the fallout of a moribund society in a vermin-infested building becomes a freeloading hedonist.
It is this total identification with the system (not on its own merits, but merely as the prevailing system) which makes every act of resistance, from the SPARK protests to the Campaign Against The Household Tax, all the more admirable and all the more essential.
The political establishment, the media, and their masters in Europe fear that deviation from their ideological consensus will lead to the breakdown of their system of governance; our challenge is to prove them right.