Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

A brief note on courage

July 6, 2015

Since Ireland’s pro-austerity Fine Gael/Labour coalition came to power in 2011, it has prided itself on having the courage to take tough decisions. It supporters in the media (which is to say, the media) have adopted the refrain with the dreary gusto of a monastery at prayer. Variations on the theme rattle off the presses and ooze from the airwaves, as commentators gush over the government’s capacity to inflict suffering with impunity. Editorials drip with pious warnings against the dangers of yielding to populism, and the entire commentariat has taken up residence in a parallel Ireland, wherein the bitter medicine of austerity has effected a miracle cure.

Over the past four years, the ruling elite has attempted to mould reality to the contours of its simplistic Thatcherite morality tales. Having failed, it has simply declared reality altered by decree. Unemployment figures are trumpeted as though mass emigration and the herding of citizens onto free labour schemes never happened. Ministers crow about protecting social welfare rates even as they accept plaudits for slashing them to ribbons.

The Labour Party has taken particular pride in its willingness to ravage and curtail the lives of those who traditionally form its core vote. Emboldened by praise from big business and the media, there appears no natural limit to the party’s inexorable drift towards the furthest fringes of the European right. The party contains committed ideological extremists such as leader Joan Burton, but the majority of its parliamentary contingent are simply vacuous automatons, random assemblages of molecules with just enough coherence to vote through a benefit cut. For all that, their calculated viciousness should not be underestimated, excused or forgotten; malice is often little more than stupidity run to seed.

And yet still, from the government benches and the newsrooms, comes the shrill, aggrieved demand that these architects of social catastrophe should be applauded for their courage. The distinction between tactical ignorance and outright delusion has long ceased to be meaningful in Irish politics, but a brief primer on the nature of courage seems to be in order here.

A basic prerequisite for any act of courage is the element of sacrifice or personal risk. There is nothing courageous about an extremely well-paid politician severing the financial lifeline of a single parent (unless you’re a believer in the immortality of the soul). That is not a “tough decision” for anyone except the victim. There is no bravery and no honour in skewering the poor, the sick, the elderly and the helpless when you have the ardent support of the wealthy, the powerful, the entire media and every financial and governmental institution in Europe, with the full repressive might of the police and the judiciary standing by, ready and willing to come down like a ton of bricks on the merest flicker of resistance.

It takes no courage to deprive a disabled child of vital supports if, should it cost you your seat, there is another one waiting for you behind the desk of a grateful multinational. None of that is courage, and no amount of ideological alchemy can ever turn it into courage. It is the opposite of courage, the most abject and contemptible cowardice.

By contrast, the decision of Greek voters to defy explicit, well-grounded threats from every locus of unearned power in Europe was an exemplary act of courage. It will not go unpunished by a vindictive European elite, and will be condemned as irresponsible by those who rattle their drums on behalf of the big battalions. But listen closely to their sneers and their scorn, because you might just detect a note of terror.

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Their Apocalypse and Ours

February 20, 2012

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.

Taxi for Tiki-Taka: The Dialectics of Football

July 22, 2011

I’ve always been relatively ambivalent towards the tiki-taka phenomenon, without ever quite understanding why. Having since puzzled it out, I now realise that simple recourse to onomatopoeia would have saved me a deal of soul-searching. The childlike flippancy of the term itself encapsulates much of my aversion to the style it denotes.

In an era of neo-brutalist vulgarity, in which forwards are equally prized for their defensive as offensive qualities (Tony Grant might have been an unlikely pioneer of the age, had he not abnegated his place in history by scoring freely up-North for Glenavon), Barcelona’s attacking, progressive football is rightly regarded as a breath of fresh of air.

Concessions are made to certain indispensable elements of the Zeitgeist; Barça press hard, but to state that a modern professional football team presses hard is to state that it fields eleven men. The Spanish national team, with the explosive and unquantifiable variable of Lionel Messi excised from the equation, represents arguably the purer strain.

I think I’ve expressed before my preference for the Russo-Ukrainian school of football espoused by Valeriy Lobanovskiy’s Dynamo Kyiv and USSR teams (they were essentially one and the same). The following is an excerpt from Lobanovskiy’s book The Methodological Basis of the Development of Training Models, quoted by Jonathan Wilson in this month’s World Soccer.

“When we are talking about tactical evolution, the first thing we have in mind is to strive for new courses of action that will not allow the opponent to adapt to our style of play.”

“If an opponent has adjusted himself to our style of play and found a counter-play, then we need to find a new strategy. That is the dialectic of the game”.

(Thought you’d escaped the politics, didn’t you? Not so fast, motherfucker!)

Attempts to conflate styles of football with the political and cultural environments in which they flourish are invariably tenuous (where they’re not downright mischievous). But Lobanoskiy concocted a style genuinely expressive of egalitarian values; a hard-running, dynamic, counter-attacking game which was exhilarating to watch, all the more so because it was played at such pace (unlike tiki-taka).

In Lobanovskiy’s framework, every member of the team was a potential playmaker. The man in possession, whether he was a full-back, a midfielder or a central defender, was expected to launch the counter-attack with a single long pass to a free player as soon as the opponent relinquished the ball. Likewise, everyone was expected to chase down possession with equal fervour.

This is where the crucial cleavage between the Russo-Ukrainian school (faint echoes of which survive in Eastern Europe today) and tiki-taka becomes apparent. Lobanovskiy strove for constant movement of both ball and man. In his eyes, a player who could release the ball and then receive it back in the same position wasn’t working hard enough.

The Barça model lacks that kind of rigorous humility and a certain amount of, as it were, Dynamism. Don’t get me wrong; I’m glad Barcelona won the Champions League, and I’m glad Spain won the World Cup. But they are teams to be admired, not teams to be loved. They neither aspire to, nor are capable of attaining, the sublime (except in the person of Messi). Rather, their holy grail is the achievement of absolute technical competence, like a backroom of IT geeks, or Fleetwood Mac.

A small, blackened corner of my heart drew immense satisfaction from Barcelona’s defeat to Inter in the first leg of the 2010 Champions League semi-final (as dismayed as I am by any outcome which burnishes Mourinho’s reputation).

Barcelona showed up at San Siro expecting to pass rings around a flat-footed collection of South American has-beens, cast as the Washington Generals for one night only. Instead, Guardiola’s side visibly wilted in the face of a fearsome fusillade of passionate, attacking football which cut them down to size. Their self-satisfied arrogance had blinded them to the dialectic of the game; they had no response.

One could make the claim that FC Barcelona’s success has given contemporary Europe the champion it deserves; a technocratic elite, backed by big money, which parades across the continent beneath the banner of UNICEF in a false posture of social solidarity.

The Lie That Came In From The Cold

June 24, 2011

Following documents were swiped off the desk of an inattentive Eurocrat within the past hour (he was colouring in a map of Latin America at the time, for some reason). Further extracts have been withheld for exclusive publication in the Independent over the next 39 weeks.

(Larger: 1, 2)

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Really Terrible Éxcuses

March 6, 2010

Browsing the RTÉ website the other day, I happened upon a report (in maddening Realplayer-O-Vision, to which RTÉ cleaves for purely sadistic reasons) filed by Flor McCarthy about the Greek strikes. Now, only the incurably naive would tune in to an RTÉ world news item expecting enlightenment or fresh insight; the bods upstairs long ago came to the (correct) conclusion that Irish viewers get their international fare from real news networks, and don’t particularly want to see it regurgitated by RTÉ. Sure enough, this was a cut-and-paste VT/VO job, but one decidedly designed for domestic consumption.

Events in Greece and Iceland have sent the D4 hive-mind into overdrive. Material evidence that capitulation to the finance sector and decimation of public services is not the only game in town, and moreover can be resisted and even overturned, is not the kind of defeatist thinking one wants dripping down the food chain. Accordingly, McCarthy’s piece dutifully reported the massive and crippling strikes, the occupation of the finance department, and the use of tear gas by police, before wishing them away (over corroboratory and undated VT of a market stall which, admittedly, was not on fire) as “muted.”

This kind of doublespeak has effectively become the house style of RTÉ. In fact, during the public sector strikes here, I wrote to RTÉ to complain that not a single shred of evidence had been produced to support their beloved Newry Exodus thesis. Their response? They did have evidence. Video evidence, at that. Of an anonymous public sector worker admitting it was a fair cop.

One worker. And where was this evidence? Well, unfortunately it wasn’t of broadcast quality and so couldn’t go to air. Funny how these things happen when they’re least convenient…