Well, how are you enjoying Armageddon? It’s been pretty much like all the other days so far, hasn’t it? There’s been marginally more bitchiness and vitriol from right thinkers over here who feel Brexit has murdered their vibe, but other than that …? There really is nothing like us socially concerned liberals when it comes to sour grapes. We love democracy so long as it produces the right result.
Reality check: Brexit is bad news for political and bureaucratic elites in Ireland, Britain, Brussels and other parts of Europe. Whether the rest of us should give a damn about it is another matter altogether. Things will go on pretty much as they do already. Accommodations and easements will be negotiated. Money will talk as it always does. All those arrangements we were warned would be impossible before the vote will suddenly slip through the time honoured radar of devil in the detail. As to the future, it’s anyone’s guess.
I’ve just skimmed an article from one establishment Irish newspaper which claims to show five ways in which Ireland will be poorer as a result of Brexit. All five scenarios are highly speculative and can’t even qualify remotely as factual. That’s the problem with a lot of the stuff we’re fed in what’s laughably called ‘the news.’ It is why I suspect a goodly portion of those now being derided as ‘idiots’ by their better heeled fellow citizens voted to leave the European Union yesterday. They just don’t believe the bullshit any more.
In another headline, I read that Bertie Ahern, the man who broke the Irish economy, reduced an entire generation to penury and condemned another to emigration, is ‘bitterly disappointed’ about the Brexit result. Forgive me for reaching for the sick bag rather than the hanky, but somehow I don’t feel the urge to get upset by something Bertie Ahern is ‘bitterly disappointed’ about.
Far too much attention is paid (and this is one of the many problems with our current political dispensation) in our democracy to the daily hysterics of the financial markets, but even Friday’s contortions by the gutless ‘masters of the Universe’ offered an interesting clue to what might lie ahead. London’s FTSE partially recovered from earlier losses to close about 3% down on where it had been the previous day, whereas stock exchanges in Frankfurt, Paris, Madrid and elsewhere ended with double and treble those losses.
Brexit isn’t Britain’s problem. The stock crashes across Europe are because of fears – openly admitted by the German Government – that Finland, Hungary, Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands may follow suit with referenda of their own. The entire EU project is in danger of unravelling, and in a frighteningly short space of time too. Angela Merkel responded with a nice soundbyte (she seems to be good at those) about Europe being strong enough to find the answers. Let’s hope whoever wrote that is right, because the usual Pavlovian institutional noises coming from Brussels suggest the opposite.
Among the many charges thrown at pro-Brexit voters has been that they’re a bunch of insular old farts who aren’t hip to the vibe of multi-culturalism and all those wonderful today things. Indeed, every effort has been made since the vote to marginalise the 52% electoral majority as racist, ancient and poorly educated. This is what democracy is worth when it contrasts with the interests of those who pay the wages of people on your TV screens.
Much has been made of the fact that 75% of voters aged 18-24 apparently voted to remain in the EU. Apparently, your vote should matter a lot less if you’re over 50. How I wish someone would bring that in for Fine Gael voters in Ireland. But let’s look at a little reality, shall we? Since the 1980’s, Governments in Europe – partly because of the EU – have pursued exactly the same economic and social policies regardless of numerous election outcomes. The EU has itself blatantly ignored democracy by bulling ahead with a single currency which has contributed to disaster for everyone except Germany.
The sad fact is that people under 35 have no experience of the capability of democracy to produce meaningful outcomes, i.e. serious changes in policy. For them, because of recent history, democracy is an abstract, academic concept. Globalisation continues regardless of what type of state you’re in, only older people can remember a time when it mattered a bit.
By the way, one side effect of the Brexit vote is that opinion polls are no longer worth the price of toilet paper. When media bias has become almost hilarious in its hysteria, people are now reluctant to tell pollsters something they think the liberal media might disapprove of, so they lie. Thus, opinion polls failed to predict Brexit and the outcome of the last British election. They will become ever more unreliable from here on in: Donald Trump’s opponents take note.
They who rule only govern with the consent of those who are governed. Europe’s problem is that it has never given people a reason to believe in it. Instead of bringing itself to the ordinary citizen, it has instead focused on creating a self-serving commonwealth of greedy old windbags who are ‘bitterly disappointed’ with Friday’s result, not because it threatens a return to the dark old days but because it might one day threaten their privileges.
In countries like Ireland, the permanent government, i.e. the senior civil service, has functioned on autopilot for most of the last 25 years, swallowing whatever nonsense came out of Brussels and passing it down arbitrarily to the citizen. Let the citizen cope as best she may, we’re getting paid anyway. They may have to do a little thinking now, a little finessing and nuancing of the now complicated relationship between Ireland, Britain and the EU. In short, the bastards might have to do a little work now, and that’s no harm at all.
In the meantime, if survival is to be even an option, Europe needs to dust off those ignored provisions in its existing Treaties about subsidiarity and the right of the ordinary citizen to fair representation. It needs to carry the decision making process down to the lowest units possible, such as community councils, and establish a chain of input, consultation and participative decision making which stretches all the way to the top. It needs, in short, to establish a meaningful participative democracy, and it needs to do it very soon, even strong-arming reluctant governments like Ireland’s if that is necessary (it’s had not problem doing that about other things).
Only then will the EU have given itself a lifeline by giving its citizens a reason to care about it, and by convincing people that it cares about them. Do its leaders care enough about the ‘European Project’ (not to mention keeping the peace) to do any of that? I guess we’ll just have to see.
‘Smart’ flies Aer Lingus, we’re told. Ok, but what does ‘daft’ do? Or ‘worried’ or ‘tired,’ or, for that matter, what does ‘horny’ do? There’s a bank which proclaims that it likes to back ‘brave’. However, as every sage from Shakespeare to Obi-Wan Kenobi has pointed out, these things are often a matter of definition, of points of view. Banks have demonstrated again and again that they’re actually happiest when backing ‘reckless’ and ‘challenged’ and ‘suicidal’ and ‘tragically misguided.’
There’s obviously been some sort of consensus at a recent coven of marketing types that the best new way to milk the herd is try and make it fall for being divided into adjectives. You want to be a good adjective, don’t you? You want to be ‘brave’ or ‘smart,’ not ‘lazy’ or ‘cowardly’ or ‘tight-fisted,’ don’t you? What’s that? You at the back: you don’t know what an adjective is? We recommend you sign up for our supersaver account immediately. No time to waste.
Of course, the problem with human beings is that, despite the best efforts of marketing Beelzebubs to boil us down into simple, easy to manoeuvre atoms, we can still be a bit messy, a bit complicated. ‘Sleepy’ has an orgasm for memory foam pillows. ‘Malodorous’ badly needs to get his hands on some Lynx. ‘Charming’ regularly sprays his manhood with Old Spice. ‘Dizzy’ thinks he’s just delightful, even though all her friends are warning that she’d be much better off with ‘Prudent,’ who has a job in the bank, owns four life insurance policies and has a half share in a nudist colony in Bulgaria.
Poor old ‘skint’ can roll his eyes about but relax in the knowledge that very little of this will ever apply to him. ‘Tetchy’ might like to try one of those vitamin complexes for the disgruntled elderly, or perhaps even a Mediterranean cruise with ‘Frustrated.’
All those former marketing types who grew prematurely old in the effort to apply crushingly boring demographics to try and work an angle must be simmering with tepid fury. They could have just called people a stupid, non-descriptive name instead. Throw out all those old slide rules, those painfully peecee weeding out questions (‘There’s nothing racist about this, ma’am, nothing at all. We just want to sell you stuff, that’s all. It doesn’t matter if you need, want or can afford any of it, we just want to sell it.’) designed to covertly figure out just how far from ABC 1 you squat on the spectrum. From now on, you’re just what we decide to call you. Simple, isn’t it?
It might even become a game on Facebook (if it hasn’t already). It’ll make a welcome if brief change from all those ice bucket challenges and painful repostings of other people’s dead pets.
What adjective are you? Are you ‘sexy,’ ‘ambitious,’ ‘aspiring,’ ‘happy,’ ‘imbecilic,’ ‘dyspeptic,’ ‘priapic,’ ‘perverted,’ ‘befuddled’ or just plain ‘dead’? Be careful. The one you pick may define you forever.
Oh, before you ask, I already know which one I am. I’m just plain ‘bored.’ I’ve been stuck in this category for some time. I’m wondering if I’ll ever move.
For over a year now, I’ve been seeing numerous variations of the same message on Facebook and other social apps. I am directed to some new piece of media where a celebrity / writer / well meaning type says or does something which definitively ‘takes down’ Donald Trump, or ‘slays’ or ‘skewers’ or somehow sexually humiliates Donald Trump; you get the picture.
The red witch from Game of Thrones must be secretly hanging out in the guy’s entourage, because despite having endured more death blows than Rocky Balboa, Trump is very much still in the land of the standing, and is closer than anyone would have dreamed to parking his butt on the most powerful chair in the world, not to mention acquiring his own stockpile of nuclear weapons.
Unless of course there are serial Trumps: an identical series of bizarre hairstyles wheeled out after each new ritual media slaying. I don’t want to be racist, or for that matter speciesist, but you’ve got to wonder about that orange skin. It may not be as mad as it sounds. The only other alternative would be to realize that polite (or downright nasty) social media slayings simply don’t work on the likes of the Donald.
One might have thought Trump’s own response to the Orlando murders would have done the trick, a sort of self-inflicted stake through the heart perhaps. The response was mean-spirited, crass and tasteless. The initial tweet alone would probably have been enough to end the career of any establishment politician. But it was exactly what you might expect from a creature spawned out of the ooze of Reality TV, and therein lies a clue to the invulnerability of the Donald, and why media and business power elites might actually – in another of those poisonous ironies of which history seems so fond – have written the blueprint for their own destruction.
Not that Trump is some sort of messiah. Don’t get me wrong. You’d want to be a certified cretin to believe that, and it seems that many of us actually are. The idea that an inherited billionaire frat boy has become the lightning rod for the voiceless, the custodian of the sacred wrath of millions, is almost too stupid even for Reality TV, but that’s life right now. Forget irony, even history’s given up on that (it’s just too damn highbrow), let’s just do downright silly instead.
What is most shocking perhaps, most difficult to get your head around and call a concept, is how political elites on both sides of the Atlantic are behaving as though Trumpism is something which has erupted out of nowhere, something that just poured into politics from another dimension. Then again, maybe even this isn’t terribly surprising. In order to keep existing, political elites have to act as though the last fifteen years didn’t happen, or as if the rest of us were somewhere else when they did.
If Hillary Clinton hadn’t lost the Democratic nomination for US President to Barack Obama in 2008, then the most powerful office in the entire world would have been rotated between just two families for 24 years, i.e. an entire generation. What better metaphor could there have been for the way upward mobility has vanished from the West? And there were plenty of muttered suggestions at the time (not muttered very loudly of course) that Obama was actually the preferred choice of the power elite, the more acceptable to the cannibalistic plutocrats of Wall Street and so on.
When Obama was running for re-election in 2012, the Republican candidate for Vice-President, Paul Ryan, had this fantastic soundbyte about how the kids who voted for Obama in 2008 were still sitting in bedrooms in their parents’ houses, still waiting for the economy to improve while staring at fading posters of their idol. Not that Ryan and his ilk would have done a damn thing about any of that, of course, but isn’t it amazing how often the devil gets the best lines?
On both sides of the North Atlantic, hundreds of millions of people are continuing to slide inexorably towards and below the poverty line. They are doing this because of globalisation, because corporations are constantly trying to pare labour costs down as close to starving as possible, and the leaders of government, who went to the same schools and the same frats as the leaders of corporations, are letting them. People are watching themselves become economically extinct, because as another US right wing commentator pointed out, there is no way they can compete with immigrants who are willing to sleep fifteen or twenty to an apartment.
Since the early 1980’s – through Reaganomics in the US, Thatcherism in Britain and the various mutations thereof in other countries – the citizens of the West have been suckered into a giant pyramid scheme. Like all pyramid schemes, it’s worked out just fine for those at the top, while those at the bottom (the great, great majority by the way, don’t tell me I need to remind you of the shape of a pyramid?) are inexorably crushed. The scheme has discarded previously existing social contracts all over the world – the notion that democracy involves a covenant whereby the strong are tied to the weak by some concept, however vague, of fairness and justice – in favour of a free for all where the poor get rapidly poorer and the hyper-rich are propelled at increasing velocity towards becoming almost another species.
There was a time, not long ago, when no one except the extreme left believed that governments would place the interests of hyper-rich, speculative plutocrats ahead of the basic health and housing needs of their citizens, but this is precisely what has happening throughout Europe (with varying levels of severity) since 2008. Living standards have nosedived and basic state services have been butchered as nation states attempt to repay the debts of criminally irresponsible bankers.
There was once a half-conscious assumption that capitalism functioned pretty much like the track, or like betting on a football game, and that those who gambled fortunes sustained the character building experience of paying for their losses themselves. Since 2008 however, the holders of bonds in crashed US and European banks have enjoyed the supposedly impossible experience of having their cake and eating it.
It gets better. Almost no one in the West seems to realize that capitalism as we were taught to know it pretty much died on the day in 2008 when the most right wing US President for eighty years (George W Bush) carried out the biggest nationalization in the history of the world (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac). It’s been dead ever since. Any opportunity it used to offer you and me is dead. Any real risk it entailed to the hyper-rich is dead.
We’ve been shown that almost everything we were taught growing up – about values, about mores, about being responsible for your actions, about hard work and ability bringing just reward – was absolute bullshit, and that it actually all comes down to who starts with the most money, who knows the right people.
Trump and Brexit are two sides of the same thing, happening on opposite sides of the Atlantic. It’s not that people love Trump. Let’s face it, he’s pretty unlovable. No US political figure since Richard Nixon has dared look so ugly on TV, and even Nixon basically just wanted people to love him. Trump practically revels in his unlovability. But he has positioned himself so very cleverly as the conduit for so much of the anger that pervades the bottom of the pyramid, even while saying scarily pharoanic things like how he’d marry his daughter if she wasn’t, like, his daughter.
For the moment though, Trump is far less important than what he represents. That may of course change when he gets his hands on the nukes, but there is no way of knowing where what he represents is ultimately going. Yes, the peasants are revolting. If it seems mad that their champion is a billionaire frat boy, then let us ask ourselves about the last time someone won high office in the West without access to obscene amounts of money.
What people on both sides of the North Atlantic want is an end to the same power elites. It’s not that the British hate Europe. Most of them, believe it or not, actually don’t. What they hate is ageing, past their sell by date politicians and civil servants who refuse to go away, no matter what, pursuing exactly the same policies no matter what, and paying themselves obscene amounts of money no matter what. They want these unchanging power elites gone, and for the moment, they’re not too bothered about what replaces them.
What is most frightening perhaps, is that the same power elites appear to believe they can keep it all going, simply by doing more of the same, by shutting eyes and ears and pretending that Trump somehow isn’t happening.
My own country, Ireland, is an example. Its government’s response to the financial crisis was to slash lower incomes and kick savagely at the poor and ill, all the time spinning furiously about a largely fictitious ‘recovery’ which has benefitted almost nobody. The government which did all that was rejected by voters in unprecedented numbers, yet continues to try and limp on, tinkering pointlessly at the edges of a homeless crisis as if the existing Irish system, which offers outrageous privilege to politicians, big business, senior civil servants and professionals at the expense of just about everyone else, can somehow be kept ticking along infinitely on life support.
Privilege, it seems, is no guarantee of intelligence, and Ireland – like many other places – is headed for choppy waters indeed.
And Trump might just do it, you know. Hillary may be, by the old measures, just about the most qualified person ever to run for US President, but she’s a poor, poor campaigner. She looks even more tired than she did eight years ago, and she looked pretty tired back then. It’s all going to be very interesting.
Perched on a smooth slab of Diamond Rock near Kilkee in Co. Clare, trying to lose my addled head in the fulminations of the ocean: it must have been the ions, or the Iodine, but something positive was being beamed back, I felt … I thought? Some of the waves seemed to erupt out of nothing and charge furiously at some isolated hunk of rock, sticking out of the ocean like some marooned sentinel. As they did, little firewheels of surf began to spit out from behind them, so they looked like angry old men of the sea, straggling their wispy snow white manes as they surged forward to annihilate themselves.
The same old story. I was looking for a form of annihilation myself. Is reinvention the same as annihilation? You must die to the self, or the self to you, I can’t remember. But if you and the self divorce each other finally, then what is left?
As I kept scanning for whatever it was, I noticed something else, something that seemed stubbornly separate from the struggle that’s been going on for billions of years. that endless equilibrium of violence between land and ocean. Strange that so much of what we think we see rests on such balances of mutual hatred, the mutual urge to annihilate and be annihilated. What does this tell us about the mind of God, if the notion of such an entity can be voiced without embarrassment or derision?
There was a pool of foam in the middle distance which wasn’t moving like the others. It was keeping itself apart from all the moon driven surge, or at least pulsing to some other drum beat. It too was destined to die in some ungodly synthesis with the rock, but it would do so far more slowly. It was meandering towards death in a leisurely fashion, something like a balloon. Every so often, it would respond to the choreographed violence around it by fizzing and spitting little vertical gobs. Its snort of derision, perhaps, its assertion of separateness. I am in it but not of it. Just like me. Man’s little graffiti of excreta. His ‘I woz ‘ere but not really like, know what I mean? Know what I mean?
And it occurred to me: there is no vista these days that is not blighted by some sort of mote. You have to train yourself, if you are so minded, to focus on what they call the positive. Ignore the unnatural foam on top of all the pristine violence. But are we not missing something in all this focus. And anyway, was the view really so pristine to begin with?
If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and there’s a lot of evidence that it might be, does this mean we should now fully embrace the corollary? What if the road to Heaven is all about bad intentions? Should we all now embrace our inner bastard?
Wear it loud and proud. If everything we intend is ultimately blown back at us, then why not beat the Universe at its own game? Let’s all become sociopaths. Let’s give even less than a curse for the man next door. Let’s exploit negative capability to its ultimate degree. Stop giving up your seat on the bus to that whining old bag in the corner. She’ll just use the comfort to complain all the more.
Don’t be nice to your or anybody else’s children. The ungrateful bastards don’t appreciate it, and even if they do, that’s just a sign of tragic neediness. Don’t give to the needy. It’s mostly just a balm for your woozy conscience anyway. You think the foul mouthed alkie on the street will be cursing you any less fervently in ten minutes time?
Stop doing favours for people. In particular, never give someone a favour they have asked for. People resent having to ask for favours anyway, so it’s only a matter of time before they start to resent you for demonstrating your power over them. Never vote socialist. Only ever vote for those amoral scumbags who hate your non-millionaire guts but have promised you a tax cut (in fairness, quite a lot of you have already been doing this for some time).
Most of us do all these things, consciously or not, in a half-hearted sort of way. The further away from home charity begins, the better for everyone. If we commit to the creed of sociopathy like true converts, like newly awakened believers, instead of in the usual sleepy, half-assed way, then according to the utterly bent laws of the (apparently) holographic universe, Nirvana can only be a heartbeat away.
I was – I have to confess – fascinated by that whole business some time ago concerning David Cameron and the pig, and no, not for the reason you think I was.
The idea that, back in the day, the future leader of a western democracy might have touched his intimate member to the husk of a dead porker is not, bizarrely enough, all that shocking. I’ve met some of the sons and daughters of our present day oligarchies, and if upward mobility continues to be what it is in western democracies, i.e. essentially non-existent, the pig fondling may one day be the very, very least of our worries. Indeed, imagine if Donald Trump was implicated in a similar scandal? Would he lose much of his fanatical support if he simply said “yeah. I did it. So what? It was a frat boy thing. The Mexicans made me do it. Move on.”
The shadow of pig-gate has long passed from our beleaguered frontal lobes. This is partly because the great majority of us have so much else to worry about: avoiding homelessness, avoiding any prolonged dealings with organs of the state, worrying about the very latest media headlines warning of imminent extinction from the radioactive carcass of a dead pig etc.
But whoever thought up pig-gate is a clever, clever bastard. He’s Tywin Lannister clever. He (let’s assume it was a he) knows enough about humanity and its beleaguered frontal lobes to know that, from now on, no one will ever be able to hear the words ‘David Cameron’ again without thinking of a dead pig and a set of genitalia. Imagine being a poor waiter at one of those European Union gastrofests whose job it is to inform the Prime Minister that one of the items on tonight’s menu is stuffed pork?
It is this which makes me suspect the story isn’t true. It’s too perfect, too gross, too absent of even the tawdriest whiff of redeeming humanity. The pig wasn’t some buxom country wench with whom posh toff Dave enjoyed an orgiastic but ultimately ill starred liaison across a dinner table. He or she wasn’t some lascivious gypsy from a troupe of migrant acrobats, briefly carrying away the heart of impressionable, impressively fresh faced Dave. It can’t even be spun as one of those sentimental episodes of adolescent homosexuality so beloved of the British, because this was a dead pig, not some handsome, sensitive, artistically minded boy.
Human mores have yet to progress to the stage where the delicate emotional tracery of inter-species love is something which can be discussed without sniggers on the editorial page of The Guardian. Some day, perhaps, but not now. And after all, the pig wasn’t even alive. Even the slinkiest spin doctor on the planet is going to have trouble with that.
No, whoever concocted this brew knew exactly what he was at. He may even be a secret devotee of Hunter S Thompson, who ridiculed the various labels thrown on him during his life – racist, misogynist, homophobe, communist etc. – by pointing out that his prejudices were far too broad for such lazy second hand monikers. He was an equal opportunities hater, he said, who believed that all people were basically pigf***ers.
Hip Sounding arts presenter: It is a great privilege, a privilege even greater than the other privileges I have every week on the show, to welcome one of our greatest living poets. Meehawl O Flatuleach recently won the Dr Bob Greaseburner award for poetry for his latest collection ‘Voyages Through Bog Water.” Last year, he received the Tennessee Fried Cabbage Bursary of fifty quid and two free snack boxes for his performance piece entitled ‘Voyage Through My Granny’s Laundry.” He is currently poet in residence at Joseph Goebbels University in High Colonic, North Dakota. Your Excellency, may I call you that? Allow me to genuflect.
Great Poet: Eh, thank you.
Presenter: The deep spirituality of the Irish race has, I know, always been a preoccupation of yours, along with bog water and your Granny’s laundry. Can you offer an explanation as to why you are such a genius?
Great Poet: Well, poetry by its nature is such a mysterious craft, not readily explained to the beer guzzling plebs. There are, as my good friend Bono has said, no people so magnificently spiritual as the Irish, no race that has, through the greatness of its soul, created quite so many fantastically rich pop stars.
Presenter: Nor poets as wonderful as yourself.
Great Poet: Well, heh heh. You’re very kind.
Presenter: Not at all, to even passively breathe the recycled carbon dioxide that has emanated from the mouth of one such as yourself is a privilege granted to very few presenters. Could you, would you just possibly adorn the ears of our unworthy listenership with something from ‘My Granny’s Laundry.’?
Great Poet: Certainly. It will, alas, have to be a short reading. I normally need to lie down for about three hours before attempting to recite, but your station didn’t seem to have a complimentary bed ready.
Presenter: Oh, I do apologise. Foul cutbacks, damn them, out, out damned spot. Oh, they are bean counters made out of stone…
Great Poet: No, no. It’s all right.
Presenter: No really, it’s too much. I wish we kept some kind of ceremonial sword here in the studio, I’d commit seppuku right here and now.
Great Poet: Ah, you must be a bit of a poet yourself.
Presenter: Really? Do you…? [The luminosity of reflected glory makes him unable to speak or breathe. He falls to the floor.]
Great Poet: Oh, right. Well. [He clears his throat, and after a pause of about three minutes, begins to declaim in a trance like voice, something akin to a Buddhist monk in the throes of a paracetamol overdose.]
“old woman’s sheets, livid with carbolic scent
My fourteen year old nose delves, delves
Too quickly and too deeply.
I am drowning in the vast murky spaces
Of your vast laundry basket
Oh open the lid, oh open the lid.
Oh let me breathe, oh let me breathe.”
Muffled voice from floor, regaining consciousness: That was absolutely wonderful.