From top: Darren Scully: George Hook and Tony Groves
Something is very broken in our society. It’s not waiting in the long grass to catch us, it is happening on the margins.
A large constituency of people are comfortable with and supportive of beliefs and behaviours that should be confined to the past.
The fact that the misogyny, racism, xenophobia and socioeconomic class warfare is on the margins should not comfort us in the slightest.
The margin, when you think about it, is a conceptualised border; a set of constraints that we in the ‘centre’ are forced to operate within.
But margins can fluctuate; they can relax or tighten. We can break down borders with events like the end of Apartheid, or voting for marriage equality. But the most recent topical events point to margins that are tightening.
Whether it’s Trump’s latest racist plan to deport people, or an Islamophobic Fine Gael Councillor tweeting up a storm, or George Hook victim blaming women who have been subjected to the brutality of sexual assault, one thing is abundantly clear; such views are widely held and growing.
The other thing that’s clear is that progressive values just aren’t progressing like we’d have hoped in 2017.
Comment Sections light up with toxicity. Links of Alt Right ‘news’ sites get shared and angry (mostly white men) internet trolls vent their spleen at those they feel are less than. If only it were only the internet trolls but it’s not.
When Fine Gael Cllr Brian Murphy was rightly denounced by the Fine Gael Party this week an interesting thing happened to me.
Josephea Madigan – TD, Dublin Rathdown tweeted that she joined the “party of opportunity for all”, I (foolishly?) replied with a screenshot of Darren Scully, Fine Gael’s former Mayor of Naas, who said “he would not take on representations from Africans”. Josephea, as is her right, promptly blocked me.
If Darren Scully hadn’t left Fine Gael, rejoined Fine Gael and then went on to blame the parents of Aylan Kurdi for his death, you could almost put his racist views down to a one off. But it wasn’t and it isn’t.
There’s a racist cohort attracted to power and right wing ideology. In Irish politics, no matter how they don’t like to admit it, Fine Gael are that party.
There’s a social psychology concept called Moral Licensing, it’s defined: past good deeds can liberate individuals to engage in behaviours that are immoral, unethical, or otherwise problematic. Basically it’s moral math, you do something good in order to give yourself the licence to do something bad.
Here in Ireland, we can observe Moral Licensing by observing the people who voted for marriage equality, but still express homophobic views, as if they’re vote gives them a lifelong pass to be homophobic. Some of these people are our friends, colleagues and family members.
We can address the issue with them, or we can block it out and allow these “marginal views” to fence us in. Sometimes blocking it out is just easier. But nothing worthwhile comes easy, especially not equality.
George Hook has apologised and that’s to be welcomed. I’m not going to question the sincerity of his apology. I would question his understanding of why people were so upset at his views.
The earlier misstep of having a section on his radio show called “Here Come the Girls” is not a good deed that licenses him to be so hurtful, unintentionally or not. George can continue to broadcast as long as Newstalk will have him. We can all just move the dial.
Daniel Effron, Associate Professor at the London Business School, used Moral Licensing to observe people who voted for Barack Obama. He discovered that “when white participants could point to racist alternatives to their past actions, they felt they had obtained more evidence of their own virtue”.
In moral sums it meant that a significant chunk of people who voted for America’s first Black President used this “good deed” to return to their racist views. He’d unknowingly identified many of the voters who would go on to elect Donald Trump.
I did my own little observation experiment, a google cross referenced word search, hardly definitive.
By linking the names of my three Local TDs, Roisin Shortall, Dessie Ellis and Noel Rock to the term Direct Provision, I discovered that only Deputies Shortall and Ellis have worked towards ending this human rights abuse in our midst. Again, hardly scientific, but not unsurprising either.
Deputy Noel Rock, to give him is due, went on the air with George Hook to assure the public that Councillor Murphy’s views were not representative of Fine Gael. I’m not sure whether that’s moral licensing, defending the shield, or just pushing back against marginal elements?
When Leo Varadkar became Taoiseach he declared that “prejudice has no hold in this Republic”.
At this point it seems important to point out that both Councillor Brian Murphy and Councillor Darren Scully supported Leo Varadkar for the Fine Gael leadership.
Moral Licensing? You do the maths.
Tony Groves is a full-time financial consultant and part-time commentator. With over 18 years experience in the financial industry and a keen interest in politics, history and “being ornery”, he has published one book and writes regularly at Trickstersworld