Bryan Wall: Shock, Isolate, And Denigrate


From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD speaking to the media outside Government Buildings after the first cabinet meeting of 2019 last week; Bryan Wall

The comments made by Leo Varadkar before Christmas were not a mistake made by some gaffe-prone politician. As I wrote previously, he says what he means and he believes what he says.

He is a neo-liberal stalwart whose policies could have been taken directly out of the works of countless neo-liberal ideologues posing as objective economists. For him, the poor are of no concern. Neither are those soon to lose their home to rapacious landlords, banks, or vulture funds.

The slow degeneration of our basic services continues whilst he looks on, occasionally making a comment that is copied and pasted by the mainstream media. A deeper analysis is lacking given the common understanding that one is not meant to question the government, especially its leader.

Consent in this regard is manufactured as to try to parse any of the statements made by Varadkar is to go beyond the acceptable limits of discourse.

What do we find when we place his comments into their rightful context, however?

Perhaps the most potent tactic that capitalism has developed over the previous two centuries has been its uncanny ability to isolate people from each other.

A divide et impera of the general population has been effective in pre-empting dissent for the most part. Division of labour was concomitant with a social and political division. The former could not function without the latter.

One of the best ways to do this is to not only turn people into willing consumers, both materially and ideologically, but is to turn them against each other.

The poor are played up as leeches on the system who contribute nothing whilst the “squeezed middle” toils in order to provide for those who neither appreciate or deserve what they receive from them.

Thusly isolated, the poor can be ignored or removed from sight completely depending on which is more conducive to political success.

Take the government’s initiative on clamping down on welfare fraud that was launched with great publicity in 2017. On the surface it was portrayed simply as a morally upright idea that would also result in the state saving money.

In total, according to The Irish Times, welfare fraud amounted to €38.4 million in 2017. Given that the social protection budget in 2017 came to €19.9 billion – €6.3 billion of which was to service the national debt – €38.4 million is a minuscule number.

Add to this the fact that it was mostly the result of mistakes made by the Department of Welfare itself and we have a non-issue that was given the appearance of systematic fraud in order to make it an issue.

We might ask, for what reason? An answer is obvious given who the government is and who leads it.

To isolate and denigrate those considered as not worthy of care or attention is a common feature of our societies. They can be utilised to shore-up government support in the sense that they are convenient scapegoats for whatever issue is decided upon. In 2017 it was welfare fraud.

Social protections can be made more difficult to access and in some cases cut back given their “generous” nature and those who take unfair advantage of them by committing fraud.

With those dependent on social welfare out of the way the government can focus on supporting and giving back to its own political patrons. This is the real business of government.

Accordingly, when something is said by the government or Leo Varadkar it is to be assumed truthful. So, when the latter claims that we have turned a corner on homelessness and housing it is to be accepted without debate. To question such a statement is deemed uncouth.

But it is nonetheless a signifier in political discourse and how wider society is to be dealt with: What I say is the truth. To deny its truthfulness is to deny reality. And after all, those who deny reality are obviously insane and can therefore be ignored.

So in their proper context, his comments about turning a corner are meant to do nothing more then isolate, and subtly denigrate, those who continue to see homelessness and housing as issues.

And given that they are the major issues of our time, they must be downplayed, ignored, or deflected in whatever manner possible. If this entails the Taoiseach telling journalists that the issue is in the process of being solved, alongside pushing faulty statistics regarding house construction, so be it.

Public relations — or more appropriately, propaganda — does not come cheap. The Taoiseach’s spending in this sense is not unique. Over one million euro being spent by the Taoiseach’s propaganda wing is indicative of his need for a mechanism by which to influence others via traditional and social media.

From here the message is parlayed that everything is on the up and up. What happens when this message is challenged? Denigration mixed with hysteria is another tool in the arsenal of the powerful.

When Pearse Doherty made comments referring to the violence inflicted on the family in Roscommon before Christmas by a mercenary force hired by KBC Bank to evict them, Varadkar was unmoved. Instead, he went on the offensive, telling Doherty that “it doesn’t take long for your balaclava to slip.”

For the Taoiseach, defending one’s self against state-sanctioned violence is beyond the pale. Of course this is unsurprising, but it is nonetheless informative to see such comments made publicly.

Again, it seeks to isolate those who are victims of state-violence, be it structural or physical, in order to better ensure that the market orthodoxy can reign accordingly. In our case it means making sure that the cries of those under the boot of market discipline are cast aside. This is a must if the continuing shock therapy of the country is to proceed as planned.

Isolation is a form of torture. In prisons the hugely negative effects – both mental and physical – of solitary confinement on a person are well-known. Perhaps for this very reason its use continues to be sanctioned. In our own country we are seeing isolation on a mass scale. It has been generalised to the wider population.

When Leo Varadkar insists that things are getting better or that we have turned a corner, he is enforcing isolation on wide swathes of the population.

The poor, the homeless, the mentally ill, and the sick are all isolated from each other, from those who are happy with the domination of the two-party status quo, and from those occupying higher rungs on the socioeconomic ladder. This is not an accident.

How can this be anything but a form of torture? Shock, isolate, and denigrate. These are the policies of the government and its leader that are directed at people who are not commensurate with the needs of the state and its backers.

Any resistance to this can be met with the necessary violence. People sometimes must be reminded of their place in the system.

For a lot of us in Ireland in 2019, our position puts us in a situation where rents are unaffordable, homelessness is rampant and a very real possibility for many, and the healthcare system is collapsing on its way to full privatisation. Combating the immiseration of an entire country is not a simple undertaking.

On the other hand, we have nothing to lose but our chains.

Bryan Wall is an independent journalist based in Cork. His column appears here every Monday. Read more of his work here and follow Bryan on twitter:  @Bryan_Wall


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42 thoughts on “Bryan Wall: Shock, Isolate, And Denigrate

  1. Starina

    Don’t forget: we didn’t vote in Varadkar. he inherited the position, like any good little rich boy who thinks he got where he is by hard work.

    1. rotide

      oh good jesus christ not this again.

      Seeing as we’ve had entire governments that ‘we didn’t vote in’ (we actually did), it’s just ridiculous to keep banging on this tripe.

      He was elected by the people and his party.

      Now concentrate on actual gripes.

        1. rotide


          Even you have the ability to vote Ron. You don’t even have to write anything, just be able to count to about 5

          1. Ron

            No not everyone. Just you. You are the only one that doesn’t understand. All the time. You are consistent in your not understanding.

          2. ReproBertie

            I’ll certainly never understand how any Irish person could believe that we should put Britain’s interests before Ireland’s.

          3. Ron

            you should have just stopped after the fourth word in your rant. Did you educate yourself on what a democratic deficit is?

      1. Optimus Grime

        I think you will find that t he majority of the party actually voted for Coveney and it was the ministerial vote that got Leo elected

        1. rotide

          As i think you will find that the majority of people voted for Hillary and it was the congressional college that got Trump elected.

          In other words, that’s how elections work.

  2. phil

    IMO , this situation cant be fixed locally , the ‘rigged market capitalism’ system we participate in would not allow us swing to the center. there will need to be a revolution in the UK or US before we can make any change here. We could completely get out of the game unilaterally , but I suspect we would have no friends and we are not self sufficient enough to survive outside global markets…

  3. Liza-Lu

    Bryan, it’s even worse than that. It is not merely shock isolate and denigrate the poor. It is shock isolate and denigrate the poor to keep those who aren’t – who might otherwise object or speak out against any of Varadkar’s policies- scared in case they might by inadvertently ‘step out of line’ and in so doing become one of those reviled. With all the ability of human nature to deny things that scare them, they then become Varadkar’s biggest backers. A psychological feat worthy of Lord Berners.

    Well done to you and Broadsheet for highlighting this behaviour by our self-appointed political ‘elite’ (elite by no other standards, in fact, if we stop being afraid and open our eyes to their mediocrities) and their spin doctors.

  4. Cian

    You accuse Leo Varadkar of various things. One is that he (somehow) sanctions violence.

    This is what he actually[1] said during the debate: “I condemn violence and thuggish behaviour by anyone under any circumstance.”

    You then go on to mention “state-sanctioned violence”, “victims of state-violence”, and “necessary violence”. But none of these are relevant to the discussion as they only exist in your head.

    “What I say is the truth. To deny its truthfulness is to deny reality. And after all, those who deny reality are obviously insane and can therefore be ignored.” — Bryan Wall, 7th January 2019



        1. Liza-Lu


          Followed through, your reasoning would appear to be:-

          Because Leo Varadkar condemns violence in the abstract, then no act endorsed or regarded as acceptable by him can ever be thuggish or violent.

          Look at what people do, not what they say. What Varadkar regards as acceptable conduct, many regard as both thuggish and violent in the metaphorical sense, and indeed sometimes in the literal sense also, such as the Roscommon eviction.

          And it’s a good idea, if you want to be taken seriously, to avoid throwing unnecessary mental health allegations at people you are debating with. They say nothing about the person you aim them at and everything about you and the culture of automatic obedience and fear and hatred of vulnerability Bryan is criticising, which you seek to defend.

          Far from rebutting, your responses just underline his point.

          1. Cian

            No. The onus is on Bryan Wall to show examples of the violence that he relies on to support his later points. He failed to provide any examples – so his later points are moot.

            I wasn’t “throwing unnecessary mental health allegations at people”. I was saying that unless he can demonstrate the alleged “state-sanctioned violence” then these are figments of his imagination. Having an imagination isn’t a mental health issue.

          2. anne

            Example : Roscommon

            There was no condemnation of Rambo & crew from up north pulling three members of a family out of their home by their ears. But yeah, he doesn’t condone violence.

          3. Cian

            he literally said: “I condemn violence and thuggish behaviour by anyone under any circumstance.” (my emphasis)

            he also said: “It is important to point out that the eviction order was executed following a High Court hearing. Nobody likes to see anyone being evicted in any circumstance. Nobody wants to see it happening, particularly in the run-up to Christmas. However, the High Court does not issue eviction orders lightly. In Ireland 116,000 mortgages have been restructured. Some 116,000 people have sought help and had their mortgages restructured, yet only 400 eviction orders have been executed in the last year. ”

            ‘Rambo & crew’ were acting lawfully. The court have access to all details surrounding this case. I don’t; and I suspect you don’t. The court made a decision. The family were illegally occupying the bank’s house.

          4. kellMA

            @ Anne what do you suggest should be done here? A loan applicant fails to make repayments on their loan as agreed. The consequences are made clear at the time of entering into the agreement. The loan applicant consistently fails to keep up their end of the bargain. Years they remain in an asset they are not paying for and then refuse to leave when ordered. What do you suggest the bank should do?

          5. anne

            Ban Vultures.Restructure loans where possible. Don’t turf people out onto the street until alternative accommodation is in place. We want a civilised society, even for those who fall on hard times.

          6. Rob_G

            @ kellma – Anne doesn’t believe that any home should be repossessed, ever – including buy-to-lets where the landlords are not paying their mortgages (but still collecting the rents, of course).

          7. anne

            @ Kellma, it’s great all that other people’s thinking Rob G thinks he can do.

            All these imaginary completely delinquent borrowers suit the agenda of repossessions and enriching the vultures. When the figures show this isn’t the case.

          8. kellMA

            @ Anne that is all well and good but not practical. This is a financial instrument and why should the bank bear all the risks? Are people not expected to be responsible for any of their own decisions anymore? “Society” and the safety net is only meant to go so far. We are autonomous human beings.
            The loans sold off by AIB recently were ONLY commercial loans. There were no PPRs in that book sale. Banks will restructure and do restructure loans where the individual engages. But there has to be a point where the can is kicked no further down the road.
            In this day and age where unemployment is v low, the people at the centre of these loan issues are more than likely not destitute and/or have been sticking their head in the sand/playing the system for the guts of 5-6 years. We are talking about years of non-payment here, not months.

    1. GiggidyGoo

      Violence doesn’t necessarily have to physically wound someone. It may be one of the definitions but it’s not the only one. GIYF

        1. Giggidygoo

          Are you and Mary Lou married or what? There’s a distinct lack of thought in both of your posts (that’s putting it mildly)

      1. MaryLou's ArmaLite

        The hypocrisy of you SF/IRA fanboys, I can’t say I’m surprised because it is so woven into the fabric of your existence you don’t even know it is there.

        1. Ron

          lol. What did they do to you? Have you secured medical help for yourself when they go into Government?

      2. Cian

        ‘Violence doesn’t necessarily have to physically wound someone’
        Do you think this article is talking about some sort of non-physical violence?

        Context is important.

  5. Paulus

    On a less important note; has Leo been having hair-root treatment – similar to James Nesbitt?
    And if so, does this come out of the communication budget?

  6. Joe Small

    The article reads like the €6.3 billion to serve the national debt is actually part of the €19.9 billion social welfare budget, which of course is nonsense.

  7. f_lawless

    slight tangent but I was reading this interesting post by Miki Kashtan Ph.D, provocatively titled “Why Patriarchy Is Not About Men” .The writer views capitalism as sitting on top of the patriarchy which is the original blueprint of relationships of dominance and submission, separation and control.. But through the millennia it has evolved into something that does not suit the needs of most men as is sometimes claimed.
    A”Why patriarchy and not some other word? Because, at least in the European historical lineage, which later affected many other cultures through colonial contact, the shift to separation and control coincided with making paternity central. How paternity came to be central after it wasn’t for 97% of the existence of Homo Sapiens is way beyond what a blog post can address. What is important to note, though, is that once paternity becomes important, controlling women is inevitable, because only by controlling women can it be reliably known who the father is. There is an irreducible distance between the biological father and the offspring that can only be eliminated fully by imprisoning a woman and preventing any other man from having access to her. This is why patriarchal societies by necessity become societies of control and separation. We have become so habituated to this state of affairs that most of us don’t even see that it is our own creation.”

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