Dan Boyle: Ism Schism


Dan Boyle

I am sceptical about any Ism, religious or political. I don’t believe that there exists a collective system of belief, that somehow encapsulates an analysis of how we should behave in any given circumstance.

There is no cohesive collection of values, held by anyone, that can guarantee happiness.

At best, in the marketplace of ideas, Isms compete with each other. They test their most valued tenets through the lens of public engagement.

Success is sometimes a short term popularity. Real success is when tested ideas become established values, especially among the secular or the apolitical.

Where Isms are least successful is when they define themselves by what, or who, they are not.

Some Isms, those whose confidence seems to depend on it, exist by defining a mortal enemy, a polar opposite.

Where the defining energy of any movement is not about what you are but what you are not, not about what you are for but what you are against, any ability to persuade has already been lost.

The undermining of any movement occurs when negative traits dominate its thoughts and actions.

With religions the fault lines are when headline teachings, such as encouraging people to be kind and generous to each other, get sidelined by more obscure positions on dogma, such as proscribing sexual expression. Often hypocritically.

With political movements it occurs when popular policies get pursued less vigourlessly, because adherents over concentrate on strategy at the expense of implementation.

For sex with religion read prospective participation in government with politics.

Apparently it isn’t what you do, it’s who you decide to do it with.

Of such Augustinian philosophical contortions have many, invariably left wing, political movements foundered.

The price of losing the precious, ephemeral, quality of political purity matters more to some than having an ability to achieve change.

But purity may not be as pure as it is seems. What is displayed more often is a rigidity of opinion that reveals an incapacity to work with others.

Being rigid. Being prepared to preclude in advance those who need to be persuaded, hardly represents a strategy. Certainly not any effective one.

When urgency demands that the need to persuade be most immediate, refusal to engage is hardly principled. At best it is bloody minded. At worst it is horribly self indulgent.

Being holier than thou can sometimes be a successful political tactic. That doesn’t make it a valid one. Demonisation of others, can help achieve distinctiveness. But it is, ultimately, a hollow exercise in deceit.

Notoriety fades. Popularity mutates. Stand offishness creates it own sense of unfulfilled expectation.

Those who cheerlead from the sidelines tend to be the most faithless of suitors. When fickle enablers are gone, those who remain still need to be convinced.

That may be the only, actual, article of faith.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and serves as a Green Party councillor on Cork City Council. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Pic: Denis Minihane

5 thoughts on “Dan Boyle: Ism Schism

  1. eoin

    Ah now Dan, isn’t there one “ism” which has indeed stood the test of time and unified so many? “Gombeenism”, when politicians put their own lust for power ahead of their principles. I hear there’s one party which is willing to go into government even if its core objectives aren’t embraced.
    As long as the coalition partner embraces “constitutional, democratic and peaceful politics” [which is practically every party in Ireland].
    Shocking, wha?

    1. Dan Boyle

      I don’t have a lust for power. Never have had. If I had I would have joined a political party that had greater opportunities of being in power. My prime motivation has always been to try to get things done. Any glimpse of what I’ve tried to do politically is that I don’t do things because they are seen to be popular, but because I’ve believed them to be right. I’d also suggest that gombeenism is something I’ve opposed throughout my time in political life.

  2. bisted

    …hey Dan…do you have any comment to make on the environmental scientists who have identified over 1000 deaths in Ireland directly attributal to NO2 pollution caused mostly by diesal engines?

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