Author Archives: Eamonn Kelly

From top: Tanaiste Leo Varadkar at Burke Joinery in Kylemore, Dublin 10 last week; Eamonn Kelly

Leo Varadkar was photo-opping the other day with a huge machine that planes and finishes sheets of prefabricated timber. Leo walked alongside the machine with his hand on the edge of the sheet of timber as the machine did its thing. It was bit like standing at the rear of a vehicle and leaning on it with your hand as the vehicle begins to move, taking credit for the “skill” of the engine causing the vehicle to move.

Apart from the photo op being a compelling demonstration of advanced automation, further supporting the argument for an introduction of a basic income, the photo op was rich in numerous unintended messages.

One, it demonstrated that Leo Varadkar knows nothing about manual labour, which tends to involve a little bit more than walking beside a machine, calling instead for investment of muscle, sinew and bone that, over time, leads to a consequent shortening of life.

It also demonstrates that the now Tánaiste’s PR team are still active on public money in using that money to play perception magician with the public.

Sexy Apprentices

The idea of sexing up trade apprenticeships comes with the realisation that the higher aspirations of college credentials and the types of white collar careers such credentials used to deliver are now suffering from the fact that there simply aren’t enough white-collar careers to go around.

The idea is also attractive from an elitist political point of view in that you with your college career – despite what you may be hearing about the value of “skills” – will always be a step ahead of those who don’t have a college education. College education matters. It matters a great deal. It matters particularly in money management and business skills.

Like most things party political, this idea that apprenticeships are a credible alternative to further education only looks to a short-term future.

While it is true that having a manual skill in the trades is a good thing, it is only a good thing in an ideal world. And while the promise of apprenticeships in the trades sounds good on the face of it, the fact is the trades are being decimated by automation and by the privatisation of housing development.

Education is also being decimated by monetisation, so now it barely even delivers the founding promise of the academy, and instead often traps students into long term debt. Both are being decimated by neo-liberal policies, the very policies that Varadkar stands for.

Back In The Day

Back in the 1960s and 1970s Fianna Fáil generated employment in the trades by embarking on vast social housing programmes, something Fine Gael are ideologically opposed to. Which begs the question, what are all those apprentices supposed to do when they acquire the skills of whatever trade they plump for?

The answer of course is, emigrate. Which is probably the idea anyway since emigration has served Ireland’s ruling class so well over the last fifty years, acting as a safety valve that kept their political seats and business interests safe from youthful, hungry competition.

So what is this photo and this encouragement towards the trades all about? Well, in the parlance of building workers it’s called “blowing smoke up your hole”.

It’s designed to make the politician look good and make it seem like he’s looking to the future, but is in fact a ruse to make people lower their ambitions and expectations and be willingly redirected towards lives as manual workers in an automated neo-liberal world that will in all likelihood have no real use for them.

It is a short-term distraction to take away from the fact that in reality all the seats are taken – there are only so many professors the world needs – and the fact that a basic income is the only realistic way forward to ensure a stable society, something neo-liberals like Varadkar simply cannot countenance.

Class Consciousness

Ultimately Varadkar represents a class interest that depends for its superiority on the existence of malleable lower classes. This promotion of apprenticeships and manual work looks to create and enhance an uneducated service class.

The alternative, given the realities of automation and the sheer lack of career opportunity, which will also, by the way, apply to manual work, is to introduce a basic income and to make third level education free to those that want it, in order that the ideals of the academy be honoured, and the bankers preying on students be run off the campuses.

Further to this, a public works programme should be embarked upon, to provide homes for people and the opportunity of practical application for apprentices who wish to learn a trade. Not providing such realistic opportunities in the field for apprentices creates another monetized education system, which is probably the idea.

Varadkar and other neo-liberals will not even consider these options since these would have the effect of removing the only thing that gives them status: the existence of an uneducated underclass.

The result is this short-term stop-gap idea designed to keep them in power in the short term while they think up ways of ensuring their ongoing survival as a political class, even despite their antiquated ideas.

The problem is that their determination to pretend that it is still 1960 is to create a widening split between haves and have-nots and all the social inequality and unrest that this entails.

Suggesting that everyone learn a trade because the white-collar seats are already filled is a stop-gap measure for politics lacking in vision suitable to the times.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

From top The Irish Times, August 17 and August 26; Eamonn Kelly

It was never my intention to become some kind of ongoing critic of radical feminism. But I have noticed a pattern in how radical feminists deal with criticism, a pattern that others don’t appear to be reporting on or discussing.

The strategies radical feminists use to counteract criticism seem to be mainly concerned with tarnishing and maligning the critic. What used to be called, shooting the messenger. At least this is my impression.

The Irish Times in recent weeks has become an active outlet for this type of strategy, in the wake of what radical feminists are calling “the backlash”.

On August 26, The Irish Times published an article by The Guardian writer Laura Bates, with the rationally balanced, impartial, benign and non-inflammatory title of “The Rise of a Toxic Male Separatist Movement Who Hate Women”.

The piece was a promotion of Laura Bates’ new book maligning some men for taking the decision to avoid women who seem to those men to be overly hostile towards masculinity.

To put it absurdly, her book maligns men tired of being maligned by people like her for now avoiding people like her. Their dislike of being maligned now worn as a badge of victimhood by Bates to justify further maligning.

Ironically, a week or so earlier The Irish Times published one of those now jaded, supposedly humorous articles about “mansplainers” and so on, titled “Men To Avoid”, taking the ridicule angle on masculinity.

It seems it’s okay for women to avoid some men, but not okay for men to avoid some women. It would make you wonder what manner of machinations are going on in some back office in The Irish Times.

Cathy Newman

The failings of this strategy to discredit critics, or just people tired of being maligned, were most clearly and cruelly revealed a couple of years back in Channel 4’s now infamous 2018 interview of Dr Jordan Peterson by Cathy Newman. What the interview revealed was a startling lack of ability by Newman to engage in a fair debate.

Instead her strategy appeared to revolve around a determined effort to ignore references to scientific studies, accompanied by an equally determined effort to personally discredit the interviewee and provoke him to anger, which, if successful, could then presumably be framed as male anger and construed as an indicator of latent violent tendencies.

After that interview, a sympathetic Guardian journalist, Nosheen Iqbal, interviewed Cathy Newman about the interview and used the occasion to malign Peterson as “alt-right”, a charge he by now wearily denies. Newman used the same Guardian interview to assert that all men who critique feminism’s maligning of masculinity have hidden agendas.

Jordan Peterson

Jordan Peterson came to prominence in his opposition to Canada’s bill c16, which, he claimed, would mean that the improper use of a pronoun could be construed, in certain contexts, as hate speech.

Peterson’s opposition to the bill became controversial because the issue that had prompted the bill was a trans/gender issue.

This resulted in an invasion by student protestors of a lecture Peterson was scheduled to give at McMaster University in Ontario in 2017, on the grounds, in the estimation of the protesters, that anything Peterson said was hate speech.

This allowed the protesters, in their own estimation, to cancel his right to free speech, which they did by yelling slogans and standing in front of him at the head of the lecture theatre, drawing a banner like a curtain between him and his audience.

Peterson responded by taking the lecture and his audience out to the car park where he advised his audience to resist being provoked to anger by the protesters, and to simply allow them their freedom of expression so that the limitations of their expression could be clearly seen and heard.

So You’re Saying…

Feminists often counter criticism with similar obstructionist strategies and name-calling. The critic is framed as a misogynist, or is ridiculed, or is accused of having a hidden agenda and so on.

The strategy seems to be to simply silence and malign the critic, without making any attempt to debate the questions posed by the critic.

In the case of Cathy Newman’s interview with Jordan Peterson, Peterson undermined the strategy by keeping his cool and concentrating on the debate. Once he refused to respond to name-calling, Newman quite literally had nothing to offer the debate.

Many saw Newman’s repeated “So your saying…” approach as an attempt to misrepresent the interviewee by reframing his comments. But another take on this by cartoonist and satirist Scott Adams is far more interesting.

Adams saw Newman’s constantly repeated “so you’re saying…” as evidence of cognitive dissonance in the face of an irrefutable argument backed by science, and the dismantling of what Newman had taken to be a rock-solid belief system, (the patriarchy), clashing with her own professionalism as an objective journalist.

This collision of conflicting ideas and loyalties had the effect of causing Newman to kind of mentally short circuit, falling into that loop of “so you’re saying…” in the vain hope of somehow re-framing a losing position.

(Credit must go to Channel 4 for choosing to broadcast the 30-minute interview in its entirety. It  is one of the best available demonstrations of the limitations of this destructive mode of discourse favoured by radical feminists.)

Backlash

After that interview, as already mentioned, The Guardian helped to paper over the cracks by suggesting that Peterson is a product of the alt right.

But this attempt to tarnish Peterson after the fact was the same strategy that failed for Newman in the actual interview; was the same strategy employed by the students in McMaster, and is the same strategy currently being pursued by The Irish Times in a misguided attempt to counter the supposed “backlash” being suffered by the feminist movement.

But there is no “backlash”, there is simply criticism which is not being responded to, apart from the by now routine attempts to malign and discredit the critics. In fact, this is the main criticism: that these attempts to discredit masculinity seem to many men to be overt expressions of misandry.

The impression you’re left with is that this is a mode of argument – a deliberate undermining of debate – that has worked quite well in university women’s studies group, but when exposed in the real world its shortcomings are evident.

The inevitable response to a debate that cannot be dominated by either post-modern re-contextualising or attempts to discredit the opponent, is to simply shout down the opponent so that no debate is possible, as happened in McMaster.

Conclusion

After the incident in McMaster, Jordan Peterson said that he felt that the students had been let down by their own teachers and had been misled into an intolerant ideology.

Similarly, readers of The Irish Times and The Guardian are being let down and misled by editors in those newspapers who appear to feel justified, in the interests of gender equality, to publish articles maligning and ridiculing masculinity.

But it is disappointing that both papers seem blind to the fact that what they are participating in is the dissemination of gender prejudice and the deliberate undermining of rational debate.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

From top: Arts Minister Catherine Martin at the Jack B Yeats exhibition in The Model in Sligo on last week; Eamonn Kelly

Leisure the Basis of Culture

One of the arguments frequently put to government by the arts fraternity when seeking arts funding is that the arts create revenue. While this is a good argument, it has the unfortunate effect of placing the arts squarely in the economy’s utilitarian tool-shed, making of the arts what Thomas Aquinas called the servile arts, as opposed to the liberal arts.

The difference between the two is that the liberal arts have no end but their own end, while the servile arts are those arts and sciences that are essentially appropriated by the state to achieve specific goals for the state.

In literary terms it is like the difference between the Soviet literature of socialist realism, designed to glorify the revolution, and Solzhenitsyn depicting awkward to explain hardships in the Siberian wastes.

The reason why the money-making angle seems like the only concrete argument to be made for arts funding is because the world of the economy is now so all-encompassing. We live in a time where every activity must serve the economy. As soon that happens, the liberal arts virtually cease to exist.

So, the argument that the arts is good for the economy, as a way of convincing hard-nosed and often ignorant politicians that arts funding is justified, has the effect of destroying the very ground on which the liberal arts is of any use to the common good.

Because it is precisely in their perceived “uselessness” that the arts are “useful”; but only if they are permitted to be “useless”. The point is, you can’t understand the value of the liberal arts by the yardstick of the economy, or, what the philosopher Josef Pieper calls the world of “total work”.

While right-wing enthusiasts of hard work for others like Leo Varadkar might claim that getting up early in the morning is a “good”, the book of Job tells us that “God giveth songs in the night.”

In this respect the coronavirus has thrown us a life-line, an opportunity to avail of Pieper’s “power of leisure” to maybe find a way of dreaming up some climate disaster escape plans.

Leisure and Culture

Josef Pieper’s book, “Leisure The Basis of Culture”, published in 1947 when the world was rebuilding after the war, provides a sustained argument which sets out to show that the modern world, the world of “total work” as he calls it, is actually having the effect of pushing the arts and humanities towards extinction.

His argument is, generally, that a concentration on utilitarian ends will have the effect of hollowing out the human experience, essentially creating a kind of rot in the culture.

The irony of this is, that in the ongoing degradation of the arts and other methods by which people use the power of leisure to gain perspective and transcend the workaday world, the ability to even perceive the prison walls that the world of total work creates, also becomes dimmed.

Evidence of this rot of culture he sees in the changed aspect of the academy.

Pieper writes:

“Perhaps the reason why ‘purely academic’ has sunk to mean something sterile, pointless and unreal is because the scholar has lost its roots in religion. And so, instead of reality we get a world of make-believe, of intellectual ‘trompe l’oeil’ [optical illusion], and cultural tricks and traps and jokes…”

It is exactly this type of intellectual trickery that informs post-modern argument and cancel culture. While the universities themselves, site of these linguistic games, far from being academies of free thinking and intellectual exploration are often little more than economic traps, where banks prey on youth to deceive them into lifetimes of debt.

In that regard, Pieper’s world of “total work” has already completely over-run the academy, turning free thought and intellectual exploration, and arts and culture in general, into commodities for the market to feed on, in a marketplace devoid of any pretense towards acknowledging the divine in cultural activity.

You Are Your Own Detective

In a New Yorker article from 1996, “Why I Wrote ‘The Crucible’”, Arthur Miller distilled the essence of the problem posed to freedom of expression by both the Salem Witch trials and McCarthyism. In both cases, he said, it was never so much about actions being taken by individuals, as it was about the uncovering of hidden intentions.

This, ironically is also, according to Aristotle, the aim of art: “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” It is as if cancel culture is a distortion of artistic aims.

The idea is also very similar to Orwell’s thought crime, where even the person committing the “crime” may not be aware of their own thought crime.

A similar idea is found in Milan Kundera’s “The Art of the Novel” when discussing Kafka’s “The Trial”. The black joke at the heart of Kafka’s novel is that K is never charged with a specific offence, but is left to guess what his offence might be. He must find his own hidden intention. His own crime.

These days however, we can’t even trust the accused to do that much. What if they don’t find their crime? What if they don’t even try and just continue along as before, brazenly saying anything they please?  What then? This is why, presumably, we must have a process of “cancellation”. Is that not like a euphemism for death?

Flawed Individuals

While thinking this through I happened also to be thinking about Heather Humphreys’ suggestion that artists should retrain for different occupations, and it occurred to me that this might simply mean sending them through JobPath.

The fundamental idea that JobPath is predicated on, that the unemployed must be “helped” to see what it is about them personally that has caused them to be unemployed – in other words the discovery of the personal “flaw” that is causing their unemployment – is similar to cancel culture’s fundamental idea that anyone who speaks against cancel culture or offers any criticism is only doing so for ulterior motives, and are most likely harbouring hidden misogynistic, racist or sexist intentions.

The point is, whatever the critic of an accusatory ideology might be, whether they are criticising Senator McCarthy or the crazed dot-joining of a witch-hunter, they can never be seen to be right. Because if the accused is right, then the accuser is wrong. But the accuser simply can’t be wrong, otherwise the entire edifice of the ideology collapses.

Denial is Guilt

So, like in Salem or in McCarthyism, everything a person says in their defence, once accused, intensifies the suspicion that they are merely hiding a negative intention.

With JobPath if you argue that automation or over-competition, or too few opportunities etc is causing unemployment, this is taken as evidence of your personal laziness. No cognizance can be admitted pertaining to the realities of the external world. The customer is always wrong. The system depends entirely on this one idea.

Similarly, if you critique cancel culture and radical feminism this is taken as misogyny. Again, the flaw is perceived as residing in the individual, who must then be “fixed”; and not in the ideology that is imposing itself on the individual.

It’s like the floating witch conundrum. If she sinks, she is not a witch. She is, however, unfortunately, dead, not to put too fine a point on it. It’s a lose-lose situation. As Senator McCarthy might have said, Of course you deny you’re a Russian spy. What else would a Russian spy do but deny the charge?

Ultimately the hidden intention must be dug out of you, as O’Brien digs the confession out of Winston Smith in 1984. And even then, it is not enough to confess in order to put an end to the interrogation. You must come over to the other side, willingly. You must abase yourself. You must be shown to be empty of meaning at the feet of the triumphant ideology.

Compliance

What is interesting is that on this question of insisting that the individual is flawed and not the ideology, both right-wing conservatives and leftist social justice advocates, appear to be of one mind in the view that opposition to their respective ideologies is driven by a personal flaw or hidden agenda in those who critique their ideologies.

It is in the protection of flawed ideologies from scrutiny or critique that extreme right and extreme left appear to meet. But the situation closes down the possibility of development of an argument, since all arguments are ultimately perceived as fake or phoney, the very thing that ideologies tend to be.

Ideologies, no matter how different or politically opposite they may seem, are always opposed to rationality and creative thinking in favour of habituated systems designed to answer all questions, even before such questions are even asked. All the individual has to do is to agree that the flaw is in themselves, like original sin.

In this type of arrangement, creativity and free thinking are problems. Compliance is favoured.

It would appear that all sides, regardless of the political spectrum, are playing by the same fundamental rules. The goal is to discover those who are deemed undeserving of promotion due to personal limitations or potential hidden negative intentions.

The cause of these increasingly desperate selective procedures may be simply due to over-population and a consequent narrowing of opportunity, leading inevitably to conflict.

Much of the pressure and desperation could be relived immediately with the introduction of a basic income. It really is the only thing to do, and would have the effect too of freeing up the dreamers to go to work dreaming a way out of this fine climate mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.

Conclusion

Use it or lose it, they used to say, and in a world of granite ideologies there is no time or space for creative thinking. The ideologies supposedly have all the answers.

In the world of total work as described by Pieper, the capacity to transcend that world through the traditional methods of religion and the arts also atrophies.

But it is from these sacred places, as people commune with the divine in active leisure, that all the progress and technical perks of the modern world were initially dreamt up.

Pieper describes how we may even delude ourselves into settling for the fake.

He writes that worse than the extinction of spiritual and imaginative experiences that transcend the world of total work,

“is their transformation, their degradation, into sham and spurious forms…Religion can be debased into magic…prayer can be perverted into a sort of technique whereby life…is feasible…love can assume a debased form in which all the powers of devotion are bent to serve the ends of a limited ego…pseudo art and a spurious poetry, instead of bursting through the vault of the workaday world, merely paint deceptive ornamentation…these spurious forms combine…to close every window…and then man really is imprisoned in the world of work.”

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

Photocall Ireland

From left at top: Senator Michael McDowell, Louise Byrne and Ebun Joseph, of UCD, on last night’s Prime Time; Eamonn Kelly

Cancel Culture

The RTÉ One Prime Time discussion last night on cancel culture, hosted by Louise Byrne, involving the removal of four statues from outside the Shelbourne Hotel, was a timely demonstration of how perplexing cancel culture can be. The row appears to have been ignited by Niall O’ Dowd of Irish Central, the Irish American website.

The contention, put forward by Ms Ebun Joseph of UCD Black Studies department on Prime Time, was that the statues represented white privilege and black servitude.

Senator Michael McDowell, representing white privilege, I guess, and it was fair casting, it has to be said, held that the statues were of two Egyptian women with ankle bracelets, whereas Ms Joseph held that they were two African women in shackles.

Ms Ebun challenged Senator McDowell to consult with Egyptian archaeologists to support his contention that the ankle chains were bracelets.

But in an equal world it was equally incumbent on Ms Joseph to consult with experts to confirm if the chains were shackles. Though she appeared to believe that the responsibility to consult experts was McDowell’s alone.

Since neither had consulted with experts it was now a clear difference of opinion by two non-experts; the epitome really of cancel culture.

Though, given the implicit understandings of cancel culture, this particular argument seemed unfairly weighted in pitching an African woman against a white middle-aged, heterosexual man who, as everyone knows by now, by the rules of cancel culture, is usually the villain. You sense a woman’s touch in the rigging of the debate.

Interestingly, in a film montage before the debate, various individuals accused or convicted of sex crimes were shown; Woody Allen, Louis CK, Harvey Weinstein, Roman Polanski; but not Bill Cosby. This had the effect of suggesting, in guilt by association, that white men in particular were on trial.

Over these images the voice of Tina Sikka, a lecturer in media and culture from Newcastle University, described cancel culture as public censure and, in the case of people working in the creative arts, may result in, as she put it, “a little bit of a media blackout.”

This attempt to downplay the destructive effect of cancel culture is totally counter to the warning issued in the Harper’s letter of a few weeks ago.

Louise Byrne’s introduction to the segment appeared to share this view of cancel culture as a perfectly legitimate practise, insinuating that those opposed to cancel culture, ie, all the signatories of the Harper’s letter, were being a bit precious.

The subsequent discussion ended…nowhere really.

All we know is that following a suggestion by someone in the US who consulted Irish Central, that the statues outside the Shelbourne Hotel are now “cancelled”; albeit voluntarily, since the Shelbourne management removed them, in fear, apparently, of transgressing the new codes imposed by cancel culture.

Street Fight

The Harper’s letter a few weeks back, warning of cancel culture’s threat to freedom of speech was like coming across a street fight that causes you to avert your eyes and hurry on past thinking, it’s got nothing to do with me.

With the Harper’s letter the fight seemed to be about J.K. Rowling who appeared to have gotten herself into a squabble with some transgender people; and Salman Rushdie who, as far as you can recall, got into some kind of bother some years back with Islamic extremists who wanted to kill him.

This is not a fight that you want to be involved in.

You notice that the mainstream press also seems disinterested, careful even, inclined to only mention Rowling and Rushdie as being among the signatories of the Harper’s letter.

The Irish Times and the Irish Indo report the existence of the Harper’s letter but offer no opinion on the matter. Are the mainstream press intimidated? As the Shelbourne management apparently were?

If a view is volunteered, as The Guardian dared to do, it tends towards the idea that the signatories of the Harper’s letter are piqued because everyone has freedom of speech now via social media, and the elite simply want their exclusivity back.

This is cancel culture’s argument, based on the feminists’ idea of a patriarchy controlling social structures. But you find it hard to imagine someone of the status and vintage of Noam Chomsky, another signatory, being overly preoccupied by such petty concerns.

Cancelling

John Banville, an Irish writer of impeccable quality and international repute, but notably lacking in the general Irish public cheer-leading that often accompanies Irish international success stories, appears on RTE’s Brendan O’Connor morning radio show to talk about the Harper’s letter.

Banville is a signatory of the Harper’s letter too and he says he knows personally of writers who have had works cancelled by their publishers fearing that the content might stoke the anger of the cancel culture watchdogs who might turn on the publishers.

A paragraph from the Harper’s letter reads:

“The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted. While we have come to expect this on the radical right, censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture: an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty. We uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters. But it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought.”

Did Shelbourne management, by removing the statues, do so in fear of retribution? It seems clear that they did.

Women’s Studies

Bruce Bawer in his 2012 book “The Victim’s Revolution: The Rise of Identity Politics” contains a very helpful overview of the history of women’s studies through what is called Second Wave feminism, featuring people like Germaine Greer and Gloria Steinem, among others, and Third Wave feminism, notably not featuring Germaine Greer and Gloria Steinem, among others.

In fact, Gloria Steinem is one of the signatories of the Harper’s letter. As is the author of “The Handmaid’s Tale”, Margaret Atwood. It seems that Third Wave feminism is even intolerant of some outspoken Second Wave feminists.

Bawer writes that:

“Many Women’s Studies students are taught to be suspicious of strictly intellectual endeavours – or endeavours, in others words, that don’t prioritize feelings.”

Which means that Bawer’s book, this article and any other ideas generated by people, whether male or female, in an intellectual, objective manner, are deemed invalid as “male constructs”.

That has to be the best cancellation of the lot, built right into the ideology of identity politics: all critiques are constructs of the “enemy” and therefore inadmissible.

In “Legalizing Misandry: From Public Shame to Systematic Discrimination Against Men”, Katherine Young and Paul Nathanson argue that ideological feminists even regard science as a cultural construction, a mirror of maleness.

“They believe that Western culture in the seventeenth century was fatally contaminated by the ultimate poison of patriarchy…”

As a consequence, the goal, for extreme feminists, is to undermine science, or the concept of objectivity and objective truth that is the hallmark of science – and journalism for that matter – as dubious male constructs, and replace these parts of the culture with subjective truth, along the lines of women’s intuition and gut feelings. Qualities, it is argued, that women excel in.

“Andrea Dworkin… [late radical feminist]” write Young and Nathanson, “…claims that her own intuition or insight supersedes any other form of evidence.”

Such a claim is not unlike the dictator who claims that he has only to look into his own heart to know what the people want. Often what the people apparently desire in such instances is for state assets to be lodged into a private Swiss bank account.

Young and Nathanson write that:

“once the subjective voice of women (or minorities) has been established as a new standard…no dissonant voices need to be taken seriously; women can presumably ‘know’ things by virtue of being women and affirming their own subjectivity, things that men cannot know by insisting on the ostensibly universal standard of objectivity.”

Bawer, writing of the goals of Women’s Studies groups, remarks:

“…on the surface, there’s plenty of pretty rhetoric about women’s mutual support and nurturing and openness to diversity; the underlying reality however, is one of hard-core ideological indoctrination and enforcement.”

The Harper’s letter says:

“We are already paying the price in greater risk aversion among writers, artists, and journalists who fear for their livelihoods if they depart from the consensus, or even lack sufficient zeal in agreement.”

It seems as if the same rules of enforcement and indoctrination are now operating in the wider community.

Strategies and Narratives

The conclusion, as I understand it, is that Women’s Studies groups that have flourished in the universities of the West, gave birth to a culture of silencing opposition with a range of strategies from simple elusive argument using post-modern terminology.

This allows the user, if losing an argument, to simply “recontextualise” the question and start again – right down to the threat of reputational destruction of opponents through the very female aggressive tactics of spreading gossip and innuendo against dissenting individuals.

These strategies have now evolved into political correctness and cancel culture, effectively endangering free speech and instilling the type of fear that caused the management of the Shelbourne Hotel to remove four decorative statues from outside its premises because some anonymous person in the US claimed they were celebrating white privilege.

The signatories of the Harper’s letter recognize that they themselves, being professionally above the fray, are unlikely to be destroyed by cancel culture.

They wrote the letter on behalf of less famous people who are being routinely side-lined and silenced by advocates of this apparently closed-minded and pernicious ideology.

Men who oppose the ideology are often framed as potentially violent, sexist and racist; while women who oppose the ideology are characterised as blind puppets of the patriarchy.

The Patriarchy

But even the idea of the patriarchy itself also seems problematical, as an academic postmodern deconstructionist might say.

If masculinity is as toxic as extreme feminists claim, how did women’s studies groups gain so much so quickly in the universities?

Bruce Bawer cites an anthology from 2000 called “The Politics of Women’s Studies: Testimony from the Thirty Founding Mothers.”

Having discussed the various essays in the book he goes on to say:

“Although the founders of Women’s Studies are routinely portrayed as brave pioneers who struggled valiantly against the patriarchy to carve out a space for themselves in the male-dominated academy, they would in fact have never gotten so far, so fast, if not for the readiness of liberal male administrators and faculty to approve and fund Women’s Studies. Indeed, the very rise of Women’s Studies belies its own rhetoric about the ruthless hegemonic power of the patriarchy.”

This apparent exaggeration of male hegemony, combined with the dismissal of the scientific method as a patriarchal construct, might leave you inclined to wonder what the difference is between the idea of the patriarchy and any other conspiracy theory doing the rounds.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

Yesterday: The Naked Truth

Clockwise From top left: Prime Time’s David McCullagh and Miriam O’Callaghan; Aine Lawlor of The Week in Politics; Bryan Dobson of Morning Ireland;: Eamonn Kelly

The RTÉ One Prime Time programme on the rise of nationalism in Ireland (Thursday,  June 25) seemed, from the off, to have another agenda. Two separate issues were collapsed into one, as if they were synonymous.

David McCullagh in his introduction said that similar nationalist groups across Europe “tend to share a deep suspicion of the political establishment and an implacable opposition to emigration.”

This had the effect of casting both issues as being tied at the hip. But many people, who could not in any way be described as racist, are often suspicious of Ireland’s political establishment, and often with good reason.

Nevertheless, the insinuation was woven through the report, and had the effect of suggesting that those working-class people featured in the programme, speaking out for social justice, may be proto racists.

The people featured were mostly working-class people, with working-class accents, concerned with social housing. Everyone knows that working-class accents are the speech patterns of the “other” in Ireland, particularly in Dublin.

In the privatisation of housing under Fine Gael, social housing was neglected in favour of the market, and homelessness soared.

But the victims were mainly those working-class people who traditionally depended on social housing, and are depending on it even more now when two wages can’t afford to buy one house. Those same people who are unable to avail of the pricey educational advantages that middle-class Ireland routinely enjoys and regards as “normal”.

The spin put on this programme, which was ostensibly concerned with Gemma O’Doherty’s and John Waters’ often hare-brained and dangerous escapades, seemed more like political sleight of hand, designed to tarnish those social activists who are neither racist nor hard leftists, but who are interested in social equality and who are often rightly suspicious of Ireland’s political establishment.

To suggest that anyone who is suspicious of a political establishment such as the one led by Fine Gale during austerity, are somehow proto or even covert racists, is really little more than a slippery bit of class politics designed to tarnish opposition to Ireland’s right-wing political establishment.

Sowing Division

The result of Fine Gael housing policy was that there was competition for housing between immigrants and working-class people, setting in train an unfair competition for limited resources. The price of failure in this competition to gain accommodation was homelessness.

But the set of circumstances that caused the conflict arose directly from Fine Gael housing policy, as was repeatedly shown and argued by Fr Peter McVerry.

To imply, as the Prime Time programme did, that those desperate people, placed in such a conflictual set of circumstances imposed upon them by a right-wing political establishment, are somehow proto racists, is a mean and underhanded trick of political spin.

The insinuation also has the effect of protecting the interests of the political establishment that the RTÉ journalists themselves are clearly part of.

Given middle-class suspicion of working-class people, and the routine middle-class prejudices on display by, for instance, Josepha Madigan’s NIMBY activities, it is almost comical that middle-class prejudice towards working-class people should be manipulated in this way to suggest that working-class people are prejudiced against immigrants.

Abstract Austerity

Only a few days earlier, another RTE journalist, Áine Lawlor, made the case on her TV show that austerity had been good for Ireland.

When Áine Lawlor’s views on austerity met with opposition from people interested in social equality, her RTÉ colleagues came out in support of her position.

But these RTÉ personalities are all well paid professionals. Austerity cost them nothing. In fact, austerity often provided the raw material for many of their stories. But none of them were personally bitten by austerity. To them, austerity is an abstraction. It’s just background noise.

But for people on housing lists and hospital waiting lists and working in jobs that don’t pay a living wage and don’t deliver enough to buy or even rent a place in the premium rental market encouraged by FFFG housing policy, austerity is a daily suffering grind. It’s not abstract. It’s real and it’s dirty and it hurts.

And by all accounts there is more of it coming down the line, since the parties who delivered the last tranche of austerity are now back in power in a combination/partnership that no one expected or voted for.

In fact, people were assured by Micheál Martin that Fianna Fail would not enter into coalition with Fine Gael.

This means the new taoiseach has already broken a campaign promise, and he’s still only a wet weekend in the job.

Disappointing Journalism

To be told by the public service broadcaster that those who oppose the current right-wing political establishment, share traits with European racists, seems like a deliberate attempt to deceive the viewer, or to dampen potential dissent.

If this is the standard of journalism in RTÉ we are in real trouble. Because there are those of us who actually look to the established media to behave like “real” journalists, since they are the established face of the profession.

But far from serving the public interest, as real journalists are expected to do, this kind of lazy, politically compromised journalism risks making cynics of us all.

Such journalism gives the impression that the established journalists and the political establishment that they purport to hold to account are all really in the same social club.

Though I am not a journalist by profession, but an arts practitioner, I hold to the ideals of objective journalism, and write from that perspective to the best of my ability.

I am not affiliated with any one party or cause, apart from a general interest in social justice and a particular interest in untangling spun political narratives such as the one described above.

The idea of a journalist not holding to those ideals of objective journalism makes no sense to me, since this would have the effect of abandoning the unique perspective that journalism affords, that space where independent opinion may be expressed.

But this is precisely what these high-ranking RTÉ journalists seem to be doing. In the process of promoting the policies of the political establishment they purport to be holding to account, they are rendering their own professions meaningless.

Complacency

As if to add insult to injury, when Micheál Martin finally ascended to the office of taoiseach, Brian Dobson on RTÉ wondered might the new coalition be described as “centre left”.

Really? I’d regard myself as centre-left. But if Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney are centre-left that makes me Che Guevara. I guess that’s the idea. Shove everyone over in the bed, right-wing becomes “normal” and everyone else is a radical.

It is difficult to decide whether this is disinformation – deliberately designed to deceive – or misinformation: mistakenly delivered, where the journalists themselves are being deceived with disinformation.

Though that’s hardly possible, since it would mean that the RTÉ journalists are lacking in the basics of political science.

Whatever the mechanics, this carefully judged encroachment also came across like information spun in the apparent service of right-wing parties attempting to supplant those parties of the left and policies of the left that many voters, calling for change, favoured in the last election.

Perhaps it’s just institutional complacency.

Certainly, the photograph of Miriam O’Callaghan and David McCullagh (top) that goes with the Prime Time programme on the RTÉ player seems like a study in complacency.

Both look kind of sleepily comfortable and casually condescending, their expressions perfectly encapsulating the sense of unaccountable privilege that appears to inform their journalistic choices.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

Rollingnews

Who are ‘the new nationalists’ ? (Prime Time)

From top: Supermac’s founder Pat McDonagh; Eamonn Kelly

One of the angles frequently used by Irish employers when confronted about underpaying people, is that they have heard no complaints.

Complaining is hard for Irish people, as it must be after holding your tongue for 700 years. You might say that the Republic itself is founded on a letter of complaint in the form of a Proclamation that, simply put, says, we’ve had enough of being second-class citizens.

We all know how that went down.

Irish history is littered with the bodies of people who complained. Naturally many people have learned the wisdom of silence. Irish people tend to be really, really good at not complaining. Even going so far as to stand with authority against those who do occasionally complain. As if to say: ‘Shush, you’ll get us all in trouble.’

Not Complaining

Not complaining is repeatedly relied upon by various authorities to justify the liberties it often so casually takes.

Pat McDonagh of Supermacs when he was asked on RTÉ radio recently why he charged staff for food, whether they wanted it or not, replied that the staff seem “quite happy” with the arrangement. And possibly “quite fired” if they did complain.

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty when asked about complaints concerning JobPath said something similar, basing the perception of “happiness” on a carefully worded satisfaction survey, the work of a private contractor, paid gazillions by the taxpayer, which helpfully delivered stats for minimal complaint and maximum satisfaction.

However, there still remained a small percentage of unusually stubborn people who complained anyway. Of these it was generally implied that such people are “trouble”, or just plain contrary, if not mentally retarded.

Diversions

Still, it’s not normal to never complain. To get around this we appear to have evolved ways of complaining without actually complaining by deflecting our attention elsewhere to complain about something else.

Most recently the Dominic Cummings case fulfilled this role by taking all the attention away from the revelation that Fine Gael’s job creation claims seem to be based on 240,000 jobs that don’t deliver a living wage. But that was okay, because the jobs in question don’t deliver a living wage to people who are apparently “quite happy”.

This habit of deflection is like a national tic. In an earlier article of mine on Aosdána, I wrote about Aosdána being largely absent from the local political scene, though some of its members were very visible in international justice campaigns that invited zero personal blowback. The old “the situation in outer Mongolia is getting bleaker,” stratagem.

It was the wrong thing to do, writing about Aosdána, since some of the members felt victimised by the attention. As one poet wildly exclaimed, You’re going to wreck it for everyone!

Really? How? By mentioning its existence? Is it in hiding? Is it like Irish austerity’s Anne Frank?

Aosdána has only 250 members, many of them elderly, and it seemed unkind of me to be harping on about it when it was clear that the artists simply wanted to be left alone.

But the institution stands as a model for arts funding, and it seems clear by now that in the ideal Ireland that Fine Gael would have, there would only be a couple of hundred funded artists, with the rest fed into the JobPath machine, which needs all the bodies it can get to keep its corporations in clover. It feeds on live tissue you see, and will take any old body: writers, musicians, butchers, bakers…

The silence of funded artists in a situation where unfunded arts practitioners are being sent through a process that is chiefly designed to degrade them, sends out the message that the established arts community are in favour of neo-liberalism’s dividing of the arts community along lines of privilege.

This is too familiar, in an Ireland too often defined along such lines.

The Rigged System

The American economist and author Robert Reich in his book, “The System: Who rigged it, How we fix it”, makes a distinction between the old paradigms of “left” and “right” and the situation we find ourselves in today, which he sees as a divide between Oligarchy and Democracy, the two sides currently featuring in running street battles in the US, thanks to real life Goldfinger himself, El Trumpo.

It is a situation where you are either with the systems of economic inequality, the Oligarchy, or you are for Democracy. The two positions are by now mutually exclusive, since, as Reich shows, the Oligarchy acquired the policy-makers a long time ago.

Anyone who goes finger-jabbing about the dangers of “socialism” is badly missing the fundamentals of the new world order.

Quietly supporting neo-liberal policy makers, like our own Fine Gael, who work primarily on behalf of business and corporations, in the hope that political circumspection will guarantee the retention of personal privileges, perpetuates the creation of social inequality through economic systems that are enriching the few at the expense of the many.

The only way to reclaim democratic freedoms lost to neo-liberal policies designed to favour business, is for people to stand unified on behalf of all who are being degraded by the neo-liberal system. Because in time, all will be degraded by that system.

Economic Apartheid

What appears to have happened in Ireland is that an elite inherited not just a republic, but a lower class perceived variously as sinners, rebels, petty criminals and uneducated labourers and skivvies, who were to be watched, managed, corrected and exploited by the elite, much as the vanquished elite had done.

It’s a kind of economic apartheid, helped in its effectiveness by a fee-paying education system that favours the middle-classes, resulting in wealth and privilege being passed on from generation to generation; as poverty and disadvantage is passed on, with unerring precision, further down the social scale.

[Independent Senator] Lynn Ruane, in an article in the Journal.ie from 2018, talks about how difficult it is to even raise the issue of class in Ireland. She writes of how a politician accused her of bringing class into everything:

“This was not the first adverse reaction to raising the issue I had received but I refuse to be made feel like I shouldn’t. The devastating impact of social class in Ireland is not an abstract concept to me and hundreds of thousands of others all over this island. People who have had their lives determined by a class system that they wore born into; by luck and luck alone.”

I met similar resistance following an article on Gerry Ryan when I mentioned, almost in an offhand way, my own working-class background. It was deeply resented. As if I was proffering some unfair gambit.

What came across very clearly to me was the middle-class assumption that disadvantage is totally about cash.

But disadvantage is about living in an environment where no one knows anyone of influence or of academic or business achievement; where university is for “them”; and where no one knows anything really of how the world works beyond finding a “boss” who’ll treat you fairly.

Robert Reich says of structural inequality:

“Today the most important predictor of someone’s future is the income and wealth of the family they are born into.”

And though Reich was speaking of the United States, all neo-liberal states are fractals of the US, and all social inequality works by the same basic globalised monetary principles of neo-liberalism, as was clearly demonstrated in 2008.

Ultimately it is up to those people who are being short-changed by the neo-liberal system to break through their ancestral reticence and start complaining against what is essentially, in Ireland, an entrenched, comfortable cartel of politics, business and landlords that has grown complacent and casually contemptuous in the silence of non-complaint.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

Rollingnews

From top: The GPO, O’Connell Street, Dublin 1 last week as many sought access to emergency welfare payments; Eamonn Kelly

Cheap Labour and Free Money

Ever since Leo Varadkar inadvertently revealed on Newstalk Breakfast last week  that Fine Gael’s job creation claims included almost a quarter of a million Irish people working for wages below the CSO poverty threshold of €235, there has been almost total silence in the Irish media.

Anne Rabbitte of Fianna Fáil burst out on radio and seemed outraged that people were “getting a hell of a lot more than they should be getting”.

Brenda Power bellowed from her Sunday Times pulpit and declared that the people receiving the Covid-19 payment, the same people working for wages below the poverty line, were “scammers”.

The interesting aspect of what has emerged is less to do with pay rates, and more to do with the attitude of these people towards those they clearly consider undeserving of the same benefits and privileges that they enjoy.

This attitude was apparent too a few weeks back when Leo Varadkar invited laughter and incredulity when he told that anecdote about “hearing” about people on part time schemes asking to be let go to avail of the Covid-19 payment.

All of this belittling of these underpaid workers is most likely a deliberate grooming for a fresh round of austerity measures.

Media Bias

Gene Kerrigan, writing in the Sunday Independent (May 24), noticed the general silence of the mainstream media on the issue, and noted that the Irish Times, rather than covering the mysterious case of the quarter of a million Irish workers living below the poverty line, chose instead to report on a story about President Higgins, who had given a short interview to an Italian Communist newsletter interested in the views of a socialist president in a European country.

On a normal day the story wouldn’t make page 7. During that interview, concerning the aftermath of the coronavirus lockdown, Michael D opined that a return to austerity would not be a good thing.

The Irish Times, as Kerrigan showed, drummed this non-story up into a kind of red scare story, insinuating that the president was a troublesome communist who had “raised eyebrows” in government circles with his comments.

But the Irish Times failed to mention anything about the 240,000 people working below the poverty line, who are counted by Fine Gael’s statisticians as job creation successes.

Who are these impoverished workers? Why is the Irish media not interested? Is it the same attitude that saw them described elsewhere as scammers? Why are these people not important enough to mention?

The “Clients”

Many of them are carers working full time for €203 per week, a full €32 below the CSO poverty threshold.

But the majority are most likely part-time workers working for private employers, or on one of the several job-creation schemes, such as CE, Tús, JobsPlus, Yess and similar schemes organized by the government, where employers, organisations and sponsors are paid by the government to take on employees.

The Community Employment schemes employ the most people, 21,500 in 900 schemes across the country. Ostensibly a re-training and work experience programme, the work generally involves caring, maintenance of sports facilities, upkeep of churches, and various arts and cultural initiatives.

The wages for CE are €20 extra on top of the €203 jobseekers’ allowance, coming to around €12 below the CSO poverty line of €235. CE participants used to receive an extra €50, but this was cut during austerity and never restored.

Participants on CE work 20 hours a week, but in practise it is more usual that they are expected to be “flexible” and on call for the entire week to facilitate the needs of the sponsor.

In 2017, following an embarrassing report that showed only a 3-7% success rate for the JobPath employment activation programme, it was decided that CE schemes would be re-classified as “real” jobs, but only for the purposes of live register and job creation statistics, not for minimum wage obligations.

Community Work, Private Profits

The confidential contract that exists between the DEASP and the private activation companies, Seetec/Turas Nua, ensures a payment in increments tied to duration of employment, with 12 months continuous employment qualifying for a payment of €3,718 per “client” under a “sustained” employment agreement.

It is believed that the same contract also involved some kind of quota system where Seetec/Turas Nua would be promised x-amount of “clients” per year, each “client” being worth initially €311 on registration, with the potential for further payments, on a sliding scale, if placed in employment during the term of the “client’s” agreement with Seetec/Turas Nua.

It is thought that there simply weren’t enough unemployed people to meet the quota in the contract, and that the state was in danger of being sued by Seetec/Turas Nua.

The first solution was to keep sending the same people back through the activation system, but even that apparently wasn’t enough, though many people were sent through the system up to 4 times.

So, the CE schemes became “real” jobs, and were tied by the minister to an agreement that all CE schemes must be accessed via Seetec/Turas Nua.

The majority of CE schemes last for 12 months (There are some exceptions), the same period of time that qualifies as a period of “sustainable” employment in JobPath.

Since all CE schemes must now be accessed via Seetec/Turas Nua, it is reasonable to assume that all placements on CE would be regarded as sustainable employments “created” by Seetec/Turas Nua, with each new start-up qualifying for a full payment from the DEASP to Seetec/Turas Nua of €3,718 per “client” assigned to community work.

Community work that those workers could probably have accessed anyway without any help from the middlemen JobPath organisations.

Since there are 21,000 CE places in Ireland at any one time, Fine Gael’s policy change on CE comes to a potential windfall to Seetec/Turas of €86m. And since the majority of CE schemes only last one year, this is potentially an annual turnover of €86m to Seetec/Turas Nua for simply routing new CE placements annually through their system.

Who says there’s no such thing as free money?

Deja-Vu

Here we have a system that compels Irish people to live and work in poverty, serving private organisations, while the elite deliberately turns a blind eye, supporting the injustice with a prejudice that they’re all “scammers” anyway, and don’t deserve any better.

What a strange echo that narrative makes. It’s not unlike the system of industrial schools and Magdalene laundries of old.

But the richest irony is that many of those people working on those schemes, in an act of desperation, like to see themselves as being in “real” jobs; among the elect of Varadkar’s early-rising heroes, they are often quicker than most to castigate “welfare cheats”.

No one wants to be at the bottom of this Irish class system, with contempt constantly heaped on you from above. But this time the low paid workers have not been spared the insults of the elite. They are not on Varadkar’s team after all.

They are still perceived as scammers, no different than the “welfare cheats” they agreed to scorn and condemn in return for pitiful jobs that don’t even deliver a living wage. They’ve been duped and dismissed, their silence and obedience taken for granted, their labour sold cheaply.

It will be interesting to see will that 240,000 votes ever find expression.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

Rollingnews

From top: Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty,  Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar and Minister for Buisness, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphries; Eamonn Kelly

Leo Varadkar told Newstalk the other day that nearly 40% of Covid-19 payees are better off than when they were working. That is so interesting, given that the Covid-19 payment of €350 was arrived at as being just about enough to live on.

Almost 600,000 people are receiving the Covid-19 payment. 40% of 600,000 is around 240,000. Dare we ask do these include the jobs created by Fine Gael, jobs that don’t pay people enough to live on?

Jobs for All

Job creation is a big plank of Fine Gael boasts. And though the manner in which figures are arrived at is notoriously slippery, Heather Humphries did claim in Dáil questions in March 2019 that 49,900 jobs were created in 2018.

The overall boast is that by 2020 Fine Gael hoped to hit a target of 200,000 jobs created since the launch of the first action plan for jobs in 2012. By 2016 it was a regular claim that 135,000 new jobs had been created since 2012.

But if 240,000 people are now saying that they are better off on the Covid-19 payment than they were at work, and Minister Docherty is saying that less than €350 is not enough to live on, what standard of job has Fine Gael been creating all this time?

If people are working for less than enough to live on, can such an occupation properly be counted as a job?

What the taoiseach’s own words seem to suggest is that the concept of a “job”, as argued by many advocates of basic income, is an outdated fetish favoured by right-wingers who still can’t get beyond the idea of ordinary people being supported with some form of regular basic income, without pain being imposed upon them.

Bullshit Jobs

The anthropologist David Graeber realised that the consequence of this right-wing jobs fetish was the steady and ongoing creation of what he termed “bullshit” jobs. Jobs whose only value was in the existence of the job itself, as perceived by a system that valued the possession of a job.

What the Covid-19 payment demonstrates, is the real face of this entire bullshit jobs cycle that Fine Gael have been busying themselves with all these years to no real benefit to anyone apart from their own statisticians and their employer friends availing of job-creation grants.

And to those who say that there was a surplus created by Fine Gael in government, have a look at where that surplus was drawn from in the frozen lives of the 10,000+ homeless, among other less inspiring stats created by Fine Gael policy.

And that figure of €350 for the Covid-19 payment. How was it arrived at? Was it in any way influenced by the fact that the minister who proposed it had just lost her seat in the general election? Might it have been a tactical act of generosity that might be remembered by the electorate in the event of another quick election, given the hung Dáil?

Free Money

One of the main oppositions to the concept of a universal basic income is that it is free money.

But as Leo Varadkar pointed out last week, not for the first time, there is no such thing as free money. Though Varadkar himself and his cronies appear to live in a world swimming in free money.

In August 2019 the Sunday Independent reported that the new taoiseach…

“…has clocked up a €400,000 bill for food, drink and entertainment since he took office two years ago…”

The report went on

“Mr Varadkar also treats his Cabinet ministers to evening suppers in Farmleigh House, the State’s formal residence, and in the National Gallery of Ireland…Last September, ministers gathered in Farmleigh House, for an evening of dinner and drinks at a cost of €2,075.

In December 2017, the Taoiseach hosted a Christmas dinner for his ministerial team in the National Gallery of Ireland beside Leinster House which cost €2,102.”

With his €185,350 basic salary plus his €118,981 in personal annual expenses, there is clearly no such thing as a free taoiseach either.

In January 2020 The Irish Post revealed that…

“…Leo Varadkar reportedly spent €1.8 million on propaganda during his first year-and-a-half as Taoiseach.

This included €50,000 on videos featuring Varadkar which were designed to hopefully go viral and make the world say, Wow, Leo is cool.

This is in stark contrast to the €16,000 spent by Enda Kenny in his first 18-months in office.”

As Brendan Howlin pointed out at the time:

“Leo Varadkar’s spin unit spent well over 100 times more on PR than Enda Kenny did.”

Howlin went on to say that Fine Gael spent…

“…€7million of public money on glossy advertisements in 2018…They will spend nearly €2billion on the National Children’s Hospital, which will be the most expensive hospital ever built on earth…

Fine Gael gave €700million in 2018 to private landlords because they refused to build homes on public land…They spent €900,000 every day on private agency staff, because they refused to employ permanent public workers.”

Who Pays These Bills?

Where is all that money coming from? Well, it’s coming, in a roundabout way, from all those workers, 240,000 of them, according to Mr Varadkar’s own stats, who are working for less than enough to live on.

It is coming from the poor and the homeless and the pensioners and the tax-payers and the health service and the farmers and the arts workers.

Because Varadkar is right. There is no such thing as free money. It has to come from somewhere, including the free money that he flings around the place to make himself look good, paid for by ordinary people in reduced wages, reduced medical outcomes, reduced life chances and reduced equality of opportunity.

That free money he disposes of so generously is coming direct from the pockets and expectations of low paid workers who, by the admission of his own minsters, are working below the rate of what they need to live on in Varadkar’s Ireland.

The caretaker taoiseach is, for once, perfectly correct: It is not fair. But not in the way that he means.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

DISCLAIMER: Broadsheet does not condone the use of the word ‘shit’ in this article which thankfully does not include other off-colour words like ‘fuck’, ‘diddies’ or ‘wankipants’.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

Rollingnews

From top: Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan at the National Famine Commemoration Ceremony in St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin, yesterday; Eamonn Kelly

There was a Q&A in the Dáil recently (May 14) between Paul Murphy TD and Minister for Culture, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan, on the subject of arts funding.

In his statement Paul Murphy said that Fine Gael seem only to pay lip service to the value of the arts, justifying poor funding for the arts as “realism”.

The first sentence of the minister’s response to Murphy’s question, in true neo-liberal eff-you style, featured the phrase “reality check”, followed by some figure juggling, a false comparison with Britain’s Covid-19 welfare payment, and a disingenuous claim that arts workers are receiving the highest share of Covid-19 payments, “after workers from accommodation, construction, administration and the retail sectors.” So, not the highest.

It was a typical and tiresome neo-liberal dodge. But what was clear was that the question concerning the value of the arts, was being answered from a value system in which the arts and humanities don’t really have a place. Neo-liberalism is “reality” and the Arts are… not reality.

Cultural Eco-System

Arts are part of the cultural eco-system known as the Humanities. Neo-liberalism would have you believe that you can pick the “best” from this eco-system, and promote just those choice parts, for dreary profit. But this, like much of neo-liberal ideology, displays the brute ignorance at the heart of that ideology.

You can’t pick and choose which items to promote and flog off in an eco-system. It’s all interdependent. It’s like saying that, in sport, we’ll only have a Premier league and no lower leagues or school leagues.

As soon as you do that, you destroy the system that feeds and nurtures the “best”. The entire eco-system is the “best”. In the Humanities eco-system, it is the activity of the arts and sciences, at all levels, that is of value, not the best-selling “product” that occasionally emerges from arts and science activities.

Creativity is the foundation upon which the capitalist profiteering engine was built.

This cultural power base formed in a slow accretion of various inventions, discoveries and insights across the ages; the result of an accumulation of imaginative activities that are quintessentially human, from which emerged the multitude of creative ideas, engineered into physicality, that gave rise to the modern world and modern technologies.

Neo-liberal capitalism, standing on the shoulders of this complex network of collective accumulated creative triumphs, often seems as arrogantly blind to that eco-system’s contribution to its own power base, as it is blind to the connection between the perpetual growth ideology it champions and impending climate catastrophe.

Neo-liberalism, in the long game of cultural intelligence, may be just a fancy name for stupid.

To Have Or To Be

Erich Fromm, the humanistic philosopher, in one of his later books, “To Have Or To Be”, defined a neat paradigm to illustrate two broad ways of being that are in conflict with each other in the capitalist system.

He wrote that humanity is oriented either towards “Having”, which is capitalism; or towards “Being” which is, broadly, the orientation that defines the Humanities.

This might explain why many creative people often feel they don’t quite belong in what people like Josepha Madigan are content to call “reality”.

The arts, far from being airy fairy fringe activities, are actually central to the human project. Through the arts, progress is imagined. This has been the case since cave paintings gave every tribe member the opportunity to study the animals they would hunt, aiding in focusing their attention and creating an inner mental picture of the target; the artist providing details that the non-artist may not even see in “reality”.

When artists unwittingly play the capitalist game and set out to justify themselves on capitalist grounds, accepting the capitalist restrictive value system as “reality”, they surrender the one quality that makes art truly invaluable: the ability to explore and think freely and objectify the “reality” that society has chosen for itself.

But in neo-liberal reality, the space occupied by the Humanities is perceived as being without real value. This is dangerous, because it must soon follow that predictions and warnings arising from humanistic studies will be deemed as equally without value as the activities that produce them, effectively blinding the culture to its own future, depriving it of the core intelligence it has always relied on for survival.

Pretty soon no one is working any more until they get paid a capitalist wage or are funded by a government throwing scraps to the sector, and practices become rusty.

Artists may gravitate towards sycophancy, further weakening the cultural objectivity the sector is supposed to provide. The grassroots of creativity begin to wither and die from neglect, not unlike the manner in which a coral reef might die.

Creative Obsolescence

Neo-liberal Capitalism is as wasteful of humanity as it is of any of the other raw materials it crushes and processes to turn its quick profits. In terms of the use and exploitation of native talent, the capitalist system treats human beings like objects of mass production.

It squeezes individuals into tight restrictive imagination-killing “jobs” – because the concept of a job is a capitalist value – and in doing so wastes all that is potentially creative in that individual.

When you devalue the Humanities by assessing their usefulness in a bogus value system, as neo-liberals do so casually and so routinely, you not only devalue that cultural eco-system that includes the arts, you also simultaneously promote ignorance and forgetfulness; the most extreme form of this regression being the Trump administration.

This ushering in of ignorance is a natural end-game for such a market-driven ideology as neo-liberalism.  From neo-liberal capitalism’s point of view, ignorance and forgetfulness are good for markets, since you can re-package and re-sell as new what was already known and then forgotten about.

Neglect of creativity, through under-funding and undervaluing, may be neo-liberal capitalism’s unconscious way of building obsolescence into, not only the products of human creativity, but into human creativity itself.

In this context, asking What use are the Arts? Or attempting to convince neo-liberals of the value of the arts, may be the totally wrong approach, since this approach takes place in the restrictive confines of neo-liberalism’s narrow understanding of “reality”.

Maybe it’s not so much that society needs to support the Arts, nor that the Arts need to become “realistic” by neo-liberal capitalism’s values; Maybe it is that society, if it hopes to avert climate disaster, needs to reorient, as Fromm recommends, and become more like artists and creatives.

Ways of Seeing

The autistic savant Temple Grandin said in a Ted Talk that the world now more than ever needs all kinds of minds, all kinds of imaginations to solve the problems we are facing.

She knew that in the so called “normal” world that her kind of mind, and minds like hers, were being side-lined, measured only by their monetary potential.

But she is a genius in visualising physics. She sees the arcs of physical movement in the natural world as vividly as you or I see objects in the living room. She can visualize the invisible. And yet she is ranked as second-best in a world measured by economic profit alone.

To not support the arts and sciences is to fling away as useless the potential of the human imagination, the same one that invented the civilization now apparently owned by a couple of hundred billionaires.

The real question to be asking, more glaringly obvious since the advent of the coronavirus, might be, what use is neo-liberal capitalism?

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

Rollingnews

From top: Ryan Tubridy (left) and Taoiseach  Leo Varadkar on RTÉ One’s  The Late Late Show last Friday; Eamonn Kelly

Last Friday, May 1, International Workers Day, Caretaker Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, addressed the nation, outlining a wind-down of Covid-19 restrictions. There was consternation in some quarters that the address had not been followed by a press Q&A.

This aspect of proceedings, the questioning, would be taking place on RTÉ One’s The Late Late Show that evening, with Ryan Tubridy acting as a kind of nominated journalist invited to grill the leader.

Varadkar’s spin unit burn up an estimated €100,000 of public money per month to make Varadkar’s neo-liberal Fine Gael look good.It’s instructive that even with that type of funding they somehow always fail to put on an entirely convincing show.

This show was no different. That’s what happens when you don’t value or respect the arts; you think if you fling enough money at it that any bozo can act the clown.

The setup, ironically enough, sounded like something from Chavez’s Venezuela or Putin’s Russia. The great leader cocooned with just one selected media person empowered to ask questions.

A carefully managed Q&A featuring an RTÉ stalwart who, strictly speaking, isn’t really a journalist per se, but more of a light entertainment personality with impeccable political establishment credentials.

Afterwards, social media pounced on the fact of Varadkar having to consult his notes during the interview, which probably pleased the FG spin unit no end, since the moment, whether intended or merely happy accident, acted like a magician’s distraction, sending many critics of Varadkar’s neo-liberalism in the wrong direction.

Because this show was about schmoozing the Irish electorate into swallowing the idea that neo-liberals were the best gang to tackle climate change, despite the truckloads of evidence rolling in from laboratories all over the world that neo-liberalism, the ugly face of late-stage capitalism, is actually an aggravator of climate change.

What Neo-Liberals Do

Neo-liberalism has two main goals: rolling back the welfare state and privatising everything. To sell these goals as good ideas it schmoozes people into believing that the return of “lots of good jobs”, which neo-liberalism is forever promising, and which Varadkar promised on The Late Late Show, will be worth the trade of personal freedoms; potential homelessness; lower wages; higher rents; private medical services and climate catastrophe.

Naturally neo-liberals tend to thread carefully while trying to sell this bag of goodies. Their moves are like the moves of cat-burglars, or comedy camouflage experts, encroaching with minute advances after long periods of apparent stillness.

The surprising thing is, they are often successful in selling the awful package. For instance, in the last election, despite the evidence of mounting social injustice, homelessness, emigration and suicide, a full 20.9% of the electorate still went out, presumably of sound mind, and voted for Leo Varadkar and Fine Gael.

But why would the spin unit think it a good idea to attempt to sell the party as the best bet for a Green future on a light entertainment show?

The Sell

This idea of The late Late Show being a light entertainment show was in fact a bone of contention back in the mid-1960s when Gay Byrne, the innovator of the show, had made it more than a simple light entertainment show, turning it into a forum where the Irish people could meet and talk about issues that affected them and the society.

But, as I mentioned in a previous piece, this aspect of the show was deeply resisted by some, among them Ryan Tubridy’s grandfather, Todd Andrews, who wanted Byrne off the show, intent on making the platform an apolitical light entertainment vehicle.

I mention this now because it was Byrne’s innovative development of the show as a forum for a national conversation that now made it valid for Leo Varadkar to appear on the show, having decided against a press conference, to avail of that understanding of The Late Late Show as a national forum.

The opportunity to sell the big idea opened up when Tubridy asked about the ongoing talks with the Greens to enter coalition with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

Leo Varadkar had just begun his answer to the question when Tubridy, who has a tendency, unlike Gay Byrne, to pay more attention to his questions rather than his guests, dived in with another question.

But Varadkar panicked and pulled him back saying that the previous question was important and needed a bit more time for a fuller answer.

And so it proved to be, because the question had opened up the interview to allow neo-liberal Leo to argue that neo-liberal politicians are better equipped to meet climate targets than left wing parties would be.

Because, according to the neo-liberal view presented by Varadkar, the Left would spend their time “fighting” with the business community.

Isn’t that just wonderful? The very flaw at the heart of neo-liberalism, essentially enriching business at the expense of community, and by doing so, contributing to global climate devastation, is offered as the solution to climate change, because neo-liberals get on well with the business community, the same community whose hunger for perpetual growth is contributing to climate change.

And this wonderfully slippery message delivered direct to the Irish people with their guard down, from the cosy homely hearth of The Late Late Show, where the nation had gathered to hear the government plan for the lifting of restrictions, and to sympathise and empathise with the victims of an ongoing health emergency.

We Are…Not the Left

The claim betrays the vacuity of ideas at the core of Varadkar’s neo-liberal ideology.

Lacking the ability to define themselves by any particular standard other than neo-liberalism, which must remain a partially hidden agenda, since its outcomes are so damaging to fundamental social justice, Varadkar’s Fine Gael instead define themselves by repeated reference to leftist ideas.

In other words, what Varadkar’s neo-liberal party stand for is, not being the Left.

Varadkar suggesting, with a straight face, that Fine Gael’s relationship with the business community is a safer bet for meeting climate targets than anything the Left might initiate, is either a statement borne of ignorance of the damage the ideology he champions is wreaking on the environment; or, he simply doesn’t give a damn about the climate, no more than he ever seemed to give a damn about the 10,000 homeless he smilingly helped conjured into existence.

Nevertheless, here he was, claiming that he would somehow out-left the Left, despite being hopelessly Right, and somehow become Green while also creating “lots of jobs”, predicated on the out-dated neo-liberal model of limitless growth in a finite system.

He was, in other words, like old Fianna Fáil, attempting to be all things to all sectors.

The Schmooze

Ryan Tubridy helped with the schmooze like an awkward well-intentioned youth trying to help a blind man across a busy road; but in such a way as to suggest prior briefing.

His contribution was concerned with reassuring those voters who had concerns of a Left nature: specifically, concerns related to social housing and the Covid-19 welfare payments.

When the topic of construction workers returning to work was brought up, Tubridy rushed in to mention social housing. To which Varadkar replied, as other Fine Gael personnel have been doing in recent times, that social housing is continuing and ongoing. Even apparently despite the lockdown.

That must be amazing news for the 10,000 homeless now quarantined in hotel rooms, with their landlords happily exporting buckets of public cash to the Cayman Islands.

The second contribution by Tubridy came when he asked Varadkar about the possibility of extending the Covid-19 welfare payments, to coincide with the return to work of various sectors, as outlined in the resuscitating the economy plan.

The answer was in the affirmative, to which Tubridy helpfully chimed in: and that’s a nice gift for May Day. May Day being worker’s day and a red-letter day for the Left (excuse the pun).

However, as soon as Tubridy had so helpfully underlined the apparent coincidence of a rare Fine Gael promise to condone a welfare payment, the promise delivered on May Day, a backstage light flickered and the Fine Gael spin unit was momentarily revealed in silhouette, pulling levers.

Varadkar’s Neo-Liberalism

Varadkar’s neo-liberal Fine Gael are probably not engaged on some grand plan towards world domination. It’s likely more mundane than that. They have simply chosen sides and basically do all the things that you’re supposed to do when following a neo-liberal agenda. It’s like following a recipe: first you privatise the public services….

Presumably after you’ve dismantled all public services and impoverished everyone but a few billionaires, something wonderful is supposed to fall into place, inaugurating some neo-liberal Shangri-La.

Fine Gael’s particular political machine is designed to pursue these old models based on out-dated and discredited capitalist and neo-liberal ideas. It runs clickety clack on neo-liberal tracks. They don’t seem to understand that you can’t continue with “business as usual” and hope to avert climate catastrophe.

But they do understand simple logistics like “meeting targets”. That’s why they love the Greens’ 7% emissions target. They could politic that kind of thing all day and on through the night.

It’s right up their alley, since it consists of figures that can be bent and twisted and hidden and “re-clarified” until… well, until doomsday. It’s the very thing they do exceptionally well.

Fine Gael entering into a coalition with the Green Party will place demands on the Fine Gael party that the party has never had to face, since such a coalition will require the party to totally reappraise and reform its core neo-liberal ethos, which conflicts so profoundly with the aims of the Green movement and climate repair.

Many people are now coming to the realisation, particularly since Covid-19, that it is time to lockdown capitalism itself for a while, to allow the climate to literally breath and recover from the virus of capitalism. This type of thinking immediately reveals Fine Gael policy as hopelessly out of date and out of touch.

Plus, the last election clearly showed that there is little appetite in Ireland for the ruthless American style brand of neo-liberalism that Leo Varadkar represents.

On this score it might be wise of the Greens to insist, as a condition of entering coalition, that Varadkar steps down from the Fine Gael leadership, to allow his own party to more easily adapt their political model to the rapidly changing times.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

Rollingnews