On the Claire Byrne show on Monday night Fr Peter McVerry said again what many people have been saying for a long time: that homelessness is being created by government policy.
Fr McVerry has a lot of clout and the Irish Times picked up on the story and said that homelessness is a direct consequence of government policy.
This means that homelessness is being created by the Fine Gael-led government. Homelessness is being created by the Fine Gael-led government.
And since it is being created, that implies activity. So, homelessness is being actively created by the Fine Gael-led government.
But here’s the thing, will this get through to people? I don’t mean the people it has already gotten through to, but the people who clearly still support the Fine Gael-led government, despite the fact that their policies are making tens of thousands of their fellow citizens homeless?
Because this is not an abstract argument, or a tribal preference or a random act of God. It’s not a mystery, or “just one of those things”, or simply “sad”.
This is a fact. homelessness, that condition that everyone decries, particularly at this time of year, is being actively created by the Fine Gael-led government.
Brand it on your forehead. Homelessness is being actively created by the Fine Gael-led government. Homelessness is being actively created by the Fine Gael-led government.
It’s likely that there are people out there who genuinely believe that people are homeless through their own failings.
This mistaken conclusion comes about as a result of what Slavoj Zizek calls “false personalisation”.
This is a deliberate strategy to imply that social ills have no outside agency but are totally due to character defects in those affected, not to anomalies in the system.
This is the idea that informs the controversial JobPath programme. The flaw is to be found in the individual, not in wider the system.
The approach evolved from the angle pursued and perfected by the tobacco industry to throw doubt on science’s findings about the connection between cigarette smoking and cancer. It is an angle that has been used by every political charlatan since.
Simply dismiss any “evidence” of a connection by the powerful to the creation of the problem, and, when necessary, use “false personalisation” to park blame on the victim.
Zizek brought up the concept of “false personalisation” in his discussion with Jordan Peterson. Peterson holds the view that the individual is key to social change and that if each individual gets their house in order, as he puts it, this will radiate out and cause change. A bit like leading by example.
Of course, it goes without saying that you need a house first to get your house in order. Because, as comedian George Carlin recognised, there is no such thing as homelessness, only house-lessness.
Peterson’s idea of individual agency bringing about social change, which is really a right-wing idea, is countered by the leftist idea that a society might be so rigged as to smother any individual attempt to have an effect.
Like, as Zizek put it, the ordinary person conscientiously recycling waste, to minimal effect, while huge corporations pump tons of CO2 into the atmosphere and plough up rainforests to produce consumer products.
To concentrate on perceived character “flaws” of the individual in such a situation is to badly miss the point.
But one of the side advantages of this deliberate attempt to park blame on the victim is that it can create a new market and area of expertise where the identified “flawed” people might be “fixed” by “experts”; seamlessly turning people into products that can create profits.
However, there is only so far you can go with this concept before you eventually have to start farming people for their meat.
Though Peterson’s idea of individual behaviour affecting social change does have legs when the individuals in question are leading from the top.
Unfortunately, here in Ireland, and elsewhere, the agenda being set by the powerful is often far from moral. Donald Trump, chief pussy-grabber, when seeking election, boasted at his “wisdom” in evading paying tax.
Here we had the Maria Bailey scandal, highlighting an apparently routine abuse of the insurance system that has inflated insurances costs to such an extent that arts events in particular have been made practically impossible to stage.
That Bailey was legally advised by the person who is now the Minister for culture and NIMBY in chief is almost Shakespearean in its implications.
That nothing has come of this apart from Baily being flung under the bus as a sacrifice towards a pending election, speaks louder than any moral action that might have been taken.
But I don’t think these are the kind of examples Peterson had in mind as engines of positive social change.
His solution, that to counter corrupt systems, the individual might change that system by behaving morally, hoping to have a radiating effect up the systems of power, seems to contradict his own views on how hierarchies operate. Ultimately, the powerful set the agenda.
In Ireland’s case the example given by the powerful is often very poor.
Social Darwinism predominates, accompanied in the political arena by what seems like cynical gaming of the system by many politicians in the form of taking political seats for the salaries and pensions they afford, not participating in the democracy through skiving off from work; over-claiming expenses, and basically serving yourself at the expense of others.
The ruse of blaming poverty on the poor and so on, is routinely pursued now by the powerful to deflect responsibility of everything from homelessness to environmental destruction.
And though it hasn’t quite gotten as silly yet as to suggest that if people would stop getting sick the health service would function fine, there might yet come a day when some enterprising, expenses-gobbling, lazy-arsed, Dáil-Bar-lizard party politician will come up with this as an excuse for the failings of whatever party he/she may be representing, and will go door to door on a campaign of imposing fines on those who get ill.
Meanwhile, homelessness, far from being some mysterious random act of God, is being actively created by the Fine Gael-led government.
Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.
Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet