A year after all of the head-shaking and nay-saying assurances that ‘negotiations’ with the IMF and EU were mere ‘fiction’, the sense of betrayal that Irish people experienced about the then Government’s denial that the Irish nation was about to lose its economic sovereignty is still palpable. This psychological process of denial – the refusal to acknowledge a reality that is obvious to others – is characteristic of contemporary Irish society and can be linked, in part at least, to its history of colonialism (for more on this see Geraldine Moane’s Gender and Colonialism). Another psychological process characteristic of post-colonial societies is that of double-think – a capacity to entertain two conflicting thoughts simultaneously.
Enda Kenny’s state of the nation address was the epitome of double-think. Perhaps anxious not to evoke the same justifiable sense of outrage brought on by the previous administration’s ‘Hey, we all partied’ approach to austerity politics, our current Taoiseach assures us that we ‘are not responsible for the crisis’. Yet in the same breath, he informs us that it is ‘our most important responsibility…to do what must be done to get our economy back on its feet.’ We are not responsible, and yet ‘the steps the Government has taken’ are a reflection of ‘our sense of responsibility’, for which Enda is very grateful, apparently. We are not responsible, but we must nevertheless ‘make sacrifices’ and so on and so forth.
Likewise, the main purpose of the Budget, and of the four year strategy, Enda informs us, ‘is the creation of jobs for our people’; hence the need for a series of targeted measures specifically designed to create jobs and get people back to work. No matter that Enda’s speech was full of references, direct and otherwise, to measures that will result in the loss of even more jobs. Yes, the purpose of the austerity measures is to create jobs, but in classic double-think mode we are informed, simultaneously with this, that ‘the public sector will be downsized by 23,000 people by 2015.’
Notwithstanding the nonsensical and counter-productive nature of these forthcoming austerity measures, I think that all of us opposed to, and affected by them, to greater or lesser degrees, need to engage in a more prolonged discussion about what both individual as well as collective responsibility for the current crisis might actually mean, if we are to truly and more meaningfully organise against the successive rounds of austerity in store for us. We need to ensure that the debate moves beyond the crudely dichotomous characterisation of ‘we, the people’ as heroic, innocent bystanders in all of this, who must, as Enda informs us – out of a sense of patriotic responsibility – bear short-term pain before we can be ‘good’ (again), versus the villainous fat cat bankers, developers and politicians who are seen to have created the mess. We need to move instead towards a more sophisticated consideration of the complex and often invisible dynamics of complicity.
As a starting point, I would call for a more honest debate about the ways in which many of us who now – publicly or otherwise – (and rightly) express our anger at the banks, the developers, and politicians, benefited directly and indirectly (in the short term at least) from self-interested and ultimately ill-fated government policies which ultimately contributed to the economic crisis. The sense of guilt, conscious or otherwise, of those who benefited in some form or another from these irresponsible policies, while the most vulnerable in society reaped few, if any benefits, must be tackled head on. Only when we engage in a more complex and honest dialogue about what responsibility and complicity actually mean, and about the complexities of the dynamics of denial, guilt and double-think that characterise Irish society in relation to a whole host of issues of public concern, from clerical abuse to the state of the economy, can we begin to expect the kinds of mass mobilisation and resistance against the ongoing injustices in Irish society that is so desperately needed.