Where There Were No Doors

Follow your bliss and doors will open where there were no doors before - Joseph Campbell

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The North

I don't spend much time reading the deluded witterings of right-wing journalists or bloggers. I'm not a great fan of left-wing writing either, but at least the witterings of the left often contain traces of self-deprecation and humour. Left-wingers tend to be better writers, but a dogmatic adherence to any political party or the willingness to locate yourself within any exclusive part of the political spectrum is a clear sign of mental retardation. Those on the right are, with a very few exceptions, as thick as pigshit and twice as smelly.

The left merely has a slightly higher proportion of exceptions.

Today though I found myself clicking on a link to Peter Cuthbertson's Conservative Commentary blog. Peter's writing contains as much humour as most left-wingers manage, but this humour is amplified considerably through being unintentional. These days, sadly, the poor chap is too busy to be a conservative commentator and ConCom is updated even less than this place. When it is updated it tends to be in the form of a quotation lifted from elsewhere.

However one recent post caught my eye. It's a photograph of Gerry Adams and Fidel Castro under the title Hey, don't hog the sniper rifle! Presumably intentional humour, though he missed an opportunity to make it more topical (I suggest "Where's a suicide bomber when you need one?" would've been funnier, but that's just me).

Anyways, beneath it Peter lists the source of the image. A blog called A Tangled Web and specifically the post entitled Interview with a Vampire. This blog is also listed under the heading "Great Blogs" on Peter's site, so I expected a thick-as-pigshit right-winger who smelt bad.

I wasn't disappointed. It turns out to be a group blog, so even stinkier than I'd imagined (if there's one thing that smells worse than a right-winger with their mouth open, it's a bunch of right-wingers with their mouths open). Rarely have I encountered such nauseating hate-filled wankery. And there's something peculiarly worrying about nasty hate-mongers who find it necessary to asterisk out the word "piss".

Within just 5 minutes of reading I'd discovered the following gems:

The person called DV was actually sickened by the conclusion of the British Government's chief scientific adviser that an increase in hurricane ferocity is linked to anthropocentric global warming. However, Sir David King (the advisor in question) was actually reporting the conclusions of research carried out by climatologist Kerry Emanuel (of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and research meteorologist Tom Knutson (of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory) published last month in Nature magazine. I suspect their research would sicken DV too. Poor, sensitive DV. I recommend dramamine prior to reading any scientific literature.

DV also likens the chances of a bird-flu epidemic to the chances of the earth getting hit by an asteroid and demands that attention is paid to that issue. The fact that a government can take simple practical steps (stock up on vaccines and anti-viral drugs) to prevent bird-flu from being too damaging, but would have to invest the entire national budget several times over in order to have even a slim chance of dealing with an asteroid seems to have escaped DV. As has the fact that a bird-flu epidemic is far more likely than an asteroid strike during the term of this government. DV also objects to ensuring medical staff and other emergency workers will be the first to receive anti-viral treatment in the case of an outbreak. DV is a moron. I think most non-morons would agree that doctors, nurses, police and firefighters - plus any other workers who might actually have to deal with sick people - should be the first treated in any outbreak of any infectious disease.

It's also DV who appears completely unable to grasp why Muslims might feel more stressed by the London suicide bombings than others. Truly not the sharpest tool in the shed, poor DV fails to appreciate that Muslims will feel roughly the same amount of stress at the idea of being blown up by a random suicide bomber, but will also have certain additional stresses (being part of a community that could be targeted in revenge-attacks, being shot by the police by mistake - though that additional stress also applies to South Americans too - plus plenty of other shit; like having to explain to their kids why there's been a sudden increase in bullying and why the bullies are calling them "the enemy" of the country they thought they belonged to). Of course Muslims will be more stressed by random suicide attacks carried out in the name of their religion than non-Muslims. To fail to appreciate that is either wilfully thick. Or just thick.

But it's A McC's piece, Interview with a Vampire, that really got my goat. A McC lives in (as best as I can make out) Northern Ireland. However, he's clearly one of the people who prefers the term "United Kingdom". He's a Unionist who insists on putting the letter 'O' before the words Ireland and Irish. It's difficult to know whether this is because he's actually too stupid to learn how to spell the name of the island he lives on properly, or is just being wilfully offensive towards the majority of people who live on that island.

Usually I'd assume it was the latter, but with this guy it really is difficult to know. Thick as pigshit doesn't even begin to describe him.

I'm from Ireland in case you were wondering... the southern part. So when I title a blog entry "The North", it means something very specific. And many people reading the title will interpret it in a different way. Some English people would assume I'm about to wax lyrical on the subject of Manchester or Leeds or - heaven forbid - Newcastle. While a Texan reader may automatically think I'm gonna wail on some yankee sons'a'bitches.

And although English or American friends of mine - knowing I'm Irish - might understand that by "The North" I mean the six counties of Ireland currently under British occupation, even they won't get the full connotations of what's meant when someone from a very republican Irish background capitalises 'The North'. In the same way as I'll never fully capture the wave of subtle emotion and memory that The North may evoke to someone from a different background.

I have a large extended family, and three generations ago it was split right down the middle by the civil war. The Irish civil war wasn't between Republicans and Someone Else. It was between two groups of republicans who had different notions about how to go about it. And it got nasty. So even three generations later, family gatherings could explode into heated arguments and slammed doors. Shouts of "that treacherous bastard de Valera!" or "To hell with you! And to hell with That Great Sell Out!" echoing through the house (the last bit refers to Michael Collins by the way, when hissed through the teeth of a de Valera republican).

One thing however, that would immediately unite the whole clan is the issue of the future of The North. Stated simply; the Irish Republic should encompass the entire island - all 32 counties. Having the British parliament set laws for part of Ireland makes as much sense as giving legislative power over parts of Bradford to the government of Pakistan.

It's political bias that makes someone describe Belfast as being part of the United Kingdom. Whereas it's simple geographical observation to say it's in Ireland.

If nothing else, given the history of these islands, isn't it just tasteless for English people living in London to be still passing laws over a third of the people living in Ireland, and taxing them for the privilege? Every single time The North hits the news, I (and countless other Irish folk) feel a nagging sense of injustice. It's not a voluntary reaction and until Ireland is reunited it'll never go away. Because it's entirely justified.

Unionists living in the north are essentially in the same position as British muslims, born and raised in Yorkshire or Lancashire or London, but who wish to see Sharia Law implemented in Britain.

And I'm frankly amazed that the British haven't left in embarrassment by now. Have they no shame? The continued occupation of almost 20% of the island is keeping one of the ugliest chapters in British history wide open. Why would Britain want to do that? Except perhaps as some kind of sackcloth-and-ashes-self-flagellation thing, maybe? Is that what it is? But if that's the case, I do wish they'd choose somewhere else to prostrate themselves and roll in filth. My little island deserves some peace... it's about time it got it.

Now, I don't for a moment suggest that the British occupation has been particularly "tyrannical" in the recent past. Certainly not in my lifetime, though the policy of internment during the 70s and 80s came damn close. But that's not the point... not to a people with a sense of their history (and the Irish would tend to fall into that category).

In an historical context, the current occupation is merely the continuation of a long-term policy which has in the past been implemented and maintained via some of the vilest attrocities imaginable. Oliver Cromwell slaughtered the entire population of a city and countless towns and villages to enforce an occupation that still continues to this day.

Is it any wonder republicans have a serious problem living in the shadow of British army watchtowers?

Of course, Cromwell was a long time ago. But he was followed by the Penal Laws, which was essentially a strategy of cultural extermination. The Penal Laws criminalised the use of the Irish language, the playing of traditional Irish music or sports, the performance of any Catholic or traditional religious services, and so on... it succeeded in killing the language pretty much, and that's arguably the most important thing to save, but in the long run it strengthened many traditional Irish cultural values (not all of them positive... I doubt The Church would have had such an influence in the Ireland of my youth had the British not suppressed it for a few hundred years).

To be honest, I wouldn't know how to hold another position on the matter. Like a number of political issues I see it as less a battle between two reasoned positions and more a bunch of mad people refusing to face up to reality. And when the opposing view is expressed by the kind of people who are sickened by the suggestion of anthropocentric climate change, would rather prepare for an asteroid attack than a flu pandemic (and would deny front-line health workers any special privileges during such a pandemic), and who can't understand why suicide bombers acting in the name of Islam might stress out Moslems a little more than the rest of us; well... clearly my view that they are "a bunch of mad people refusing to face up to reality" is soundly validated.

I'm not a nationalist per se let me point out. Certainly I feel "at home" when I arrive in Cork (or even Dublin) in a way that I don't when I'm in London or Athens. But the difference between Dublin and London is far smaller than the difference between London and Chicago. So if anything, I must feel more "European" than "Irish". Similarly I take a guilty pleasure in seeing an Irish sports team do well (even though I don't follow sports and have no connection to anyone on the team except a geosynchronous birth). But I take far more pleasure in seeing one of my English or Swiss or Greek or American friends doing well at something.

Being from the same island as James Joyce and Van Morrison always thrills me a little. But there's no rational reason whatsoever for it to do so. I might just as well get excited by the fact they both expressed a preference for the same flavour ice-cream as me. People aren't always rational about these things.

What? Really Jim? You're saying people don't always act rationally when it comes to matters of nationalism? Next you'll be telling us the earth moves round the sun and isn't the centre of the universe!

Yeah. Sorry for stating the obvious.

All I'm saying is I fully admit that I have an overwhelming cultural bias when it comes to The North. But that's not the same as being barking mad. Fecking mentalists!

6 Comments:

Anonymous Iain Coleman said...

Your attitude towards Northern Ireland does seem a bit inconsistent to me, but then I'm Scottish. By your geographical argument, I guess Scotland ought to be part of England. Yet horrors similar to those you describe in Ireland were also visited on Scotland, which might suggest that Scotland (like Ireland) should be an independent nation, free from English repression. And in fact, we've managed a working devolved government in Scotland, resolving to a great extent the political differences between Scotland and England, and without anyone going around blowing up children.

I guess what I'm really saying is that nations are defined by the people that constitute them, not by geography. The Scottish political settlement suits a nation that has many correspondences of culture and interest with the other nations of the UK, but which is culturally and politically distinct enough to require its own legislative body.

Coming back to Ireland, it is simply ludicrous to imagine that there are no substantial cultural or political differences between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. You might, I suppose, imagine that the six counties would get along as well, or better, as part of a united Ireland with its own devolved government, analogous to the devolution within the UK that is part of the Good Friday Agreement. You might even be right. However, it's not me you have to convince. It's the people who live in Northern Ireland right now. No change to the sovereignty of Northern Ireland that does not have the democratic assent of the majority of its citizens can possibly be regarded as legitimate. What kinds of arguments do you think would be effective in changing their minds?

31/8/05 23:19  
Blogger L said...

Politics are never rational

1/9/05 02:56  
Blogger Jim Bliss said...

Your attitude towards Northern Ireland does seem a bit inconsistent to me

Do be aware, Iain, that this piece is a hurried rant, written in response to a piece on another blog which attacks 'the Oirish' rather savagely. It doesn't surprise me in the least that you can detect inconsistencies. If it were a considered piece written to the standards of propositional logic then I suspect I'd have put it up on The Sharpener.

This place is where I rant and sometimes bend logic if it'll make the piece a) funnier, or b) more offensive towards a certain viewpoint.

In my defence though, I do end this piece by making it clear that I have "an overwhelming cultural bias" which means "I wouldn't know how to hold another position on the matter", and that I'm not necessarily "be[ing] rational about these things".

That said, I don't think it's fair to draw the analogy between Northern Ireland / Ireland on the one hand and Scotland / England on the other. By describing Ireland as a geographically defined nation, I wasn't making the argument that all nations are geographically defined.

However, even if I was doing so, then clearly the more accuracte comparison would be between Scotland / Britain (i.e. that the island as a whole should be a nation - not that all parts of the island should be subsumed into one of it's culturally unique areas). There are clear cultural differences between (for example) the counties of Dublin and Cork, or between Sussex and Yorkshire, but that's surely not an argument for an independent Sussex? In fact, I'd suggest that there's a greater cultural similarity between Yorkshire and Southern Scotland, than between Yorkshire and Sussex.

In truth, the argument for Irish unity is an historical one.

1/9/05 11:38  
Blogger Jim Bliss said...

L, ain't that the truth! Though in fairness, it's possible to cite political views which are more, or less, rational than others.

1/9/05 11:40  
Blogger Gavin Ayling said...

Doesn't a referendum on sovereignty in "the North" settle this problem? I'm being deliberately simplistic, and Iain has pointed out the geographical inconsistency, but surely "what the people want" is the cornerstone of democracy? Otherwise everyone who supports another party to Labour should be bombing Brighton this week... Oh wait, the IRA already did that.

And do you know what, the IRA are going to be omitted from a future thought crime: condoning terrorism! Oh well, looks like British rule isn't that bad after all.

Devolution may seem like a workable solution to Iain, but I would also like to point out that it is not workable for England.

26/9/05 12:26  
Blogger Jim Bliss said...

First thing I should point out Gavin, is that I'm not actually a huge fan of democracy. So quite aside from the important technical issue of who exactly is included in the vote, I'm very sceptical about the abilities of referenda to solve anything.

The technical issue: Do you ask just those living in The North to vote?

What do you say to a republican who claims that a decision on the sovereignty of a part of Ireland should be decided by all Irish people?

And what do you say to a unionist who claims that any decision about a part of the UK seceding from the union should be made by all British people?

Northern Ireland is "a problem" precisely because of the people who feel one of those two ways... and are willing to get militant about it. So any referendum will be seen as fundamentally illegitimate by one or both antagonists.

Therefore in practical terms, it will solve nothing and will actually enhance division by providing one side with a stick to beat the other with.

On a more philosophical level, I'm unconvinced that democracy (either representative or direct) is an appropriate method of making complex decisions.

26/9/05 12:54  

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