On Ur-Populism

This post was written in response to one that appeared on The Laurentian Consensus, which argues in favour of a definition of populism based on the wisdom and participation of ordinary people. Laurent is onto something with his definition and his post is well worth reading, but as I don’t feel a particular commitment to populism as a term, I’m more interested in understanding how it is used in contemporary political “analysis” — it’s vague, yes, inconsistent, yes, but I think we can identify some broad trends. After all, words don’t ever have NO meaning.

The fact that Trump and Sanders, SYRIZA and Hitler (and a whole host of others) have been called populist shows it doesn’t have much to do with the traditional left-right spectrum or with particular policy commitments. I think there are similarities though in rhetorical style and campaign strategy. I’m reminded of Umberto Eco’s Ur-Fascism, particularly this bit:

Fascism was philosophically out of joint, but emotionally it was firmly fastened to some archetypal foundations.

So we come to my second point. There was only one Nazism. We cannot label Franco’s hyper-Catholic Falangism as Nazism, since Nazism is fundamentally pagan, polytheistic, and anti-Christian. But the fascist game can be played in many forms, and the name of the game does not change. The notion of fascism is not unlike Wittgenstein’s notion of a game. A game can be either competitive or not, it can require some special skill or none, it can or cannot involve money. Games are different activities that display only some “family resemblance,” as Wittgenstein put it…

Fascism became an all-purpose term because one can eliminate from a fascist regime one or more features, and it will still be recognizable as fascist. Take away imperialism from fascism and you still have Franco and Salazar. Take away colonialism and you still have the Balkan fascism of the Ustashes.

We tend to think of politics in terms of programs, which usually means defined sets of policies, but even revolutionary politics can be seen as advancing programs of anti-capitalism, anti-racism, and the like.  I think this is the most important element of politics, but it’s obvious that other things matter. Imagery, for instance, plays a big role: mainstream politicans’ religious message discipline, icon worship, and personal stylists are evidence of that.  But I think Eco is onto something big when he centres style in politics and I see no reason this emphasis should be limited to fascism.  Being the semiotician that he is, Eco writes about a discursive or cognitive style: the way thoughts and objects are linked together to form ideas. However, it doesn’t take much to see how this kind of style spills over into political rhetoric, political strategy, political action, and — heaven help us — political regimes. (This is, in my view, a major reason why terms like fascism and populism and neoliberalism are so vaguely defined: Mussolini the fascist pig is qualitatively different from Officer Bubbles the fascist pig, but there’s nevertheless a family resemblance in their political style.)

“But in spite of this fuzziness,” can we identify the features of Ur-Populism, or Eternal Populism? To me the answer’s clearly yes, and though I don’t want to get into a rigorous analysis here, I’ll conclude with a few thoughts on what some of them might be. Laurent has already identified key elements of populism: participatory democracy and belief in ordinary people. (A classmate of mine suggested one difference between left-wing and right-wing populism: left-wing populism tends to be about remaking society to raise ordinary people to their full potential, while right-wing populism is about celebrating ordinary people and their society as they already are.)

  • If there’s one indispensable feature of populism, it’s mass appeal: sometimes it’s implicit, often explicit, but populism tries to unite a large group of people under its wing. This doesn’t have to be a majority — Trump, for instance, is making no attempt to appeal to 50%+1 of Americans — but represents a sizeable chunk of the population nonetheless. In some respects, this is true of all mainstream politics, but populism is unique in elevating this above all other aims. The Liberal Party of Canada’s “big tent” strategy is one of the best examples of this.
  • Mass appeal tends to be anti-establishment. This is true many of the most ready examples of populists, including the four I cited at the beginning: Trump, Sanders, SYRIZA and Hitler. Again, it’s not an uncommon political strategy, but populists tend to emphasise this aspect of their politics even after they’ve attained power.
  • Anti-establishment politics promise sweeping change. Populists don’t get into power by promising to raise the capital gains tax inclusion rate from 50% to 55%, or by suggesting a minor reduction in the size of the civil service. They win by promising novelty, abolition, replacement, transformation, reform, and revolution.

The more I think about it, the more populism today appears to be a catch-all term, but appearances aren’t necessarily reality and in this case I think it’s a strength. The business of government today is, to quote Laurent, “increasingly centralized, expert and de-politicized”. This is inevitably going to alienate swathes of voters, so it’s no surprise that parties adopt populist rhetoric to compensate — just as neoliberals promise transparency and accountability as they privatise public functions, or low spending and balanced budgets even as they encourage everyday citizens to sell their souls to capital by taking on a lifetime’s worth of various forms of debt. Any magician will tell you that misdirection is the only trick in the book, so in an age of post-democracy, everyone’s a populist.

James Connolly on practical politics

LET US BE PRACTICAL. WE WANT SOMETHING PR-R-RACTICAL.

Always the cry of hum-drum mediocrity, afraid to face the stern necessity for uncompromising action. That saying has done more yeoman service in the cause of oppression than all its avowed supporters.

The average man dislikes to be thought unpractical, and so, while frequently loathing the principles or distrusting the leaders of the particular political party he is associated with, declines to leave them, in the hope that their very lack of earnestness may be more fruitful of practical results than the honest
outspokenness of the party in whose principles he does believe.

In the phraseology of politics, a party too indifferent to the sorrow and sufferings of humanity to raise its voice in protest, is a moderate, practical party; whilst a party totally indifferent to the personality of leaders, or questions of leadership, but hot to enthusiasm on every question affecting the well-being of the toiling masses, is an extreme, a dangerous party.

Yet, although it may seem a paradox to say so, there is no party so incapable of achieving practical results as an orthodox political party; and there is no party so certain of placing moderate reforms to its credit as an extreme – a revolutionary party.

The possessing classes will and do laugh to scorn every scheme for the amelioration of the workers so long as those responsible for the initiation of the scheme admit as justifiable the ‘rights of property’; but when the public attention is directed towards questioning the justifiable nature of those ‘rights’ in themselves, then the master class, alarmed for the safety of their booty, yield reform after reform – in order to prevent revolution.

Moral – Don’t be ‘practical’ in politics. To be practical in that sense means that you have schooled yourself to think along the lines, and in the grooves those who rob you would desire you to think.

In any case it is time we got rid of all the cant about ‘politics’ and ‘constitutional agitation’ in general. For there is really no meaning whatever in those phrases.

Every public question is a political question. The men who tell us that Labor questions, for instance, have nothing to do with politics, understand neither the one nor the other. The Labor question cannot be
settled except by measures which necessitate a revision of the whole system of society, which, of course, implies political warfare to secure the power to effect such revision.

If by politics we understand the fight between the outs and ins, or the contest for party leadership, then Labor is rightly supremely indifferent to such politics, but to the politics which center round the question of property and the administration thereof Labor is not, cannot be, indifferent.

To effect its emancipation Labor must reorganize society on the basis of labor; this cannot be done while the forces of government are in the hands of the rich, therefore the governing power must be wrested from the hands of the rich peaceably if possible, forcibly if necessary.

In the phraseology of the master class and its pressmen the trade unionist who is not a Socialist is more practical than he who is, and the worker who is neither one nor the other but can resign himself to the state of slavery in which he was born, is the most practical of all men.

The heroes and martyrs who in the past gave up their lives for the liberty of the race were not practical, but they were heroes all the same.

The slavish multitude who refused to second their efforts from a craven fear lest their skins might suffer were practical, but they were soulless serfs, nevertheless.

Revolution is never practical – until the hour of the Revolution strikes. Then it alone is practical, and all the efforts of the conservatives and compromisers become the most futile and visionary of human imaginings.

For that hour let us work, think and hope; for that hour let us pawn our present ease in hopes of a glorious redemption; for that hour let us prepare the hosts of Labor with intelligence sufficient to laugh at the nostrums dubbed practical by our slave-lords, practical for the perpetuation of our slavery; for that supreme crisis of human history let us watch, like sentinels, with weapons ever ready, remembering always that there can be no dignity in Labor until Labor knows no master.

– Socialism Made Easy, 1909

A memory of James Connolly – Cathal O’Shannon

 

A lovely account of James Connolly by a man who knew him well. It originally served as the introduction to a 1950s edition of Labour in Ireland. As this edition is not readily available, I have transcribed it and posted it here. Further information and PDF download at the bottom.

[ix]

Nobody who ever met James Connolly could fail to carry away the impression that he was an exceptional man. Nobody who ever talked to him on a serious matter could fail to be convinced that he was a man possessed of the essential qualities of greatness. And at this distance of time, when it is possible to arrive at a conception of some, but not the full measure of his life-work and achievement, to estimate the effect of his thought his writings and his actions on history, it can scarcely be denied that in Connolly there was more than a touch of genius.

In stature and in appearance the living Connolly would not have suggested to the casual observer that there were any outstanding qualities or merits in the man. He was short, rather squat, broadly and sturdily built, with unusual breadth of shoulders. But a close examination revealed that what Francis Sheehy-Skeffington called his bullet head carried a countenance and eyes that could belong only to a man who gave himself to hard and accurate thinking, to boring as it were right into the centre of a problem, and to judging and weighing a man or a measure with a penetrative analysis that left no room for doubt of its thoroughness.

These qualities of Connolly’s were seen at their best in his private conversations, in committee work, in public speech, and his writings. Few men indeed reflected their real selves so clearly in their writings as Connolly did, and even now, those who had the honour of knowing him intimately, can hear the very accent of him as they re-read the articles and books he wrote.

It would not be quite accurate to say that he spoke slowly. But he was not a rapid speaker and he always spoke with great [x] deliberation and carefulness. And he was never hesitant or halting, although he had had in early life to conquer, by sheer force of will, a natural impediment in speech. This gave to his pronunciation of certain words an uncommon peculiarity ; and this actually helped to emphasise the feeling of deliberation and of carefulness which his spoken words conveyed.

To hear a lecture or speech of Connolly’s was a memorable experience. But it was much more than that ; in a very real sense it was part of a good working-class education. Since 1910, when I first heard him, I have heard every prominent speaker in Ireland, most of the big Labour men in Great Britain, and some of the best speakers among the Continental Socialists. But somehow or other Connolly’s addresses had something in them different and apart from any I have heard anywhere. He was not exactly a great orator, although he could rise to oratory too. But he had a method, a style, a manner that exactly fitted and adorned the splendid material he used in his speeches. He was never slipshod, never flamboyant, but always earnest, simple and informative. He spoke as one who had carefully thought out what he was going to say, and before saying a single word he had obviously chosen just the right words that would convey his meaning and his message. His sentences came then freely and naturally enough, and every word told effectively.  And in a single speech his was master of all the styles every aspect of his subject required. But he never played to the gallery. He always had respect for the intelligence of his audience, and he invariably suited the form of his address and the manner of presenting his argument to the particular audience before him. The result was that from Connolly you got a cogent, coherent and reasoned statement of a case, presented in the clearest manner, illustrated by the most telling allusions, with the argument marshalled in the coldest and calmest fashion, yet warmed with the burning fire of sincerity and sympathy. And it was always chock-full of good [xi] stuff, as informative and as educative as his writings, but never put in a school-masterly way and never above—nor yet below—the heads of those listening to him.

The effect of Connolly’s oratory was remarkable. If it did not arouse the wild and whirling enthusiasm evoked by the outburst of a demagogue, it created enthusiasm of a different kind. It compelled assent as well as respect, it carried conviction and it aroused enthusiasm of the more lasting kind, a quiet, enduring enthusiasm which forced the hearer to act on Connolly’s side rather than cheer his words. Need I say that to secure that effect his public speech had enough of the element of passion to stir the heart as well as the head? But it was passion that was kept under control, and all the time emphatically the product, not of rhetoric, but of conviction and a red-hot sincerity.

It has been said, and with a certain amount of truth, that there was an aloofness about Connolly, a coldness which did not attract, a something which did not permit him to be known intimately by the generality of people—in short that he was difficult to know. So far as that was true, it was, I think, because he was essentially the thinker as well as the man of action. He was never the hail-fellow-well-met kind of person, and he never professed an over-flowing geniality which, with most of those who display it, is generally on the surface. But to speak of Connolly as cold and aloof is to speak only half the truth. To those who knew him he was the most intimate of friends and colleagues, and if once you penetrated his outward mask of reserve you found as warm-hearted a man, as genial a companion, as close a comrade, as sympathetic a confidant as man could desire. That is certainly the impression he left on me, whether I regard him as personal friend, or as associate in public and national affairs, or as mentor and comrade in trade union activity, in political council, in industrial struggle and conflict. Above all he gave you a feeling of confidence, not only in his judgment, not only in his knowledge, not only in his principles [xii] but in himself as man, as friend, as leader, and it was a confidence for which he gave you reasoned, reasonable, and convincing foundation. Some of that confidence he conveyed to his audience, whether a small committee or a public meeting, critical or uncritical. And if you were worthy of it—but only if you were worthy of it—he made you his own confidant, unbared himself to you and, as even those who heard him once only at public meetings will remember, he had an excellent seasoning of humour for even the most serious things he said or did.

As a leader Connolly’s outstanding qualities were his foresight, his dogged courage and determination, and his basing of his every act of life on what might be called his working class outlook and philosophy. To say that is not to say that Connolly’s head was in the clouds in the vulgar sense of that expression. Far from it, for indeed his feet stood firmly on the solid earth and no Irishman of his generation was more realist than he. But he had high ideals and big aims, and his principles were definite and fixed. They had become part of himself at a comparatively early age, and were developed and expanded in later years. But in the fullness of his manhood there was nothing academic about his philosophy. It was practical and realistic, and, while he did not abandon any jot or tittle of his principles, he never hesitated to fit his action to the circumstances of the time and the position in which he found himself. In this respect he very nearly approached the ideal of leadership—he was in the van and actually led, because he knew where he was going and why he was going there, and he took steps to carve out his own path. On the way to his goal, he knew he would meet with obstacles and difficulties, but they must be surmounted, and if to surmount them called for time and patience and occasionally for a step or two backward, Connolly would not hesitate, but would suffer the delay, not gladly indeed, but recognising that rebuffs of this kind must be met and endured. But all the [xiii] time he kept in marching order ; and his eye was fixed steadily on the ultimate goal. Someone—I think it was Jim Connell, the author of “ The Red Flag ”—said that Connolly seemed to care little whether other people agreed with him or not, but that he took care that he was right, whatever other people might think or do. That gives a true impression of Connolly and it is of the very essence of leadership. He used to put it in another way. Irishmen, he would say, have plenty of physical courage but they lack moral courage. Connolly’s moral courage was as much a part of himself as his physical courage, and it is a quality without which there is no real leadership.

Connolly’s philosophy of the Labour movement, I have said, was definitely working-class. He was of the working class, and his aim was the advancement of the working class to power. He made no bones about that, he was quite frank about it, and he never turned aside from it. His every thought, his every word, his every act was never for a moment divorced from the hard, and often hellish, realities of the life of the working class.

“ The working class,” he said, “ can think and speak only in language as hard and definite as its life. We have no room for illusions in our struggle, least of all for illusions about freedom.” Hence he was the ruthless enemy of humbug, hypocrisy, pretence and, as he said, he was a bigot in his opposition to these shams. But this bigotry was reasoned and deliberate. It was not the result of mere blind prejudice, it was a product of knowledge of the facts of life, of the realities,  “ hard and definite,” of the conflict between classes.

That was why he recognised that the political strength of Labour depended on its industrial strength. “ Without the power of the industrial union behind it,” he said, “ Democracy can only enter the State as the victim enters the gullet of the serpent. Therefore political power must, for the working classes, come straight out of the industrial battlefield as the expression of the organised economic force of Labour ; else it cannot come at all. [xiv] With Labour properly organised upon the industrial and political field each extension of the principle of public ownership brings us nearer to the re-conquest of Ireland by its people ; it means the gradual resumption of the common ownership of all Ireland by all the Irish—the realisation of Freedom.”

Cathal O’Shannon

 

Biographical note

James Connolly was born in 1868 of Co. Monaghan parents and was reared in Scotland. In 1896 he came to Ireland and in Dublin founded the Irish Socialist Republican Party and its organ The Workers’ Republic. After some years in the United States he established the Irish Socialist Federation in New York in 1907 and a monthly The Harp in 1908.

Returning to Ireland in 1910 he joined Cumannacht na hÉireann, the Socialist Party of Ireland, became a member of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, and in 1911 was appointed the Union’s Belfast Secretary and Organiser for Ulster. He took an Active part in Dublin’s big Labour war in 1913-14 and in October 1914 became Acting General Secretary of the Union and Commandant of the Irish Citizen Army.

In 1915 he issued a new weekly series of The Workers’ Republic and through it and arming and training the Irish Citizen Army he campaigned vigorously for insurrection.

Co-opted a member of the Military Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1916, he signed at Easter the Proclamation of the Irish Republic with the six other members of the Provisional Government. As Commandant General of the Dublin Division of the Army of the Republic he directed the insurgent operations in the city. Seriously wounded, he was court-martialled after surrender, and was executed by a British firing squad on May 13, 1916, in Kilmainham Jail.

 


Transcription note:

Transcribed from the original publication, to which it formed the introduction. The biographical note at the end of the document followed the author’s attribution. Page numbers are in square brackets. The original spelling and punctuation have been preserved. —JB

 

Original bibliographic information:

O’Shannon, Cathal. “Introduction”, Labour in Ireland. Fleet Street, Dublin at the Sign of the Three Candles. n.d. (ca. 1950).

Download PDF: James Connolly, Cathal O’Shannon.

International relations, women, and the state

A response to: Kandiyoti, D. (2007). Between the hammer and the anvil: post-conflictreconstruction, Islam and women’s rights. Third World Quarterly. Vol. 28 (3). pp. 503-517.

 

Reading Kandiyoti’s article made me flash back to my undergrad degree in International Relations. Traditionally, of course, IR has been a hypermasculine field: dominated by men, obsessed with matters of war and high-level politics. Saying it’s been dismissive of women would be inaccurate – it’s more that the epistemological and ontological assumptions of the field exclude them by definition. In the 80s and 90s, women began to be incorporated into the field (“mainstreaming of women” is, embarrassingly, almost a technical term in IR). But the way in which women were incorporated was by shoehorning them into the masculine framework, broadening the scope of inquiry without changing any of the fundamental assumptions of the field. Instead of simply imposing an austerity plan on Third World countries, the approach is now to come up with an austerity plan, make sure it won’t affect women “disproportionately”, and then impose it.

This was the first three years of my postsecondary education. It’s impossible for me to describe what the affective experience of it was like in concrete terms, but hopefully my description and your own experiences can give you a rough idea. I say all this by way of background: for several reasons, Kandiyoti revived that experience of IR for me, putting me in a very IR frame of mind and recalling the criticisms that made me leave the field.

The opening warning against assuming the benevolence of the state is itself very much a product of its western context. Third World people, I am sure, do not need to be told not to trust the (post)colonial state. Yet for westerners, the idea of doubting the state is almost incomprehensible – less so for “us”, but within the disciplinary confines of International Relations, the state is an amoral force. In my experience, IR academics tend to be pretty cynical insofar as state benevolence is concerned, but outside of the academy, the people who apply their work may be less so – I’m thinking here of NGOs.

But even within IR, much about the state is taken for granted. Mainstream IR is inherently conservative: the state exists, we analyse it, and that’s that. In Robert Cox’s terms, it’s pure problem solving theory, with no room for critical thought – no room for change. (If things do change, it’s generally considered a turn for the worse, leading to civil war or – god forbid – a failed state.) The idea that people living in these countries have their own patterns of life and might wish to make their own ways of governing that life is given lip service: we have constitutional conventions and participatory democracy, what else could these people want??? Always it’s within the confines of the specifically western state. And it’s always, therefore, colonial.

 

  1. Western states are masculine in their assumptions and in the construction of their institutions – they’re gendered, affecting the way they try to solve problems and the types of problems they approach. But they’re gendered along the specific lines of western gender. Can western-style states ever adequately address the concerns of people in the Third World without imposing a universalistic view of gender?
  2. We talk a lot about geographical discourses: western discourses, African discourses, Middle Eastern discourses, Third World discourses… We assume that certain ideas belong to one discourse and different ideas belong to another. But discourses do not strictly follow borders, either physical or conceptual. Where does one discourse end and another begin?

The Self and the invisible Other

This was composed as a response to four readings, listed at the bottom of the post.

The Self-Other dichotomy is an explicit theme of three of this week’s readings (and an implicit theme of the fourth). Often, in traditions of thought which problematise identity formation, the existence and rejection of an Other is a necessary part of the creation of the Self. That is, there is no Self without an Other; no Other without a Self. Certainly this kind of dialectical relationship has value when discussing colonialism and imperialism, where the imposition of a colonial regime (or of a colonising international political economic landscape) creates a subject Other to the colonial Self. Resources, administrators, and discourses flow between these two mutually-dependent poles. But on a fundamental level, is the Other truly necessary? Can it not be marginalised or subsumed so totally that it is no longer identifiable in identity discourses?

I remember how shocked the western establishment media seemed at the revelation that certain brands of shrimp were provided by slave labour in Southeast Asia. Not only were these slaves totally unknown to the western consciousness, but – in my experience, Southeast Asia barely registers in it as a phenomenon, let alone a neocolonial subject or object of study. I’m not suggesting that SEA is not Othered, but I can conceive of a world in which it is so Othered it actually ceases to be a referent of discourse (linguistic as well as non-linguistic).

We need to take heed of Mohanty’s warning not to conflate the discursive and material subject. Even if the west believes it is the only entity that exists, its existence (or at the very least, its prosperity) is ultimately reliant on the material exploitation of the rest of the world. Barring a fundamental breakdown of physics and the reduction of the entire universe to a singularity, physical differentiation will always exist. But to divide space up into various discrete entities – my body, your body, my shrimp, Southeast Asian slavery – requires the imposition of a discourse. If this discourse does not comment on certain physical phenomena, can they truly be said to be either Self or Other? Must we assume that discourses are automatically totalising and that anything not explicitly named is part of a default Other?

I think not.

 

Readings:

Minh-Ha, T. T. (1987). Difference: ‘A special Third World women issue’. Feminist Review, 25(1), 5-22.

Spivak, G. C. (1988).”Can the Subaltern Speak?”. Marxism and the interpretation of culture, 271-313.

Mohanty, C. T. (1988). Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses. Feminist Review. No. 30. Pp. 61-88.

Cook, N. (2008). Developing Transnational Relations and Subjectivities: The Politics of
Virtue and Empowerment in Gilgit, Northern Pakistan. Resources for Feminist Research. Vol. 32 (3/4). Pp. 115-141

On campus, it’s bad to be bothered by a diversity of ideas (or, The Campus Free Speech Article)

I got so fucking sick of seeing the exact same, poorly written article published week after week that I decided to clarify the language somewhat. If you’re going to be a bigot, you can at least dispense with the euphemism.

The particular article I rewrote was written by Konrad Yakabuski and published in the Globe and Mail today, but really, I could have chosen any of them.

The most offensive thing about the modern university campus is just how easily the people on it apply critical thinking. Not everyone, of course. But more than ever, campus politics is dominated by a minority of spooky scary students who deem hateful expressions of my point of view as acts of aggression that must be prevented.

This is the antithesis of what my university experience is supposed to be all about. The time in my life when I am only beginning to appreciate humanity’s complexity should not be the moment I choose to close our minds to anything I don’t already believe in. Yet various forms of thinking are the norm on modern campuses. Course material is run through the sieve of consideration to ensure it is a beneficial experience for everyone, not just me. If it isn’t, a minority of professors include trigger warnings on syllabuses to alert students to material that may recall traumatic events in their own lives, such as racism or sexual violence. There’s nothing wrong with showing sensitivity. But it becomes a problem when people other than me are a victim of some form of oppression or trauma, such that the very things I believe in get questioned and hateful people are occasionally barred from speaking on campus.

“Students should be free to argue their beliefs without fear of being labelled intolerant or disrespectful,” Alan Levinovitz, another person with a very similar sociopolitical positionality to me wrote recently in The Atlantic. “As it stands, that freedom does not exist in most academic settings, except when students’ opinions line up with what can be broadly understood as progressive political views.”

It would be exactly the same phenomenon if the political minority on campus discouraged the expression of anti-hateful viewpoints – and, indeed, that’s the case at some Christian evangelical colleges in the United States and Canada. But on some North American campuses, it’s the other way around, with anyone who hates gay people or Palestinians or thinking critically about cultural power dynamics branded as the “enemy.” The overreaction is such that most students just choose to get on with their lives.

So, it was encouraging to hear about the letter the University of Chicago sent to this year’s class of incoming students, reasserting the truth of my privileged political assumptions.

“Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called trigger warnings, we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own,” John Ellison another person with a very similar sociopolitical positionality to me (but with a much better moustache) wrote.

What might have been an opportunity to maintain the historical purpose of the modern academy, however, quickly descended into a critical examination of the university and its policies. The letter was alternatively analzsed as a “publicity stunt” and a pander to rich white men put off by the diversity on campus. It was derided for playing into the stereotype of the “uppity student” who dares to study social hierarchies.

I understand why no self-respecting undergrad wants to read what another privileged white male has to say on this matter, but I’m so self-important that I’ve written 750 words on it anyway. I understand how enabling repulsive behaviours or points of view can sometimes seem like tacit acceptance of what are clearly repulsive behaviours or points of view. So, instead, let me cherrypick a token minority who happens to be almost as invested in the current order as I am.

“Don’t try to shut folks out, don’t try to shut them down, no matter how much you might disagree with them,” Barack “Drone Strike” Obama said in May. “There will be times when you shouldn’t compromise your core values, your integrity and you will have the responsibility to speak up in the face of injustice. But listen. Engage. If the other side has a point, learn from them. If they’re wrong, rebut them. Teach them. Beat them on the battlefield of ideas. And you might as well start practising now, because one thing I can guarantee you, you will have to deal with ignorance, hatred, racism, foolishness, trifling folks … at every stage of your life.”

Better yet, students should, in Prof. Levinovitz’s words, see university as a “boot camp, not a hotel.” You’re there to become a part of the white supremacist patriarchal antiqueer capitalist American military industrial complex, not learn about infuriating injustices, painful conflicts and, yes, even the Donald Trumps of this world. Because they’re in charge.

The Millennial-Futurist Manifesto of the DRUNKARTIST

To die, perchance to drink! Speed, speed, towards maximum intoxication. The proof is in the bottle and the drink is all there is! Drink, drink, dance, and drink! Along the line we slide into blissful darkness and illuminated ignorance. We reject the sober! Fuck them and their sensical machinations!

Ahhh, to fuck, to fuck, but first to drink! For it is not the ends alone but the means. Drink, drink, and talk and ponder, but first to drink! This is our creed, and credo ;having been so composed, with a downed bottle of wine but what a bottle.

THIS BOTTLE:

  1. One is to self-intoxicate MAXIMALLY
  2. as the ends and the means and the ends to the means!
  3. Nothing secondary to the primary but the secondary goal of SHOTS!
  4. And quickly to be drunk, to drink.
  5. But only to be drunk, to drink.

11:00 PM
Buttfuck, NB.

James Beirne

Bar Car

A drunken conversation between Master Byrne, Aul Séamus, and Michel.

 

MASTER BYRNE (DRUNK): There’s a certain poise one expects from a person. Like in this particular situation, one expects a certain poise.

AUL SÉAMUS (DRUNK): Aye.

MICHEL (DRUNK): Such expectations of poise don’t emerge from nowhere, of course. It’s developed over time.

MASTER BYRNE: I mean, at the beginning of this train ride we were all sober. If one of us were to –

AUL SÉAMUS: – IIIII love youu –

MASTER BYRNE: – *ahem* – exceed expectations at the beginning of the trip, the rest of us would be judgemental.

MICHEL: We’re no less judgemental now. But the conditions of our judgement have been, as we’d say, relaxed…

CONSTABLE PORQUE (INTRUDING): How are ya?

AUL SÉAMUS: Mhm.

Higher Level

A conversation between Aul Séamus, Master Byrne, Joe the Plumber, Michel, and Žižek.

 

AUL SÉAMUS: Good afternoon, Master Byrne. Why are you looking so glum today?

MASTER BYRNE: I’ve finished my degree and for the first time in my life I feel like I can do whatever I want to. I’m at a real crossroads and I don’t know what to do.

AUL SÉAMUS: You’re not going on to grad school, then?

MASTER BYRNE: Well, I am…

AUL SÉAMUS: Ah.

MASTER BYRNE: But I have to decide what to do the following year. It’s good to have a plan. I went into grad school by default. I still haven’t made the decision, if you follow me.

AUL SÉAMUS: Aye.

JOE THE PLUMBER: You’ve been in school long enough, bud. It’s about time you went out into the real world, get some skills, earn some money. What are you going to do with an obscure arts degree?

MASTER BYRNE: Beats me. I’m not in it for the money. I just want to be able to live and study.

MICHEL: One must reproduce oneself in order to think. Have we not already had this conversation?

AUL SÉAMUS: Aye, but Joe the Plumber wasn’t there.

MASTER BYRNE: Besides, then I was just homesick and wondering when best to return. This is a much…grander… life decision.

JOE THE PLUMBER: Did any of them tell you to get a job?

ŽIŽEK (ENTERING): Excremental fantasy.

MASTER BYRNE: No. Look, I just want to be useful. I want to do something political with my life. Even though I never doubted that I would go to university, my choice to go and my choice of major were taken with political motivations. When I was younger I was naïve and I wanted to change the world. University has wizened me up –

AUL SÉAMUS: – ahem –

MASTER BYRNE: – a bit and I don’t really think it’s possible for me to do that. But I can make a difference at some level. I just don’t know how yet, so I want a bit more time to think.

AUL SÉAMUS: Bah. You know, when I was your age I had three children and worked sixteen hour days on the farm. No time for politics.

MASTER BYRNE: Well, I’m not you and these are different times.

JOE THE PLUMBER: Yeah. When I was your age I went to trade school where I learned how to contribute something useful to the world. Universities these days are an echo chamber for professors and idealistic students to police each other’s thoughts and advance the liberal agenda. You want to make a difference? You’re kidding yourself if you think a master’s is worth your time. Grow up and be a productive member of society.

MICHEL: Every historical moment has a corresponding set of activities ordained by the nexus of social interactions. Aul Séamus has laboured in the fields for most of his life. Hardly, as he points out, political. And you have spent nearly two decades in the institutional education system, subjecting yourself to its constraints. Indeed, though you may look upon your formation as a locus of self-discovery, a personally selected site of education and resistance, and though Joe the Plumber considers it a sinister factory churning out leftist leeches, an institution of military discipline demanding absolute conformity, in reality neither is correct. We understand power as action which constrains action. But what of action which constrains action which constrains action. In reality, this metapower is at the heart of the neoliberal university experience. Beneath the façade of education and self-discovery, beyond still all the gilding and profiteering, true function of the university lurks – and it is indeed sinister. For it is true that one chooses, in your country, one’s own studies. One exercises power over oneself, constraining one’s set of possible future actions in accordance with one’s autodidactic aspirations: this is university as you have described it. Below this is found the second layer of educational reality, ce que Joe the Plumber has described. At this level, one has been seduced by marketing: your vision of university is an illusion. Here, university is indeed a factory stamping out identical copies of the ideal student. This is university as the site of governance: your agency is replaced with the agency of hierarchy; dominant structures of power act upon you to constrain your future actions. Boldly unoriginal, blatantly neoliberal. This is Joe the Plumber’s university. And yet, his perception is also flawed, is it not? Ultimately you chose to go to university. You chose your major. You chose not to leave, to enrol in classes, to graduate. And now you choose to continue your “studies” at the graduate level. You have been subjectified by the seemingly indomitable power of the university – but, as it were, with your express permission. Your future actions were constrained by your free choice to be subject to the constraints of the university. You are powerless because of your power; you are a mere subject because of your agency. You are utterly innocent and have only yourself to blame.

JOE THE PLUMBER: Jesus fuck.

ŽIŽEK: And yet, Master Byrne’s choice was only so free. You have already so well pointed out that the proletarian is obliged by the demands of capital and the limits of its own position to labour for the reproduction of its own life. In other words, the modern proletarian undertakes a university education literally at gunpoint. Michel is correct that university is not the utopian journey of self-discovery and experimentation it once was. And he is correct also in his observation that one elects, by one’s own apparently free choice, to engage in the process of university. But it is a fiction: society needs educated people, so it seduces innocent young boys to go to university. It is a choice, but a choice made under these conditions is not a free choice. It is, if you will forgive me, pure ideology.

JOE THE PLUMBER: It’s pure something, alright.

AUL SÉAMUS: From now on we’re having these discussions in the fields. This harvest I’ll have a bumper crop.

Round Trip

A conversation between Aul Séamus, Michel, and Master Byrne.

 

AUL SÉAMUS: You’ve been gone an awful long time now, Master Byrne.

MASTER BYRNE: Mister. Mister Byrne.

AUL SÉAMUS: Aye, sure.

MASTER BYRNE: I’ve been wanting to get back for a while now. Things just kept getting in the way, you know?

AUL SÉAMUS: What type of things?

MASTER BYRNE: Family obligations, school, employment.

AUL SÉAMUS: Rather material for you.

MASTER BYRNE: Yeah. But I have a long time ahead of me –

AUL SÉAMUS: – you hope –

MASTER BYRNE: – I hope – and plenty of time left to devote to greater concerns. But for now what’s important is that I give myself a solid foundation.

AUL SÉAMUS: Aye.

MICHEL: The affairs of l’homme are thus divided into two domains, the mental – I believe this is what some refer to as the spiritual – and the physical. Even the philosopher, the noblest of men, is obliged to tend to the latter to support the former. But the converse is not true. The menial can spend the totality of their lives toiling away in ignorance without a thought given to higher concerns. The baseline, therefore, is a labour which reproduces labour. The greater part of humanity remains for most of its life engaged in purely worldly affairs. Greater achievement is, thus, a rarity and is to be celebrated. But the would-be thinker with the best intentions, who labours simply for his own reproduction, is perhaps the most common of all men.

MASTER BYRNE: Oh, quit your bullshit. I’m serious.

MICHEL: As, as always, am I.

AUL SÉAMUS: You know yourself you’re not.

MASTER BYRNE: I will come back. But for now I think I have to keep myself afloat. I feel vulnerable. Ce que I have been working for my whole life could be lost very quickly if I don’t take steps to shore up my borders, if you know what I mean.

AUL SÉAMUS: You’re young yet.

MICHEL: Ah, Youth. The categorisation of l’homme by age is –

MASTER BYRNE: But that’s exactly it. I have a lot of time ahead of me and I don’t want to jeopardise it unnecessarily. How long could this take? Two, three years maximum?

AUL SÉAMUS: It’s already been four, eighteen.

MASTER BYRNE: Then I had no real choice, you know that. I didn’t know enough. I wasn’t ready. Now, for the first time, I am ready to choose. And I choose to wait, just a little longer. I don’t trust myself yet.

MICHEL: Trust. Choice.

AUL SÉAMUS: Aye.

MICHEL: It is only in the last two or three centuries that trust and choice have been features of the power of l’homme. Previously, Providence was our greatest refuge.

MASTER BYRNE: Ultimately it still is, though. Into the hands of fate I resign myself…

AUL SÉAMUS: Don’t you miss me? Or Michel?

MASTER BYRNE: Of course I do.

AUL SÉAMUS: We won’t be around forever.

MASTER BYRNE: I know. But you yourself will be there for a few years. I’ll be back in time to get to really know you. And Michel will be there for a good bit longer. I do feel bad I’m not with you now but I’ll have enough time to get a good sense of you.

AUL SÉAMUS: Aye, and to carry ourselves with you.

MASTER BYRNE: Aye.

MICHEL: Of course, we who you speak to now won’t be the “we” who you’ll be speaking to then.

MASTER BYRNE: Of course not. But you’ll be close enough that it won’t matter.

MICHEL: Aul Séamus will be. Me? On verra…

MASTER BYRNE: Yeah, you’re a historical being. We get it, Jesus. I don’t care if I know you now or later. It’s the same to me.

MICHEL: Of course, to know a historical being in the present aids in knowing it in the future.

MASTER BYRNE: Of course. But I can never know you to perfection. I have to make choices about where I spend my time.

HAYEK (INTRUDING): Choices…

MASTER BYRNE: Oh, fuck off.

AUL SÉAMUS: Que sera sera.

HAYEK: You know that’s not real Fr-

MICHEL: Oh, fuck off.

The Fall of Rome

A conversation between Caesar, Candide, and Publius.

 

CAESAR: Truly, the world has seen greater times. The mighty Empire of Rome has crumbled, leaving in its stead a weak collection of provinces beset by tyranny and dissent. Where is the strength? Where is the stability? Where is the order?

CANDIDE: Woe that the world should fall on such hard times! That there should be such pain and suffering, such hardship and strife. Oh, what would Pangloss say if he could see this world today? Can this truly be the best of all possible worlds? There is no order in the world: this much I have seen.

CAESAR: What order remains is characterised by decay. The backbone of civilization has fallen away and its ribs have fallen to a ground. While they yet retain some form, before long they will be trampled into dust.

PUBLIUS: If bones are trampled, it follows that someone must trample them. These bones are the fabric of civilisation itself. What man or faction would tear down the tapestry of civilization?

CAESAR: It is the boots of man himself that trample his corpse into the ground.

PUBLIUS: So you say, but here there is a fatal flaw in your reasoning: for what reason would a man trample his own corpse? It is most assuredly against his personal interest. I propose to you that a civilisation will not grind itself into powder: the destruction must be effected by another.

CAESAR: The hordes of the barbarian bore down upon the walls of Rome with such a force that not even our legions could withstand them. Perhaps the massed weight of the uncivilized wore down the foundations of the great empires of the twentieth century.

CANDIDE: Shame on the barbarian, the uncultured! An artist can spend a lifetime creating the most beautiful painting the world has ever known, and with a single strike from a sword it is forever destroyed. The world is much too delicate to survive such violence.

PUBLIUS: Yet Rome has not yet fallen: the centres of the empire remain intact; it is only the provinces that have succumbed to weakness. Why has the wretched barbarian conquered there but not here? The Roman Empire expanded through blood and steel to provide the needs of Rome herself: as armies flowed into the provinces, wealth flowed back to Rome. Yet the conquered could not express their dissent with the sword of Empire at their throats: they had no role to play in the polity. Revolt and insurrection therefore surely followed.

CAESAR: Perhaps we Romans made a grave mistake. The Empire continued the long-standing tradition of the Republic to allow its conquered tribes to continue their old ways of life, provided they paid their taxes to Rome. Perhaps the order and stability brought by the Empire was insufficient to allow the barbarians to become Romans: should true Roman citizenship require adoption of Roman culture?

CANDIDE: While parts of the world have seen centuries of prosperity, others languish in chaos and ruin! Is this the only way of the world? Will the civilised always indeed be civilised, and will the barbarian forever remain barbarian?

CAESAR: The civilised can become uncivilised when overrun by barbarians. When Rome fell, the world lost a light that was not seen again for a thousand years. Europa was ravaged by war. Kingdoms rose and fell as often as the sun. Instability reigned lord over all.

CANDIDE: What dark times those must have been! How could one live in such a hopeless world?

PUBLIUS: When worldly life fails to bring man happiness, he turns to otherworldly things, sustaining himself with the crutch of religion. In those times the Church ruled Europe, oppressing liberty of thought. Man was therefore compelled constantly towards God, towards faith, and towards Rome.

CAESAR: It is true: the Emperors of Rome did often use religion to control the masses. When the people’s ideal is not found on Earth they grow discontented, so a skilled Emperor turns their heads to the stars.

PUBLIUS: This abuse of public duty, this corruption, has no place in the modern world. The modern republic must separate the Church and the State and afford to man the largest possible set of liberties, to prevent such misdirection and to ensure his most basic dignities. Indeed, democracy has flourished as empires have fallen. Perhaps, manipulation having been precluded by means of the checks and balances inherent in modern democracies, the provinces of the empires saw the true light of liberty and sought their own way.

CANDIDE: Oh, what a loss for man! To lose faith in a greater purpose and a higher power, to be lost among the horrors of the world. To accordingly indulge oneself in such unpleasant company as the modern world provides and to face such an insufferable deluge of their incessant words. Can there be any greater curse? I would rather be hanged like my dear Pangloss than go on so living!

PUBLIUS: A republic provides for man the opportunity to choose his own leisures and pastimes. His own job, his own acquaintances, his own beliefs, and his own destiny. He who wishes to devote his life to the service of some higher power is free to do so; however, the institutions of the state cannot compel him to spend his life in such a manner. Rather, he may indulge himself in whatever worldly affairs he pleases, to whatever extent pleases him. No one can demand otherwise.

CAESAR: Indeed, when the treasury allowed it, the emperors gave the Romans bread and circuses. When such pleasures are readily available, one’s world contracts: one pays no heed to the antics of the fates, the deterioration of the provinces, or the corruptions of the state. One’s mind is fully occupied with oneself; it has no time for others.

CAESAR: But the empire yet lives: in the east, Constantinople stands strong. Though the provinces of Rome suffer under the barbarian hordes, the centre of Empire perseveres. The world is once again transformed: imperium may be forfeit in the provinces, but the gold still pours in.

CANDIDE: What a regrettable philosophy! To think that Rome would conquer these provinces and then abandon them to the barbarians when they became too strong to bear. That the most influential city on earth would stretch its power too thin to manage, and not clean up its mess. That the Senate and the people of Rome would bring such ruin to themselves and other, all for the sake of some bread and circuses!

 

I’m allowed to be a Real Blogger™ now

I’ve completed all the requirements so I’m getting a university degree soon. Universities, the keepers of all knowledge, are the social institution capable of deciding who is and is not allowed to have opinions. I’m now an educated person, so I’m going to put facts onto a website and enlighten the world.

Expect me.

Response: Situated critique — social movements within capitalism

There’s a tension that’s become very apparent to me over the past year: how to balance the dual interests of overthrowing capitalism and making life under capitalism more bearable.

These aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive but there’s a reasonable argument that they are in some cases: if capitalism depends on workers remaining class-unconscious, then programs which make them feel secure may ensure they remain ignorant of their exploitation. What’s more, directing organizational energy toward what amount to band-aid solutions could reduce the time spent on the more important goal. In response, some Marxists argue that overthrowing capitalism should be the only goal.

On the other end of the spectrum — I’m adopting dualistic thinking because why not — are those who don’t believe capitalism to be a problem at all, or who think that problematic as it is, it’s the only realistic choice (in terms of material effects, these are more or less identical positions).

Let’s take an example. Under capitalism, and particularly under neoliberalism, education has become commodified but marketed as self-investment. This is used to justify exorbitant tuition fees and poor-quality (uncritical) education. A revolutionary response recognises that this is a feature of capitalism and that barring system change, education will always be pulled in this direction. A “left” liberal reformist might propose solutions such as free tuition, protecting critical programs from austerity, and reallocating resources within the university budget. This won’t solve the systemic problem, but it will alleviate the effects for the time being.

I think this tension can be fairly easily resolved, at least as far as radicals are concerned. In fighting for policy changes within capitalism, radicals should also always aim to increase consciousness. It should be made clear that the problem identified is symptomatic of capitalism and the treatment offered is not a cure. In a sense, the left liberal agenda can be put to use to advocate for system change.

There are some dangers in this, most obviously that of losing sight of the ultimate goal. But I trust my comrades to have the good sense to avoid them.

Response: Frederic Jameson, “Progress Versus Utopia; or, Can We Imagine the Future?”

This week I’m responding more to the in-class discussion we had than to the piece directly. My biggest critique in-class was the centrality of the author to our theorisation. I didn’t get too much of a chance to expand on it then, so I’ll do that here.

It’s not a surprise that a literature class would devote a lot of attention to the author of a text. If literature is texts, the study of the composition of those texts is clearly very relevant to English. I don’t want to minimise this at all.

However, I tend towards the ontological view that the artistic object comprises both the material or ideational creation of the author and subjective experience of that creation. So in the case of literature, the work is not simply the words as chosen by the author, but also the phenomenal impression left by the work on the reader.

Artists probably aren’t going to like this view, as they’d probably like to retain ownership over the entire complex. Tough luck.

Especially when a work has political effect — where the experience of it is not private or localised in the mind of the reader at a particular time — how the reader responds is important. God knows what the authors of the various books of the Bible really thought they were writing. We all know the tremendous historical impact their interpretation has had.

So in Jameson’s case, when he’s talking about utopia and the future, it’s not enough to simply think about what this means for how stories can be written. We also have to look at how they can be read.

Response: Occupy: The Movie

https://www.occupythemovie.com/

I paid some attention to the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement as they happened, but at the time I was still in high school and pretty ignorant (I hadn’t even been radicalised yet, can you imagine?). This term, I’ve studied both in my courses, so protest has very much been on my mind.

Personally, I have never placed much weight on space. It’s not something I’m attuned to and I have poor spatial/visual imagination. (I am good at some forms of spatial thinking, but only because I am good at abstraction — what I see in my head does not look much like the real world.)

I also think there’s a cultural element to this. North America, it seems to me, does not overly value space. There are few public spaces. Cities are built on grids for maximum efficiency. People spend most of their lives inside, where they can generally see less than 10 metres in any direction. This is radically different from how most humans have lived throughout history.

But increasingly I have come to see space as crucially important to leftist movements. In our highly structured, segmented society, the walls erected between concepts, people, and things are used to reify, individualise, and isolate. If everything is in its own box, then the only relevance space has is as the carrier of a single thing.

Consider “Panopticism” again. Foucault writes that the walls used to divide prisoners in a circular prison concentrate knowledge in the hands of a central supervisor. Using the term in a decidedly non-Foucauldian sense, this means that power is concentrated there as well. But if the wall between two cells are broken down, if the structure of the society is rejected, then the prisoners can communicate between themselves. Space now has room for two occupants, and consequently also for the relation between those occupants. If a second wall is demolished, the widened space contains three individuals, two pairings of individuals, and one trio. A four-cell space has four individuals, six pairs, four trios, and one quartet.

The possibilities rise exponentially (literally).

Response: Walter Benn Michaels, “Dude, Where’s My Job?”

The subject of this article reaffirms my commitment to system change.

Education is broken.

We’re learning a fraction of what we could be.

We’re not securing jobs.

We’re accumulating debt.

We’re purchasing an identity.

We’re subjecting ourselves to the demands of capital.

Leftists frequently critique the mantra to “do what you love”.

This criticism is misplaced.

There’s nothing wrong with doing what you love.

What else is there?

The problem is expecting what you love to be valued by the market.

Fuck the market, though, so who cares?

Response: affect theory

My knowledge of affect theory so far is very limited, but already it concerns me. I very much appreciate the desire to move away from cognition. Non-cognitive perception makes up a huge proportion of our experiences and these things should absolutely be included within theory. I also believe this is an important further step in de-masculinizing what has long been a very marginalising tradition.

However, I worry that affect theory shifts the focus to the body in a dualistic way. The two texts I’ve read so far — “Happy Objects” by Sara Ahmed and “Cruel Optimism” by Lauren Berlant — seem to focus on the body as opposed to the mind. While making this kind of contrast can be useful in deconstructing dualities and correcting historical inequalities of attention, the framing of both pieces suggests to me that Ahmed and Berlant somehow see affect as something separate than cognition. Affect is experienced by the body, while cognition is a feature of the mind.

I wholly reject this dualism. I am firmly convinced that mind is a bodily phenomenon and that body is a mental phenomenon (this isn’t to say that I’m a materialist in the metaphysical sense — but that’s another story). I take a much more phenomenological approach to experience. I consider cognition and affect to be forms of a holistic perception which has been arbitrarily divided into two historical categories. Emphasising affect over cognition won’t address this underlying (and false) separation.

Response: Panopticism

Michel Foucault: Panopticism (Discipline and Punish)

  • Society exists in its historical moment
  • bureaucracy/disciplinary society is built on having large amounts of knowledge about individuals
  • we make socially significant decisions on this basis.
  • were things always this way? must things always be this way?
    • (no)
  • relations of power produce and are produced by a centralised system of control over information
  • why should governments gather the data and make decisions?
  • what if autonomous units regulated the internal production of information and shared it peer-to-peer with other unites?
  • why the need for centralised authority?

An expat’s view on #ge16

Leinster House

The Irish general election will be held on Friday, 25 February 2016.

I was born in Ireland in 1994. When I was 4, my family moved to Canada. Originally, this was intended as a short term “adventure”, but as time went on returning to Ireland looked more and more unaffordable, so we stayed. I’ve always been interested in politics, but only began playing close attention to Canadian politics during the election in 2011 at the age of 17. A few years ago, I realised that despite considering myself Irish first, I knew next to nothing about Irish politics. Since then I’ve been making an effort to pick things up.

It’s a frustratingly slow thing to learn, but the intensity of an election offers an unparalleled opportunity to immerse oneself in the contemporary debates of a country. I have been paying attention to the water protests almost from the beginning and I was thrilled to see the youth engagement with the marriage equality referendum last year. Formal, electoral politics is of course only a small part of a country’s political process, but as a political science student I have grown to recognise the deep impact it can have on a country’s future. As a result I will be following to the best of my ability the daily contours of the February 26 election.

I’m almost 22 now and still living in Canada. Next year, I intend to pursue graduate studies. Due to program availability and funding structures, these will almost certainly be in Canada as well. This pains me deeply: I have always felt a certain alienation from this country and the prospect of forestalling my return to Ireland for a few more years is saddening. However, eventually I do plan to return and I thus have a very keen interest in how the country looks at that point.

The failure of austerity is undeniable. In the name of progress and growth, the transgressions of the super-rich are shifted onto the backs of the poor, enabling the former to continue their greedy and exploitative business practices without the consequences. I would say this is unsustainable, but in reality I’m not sure that’s true. If things continue along their present trajectory, the lot of Ireland’s normal people will continue to worsen for a very long time. Cuts to health, education, and other social and cultural programs will continue in the name of the bottom line and European unity. Tragically, all the establishment parties seem to have accepted this as inevitable. Though they may adopt the rhetoric of compassion and resistance, their visions for Ireland’s future are all minor variations of Ireland’s present.

Ultimately, the solution to the ongoing crisis will not be delivered from on high: it must come from the Irish people themselves. In the meantime, what is needed is a Dáil of fierce debate, where TDs stand up to the austerity consensus and galvanise the people of Ireland with a vision that works for the 99%. This won’t come from inside the establishment. Alternatives, such as the Anti-Austerity Alliance–People Before Profit collective, are not perfect. At this time, however, it is clear that they have the best chance of fulfilling this role.

Unlike Canada, Ireland does not allow citizens living abroad to vote in its elections, denying me my right to have a say in the future of the country which I love and to which I eventually will return. Whether I will return to prosperity or to ruin is in the hands of the Irish living in Ireland. For my sake and theirs, I hope they mobilise and take Ireland back from the hands of Brussels and the banks. The alternative is unthinkable.