The Baler Twine That Binds, and The Common Good: A Reply to Fintan O’Toole


(‘The common good? That sounds like communism!’)

A reply posted on an article written by Fintan O’Toole titled ‘Irish State means little to many of its citizens’, published August 7th.

I think Fintan O’Toole’s image of ‘almost feudal’ loyalties trumping the common good operating at the level of the State leaves out an important consideration: loyalties operating at the level of the State that trump the common good.

Take the matter of corporation tax. The ability of corporations to get away with paying low rates of taxation, as we have seen with the budgets of successive governments, trumps any notion of the common good. A low corporation tax is given totemic importance by all the main political parties, business groups (quelle surprise), and public and private media institutions.

In other words, the power of business owners relative to ordinary wage earners goes unquestioned, as does the loyalty of elected representatives to the needs of business owners. Meanwhile the public is relentlessly encouraged to demonstrate their loyalty to billionaire corporations, to refrain from doing that might ‘frighten the markets’.

Take the matter of health care too. Why would we expect people to show loyalty to the principle of equal access to health care for all when private health care –or health care provided as an act of charity, which is just as bad- is continuously exalted in the public sphere? Example one: the regular appearance of private healthcare executives as contributors to debate programmes on the public broadcaster, as though such people held more gravitas and auctoritas than other citizens. Example two: in an Irish Times article from today titled  ‘When your income drops 70% you need to adjust fast’, one of the tips reads: ‘3 NEVER EVER GIVE UP OR DOWNGRADE YOUR HEALTH INSURANCE’.

We can say something similar about education. Why would we expect people to show loyalty to the principle of equal access to education for all when private education –which is to say, exclusive education in the service of a stratified society- is subsidised by the State, ‘grind’ schools are presented (without the scare quotes, I might add) as a perfectly natural tool for ensuring your child outperforms her classmates, and newspapers, such as this one, fete private schools for their achievements, via spurious exercises in consumer choice-oriented metrics?

Then there is ‘politics’, which is to say, representation. Why would you expect citizens to concern themselves with the common good when all that is required of them by way of political activity is that they absorb the opinions of the rich and powerful and to vote once every four years or so? I should point out here that the ideal of the passive and resigned citizen, who should only concern herself with serving the interests of capital, is actively promoted, relentlessly so, by media institutions such as this one. Example: in the article from today titled  ‘When your income drops 70% you need to adjust fast’, is there any mention of collective political activity, by way of demonstrations of solidarity or resistance, in defence of the common good? Is there Fergus. What there is instead, and this is general across all media outlets, is atomised consumerism and depoliticised passivity.

None of the above has anything to do with quasi-feudal attachments or wearing baler twine to hold your trousers up; indeed, people who believe in low corporation taxes, private health care, private education, representative democracy as the alpha and omega of political life, and keeping calm and carrying on, despite the fact that such things run altogether counter to the common good, are exactly the same people who will pour scorn on others who take to the streets in support of someone they (mistakenly) believe will ensure prosperity for their community, because they lack ‘loyalty to the State’, a concept whose supposed importance unites Fintan O’Toole the social democrat, Michael McDowell, the liberal who believes in inequality as a motor of economic progress, and a large number of big business figures who see the State as the guarantor of their activities of accumulation for the sake of accumulation.

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