The Parameters of Decency: Comment

This is a comment I left on the Irish Times website in response to an article by Dr Chris Hayden, a priest of the diocese of Ferns, titled ‘Dancing on Margaret Thatcher’s grave crossed the line of human decency’.


A generation ago in Ireland it was customary not to speak ill of the dead but it was deemed fair enough to bury them in unmarked graves and tell their mothers that they were in limbo. Or hell, if the dead had killed themselves. Thus the open season on the deficiencies of the dead began a long time before Margaret Thatcher rose to power in Britain.  

 Large swathes of civil and criminal codes are not designed to ‘curb and police behaviour arising from such normal phenomena as greed, envy and anger’. They are designed to protect the regime of property. As such, they generate such phenomena as greed, envy, and anger, which in turn appear as normal, when in fact they appear in different societies to a greater or lesser extent. 

 Thatcher’s principal genius was in mobilising the energies of greed, envy and anger that the regime of property creates.  

 Riches equated to moral standing: the more you had, the better the person you were. If your prospects of a job were destroyed, you were enjoined to envy those in stable employment (though not the rich, your moral betters). And the resultant anger was directed at the poor (i.e. the morally deficient) and the institutions that protected them. It was the behaviour of the poor -their irrational, angry effusions, their failure to shoulder the demands of the regime of property- that had to be policed, whether through the application of a police truncheon or the sanctimonious outrage of newspapers at trivial improprieties.

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