Monthly Archives: March 2014

Dan O’Brien vs Ballyhea: Why The Sunday Independent Still Wants To Eat Your Brains


‘Propaganda’, by El Roto

Against my own advice offered last week, I want to look at a Sunday Independent article published last Sunday. It is by Dan O’Brien, former Irish Times economics editor and, presently, Chief Economist at the Institute of International and European Affairs, as well as a Sunday Independent columnist. It supports my thesis that the Sunday Independent wants to eat your brains.

The article is headlined ‘Demonstrators’ analysis of the bank bailout is deeply flawed‘. The article deals with the now-renowned Ballyhea Says No campaign. This campaign against the socialisation of private banking debt has been running for the past three years, with weekly marches against this imposition.

The organisers of this campaign have kept it going despite a media establishment that frequently asks why Irish people do not protest, but when it comes to actual examples of protest, does not want to know.

Ireland’s media establishment has frequent bouts of foaming indignation at some aspect of public expenditure. However, it has turned a blind eye on the whole to the funneling of tens of billions of euro in public money to unsecured private bondholders in Irish banks.

In so far as Ireland’s media establishment has addressed the matter of bondholder bailouts, it has been to present the payouts, even in the case of unsecured bonds, as a self-evident necessity, a situation impervious to political action.


In spite of this, the Ballyhea campaigners have doggedly kept records on the sums involved in these operations, and sought to raise public awareness of the extent of the scandal.

The principal concern of Dan O’Brien’s article is not the fact of these bondholder payouts and their social cost in terms of health, education, welfare, jobs and lives. Rather, it is the ‘Ballyhea protesters’ analysis’ relating to the ’cause of the crash‘.

He doesn’t name any names. He doesn’t quote anyone’s remarks, spoken or written. He summarises these unnamed individuals’ analysis in the following terms:

The Ballyhea protesters argue that the underlying cause of the crash was a badly designed euro and a central bank in Frankfurt that did not do its job. They believe that when the consequences of these failures manifested in a banking collapse, the powers that be in the eurozone forced weak Irish governments to socialise the costs. On the basis of this analysis, they argue that justice demands other European countries repay the Irish state the approximately €65bn spent on the bank bailout.

O’Brien continues:

the Ballyhea protesters say that foreigners forced Irish governments to ensure that Irish taxpayers repaid all investors in the domestic banks

He characterises their argument in the following terms:

Blaming others for all our woes did little for this country over decades. Doing it again would be equally fruitless.

This foreigner-blaming would be fruitless because

the prospect of other taxpayers in Europe (many of whom have paid for bailing out their own banks) gifting Ireland €65bn is next to zero

Thus O’Brien has characterises the Ballyhea protesters as embodying both insular xenophobia and political naivety.

Ballyhea’s detailed position on bank debt can be found at this link. Its analysis of the origins of the crisis draw on analyses of Belgian economist Paul de Grauwe, quoted in the linked article, and Constantin Gurgdiev, to the point that, in so far as O’Brien sees Ballyhea’s analysis as ‘completely flawed from start to finish’, he is really taking issue with the analysis of De Grauwe and Gurgdiev.

There is no reason why O’Brien shouldn’t take issue with such analysis as he says fit, but he should at least outline who he is arguing against. He does not do this.

If you read the Ballyhea position, it is not at all a matter of ‘other taxpayers in Europe’ ‘gifting Ireland €65bn’. On the contrary, one of the concrete proposals, prominently featured, is

a levy on the finance industry that will see the billions their recklessness has cost the peoples of Europe restored to those balance sheets, perhaps that levy going directly to the ESM for redistribution to those countries affected.

You may think this measure is realistic, you may not. But it is a gross distortion of the expressed Ballyhea position to say, as O’Brien does, that Ballyhea expects a ‘gift from other taxpayers in Europe’.

(Unless, of course, you believe that ‘taxpayers’ is synonymous with ‘finance industry’. For someone who works as an economist for an entity whose foundation members include Goldman Sachs International and AIB (as well as SIPTU, curiously), it would certainly be an interesting explicit political position to adopt.)

Nor is it a we-poor-Irish-them-evil-foreigners position, as O’Brien suggests. On the contrary, the Ballyhea proposal, whilst recognising the particular burden placed on people in Ireland, acknowledges the need for a Europe-wide solution, and justice for other peoples of Europe.

Why the focus on Ballyhea, then? If their analysis is so flawed, why bother? Where was the need for Dan O’Brien to make such an egregious misrepresentation of their position?

Perhaps it has to do with prominent Ballyhea participant Diarmuid O’Flynn’s recently announced campaign to get elected as an MEP (as I understand it, he is not going to be endorsed as a candidate by the Ballyhea Says No group). O’Brien makes no mention of this salient fact in his article.

The fact that banking debt could appear as a contentious issue on the terrain of political institutions is, I think, a potentially significant development. Yes, left-wing parties also say they want to repudiate the debt, but this is only one item of their platform, and these parties have limited appeal in Ireland’s political culture.

By contrast, Ballyhea has been an explicitly non-party political undertaking from the start, seeking to unite as many people as possible on the matter of debt. It has won widespread respect for its integrity and steadfastness, with the occasional pat on the head from Ireland’s media, including in O’Brien’s article. But what happens if Ballyhea moves from inocuous mascot to a real political presence?

The broader European context is significant. Whilst O’Brien seeks to paint Ballyhea as ignorant Little Irelanders, they have actively sought to engage institutions at a European level in spite of political intransigence in Ireland. And contrary to the juxtaposition O’Brien offers between the Irish public and the rest of the body of European taxpayers, no such opposition exists in fact.

The matter of illegitimate debt is a political question across the European periphery, manifesting itself in various social movements, but also in political platforms such that of Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain. In fact, the country that has the most onerous private banking debt burden –Ireland- is the country in which the matter of illegitimate debt is least discussed.

Contrary to the image O’Brien conjures, then, it is he -and by extension, the Sunday Independent, and Ireland’s media establishment- who are the Little Irelanders.

O’Brien, as you would expect, sees things through the eyes of the Irish political and media establishment, in which there is no alternative plane of political activity to that of the European Union’s member states and their respective national governments.

In such a view, the national governments are the indisputable representatives of their citizens. This is the case even when these governments operate within a framework -a financial architecture and a set of supra-national political institutions- that destroy their citizens’ lives.

The simple-mindedness of this view can be seen in his admission that the bank bailout was an injustice, but that it was the result of ‘an Irish government – rightly or wrongly – doing what it believed to be in Ireland’s best interests’. This is a cock and bull story, from start to finish, but it is a myth that Ireland’s media machinery constantly reproduces.

To illustrate, here is a phrase: ‘the occupation of Crimea was the result of a Russian government -rightly or wrongly- doing what it believed to be in Russia’s best interests’.

Is there anyone in these parts who would not recognise such a phrase as an obvious identification, on the part of the speaker, with the Putin government in Russia?

Is there anyone in these parts who would believe that what the Russian government sees as ‘Russia’s best interests’ might coincide at all with what people at large in Russia see as their best interests?

The answer to both questions is No. This is because people hear stories about Putin and his oligarchs and the effect of their material interests over government policy.

In Ireland, however, many people are frozen in an illusion. The illusion is that a government that consistently prioritises the interests of the financial sector and property speculators and companies seeking to avoid tax, over the health and education and welfare of the population, is the population’s unimpeachably legitimate representative. Hence there is nothing that can be done. The public must pay the price for the speculative crazes of the financial elite, because it happened under a government that represented the public. In certain cases, this illusion is sustained through newspapers owned by a Malta-based billionaire who hates paying tax and is close to the incumbent government.


But another illusion, which is equally important from the standpoint of those who make their living either from the privatisation of what is public or advocating such courses of action, is the sense of debt as an inescapable moral obligation. It is not. It is a political relation. Political relations can be changed. Sometimes this causes political upheaval, and sometimes it involves campaigns such as the one undertaken with such doggedness by those in Ballyhea. And anyone who seeks to tell you otherwise is either a con artist, a moron, or both. What is more, they want to eat your brains.

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The Day Bono Made Sense

Image via Dublin Opinion.

“The Irish people bailed the Irish people out”


For once, Bono made sense, kind of.

Bono spoke these words at a meeting about people. The people in question were the European Peoples’ Party.

In French, ‘the people’ is singular: le peuple. In Spanish, it is also singular: el pueblo. Italian too: il popolo. In Irish it’s an pobal. In German, it’s das Volk. This word -the people- has a definite political meaning, in terms of a regime of political representation. However, in English, ‘the people’ works a bit weirdly. For instance, in The Leviathan, Hobbes says:

For though where the people are governed by an assembly, chosen by themselves out of their own number, the government is called a democracy, or aristocracy; yet when they are governed by an assembly not of their own choosing, it is a monarchy; not of one man over another man, but of one people over another people.

See what he did there? He starts off by saying “the people are“: “the people” is plural. But then he says “one people over another people”: so the people takes form as a singular thing, but when you talk about it, you talk about “they, the people”. It’s all a bit confusing, a bit Möbius. They’re one, but they’re not the same, as Bono might say.

And yet they are the same. At least, that’s how the European Peoples’ Party operates. For example, the Partido Popular, -the Party of the People- in Spain, was elected with the votes of 30% of the total number of registered voters in Spain. This 30% support was enough to give it an absolute majority in the parliament, and to act in the manner of what the cartoonist in El País by the name of El Roto describes as an ‘absolutist majority’: by reintroducing draconian abortion legislation, criminalising protest, destroying Spain’s National Health Service, and making it far easier for employers to sack people, and getting the police to batter lumps out of protesters, much in the same manner as An Garda Síochána beat lumps out of protesters down outside the European Peoples’ Party conference last night. And in doing these things, it claims to be doing so on behalf of ‘the people’. This, by the way, is what Hobbes calls ‘monarchy‘, and to be fair, Spain is also formally a monarchy, headed by an elephant-shooting King who was hand-picked by fascist dictator Franco as his successor.

In Hobbesian terms, what we can see happening in Spain, quite clearly, is one ‘people’ – the constituency of the rich, the oligarchs, the kleptocrats, Opus Dei and other sanctimonious right-wing Catholic formations-, ruling over another ‘people’ – the different peoples of Spain’s autonomous regions, the popular classes, migrants, and so on.

And so maybe this is what Bono is really getting at, when he says ‘the Irish people bailed the Irish people out’: one Irish ‘people’ – the broad mass of people who work for a living in Ireland- bailed out another Irish ‘people’- Ireland’s political and financial establishments, its ‘indigenous moneyed class‘, which includes, of course, people like Bono- in order to preserve an economic model based on property speculation and tax avoidance. The first ‘people’ bailed out the second ‘people’: in the form of unemployment, illness, emigration, the destruction of communities, falls in living standards; deprivation, poverty, and despair.

To me, this is the deepest thing Bono has ever said. In fact, deep isn’t the word. We’re not talking about depth here, but movement: perhaps a Möbius strip, or, as the people in Bono’s beloved France might say, un serpent qui se mord la queue, or, as my Granny might have said, a rabbit that eats its own pills. As long as those who comprise the first ‘Irish people’ see themselves as inescapably represented by the second ‘Irish people’, they are consigned to pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps for all eternity.

We’re one, but we’re not the same. It’s all starting to make sense now. Thanks, Bono.


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Towards An Absence Of Friends In Low Places

In a response to yesterday’s post, James writes:

‘This is an issue which had stumped me once too, “how do we overcome positive and seemingly progressive capitalist rhetoric and promotion”. But I was reminded, as I now always remind my friends on the revolutionary left, that it comes down to material circumstances that individuals of the working class are faced with – these realities always overcome and contradict even the most comprehensive arguments in favour of capitalism – and fundamentally, the left’s response to those conditions. It would be abstract to most people to argue with the slogan “down with capitalism” on the streets, unless they are already sufficiently class conscious. Instead it is essential that we base a struggle that is relevant to the specific issues of the working class. At the moment, in Ireland for example, these would be water charges, austerity, women’s rights etc. These are the issues that are relevant for people, on which a consciousness can be developed. No propaganda can overcome actual material contradictions. No one will believe the most stringent political arguments in favour of a system which stops them putting bread on the table.’

It’s hard to disagree with this response, for the most part. However, I would say that the whole point of propaganda is to overcome actual material contradictions: propaganda in itself has a real material effect. James is right to move from the terrain of abstract and hypothetical conversations and onto the real situations in which people confront the fact that the logic of the system under which they live is geared towards their expropriation.

But this move is never inevitable. And it can it ever be a mere operation of mechanical reason: personal difficulty and humiliation can also lead to support for and consent to the most insidious and reactionary manoeuvres of the regime: against migrants, women, Muslims, Jews, people who depend on state benefits, and other potential “enemies within”.

When we talk about our conversations with “nice people”, or, for that matter, “individuals of the working class”, these are largely hypothetical scenarios that bear little resemblance to the ebb and flow of our encounters with others, which seldom take place under circumstances of our own choosing, and seldom the terms of debate of our choosing.

I saw a comment on a Facebook page yesterday about the article I wrote. It said that what I had written was typical of the condescension of socialists. I didn’t take the comment seriously. These comments can be a typical knee-jerk reaction when someone calls into a question a kind of life that you identify with. If you do it with some measure of intelligence and conviction, you’re operating with typical socialist condescension, and we all know that this led to the gulag. If you do it in confused and contradictory terms, you are operating with typical socialist soft-headedness, fantasy or stupidity, and we all know that this led to the gulag.

As it happens, I think people with far greater mental capabilities than me can fail to see the distinction between capitalism as an ideal and capitalism as a specific historical form with its own specific logic. You could put Stephen Jay Gould’s observation about Einstein into reverse: how is it that people with talent roughly the same as Einstein’s and who did not work in cotton fields and sweatshops but rather, the pinnacles of scientific achievement, could, unlike Einstein, be oblivious to the social system in which they were living, or compartmentalise their lives in such a way that they could ignore it?

Well, it is a distinction that is systematically blurred and obscured, I suppose, and anyway, it isn’t the sort of thing that crops up in casual conversation while you’re putting the bins out.

I take this more seriously, a remark from another reader:

‘I wish you’d addressed this in your response, because I think that after criticizing apologists for capitalism along *exactly the same lines as people criticize apologists for communism* – you might owe ‘these people’ a little more…? Unless, as you seem to imply, that unless people have read Marx, then they’re probably not worth talking to in the first place…’

It wasn’t my intention to dismiss certain people as not worth talking to. In fact, I’d find life unbearable if the only people I could talk to were people who have read Marx. What I meant to show was that capitalism and communism are not two comparable objects of consideration.

We can stand in a capitalist world and think about what communism might be. No-one has ever done the reverse. At best, they have some experience and awareness of certain aspects of life lived in ways that correspond to ‘from each according to their ability, to each according to their need’, or, have made imaginary leaps towards what a classless society where all classes have been abolished might look like. If not the latter, I think most people have such experiences from their everyday lives, including even most Garth Brooks fans.

What is more, I assume that under certain circumstances, even Garth Brooks fans could see the abolition of class society as not only desirable but necessary, and remain Garth Brooks fans for all that. Or, they might go some distance in that direction, but then decide tomorrow will never come, and turn back to their glorification of the splendid underdog, their ideal of a hierarchical society with high and low places where a classless society is the mere abolition of social graces. To take these possibilities seriously is called politics. However, the political encounter is seldom, if ever, one of our choosing, and repertoires from other times and places may not be of that much use.

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How to debate capitalism with a nice person without stabbing them in the face with a fork

In response to yesterday’s post on the Sunday Independent’s treatment of capitalism, Cian writes:

‘My concern is that the above general critique of capitalism, falls into a similar line of reasoning as those who attack anyone advocating socialist alternatives by pointing to Stalinist Russia or Maoist China…I read the general gist of that part.. to be saying that perversions of capitalism cannot be called out for what they are; that anyone promoting the idea of capitalism cannot defend themselves on the basis that those examples are failures/perversions of capitalism.

I fear that if anyone genuinely (having met some nice people arguing such, I believe they do exist) advocating organising society along capitalist/free market principles cannot call out what they see as perversions/corruptions of an ideal, people like me cannot advocate communitarian alternatives without being labelled a Stalinist apologist.’

I think there is a fundamental distinction that needs to be drawn here, between thinking about capitalism as an ideal, or as a political programme, and thinking about capitalism as –in the words of Ellen Meiksins Wood, ‘a historically specific social form, with its own systemic logic that distinguishes it fundamentally from other social forms’.

I’ve no doubt that there are nice people –indeed, far nicer than me- who have an earnest belief that the way things are is more or less the way things ought to be. What is more, they believe that in so far as there are things wrong with the world, it’s because the world should become more like how the benefit of their experience has informed them. They look back over the last few hundreds of years and see giant leaps in scientific and technical and human progress, and think: sure if capitalism produced this, why can’t we have more of the same, only better? They think about their own working lives and see how capitalist enterprises make useful things, and they consider their working relationships and think: I’m not so badly off, I do encounter difficulties here and there, but on the whole I think I’m better off than if I were living in North Korea.

I think such nice people, if they ever come across the likes of what I write here, think it’s the work of some sort of malcontent crank hell bent on the destruction of life as we know it. Where this kind of polemic works, I think, is with people who already have some sort of doubt about the viability of capitalism, on account of their own experience. My intent –when I decide I have one- is to water those seeds of doubt. So the kind of writing you read here won’t appeal, nor is it intended to appeal, to people who think things are more or less fine.


As I see it there are a lot of people –not all of whom are monocle-wearing capitalist pigs- who are largely immune to the idea that rising poverty, high unemployment, imperialist wars, ecological devastation, social inequality, government policies based on maintaining a ‘good business environment’, extreme economic hardships for untold millions arising from the elimination of jobs in order to satisfy the appetites of financial speculators, and an incomprehensibly large pile of other things, are effects of capitalism as such. These are just things that happen when people do capitalism wrong. To be honest, I think it’s beyond my capacity to convince any given sample of such people otherwise.

But one of the reasons why I think I’m not equipped to convince such people –leaving aside the fact that I don’t own a vast media corporation and I give off a strong sense of failure if I’m standing holding a leaflet- is that these people do not think about capitalism as a specific historical form. They just think about capitalism as the way things are at the minute, and the way they have been for a while, and the only realistic horizon for the future.

Their working definition of capitalism, so to speak, doesn’t take into account the basic conditions of possibility for capitalism. It doesn’t take into account a confrontation between two classes –the appropriators and the producers- whose interests are fundamentally antagonistic. It doesn’t take into account the separation of the economic and the political that is essential to any capitalist regime. Capitalism is simply, in their eyes, what is.

And the implications for this, when it comes to Cian’s point, is that there can be no meaningful discussion of capitalism without a) the recognition that capitalism is a specific social form that has emerged under specific historical circumstances, and without b) the recognition of its fundamental attributes.

Let’s go back to the Sunday Independent article to illustrate what I mean. The article talks about a ‘we’ who have created capitalism, and could undo it if ‘we’ wish. But this ‘we’ is simply a fiction. Yes, capitalism as a system is the result of human labour. But there is no collective political subject, encompassing all those who live under capitalism, which decided to create capitalism, or which decides to maintain it. The political institutions in our society are the political institutions of capitalism, the institutions of a material order where the political and the economic have been separated, and in which class exploitation is the norm that governs production. Such a ‘we‘ is no basis for a discussion about what to do about capitalism!


So, basically, when it comes to convivial debates with nice people who say they like capitalism about possibilities for human emancipation in the future, I don’t think such people should be stabbed in the face with a fork, but nor should they be let off the hook with the notion that capitalism is merely an ideal. Not least because this ideal –based upon the notion that capitalism is something that the entirety of humanity has freely accepted- is an effect of capitalism itself. Whether it proves worth your while engaging in such debates is up to you, though I suppose honey may work better than vinegar, if you can keep their attention for long enough.


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For a Non-Fascist Politics: John Brown

This is a translation of a text by John Brown, originally published on his site, Iohannes Maurus, Monday 3rd March.

the strategic adversary is fascism (whereas Anti-Oedipus’ opposition to the others is more of a tactical engagement). And not only historical fascism, the fascism of Hitler and Mussolini — which was able to mobilize and use the desire of the masses so effectively — but also the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us.

Michel Foucault, Introduction to the Non-Fascist Life.


1. A short while ago, we heard Marine Le Pen, leader of the French National Front, speak on La Sexta*, presenting herself as “the voice of truth”, and defending, against immigrants, Europe and globalisation, “national preference”. There are people, in sectors of the left, who were fascinated by this discourse, and found it difficult to oppose it. We have to be very wary of this discourse and with the channels that can connect certain left discourses with this one. Either we single out, as the object of our antagonism, the relations of production instead of a more or less defined group of humans, or we are headed for disaster and racism. If one singles out “the rich”, or the “financiers” as the enemy, this can always give rise to a metonymic displacement onto other categories: this can move from financiers to Jews, Arabs, gypsies, communists, etc. Fascism, as death drive, is a master of metonymy. It is very dangerous to use the friend-enemy logic, which belongs to sovereignty, to represent class struggle. Class struggle as such is unrepresentable: it can only be thought as a relation. As such, it does not depend on its poles, it generates them. We need to be able to move away from war metaphors if we want to achieve a non-fascist politics. Antagonism must be thought as the widening of one’s own potency and not as self-definition from and by the enemy. If we define ourselves, not from within our own potency and our own desire but only with regard to the enemy, we become, as Carl Schmitt rightly points out, the mirror image of our “enemy”. We must be able to get out of this imaginary fight between oneself and one’s own mirror and address reality, the materiality of the relations of production, of the relations of appropriation and expropriation.
2. To act upon the real of the relations of production does not entail abandoning either ideology or imagination, but a politics open onto the relations of production and class struggle develops a different imaginary, one that is not warlike, not fascist. Class struggle is not a fight of mirror opposites, but the result of a social relation that constitutes its own poles. Faced with an entification of the enemy that opens the doors to fascism both outside and within ourselves, we have to explain the relations in which we are involved, not from abstract and complicated positions, but in a way that is accessible to ordinary mortals. If we are unable to make people understand -and we ourselves do not understand- that there is a continuity between the deaths from hunger, suicide and illness within the Spanish State and the deaths on its borders, and that both kinds of death correspond to the same social relations and the same slavery, we will have lost. They will make us oppose “immigrants”, “foreigners”, but not the social relations that exploit and enslave the vast majority. When one speaks of “our people”, and of a popular patriotism, among these one must unequivocally include the Ceuta 15, and the entire people in exodus of the undocumented and all those who set sail in dinghies, without there being the slightest doubt in this regard. Every perspective of xenophobic sovereigntist closure carries the germ of this barbarism. Our problem is not “abroad”, Europe or emigration, but the relations of exploitation and domination that reign on a European and global level and that have no remedy by means of a withdrawal behind borders that are as cruel and as barbarous as they are useless. Sovereignty today is mere gesticulation that is at once lying and bloodthirsty. Right now we have an extraordinary opportunity to overcome it with a clear commitment to a federal and democratic European constituent process that breaks the closure of member states and Europe itself.

3. There is undoubtedly a contradiction between this openly universalist stance and the calls for the designation of an ‘enemy’ but this is not an unsalvageable contradiction: it is a necessary contradiction that arises from the reality of human societies. The predominant form of all politics is, like that of every knowledge, imaginary. Now, an imaginary politics is necessarily substantialist and Schmittian: it is based upon the friend-enemy opposition as an originary and irreducible fact. Schmitt is right about the symptom, but he does not hit on the cause. Naturally we must take into account the symptom and its own effect, but at the same time, a politics of liberation must explore the underlying causes of this opposition and intervene upon them, it must reduce the symptom. Class struggle is not a friend-enemy dialectic, it must not be contemplated under the misleading fascist metaphor of war, but rather from the perspective of liberation and the potency of the multitude. In this case, once the causes have been investigated on the terrain of the relations of production, enmity will no longer be a substantial and permanent element, but the effect of a relatively unstable relation which a variation in the correlation of forces can modify or destroy.

4. No worth can come of wallowing in the effects, even the imaginary and ideological effects, that a particular social relation might have on us. To know truly is to know by the causes (Verum gnoscere est gnoscere per causas, as the Aristotle latinised by the scholastics would say)…In politics, knowledge of the causes allows us to know the symptoms in their genesis and their effects, but never the other way round. To know a constitutive relation allows us both to know its reality and the imaginary effects that it produces, but by proceeding from the imaginary effects of this relation upon us, nothing sure can be concluded. To conclude with another Latinism from the maestro Spinoza: verum index sui et falsi (what is true is an indicator of itself and what is false). This inseparability of the true and the false is the starting point of every materialist theory of ideology, but also, of every authentic politics of liberation.

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The Sunday Independent Wants To Eat Your Brains

My friends at the Cedar Lounge Revolution have a long-standing Sunday Independent Stupid Statement Of The Week feature. There is rarely a shortage of material. It often gives rise to interesting debate. It’s a worthwhile exercise.

But sometimes I think about it in the following terms: imagine a vast abbatoir-sausage factory complex. The screams of thousands of pigs echoing through the streets and fields as they shuffle panicked toward their mechanised death. Chimneys belching out thick mushroom clouds of fetid steam and smoke that envelop the landscape.

Fleets of lorries that smell like burnhouses, full of -pardon the indelicate expression- lips and assholes sausages, trucking down the highways and byways, headed for big shops and small. The vile product making its way onto the nation’s dinner plates every Sunday.

And then you have a few people picking out a few particularly choice examples of sausage and saying, heavens, look at this sausage.

To be clear, I’m not criticising the CLR for this. I think something similar can be said of a lot of what I write here.

So is there anything to be said for looking at the Sunday Independent in isolation -from the other titles at Independent News and Media, from the rest of Ireland’s mass media apparatus? Analytically, politically, perhaps not. But viscerally, oh Jesus, yes.

For here is the truth: the Sunday Independent wants to eat your brains. It enacts this desire day in day out, year in year out, decade in decade out.

It is dedicated to shaping popular consciousness so as to deliver a world in the image of oligarchs and kleptocrats. It wants to stop you thinking for yourself, and it wants you to think there might be something wrong with you if you started to think for yourself.

Yes, there are are some honourable exceptions at work there, and they do what they must, but let’s face it, they don’t count for shit in the broad scheme of things.

You and me and a few others might share their articles once a week or so and give thanks that there is still the odd person occasionally fighting the good fight. But things grind on, regardless, and the thanks we give are really thanks in the direction of Denis O’Brien for continuing to publish such things.

Yesterday I got sent an article that encapsulates everything that is horrific about the Sunday Independent. I would not normally write about this newspaper, but I was asked to, and who am I to say no? The article is about capitalism. It is by Will Hanafin. The title: “Is capitalism dead?” The standfirst begins with ‘Have we replaced old-school capitalism with a new Frankenstein version that benefits only the super-rich?’.

So the first problem is confusion. Even if you are only after arriving from a distant universe and have no idea what capitalism is, you may wonder how it is you can have two different versions of a thing, and for this to mean that the thing might be dead.

Let me illustrate, in case you are a regular Sunday Independent reader. Suppose your Jack Russell terrier dies. And you replace him with a Pekinese. Does this mean dogs are extinct? No. But it is on such premises that the Sunday Independent informs public debate. It does not want you to be able to think properly and consequentially. It does not want you to have a clear idea of what capitalism is. It wants to eat your brains.

What is capitalism, anyway, o Sunday Independent reader? The article offers no definition, but as far as we can glean it is something that does not have bankruptcy. Something supposed to be a ‘red in tooth and claw’ environment, where ‘only the very fittest companies survived’, but somehow, not.

The central concern of the article is to discover how this new version of a thing, that may or may not be dead, but that is supposed to be a different thing to what it actually is, can be ‘fixed’, by ‘us’, that is, ”a country of 1.8 million working people’. ‘We’ are the ‘cash-poor/bill-rich taxpayers’, who have ‘a real feeling that capitalism is on blocks and was abandoned when the banks were bailed out’

This idea of a really existing capitalism that has been fatally defiled by greedy bankers has been a staple of media discourse since the crisis broke in 2008, and has been used as a kind of release valve for popular frustrations as austerity measures have been imposed.

The problem, from this perspective, has never been with capitalism as such, but variously, with a ‘crony capitalism’, or a deadly illness that was threatening a critically ill patient, or ‘corporatism’, whereby the corporate power accumulated under capitalism turns out to have had nothing to do with capitalism, or regulatory failure, whereby the people tasked with regulating supposed functions of the capitalist system such as banking ended up ‘asleep at the wheel’, which is to say, the regulators assumed that there was nothing wrong with capitalism the way it was. It is not as if capitalism was prompting them to think otherwise.

Thus anything bad that happens -poverty, deprivation, unemployment, mass robbery of the public, housing crises, environmental catastrophe- can never be attributed to capitalism as such, but simply something external to capitalism that, like a dastardly mustachioed villain from a penny dreadful, is out to do it in.

In order to find out how this perhaps dead, perhaps different thing can be fixed, the Sunday Independent calls on ‘capitalists as rich as Croesus, but known as independent thinkers’, and ‘ RTE’s George Lee’, the former Fine Gael backbencher, to spice up proceedings’.

Or, to put it another way, the Sunday Independent, whose Maltese billionaire owner made $800m last year, according to Forbes, asked four rich men to give their thoughts on how capitalism can be fixed, because obviously enough, rich men with an ideological commitment to capitalism are the best people to ask about these things.

And as a counterpoint, they got a man who once stood for a political party with a track record of serving the rich, but who either didn’t notice at the time, or, if he did, it didn’t seem to hold him back.

Predictably enough, the canards of corporatism, crony capitalism, the capitalism-as-sick-patient, and the non-regulating regulators get spread around like generous lashings of duck liver parfait. And the perspective of capitalism’s victims is summarily dismissed from view.

To be fair, it is not just the Sunday Independent that does be at this craic, this kind of erasure. Back when Sunday Independent columnist Dan O’Brien was economics editor of the Irish Times, he wrote that it was none other than the bourgeoisie that had made the modern world, such that, as I wrote at the time, it had been the bourgeoisie that had worked in ‘the canals, the mines, the shipyards, the car factories, textile factories, it was the bourgeoisie who harvested all the crops, cooked all the meals, raised all the children, and built all the homes and aircraft hangars and office blocks.’

And to be doubly, indeed sickeningly, fair, despite all the incongruities of the article -a man who made his fortune from supplying services to the US military complaining about the abandoning of free markets, for example- there are some valid points made. A Dragon’s Den panellist gives a good summary of the effects of financialisation on capitalist enterprises, and points out the problem of the public being saddled with private banking debt.

However, he then decides that nonetheless, ‘capitalism is driving society forward, and the engine of capitalism is the primary contribution to the march of humanity.’

Given that most of the world is capitalist, it might be worth asking working people in capitalist South Africa or Haiti or Bangladesh to give that verdict a sense check. Capitalism’s continuing destruction of the environment and the basis for human life itself is of no import, at least not when compared to the ‘millions of businesses formed in the world and the 10,000 businesses set up in Ireland every year’. And so on. And not just in this article, but in a relentless flow of such articles, for years on end, warping your mind and polluting conversation at the dinner table.

Faced with articles like this, and they will keep on coming, what can be done? Maybe some people get a sense of fulfilment out of writing the same thing over and over, day in, day out, for decades on end. I don’t.

Call it a sense of vanity, or even boredom, but since I don’t get paid for anything I write here, and since I’m not a member of any political party, I don’t feel the need to subordinate what I write to some disciplined programme of political emancipation. Sometimes, though, I think: maybe I should. Maybe I should write didactic articles about what capitalism is and how people power can end it, or earnest accounts of how to build socialism in the 21st century. It is, mind you, a thought that comes at a moment of weakness. For one, no-one would read it, and anyway, I would give up two paragraphs into the first article.

But the moment of weakness is real, and it comes when I start pondering the vast power of billionaire-owned institutions to mould what people think, to set limits on what is thinkable, to confound and depoliticise and determine the political agenda. In short, the power of these institutions to eat your brains.

Clearly, we must build institutions that cause the influence of these brain-eating organisms to recede. But also, I think, at a level of ownership, there should be some simple legal rules introduced. Such as: if you’re not resident in the country, if you have opted not to live in the country in order to avoid paying tax, you don’t get to own newspapers and radio stations tasked with informing the public. That to me seems obvious. A democratic society cannot have people whose interests are diametrically opposed to the interests of the society itself, including its right to information, exercising such decisive control over public deliberation.

But more immediately, and in relation to the paper under consideration here: I decided some years ago that life was too short and health too precious to be reading the Sunday Independent and absorbing its crypto-Poujadist toxins once a week, let alone throw pennies in the direction of Tony O’Reilly or Denis O’Brien. I think decent people can live life closer to the full if they just say No to its foul effusions. If your brunch partner at a bijou metropolitan trattoria happens to mention a Sunday Independent article, stab him in the face with a fork. If your father approvingly brandishes a copy whilst you are digesting the Sunday roast, on the verge of quoting some piece of mangled ressentiment towards teachers or nurses or trade unions or Muslims or Travellers or ‘the left’, drag him outside for fisticuffs on the front lawn. It is that simple.


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