Failure, contempt and gombeenism
Published 13/12/2015 | 02:30
At first consideration, events at the climate change summit in Paris last week and, at home, such detrimental flooding along the Shannon and also, the disturbing behaviour of gombeen politicians, may seem tangentially related, but these dominant themes of the week are more deeply entwined than has been shown consideration to date.
The Shannon has flooded before and will flood again, but rarely have the consequences been so serious for the people who live along or close to Ireland's greatest river. Actions must follow to alleviate the worst of the damage to the lives and livelihoods of those affected, but it will be a mammoth, if not impossible, task to fully protect many into the future.
Whatever can be reasonably done should be done to minimise the risk; however, few believe this will be the last time in our lifetimes that we will witness such havoc, wrought on such a scale to the harm of so many in the flow of the river.
Neither was last week the first time we have seen and heard evidence that the political system is so woefully inadequate; worse, seems calibrated to a standard which at times appears designed to militate against the common good.
Yes, of course, those councillors along the main artery of the country, sandbags in hand, who show solidarity with and in due course will take action for the people, are a good example of selflessness for the welfare of those who elected them, which is no more than should be expected.
But the actions of a few councillors caught on camera and broadcast to the nation last week are a reminder that such altruism can feel like the sight of a rare bird; that the virtue in our political culture is not as wholesome as we should demand.
It was such a culture that gave us housing, family homes, built on the quicksand of flood plains throughout the country in the first place, often, if not always, against the best advice of the experts in officialdom.
As surely as the Shannon will flood again, are we to be always damned by the emptiness of gombeen politicians, who dance nakedly in the flame of self-interest, who corrupt the ill-defined meaning of citizenship? Yet again we have been brought face to face with the difficult issue of citizens' political agency. Are we to turn away once more? If we get the politicians we deserve, then we will deserve the contempt of our antecedents.
On no more critical issue in our lifetimes will this be so than on the issue of climate change, as no less an authority than Pope Francis has said represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity today. The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like a pile of filth, he has said: "We are at the limits of suicide."
In our mind's eye, gombeen politicians may look like those who disgraced themselves on national television last week, but failure can come in many guises.
The first climate change summit was held in Berlin in 1995: 20 years later, the crisis has worsened. This year's accord has been presented as "on the edge of historical significance" which is like asking for directions to the edge of the Earth.
Life is a travelling to the edge of knowledge, so who knows, maybe next year the leap will be taken.
Quotes of the Week
"Even if it is blindingly obvious that blame should be attached to institutions or individuals in relation to what happened in property or the crash, if anybody denies that in the slightest you cannot make a finding of fact." Socialist TD Joe Higgins refusing to sign off on the Oireachtas banking inquiry.
"I was going up to shower when the river met me in the hall." Retired driving instructor Bernard Shiel on the after-effects of Storm Desmond hitting East Galway.
"I've got to say there were times I'd forgotten what a hit is like. It's been a long time but it's absolutely flying here." Andrew Lloyd Webber on the opening of School of Rock in Broadway. It's the first show he has opened on Broadway since 1971 and Jesus Christ Superstar.
"We believe it is the stress generated by the negative beliefs about aging that individuals sometimes internalise from society that can result in pathological brain changes." Dr Becca Levy, Yale School of Public Health, on a study that is the first to show that social and cultural stereotypes can influence the development of age-related disease.
"It is important that ordinary people have a chance to be sure they get basic services, that they have a floor under them, and that they have a chance to partake in, be involved in any progress that is made." President Michael D Higgins speaking after a meeting with Portuguese president Cavaco Silva in Lisbon. Mr Higgins said both Ireland and Portugal had experienced difficult economic times and were now undergoing a recovery.
"[I am] calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on." US presidential hopeful Donald Trump on Muslims after the San Bernardino shooting.
"This confirms what many have been saying for some time - both antidepressants and talking therapies such as CBT should be offered for patients with depressive illnesses." Prof Sir Simon Wessely, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, reacting to a British Medical Journal study that found no statistical difference between drugs and therapy when it came to their effectiveness for moderate to severe depression.
"We need to get back to doing science the old-fashioned way, because that brings results." Irish-born scientist William C Campbell as he received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in Stockholm on Thursday.
"Never mind being the greatest Aston of all time, this is one of the greatest GT [grand tourer] cars ever produced. It is an absolute jewel of a car." Rob Myers, chairman of RM Sotheby's, as the Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato became the most expensive British car ever sold at auction, after fetching $14.3m (€13m) in New York on Thursday.
"In all these matters, the honest are dealt with and the dishonest, or at least the very careless, usually escape." Judge William Hamill of the District Court highlighting major problems with the execution of warrants, particularly for motoring offences.
"People don't want to hear me. They say a club like Manchester United has to win. But that's the past." Louis van Gaal on Friday as he tried in vain to find an explanation for why Manchester United had failed to advance from such an undistinguished Champions League group.