Tuesday 12 November 2019

We're all at fault, so no-one's to blame, apparently

Nyberg's suggestion that 'group thought' got us into this mess appeals to our Catholic compliance, writes Carol Hunt

Lemmings. We were all unthinking, group-led lemmings, according to the report issued by Peter Nyberg last week at a cost of €1.3m to the tax-payer. How sad. How convenient. How utterly useless.

Nowhere are the names of the leader lemmings mentioned. As a part of a wider 'group mentality', the individuals are irrelevant, seemingly. Which may be why so many of them retain the same positions at more or less the same wages, with the same mindset -- resistance to change -- but with the appropriate remuneration (the payment to two senior Bank of Ireland executives of bonuses of nearly €1m, anyone?), pensions and pay-offs. Because in the long run they were irrelevant. Victims too, perhaps? Despite the fact that they don't seem to be suffering materially in any significant way. Because it was all just down to 'group think': ie, we were all to blame, so in effect no one is to blame.

While reading the conclusions of the Nyberg report, I had a bad thought. A thought that wouldn't have been allowed under the last regime. And it was this: are Brian Lenihan and Finnish banking expert Peter Nyberg related? Because the similarity in their thinking is . . . well, it would certainly suggest affinity, if not down-right 'group thought', because what Nyberg 'revealed' to us last week is what our ex-finance minister has been painstakingly trying to get into our thick skulls since 2008: the 'we all partied' theory.

I know, I know, your invite got lost in the post-- so did mine -- and then we had to head down to do the wash up, at our own cost. And our children will have to take on the cost of clearing up the mess also because . . . because . . . OK, you've got me there. I have no idea why they should have to pay for the greed and bad bets of private bankers, or for a regulator who didn't regulate, or for leaders who didn't lead etc, etc, ad infinitum ...

Oh no, hang on, according to Nyberg and Lenihan and all those other 'group thinkers', the State has been saddled with private debt because 'we' don't know how to think independently, we follow the crowd, we do as we're told, we don't question our elders and betters or those who get paid more than we do. In summation, we know our place.

The problem with this interpretation? It's got just enough truth in it to make us feel guilty. And what the boyos at the top are hoping (the ones who got us into this mess) is that we'll continue with the whole 'group think' thing, as in: there's no point in arguing with our betters because those guys at the EU, in Frankfurt, etc, must all know what they're talking about, so we'd better just do as they say and cough up the cash.

And why do we feel guilty? Because we know there's a lot of truth in the accusation of 'group thought', it's just ironic that it's being used to foster another version of equally damaging group thought -- 'there is no alternative' theory -- upon us.

We have never had a tradition of critical thinking in this country. In schools we learn/teach catechism as opposed to critical inquiry. We are not encouraged to question our elders or think for ourselves. Or at least we didn't when I was growing up. Even today, teachers in our primary schools complain about the amount of time given to the teaching of religion as opposed to, say, civic responsibility.

The majority of schools do not teach philosophy or history of religion, but Catholic catechism, drummed into children who are then taught that it is somehow bad to question authority.

The ability to think for oneself was certainly not considered to be a positive attribute when I was growing up. On the contrary, it was a sign of moral degradation -- or, in the parlance of the day, of "getting above yourself".

So can we blame the Catholic Church for this? Well, yes -- but, remember, we gave them the power. We implemented its laws and we punished those who dared to question them -- and by doing so we punished ourselves.

Similarly, we gave our last government the power to make decisions for us. We trusted it. We believed its henchmen, its regulators, its friends: the bankers, builders, auditors, auctioneers, and the beautifully photographed 'property porn' in the newspapers.

And, mea culpa, I fell for it too. During the mid-2000s I argued that I couldn't understand how we were economically better off if it cost two good incomes to get a mortgage for a house that our parents (on one income) would have moved out of as soon as they could have afforded to.

I was given all sorts of explanations. They never seemed to quite add up. But, along with the husband, I got on the property ladder. We had kids now, so we had a responsibility to take the best advice on offer and prepare for their future. Having a dissenting voice was not just stupid, it was irresponsible. And, truthfully, I hoped that so many 'experts' couldn't be so disastrously, blindly stupidly wrong. They were.

Nyberg has noted that he "found there was sufficient data for the regulators to prevent the crisis from unfolding" . . . that the regulator was "often fobbed off by the banks" . . . that there were "numerous instances of non-compliance with respect to banking regulations and guidelines" . . . there was "insufficient expertise" . . .

Ultimately, there were a lot of people making a lot of money --and it was in their interest that it continued. What was the worst thing that could happen? Oh, yes, the State could come in and take over the debt, and the big people could all keep their jobs and their profits while the morons who never got to go to the party coughed up.

The whole thing was nuts, run by people who hadn't a clue what they were saying but somehow convinced that if they said it often enough, it would be true.

And they're still doing it: "The debt is manageable." "Bondholders cannot be burned." The mantras change, but the central message remains the same. Do as you're told. Don't 'talk down' the economy. Don't query the system. And above all, don't think.

George Orwell, how are ya . . .

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