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Kevin Myers: Self-loathing and self-regard have made us what we are

For the sake of those who have been emailing me about my opinions on morality in Ireland, I will briefly sketch my understanding of the underlying reason for our problems.

These are not primarily economic, they are psycho-political. Our perverse politics authorised the insane economic choices that we've made. And our political culture results from a dangerous Irish bipolarity -- simultaneous low self-esteem and extravagant self-regard.

This bipolarity might well be genetically-based; I don't know. But I do know that conceited self-loathing is a common condition in Ireland. It explains why thousands of people go off to build houses in Africa, where millions of natives are unemployed and available. Only conceited self-loathing would cause people to engage in such emotionally-rewarding charity like that. Who is the real beneficiary of the charitable deeds there? The future householder, or the persons who builds the house? If the intent was merely to give someone a home, could we not have got Africans to build it themselves?.

Doing something to compensate you for your own low self-esteem but presenting it as a generous act is a terrible contaminant in any relationship, especially since the motives are usually not even apparent to the doer. Moreover, the emotional covertness that results from this bi-polarity is a key ingredient in Ireland's greatest contribution to the dark arts of social management, namely passive-aggression, which manipulates the consciences of others into providing the requirements of the passive-aggressor.

Conceited self-loathing is embodied in the outdoor-relief scheme known as the multi-seat constituency, in which various politicians compete to provide you with favours. Not merely does this intensify the childishness of so much of Irish life, it creates a morally-equal, joint-violation of the proper social order. The constituent gets an unfair favour from a politician and the politician, in return, gets the vote and a return to office. How much contempt must you have for yourself if you are asking a politician to do what you should be doing for yourself? But is your moral vanity not then rewarded (and your conscience placated) by you ability to give him your electoral approval?

To be sure, politicians everywhere are depraved, from Reykjavik to Rwanda. But there is a unique moral order in Ireland -- hence the recurring vitality of terrorist/political movements. The ballot/bullet are profoundly contradictory and incompatible methods in a democracy. In all of Europe, they really only co-exist here, enabling devotees of this bipolarity to go in one direction or the other.

Hence those Official IRA types who were simultaneously blowing up Aldershot while denouncing violence. And hence Provisional SF-IRA, who embraced peace and war at the same time, and ended up with God knows what.

And this Irish culture of self-deluding, ego-exalting, pseudo-humility is masked by a narrative that sees only one side of the bipolarity. Who knows about the three teenage boys Kevin Barry was responsible for killing? Who knows the names of the Black and Tans burnt alive in Tralee gas works after he was hanged? Who was told of the people who were murdered for not joining national strike after Terence MacSwiney's hunger-strike death? Who remembers the scores of murdered prison warders in the Maze?

Within the 'republican' community, of which all Irish political parties are offshoots, this bipolarity contains a perverse moral imbalance. The side that does not kill -- the self-loathing and political -- is often seen as less worthy than the self-regardingly violent and, in Irish terms, 'pure'. Hence, the continuing reverence for the men of 1916, who personally did kill, above Ireland's democratically-elected leaders, who personally didn't.

Is this not a long way from FAS, from Sean FitzPatrick? No, it's not. For our society's pathological inability to grasp a single, settled, all-embracing morality is perhaps a direct consequence of this moral bipolarity. If two internal moral-orders regularly contradict and therefore neutralise one another, is some middling and perhaps personally-rewarding fudge not somewhat easier? The mental mechanism that usually judges and guides behaviour -- the conscience -- is nullified in the unholy war between self-esteem and self-loathing. Indeed, a binding and common morality seems not to be remotely understood within the mind of Official Ireland.

So, if we as a people are seemingly incapable of telling right from wrong; if unpunctuality is still regarded as an endearing eccentricity, rather than what it actually is, a studied insult to the person kept waiting; if Michael Lowry, tax-cheat, can be trotted out by the national broadcaster to offer sage-statesmanlike advice on how this nation should proceed, then are we not doomed to failure?

Well, maybe. On the other hand, Alcoholics Anonymous has shown the true liberation that results from self-knowledge. Societies can transform themselves, as post-fascist Italy so brilliantly did. But any further indulgence in the national self-hatred that helped neutralise our public civic conscience in the first place will only deepen our crisis. For now is the time to think carefully and to analyse how this society went wrong, and, to do this, we must leave our emotions, and, if we possibly can, our bipolar-disorders at the door.

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