Monday, June 22, 2009

The Banality of Evil

They've been seeking him here,there and everywhere for years, but as this charming home video compilation recently shown on Bosnian TV suggests, Ratko Mladic has been hiding in plain sight and enjoying a normal life somewhere in the suburbs of Belgrade. The makers claim that some footage comes from late 2008. Naturally the Serbian government denies this.

The most wanted (but apparently least hunted) man in Europe seems remarkably at ease given the $5 million price-tag the US has placed on his head. Hard to believe that this loving Grandpa was the same man who ordered the execution of 8000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica over a 3 day period in 1995.

And this is what never ceases to amaze me about the human capacity for evil, is that generally speaking,its perpetrators are rarely, if ever monsters in any obvious sense. They tend to be ordinary people who, to borrow a metaphor from Kurt Vonnegut, have filed down the cogs on their humanity processing equipment so that racism, oppression and ultimately murder become normalised and accepted.

For Miladic, the Muslim men and boys he had murdered were 'less than cattle'. For Hitler and his buddies,the Jews and Gypsies were 'vermin'. I'm sure the Israelis have similar dehumanising metaphors for Palestinians.

The problem i that once you start to treat people in his way, to label and categorise them as anonymous, homogenous objects, all of whom bear much the same negative characteristics then you create the context in which it is no longer necessary to regard them as human beings. It is a process we call 'objectification.' Once you objectify a group, any obligation towards them that your common humanity imposes can be conveniently forgotten.

It is this process which, in every generation, furnishes us with our monsters. And when we stand by and allow that process to go on, we contribute to their emergence.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Within these walls

After 2 decades of teaching almost exclusively in university environments to audiences of super-selected adults or near adults, I've just finished a 6 month stint teaching A level students in an FE College somewhere in the south of England.

I'm not a parent so my experience of teenagers until recently has been limited to Xmas visits at my sister's house when I'm usually the benign uncle handing out quirky but thoughtful gifts from across the Irish Sea. Apparently they like it when you give them shiny things or anything with an apple logo on it.

However, I digress. From a professional point of view the last 6 months has been pedagogic experience like none I've ever had before; exhausting, enervating, exasperating and occasionally exhilarating. I have never been so challenged as a teacher, nor have I ever found myself so emotionally engaged with the people making up my classes.

Anyway, just when I thought it was over, the local flea-pit decided to show this:

Teacher and novelist François Bégaudeau plays a version of himself in the Palme D'Or winning film of his own book which takes place over the course of a school year in the multi-ethnic 20th arrondissement in Paris.

This scene from near the beginning of the movie perfectly captures the reasons why teaching this age group evokes the 4 'E's mentioned above.

Take my word for it, Laurent Cantet has taken cinema verité to a new level. Two hours of this movie were as exhausting as a term at the chalk-face. Believe me, I've been there and survived to tell the tale. As the final credits rolled, a trickle of sweat was still running icy fingers down my spine.

What surprised me more than anything was how similar the Parisian teenagers in this film were to my charges in commuter belt Kent. They're smart and sassy and they know it all, but contradictions unsettle them, or at least they unsettle the ones who can see beyond the next text message or Facebook wall. Unlike the average university undergraduate, they are walking, talking bullshit detectors with a keen and oft-expressed sense of injustice, especially when it applies to them.

I hope they learned as much from me as I did from them and if they'll have me back,I'm going.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

A considered object to possess

For some reason known only to themselves and the fat controller, this morning the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 did a piece about the importance of Factory Records to the 'Manchester renaissance'. Made me think of this poster, a stained and ratty copy of which used to be in my possession. It was stolen from the Russell Club for me by a good friend since deceased.

I was at one of these gigs I can't remember which. Possibly the one where Jilted John made his debut. I later bartered it for love, music or alcohol, or maybe a mixture of all three. I likewise can't remember. Which is a shame because a copy sold for £1500 on ebay a while ago.

Anyway, a good excuse to slip a little bit of these lads onto the site

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Like Bock I too have found myself rendered increasingly inarticulate by the revelations emerging since the publication of the Commission report.

The following clip from Questions and Answers conveys both the trauma and the sickening lack of compassion of both church and state for the victims of this regime. It also highlights the shameless way in which the Irish state continued to foot the bill and prolong the evil that was done in protecting child-molesters and abusers from both the consequences and the costs of their behaviour. Noel Dempsey's expression (or lack of it) speaks volumes in this regard.

In explaining the behaviour of both clerics and politicians, we need to look into a political, cultural and economic project that was instituted in the mid-19th Century and realised in 1922. It is implicit in the work alluded to by writers such as Tom Inglis in Moral Monopoly and Jim Mac Laughlin in various papers over the last decade: Namely, the idea that nation-building in an Irish context required a Khmer Rouge-like policy of weeding out the deviant and unfit to produce a population fit to live up to the patriotic ideals of the native bourgeoisie from which the religious orders were largely recruited. What emigration couldn't remove amongst the lower orders, the Church would correct and what it couldn't correct it would quarantine in National Schools and Magdalene Homes.

What is in danger of being overlooked is that most of the victims of these Irish gulags were only guilty of being judged socially or economically inadequate rather than criminal in any real sense and that their suffering was, and remains, a consequence of a political and economic system in which a corrupt disregard for the working classes is inherent.

The Church and its peculiarly Irish form of teaching still dominates the welfare, health and education system in Ireland; practically, ideologically and morally. The Sisters of Mercy have just been placed in charge of the nation's principal children's hospital, for example, as if their activities at Goldenbridge, Clifden and Newtownforbes were just a passing aberration rather than an institutional characteristic.

What is needed here is not an apology, not some smug PR exercise on behalf of the bishops, what is needed is a reformation on a 16th Century scale, the complete removal of the church from all aspects of institutional life and its relegation to the back ward of Irish civil society and history.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Thee Oh Sees

My mate Sean tipped me to these noisy wee beggars. A 12-string, two tambourines, guitars worn high on the chest, distortion, feedback, a possibly intentionally ironic band name. What's not to like?

Friday, May 22, 2009

I haven't been able to get hold of a copy of the report yet but my mate Bock the Robber, the Limerick blogger, has produced a couple of summaries of both the report data and the witness statements which you can get here and here

Other than to point once again to the failure of indigenous Irish society, and the native bourgeois class in particular, to concern itself with anything more than its own survival, there are no words adequate to describe the reign of terror which the Catholic hierarchy presided over for so long.

That the Irish taxpayer is now footing the 1.3 billion Euro bill for the abuse carried out in its name by the Catholic theocracy, a fact which, since it is impossible to undo the damage done, I find even more galling. The very people who suffered will contribute to the compensation bill while the perpetrators will escape with their assets intact.

In my work on migrant mental health, I encountered so many Irish people whose problems ultimately resided in the psycho-social and sexual abuse they had experienced at the hands of brutal religious in Ireland. Their difficulties were often severely exacerbated by the fact that, because of their experiences, they were effectively excluded from the network of support which, without any sense of irony, the Catholic church provided to Irish migrants in Britain.

I wish there was a simple, adequate response that one could make at moments like this. I always refused the hell that Catholic teaching said I was destined for, but tonight I wish I could believe in a hell hot enough to hold and punish these evil-doers and the people who protected them for so long.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Playing for Change

I meant to post this a good while ago but for one reason or another I never got around to it. It's one of those projects which convinces me that whatever folks say, there's good comes out of globalisation and the internet. Plus, if watching this doesn't bring a tear to your eye, a lump to your throat and a primeval desire to dance around the kitchen then you're a flinty-hearted gobshite who wouldn't know a warm feeling if it jumped up and bit you in the behind. Enjoy

Playing For Change | Song Around The World "Stand By Me" from Concord Music Group on Vimeo.

Anyway so, if you want, you can find out more about the guys behind this project at Playing for change. Liam-Bob says check 'em out.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

National Blasphemy Day, 14th May 2009

For my first blog since December this is probably a more apt topic than you might at first think. Since the end of January I've been teaching the sociology of religion to students in a further education college in Kent. As a consequence, my normal, whatever-gets-you-through-the-night, easygoing, lackadaisical atheism has been transformed into a get-out-of-my-fucking-way-Dawkins-you-wimp-and-you-can-shut-your-hole-too-Nietzsche frothing at the mouth, church-burning, synagogue-razing, mosque-cremating mania. I am become a man who spends his evenings striding around the garden shaking a fist heavenwards and invoking the wrath of an entity which patently can't exist in any sensible class of universe. My therapist tells me that this is a normal reaction in any adult forced to spend too much time in the company of snotty 17 year olds.

Anyway, I digress. How I found myself in this situation is a long story and too far off-topic to share with you now, so I shall move straight to the reason for me being here now.

Today is National Blasphemy Day, an hopefully recurring feast, instituted by the Crown Prince of Curmudgeons, the Duke of Dyspepsia, the Baron of Bile himself, the one and only Bock the Robber to mark the passing of yet another mad piece of legislation due to be enacted in the sinking fiscal ship that is the Republic of Ireland.

For anyone who hadn't noticed, it seems that the old Bunrack-Knee-Herring contains an anomalous legislative black hole somewhere in the region of Article 40.6.1 which creates the offence of blasphemy even though we don't have any law against it on the statute books. This problem has been kicking around ever since Dev let Archbishop McQuaid vet the first draft of the constitution back in the day.

Presumably, the fact that for most of the history of the state anyone even contemplating the act of blasphemy would have been read out in mass and handed a one-way ticket to Holyhead meant that we didn't need to have a specific blasphemy law. In theocratic auld Ireland it all took care of itself in the kangaroo court of episcopal opinion.

Up until now the only folk to lose sleep over this lacuna have been constitutional lawyers of the train-spotting variety and the folk who wish we still lived in a land where publicly denouncing a paedophile priest would be a stoning offence at the very least. And, it seems, the current Justice Minister Dermot Aherne (no relation to the thieving twat from deh Nort'side, he says).

Rather than follow the eminently sensible recommendation of the Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution that we amend the Constitution to remove all references to blasphemy and redraft it to bring it into line of article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, Dermot has decided to go against the tide of secularisation and legislate for a bit o' dat old time religion, yessuh.

Under the proposed legislation, were I still resident on Erin's green isle, the picture at the head of this blog alone would be enough to get me fined up to €100,000 and possibly banged up for good spell to boot if I couldn't stump up the necessary spondulicks. All that is required for a case to be brought is for some member of a religion to be offended. There would appear to be no defense of fair comment nor would the artistic, social, or aesthetic merits of a scantily clad Raquel Welch be taken into account in mitigation.

I can only surmise that our Dermot believes that the apocalypse is just around the corner and he's currying favour with as many deities as he can before the final trumpet is blown. I suppose for an Irish politician these days getting one's reward in heaven is preferable to getting it in a series of stuffed brown envelopes, what with the recession an' all.

Anyway, enjoy the day that's in it and remember, if you've been offended by anything in this post then my job is done.

The Raquel Welch image was taken by Terry O'Neill and I nicked it from the always interesting