The feral youth of Ireland prowl the streets of our capital again. An explosion of hate, and it makes world headlines. I had a graphic taste of it from abroad watching the video footage and reading the persuasive reportage and analysis on indymedia.ie. I found it upsetting and disturbing.I’ve been interested in what pushes men to violence for a long time. I am not sure what happened that Saturday was easily classifiable as “political” or “sectarian” or “fascist” or “class-warfare” or “anarchist” or (disingenuously) “mere” hooliganism. (The word of course has Irish origins. How could it not?)
How we describe problematic phenomena gives us clues as to how we can solve them. I am sure that 99% of those adrenaline-pumped hoodied lads had never been to the Falls Road or the Bogside, and probably had never been to the North or clapped eyes on an Orangeman or a British soldier before. If it was sectarianism, it was of the television kind, so it must have been true. Although, seeing the hate seething away on some republican bulletin boards, perhaps cyber-sectarianism is more apt. Some people really seem to believe the cause of the riots to be the parlous physical state of O’Connell Street itself, almost as if they were boisterous children let loose in a dangerous playground by negligent teachers. The authorities “out there” are to blame, we are not responsible: it wasn’t me that broke the window, Miss, it was him. He just fell into it, honestly, over them bricks.
We Irish are masters of the blame game, because it allows us the indulgence of playing our most familiar, most comforting, most sentimental, most rebel-song/poor-mouth/mine’s-a-pint/arrafuckthelotovyiz role: victim. And once you get attached to playing victim, it’s as hard to be prised away from it as a limpet from a rock. Victimhood gets reified, everything gets filtered through a lens of ossified pain and hate: a virtual shrine to suffering, which needs constant homage. Suffering is an insatiable god. Serving it calls for Matt-Talbot-like doses of masochism, because such misery perpetuates, feeds on itself. Like a needy narcissistic Irish Mammy training her young ones from day one to dance to her needs and feel ashamed of their own; she’s only doing exactly what her mammy had done, before her.Serial victims keep on meeting attackers, for they are two sides of the same dynamic. We see what we look for. A victim has enormous emotional power, manipulating all those around them, like a black hole in space; it’s very addictive. But it’s dangerous, destructive, compulsive, and bullying, too. Pain needs to be dissolved away with tears, not preserved for posterity in the role of victim.
As with individuals locked in its clammy grip, victimhood is the same in collectives, communities. As I wrote about in the last Bootboy, hurts inflicted against a community need to be reported on, the causes addressed and taken seriously, when they happen, to prevent them festering, feeding resentment and producing more hard-chaw chips-on-their-shoulders car-burning eejits.
There is, to my mind, a big difference between the political activism that emerges at grass-roots level in communities that have experienced sectarian discrimination and oppression (such as those in the Catholic enclaves in Northern Ireland) and that which seems to have driven the Dublin rioters, which seemed not so much about politics as an opportunistic nihilism. The protestors may have wrapped up themselves in tricolours, desecrating its admirable peaceful symbolism, but they were only flags of convenience, covering up an uglier urge: to express hate, misplaced revenge, to destroy and to punish, to mock and to bully. To offer up the old wound of hard-done-by till it gets knocked again, so it gets inflamed and raw, sore enough to feel engorged, pumped-up, hard, stiff with righteous indignation; throbbing with the sense of sanctified certainty that comes from projecting evil onto the hated Other.
When that sort of gang culture mentality gets a hold in young men, it’s hard to extirpate it, because it offers valuable things that are hard to find elsewhere – a sense of belonging, tribe, loyalty, brotherhood, thrills, safety in numbers, a delusional faith.
There needs to be another kind of analysis made about human beings and how we relate to each other that moves on from Nationalist and Marxist ideologies to a more psychological/spiritual perspective. If Ireland is increasingly prosperous, we cannot sit back and think that because there is “full employment” (whatever that means) that problems such as gang violence will disappear. Economics alone do not motivate people; having enough money to buy the latest Nike trainers does not bring contentment. It boils down to small-scale community issues and problems, such as those in the sink estates around O’Connell St. All it takes is one frightened pregnant-too-early heroin-using mother of four boys in an estate, not getting the support she needs to get clean and do a good job rearing her kids, with their father absent or a drunk. Running wild, (and I’ve seen this happen) they can destroy the quality of life of their neighbours, using fear and intimidation to dominate their environment. Before you know it, they and their neighbour’s kids are on TV throwing bricks and chairs through windows, crowing with jubilation, having the time of their lives. Because nothing will really make up for the shite they had to endure growing up, and no one in authority will ever or could ever get it right for them. That’s how you go in one generation from one fucked-up family to five or more, at least. The problems get exponentially worse with time, and more and more get to feel socially, spiritually, politically and culturally excluded from their own society.But it starts with one. It always does.
3rd March 2006