Irish politics as ugly as Trapattoni's bogus tactics
The Irish soccer team’s humiliation exposed the false pragmatism that rules our political life
WE IRISH do love our metaphors. Give us a football tournament and we’ll give you back a symbolic episode, a parable, a state-of-the- nation image. Thus Euro ’88 symbolised the new ascendancy of urban culture; Italia ’90 and USA ’94, with Jack Charlton’s assemblage of Irish, English, Welsh and Scottish-born players, embodied the plurality of a hybrid Irish identity.
Saipan 2002 dramatised, in its clash between Roy Keane’s relentless will to win and the “give- it-a-lash” mentality, the tensions between an older Ireland and a new, success-driven economy.
So what is the misery of Poland and Ukraine 2012 a metaphor for? A paradox: impractical pragmatism. What has been so ruthlessly exposed in the fantasy world of football is, as it happens, precisely the thinking by which we live in the real world. It is a way of behaving that looks exactly like hard-nosed, calculating pragmatism. Except for one little twist – it doesn’t work.
In the football universe this is farcical. When applied to real people’s lives, as the governing principle of Irish politics, economics and society, it is a tragedy.
Trapattoni’s awful football is the essence of impractical pragmatism. It is based on the principle that everything that is pleasurable about the game – fluency, rhythm, invention, imagination, inspiration – can be replaced with one simple truth: results. It reduces everything to numbers – the final score – that justify everything. The process may be painful to watch but the outcome will be fine.
Which is all very well except that, in the end, the only results produced by this “pragmatism” are humiliation and failure.
At its core there is a sleight-of- mind. The idea that “it’s ugly but it works” slips into “it works because it’s ugly”. The assumption comes to be that if there’s no pleasure in it, it must be good for us. The false logic goes like this: cod liver oil tastes horrible but is good for you, therefore everything that tastes rotten must be doing us some good.
This happens to be a pretty good metaphor for what’s happening in the political sphere as well. The governing idea with which we’re stuck is the political version of Trapattoni’s tactics. It has all the outward appearances of actual pragmatism.
It is stern and without illusion. It makes a virtue of being dogged, literal-minded, obedient. Its face is permanently set in a frown of grim determination.
It shuns any hint of imagination, creativity, boldness or innovation, regarding such indulgences as not just distracting but dangerous. Its watchwords are “get real”, “do whatever is necessary”, “never mind the process, wait till you see the results”.