Referendum the nadir of Ireland's democracy
I PUT in a fascinating few days last weekend at the Battle of Ideas event at the Barbican in London, where I had been invited to speak on two platforms.
The event is run by the Institute of Ideas, a London-based group of former Trotskyist revolutionaries nowadays accused by the self-styled liberal left of snuggling up to the corporates and so-called libertarian right. They, for their part, declare the redundancy of such labels, to which I say Amen.
Debate topics ranged from the politics of multiculturalism to the limits of equality, via press freedom, global poverty, social media, last year’s UK rioting and the usefulness or otherwise of atheism. There were innumerable discussions about the current state of Europe, one featuring Declan Ganley that unfortunately coincided with one of my own slots.
One of my topics was the future of musical creativity in the internet/digital age; the other related to “culture wars”, currently the locus of collisions between the immovable object of tradition and the irresistible force of supposed progressiveness under headings such as abortion and gay marriage.
The speakers – an eclectic bunch of philosophers, sociologists, scientists and commentators – encountered theatres packed with people who seemed to genuinely think it okay to utter heresies and ask unapproved questions. Of the 2,000-odd people who passed through the Barbican over the course of last Saturday and Sunday, perhaps three-quarters were under 30.
It struck me many times over the weekend that the gathering indicated an unmistakable moment of ideological shift – from the threadbare fixations of the 1960s to something as yet inchoate, a new dispensation that may soon catapult us beyond the left-liberal banalities of postwar British political culture.
One of the points I made in Saturday’s debate on culture wars was that opinions about public matters in our “liberal” cultures have somehow become unmoored from conviction or analysis, becoming badges of identity, like T-shirts or hairstyles.
People affect philosophies or positions in order to look good, to complement their clothes and cars. (“Look at me! I’m a Guardian-reading pro-Palestinian vegetarian!”)
The complacency bestowed by six decades of relative peace and comparative prosperity has rendered most of our populations incapable of imagining anything terrible happening in the world they inhabit; therefore, there is no need to be aware of the content of issues, which simply provide the threadbare fabric of ideological raiment. Welcome to dinner-party democracy, the constant low drone of correctness that penetrates nothing and cares less.
In my talk, I used the example of our current constitutional referendum, explaining that, whereas almost nobody had the faintest idea what the downstream implications of the “children’s rights” amendment might be, most people were determined to vote for it because “children’s rights” seem like something all “right-thinking” people should be in favour of.