Grow up, you sibling culture


There are many issues arising from the liberation of Iraq with which the world must shortly grapple. Most pressing here, now, is: how did liberal Irish society lose its moral compass, writes John Waters.

I have in mind those vocal elements that propelled us towards modernisation and liberalisation in the past generation: left and centre-left politicians and their essentially middle-class, urban constituency and the rump of opinion-formers providing covering fire for the banal orthodoxies they present as radical analyses. These are largely the people who hid behind arguments about "legitimacy" to oppose intervention in Iraq.

It is tempting to observe how wrong they have been. But that is not what this has been about, and the work of liberating Iraq has only just begun. Even yet, it is true, many of those who so risibly compared the leaders of the Western coalition to the odious Saddam skulk sullenly in the wings hoping something will go horribly wrong.

That so much of the apparatus we use for collective thinking and talking is incapable of telling right from wrong is so serious for Irish society that feelings of Schadenfreude must be resisted.

The morality of this is Confirmation class level. If you discover your neighbour is torturing his children, where does your duty lie? Clearly, there is a responsibility to intervene. In the first instance, you go to the police. But if the police, instead of policing, sit around prating about "legitimacy" , what then? Where I come from, you then get together a few like-minded individuals, grab a couple of hurley sticks and break down doors.

The UN, our geopolitical police force, has become a Tower of Babel (or babble) whose make-up renders it useless in addressing modern conflict.

When the police refuse to police, they cease to be the police.

Without doubt, anti-war sentiment has emanated from quarters from which there would have been strident calls for intervention had one or two central facts been different. If Saddam's formal policy towards women, for example, had exhibited Talibanesque characteristics, there would have been no anti-war movement.

I can't help thinking that the fact that Saddam's regime, for all its inhumanity, was secular and modernising, created a degree of ambivalence in the average liberal mind. That he raped women in front of their husbands, of course, is neither here nor there.

I have been taken to task for speculating that one of the motivations behind the early mass demonstrations against intervention in Iraq might have been an entirely reasonable fear of reprisals.

Apparently, I am not qualified to make a diagnosis. It is possible that I was being overly charitable, and that what I was observing was not fear but straightforward moral cowardice. If so, I stand corrected.

I know it was not pacifism. I have met many pacifists, and all were gentle, loving people, full of sincere tenderness for those with whom they disagreed.

Rarely, in two decades of public commentary, have I encountered such malevolence, spleneticism and obvious hatred, as from some of those who, allegedly from a pacifist position, have communicated to me their disagreement with my position on Iraq.

It is extraordinary that so little of this energy was available to direct at Saddam. That it was not, I fear, is the nub of a relatively new and potentially lethal problem in Ireland and elsewhere: a parochial petulance that scrutinises issues not for their moral content but for some capacity to justify outbursts of pique at the domestic authorities.

I am reminded of Robert Bly's remarkable analysis of what is termed "the sibling society" , in which he depicts the modern generations of half-adults pummelling hysterically at the chests of their fathers and calling them fascists.

These generations of pampered pop children exist under a make-believe cloud of illusory oppression, imagining themselves subdued by conservatism, patriarchy etc, when in truth they are spoilt to the point of obscenity. The only tyranny they recognise is the phantasmagorical oppression of themselves by their elders, and they are blind to all that does not feed this fantasy.

Mr Bush and Mr Blair, by being principled, manly, Christian, resolved, and above all grown-up, press all the buttons that drive the sibling culture out of its tiny mind.

Consequently, much of what we perceive as political opposition in our democratic societies is neurosis arising from the relationships between the leaders and the led, the apparent content being no more than pretext. The result is a collapse of moral perspective: a chattering class that perceives incipient totalitarianism in the refinement of freedom of information legislation, but is silent or equivocal, or loudly demanding an amoral inaction, in the face of a tyranny that puts children to death while their parents watch.