Paranoid style of politics has had its day
Trying to make us be good little citizens by telling us the Bogeyman is coming to get us just doesn’t work anymore, writes FINTAN O'TOOLE
WHEN MY kids were little, their favourite book (and mine) was Raymond Briggs’s graphic novel Fungus the Bogeyman.
At the time of its first publication, in 1977, it was somewhat controversial. Fungus, with his three nipples, huge nostrils, scaly, green, wrinkled skin and long tongue for catching flies was too just scary for children.
The dark, dank world of Bogeydom, with its hideously ripe smells and cold, slithery surfaces would give them nightmares. The Bogey diet of slime, flaked corns (instead of corn flakes), flies, maggots and golden waxy bits would make children sick. Fungus’s job of sneaking into bedrooms and engendering boils by touching the necks of sleeping humans would make them wake in the night, screaming.
Actually, of course, kids loved Fungus. Not least because, once you get to know the Bogeyman, he’s not so bad after all. Briggs’s brilliantly detailed account of Fungus’s daily life, with his delightfully ugly wife Mildew and his lovably hideous son Mould, reduces vague, and therefore infinite, fears to something definable and precise. You can’t use the Bogeyman to frighten kids who know Fungus.
We all know Fungus now. The bogeymen have already caught us. The one upside of this is that there’s no point in threatening us with the bogeyman any more. We live in the republic of Bogeydom. Trying to make us be good little citizens by telling us that Fungus and his mates are coming to get us just doesn’t work anymore.
Thus, when my rightly esteemed colleague Garret FitzGerald warned a while ago that if we don’t all agree to Nama, the International Monetary Fund will be at the door, I suspect that a lot of us found it hard to work up a decent scream. What exactly would the IMF do to us? Bring in savage welfare cuts? Give us the largest class sizes in Europe? Tell us that we can’t afford to fund a cervical cancer vaccine? Impose income and pension levies? I’m sorry to be facetious, but most people I spoke to about the idea of the IMF coming in actually thought it might be a relief. It is not just that they wondered whether anything could be worse than the current crowd.
It is that they imagined it might be no bad thing to have someone come in from the outside and start kicking down a few doors. And most people are also aware that the IMF at least had the cop-on to point out as early as the year 2000 that Irish house prices were unsustainable and that there was no known case in history where a rise of the scale that was happening in Ireland had not been followed by a traumatic fall.
Just to be clear: I’m not suggesting we hand the keys over to the IMF or I don’t think it would be a good thing if we did. What I am saying is that when you’re in the midst of the biggest peacetime economic collapse in a developed society and when the Taoiseach’s satisfaction ratings are lower than the basement of Hell, outside intervention is more a promise than a threat.
The same goes, surely, for the European superstate that the anti-Lisbon campaigners keep telling us is out there plotting to take us over. We’re supposed to feel that all these Euro-conspirators are burning the midnight oil in Frankfurt and Brussels, desperately seeking ever more dastardly ways to capture the fabulous prize of this sainted isle in the Atlantic. If they are, they’re crazier than a bus load of Bond villains. And if they’ll take Nama off our hands in return for us adopting their filthy foreign habits of fast trains, working hospitals and undercrowded schools, perhaps the deal might be worth considering.
I am not advocating a European superstate any more than I’m praying for an IMF takeover. I’m simply suggesting that the paranoid style of Irish politics has had its day. Paranoia is a distorted form of egotism. It assumes that the rest of the world thinks you’re so important that it spends its days plotting your downfall. The sad reality is that we’re not that significant. There are people in the IMF who would happily finish their careers without having to deal with the mess left by Irish bankers and property developers. There are European leaders whose interest in Ireland doesn’t extend beyond that time they saw Riverdance at a summit.
So can we perhaps conduct the crucial debates on Nama and Lisbon without conjuring bogeymen to give force to our arguments? People who are in touch with aliens tend to swing between the fear that they are going to wipe us out and the hope that they will benignly save us from ourselves. Neither emotion is particularly helpful in the real world where we’re stuck with the consequences of the stupidity of the people we elected. Fungus is happy to fester in his bed of slime in the netherworld, picking his nose and thinking about anything but Ireland.