The revolution will not be tweeted

In his essay This Time It’s Personal: Social Networks, Viral Politics and Identity Management, Nils Gustafsson argues that “viral politics” (i.e. the rapid online dissemination of political activist material) as well as social media’s growing importance could mean the emergence of a new kind of political elite.

revol

A number of things struck me about Gustafsson’s thesis. The first of these is his disinterested stance; Gustafsson displays no particular optimism about social media’s ability to alter existing political power structures. This is refreshing, and several years after his essay was published and with the benefit of hindsight we can see that – politically speaking, and from the point of view of totalitarian and anti-democratic states – social media is a paper tiger.

The Arab Spring erupted in Tunisia in 2011 before spreading rapidly to Egypt, Libya and Syria. Six years have now passed since the so-called Facebook Revolution began and the Middle East has experienced massacres, wars, coups, jihadism, and a body count in the hundreds of thousands. Social media was perhaps a catalyst for those events (not everyone agrees about this) but few could honestly argue that things in the region have improved since Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in late 2010.

egyptian-protests-facebook

Gustafsson acknowledges that “social media is deeply related to existing social structures and ideologies in society” and that it is “produced by and for certain types of people – stereotypically young, web-savvy, able-bodied people”. This is a telling observation and sheds some light on why the Arab Spring may have failed. The western media, which was overwhelmingly optimistic about the uprisings, focused too heavily on relatively liberal, young, tech-savvy Egyptians and Tunisians, while ignoring the inconvenient reality that Egypt is a country in which over 80 per cent of the population supports the death penalty for apostasy and 82 per cent consider stoning to death a suitable punishment for adultery. How could anyone be so naive as to think liberal democracy would flourish in such a fundamentally religio-political environment?

views-of-harsh-punishments

Late in the essay Gustafsson says that participation in online political campaigns fills two functions. The first is that it builds a certain kind of “public or semi-public identity by expressing political views and concerns”. The second is that it functions as “an excuse [for not] taking a more active part in a [political] campaign”. What Gustafsson has done is essentially describe in their embryonic forms both “slacktivism” (which Malcolm Gladwell coined – or at least popularised – in 2010) and “virtue-signalling”, which was coined by James Bartholomew in The Spectator in April 2015. Kudos to Gustafsson for mapping part of the social media littoral as far back as March 2009. (The coastline as metaphor here is intentional – we are entering unfamiliar territory, like conquistadors run aground in the new world. What future awaits us beyond distant mountain ranges in the cyberinterior is infinitely vast and terrifyingly unknowable.)

The final point to be made about the essay (and also the introduction, and presumably the rest of the book) relates to the sloppy editing and seemingly non-existent proofreading. Leaving aside for a moment the fact that the author uses words like “equality” and “inequality” as if they are empirical realities and not nebulous concepts in a sociological context that require clarification and perhaps even definition, there were a number of spelling and grammatical errors that made it very hard for me to take his work (or the book itself) seriously.

Bibliography

Nils, Gustafsson. “This Time It’s Personal: Social Networks, Viral Politics And Identity Management”. Emerging Practices In Cyberculture And Social Networking. Daniel Riha and Anna Maj. 1st ed. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2010. 3-23. Print.

Advertisements

Were our national heroes “racist”?

Thomas J. Clarke is the first name on the Proclamation of the Irish Republic and arguably the man most responsible for the 1916 Rising.

However, an awkward incident that should be addressed is his use of the N-word in a letter home while in New York in 1900.

image

Many people will say that he was of his time, and that we shouldn’t judge too harshly the words of a man who lived over a hundred years ago. Yet according to the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) of America the word was already “regarded as pejorative in the early nineteenth century”. In relatively liberal, multicultural New York this would certainly have been the case, but even if the word was just fine and dandy, referring to a whole race of people as “absurd” surely wasn’t.

Arthur Griffith is another name familiar to all. He was President of Dáil Éireann and founder of Sinn Féin, a party that amongst other things today encourages the immigration of refugees to Ireland. Would Arthur Griffith today be pleased at that particular policy of his party? It’s an interesting question.

The vast majority of Irish socialists, not just Sinn Féin, support multiculturalism in the Irish republic. The proclamation phrase “cherishing all the children of the nation equally” has been interpreted by many as meaning “all children, not just Irish children”. But is this interpretation justifiable or a betrayal of Griffith’s vision?

image

Again, the belief of the modern Irish person seems at odds with Arthur Griffith’s view, which was not a vision of a multicultural and diverse Ireland as propounded by today’s Sinn Féin, but a nationalist one of Irish men and women.

image

No country’s past is clean as a whistle, and Ireland is no exception. But perhaps we do need to abandon our sense of victimhood and scrutinise our past a little more than we have done over the last hundred years.

Albrecht Dürer’s woodcut of Irish soldiers in 1521

Albrecht Dürer was a great German painter and printmaker of the late medieval period and in 1521 he produced a wonderful woodcut of Irish mercenary soldiers on the European continent.

image

Perhaps the most striking thing about the image is the Irishmen’s hair, which wouldn’t look out of place at a bar in Williamsburg.

The haircut was known as a “glib” and was disliked so much by the English that attempts were made at prohibiting it later in the 16th century. These didn’t work however, and the haircut became a symbol of rebellion in a country struggling for its freedom.

Pitchfork owes Irish hip-hop an apology

Love it or loathe it – and as many people loathe it as love it – Pitchfork is the millennial generation’s MTV. The hipster’s bible of all things musical, it reaches millions of fans every month and is so influential that its rating system has even been the subject of an hilarious hatchet-job by those masters of satire The Onion (“Pitchfork gives music 6.8“).

That’s why it was so troubling for me to read their article about up-and-coming Dublin hip-hop acts who just so happen to comprise young black men.

The headline read “Meet the African Immigrants Who Are Legitimizing Ireland’s Hip-Hop Scene”. Legitimizing Ireland’s hip-hop scene. Not “contributing to” or “improving”, both of which would have been fine and probably true. No, apparently they’re “legitimizing” it.

That’s the first problem. How exactly are Irish people of Nigerian (i.e. a country in Africa some five thousand miles from The Bronx) parentage “legitimizing” the Irish hip-hop scene? Hip-hop’s exact origins are the subject of some debate but everyone accepts that it is an American art form, just like jazz or the blues. And the vast majority will agree that it has been predominantly an African-American music. Not African. Not black. But African-American.

Pitchfork’s article was no doubt well-intentioned, but it betrays a troubling ignorance of black America in its failure to distinguish between black people in the United States and black people in Africa and elsewhere.

Believe it or not, this isn’t the first time someone has conflated “African-American” with “African”. The legendary drummer Art Blakey and many other jazz musicians had to regularly contend with this blunder too, when white critics sought an absurd and patronizing link between jazz and the “natural rhythm” of the dark continent’s noble savages. Blakey stated, “No America, no jazz. I’ve seen people try to connect it to other countries, for instance to Africa, but it doesn’t have a damn thing to do with Africa”. Sorry Pitchfork and sorry Dublin rappers, but it’s the same thing with hip-hop.

What is it that makes hip-hop “legitimate”? If it’s poverty then these guys are in the wrong place, because they left actual hardship back in Nigeria. Many will acknowledge that much of modern hip-hop is founded upon a sense of victimhood. If your mom was a crack-whore and your dad abandoned you as a toddler and your brother was shot by a racist cop and you grew up in the Baltimore projects it means you’re genuine. You’re street. But Ireland has a humane welfare state. The cops don’t shoot black people. Lame, I know, but cops in Ireland don’t even carry guns. When you’re poor in Ireland you get free healthcare and free education. So where’s the edge going to come from if you want to be the Irish Kendrick Lamar? You don’t sell records rapping about the injustice of water charges.

image

Rejjie Snow, one of Ireland’s “most promising rappers”

The article goes on to talk about “entrenched racism” in Ireland and in the same breath mentions the country’s skyrocketing Nigerian population. As a white man I’m not going to say black people in Ireland don’t experience racism from time to time, but don’t insult my intelligence and the reputation of the Irish people by suggesting that Africans are immigrating to a country that treats them like garbage. That’s not how humans operate.

Forgive me also for finding rather dramatic Dah Jevu’s burning of a KKK-style mask, which they say is symbolic of their rejection of Irish racism. The average joe in the street may be forgiven for thinking the Klan were simply a bunch of assorted white racists who took pleasure in lynching black folk, but hip-hop heads can’t be given carte blanche, especially when they’re putting the KKK and Ireland in the same postcode. If they want to spit political venom they have a responsibility to read their history books, and if they did that they’d quickly learn that the Klan were no friends of the Catholic Irish. History is rarely as black and white as the narrative in people’s heads.

It seems that Pitchfork wants to define hip-hop not as a uniquely African-American music and an art-form born of the black experience in the United States, but as something centred on the melanin content of a person’s skin. Hip-hop’s origins are in 1970s New York, yet many of the “New Irish” – whose roots are in African countries like Nigeria and Zimbabwe – are being viewed as bona fide producers of hip-hop music because they happen to look like black people in America. This is ridiculous. It is also racist: it posits the existence of a single, global “black people” of uniform experience while totally ignoring the specifically African-American reasons for hip-hop’s efflorescence at a particular time and place.

This new generation of Irish hip-hop acts may be black, and they may be talented, but the truth is they have no more legitimacy than the white Irish rappers who came before them.

Why water meter protestors have it all wrong

They say water is essential to life and is therefore a ‘human right’.

Food is essential to life too. We would all die without it. Do those people who believe water should be ‘free’ think the taxpayer should pick up their tab at the supermarket? Why not? What is so special about water that it should be free?

Which brings us to our next point. Nothing is free. The government doesn’t have any money. Everything in the state’s tax coffers come from one place: taxes on private industry. Civil servants, national school teachers, police, nurses: all paid for by the private sector. “But, but I pay my taxes too”, claims the civil servant. Yeah, you do. But it would make as much difference if you were paid slightly less by the state and had an official tax rate of zero.

They say they already pay for their water.

Of course you do. If you work in the private sector, at least. I can’t be sure of your value if you’re an unsackable drone working for the state.

It costs a lot of money to treat water. It costs a lot of money to deliver it to homes. That’s what the government is attempting to kickstart: an equitable and efficient system that has been neglected for too long.

The fairest way to operate a water system is by making people pay for what they use.

Would everyone prefer a flat fee for their electricity bill even if they suspected they were conscientious about their usage and that it would go up, thereby assisting with the bills of idiots who fall asleep with the electric heater on every night?

Of course not. So why water?

There are those afraid this is just another tax, and that it won’t be counterbalanced by a drop in income tax. It probably won’t, no. But then we do live in a country where people piss and moan about decreased funding to all sorts of useless shite, from quangos to failed artists.

And by the way, if you’re one of those people who says Ireland needs to emulate the ‘Nordic model’ then please bear in mind that up there they pay for their fuckin’ water.

Beyoncé’s depressing photograph of drunk Dubliner is food for thought

Beyoncé’s tumblr blog contains a number of striking images from her recent trip to Dublin. Among them are photographs from her concert but also some Dublin street scenes, ones featuring smiling schoolgirls, men in giant leprechaun suits and some of the city’s famed street performers in action.

One picture stood out more than the others, and it is one many Dublin residents will be used to seeing: a man, contorted and asleep in a doorway, quite obviously the result of paralysing drunkenness.

20140315-154049.jpg

The man may be homeless. He may be a drug addict. He may be an alcoholic. He may be all three. Or maybe he drinks once a year and was unlucky that this photo was snapped by one of the world’s biggest pop stars while he was experiencing his annual hangover.

But whatever the story is behind this particular man and this image, it would appear to be indicative of a general problem with drink and drugs in Irish society that needs to be addressed.

Dublin City Council in caring more about money than parking violations shocker

Image

Your eyes do not deceive you. Dublin council has indeed given its squadron of clampers figures to meet, as if they were salesmen flogging tupperware and not responsible for making Dublin streets safer and better.

Workers are expected to clamp at least 2,800 vehicles during the year in order to earn their ‘bonus’ of €2,000.

Ex-Anglo Irish bankers have expressed interest in jobs in Dublin Council after the bonuses were announced.

Ex-Anglo Irish bankers expressed interest in jobs in Dublin Council after the bonuses were announced.

One wonders how much taxpayers’ money (and all of this is taxpayers’ money, lest we forget) will be wasted while clampers count down the final seconds until they are legitimate in attaching clamps to septuagenarians’ cars while they are in the local supermarket discussing the “rare oul’ times” with teenaged charity bag-packers.

Clampers will also be allowed sign off work early if they meet their quota, which means there is going to be a lot more fascism in people’s daily lives.

Perhaps when our political overlords create the utopia they are so feverishly trying to achieve – one where crime and minor traffic violations don’t exist – they’ll have to put guns to our heads to extract the necessary taxes.