An acquaintance whose career is in psychiatry once provided a useful working definition of a deranged person : someone holding fixed false beliefs who is impervious to reason.
Looking at the actions of our leaders since 2008, in particular their decision to beggar the country in order to protect criminal conspiracies that could only loosely be called banks, I think there’s no escaping the conclusion that they are, by this definition, insane.
We were led by madmen, and the madmen were led by an idiot. Furthermore, when the idiot jumped ship and went to live in a cupboard, the madmen began to display other worrying signs, including clear evidence of a severe personality disorder. Brian Lenihan, after all, announced to a stunned nation that he wasn’t simply robbing the citizens in order to pay the gambling debts of billionaires. His budget of 2009 was, in his own staggeringly self-important words, nothing less than a call to patriotic action.
Lenihan made two fundamental misjudgements with that statement. The first was the assumption that anyone listening had the slightest respect for him personally, and the second was that propping up a bunch of crooks had anything to do with patriotism, but yet perhaps we can’t blame Lenihan entirely, and I’ll explain why in a minute.
The patriotic action gaffe was, in my opinion, a manifestation of narcissistic personality disorder, which is characterised, according to the standard definition, by a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and a lack of empathy. Lenihan’s ludicrous call to patriotic action echoed, in a pathetic Irish-backwater way, the absurd, if apocryphal, statement attributed to Louis XIV: L’État, c’est moi. In a sad echo of the Sun King, who could forget Lenihan’s subsequent squirm-inducing moment when he reminded us that he had spoken to Christine Lagarde, the French finance minister, In French? French, of all things, as if we thought they might have conversed in Urdu, or Serbo-Croat.
Even if we only had this to rely on, I think Lenihan’s behaviour conforms very well to the definition of narcissistic personality disorder. His need for admiration is as pathetic as it is obvious, and his grandiosity is beyond question. After all, what else would you call it when a man commits €460 billion on behalf of such a tiny country, expects the rest of Europe to believe he can back up this bluster with action and then calls what he has just done the cheapest bailout in the world?
Even that very phrase, the cheapest bailout in the world, carries within it an ignorant, small-town arrogance that presumes everyone else in the world was too stupid to come up with the smart-aleck stroke he had just pulled, when in reality, everyone else in the world knew it was bullshit. And now that everyone else in the world has called Lenihan’s half-witted bluff, we, the Irish taxpayers, are called on to pay the price for the likes of Quinn, Fitzpatrick and Fingers Fingleton.
I’ll leave it to the crucified taxpayers to decide whether they think the man possesses any empathy.
How did we get to this?
I think the entire country is disconnected.
Lenihan himself was raised in an atmosphere of stroke-pulling. Bred in the bone. His father was a consummate chancer, liar and Fianna Fáil apparatchik. Some readers will be old enough to recall his cringe-making moment on the Late Late Show when he invited the audience to chuckle at his hilarious story of how he intimidated a policeman who had the cheek to raid a pub he was drinking in after hours.
Will you have a drink or will you have a transfer? he claimed to have said, and the whole crowd, including the dreadful Gay Byrne, yukked. One law for Brian Senior and his crooked cronies. Another law for the rest of us. I still don’t understand why the audience laughed instead of taking off their shoes and flinging them at the self-satisfied old liar.
Was there any hope for Brian Junior when raised in the hothouse of distortion that was the Lenihan clan? I don’t think so. His father and grandfather were both members of our parliament, as were his aunt and his brother. Like all the Lenihans, he was raised to believe that he had an entitlement to get his hands on the levers of power, and of course, with a sense of entitlement comes arrogance.
There are many kinds of disconnection. The Lenihans are disconnected from the reality of our country by their position, their privilege and their money, but I’d like to say one thing now. This is not solely about Brian Lenihan. He simply happens to be the public face of a much deeper problem in our society, a problem I touched on before, which goes to the very heart of what exactly constitutes the Irish State.
It seems to me that Lenihan and his kind are the ones who ended up with all the loot after the civil war. And when I say his kind, I also refer to the people who occupied the other side of that divide. It seems to me that these two groups were never really fighting about principles at all, but about position, influence, money, property. Ownership and oligarchy, in fact. From what figures I can muster, the distribution of wealth in Ireland is what one might expect of a third-world country, with a disproportionate concentration in the hands of a very small few.
Right from the foundation of the state, the small people did not matter. Emigration and TB were the friends of the rich, invaluable for thinning out the irritating underclasses who otherwise would have to be fed and housed.
Those who did not take the emigrant boat or succumb to tuberculosis, settled into the sub-standard public housing estates grudgingly supplied by the State. Many worked and struggled to improve their lot, and that of their children, but some began a long journey into the alienation and nihilism that today produces random street violence, gun crime and what is anaemically referred to as anti-social behaviour.
Why? Could it be that the poor don’t see any connection between their lives and the country at large?
Yes, it could. When you spend a lifetime being condescended to by petty officials, jumping when some doctor snaps his fingers at you, worrying, staving off the money-lender, it’s hard to have a sense of civic pride. A sense of belonging to a State that has never shown you any respect.
I’ll agree that the political correctness of the 90s produced a mendicant class that feels entitled to be given whatever it demands, but that mentality didn’t come from thin air. It was bred through generations of low-grade skirmishes between poorly-fed, poorly-educated people, and the slightly-better-fed but still poorly educated people who looked down their noses at the underclass as they pushed their dole money through the hatch once a week.
Of course, there was a different underclass as well, wasn’t there? An underclass far more demanding than any tracksuited, hoop-ear-ringed chain-smoking teenaged mother shouting at an official in the dole office.
I’m talking about the underclass that had three Range Rovers in the drive. The underclass that had the prime minister’s mobile phone number handy, and in a bizarre symmetry, this underclass was just as disconnected from the State. As we have seen in the last couple of years, this underclass cared as little for Lenihan’s call to patriotic action as did some sixteen-year-old single mother in a Health Board flat with junkies shooting up in the stairwell.
I’m talking about not only the property developers who did so well from McCreevy’s little boom, but also those who inherited the State when it was founded out of blood. The doctors and the lawyers who for generations knew that they could grow rich by charging the poor large fees that would leave their children hungry.
That’s the legacy of our Freedom Fighters in 1921. Not some idyll of comfort and safety, but a harsh reality that our people would pay through the nose to keep the cosseted elite in continuing luxury. Unlike the UK which we left, there was never a comprehensive national health service. Never an independent school system. Never a proper public transport system. We kept the abusive industrial schools open long after the Brits shut them down.
And now, finally, we’re left with the one sector of society who believed in Ireland. The middle ground. These are the people who ultimately are being forced to pay for the dishonesty, criminality, greed and incompetence of the very wealthy.
The poor never saw themselves as part of this nation, apart from some absurd Celtic Twilight fantasy dreamed up by the wealthy and peddled by the Wolfe Tones to keep them compliant. The wealthy never saw themselves as part of the nation either, but simply believed they deserved to live off it in opulence.
This weekend, people in Limerick will be taking part in a run to raise funds for the Mid-West cancer unit. Why? Because the government has no money for anything except the banks. Only today, we learn that all our insurance premiums will be taxed to pay for Seán Quinn’s greed.
People no longer pay their taxes willingly because they feel the money is going to an immoral end. And if the middle ground has also lost faith in State, what’s left?
If the one remaining section of society that used to believe no longer has faith, the game is up. We no longer have a country, if we ever did, and if it wasn’t all an illusion since 1921.