Saturday, June 30, 2012

War is about killing, not dying

I recently read On Caanan's Side by Sebastian Barry, in which a brother, son, and grandson of the main character were all deeply traumatised by experiences of war. The story was told by the grandmother, and never described the actual conditions of war, only dealing with the returning men and their burden of horror. War seemed to be about turning innocent men into victims.

This focus on the loss and victimhood in war seems quite common. Joanna Bourke's excellent An Intimate History of Killing: Face-to-Face Killing in Twentieth Century Warfare argued, however, that war isn't about victimhood and dying. War is about killing, and those violent struggles often evoked memories in survivors of pleasure, pride and excitement. Bourke wrote:
William Broyles was one of many combat soldiers who articulated this ambiguity. In 1984, this former Marine and editor of the Texas Monthly and Newsweek explored some of the contradictions inherent in telling war stories. With the familiar, authoritative voice of `one-who-has-been-there', Broyles asserted that when combat soldiers were questioned about their war experiences they generally said that they did not want to talk about it, implying that they `hated it so much, it was so terrible' that they would prefer it to remain `buried'. Not so, Broyles continued, `I believe that most men who have been to war would have to admit, if they are honest, that somewhere inside themselves they loved it too.' How could that be explained to family and friends, he asked? Even comrades-in-arms were wary among themselves: veterans' reunions were awkward occasions precisely because the joyous aspects of slaughter were difficult to confess in all circumstances. To describe combat as enjoyable was like admitting to being a bloodthirsty brute: to acknowledge that the decisive cease-fire caused as much anguish as losing a great lover could only inspire shame. 
Perhaps both those on the pro-war and those on the anti-war sides are a bit misleading on this. One anti-war narrative depicts soldiers as the pathetic victims of the rich ruling classes, forced into war out of desperate poverty. The brilliant British comedy Blackadder Goes Forth, for example, had its aristocratic general bristling with martial vigor and fighting spirit far, far behind the WWI trenches in the comfort of his sumptuous headquarters while the working class soldiers were sent to pointless butchery by German machine guns. 

But this view of soldiers as victims denies them any agency, rendering them directionless pawns. As Bourke pointed out, many soldiers sought battle and relished it:
Killing had a spiritual resonance and an aesthetic poignancy. Slaughter was `an affair of great and seductive beauty'. For combat soldiers, there was as much mechanical elegance in an M-60 machine gun as there was for medieval warriors in decorated swords. 
In some great 20th century wars men were conscripted to fight without their volunteering, but many others flocked to war from neutral countries without compulsion. Historian Bernard Kelly described the motivations of Irish people who volunteered to join the British military during World War II in this interesting podcast by The History Network; Ireland was neutral during the war, yet tens of thousands voluntarily joined up with Britain to fight Nazi Germany. Their motivation was not generally ideological, Kelly explained, as few seemed to care who they were fighting and why. Rather, war gave them an opportunity to travel to strange places, have adventures, impress girls with their uniforms and earn money. Some were running away from poverty and unemployment in Ireland, but many others were just bored and eager for a chance to fight and kill. 

Even today, contrary to this narrative of soldiers as poor victims of capitalism, those who volunteer to join the United State military are disporportionately wealthy, not poor:
Only 11 percent of enlisted recruits in 2007 came from the poorest one fifth (quintile) of neighborhoods, while 25 percent came from the wealthiest quintile. These trends are even more pronounced in the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program, in which 40 percent of enrollees come from the wealthiest neighborhood...

The facts do not support the belief that many American soldiers volunteer because society offers them few other opportunities.
Maybe those young people who choose to join the army do it because they look forward to fighting and adventure and killing. As children we stalked one another in gunfights and catchings; as teens many of us played gruesome war computer games. It must be exciting to create the massive explosions on enemy targets for real that we all rejoiced over in adolescent action films.

The pro-war, or at least pro-military view also seems to sometimes play down the killing aspect of soldiering. One hears of ceremonies in commemoration of those soldiers who risk their lives for their countries, and so on. This rhetoric makes it sound like they walk unarmed into battles and take bullets on behalf of their nations' civilians. But they're armed to the teeth! They don't go to war to orphan their own children, they go to war to orphan the enemies' children. War isn't about dying and sacrifice, it's about killing and making other people sacrifice. Terry Pratchett's marvellous Jingo has the following quote that sums things up nicely:
“It is always useful to face an enemy who is prepared to die for his country," he read. "This means that both you and he have exactly the same aim in mind.”
So I am uneasy about solemn ceremonies of respect towards fallen soldiers that talk so much about their sacrifice. They had tried, after all, to make other people sacrifice and other families mourn. Perhaps Sebastian Barry's soldiers would be more realistic if, instead of returning to civilian life as ruined shells of men, they returned nostalgic, missing the excitement of combat. Bourke wrote:
Did actual combat dent the pleasures of imaginative violence? For most combatants, the answer must be `no'. Time and time again, in the writings of combatants from all three wars, we read of men's (and women's) enjoyment of killing. This book contains innumerable examples of men like the shy and sensitive First World War soldier who recounted that the first time he stuck a German with his bayonet was `gorgeously satisfying ... exultant satisfaction'. Second Lieutenant F. R. Darrow found that bayoneting Prussians was `beautiful work'. `Sickening yet exhilarating butchery' was reported to be `joy unspeakable' by a New Zealand sapper....

Monday, June 25, 2012

Kings, running water, and Rwanda

A few days ago I mentioned how Snow White and the Huntsman's positive treatment of monarchy as a legitimate, even divinely-ordained political system might make sense if the alternative is primitive tribal anarchy. That is, even an oppressive and unjust kingdom is likely to develop a more prosperous society than a stateless society that is at risk from raids by migrating bandits.

Yesterday I saw this interesting article on the Why Nations Fail blog which argued that Rwanda is wealthier than DR Congo today, despite both being former Belgian colonies, because Rwanda was a state before the Belgians ever arrived:
By the 19th century it had spread to most of modern Rwanda, making Rwanda one of the few modern African countries whose borders correspond closely to a pre-colonial polity. The Rwandan state was highly militarized and run by a king and a cattle owning elite which became associated with the so-called Tutsis....

The historical Rwandan state was not a “developmental state”. It was highly militarized and in the 1870s succeeded in turning most of the rural population of farmers into serfs who had to pay heavy dues and do free labor services for their chiefs for half of the week. It was this act which helped to institutionalize the differences between Tutsis and Hutus, the latter bearing the brunt of this new set of economic institutions. But developmental or not the state brought order and rules and heavily influenced the behavior of people in Rwanda. 
The authors go on to link the legacy of this oppressive and violent state to the ethnic genocide of the 1990s, yet maintain that even this harmful system was preferable to tribalism, and contributed to Rwanda's post-genocide recovery, and its superior public services to neighbouring DR Congo.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

How to objectify men

Feminist commentators sometimes complain about depictions of women in television, advertising or cinema that focus on their role as objects of sexual attraction for men. This objectification of women does not seem to have as strong an equivalent in the sexual objectification of men for female consumers. While there are handsome and well-built men in films, and some of my female friends admit to watching mediocre films just to enjoy the eye candy of actors like Chris Hemsworth or Michael Fassbender, these films don't as often feature gratuitous shots of male bodies.

But perhaps we are not comparing like with like here. Let's look back to the cynical view of men and women, in which men were presumed to be selfishly pursuing sexual gratification with young, attractive women. In that scenario, the cynical view of women was that they were pursuing wealth and influence by leveraging their sexual attractiveness to get rich mates. This is something well-covered in popular culture: the gold digger.

Maybe some female objectification of men is partly different from the male objectification of women, by including this gold-digger aspect that favours wealthy and powerful men over the poor. As male objectification of women means the denial of women's personalities and interests beyond their immediate use as sources of sexual gratification, female objectification of men may be the denial of men's personalities and interests beyond their immediate use as sources of wealth.

Is it true? The dating website OkCupid allows users to report their income bracket, and they produced this remarkable image showing the number of messages received by men compared with their reported incomes and age. It shows that until the age of 23 there is only a mild penalty for lower income men, but after that there seems to be a pretty clear difference: richer men attract more messages.

That's not controlled for anything, so it might be misleading. Perhaps richer men simply happen to have various characteristics that attract women more, like ambition, diligence, or intelligence. But yes, it could just be that lots of female OkCupid users are more attracted to richer men than to poorer men. Financial objectification? Gold-digging? Well I don't think it matters.

The real point here is that the objectification of different sexes may be slightly dissimilar, not that objectification itself need necessarily be a bad thing. When thousands of screaming teenage girls throw themselves at successful boy bands, what are they attracted to? The physical beauty of the boys? Their musical prowess? Perhaps their wealth and fame.

This post was partly inspired by something I thought a long time ago when reading comments feminists were making to this article about the beauty of actor Jon Hamm, in his role as Don Draper from Mad Men. Hamm's back is to the camera so the viewers see only a little of his profile, as well as the shadows falling across his shirtless back. The author was remarking how obviously desirable Hamm is in this scene, and in the comments some readers suggested that the image objectified Hamm. One reader defended the image on the grounds that it also gave a context, showing Hamm's character standing in a room which suggested that 'there’s a story there – a real person’s story, that’s potentially believable and has a bit of depth'. 

I used the picture to argue against the beauty myth idea - you can read my comments there - but I was also thinking something I did not raise at the time: the setting in which Hamm's character stands shows every indication of wealth. Tasteful and expensive 1960s furniture surrounds the man, his trousers is impeccable and expensive, his hair is flawlessly oiled back. Far from lessening the extent to which he is objectified, perhaps this strengthens it. This projection of confident wealth may be part of Don Draper's sexual attractiveness in a way that a wealthy context might not increase sexual attractiveness for women. Would Jon Hamm seem so sexy in the exact same pose, but in stained tracksuit pants, in some filthy council flat?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Snow White and the eager monarchists

Today I watched and enjoyed Snow White and the Huntsman, a pretty inventive take on the fairy tale in which Snow White is a princess who is imprisoned after her father's kingdom is conquered by a wicked witch queen. It is made clear that Snow White is destined in some way, probably to defeat the witch and become queen herself. There is talk of her arrival healing the land from the blight caused by the witch's reign. 

The general thrust, then, is that Snow White is the legitimate ruler of the land because her father was king. This is a monarchist perspective, in which legitimacy to rule comes from inheritance through a divinely destined aristocracy, and not from popular support. Lots of fairy tales feature this positive, paternalistic view of monarchs as legitimate rulers and guardians, and it appears in Tolkien's Middle Earth books and in C.S. Lewis's Narnia books.

In a modern world where democracy is increasingly seen as the only legitimate form of government this nostalgia for a romanticised monarchy is interesting. Any attempt to install a feudal monarchy in modern Europe would provoke amusement and contempt. So were there any good things about monarchs?

A famous essay by Professor Mancur Olson argued in 1993 that monarchs, even of the most destructive kind, could play a positive role as by keeping parasitic 'roving bandits' at bay. He gives the example of brutal warlords of 1920s China, who taxed ordinary people heavily, but also defeated criminal gangs:
The warlords had no claim to legitimacy and their thefts were distinguished from those of roving bandits only because they took the form of continuing taxation rather than occasional plunder.

In fact, if a roving bandit rationally settles down and takes his theft in the form of regular taxation and at the same time maintains a monopoly on theft in his domain, then those from whom he exacts taxes will have an incentive to produce. The rational stationary bandit will take only a part of income in taxes, because he will be able to exact a larger total amount of income from his subjects if he leaves them with an incentive to generate income that he can tax.

If the stationary bandit successfully monopolizes the theft in his domain, then his-victims do not need to worry about theft by others. If he steals only through regular taxation, then his subjects know that they can keep whatever proportion of their output is left after they have paid their taxes. Since all of the settled bandit's victims are for him a source of tax payments, he also has an incentive to prohibit the murder or maiming of his subjects. 
Thus, self-interested warlords who manage to seize a territory and regularly tax its population are still preferable to wandering warlords who loot unpredictably. The roving bandits will take as much as they can, the stationary bandits will leave some wealth with taxpayers as a kind of investment. If the land belongs to the king, the king might be concerned about making improvements, advancing some public goods like roads or docks to boost its overall productive capacity so that the king's children will enjoy even greater wealth and power. If the land belongs to others, the roving bandit might as well raze it to the ground, murder everyone, and grab what they can.

In insecure medieval times, a powerful king or queen might be seen as a great defender of the masses from pirates and bandits, and from the violence of expansionary local lords. Monarchy may have offered a fairly reliable way to transition from one ruler to the next by rendering the whole thing divine and beyond manipulation: power shifting from dead king to eldest son at death.

In our modern, more stable world, democracy seems to be much more preferable, sharing power between bigger groups of people and making transitions of power even more peaceful through the ritual of elections. But I can imagine the attractiveness for miserably poor peasants in the borderlands of a man or woman with a crown and a cross, whose power is unquestionable because of its divine legitimacy through inheritance, and who protects the borders with huge, centralised armies. Snow White's tale of the land rotting under the usurper, and healing under the rightful heir, may be less fantastical than it seems.

Friday, June 22, 2012

When man is one, and woman is two

I have challenged some ideas supported by various feminist groups on this blog before, but reading feminist literature has made me a bit more sensitive to one of their concerns. That is a general societal tendency to treat men as the primary, default, normal sex, and women as a secondary, alternative sex. 

I see a strange incarnation of that in the social research databases I am digging through these days. To aid computer analysis, categories like nationality, occupation or sex are given number codes. These numbers are arbitrary, make no difference to the analysis, and readers of the final research will never see them. Yet I see them, and again and again what I see is this:

1 = 'male'
2 = 'female'

I don't know why this convention exists or how old it is. Perhaps other databases are coded differently but all of those I have seen are coded this way. It has no effect on wider society, but I am a little abashed to see this every day: man as one, woman as two.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Identity politics and feminism

There is a common slogan feminist slogan that 'feminism is the radical notion that women are people'. This wide definition identifies most modern people as feminists, perhaps even some who have mildly sexist views but still acknowledge the basic human rights owed to women. Another quote, which I see attributed here to Rebecca West, though I can't vouch for that attribution, states:
I don’t know what a feminist is; I only know men call me one whenever I say or do anything that differentiates me from a doormat.
This is another very inclusive statement, suggesting that a feminist is anyone who treats women with a fairly basic human regard. 

These two definitions mean that I am a feminist, along with nearly everyone I know.

The surprise is when I look at what kinds of policies self-described feminists are calling for. Things like prohibitions of pornography or the buying of sexual services, calls for quotas in women's representation in parliament, prohibitions of sexual advertising, even the liberalisation of abortion. These are surprising because they are specific and focused, only loosely connected to those initial inclusive definitions. 

That is, it is perfectly possible to reject the idea that voluntary prostitution is 'male violence against women', while still thinking that women are people. Or possible to acknowledge women's equality with men without wanting political quotas. Or defend women's rights to control their bodies while opposing abortion on the grounds that an unborn foetus also has rights. 

And so on. It seems like a huge jump from 'feminism means women are people' to 'feminism means the government should censor advertising' or 'feminism means women should be denied the right to sell sexual services'.

I wonder if the inclusive phrases help people to self-identify as feminist, in turn leading them to identify with other self-described feminists, and finally warming some of them to these more radical or specific feminist policies. By getting people to identify as feminists first it may be easier to get them to read feminist literature, defend feminism against criticism, and eventually become acclimatised to more extreme political policy demands.

I suspect something similar happens with right-wing American demands to 'support the troops'. By associating the right with patriotism and support for admired soldiers they seek to get undecided people to self-identify as right-wingers. The Political Compass seems a little suspicious in this respect too because most of the people I know who took the test ended up in the 'libertarian left' corner, along with admired people like the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela.

Convincing people to self-identify with a particular political ideology could be a good way to start convincing them of its more specific policies. That is probably why Irish feminists here chide Beyoncé Knowles and Juiliette Binoche for refusing to call themselves 'feminist':
This dissing of the words ‘feminist’ and ‘feminism’ really frustrates me. I wish people, especially women, would embrace the word. I feel so cranky with women who are obviously feminist joining in with the notion that it is a negative word. 
Why should she care that others do not identify as feminist? Perhaps because getting people to identify with political labels may popularise specific policies that they don't initially support. 

So while the original inclusive statements clearly make me a feminist - one who expects women to have the same basic rights as men - I will not call myself one because I am unconvinced by many of the policies pushed by self-described feminists. I'm not the first to hit this disconnect between positive, inclusive feminist rhetoric and narrow, specific feminist policy: I wrote before about former prostitute Maggie McNeill who identifies as an 'archeofeminist' in contrast to what she calls the prohibitionist 'neofeminists', sociologist Dr Laura Agustin, who complains about illiberal 'state feminists', and sex worker Furry Girl who has abandoned the feminist tag completely, explaining it in this fascinating post. So beware those who encourage you to identify with a particular political label and chide those who do not. It all seems too much part of a cynical way to manipulate people and nudge them towards policies they would never support otherwise.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Unthinking Activism

I just walked past a flyer calling for students to join in some kind of political activism to support the doctors imprisoned in Bahrain. I thought: I know very little about these doctors and about the situation in Bahrain, so it would surely be wrong to start demanding changes I don't understand. Doing nothing, or at least learning more first, would be better.

It reminded me of the first time I looked at the online activist petition website on the recommendation of a friend, and saw this petition to ban a type of pesticide that it said was driving honeybees to extinction:
We call on you to immediately ban the use of neonicotinoid pesticides until and unless new independent scientific studies prove they are safe. The catastrophic demise of bee colonies could put our whole food chain in danger. If you act urgently with precaution now, we could save bees from extinction.
 I was surprised because earlier I had read this Freakonomics Blog article:
As recently as March 2010, media reports have continued to stress the pesticide connection as the leading causative factor behind the nation’s declining bee population. To date, no scientific evidence directly supporting this conclusion has emerged. Of course, this could change. The problem here is not that pesticides are a suggested cause of CCD-this seems perfectly reasonable to assume. Rather, it’s that they have been routinely favored-and sometimes politicized-as the singular or most likely cause when, as it turns out, there are a number of supplementary explanations that bear on the phenomenon. These explanations are neither as simple nor as damning of our behavior as the pesticide explanation.
I don't know what has killed so many honeybees, and that uncertainty is my point. It would seem foolish to noisily demand changes I don't understand. I wondered if online petition sites like that might trick naive people into supporting spurious causes.

One might argue that we should ban those pesticides temporarily, to be on the safe side, but there are costs to this too. I like very much a comment by economist Russ Roberts that 'there are no solutions, only tradeoffs'. If the government bans a pesticide, what does this do to food output? Farmers' incomes? Food prices? Will they substitute some more harmful pesticide instead? I didn't sign the petition and I suspect a lot of activists demanding change one way or another are more attracted to the simple narratives ('save the bees') than have a reasonable understanding of that which they want to change. 

Back in 2005 I eagerly signed the Live 8 petition to increase aid and cut debt to many very poor countries. I ask myself now if I was duped: I've no real idea if aid and debt relief does help to reduce poverty or not, and what the hidden costs were. Activism without understanding might be a bad idea.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Is ethnic nationalism going to be a problem?

My last post was a section of a proposal for a survey I had to write in college, proposing to measure whether Irish national identity is based for most people on ethnic or civic nationalism. Ethnic nationalism essentially means a view of national identity based around a shared ethnic ancestry. Civic nationalism is a more inclusive view of national identity, in which individuals of any ethnic ancestry may be welcomed as citizens as long as they embrace various cultural and legal norms.

I argued that it is not clear whether most Irish people view national identity here as an ethnic or civic identity. I often hear Irish people joking about the notorious paleness and vulnerability to sunburn of the Irish. This is true, if we consider that being 'Irish' means something about a shared ethnic ancestry, typified by the pale skin that evolved in a people living in the cloudy north. It means nothing for Irish citizens of Pakistani or Nigerian ancestry. So are they Irish or not?

Right now the Irish football team is competing in the European Cup. There is a lot of excitement about this, lots of explicit national pride and flag-waving, but without - I think - any explicit explanation of what Irishness means.

My concern is that Irishness in the early 20th century was almost universally seen as an ethnic national identity, a movement by the Celtic natives to overthrow their Saxon oppressors. We are encouraged today to be proud of being Irish, but not told what it means. Politicians talk often about the ethnic Irish diaspora scattered around the world: Americans and Australians and British who are connected to Ireland only through a distant ancestry. Here President Higgins tells an Irish-American organisation about the Irish 'instinct to get together and talk and listen', and he calls the diaspora a 'family'. Talk of instinct and family seems to fit more with an ethnic nationalist ideology than civic nationalist.

Yet politicians have also used inclusive language towards immigrants, calling them the 'New Irish', for example. Ireland lacks a significant anti-immigration political party, and when one town's mayor announced that he was not going to represent 'black Africans' there was immediate outrage and he was forced to resign and apologise. There seem to be slightly mixed public messages.

I worry that some people take this cheerful Irish national pride, encouraged by the politicians, to mean ethnic nationalist pride in a discreet ethnic nation, exclusive of settled immigrant Chinese and Poles and Romanians. I fear that some people had always taken Irishness to mean ethnic ancestry here, in opposition to a Saxon English enemy, and they now feel confused or betrayed by a state that has loosened migration controls enough to welcome many thousands of immigrants.

I don't really have any answers or solutions here. But I fear things may come to a head. There seems to be a contradiction in national identities that have imperfectly shifted from ethnic to civic, along with politicians torn between stirring up national pride and keeping borders open to economic migrants. Several European countries have experienced growth in far-right anti-immigration parties, yet even the horror expressed about this development suggests trouble, if it means that any opposition to immigration is deemed radical. Those people I suspect grew up assuming that their national identity was defined by ethnicity must now be scratching their heads to find that their mainstream, conservative nationalism renders them terrifying neo-Nazis in the eyes of media commentators. If the only options are fairly open borders or far-right reactionism, no wonder some people are going to shift towards the latter.

A few years ago I would have blamed nationalism itself, as an inherently divisive ideology. Now I'm not so confident; perhaps nationalism plays a role in building social cohesion within countries. I hope that European countries will shift to some version of inclusive national identity that emphasises, perhaps, cultural and not racial unity. If people must rally around ideas, perhaps they can rally around ethnically inclusive cultural ideas. For now, I am concerned that these tensions go unaddressed. Today Polish and Russian football fans have fought in Warsaw after Russians attempted to march through the city to commemorate their national holiday. Ethnic nationalism is still drawing blood in Europe.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Ethnic Nationalism in Ireland

Before Christmas I had to write an academic proposal for a survey as part of a college project, and I decided to propose a survey exploring ethnic nationalism in Ireland, a phenomenon I've explored here before. I discovered some fascinating things while researching this project, such as the explicit racial language used by Ireland's republican founders to justify Irish independence. Below is a section of the proposal, with the technical bits about survey design excluded. Enjoy!

It has been common to explain national identity as being either of an ethnic or civic nature (Ham 2001). Hans Kohn argued in the 1940s that a liberal civic nationalism was associated with the western states of France, Britain, and especially the multiethnic United States, while an illiberal ethnic nationalism was associated with central and eastern Europe:
The one was basically a rational and universal concept of political liberty and the rights of man, looking towards the city of the future…. The other was basically founded on history, on monuments and graveyards, even harking back to the mysteries of ancient times and of tribal solidarity. It stressed the past, the diversity and self-sufficiency of nations. (Kohn 1945, p. 574)
Muller pointed out that during the 20th century there was a decisive shift in Europe away from multiethnic empires like the Hapsburg Austrians, the Ottoman Turks, and the Russians, towards smaller, largely monoethnic nation states, justified on ethnic nationalist grounds. He added that many modern countries, including Ireland, grant ‘automatic or rapid citizenship to the members of diasporas of their own dominant ethnic group’, a ‘subtle forms of ethnonationalism’, concluding that ethnic nationalism is more prevalent and influential in modern Europe than is usually believed (2008).

Kissane (2007) stated that national identity in Ireland developed the ethnic, exclusive form due to its emergence under British domination. As the Irish language declined and the Catholic majority lagged economically behind the dominant Protestants the humiliated Irish nationalists called for: ‘revenge against the Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland, justice for the Catholic religion, land for all, and the restoration of the cultural and political autonomy of Ireland.’ As many Protestants aligned with Britain and Catholics with Ireland, national identity split along religious ethnic lines.
When Ireland emerged with partial independence in the 1920s ethnic nationalist rhetoric among the political elite was commonplace. Arthur Griffith, founder of the nationalist Sinn Féin party, explained violent Irish rebellion in 1920 by arguing that Ireland was a natural nation with an ancient history of independence, and with natural and obvious borders that included the unwilling Protestant North:
Ireland and England are different nations, and Ireland enjoyed for fourteen hundred years a separate political existence. That existence England has for generations attempted to crush by force of arms…. If Yorkshire and Cheshire sought to withdraw from the jurisdiction of England, England would rightly prevent their doing so – they are an integral part of England and can have no right to separate themselves from the English nation. (Freeman’s Journal 1920)
Griffith was making a claim to territorial independence based on the notion of self-determination, a concept Davis finds popular amongst Basque ethnic nationalists today (1999).

The early Irish nationalist leaders had no embarrassment in celebrating an Irish racial identity. In 1922 an Irish Race Convention was organised in Paris to link the Irish with their ethnic cousins among the Diaspora, and was attended by future Taoiseach and president Éamon de Valera (Keown 2001). De Valera described Irishness in racial terms, stating that Irish people were originally Celts who were conquered by the Normans but who ‘adhered to their own way of thought and preserved their original Celticity’ (Davis 2003). Even after independence nationalist conservatives feared that the culture of the ‘Irish race’ was under threat. An alarmed journalist wrote in The Meath Chronicle in 1930 that foreign cultures introduced via radio and cinema were ‘crushing in the hearts of the Irish race …the beautiful and characteristic traits which without, this country must accept the role of a nation enslaved in mind and thought’ (Tully 1930).

There were some civic elements to the early Irish nationalism. The Declaration of Independence of 1919 referred to members of Dáil Éireann, the revolutionary parliament that sought power during the War of Independence, as ‘the elected Representatives of the ancient Irish people’, indicating an ethnic nationalist view of the Irish as a discrete people to whom the land of Ireland belonged ( 2011). Yet the Declaration also promised equal rights and opportunities for all citizens. Other early political texts tried to soothe Anglo-Irish Protestant fears that the new state would discriminate against them by using carefully inclusive language. The 1937 Constitution recognised four Protestant churches and Judaism along with Catholicism, implying a willingness to include these ethnic-religious minorities into Ireland (O’Reilly 2010). Perhaps Kuzio was right in stating that: ‘Each nationalism and nation has elements and dimensions that include both types of nationalism elaborated by Kohn (‘organic, ethnic’ and ‘voluntary, civic’)’ (2002).

Literature Review
Davis (2003) explored Irish attitudes towards national identity using data from the 1995 International Social Survey Programme. Davis found that Irish respondents were more likely than respondents from the other 23 surveyed countries to say they felt ‘very close’ to Ireland (53.8 per cent compared with an international average of 45.5 per cent) and very proud of Irish history (53.2 per cent against 33.5 per cent). They were unusually likely to express pride in Ireland’s achievements in sports, and in arts and literature. Irish respondents rated Catholic faith, being born in Ireland, and residing in Ireland, as important factors in being ‘truly Irish’, all at rates higher than the international average. Speaking the Irish language was rated much lower than the international average, probably because Irish language proficiency is not high for many people.

Davis also looked at results from a series of Eurobarometer polls on national identity. Consistently higher proportions of Irish respondents between 1982 to 2001 reported that they were ‘very proud’ to be Irish, compared with populations in other EU countries. Between 1994 and 2001 this difference became more pronounced, with declining levels of Europeans saying that they were very proud of their countries, and rising levels of Irish reporting this. Irish respondents were more likely than other Europeans to say that they never view themselves as European, and only see themselves as Irish, yet were also more positive about the European Union than the EU average.

Davis found that other surveys showed inconsistent results, with majorities in one survey agreeing that Ireland consists of all 32 counties, while just 41 per cent of respondents in the same survey thought that Northern Irish people were Irish. Davis argued that Irish national identity did shift in one important way over recent decades: by accepting the border with Northern Ireland and abandoning Arthur Griffith’s old demand for the unity of the whole island under one state.
As well as national identity, various polls have attempted to measure the relative levels of racism in different countries. A 1997 Eurobarometer poll asked respondents in EU member states to rate the extent of their own racism on a Likert Scale (Eurobarometer 1997). For that question Irish respondents reported some of the lowest levels of racism, with 45 per cent calling themselves ‘not at all racist’, compared with 34 per cent in the EU15, and only 17 per cent in Denmark.
Thalhammer et al explored a 2000 Eurobarometer poll on attitudes towards racism and immigration, finding that Irish respondents were more likely than respondents from other EU states (63 per cent against a 56 per cent average) to accept asylum-seekers only on a restricted basis. Irish respondents were the most likely to believe that minority groups were enjoying preferential treatment from authorities, and relatively few Irish respondents believed that minority groups were enriching the cultural life of the country. 16 per cent of Irish respondents said that all immigrants should be sent with their children back to their country of origin, lower than the EU average of 20 per cent. But a further 22 per cent of Irish people responded ‘don’t know’ to the same question, so the proportion of people rejecting the statement is lower than the EU average.
The poll also found that Irish were much less likely than the EU average to believe that minority groups are more involved in crime than others, and were unusually unlikely to find the presence of people with different religious beliefs ‘disturbing’. These seem to be ambiguous results, showing some inclusive and some exclusive perspectives (Thalhammer et al 2001).
Boorah and Mangan, using responses from the Human Beliefs and Values Survey 1999-2002, found that 12.3 per cent of Irish respondents would not want neighbours of a different race, higher than the average for Western countries. Irish respondents also showed relatively high levels of intolerance for neighbours who are immigrants or foreign workers (2007).
Davis’s results show a relatively high degree of national pride among Irish people, and a sense that national identity is connected to birth and residence on Irish soil, and Catholic faith. Yet it is not clear from this whether Ireland’s national identity is an inclusive civic one or exclusive ethnic one. The low level of self-reported racism in 1997 preceded the wave of large-scale immigration and may already be out of date. Indeed, Thalhammer et al noted that in Ireland: ‘The tendency to agree that minority groups can be a cause of insecurity increased from 16% in 1997 to 42% in 2000’, a period that coincided with a large increase in the immigrant population (2001). Likewise the high proportion of Irish people reporting Catholic faith as a necessary factor to be truly Irish in 1995 might be out of date now as religious trends have changed.
The ethnic or civic nationalist orientation of a country may change over time too. Kuzio argued that the United States began as an exclusionary ethnic nation and only shifted toward inclusionary civic nationalism during the 1960s:
After the US revolution an exclusive, ethnic Protestant consciousness evolved of a ‘chosen people’ based upon an identity of being white (not black or Indian), Protestant (not French or Hispanic Catholic), English in speech and Liberal (in contrast to the royalist British). Other immigrants from north western Europe and Britain were assimilated into a ‘WASP’ (White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant) identity…. The evolution of the US from an ethnic to a civic state is not unique but part of a broader trend among Western states (2002).
Before independence Ireland’s largest ethnic-religious minority group was the Church of Ireland Protestant community, making up 7.9 per cent of the population of the future Republic of Ireland in 1911. The Protestant population fell steeply after independence, down to 2.5 per cent in 1991: from 250,000 adherents to 89,200 (Ó. Gráda and Walsh 1995). Ireland was becoming more homogenous, while many of its European neighbours were experiencing immigration and increased ethnic heterogeneity. Thus for most of its existence, the Irish state coincided with a perceived Irish Catholic people and loyalty to one may have implied loyalty to the other. Large-scale inward migration since the late 1990s means that the discrete ethnic Irish population is no longer the exclusive fit for the Irish state. It is not clear if Irish people today feel loyalty to an open, civic nationalist state, or to the ‘primordial’ ethnic nationalist people (Mason 2006 p. 105). What are the Irish now? When President Michael D Higgins said during his inaugration speech that ‘We Irish are a creative, resourceful, talented and warm people’, (RTÉ 2011) to whom did he refer?

Recommended research

While this research seeks to explore attitudes towards national identity in Ireland only, international comparisons made by rolling out these ethnic nationalism scales in other countries could be revealing too. Kohn identified the United States as a typical civic nationalist state, ‘born in liberty by the will of the people, not from the roots of common descent, a geographic entity, or the ambitions of king or dynasty’ (1945, p. 271). Kohn also called France a civic nationalist state, but Waldinger’s analysis of the 2003 International Social Survey Program module on National Identity found that ethnic majority respondents in both the US and France wanted less immigration, and that three quarters of French respondents thought that immigrants should assimilate at the expense of their original cultures. Waldinger concluded that ‘ethnic nationalism is more heavily endorsed among the French, though a sizeable minority of Americans take the same point of view’ (2010, p. 58-59). Waldinger suggested that in the US ‘immigration is part of the national mythology in a way that is not, and probably cannot be, true in France’, because of the American historical experience of multiethnic immigration. Ireland, like France, lacks that immigration mythology.
In the future, international surveys of explicit racism or anti-immigration could include studies of ethnic nationalism and explore the extent to which it remains influential.

Mason explained that debates about ethnicity replaced those about race during the late 20th century, shifting the emphasis from genetic ancestry to culture. The terms race and ethnicity are, however, ‘used interchangeably in both policy and academic discourses, as well as everyday speech’ (2006, p. 104-105). Mason concluded that ‘there is no universally accepted definition of the term’ ethnicity, and that for some ‘there is a primordial element to ethnicity that explains the fervour of commitments to particular cultural identities’ while for others ‘ethnicity is little more than a symbolic resource to be used instrumentally’.
If ethnicity is thought to be something an individual can accept, reject, or exchange, then an ethnic nationalist nation might still be relatively open to the admission and integration of foreigners, so long as they are willing to adopt the native cultures. If ethnicity is, on the other hand, presumed to be something inherent to a group of people and based on a common genetic ancestry, then descendants of immigrants who are visibly different from the native majority may face difficulties in ever being accepted and assimilated.
For the purposes of this study, then, it is assumed that ethnicity does refer to ancestry, something non-negotiable and often quickly apparent by an individual’s appearance. It is ‘a permanent element of identity that is not subject to choice’, and ethnic nations are ‘rather closed societies in which bloodline or skin color may continue to brand you as an “outsider”’ (Ham 2001).

Leaving out the technical parts explaining the administration of the proposed survey...

Final comments
Muller wrote that the development of fairly monoethnic states across Europe since World War II means that ‘there are fewer disputes over borders or expatriate communities, leading to the most stable territorial configuration in European history.’ He added that the modern wave of immigration from poorer Asian and African countries is challenging that stability, and may provoke ‘a resurgence of traditional ethnonational identities in some states’ (2008).
Understanding whether modern Irish national identity is still associated with the old concept of a common, non-negotiable, Celtic racial heritage, or with a new inclusive and non-ethnic identity, could help us to predict the willingness of Irish people to accept non-ethnic Irish as fellow citizens. If ethnic nationalism lingers in the presence of rising ethnic diversity, there may be tension and segregation. At the launch of the Global Diaspora Strategies Toolkit in 2011, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said:
From the sixth century, when our monks brought Europe from the Dark Ages, the Irish have had a sense... that Irishness and all that it signifies or implies....involves the strange geology of heart and mind….
The Diaspora works out at 70 million. 70 million men and women. Our Diaspora. Our people. That’s some opportunity.
There is something deep in our Irishness brings us together.....creates that need to connect (Taoiseach, 2011).
This talk seems an acknowledgement of ethnic nationalism, of Kohn’s ‘harking back to the mysteries of ancient times’ and tribal solidarity. It seems to have survived in some form.
Muller argued that ethnic nationalism would remain for many generations and that: ‘One can only profit from facing it directly’ (2008).

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Sunday, June 3, 2012

Pro-growth left

The debate over the economic direction of troubled countries like Ireland has developed into an interesting narrative now, with many critics of the tax-increasing, budget-cutting austerity budgets calling instead for economic stimulus. Left-wing members of the opposition have adopted simple slogans calling for growth, not austerity

These repeated demands for economic growth seem strange to me because, I think, a few years ago it was the right who were advocating economic growth while the left were demanding redistribution. There were also post-materialists on the left with environmentalist leanings, interested in moving past economic growth to some kind of eco-friendly sustainability. Britain's Equality Trust writes:
But we have now come to the end of what economic growth can do for developed countries. Measures of well-being or of happiness no longer rise with economic growth.... The evidence suggests that we need to shift our attention away from increasing material wealth, to the social environment and the quality of social relations in our societies.
I mentioned this shift in tone on the left, from social and environmental sustainability to sheer economic growth, to a colleague. He suggested it might indicate a real shift from the post-materialist green left to an older, labour-focused left. I wondered, though, if all of this was just a fairly straight-forward attempt by left-wing groups in opposition to win political support by rallying against the unpopular budget cuts. Rather than indicating any real ideological shift, I would guess that they sensed the changing mood, saw that the major parties were determined to take the unpopular austerity path, and took the populist alternative. Any thoughts? Feel free to comment below.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The difficulties in brain-washing children

Here are some British members of parliament calling for lessons in finance to be made compulsory for students to address a gap in young people's knowledge about avoiding debt. Here the father of deceased British singer Amy Winehouse calls for school drug lessons to be compulsory. Just days ago British MPs called for compulsory body image lessons because 'body dissatisfaction' is on the rise in the UK.

Add to these various other demands for sex education, citizenship education or other social and personal skills that schools are increasingly expected to provide. I've long had my doubts about this push for an educational cure-all: centralised, state-designed lessons that would address all social ills. Partly this is because every second spent learning about body image is a second not spend on literacy or numeracy, on the basic educational necessities we need for functional economies.

Also, though, there is my doubt that top-down education works in changing how individuals behave. I have strong memories of secondary school teachers attempting to impress various values and beliefs in us, and failing. In one class a teacher carefully talked us through the constituent chemicals of tobacco, describing the damage done by tar, carbon monoxide and nicotine, leaving me more determined than ever to never touch the stuff. The school chime tolled for lunch, my classmates slouched out to the lunch hall, and then to the ball alley for a surreptitious smoke. It made no difference.

New evidence that makes me strongly question the ability of schools to imprint their values on students comes from 2011 Census document on births in Ireland. We are experiencing a huge baby boom at the moment - thanks to fairly high fertility among a relatively young population - but the nature of these new families is drastically different from the past. In 1959 the proportion of births that happened to parents outside marriage was 1.9%. By 2011 it was 33.4%.

The Catholic Church runs a great majority of Ireland's schools (I read '3,032 out of a total of 3,280 primary schools' but I can't be sure of the source), yet a third of all births today are happening outside marriage - a big rejection of Catholic teaching on sexual morality by its former students. All those decades of indoctrination lead to mass-abandonment of Catholic values.

This should be obvious! I went right through that Catholic educational system and by the age of 18 few of my peers were remotely interested in religion. Their efforts at filling us with religious belief were very hit and miss.

For there were other pressures and influences coming from sources beyond the classroom, and most were far, far stronger than anything teachers could impress. Students were getting completely contrary messages from television advertisers and pop musicians, from their parents and from each other. My peers knew that smoking was bad for them and would make them sick. They didn't care. The trade-off added up: certain peer respect right now versus uncertain long-term sickness was an acceptable exchange in their eyes.

An example that really makes me smile happened in my class when I was 16, and we had some members of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children give us lessons about personal development and sexuality. The class was a horror of discomfort, with the boys cross-armed and alarmed, the girls blushing and staring at the floor. The ISPCC women wanted to challenge ridiculous myths about sex that probably none of us believed anyway, one of which was the old myth that masturbation makes boys lose their eyesight.

'So it's not true,' said one of the ISPCC women. 'Masturbation actually doesn't make you go blind. It's perfectly natural.'

Now it happened that on that particular day, one of our classmates was not in school. This boy, I'll give him the pseudonym John Dungannon, happened to wear thick glasses. In a flash of comic genius, one of the other boys absorbed the ISPCC woman's wise words about masturbation with the cry: 'DUNGANNON!'

We all cracked up laughing! In one swift stroke my classmate had turned the enlightened ISPCC argument on its head: masturbation does make you blind, and Dungannon must be at it night and day!

So well-intended calls to add more and more social and personal skill classes to school curricula may be unwise. Top-down instructions from teachers have to compete with the vast marketing campaigns of popular culture, against the ingrained traditions and norms of local culture, and against the often destructive and sense-resistant machismo of youth culture. My peers deliberately undermined the messages of our teachers and flipped their values upside down. It may be vain to expect that extra lessons will transform cranky teenagers into citizens.