The Homeric madness of ‘two narratives’ and Northern Ireland’s political psychosis…

Call miracle self-healing:
The utter, self-revealing
Double-take of feeling.
If there’s fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky
That means someone is hearing
The outcry and the birth-cry
Of new life at its term..

The cure at Troy, Seamus Heaney

In the Irish Times, with forensic accuracy, Malachi O’Doherty highlights why much that passes for political discourse in Northern Ireland has failed to develop into a functional (not to mention sane) democratic debate:

“Those who point the finger at one party or cause need to have evidence and need also to accommodate, if only to refute, alternative perspectives if they are to be credible.”

Refute: “to prove a statement or theory to be wrong or false; disprove”. As, I think, Newton Emerson has already pointed out, this word is now a commonplace in the political lexicon of Northern Ireland’s non debate. It stands in where a functional argument (which rarely materialises) ought to be.

This also goes some way to explain why the Stormont administration has, even after six years, has failed to produce anything (beyond copious amounts of PR) resembling a partnership government.

Exhibit A: what Steven McCaffrey calls the mother of all log jams.

It also clears the field for the predomination of ‘self aggrandising half-truths’; which (because both ‘narratives’ live permanently and resentfully apart, much as in war) can never tested or confuted in the public space. And this ‘half truths’ have become axiomatic to what passes for even the most senior public discourse here. 

Malachi has examples aplenty:-

So we have myths that Catholics in the North were victims of pogroms, that the IRA defended the Catholic population, that it was an army representative of a community (a community which actually gave most of its votes to parties opposing it), that Northern Ireland was a colony, that Britain had a vested interest in dividing the population and used a puppet government to do so, that Ulster loyalists held a special place in the affections of the British monarchy, that the UVF of the modern period has roots in the Somme, that there never was discrimination, that paramilitaries were only ever in it for the money, that British soldiers were fine and decent people or that they were barbarians, that Catholics were subservient to their church, that the Vatican directed the IRA, that Ulster Protestants are one of the lost tribes of Israel, that the Republic is scheming to swallow up the North, that destiny is set and Irish unity is part of it, that the removal of the flag over the City Hall in Belfast is an affront so appalling that it must be reversed or that the removal of the flag means nothing really and those who protest are only whingers and scroungers.

These ‘disconnected narratives’ resemble the Homeric (or pre democratic) self conceptions of the warrior, in which good and evil are shared prejudicially between ‘them’ and ‘us’.

But Ajax, the eponymous war hero of Sophocles’s tragedy, ends up going mad on contact with a Greek society already transitioning away from war and into the more urbane brutalities of democracy.

In a such age (however long or short it lasts), the simplified binaries of war are poorly equipped to fulfil the broad democratic demands for collective action.  Such action requires not revenge but a refreshed commitment to the long hard road.

And, dare I say it, compromises along the way.

If you try to cure evil with evil
you will add more pain to your fate.

Ajax, Sophocles

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

donate to keep slugger lit