Bonfire Porn and Our Contempt of the Working Class…

While the last pallets were gathered and stacked in estates around the country yesterday, moralising social media pundits were already unleashing patronising vitriol.

It grows in vigour as the sky-scraping pyres rise ever higher across the province, the self-assertion of Northern Ireland’s armchair intelligentsia whose smug classist intolerance is as easy and cheap as the ignorance they supposedly are criticising.

There are, of course, unsavoury and deeply rooted elements of this celebration that are commandeered for sectarian purpose and are problematic. There are many who voice their legitimate social concerns honestly and sensitively: profit-conscious business owners voice worry about tourism, the environmentalists panic about tyres and many reflect on the offensive destruction of symbols.

But further up the political strata it’s the one time of year in Northern Ireland that the generally intermittent sniggering about the working classes and their ‘flegs’ goes mainstream. The internet lights up with bonfire porn, dealt out to a gloating choir whose song and gratification is the clamour of their own outrage.

As this apparently acceptable open season on working class members of our society goes on, you’ll find them everywhere snorting in faux-outrage simultaneously on ‘behalf of’ and against individuals that they don’t care about 11 months of the year. The pretend concern of a politically correct slacktivist class whose raving will never result in real progress because really it is the sound of their sophisticated sense of self.

Make no mistake, this is not a defence of bonfires, but whatever the gut reaction when presented with a bonfire draped in nationalist symbology there is a choice to be made at that point by the outsider. Either this is to be passed off and judged as the product of some low-grade tradition of cultural barbarism or there is something deeper happening here.

Just how concerned is wider society about the communities that hold these events? If the pundits and politicians were truly interested they’d offer more questions than dry opinions in unpacking the dichotomy of our July. Something about the simplistic vilification of what happens is inconsistent and perhaps we are looking at a wider issue that merely wears familiar colours.

The most economically marginalised and politically disenfranchised members of this place are the ones ‘left-behind’ to cling to the colours of the old world most tightly, each neighbourhood like a sieged island since the conflict. Who can blame that, for it gives purpose and narrative within a society that has otherwise offered them nothing but deprivation.

The daily reality in working class estates is one of unemployment, depression, suicide, drug addiction and alienation. Studies like Richard Wilkinson’s ‘The Impact of Inequality’ outline all the symptoms of our real sickness.

The sad truth is that we are not all in this together, and the bonfires are an uncomfortably eerie reminder that only a few of us are really inheriting this Shared Future. Rather than confront the offensive inadequacy of our peace many of us vouch for outrage.

It’s the easiest thing in the world to caricature and ridicule them’uns and refuse to employ empathy or understanding, but in contributing to this alienation and stigmatisation of working class communities, we contribute to the infamous ideologies of division. We ourselves perpetuate the past.

Any socio-economic marginalisation of these communities is reinforced by such sneering politically-correct middle class crowd, many fellow unionists who believe it’s better to slander or to distance themselves from what is happening than engage in meaningful conversation. There is no progressive hand extended here.

Mere scorn never dissuaded anyone from doing anything. Those who think it will are either wilfully ignorant and engaging in their own form of classist prejudice (not unlike sectarianism) or they in fact lack the capacity to intelligently think through the deeper issues that affect the young disenfranchised of our community – issues that if addressed just might help create not just a better future but a better present for these same young people.

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  • MainlandUlsterman

    No, I did get your point – but I don’t think you got mine (made a few posts ago). That was, it’s not good enough to just wave a hand and say any alliances people make are the same and the moral value of their decision the same.

    In this instance we had literally no choice but to fight Nazi Germany, as you acknowledge. And we had no choice but to find ourselves on the same side as the USSR in that. So the level of moral responsibility the UK bears for Stalin’s genocides through that decision is really minimal, even non-existent. The IRA’s decision to depart from the position of neutrality adopted by mainstream Irish nationalism and actually back Nazi Germany was not forced upon them in any way – it was a free choice. Others in the same position did not make that choice. It’s therefore perfectly right to condemn them for it – indeed it’s hard to see how anyone could do anything other than condemn it. I still find odd that you’re trying to suggest it was no worse a decision than the British one to fight Nazi Germany on the same side as the USSR.

    This isn’t some facile ‘UK always good’ argument, it’s just judging this particular decision alongside the IRA’s and judging them to be at pretty much opposite ends of the moral spectrum.

    Some IRA supporters today might argue that Russell et al didn’t know about the extermination camps and that’s true, hardly anyone knew until very late in the war. But there was no great secret about Nazi concentration camps then (as opposed to extermination camps) and certainly no secret about the Nazi invasion and extremely brutal military occupation of much of Europe, their fascist, racist ideology, nor their desire to overrun European democracies and place them under Nazi control. The IRA chose that.

    I get that they hated my country and saw this as an opportunity to hurt us; and they probably did it for Irish ‘revolutionary’ ends, they didn’t buy into a lot of Nazi ideology. But it doesn’t make their backing the Nazis OK. I’d have more sympathy – though still not much – with people who gave support to the Nazis after they were invaded, out of sheer terror or to save lives from the Nazi machine. But the IRA have no such excuse. It was just an appalling choice.

    Doesn’t it just say something though about the kind of morally vacuous thinking within militant Irish Republicanism, and their naked nationalistic hatred, that allying with Nazi Germany seemed to them an OK thing to do if it meant kicking the Brits? Their ideology is of the gutter.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    You are making a case entirely rooted in the idea that the idea of a United Ireland is somehow less important than the survival of Britain, which is a political rather than an historical point.

    Its probably quite necessary to avoid simplifying things into easy bites such as “Hated my country and saw this as an opportunity to hurt us”. When you deny a positive motivation of love of their own country to an opponent you are in danger of dehumanising him as those Nazis we both find so odious did. If you empathise into the concept of a United Ireland as something just as important and profound to some Irishmen as Britain’s survival was to the British, then all your arguments become simply the partiality of a politically motivated selection of evidence. Britain was not without awareness of Stalin’s USSR and its moral equivalence its Germany. While instances such as Katyn were only discovered after the alliance, the starving of the Ukraine and the purges ( just two examples) were perfectly familiar to western powers, alongside Russian atrocities in occupied Poland. I’m afraid that I simply cannot see how the decision of the IRA was somehow more odious than that of a British Government who not only ignored such things pragmatically while allied to Stalin but even continued to suppress the truth about Katyn for years after the war (just one rather glaring example of their ongoing moral turpitude).

  • MainlandUlsterman

    “You are making a case entirely rooted in the idea that the idea of a United Ireland is somehow less important than the survival of Britain …”
    Yes, absolutely. It simply is, and it was then too. You’re not seriously arguing otherwise? I don’t think even the most ardent Irish nationalist would argue that, surely?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Back from a long research trip, and apologies for not getting back to you sooner, MU.

    “Yes, absolutely.” The inability to put yourself entirely inside the mindset of an opponent seriously limits ones ability to critique their case effectively. “It simply is” is not in any way the absolute truth you claim to any but a (conscious or unconscious) British (small “n”) nationalist, just as the self evident nature of the primacy for others of “Irish Independence” is clearly not something evident to yourself. I can see a case to be made for both stances, but cannot fail to see just how strongly a case can be made against each also. Both are not eternal verities but expressions of contingent political belief. Yes, seriously, the relative values of Britain’s or of Ireland’s stance here ” is a political rather than an historical point”.