In praise of Slugger’s Year End Review, or how humour can let the light in…

Absolutely cracking evening last week in the Black Box. In all the years the review has been running, this was my first time being able to go. Since it is Slugger’s 20th anniversary year I thought it was about time I finally got over for it.

It was great to see old friends, and just to turn up and watch the team (Alex Kane, Allison Morris and host for the evening the one and only Alan Meban). It was funny, off beat and even coaxed a smidgen of optimism over a Stormont restart from Alex.

It was, in fact, just a great night out. I love the fact that the team carried the weight of thing. When Brian first suggested it as a fundraiser back in the day I figured that I was not going to be able to get home for it, I should have least input to it.

And it is all the better for that. It’s something I think was built into the way Slugger employed an ethos of radical trusting people who start off as strangers, and in many cases become friends (even if we don’t always know each by real names).

I think Slugger’s long (and for me at least) unexpected and certainly unplanned success rests of three things:

  • It’s Emergent… when opportunities came we take them. Our logo was gifted us by a local company who gave Slugger its visual identity. The team such as it is we gathered on the way. The End of Year Review is product of this open approach.
  • Diverse… By its second year Slugger voice was already plural so mine was just one of different world views. Even the Play the ball rule was a suggestion by one commenters Ian Parsley to keep the entry bar low but the quality bar high.
  • Politics has to be dramatised and contested over to make it real and to improve it over time. Something that has not always made us popular with the bigger and more powerful parties. Lacing it with humour also lets the light in.

The last of these is critical in Northern Ireland where a learned fatalism has often blocked us from seeing practical ways around stubborn obstacles that have blocked us for years [you mean like figuring what power-sharing might actually look like? – Ed].

In peace complexity re-emerges to perplex the simplifying narrative tropes that kept the conflict in place for far too long and shrank the space for the sorts of comprise which constantly oil the wheels of liberal, pluralist democracy to forge real change..

And Slugger in that case, as my friend John Kellden sees it, is a place for:

Weaving perspectives, forming a superset adjacent possibility space, where pieces can be brought together differently, a place for complexity to evolve new patterns of play, policies in service to a returning to source.

nd it seems to me that we are struggling to get to grips with that complexity As Fareed Zakaria notes, there’s no inevitability about the ascent of liberal democracy, whether in Northern Ireland or anywhere else.

Thanks to all of those who have helped make this evening one of the highlights of the year, including our sponsors Brown O’Connor. And our home team: David, Alan and not least Brian who first came up and ran with the original idea.

I also want to sincerely thank our moderators: particularly Seaan O”Neill, Sean Og, Patrick, and Claire. And Allison and Alex whose intelligent humour and wit brought a welcome break in a space where can find ourselves taking ourselves too seriously.

And finally, can I thank not just all of you who came last Thursday and helped to keep us all going for another year, but to those of you quietly support the site whether it is month in and month out or the occasional few pounds when you can make it.

Last word to Krzysztof Wodiczko:

“I left Poland in search of democracy and found it was more like a phantom always shifting and constantly lingering on the horizon. Once it is given to someone, it changes. In fact, it needs to be remade every day. It requires the consistent disruption of silences and the [utterance] of things that people do not want to hear.”

Keep on keeping Slugger lit… And my deepest thanks for all of you who make this place what it has become and will become in future!

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