Op-Ed: Defying Apathy

 
 

With the country seemingly growing more cynical-minded by the day, Paul Fennessy examines Ireland’s tendency towards begrudgery and apathy

“‘You’re no good.’ That’s all we get told all our lives. ‘You haven’t got the ability. You’re a cobbler.’ It happened to all of us.” When John Lennon said these words, he was in fact speaking about authority figures and their tendency to all-too-readily criticise artistically-minded youngsters. However, his remarks could just as easily be applicable to Irish people writ large.

While this contention may seem ironic, coming as it does from what is considered in most people’s minds as the ultimate purveyor of cynicism – a newspaper – I cannot help but feel distressed by the burgeoning culture of begrudgery permeating Irish society. Moreover, this mindset seems to be especially prevalent within UCD. But before I address the topic’s relationship with the insidious confines of this college, let us examine the evidence from a national perspective.

Currently, we live in a society that is devoid of role models, or so it seems. Our politicians are incompetent, our bankers are corrupt and our religious leaders are inextricably tied to scandal. Of course I am exaggerating my point, but as a general synopsis of the cynical mindset which the average person adopts in relation to the established leaders of our generation, this is hardly an unfair portrayal.

It seems deeply disconcerting and even a tad perverse that, presently, it is almost impossible to identify one person in our society who is capable of leading us through this economic crisis, no one who we can admire, no Nelson Madela-esque figure to unite or inspire this country in which morale seems to have hit an all-time low. Is it any wonder, therefore, that young people are emigrating in their droves?

Perhaps it is this undue readiness for the country to embrace bugrudgery and negativity which seems to be at the root of our national disillusionment. The few prominent members of our society that are indeed heralded in some quarters are equally viewed with suspicion and even antipathy by others.

For instance, Bono recently featured in a high-profile public poll set up to determine the greatest Irish person of all time. Yet the U2 singer undoubtedly has as many detractors as he does admirers. He was widely derided when news broke that U2 had moved their music publishing company to the Netherlands in order to substantially reduce their tax bill. The said begrudgers attacked this decision while conveniently ignoring the tireless work which Bono has altruistically performed in aid of numerous charities.

Far be it for me to discourage criticism of people in the public sphere – such facilitation of free speech is inarguably an integral part of an open and democratic society. Nevertheless, there is a difference between criticism and thoughtless and wanton abuse of people who have the supposed temerity to express an opinion that is not entirely viable with those held by the abuser.

The elements of religious zealotry in our culture has clearly dissipated since the altogether more dogmatic era in which our parents grew up, however an element of such unseemly behaviour remains pervasive in other forms. This infatuation with illogical modes of thought and extreme acts of violence in support of pointless endeavours – the ludicrously belated legalisation of homosexuality (a ruling eventually instigated in 1993) in this country springs to mind – has been ingrained in our national psyche for decades, and did not magically disappear in conjunction with modern Ireland’s loss of faith.

Let us now return to UCD and its relevance in this matter. In contrast with our ever-developing tendency to turn begrudgery into our primary national pastime, the recent student march highlighted a refreshing sense of idealism existent within our culture – a trait which cynics would consider students incapable of engaging in nowadays.

Despite ungodly weather conditions, the November 3rd protest managed to attract upwards of 25,000 students. Irrespective of one’s views regarding the prospective increase in the cost of third-level fees, it is indisputable that the sheer number of students who attended the march represents a significant achievement.

And yet despite the refreshing sight of large numbers of young people making their voices heard, an element of negativity still managed to spring from this positive experience.

A small minority of individuals, who were seemingly intent on obfuscating the message of the protest, essentially sabotaged proceedings by engaging in violence and inciting riots through their antagonistic actions outside the Department of Finance building. These extreme individuals claim to represent student opinion, but they in fact do nothing of the sort.

Most students I have encountered were always fully behind the concept of an entirely peaceful protest and condemned the loutish behaviour which took place in the immediate aftermath of the official protest.

Ultimately therefore, the rioters are representative not of the students, but of the tinge of begrudgery still lurking within our national consciousness. These begrudgers dismiss the organisers of the march as little more than self-serving “aspiring politicians”, when it is in fact they who are wholly out of touch with the popular consensus among students.

Inspirational leadership is therefore needed amidst the current moral vacuum which exists to this country’s detriment, supplemented by a courage to face up to what has to be done to overcome the daunting challenges facing our future generation. The recent protests have thus at least shown that students are eager to confront the challenges ahead of them.

“Power to the People” was another truism which Lennon regularly referenced. And in this case, the people have spoken.

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