It's funny how serendipity works- my post last Saturday linked to a bunch of Pogues' songs, including Transmetropolitan, which contains the couplet:
Going transmetropolitan, yip-ay-aye
From Surrey Docks to Somers Town with a K.M.R.I.A.
The acronym K.M.R.I.A. (attributed to Joyce and, oddly enough, an education nonprofit) has been in my mind lately (how could I resist blasting Transmetropolitan numerous times in the past few days?). Now, I actually have a doughhead to whom to say it.
I knew Ross Douthat's column would be mind-numbing just by reading the opening sentence:
For an American tourist weaned on Gaelic kitsch and screenings of “The Quiet Man,” the landscape of contemporary Ireland comes as something of a shock.
Yeah, there's your problem right there- Douhat views Ireland through the prism of technicolor fantasy (I imagine that he, like most American conservatives, also views American culture through the same prism of 50's nostalgia which simply ignores such unseemly topics as segregation and witch hunts). My great and good friend Joe S________, (the man who coined the phrase "City of Y______" to describe the city in which I live) disparagingly refers to this as the Candyland attitude towards Europe- the misguided view that European cultures should be trapped in amber for the purpose of amusing the sort of American tourists who are jarred by the intrusion of the container port of Mestre reality on their Murano glass fantasy.
As an aside, I am reminded of a rejoinder to the Creationist fallacy, "Why are there still monkeys if humans evolved from monkeys?" This is, of course, "If many Americans and Australians are descended from Europeans, why are there still Europeans?" To the Candyland-obsessed tourist (or opinion columnist), the fact that European cultures have been continuously developing in the twenty-first century is an affront. Getting back to the column under consideration:
It’s as if there were only two eras in Irish history: the Middle Ages and the housing bubble.
This actually isn’t a bad way of thinking about Ireland’s 20th century. The island spent decade after decade isolated, premodern and rural — and then in just a few short years, boom, modernity!
Of course, this isolation exists only in Douhat's mind (hell, DeValera was born in Manhattan, and there has always been a back-and-forth between Ireland and the diaspora communities- sometimes, this was nothing to be proud of). The condescending Douthat also needs to be reminded that isolated, premodern and rural — and then in just a few short years, boom, modernity perfectly described the typical American heartlander until such Big-Government, socialist programs as rural electrification and the interstate highway system.
Douthat then goes on to write:
The Celtic housing bubble was more inflated than America’s (a lot of those McMansions are half-finished and abandoned), the Celtic banking industry was more reckless in its bets, and Ireland’s debts, private and public, make our budget woes look manageable by comparison.
He offers no hard evidence of this, and no links to statistics. Of course, we really don't know how the housing/mortgage/derivatives crisis will pan out here in the states, but why should reality get in the way of Douthat's anecdotes?
This particular sentence made me smile:
Nowhere did the imaginations of utopians run so rampant, and nowhere did they receive a more stinging rebuke.
I would posit that the imaginations of utopians (uteapians?) received a more stinging rebuke in Delaware and Nevada, but I confess to being a smartass.
Getting to the point, Douthat writes:
To the utopians of capitalism, the Irish experience should be a reminder that the biggest booms can produce the biggest busts, and that debt and ruin always shadow prosperity and growth.
The emphasis is mine- there is no reason why debt and ruin should follow prosperity and growth. Of course, in a well-regulated system, slow steady growth should be the order of the day. The Greenspan era of bubbles is not typical of a sensibly regulated economy. To say that ruin always follows growth is a gross overgeneralization.
Of course, the heart of any Douthat column is the oversimplification of the role of religion in society, and the unqualified assertion that religiosity is preferable to secularism:
To the utopians of secularism, the Irish experience should be a reminder that the waning of a powerful religious tradition can breed decadence as well as liberation. (“Ireland found riches a good substitute for its traditional culture,” Christopher Caldwell noted, but now “we may be about to discover what happens when a traditionally poor country returns to poverty without its culture.”)
Douthat seems to be blissfully unaware of such quaint religious customs as incarceration and indentured servitude of "fallen" women, and rampant child abuse. The lovely Leslie Dowdall has one of the most succinct (and certainly most beautiful) summations of the role of conservative religion in Irish culture- a good antidote to Douthat's simplistic pieties.
Douthat's closing paragraph really kicks the condescention into overdrive. I'd love to print a flier with this column (accompanied by Douthat's portrait) and post it all over the NY metro area. I imagine this goateed moron wouldn't be able to enter a pub without being clobbered:
As for the Irish themselves, their idyllic initiation into global capitalism is over, and now they probably understand the nature of modernity a little better. At times, it can seem to deliver everything you ever wanted, and wealth beyond your dreams. But you always have to pay for it.
WTF? Really, he's describing the stereotypical quaint bumpkins of dated pop culture, rather than a nation of clear-eyed realists who have long been wary of policy makers living it up in Brussels with the EEC earning a tax free salary just to play Monopoly.
Shorter Douthat: The problem with Ireland is that it is a real country, inhabited by real people who don't conform to my stereotype.
Douthat would be better off visiting a sanitized theme park... Irelandland.
Postscript: As I wrote in my last post, it's the little things that really tend to piss one off. The sentence which really makes me want to beat the shit out of this doughhead is this: In sleepy fishing villages that date to the days of Grace O’Malley, Ireland’s Pirate Queen (she was the Sarah Palin of the 16th century), half the houses look the part .
Granuaile is one of my favorite historical figures (and not just because she flirted with baldness). Unlike the half-term, half-assed, half-wit (uh, sorry, I'm trying to recapture the poetry of "four door, foor speed, four cylinder" here) of Wasilla (half-baked Alaska sums it up concisely), Granuaile had a decades-long career, remarkable for a woman of the time, as a buccaneer, a clan chieftain, and an (dare I say it) insurgent. The one thing she has in common with Sarah Palin besides her gender is that she serves as a figure on which various groups can hang their desires (Teabaggers and starbursters in the case of Palin; feminists and nationalists in the case of Granuaile (may as well post a video for Oró Sé do Bheatha 'Bhaile). Comparing Palin to Granuaile is merely the dingleberry perched atop this shite sundae of a column.
In common with Ross, I also believe in a Technicolor fantasy, a magical realm known as Serious Opinion Journalismland- in my fantasy world, the "paper of record" publishes an excoriating rebuttal to this crap by Larry Kirwin (posting that link to make zrm jealous).
As a parting glass (so to speak), here's a great bit quoted by
Monsieur Dampniche (buy his book, already!):
“who gives a fleyn feck about the economy. We built a lot of proper houses, improved the roads, and everybody got a good television. And we didn’t tear down any pubs. If things fall apart again, nobody cares. We’re still better off.”
Yeah, crazy, unsophisticated bogtrotters spent their money on infrastructure- buncha n00bs!