Alan Shatter must resign. Obviously. The Garda Commissioner too, whatever his name is. Everyone knows what’s happened here: the cops bugged the Ombudsman and Fine Gael are doing whatever they can to muddy the waters, playing absurd language games with standards of proof and meanings of evidences.
But is there not something utterly boring about how explosive all this is? Are we not here every single week watching some controversy or other blossom into an absurdist melodrama? The Minister Who Put A Hospital In His Back Garden, or The Banker Who Gets A 100k Bonus For No Discernible Reason, or some bullshit, all inducing the same back-and-forth conversation between press and PR consultants played out for our viewing pleasure. Each mundane obscenity producing a rich symphony of scandal – but each utterly structurally identical in its predictable effects.
We’re always angry, because there’s always someone taking the piss. But we’re always angry in precisely the same impotent and individuated way: someone is obviously corrupt or malevolent and yet for some reason gets to keep their job or their money or to avoid prison or whatever. The ‘free press’ makes limp efforts at ‘holding them to account’, but there’s a palpable sense that we’re all going through the motions that permeates the entire public sphere. The Dads of Ireland shout at the news, taxi drivers make cynical comments, and all the cool kids do more or less the same thing, but with hashtags. Voila: public discourse.
I try to avoid the news as much as I can. The kind of anger it produces – an anger that cannot possibly materialise the desire for which it stands – is ultimately just a corrosive, melting away whatever hope one has for the world. The position I take is one of informed apathy: I know what sort of thing is likely to happen, I can do without the details. Of course the cops break the law, they’re a gang of thugs hired by the State to keep order. What do you expect? Of course politicians lie and CEOs line their pockets while impoverishing society. That’s what they do. And if you cut one down, there’s ten more to take their place. And, of course, the discussion in the ‘free press’ circles round and round the absent signifier of structural causation – like those little horses on a merry-go-round – individualising blame, producing and directing anger towards those who – whatever the ethics of their personal choices – are ultimately only carriers for their social function. If this particular pseudo-controversy manages to depose the Garda Commissioner he’ll be replaced by another fucking cop. You can skim a layer of shit off the top of the tank, but there’s always more lurking in the depths waiting to float to the top. Some victory.
What should be obvious, but somehow isn’t, is that ‘popular anger’ is not some primordial force entering politics from the outside: it’s actively produced by the political conjuncture. We’re invoked to be angry here and not there, in this way and not that, at this individual and not this structure, and to consume our own anger through the mediation of the press in ways that are never allowed to amount to a meaningful collective challenge to power. It turns out that this is a pretty effective circuit for diffusing anger, all the while producing the sense that society is corrupt beyond rescue, but without allowing us to locate that corruption in anything concrete and therefore potentially changeable: a metaphysical corruption, for all practical purposes identical to collective possession by evil spirits.
It’s not at all clear to me how to short out this particular circuit of containment. But one thing that is clear is that the traumatic irruption of the Real within this world of spectacular representations will have nothing at all to do with the various organs of public opinion, or the relations of passive consumption they produce. Either we, as a first step, have better conversations that implicate structures and ultimately aim at posing a meaningful challenge to power, or we’ll remain trapped in pantomime anger: shouting at TVs and swapping cynical quips with taxi drivers ad mortem.