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Thread: Do we still have a 'post-colonial' inferiority complex?

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    Default Do we still have a 'post-colonial' inferiority complex?

    Firstly, I would like to state that this is not a hyper-nationalistic rant, but rather merely an observation that could indeed indicate why we are in such the mess we are in.

    I was recently unfortunate enough to be observing the final of the All Ireland Talent show contest (for future reference, another cheap knock off of an import), in which a group of Irish speaking boys (8-14 probably) were competing against a five year old from Waterford for the title. The young boys had one the eldest playing traditional music on a box, while the middle lad performed step-dancing and the younger lad managed rather a delightful and creative bit of sean-nós in which he was very much accomplished. Against that, the younger child from Waterford performed rather a feat in regards to break-dancing, although it was clear he wasn't a yet a master of the art or as accomplished in it as the sean-nós lad was in his, for his age he was quite impressive. As the votes were called in, I was thus unsurprised to see that the lads doing the traditional routine won, while the child doing the break-dancing came in second.

    However, the reaction from the internet seemed almost typical. The recognisably Irish act, by which I mean the forms employed being almost completely indigenous to Ireland, were dismissed as inbred, backwater, mountain boys, engaged in paddy-whackery, undeserved of a win because what they did is a national embarrassment. Admittedly, sean nós dancing is an acquired taste, and the skill involved is not immediately obvious, but the dismissive hate-filled terms in which it was described was rather disturbing. Pulling odd movements while pretending to dance was deemed to be ridiculous and embarrassing, clearly ignorant of the fact that that is exactly what is involved in break-dancing, with the exception that that was is a more globally established cultural meme. Fair enough, if one honestly thought it was a better product than the sean nós, I'd disagree but I'd understand, but the criticisms were couched in rather uncomfortable terms. 'Shameful', 'National embarrassment', 'Paddy-whackery' clearly emphasised that it was the supposed Oirishness of the performance that caused difficulty to many observers, almost as if it was a 'stage Irish routine', ironic given it's one of the more authentic forms of Irish dance. I couldn't imagine someone in Spain dismissing flamenco in such a childish fashion, they may not like the routine, but I certainly would doubt they spit at it with such venom.

    Of course, this is not an isolated case, the automatic dismissal of 'indigenous' Irish cultural pursuits is endemic. Not trad, but diddley idley, not Gaelic football, but 'bogball', not Irish but 'Peasants’ language'. I am in no way implying that this is a universal attitude, indeed not since the individuals above won the competition, but it does seem to be rather a pervasive one. The Irish home-grown product is automatically considered inferior, whereas the imported globalised variety is given substance and worth almost automatically.

    Consider the Irish language for a second. Reports from the early 1800s show that 80% of the population were functionally bilingual in Irish and English. This gives lie to the presumption that it was out of economic necessity that Irish people turned to English in the 1850s. As diy01 once commented, most of them had enough commercial English to be viable as it was already. The switch from Irish to English was something deeper, it was a psychological identification of Irish as being inferior, associated with poverty and backwardness (i.e. the lives they wished to abandon), whereas English was the language of wealth and social advancement. In a society that still operating very much on medieval group identities, it was a case of casting off the badge and economic poverty of one group, so one could earn the social advancement and wealth through the acceptance of another. One is reminded of An Druma Mór by Seosamh Mac Grianna, in which the cultural lives of an early 20th century Donegal Gaeltacht is related. The dichotomy in attitudes between the two cultures is artfully exposed. Cultural affectations in English are cherished (to the detriment of the community), no matter how base. The long-winded, turgid, politically and semantically, meaningless, malapropist speeches of Proinsias Bagaide in English, are favoured about the recitations of the seanchai who can recite Ossianic poetry. The crowd cheer whenever Proinsias Bagaide uses words they don't understand, 'monuments[sic] of the jury', yet the seanchai only has children to listen to his stories. Those who march with the drum are lauded, whereas Bagaide's singing talent is dismissed as ridiculous. The perceived inferiority of Irish cultural memes is relentless.

    It is clear, that to some extent that a post-colonial inferiority complex has developed through certain sections of Irish society. It is almost identical to that described by Albert Memmi in the The Colonizer and the Colonized. It begins with the observation by the colonized that the colonizer is in a superior position to his own. Therefore, in an attempt to acquire a similar position, the Colonized, with actions and results reminiscent of a Cargo Cult, begins to ape the manners, practices and culture of the Colonizer at the expense of his own. The colonized culture is then dismissed as something inferior, whereas that of the Colonizer's is deemed essential to success. In Ireland, the negative perception of the native home-grown culture seems to have outlived the colonisation process by certain elements of the country. Not just displayed a dislike in indigenous Irish cultural memes, but an immediate irrational distaste for them.

    Is this important to where we are today? Perhaps, I cannot think how this is both reflective and detrimental to our cultural/national self-confidence. If we seem to dismiss automatically, things we produce ourselves, then how can we ever establish an innovative economy which isn't completely dependent on external factors? It is a given, that many FDI companies would have had international networks and contacts unavailable to ordinary Irish businessmen, but they have proven that we do have both the administrative and manufacturing skills available to produce high-quality products on an international level. Yet where were these companies? Why did it require companies from abroad to seize on the potential that was clearly available within the Irish job market? Why does it still require low levels of corporation tax to keep Irish industry alive, why couldn't we have brought ourselves into such markets on our own steam rather than suckling on the tit of a self-absorbed foster mother?

    Likewise, it limits our independent thinking. In 1922, as all leaving Cert history books will tell you, Cumann na nGaedhel didn't begin a campaign to revolutionise the mode of governance that had been in operation under the British. They didn't seem to wish to use the innovation of the Sinn Féin organisation which set up courts and cumainn throughout the country. They didn't seem to wish to draw on Irish circumstances, Irish Law, Irish cultural history in order to formulate and implement a new mode of governance. Rather, like our colonised friend above, they aped bit by bit the 'coloniser', because, once again in rather a cargo cult fashion, they wished to ape his success. The British administration in Ireland, was given a green coat of paint, and carried on very much regardless. This is not merely a relic of the twenties, it survives to this day. Much of the massive legislative changes to the country, have not been homegrown. It seems in order to implement innovative policies of any brand what so ever, they need to have been implemented successfully elsewhere. I agree it's ok to be cautious, but if such caution was global, there would be no progression whatsoever. And not merely on government level either, one merely needs to look at the RTE schedule to see how much we rely on external ideas? Have we no creativity or innovation of our own? Unlikely. It is clearly there and available, there is just an unreasonable unwillingness to employ it.

    As a country/state/nation whatever, it is essential we remove ourselves from this cult of inferiority. This presumption that anything we do or achieve by ourselves is always going to be inferior to a foreign counterpart be it in a cultural, economic, or political sphere. We will become culturally stagnant, bland, and uniform. In a global economy as we now have become, we are already overly relied on essential external factors, there is no need for this dependence to be allowed into the marrow of governance. It was after all, a blind adherence to an international trend of banking deregulation that landed us in this mess in the first place. Yet, it seems for many to be an adequate excuse, when the government say deregulation was fine at the time, because everyone else was doing it. Surely a bit of independent thinking would have been a great thing at the time. Surely a bit of risky innovation, lateral thinking, consideration of any Irish circumstances which are peculiar to use alone would have been essential then, and right now, rather than sitting on one's hands waiting for the result to come from elsewhere. Could we chance it, would we be even capable of overcoming our own perceived inferiority and presumed automatic failure, and actually do something, try something, that has never been tried before, and not depend on external sources for the solution?
    Last edited by Riadach; 23rd March 2009 at 04:15 PM.

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    I agree to an extent. I'm not a fan of Irish culture, I'm not a fan of any culture, but I've certainly observed two common tendencies, many people support Irish culture merely because it's Irish and "it's important to retain your heritage" and others are almost embarrassed to be Irish who look down on both Irish culture and predominant Irish ideas as backwards, sometimes without even giving thought to the ideas.

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    Excellent Post Riadach

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    Quote Originally Posted by Riadach View Post
    Firstly, I would like to state that this is not a hyper-nationalistic rant, but rather merely an observation that could indeed indicate why we are in such the mess we are in.

    I was recently unfortunate enough to be observing the final of the All Ireland Talent show contest (for future reference, another cheap knock off of an import), in which a group of Irish speaking boys (8-14 probably) were competing against a five year old from Waterford for the title. The young boys had one the eldest playing traditional music on a box, while the middle lad performed step-dancing and the younger lad managed rather a delightful and creative bit of sean-nós in which he was very much accomplished. Against that, the younger child from Waterford performed rather a feat in regards to break-dancing, although it was clear he wasn't a yet a master of the art or as accomplished in it as the sean-nós lad was in his, for his age he was quite impressive. As the votes were called in, I was thus unsurprised to see that the lads doing the traditional routine won, while the child doing the break-dancing came in second.

    However, the reaction from the internet seemed almost typical. The recognisably Irish act, by which I mean the forms employed being almost completely indigenous to Ireland, were dismissed as inbred, backwater, mountain boys, engaged in paddy-whackery, undeserved of a win because what they did is a national embarrassment. Admittedly, sean nós dancing is an acquired taste, and the skill involved is not immediately obvious, but the dismissive hate-filled terms in which it was described was rather disturbing. Pulling odd movements while pretending to dance was deemed to be ridiculous and embarrassing, clearly ignorant of the fact that that is exactly what is involved in break-dancing, with the exception that that was is a more globally established cultural meme. Fair enough, if one honestly thought it was a better product than the sean nós, I'd disagree but I'd understand, but the criticisms were couched in rather uncomfortable terms. 'Shameful', 'National embarrassment', 'Paddy-whackery' clearly emphasised that it was the supposed Oirishness of the performance that caused difficulty to many observers, almost as if it was a 'stage Irish routine', ironic given it's one of the more authentic forms of Irish dance. I couldn't imagine someone in Spain dismissing flamenco in such a childish fashion, they may not like the routine, but I certainly would doubt they spit at it with such venom.

    Of course, this is not an isolated case, the automatic dismissal of 'indigenous' Irish cultural pursuits is endemic. Not trad, but diddley idley, not Gaelic football, but 'bogball', not Irish but 'Peasants’ language'. I am in no way implying that this is a universal attitude, indeed not since the individuals above won the competition, but it does seem to be rather a pervasive one. The Irish home-grown product is automatically considered inferior, whereas the imported globalised variety is given substance and worth almost automatically.

    Consider the Irish language for a second. Reports from the early 1800s show that 80% of the population were functionally bilingual in Irish and English. This gives lie to the presumption that it was out of economic necessity that Irish people turned to English in the 1850s. As diy01 once commented, most of them had enough commercial English to be viable as it was already. The switch from Irish to English was something deeper, it was a psychological identification of Irish as being inferior, associated with poverty and backwardness (i.e. the lives they wished to abandon), whereas English was the language of wealth and social advancement. In a society that still operating very much on medieval group identities, it was a case of casting off the badge and economic poverty of one group, so one could earn the social advancement and wealth through the acceptance of another. One is reminded of An Druma Mór by Seosamh Mac Grianna, in which the cultural lives of an early 20th century Donegal Gaeltacht is related. The dichotomy in attitudes between the two cultures is artfully exposed. Cultural affectations in English are cherished (to the detriment of the community), no matter how base. The long-winded, turgid, politically and semantically, meaningless, malapropist speeches of Proinsias Bagaide in English, are favoured about the recitations of the seanchai who can recite Ossianic poetry. The crowd cheer whenever Proinsias Bagaide uses words they don't understand, 'monuments[sic] of the jury', yet the seanchai only has children to listen to his stories. Those who march with the drum are lauded, whereas Bagaide's singing talent is dismissed as ridiculous. The perceived inferiority of Irish cultural memes is relentless.

    It is clear, that to some extent that a post-colonial inferiority complex has developed through certain sections of Irish society. It is almost identical to that described by Albert Memmi in the The Colonizer and the Colonized. It begins with the observation by the colonized that the colonizer is in a superior position to his own. Therefore, in an attempt to acquire a similar position, the Colonized, with actions and results reminiscent of a Cargo Cult, begins to ape the manners, practices and culture of the Colonizer at the expense of his own. The colonized culture is then dismissed as something inferior, whereas that of the Colonizer's is deemed essential to success. In Ireland, the negative perception of the native home-grown culture seems to have outlived the colonisation process by certain elements of the country. Not just displayed a dislike in indigenous Irish cultural memes, but an immediate irrational distaste for them.

    Is this important to where we are today? Perhaps, I cannot think how this is both reflective and detrimental to our cultural/national self-confidence. If we seem to dismiss automatically, things we produce ourselves, then how can we ever establish an innovative economy which isn't completely dependent on external factors? It is a given, that many FDI companies would have had international networks and contacts unavailable to ordinary Irish businessmen, but they have proven that we do have both the administrative and manufacturing skills available to produce high-quality products on an international level. Yet where were these companies? Why did it require companies from abroad to seize on the potential that was clearly available within the Irish job market? Why does it still require low levels of corporation tax to keep Irish industry alive, why couldn't we have brought ourselves into such markets on our own steam rather than suckling on the tit of a self-absorbed foster mother?

    Likewise, it limits our independent thinking. In 1922, as all leaving Cert history books will tell you, Cumann na nGaedhel didn't begin a campaign to revolutionise the mode of governance that had been in operation under the British. They didn't seem to which to use the innovation of the Sinn Féin organisation which set up courts and cumainn throughout the country. They didn't seem to wish to draw on Irish circumstances, Irish Law, Irish cultural history in order to formulate and implement a new mode of governance. Rather, like our colonised friend above, they aped bit by bit the 'coloniser', because, once again in rather a cargo cult fashion, they wished to ape his success. The British administration in Ireland, was given a green coat of paint, and carried on very much regardless. This is not merely a relic of the twenties, it survives to this day. Much of the massive legislative changes to the country, have not been homegrown. It seems in order to implement innovative policies of any brand what so ever, they need to have been implemented successfully elsewhere. I agree it's ok to be cautious, but if such caution was global, there would be no progression whatsoever.

    As a country/state/nation whatever, it is essential we remove ourselves from this cult of inferiority. This presumption that anything we do or achieve by ourselves is always going to be inferior to a foreign counterpart be it in a cultural, economic, or political sphere. In a global economy as we now have become, we are already overly relied on essential external factors, there is no need for this dependence to be allowed into the marrow of governance. It was after all, a blind adherence to an international trend of banking deregulation that landed us in this mess in the first place. Yet, it seems for many to be an adequate excuse, when the government say deregulation was fine at the time, because everyone else was doing it. Surely a bit of independent thinking would have been a great thing at the time. Surely a bit of risky innovation, lateral thinking, consideration of any Irish circumstances which are peculiar to use alone would have been essential then, and right now, rather than sitting on one's hands waiting for the result to come from elsewhere. Could we chance it, would we be even capable of overcoming our own perceived inferiority and presumed automatic failure, and actually do something, try something, that has never been tried before, and not depend on external sources for the solution?
    That's all very fine, but don't underestimate how thick the average person on the street is. Just look at yesterday for example: 17,000 people turn up to wave a green flag and worship a team as if they were gods, yet when it comes to someone deducting numbers off the bottom of their pay cheques, they just bend over and take it.

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    Politics.ie Member louis bernard's Avatar
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    As far as music goes, as long as nobody even attempts to describe that abomination that is “Irish country and western” as practised by Big Tom et al. as Irish music. The word cringe was invented just to describe it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by louis bernard View Post
    As far as music goes, as long as nobody even attempts to describe that abomination that is “Irish country and western” as practised by Big Tom et al. as Irish music. The word cringe was invented just to describe it.
    That is of course, one of the symptoms of the problem. Country Irish music has replaced our own brand in pub nights around the country, and I can't for the life of me think of a reason why. I have seen it in Gaeltacht areas, and nearly cry when I realise what it might be replacing.



    [ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IfngXJMyoS4"]YouTube - Gaelic song - Ar Éirinn Ní Neosfainn Cé Hí[/ame]

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    Politics.ie Member Caothaoir's Avatar
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    An excellent post.


    This wretched and destructive inferiority complex is right at the heart of our national psyche.
    We've allowed the worst time in our history - the 18th and 19th centuries - when we were most defeated, degraded, oppressed and impoverished to entirely shape our self image.
    That period seems to define most people's idea of "Irishness" - an impoverished life in a tiny cabin, barely eking out a living from the land or sea.
    Our long, and often illustrious history before that time is ignored.

    Perhaps language is a part of it.
    Perhaps the reason we seem to associate with our ancestors from that period is simply because that's when the majority of them became English speakers and, also, it's the poetry and ballads etc. they produced in that language that we can connect with today.

    Monoglot English speakers have virtually no exposure to the enormous Irish-language tradition of poetry, song and folklore, not to mention genealogies, histories, annals etc. etc. and so feel little connection to the people who created them and read/heard them.

    But this is our true heritage and knowledge of it would bring real pride and self-respect to the Irish people.
    It all depends on the Irish language.


    "Tar éis an tsaoil, ba í eochair a seomra séad í, ba í a bhronn anáil na beatha ar a stair, ar a n-aislingí, ar a gcreideamh,; agus ba í a chothaigh iontu an meas orthu féin a ba dhual dóibh; ba í an teanga a chruthaigh ina dtimpeall saol nach raibh i gcumas an eachtrannaigh é a réabadh uathu fad a mhair sí."
    The language of the conqueror in the mouth of the conquered is ever the language of the slave. - Tacitus

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    Sadly I don't think the majority of the population are bothered about holding on to the last vestiges of Irish culture the British did not manage to destroy after hundreds of years of occupation. Most people are content with the Anglo/American Shopping Mall culture we have now

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    The post-colonial inferiority complex exists primarily among the political and intellectual-class of this country. It is manifested in their support for the Lisbon Treaty and the Eurofederalist project, which is largely based on the premise that the Irish are not intellectually-capable of running our own affairs - a nonsense that is reinforced by elements of the elite that are cap in hand to the Brussels bureaucrats and their front-agencies like the EMI. Another element subscribed to the inferiority-complex can be found among partitionists in the South - largely in Blueshirt circles - who insist on the indefinite unviability of a United Ireland even assuming it became economically-feasible. However, I do not believe these sentiments are pervasive in the majority of the Irish population generally.

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    Politics.ie Member shutuplaura's Avatar
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    I'm not so sure if its post colonial or just as a result of years of being an economic basket case but yeah, there is something to what you say.

    At least we don't have it as bad as the poor old scots. An ancient civilization and largely responsible for the more modern enlightenment and they reduce their culture to this

    [ame=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NaJSGky4F4U]YouTube - The Scottish Haka[/ame]
    it’s the continuing series of small tragedies, that send a man to the, madhouse

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