THE NATIONAL DEBT

 

Kieran Pradeep

Debt is the political metaphor. It is an agreement by a debtor to forgo formal equality with a creditor until repayment, redemption. Debt infers hierarchy, as a debt is an agreement to forego symbolic equality with your creditor. Meaning anything from the service you owe your country, to settling scores with enemies, it is conflated with sin; as something you owe to your creator, your creditor. This religious angle strips the poor of virtue, reordering our values.

Metaphors are the little facets of fossilised meaning that form the foundations of our worldviews. Speaking metaphorically, who are our creditors? I’d say countries operate in loosely the same way as creditors. They immerse you within an unpayable subprime debt by offering up a primordial blood sacrifice that has to be repaid in thanks by subsequent generations.

NI is a land struggling to keep its head above a tide of historical debt. The terms of our mortgages are etched repeatedly onto our murals; the most visible parts of our national consciousness. They show us the Easter Rising and the Somme, and each subsequent interest payment owed on them. Culture and identity become leveraged by those who define them for us. Our segregated communities, educations and institutions service this debt, ensuring that the hierarchies in place do not falter. Acceptance or exile is the only option for the young as they are dispossessed at birth.

This drives a process of cultural balkanisation, where wedges are driven between the young to uphold two conservative voting blocs that would have been minorities without the ongoing cultural warfare around identity. Catholic and Protestant conservatisms are more similar than not. When we look to see how NI is divided, what surprises me the most is how united most of the communities are on certain issues: Full human rights for women including bodily autonomy with safe, legal access to NHS hospitals for abortions? Nah, the consensus is clear there. The hands have reached out across the divide very firmly.

The Wages of Sin

There is a unity from the Catholic Schools in the province that cut off their Amnesty International groups over a policy “that rape and incest victims should be entitled to abortions” to the “Both Lives Matter” campaign which appropriates the language of Black Lives Matter in order to ensure that women’s lives do not. The Both Lives Matter guys owe it to the “100,000 people you know and love are here today because Northern Ireland chose not to enact the 1967 Abortion Act.” Both Lives Matter claim to be repaying a debt of love to family and friends. Yet they simply deny their friends and loved ones the equality to make decisions over their own lives. They deny them the opportunity to reach out, find solace and support.

Abortions still happen, unsafely. Women still travel to the UK paying thousands in travel, accommodation, lost time, and the cost of the procedure itself. They pay a moral fine to exercise rights that should be their birthright.  Around 42 million abortions are performed around the world per year, and 20 million of these are unsafe. Of these women forced to undergo unsafe procedures 68, 000 will die; Unsafe and unsanitary abortions account for 13% of global maternal mortality. The bodies of Northern Irish women are policed like nowhere else in the United Kingdom. They are the last colonial subjects, who continue to contribute a tithe to our two-tiered NHS with their taxes while receiving substandard care. The price of being born a women in Northern Ireland who cannot afford a family or travel to access the mainland NHS is stark beyond belief; either forego bodily autonomy or risk hemorrhage, infection, sepsis, genital trauma, necrotic bowel, infertility, internal organ injury, bowel resections and all the psychological trauma and stigma that these would entail. These consequences can affect anyone, 220,000 children are left motherless across the globe each year from complications arising from unsafe abortions.

In NI, this legal situation is aimed at one group of women and one group alone; the poor. Our cultural creditors will never have to live with the consequences of this legal situation, unless they want to. They have choice.

Women who transgress the limits imposed by their loving friends like Both Lives Matter, are sundered from their social context. Alienated, abjected and expelled from the (N)Irish body politic. For Both Lives Matter this is not about respect, it is about taking back control.  Private virtue encoded in public law acts to discipline us as subjects. Issues of private confession become tools of public coercion.  The partition of 1922 divided Ireland. The legal partitions of 2017 separate Northern Irish women from the rights they are due in the UK.

Women in NI are being prosecuted right now under Victorian-era legislation for administering poison to themselves. Debt when combined with virtue and moral judgement reverts to Sin. For all its appropriation of the language of social justice these arguments are aimed enforcing proscriptive virtue. This is about settling debts of honour. Female fertility & sexuality are simply another form of currency by which our new alt-testament patriarchs can use to accrue virtue to themselves. Any woman who dies of complications due to foetal abnormality or through a risky self-induced procedure is yet another honour killing – satisfying a debt to virtue and purity.

The Destruction of Pompei and Herculaneum 1822, restored 2011 by John Martin 1789-1854
Martin, John (2013, restored 2017). The Ashen Wastes of Mid-Ulster.

If Debt is Sin, then Virtue is Credit

These operate as “markers of friend and foe” in the culture wars that have raged across the bodies of NI’s citizens since They Were Saved From Sodomy. When Credit/Debt translates in terms of Virtue/Sin the discourse begins to Humanise/Dehumanise according to a moral hierarchy. Creditors are on an equal footing, debtors lacking in virtue must take responsibility for their own actions. Yet the anti-abortion arguments appear to show great concern for generational equity. Yet there is often a divide between camps who are pro-life and the pro-the conditions for future generations of human life.

The denial of human CO2 emissions role in global climate change is another marker of virtue. It’s another way to accrue social capital. One of Northern Ireland’s ruling hierarchies embraced the inversion of the “laws of physics and the laws of economics” driving global climate change by paying £1.60 for every £1 of wood pellets burnt in the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI): collectively transferring around £1 billion of taxpayer’s money to private individuals who may or may not have been connected to Democratic Unionist Party politicians. The other hierarchy turned a blind eye. Ignoring everything as the Virtuous came up with a modest proposal for fighting climate change that takes eating the children of the poor to new extremes: we are now eating the chances of the children of the poor to exist on this planet with any level of human decency and comfort.

Virtual Currency

There is communism within hierarchy. This may explain why the debts and sins of the great do not seem as grave as those of the poor. Money is only heavy because it is impersonal. A lot of violence had to be inflicted to get everyday people into the habit of using it. Beforehand we ran things on light social currency, each community having a rough idea of who was buying the next round. We are observing in NI’s RHI a reversion to social forms of currency. Wooden tokens of esteem can be burned as tokens and reminders of favours. The ash carries these little votive offerings skyward.

There is communism within hierarchy to the extent that Northern Ireland has run the world’s largest Universal Basic Income scheme. NI has truly taken its rightful place as a laboratory for Democracy. Yet the RHI was neither Universal nor Basic, even if it was certainly an Income.

One can be born into the obligation of an onerous debt – before Derry Credit Union emerged, cruel creditors took the wives and children of debtors into servitude or slavery in their villas as collateral. The fundamental decision required of politicians concern the equitable distribution of burden and relief. In the backdrop of the RHI scheme it’s clear where the balance of the burden lies. Politics is necessary to prevent that from fraying the social fabric again. Since the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin do not trade votes with each other, there is no zero-sum game between you and the Other. Instead two hierarchies collude to exploit those within them.

Formal equality is necessary to have the discussions needed ahead of us. How else will we chart a course amid the known uncertainties we face? Climate change, Brexit, technological change, the destruction of traditional forms of work and the global migrations will all be driven by the interactions and conflicts sparked by all of these forces.

Debt is the metaphor that best describes our politics. By accepting our cultural division we agree to forgo formal equality with our community hierarchs. By accepting the moral conflation of debt with sin, we skew our values to reorder everything else around its axis. Ash now equates cash, a scheme to reduce carbon emissions instead created a cottage industry dedicated to increasing them. Just like the poor women, who Both Lives Matter say must to take responsibility for their actions, it is the poor taxpayer of NI who will pick up the tab. We talk about loving unborn children yet our political choices have been to choke their lungs with ash. NI’s policy choices do not discourage abortion, what they do instead is impose it upon our future generations. Collectively we have chosen to hand down more unpayable Debt. However, the Cash-for-Ash Initiative shows that there is the political will and ingenuity to implement relief, redemption. Just not for you.

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Pradeep, Kieran (2017). No Ark, or the inhabitants of Mid-Ulster circa 2113

This article has generously helped itself to the ideas of David Graeber and Bruno Latour.


Kieran Pradeep is an economic migrant in Paris, like many of the best (Northern) Irish people before him. He was once a student of Oakgrove Integrated College, Londonderry and now only wants to talk about climate change, politics and culture. 

Follow him on Twitter.


Image Credits: John Martin and Kieran Pradeep

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