Not enough has been written about the psychology of colonialism. It should probably inform our thoughts about Irish history far more than it does.
What could be stranger than a foreigner charging you an exorbitant rent to live in your own country, after all? And what happens to a nation that is forced, for centuries, to accept that strange state of affairs?
Some psychologists talk about the infantilizing legacy of colonialism, whereby over centuries the victims (the Irish) thanks to their endless subjugation by foreigners (the English) lose their capacity for self-determination and their national self-confidence. They become child-like in their dependency; they become unable to resolve issues that have so long been decided for them.
If this seems unlikely to you think of the Irish response to the Great Hunger. There was a national potato crop failure, but not a national grain failure, not a vegetable failure, nor a farming failure.
The country had an abundance of other crops with which to feed itself. It was exporting crops and livestock through the darkest years of the disaster. It was surrounded by farming pastures and teeming rivers and seas.
But in living memory the subsistence diet of the potato and their impoverished status as tenants contributed to the perception that there was no other choice but starve.
Some agitated and were put to the sword and musket, but far more withdrew to their hovels to waste away of malnutrition, or they fled to the coffin ships in a mad gamble that for so many did not pay off.
What is striking is how both sides played their parts: Ireland the defeated and despairing colonial dependency, England the callous and aloof exploiter. It seems that the psychology of colonialism is not all one way.
If the Irish began to conceptualize England as an abusive parent – one that could reward or punish unpredictably – they had good reason to.
They had seen their own longstanding system of laws and governance (which were in many ways more progressive and just than the British system that replaced them) and the ruling class who practiced them either killed or driven out. Successive waves of colonial powers intentionally struck at the root of the Irish social compact, tribal, provincial and national.
The Elizabethan poet and proto-colonialist Edmund Spenser famously observed that to properly subdue Ireland, it could become necessary to liquidate its people. But as it turned out all that was really needed was to kill or drive its ruling class, the better to enjoy centuries of near uninterrupted dominance and exploitation.
Doing that, driving out the Irish people who had for centuries governed, in a real sense made abandoned children of the ones who remained. It was a psychological masterstroke. The Irish had no choice now but to fall on the doubtful mercies of their new paternity.
Centuries later when the rebels of the Easter Rising (many of whom shared the ideological purity and determination of teenagers) challenged the long slumbering giant there was an adolescent and far too naïve awakening of the national psyche that had been long dormant.
The times called for that rare thing: a grown up. Mercifully he arrived in the form of Michael Collins. We waited a very long time for Collins’ arrival because men of his subtlety and smarts were few and far between.
Irish men like Eamon de Valera, who doubted his people’s ability to run their own affairs without the aid of patriarchs were entirely more plentiful.
We know where it all led. One patrician landlord (the British) was exchanged for another (the church).
De Valera ensured that the patrimony we had become so familiar with would continue. We exchanged one unquestioned ruler for another. The horse changed riders, as Yeats put it, but the lash went on.
It seems to me from the perspective of 2014 that we haven’t really thrown off our longstanding dependencies. Now it’s the Catholic Church that finds itself waiting at the departure gate of Dublin Airport, but here come the Germans and the EU to replace them.
The highhanded interference with our affairs now extends to their announcing our national budget before our own government does. What does that tell you about who’s really in charge?
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