Tuesday, November 10, 2020

"I have become disenchanted with the scores of books and articles that simple-mindedly depict Ulster society as pathological, dysfunctional and irrational" – Donald Harman Akenson, 1979

I mentioned this recently, and I'm now posting it here as promised because it is so brilliant. Track down the whole book for yourself, and you'll see how communities should be understood. Henry Glassie's 1970s work on Fermanagh (overseen by the renowned Estyn Evans) is oft-cited and rightly so; Donald Harman Akenson's work generally, and on 1970s Islandmagee in particular, deserves a much higher profile. Perhaps there is less interest in Islandmagee due to the geography and demography. His current university biography describes him as "an internationally acclaimed scholar and author who is considered the world's foremost authority on the Irish Diaspora". That's someone worth paying attention to. 

I noticed that (Sir) John Major popped up on the BBC website yesterday and among other things he announced that Britain is a 'second-rank power'. Well so what? Ordinary folk don't care much about concept of 'power'. 'Power' is the currency of politicians, journalists and academics. Or the new generation of online activists who have no other lens through which to look, and force everything into 'power relationships'. Some political voices say that they oppose state power, but in reality they just want to be in control of it, and probably to then gain more and more.

Ordinary folk care about family and community. As Matthew Syed subtitled his article in The Times just last week (article here) "Labour persistently fails to grasp that working-class voters love Britain". Not the abstracted spectre of the state, but the traditions that shape the many communities which together comprise the 'nation'. The way things are done, a way of life. Google the term 'bourgeois Left' and you'll find articles on that detachment from right across the spectrum, from the New Statesman to The Telegraph. There is a huge disconnect between the commentariat and the proletariat.

So, here is Donald Harman Akenson, articulating how and why a love of community is what explains the apparent contradictions in concepts of nationality and allegiance. Why the same Ulster-Scots community can support an Antrim rising in 1798 yet opposed a Dublin rising in 1916. A top-down view cannot fathom this. A bottom-up view absolutely does.

Why should a community care about supposed 'leaders' swanning about on the 'world stage', if those same leaders are absentee landlords who care little about local communities. Stop fixating on the national and transnational politics. Think first about people, place, tradition and belonging.