Wednesday, January 21, 2015

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Liam O’Ruairc, 39: ‘This generation will have a worse life than the one before them’

Liam O'Ruairc, former co-editor of The Blanket, gives his view on life in the North to the Irish Times.      
Liam O’Ruairc lives in Belfast
My father, Eamonn, is from the lower Falls Road. He was part of the generation in the North who had access to further education. He ended up working for the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, where he met my mother, Corinne, in 1970. They moved to Brussels, where he worked for the European Commission, and I was born there.
I lived in Brussels until 1998. I have an Irish name, but I don’t sound Irish. My first language is French. We came back every year to Ireland. I have an Irish passport. I’m an Irish citizen.  

For me nationality is not important, but citizenship is. My Ireland is not the Ireland of the four green fields. What I feel the most affinity to is the fifth province: a republic of the mind. I’m an outsider here, and I have an ability to see things from a critical distance.
When I was about 14 I became very politicised. I was confused, and I was trying to make sense of the world. My life was full of contradictions about who I was and where I belonged. My first degree was in philosophy, because I had to think about these contradictions. I did that degree in Brussels.
In 1998 I moved to Belfast to do an MA in Irish politics in Queen’s. I wanted to do it here because of the political situation, and I was interested in the peace process. The political economy of Northern Ireland really interested me. I was interested in the growth of new Catholic money, and the new middle class. My sense of Belfast when I moved here was a feeling of exhaustion of the political ideologies.
When I moved here first I shared a three-bedroom house in west Belfast that was worth about £30,000-£40,000. By 2007 it was £240,000. How is that possible? I saw the whole property thing as high-risk. I knew it was going to go down, because I saw the whole thing as unsustainable. There was so much pressure to buy somewhere. The best decision I have ever made was to rent and not to get involved in property. If I had bought an apartment I would be in debt for life.
After my master’s I worked first for a small company, then was unemployed and then worked in call centres for a time. Private-sector wages are the lowest in the UK here. The only place you can get a decent job is in the public sector. For the last eight years I have been working in the accounts-payable section of an engineering company where a lot of their work has recently been outsourced to China.
My current job has no connections whatsoever with philosophy, so that is another contradiction I have to live with. I could try and get another job, but with age you become conservative, and starting from scratch becomes more difficult.

This is the first generation that I think will have a worse life than the generation before them. My parents would think they have had a better life than my grandparents. My father is retired for a year; he took early retirement, something I don’t think I will be able to afford. I will be working until I am 70 or older. I think what is ahead for my generation is not progress but going backwards.
The way I see it, work is almost like a vampire that sucks you. I need to have a roof over my head, so I work, but true freedom begins where work ends. Most people I know have their real interests outside work. I think people work too much. I believe that is going to hit this generation like a ton of bricks. We are a generation who will have to work longer than our parents, and probably only in temporary contracts, because there are so few jobs for life now.
There are three kinds of culture that you see here: victim culture, therapy culture and inquiry culture. If you compared the rates of mental illness pre- and post-peace process there is not much change, but the number of people who now want to have formal inquiries is so much higher.
It can be about anything – health and safety, anything. Instead of people calling for a collective response to whatever they are unhappy with at work, they call in sick. People don’t see themselves as part of something bigger and wider, part of a community. They withdraw into themselves and become atomised. It’s a culture of narcissism.
I am single, I haven’t bought property and I don’t have children. If I had any of these I’d feel older. I don’t have worries. My life so far has been spared the responsibilities of most of my peers. I feel more like I’m in my late 20s, early 30s.
Is it possible to escape politics in Northern Ireland? I try to avoid divisive topics, especially politics; politics is a useless passion.
The previous generation would have relied less on credit than we do now. I keep thinking of the photograph that was in the media in 2007 when the first Ikea store opened in Belfast. It was a picture of Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness, sitting together at the opening, on a big Ikea sofa. To me the subtext couldn’t have been clearer: what matters here now is not lost sovereignty, because the new sovereignty of Northern Ireland is the consumer.


Simon said...

We live in a world where the 80 richest people own half the world's wealth.

Liam you are right in saying the consumer is sovereign and it is all part of the same bigger unjust, unequal and squalid picture.

Andrew Coffman Smith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James said...

Great post. I can identify with what you are saying.

Consumerism has become king here, it is conditioned into our lives from birth with various social controlling agents, there is numerous to take your pick from.

For example, in the employment field, corporations, organisations, firms, businesses call them what you may have embarked in a conditioning process to reward individuals who project narcissistic personalities in line to increase profit and growth, they are re framed in the public perception as simply high achievers, go getters, potential bench mark leaders in the capitalist society.

The corporate media plays it park here too, by socialising people via adverts, documentaries, drama's, game shows, soap opera's that attainment of material wealth and GREED IS GOOD.

To be selfish, is now considered a more noble trait than being selfless.

Everything is being re framed, through Orwellian double speak.

Exploiters whether in business, politics, now have rebranded themselves as self knowledgeable leaders, were in effect 99% are simply "confidence tricksters" in hot pursuit of conning their mark.

Sure it was not that long ago Gerry Adams was referring to S/F as a being a strong brand identity in the norths political scene. That was the first time I can recall any political leader referring to their political party in terms of a business brand.

Hey, it is true we are all consumers, most of us in debt just to survive in this society. Fair enough, but what gets me is the never ending pursuit of offering consumption.

For example, We are three weeks out of xmas, the seeking the "holiday sun"holiday programmes, buying a new car on finance have just begun. Then it will be valentines day, easter and whatever next and it goes on oand on and on.

UTV news the other day was linking the reduction in heating oil to people finances was now freeing prospective consumers to put deposits down on summer holidays. I mean WTF, prove it to me Jamie Delargy were is your source.

Liam you are right about the property bubble is was manufactured via corrupt bank leading polices in order to drive up personal debt, the media manufacturing nonsence pressure stories that "now is the best time to buy a home" reinforced by dubious house price indexes from guess who the property market drivers and estate agents.

Conclusion, we are living in a world of consumption make believe. My other conclusion, live simple, never mind keeping up with the jones, live within your means and ignore the corporate press, materialist money people and hype and try your best to feel content with what you got.

You will become a consumer dissident then,alright, a dissident consumer just like me.

Feel te love said...

For a long time the consumer has been nurtured/indoctrinated. The system that society has produced has been very successful, if you are one of those who look down from ontop of the pyramid. For the vast majority on this planet the system is not working, but that is by design.

Most people sustain the system by just going about thier daily business, the system and all its rules have become a way of life.

The people that sustain the system more than any other are students. I say this because they are the pool from which the so called middleclass is drawn from. When you have a situation were the supposed intelegentsia of society are so easly indoctrinated into putting themselves into debt before they have even left school, then you start to become aware of how difficult it would be to bring change. If educated people can be persuaded into taking on what will become a perpetual morgage, how easy is it then,for some of us uneducated sorts to be sucked into the system.

I dont take much to do with anything or anyone, maybe many others have opted out in this way, by isolating themselves. That suits the system also I know, as it is unlikely that as a single entity you could force change.

This is not an Irish problem, its gobal. The likely hood of change for the greater good will no doubt be frustrated if it shows any indication of being effective. By that I mean those who have shaped this world will play thier joker if they thought for a second the world order was being challenged. That joker comes in the form of sustained and violent conflict/warfare on a global scale. Nothing like a great big cull to distract. My belief is, that we are nearly at that point.