Confession: I spent a good deal of yesterday trying to find an excuse to write about this, so, imagine my delight when it emerged that the whole thing is, naturally enough, going to be partially funded with a good chunk of your taxes:
Here’s the poster, in full, so you can enjoy it for yourselves:
The great thing about that poster is that every time you go back and look at it again, you spot something new: Spoken Word. Yoga. Meditation. Woodland Spa. Boutique camping. Quiet camping. A young adult’s programme. All for the bargain price of €35 per ticket, so you can hear Fintan O’Toole, Una Mullally, the fellow from Limerick who wears a plastic bag over his head, David McWilliams, Roisin Ingle, Mark Little, and Rachel Allen all agreeing with each other on the eight separate stages.
Honestly, this poster should be saved, and put in a museum, as a memento for future generations on the state of establishment discourse in Ireland in the early 2020’s. We’ve come a long way from Collins and DeValera.
The obvious point here is how mis advertised the whole thing is: It is billed as “a festival of delicious thinking”, but the truth is that there will be very little thinking necessary at an event with that line-up. If most of the people listed as attractions have a meaningful disagreement on any topic of relevance to modern Ireland, then those disagreements are purely tactical as opposed to fundamental. The most one might hope for is that Pat Leahy and Kieran Cuddihy might deign to remind their co-speakers that not everybody in the country thinks as they do.
And, of course, the taxpayer is funding a very substantial chunk of this event. Why?
It is not, after all, a truly cultural event. The speakers are, to a man and woman, political. We might touch on tangentially cultural topics, like Una Mullaly’s abiding love for grimy Dublin pubs, but ultimately this is a speaker list united in a single worldview: That progressivism is good and wonderful and under sustained siege from various evils ranging from Donald Trump to Brexit to the fact that RTE had Eddie Hobbs on Prime Time.
Nor is it an especially representative event. It is entirely consistent with the Irish definition of diversity: Diverse in everything except thought, or point of view. We have women, feminists, LGBT speakers, minority ethnic speakers, and so on, but not one speaker who disagrees with the prevailing political narrative in the country, or the western world. It is not a festival of delicious thinking, unless you find the Irish establishment’s pieties simply irresistible.
The fact that public money is going to an event like this is an important thing to note, about the state of the country. It is simplistic to say that we have lots of problems, and better things to spend our money on, because, after all, no matter how much an event like this gets, it will still be no more than a few grains of sand on the beach in the context of the national budget. But sometimes, even simplistic points have truth to them.
What benefit accrues to the PAYE worker from subsidising an event like this? What benefit accrues to us in terms of tourism, or our cultural life, or the arts? A significant (probably much larger than imagined) section of the population might charitably regard this as a convention of doses, and a substantial majority of the population would never dream of attending. That might be why it needs taxpayer funding, but it does not explain why it would deserve such funding.
After all, it would be perfectly possible to organise an event which would be equally well attended, involving all sorts of unspeakable Irish villains: Imagine a festival where the headline speakers were David Quinn, John Waters, Ann McElhinney, and Peadar Toibin. Would people buy tickets to that? Certainly, they would, and they probably wouldn’t require Yoga and Meditation as an additional attraction. Would the taxpayer fund it? Not on your life. If it did, there would be a national scandal.
The point here is this: The Irish State funds this kind of thing because it reflects the view that Irish civil servants and decision makers have of themselves, and the country: A bit of a cut above. Smart, erudite, and the kind of people our middle-class loves listening to. People concerned with the important things in life. You can be sure, for example, that whatever else that festival has, it won’t have a big screen with the hurling and the football on. Rugby, maybe, at a push, if it doesn’t conflict with the spoken word session.
And of course, they’re entitled to all of that. Self-regard is not a crime. Everybody deserves their little bubble in which they are listened to as a superior being, while they set the world to rights. It’s just a bit galling that the rest of us have to pay for these freeloaders, honestly. It’s not as if Fintan and Una can’t afford to organise something like it themselves, on their own dime.