Sunday, February 21, 2010

Parallels in hubris

A couple of things happened this week in cities nearly two thousand kilometres apart. But they were uncannilly parallel to each other.

One was the meeting of Ireland's bishops with the Pope, the leader of a worldwide church. The other was the happenings in Dail Eireann, the gathering place of the leaders of our country.

In both places, the people concerned didn't seem to be aware that they were heading the way of the dinosaurs. And extinction might happen more quickly than anyone could believe.

The performances of both sets of 'leaders', and performance was what they were at, for themselves probably provided cocoons from the real world. Albeit briefly. The cocoons are about to burst. And they're never going to become butterflies.

Butterflies are beautiful. Bishops kissing the Pope's ring, all in their peacock regalia, against the background of an institutionalised and worldwide abuse system, are not. Nor are our national politicians in the full flight of their own imagined impregnability.

For both species, the end of their tenure as guardians of our morals has already happened. They just haven't realised it yet.

And maybe we haven't either. But we're close.

The thing to remember is that both church prelates and our own TDs share a common DNA. They want to control, manipulate, and dominate.

And just to be absolutely fair, the same thing applies to most religions and political systems. The Catholic Church (as opposed to Christianity, which is a personal belief in Christ), the extremes of Islam, the mongerel Voodoo and even the setup practiced by the local witch doctor, are all top-down rulemakers. Equally, whether politicians dress up their calling in democracy, communism, or dictatorships benign or otherwise, they are about creating hierarchies, the top levels of which control those below.

And they all in the end make themselves unsustainable. Eventually arrogance becomes the underpinning element of such groups, no matter how altruistic might have been the aims of the founding fathers. The hubris eats away at morality, both for the organisations concerned and the individuals at those organisations' dominant levels.

It did for Alexander the Great and his Macedonian empire. It wiped out the Mayans when they also got too big for their place and time. The Roman Empire too succumbed to its belief in its invincibility along with the inevitable dissolution that comes from being too well fed at the top.

There are more modern parallels, such as Hitler, Ceaucescou, and the fall of the Soviet Union. Monarchies, too, have collapsed against the anger of the masses, as in France, and against militant religionists, as in Iran.

Back on our own island, with the stripping of the Celtic Tiger's striped finery, we see our political 'servant masters' as having bloated their bank accounts and banjaxed the country, without showing a scintilla of remorse or accepting even a minor blemish of blame. The images of Willie O'Dea and his sniggering cohorts on the Fianna Fail front bench arrogantly holding a morally corrupt line, helped by the small phalanx of self-serving Greens, will remain vividly in memory until the next time we get to a ballot box. As will the realisation that public opinion can actually force change even in the most arrogant.

It is lucky for them that we still use the ballot box here, rather than pitchforks and guillotines. But it is not something that I would put my neck on remaining the case.

The next wave of politicians we elect to serve us will have to be very mindful of the optics of their positions, especially in terms of the exaggerated payments they receive for their work. If Fine Gael wins the next election, the promises of reform will need to be speedily carried out, because the electorate now is not in a mood to be laissez-faire. The tumbrils are on standby.

Back to the Catholic Church. Despite many uprisings over its two thousand years of history, it has been an extraordinarily successful political entity. Of course, it promises something not even Fianna Fail would dream of doing. Eternal life. Which it may or may not be able to deliver on, and on which the jury is still out. But it is a suggestion that draws on the deepest hope of mankind, that there is something more.

However, the same hubris which has brought down so many other organisations, civilisations and empires in whatever time our kind has been on the planet, has tainted badly those who manage the Catholic Church. Globally and locally. And how they are reacting is so like what Fianna Fail and its chums have been doing in their own little empire.

For both, the exploited are at the gates. But can they see it, even yet?

(Of course, none of the foregoing should be taken as a reflection on the many good people, priests, sisters and devout lay people in religion, nor those who work in political ways truly for the betterment of their fellow people. It's the institutions that are problematical.)