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Thatcher

In a general sort of way, I think that wildly hyperbolic hatred of public figures is unhelpful. I have found the Tea Party quite a salutary experience in this regard. Upon the cusp of expressing wildly hyperbolic hatred, I sometimes remind myself that this sounds like something the Tea Party might say, and, sometimes, this is enough to make me moderate my sentiments to something more policy-focussed instead. Wandering about sounding like the Tea Party does relatively little to advance the cause of world peace, universal prosperity or basic common sense. (I’m not saying this is easy. My habit and instinct is to denounce people as pointless fuckwits and then get merrily on with my day.)

But Margaret Thatcher is dead.

And I have decided to show respect to those who suffered under the Thatcher years by not, you know, using this occasion to lecture them on how their expression of feeling is wrong.

When you exist on the wrong side of a system, you live with that every day. It informs your identity, your understanding of politics and people, your reading of the world. It is not an easy way to live, nor one that comes without a cost. It takes energy. It leaves scars.

It takes a lot of energy to listen to lies about yourself and your family and the world in which you live. It takes a lot of energy to hold them in your head, beside the things you know are true, and to keep them both in their separate boxes. Or worse, to reconcile them and carry the doublethink around instead. That is heavier.

This year Ireland looked at the past and named it, in a speech I never, ever thought I would hear. I grew up in an Ireland that made no sense, a republic enthralled by its own sense of freedom and in thrall to the bishops. Keeping such nonsense in your head hurts your head. I really never thought anyone would name the past and its shame, call it for what it was. The apology made by Enda Kenny in February of this year, while appropriate, and deeply important to those it was directed at, was not relevant to all of us. But to have the ‘difficult’ ‘contentious’ divisive’ past named for what it was is important for all who lived in it, grew up in in it, watched it. It correctly named an Ireland that was not filled with a thousand welcomes but which was ‘judgemental, intolerant, petty and prim.’ It described the reality of a republic whose ‘moral subservience that gave us the social mores the required and exclusive ‘values’ of the time, that welcomed the compliant, obedient and lucky ‘US’ and banished the more problematic, spirited or unlucky ‘THEM.’’

Having been taught a lot of glorious Irish history when I was growing up, that speech is, by some measure, my favourite part of Irish history.

It is important to name things.

It is undoubtedly difficult for some people this week – people who liked her or supported her or agreed with her or sympathised with her or came to retrospectively admire Thatcher’s strength – to listen to the hatred and venom expressed by a significant part of the country.

But it is also hard to listen to public eulogies about someone who oppressed you and hurt you and hurt your family and destroyed your community and the world you grew up in. It is hard to watch a country that cannot afford to repay illegally withheld welfare payments find the money to publicly honour her. It is hard to listen to members of her cabinet rejoice in her legacy and confirm what we knew – that the country has moved, permanently, to the right. It is hard, during a time of austerity and practical hardship to listen to people celebrate the end of the unions. It’s hard to see that only Ken Livingston speaks anything but praise for her legacy (political legacy, not personal) and that no other politician feels it appropriate to do so.

It’s hard to feel that thirty years later, it might still be the 1980s.

Words and verbal abuse of the dead will do nothing to change this, but for plenty of people it’s the only appropriate and available response. If this grates, and offends your morality, then it might be worth remembering two things:

1. Even if Margaret Thatcher is dead, verbs are still relevant (‘speaking’ is not the same as ‘throwing things’.)
2. You could choose to show respect to those who suffered under the Thatcher years, by not, you know, using this occasion to lecture them on how their expression of feeling is wrong.

Or we can all spend the next week glorying in the fact that there’s no such thing as society and yelling abuse at each other instead. Whatever seems most appropriate.

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