The Roman Philosopher Lucius Anneaus Seneca (4 BCE-65 CE) was perhaps the first to note the universal trend that growth is slow but ruin is rapid. I call this tendency the "Seneca Effect."
Showing posts with label Ireland. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ireland. Show all posts

Friday, October 29, 2021

The Great Dying: Ireland as a Distant Mirror

After a series of six posts on the "age of exterminations" (one,  two,  three, four, five, and six) I wrote that I was moving to different subjects. But then I stumbled into this video on the Irish famine of mid 19th century. It is so fascinating (in a certain sense) that I can't avoid sharing it with you. (note: the full movie was available on YouTube when this post was published. Now, only the trailer is available. It still provides a good idea of what the movie is about and watching the whole thing is strongly suggested)

You may know something about the great Irish famine that began in 1845. History tells us of millions of deaths, but the whole thing for us remains remote. We don't really realize who the victims were, how, why, what exactly happened. But I strongly suggest you to watch the 2020 movie "The Hunger: The Story of the Irish famine" (trailer). 

It is a hit to the stomach. After having seen this movie, I don't know how to describe it. A nightmare? A horror movie? A Flemish painting of the triumph of death? Munch's Scream multiplied by one million? Just imagine for a moment what it might have been like to live in those years for the Irish. No food, no money, no possessions, no power, no friends, and no hope. Even burying the dead became a daunting task: you can still see in Ireland the mass graves of the time where the bodies were thrown in thousands. The film doesn't mention cannibalism, but there are reports that it happened at least in two cases. Surely there were many more. 

What's really horrifying is how the British government treated the Irish. Think about it for a moment: the Irish were citizens of the United Kingdom, at least theoretically. You could define them as "second-class" citizens. But they were not treated as such. Not even as non-citizens, they were treated as not belonging to the human race. Do you remember the "Untermenschen"? The "subhumanity" of which the Nazis spoke? That's what it was. 

It's true that the Irish made their mistakes, but if they were as poor as they were it was because the English had exploited Ireland in a way that cannot even be described by the metaphor "to the bone" - they had exploited it all the way to the marrow, and then they had devoured that too. The Irish didn't even own the land on which they built their shacks. They had nothing but their potatoes. With the potatoes gone, they had no choice but to starve to death.

All in all, it wouldn't have cost the British government that much to save the Irish, or at least reduce the damage. The film shows how in the rest of Europe the loss of the potato crop did not cause major famines. It was because outside Ireland people were much less dependent on potatoes and because governments were acting seriously to manage the food emergency. But the English government did almost nothing. It is likely that many people in England thought that it was a good idea to "thin out" those lazy Irish. 

I said in a previous post that governments are the most dangerous thing in the world if you count how many people they have directly killed with wars and various exterminations. But the damage they have caused indirectly in cases like the Irish famine is also appalling. Today, governments have much more power than they had at the time of the famine. They have your digital money, they have electronic surveillance, they have drones, they have weapons, they have everything. And you, like the Irish of the  19th century, have nothing. Not even potatoes.