Ireland Passes Peak Wokeness

“The thing that never happens just happened again,” wrote Kevin Williamson, a former National Review colleague who decamped not long ago to a more Trump-sceptic magazine, the Dispatch, about a previously unclassified phenomenon in American journalism. I haven’t been able to track down via Google the story around which Kevin had created this wider classification—my vague memory is that it was about voter fraud—but a lot of stories can be comfortably fitted into this definition.

More and more in fact. In an age of ideologically partisan journalism, reporters want to persuade their readers of various general truths rather than merely report accurately the stories that come their way. Disobligingly, sometimes those stories contradict the larger truths they wish to advance. What then happens is a test of their “journalistic ethics” which really come down to telling the truth. Do they tell the little truths? Or protect the larger Truth?

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Here’s a fairly light example. The Atlantic recently published an article by a former opinion editor of the New York Times, Adam Rubenstein—a conservative hired to bring greater ideological diversity to the paper’s opinion pages—who revealed that at an orientation session for new hires he had been humiliated for saying that his (second) favourite sandwich was a Chick Fil A spicy chicken one. Chick Fil A is a bête noire to young progressives because its owner is a socially conservative Christian. An human resources manager on the NYT reproved poor Rubenstein, who tried to make amends by pleading that it was only the sandwich he liked. To no avail. He was greeted with a collective snapping of fingers signifying disapproval from the other new hires.

This little anecdote provoked a storm of controversy—and denials—in the small but important world of elite East Coast media. “Never happened,” said Nikole Hannah-Jones, currently one of the NYT’s most celebrated writers, being responsible for the paper’s radical “1619 Project” that makes preserving slavery a central purpose of the American Founding. “Egregiously fake,” added another NYT writer. Others joined in. Rubenstein’s journalistic career might have ended there and then. But when the Atlantic re-checked the story, it got confirmations of it from other NYT staffers. Rubenstein survived; the NYT was damaged.

What does the episode say about those senior NYT editors and writers who denied that the story could possibly be true? Maybe they should have waited to hear the Atlantic’s defence of the anecdote. After all, it’s a magazine with a claim to high editorial standards. But as Hannah-Jones said, she knew the story was false because she had worked for years on NYT and it sounded incredible to her.

On the one hand, that’s an understandable defensive reaction; on the other hand, now that we know the story was true, it seems to confirm the widespread criticism of the NYT, levelled by some ex-readers and former writers, that its moral atmosphere is toxic for both conservatives and classical liberals. In particular, the charge that its editorial direction and standards are unduly influenced by an angry collective of puritanical left-wing junior editors echoes such earlier moments as the rebellion of young staffers that led to the withdrawal of an op-ed from a Republican Senator calling for troops to control the riots of 2020, the attachment of an onsite apology for the proposed op-ed, and the forced departure of opinion editors responsible for editing it.

Never happened? Couldn’t happen? In short, the thing that never happens had happened again.

Now, that’s a kind of boutique story dealing with a very “first world” problem and reflecting the “luxury beliefs” of the junior progressive political class in New York. Let’s move across the Atlantic to look at a larger social reality: the results in early March of two Irish referendums on amending the 1937 Constitution on marriage and the family.

Here’s how the Associated Press described in advance what the amendments would do:

“The first vote deals with a part of the constitution that pledges to protect the family as the primary unit of society. Voters are being asked to remove a reference to marriage as the basis ‘on which the family is founded’ and replace it with a clause that says families can be founded ‘on marriage or on other durable relationships’. If passed, it will be the 39th amendment to Ireland’s Constitution.

“The second change—a proposed 40th amendment—would remove a reference to women’s role in the home as a key support to the state, and delete a statement that ‘mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labor to the neglect of their duties in the home’. It would add a clause saying the state will strive to support ‘the provision of care by members of a family to one another’.”

Not trivial changes. The Irish government announced in December 2023 that the referendums would be held on March 8. After which an absurdly one-sided campaign in favour of a Yes/Yes vote, supported by all major political parties, almost the entire media, almost all cultural institutions and Irish business created a general expectation of a clear victory for both amendments.

On the day, however, the 39th and 40th amendments were rejected by 67.7 per cent and 73.9 per cent of voters respectively.

That was the thing that never happens, at least not in socially progressive modern Ireland, which has learnt from successful referendums enabling divorce and same-sex marriage that there are no limits to moral progress. That breezy assumption, however, has collided with other Irish realities: 70 per cent of the Irish still describe themselves as Catholics; and woke attempts to reshape all Ireland’s families along “gender equality” lines were bound to meet more resistance than social reforms that could be (and were) successfully presented as not interfering with other people’s personal decisions.

Voters, moreover, have come to suspect political and legal language that’s presented as modest, because the courts and other state bodies later fill in the spaces between the words with costly and even oppressive meanings. Precisely that is now happening in Ireland over migration and asylum policy which prioritises the claims of asylum-seekers in social housing and benefits over the needs of locals who finance them. It has led to the alienation from politicians and state bodies of large sections of the electorate.

As often happens when divisions in public opinion are not reflected in political debate and party divisions, talented outsiders come to the fore and take up one side or another—in this case, the No/No side. Defenders of the No/No case were the Catholic Church (which ran a recognisably Catholic campaign in defence of the traditional family), a small but feisty magazine, Gript, that raised all the issues the mainstream Irish media nervously avoided, one small insurgent pro-life party, a bloc of independent MPs, and two brilliant lawyers: Michael McDowell, a former Justice Minister, and Maria Steen. McDowell made hay of the proposal to extend the rights and privileges of marriage to “durable” relationships, asking such questions as “How long is durable?” and “How many durable relationships can someone have at any one time?” Steen grabbed the banner of women’s rights away from the state-financed National Council of Women, wondering why its only interest in stay-at-home mothers was to persuade them to work outside it.

This tiny rag-tag company of talented outsiders defeated the vast, glossy, government-subsidised engine of progressive opinion because they better represented what most Irish people thought. At which point the leading figures in the Yes/Yes campaign suddenly realised it really hadn’t happened or it would soon be forgotten. Ivana Bacik, Ireland’s Labour leader, said the voters had agreed with the principles behind the amendments but had been “confused” by the details. If so, why did popular support for the Yes/Yes side fall as voters learned more about the details? Surely that was why Prime Minister Varadkar chose a short campaign and soothing assurances that the amendments were mainly about modernising the outdated language of the 1937 Constitution rather than enshrining “gender equality” in family law as he said in December.

Something big has changed—the thing that never happens. It never happens in Ireland because the new progressive regime has been increasingly rooted less in the consent of the governed than in the consent of socially progressive NGOs. Two years ago in the Critic, Ross Fitzgerald estimated that the Irish state funds an enormous number of NGOs “to the tune of around €5 billion every year, comprising 8 per cent of the national budget”. It’s probably much higher now.

He pointed out that they are almost exclusively socially progressive—no money goes to conservative NGOs—and increasingly so: “The National Council of Women recently signed a letter asking the Government to no-platform gender critical voices.” Almost none of these institutions have roots in genuine popular support—indeed, hostility to the NGO empire is a strong feature of internet debate.

And now the thing that never happens is not only happening, it’s picking up speed. Some politicians this week have noticed this political failure of the Woke-NGO establishment and expressed disquiet that they might be on the side of the wrong kind of public opinion. There’s an election looming in which the governing parties’ woke records on immigration, multiculturalism and “hate speech” are already electoral handicaps. And now Elon Musk is joining the fight against Ireland’s draconian hate speech legislation.

Things that never happen may soon be one damn thing after another.

6 thoughts on “Ireland Passes Peak Wokeness

  • Tricone says:

    Let’s hope so.
    I was recently in Canberra, collectively the most enthusiastic supporters of the governments rejected “Voice” referendum proposal, and they are still in furious denial. They have learned nothing.
    As you so neatly pointed out, as in Ireland, the more detail was released, the more the opposition grew, yet the Yes crowd are still claiming that No voters didn’t understand the details.

  • Brian Boru says:

    Thank John. I don’t remember hearing anything about this Irish referendum on Australian media but on the other hand I do remember reports of their marriage equality vote. We no longer have news media but instead have social engineers masquerading.
    I am liking Elon Musk more and more.

  • lenton1 says:

    Ergo anything and everything the WEF and The Greens et al lie about; the more information that arises over time, the more the less-clueless-than-they-might-think general public discover just how much we are being hoodwinked about almost everything, cite: COVID (esp the non-vaccines); AGW and the non-existent “climate emergency”; The Voice(s); anything Albo has to say; almost everything the MSM pretends to say; much/most of the education curriculum; much/most of what the Teals say; everything Lidia Thorpe screeches and on and on …

    The trick? Hold strong against these forces of ignorance and self-interest, never lose one’s conservative confidence, always speak the truth and let time reveal these charlatans for who they are. And have faith that, when given the truth and all the information they/we have the right to, then, just as with the Voice, these non-progressive forces of socialist ideology will be rendered irrelevant to a functional society. As they always ultimately are proven to be.

    And although I’ll never agree with Musk on his EV flight of fantasy (and his dangerously mis-guided “autopilots” therein) I too increasingly admire him for his surprisingly adroit conservative pronouncements.

  • Maryse Usher says:

    Best piece I’ve read all day. Gives me hope. Please God, please stop the Victorian Government from decimating our farmlands. Please put wind into the sails of counter-revolutionaries like Lyle Shelton and Bernie Finn, who are trying to save Australia.

  • en passant says:

    Add in the draconian Scotsidiots ‘Hate Laws’ and the world is becoming moronic.

  • Peter C Arnold says:

    After all, it’s a magazine with a claim to high editorial standards.
    A pity that it’ a false claim.
    More’s the pity that so few people appreciate that.
    For proof, read all the false news about Israel.
    A great sign on a NY building wall: “Hamas attacks Israel again;……… so does the NYT”.
    What would the NYT’s Jewish founders say?
    Dr Peter Arnold OAM, Sydney

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