This Shit is Killing You: Uniting Difference as Difference in Northern Ireland

I’ve found myself with something to say about Northern Ireland these past four days, and while I want to stop, I’m not going to. I’m going to chase this down. The experience has been generative of some clarity, for me, I think. Placing and understanding Northern Ireland (NI) within a colonial history and network, and seeing how comfortably it fits at least some general characteristics of the (de)colonial experience is as chilling as it fascinating (this specifically regarding Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth).

As I was rummaging around for a quote (which occupies the last sentence of the next paragraph), which I actually didn’t know at the time belonged to this person, I discovered that its context actually maps and tracks to the Northern Irish experience startlingly. As with Fanon, while surely being relevant it cannot be tacked on in toto. Work needs to be done to delineate the points of contact, while noting and elaborating divergences. At any rate, here is the quote:

‘[T]he ones who happily claim and embrace their own sense of themselves as privileged ain’t my primary concern. I don’t worry about them first. But, I would love it if they got to the point where they had the capacity to worry about themselves. Because then maybe we could talk. That’s like that Fred Hampton shit: he’d be like, “white power to white people. Black power to black people.” What I think he meant is, “look: the problematic of coalition is that coalition isn’t something that emerges so that you can come help me, a maneuver that always gets traced back to your own interests. The coalition emerges out of your recognition that it’s fucked up for you, in the same way that we’ve already recognized that it’s fucked up for us. I don’t need your help. I just need you to recognize that this shit is killing you, too, however much more softly, you stupid motherfucker, you know?”’
Fred Moten in ‘The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study‘ by Stefano Harney & Fred Moten, 140-141

In my previous post I noted that the dominant parties in NI constantly mobilise and stoke the flames of inter-communal hatred—even as they chastise, all the while desiring, physical violence. It’s a tit-for-tat that is used to obscure the movements of capital and the applications of neoliberal economic programming. Hard work is spent managing this hatred, as the people upon whom it is most effective are also those who are affected worst by the policies our politicians obscure. The cultural memories kept alive and narrated by power (‘The other side is responsible for your community’s pain, as well as your current deprivation’) end up being the most effective vehicle for deepening NI’s descent into austerity, heightened inequality, and in certain places deep poverty (for example, the threat of a rickets epidemic in stricken areas of Belfast; as well as rising lack of access to education among children in areas such as East Belfast, where school closures and financial instability force parents to not send their children to school).

With all of this in mind, I want to explore a recurring theme in what I’ve previously written; that is, regarding phrases like the “unity of the difference of the same” and the “unity of difference qua difference”. On the former, I believe some meaning is found in the performance of political fracturing occurring daily in NI. Difference is mobilised to reinforce the community of the same, in spite of their own differences. The various factions of Unionism, for example, unite—despite their valences—as they come to believe (to different degrees) Republican communities are favoured by the state, receiving preferential status in the form of benefits and resources. That such suspicions and claims can be proven to be false is irrelevant (the first diagnosed case of rickets was in West Belfast, a largely Catholic area), once the narrative is in motion the unification of the same—even in their difference—takes places, and naturally mobilises a counter-formation within the opposed community.

In regards the latter term, the “unity of difference qua difference”, what I mean is somewhat touched upon in Moten’s words, especially as they relate to the socialist future I envisage in my last post. This unity would be achieved in the coming together of difference as difference, and letting it remain so. This unity is formed in bringing together these antagonisms and letting them be what they are, as they undergo in-what-they-are, as-they-are, an examination of what is killing them.

The present in NI is defined by a developing crisis and social death under which Unionists and Republicans think about some fictitious manner in which they either do, or in the future might, hold a privilege over the other group—fictitious not least because the problem is invariably one of class. If however, these people could be made to worry about themselves; that is, not how another group is stealing from them, but how society itself is structured to bleed everyone dry, then something else might result. Effectively, this turning inward to evaluate the problems affecting the community results in the emergence of the need to realise “Unionist power for Unionists” and “Republican power for Republicans”—at least the people who are demarcated by these labels, as the label itself may begin to dissipate as a way forward is developed. Coalitions form here, in difference qua difference, as the economics and politics that traverse the immanence of our being-together-in-the-world demand a unified response. There is no need for these groups to not be what they are, only that they come to awareness of what is killing them.

What I’m motioning towards is the realisation that in NI the current nature of society and politics is toxic for everyone, and that it is not for Unionists and Republicans in the current environment to look outward in the name of forming a coalition to help the other under the contours of the current regime—as that simply extends the toxicity of the political edifice and its economic policies. What is demanded here is an evaluation that begins in inwardness—the acknowledgement that what we have right now is “fucked up for you” in the same way the other acknowledges that it is fucked up for them. This is where I see the socialist grounds for the unity of difference qua difference emerging: in the mutual awareness that “this shit is killing you”, and coming toward a coalition in that knowledge. (This, against all popular wisdom, is what we call democracy:  that is, not the accepting of something someone else wants against your will, but the formation of desire in which we come to want the same things together.) As such, this might go some way to outlining the priorities for a methodology in the organisation and education of the base, as gestures towards socialism in NI come to be recognised as needed.

Neoliberalism and capitalism—as government policies that bring about the development of areas such as the Titanic Quarter; while they cut off and hide dying neighbouring areas, like East Belfast, where poverty and disease grow—are strangling NI and eviscerating its people. It’s only when, as a people, constantly fractured by the current political structure, we work to come to name and state clearly that “this shit is killing you”, first as a community and subsequently as a coalition, that a way forward may become clear.