So, the Anglo Irish Bank trials are complete and nothing has changed. “What else would you have expected? ask voices from student days. Watching the unfolding of the Anglo Irish Bank story, and the tale of national bankruptcy, sometimes seemed like being caught in a play, without the option of walking from the theatre after the final lines.
In 1970, Dario Fo, a Nobel Laureate, asked fundamental questions about our political systems. Accidental Death of an Anarchist was set in Milan. Inspired by the death of an anarchist in the city in 1969, who mysteriously flew out of a fourth floor window of a police station during questioning, it has gone through constant adaptations. In one of its English forms, a 1984 American adaptation, one of the more reflective sequences suggests that our free press functions as no more than a tool of fundamentally corrupt governments.
REPORTER. . . . scandals are the breeding ground of reaction?
FOOL. No, scandals are the fertilizer of Western democracy. Let me say more. Scandal is the antidote to an even worse poison: namely, people’s gaining political consciousness. If people become too conscious we are screwed. For example, has the American government, a real democracy, ever imposed any censorship to keep people from finding out about the murder of all the leaders of the black movement, or the massacre of thousands of helpless Vietnamese? Not at all. They don’t even hide the fact that they’ve manufactured enough nerve gas and bombs to destroy the population of the world ten times over. They don’t censor these scandals. And rightly so. Because in this way people have the possibility of becoming indignant. Horrified. ‘What kind of government is this? Disgusting generals. Assassins.’ And they become indignant. And out of the indignation comes a burp. A liberating burp. It’s like Alka-Seltzer. But nothing changes.
Do the Anglo trials and the howls of indignation from the media simply assist those intent on keeping things as they are? Was Dario Fo right when he wrote of scandals as no more than a “liberating burp”, a political antacid that rids the body politic of troubling indigestion? Think of the political scandals that spring immediately to mind and ask which of them brought any fundamental change.
Scandals do not change things, there might be resignations (though these can sometimes seem more analogous to a children’s game of musical chairs than someone sent to stand in the corner), but the system does not change.
Suggesting that scandals are deliberate would be going too far down the path of the conspiracy theorist, but sometimes they are convenient, sometimes they come at opportune moments. There is nothing like a scandal to divert attention from the flaws in the system itself
The Anglo Irish Bank trials changed nothing; the money was not be recovered; the political establishment was not challenged. Even if the Anglo bankers had gone to prison, it would not have changed the big picture.
All the Anglo story did was to annoy us – but that is exactly what Dario Fo suggested. Anger can be cathartic, it gets rid of a sense of frustration, it gives one a sense of being in control of affairs. Scandal is a good political antacid, a burp of disapproval at individuals and all can carry on as before.