October 7, 2009
Over the past decade, it was only a matter of a few minutes following the final score before my phone rang. If the victory was particularly impressive, it was a call. If it was a less impressive victory, it was a text. The text read something like “Ye Leinster Langer”! Deductive reasoning told me Munster had won and my cousins in Cork were just reminding their Jackeen relation of this fact. If you are a Dub with Cork cousins, this ritual has been a regular part of the Irish sporting calendar. I’ve had to bear it stoically for some years.
So, the other night when I headed up to watch the game with a friend from Clare — another Munster die-hard — I half expected the same rush of texts and calls at the end of the 80. But they never came. Watching the contortions on my friend’s face, it became obvious that there is something different about Munster fans.
When their team is getting hammered, they can’t believe it. The facial expression changes from disbelief to outrage and indignation.
It struck me that I’d seen this face before. Where was it? I racked my brains as I went up to the bar, just after Shane Horgan had accepted a gift in the middle of the park and raced off under the posts. It was getting embarrassing. My phone was conspicuous by its silence.
Then it came to me. That’s where I had seen it before. The contorted, disbelieving face of the defeated Munster fan was the same face that our governing politicians pull when they are queried about the economy, the Budget or NAMA. It is the face of people who have been living in a bubble for the past few years. The thing about living in a bubble is that you tend to hang out with other people who live in the same bubble so every conversation reinforces the myth of the bubble. This “echo chamber” as the Yanks call it, makes people in the bubble unable to accept any deviation from the creed.
The same bubble thinking, which has made the comedown for the Munster fans so dreadfully sharp, can be seen in many of our senior mandarins. The senior civil servants who run the country and lease it out to the politicians, also get “Munster face” when challenged. These are the guys who come up with policies like NAMA or the one that says there is no alternative to slashing spending.
Down the years, in our various scandals — whether over health or the welfare of children from industrialised schools — they were also the ones who tended to move to limit the damage to the institutions rather than the damage to the individual.
It is the same mentality that overlooked the DIRT scandal and the one that turned a blind eye to the shenanigans at Anglo when it put the parachute for Sean Quinn together and didn’t inform ordinary shareholders. Bubble thinking also characterised the Department of Finance mandarins when they did nothing to rein in the boom and then couldn’t think of anything better to do in the downturn than to cut everything and make the paralysis of consumer demand more, not less, rigid.
For cabinet members, bubble thinking is what makes them defend John O’Donoghue’s expense account, when they should just say this is nonsense and excessive and detrimental to the reputation of the country and the Dail.
They have been in the bubble so long that they can’t see that there is anything they can do which might, while not technically illegal, be reprehensible. Because of the bubble they can’t see the difference between right and wrong, so they cling on, in denial.
After a while those outside the bubble can see the weakness so clearly, yet those inside the bubble remain blind.
Bubble thinking is a form of group therapy and the best way to keep bubble thinking alive and kicking is to make sure that everyone involved has a vested interest in the bubble continuing to inflate.
So, during the property bubble years, those inside the bubble who had just bought property had a huge interest in keeping the whole thing inflated. And this is why when the bubble burst, it came as such a shock to everyone and yet now, with the passing of time, many thousands are asking themselves: “Why the hell did I do that?” or “Why couldn’t I see then what is clear now?”
For fans of all sport, the bubble becomes self-reinforcing. We get carried away by the great moments when the odds are overthrown and our side begins to emerge. We then let the mania of a few victories take over and we start to believe our own propaganda.
Others study our mistakes, our weak spots, players get older and a bit slower and then all these little things which on their own can be fought and dealt with, come together with cataclysmic results.
The denial phase, after a crushing defeat, gives way to depression but in the depression and the slide come the fruits of the next renaissance. Hopefully, Munster will recover from this and rebuild.
The great managers and politicians are those who can see beyond the bubble and do the right thing using a combination of clear analysis, questioning, judgment and experience. This weekend the Green Party has an opportunity to step out of the bubble and see NAMA for what it is. It is an extension of bubble thinking.
Rather than learn from the mistakes of the past and say never again, the Greens have been duped into bubble thinking by the mandarins, a thinking which says that the solution to our uncompetitive economy is more bank lending, more money going back into land and a higher tax burden on people for useless land that we are now supposed to want to buy with money we don’t have.
Let’s hope that this weekend, the Green management listens to the Green players.
Because, as in sport, the players on the ground know what went wrong on the pitch. I’m sure around Thomond Park there is some serious talking going on with players giving their opinions and solutions. Only the most arrogant management would not listen to them.
By the way, I never did text the cousins on Saturday. Leinster Langers don’t behave like that!