WITH CHRISTMAS in Ireland comes a migration of Irish back to the auld sod, along with stories of triumphs and achievements. Twenty years ago, more left than returned to Ireland at Christmas. This week marks the arrival of friends returning to renew friendships. Oftentimes, it's a parade of fashion and conspicuous consumption. But some locals are confreres who share warm anecdotes and good craic. I've noticed something in the pre-Christmas air about 21st century Ireland and I think it's worth considering as a principle of Irish society.
Irish society has elevated capitalism to a high altar and with that elevation comes the possiblity that only the fittest survive and prosper in 21st century Ireland. But that isn't true--Irish people certainly compete for the spoils of life but they collaborate too. Unlike many other cultures where I've lived, in Ireland there is a compassion for the fallen. For this sort of behaviour, Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" has no explanation.
Yet Darwinism is quite potent in Ireland. The current twist involves hypotheses that rely not on Hebert Spencer's idea of individual competition, but on social interaction. That interaction is warm and collegial when enjoyed among confreres. It is sometimes confrontational and occasionally aggressive when at the edges of society. In my experience, especially around the holiday season, interactions are collaborative.
And for that, we can thank the power of trust. People who are related collaborate on the basis of nepotism--that's part of the human condition and not just a prinicple restricted to Irish society. Trust helps the unrelated to collaborate. Trust means you keep an accounting of who does what when and for who. Trust also comes hand-in-glove with a withering ability to punish cheats. There is no hiding for chancers in Ireland--the professional circles on the island are just too small.
One thing I have learned in 2005 is that Darwinism lives on in Irish society today. Its current form inherits some of the original thinking of the scientist Charles Darwin, with sprinklings of the writer Herbert Spencer and the poet Lord Alfred Tennyson. Knowing this will serve me well in the new year.