Less about the world, more about me.

Messi Messi Messi Messi

I had a little cry last week. The Guardian website informed me Messi had finally won his World Cup. Doing so in the best final of all time. I didn’t watch this World Cup. I am not writing about that. Regret did not make me cry. It was happiness and relief, for I simply adore Messi.

I grew up a Liverpool fan. Being a Liverpool fan in the 80s was an easy time. Then there was Hillsborough and Sky Sports and a precipitous decline in standards. I fell out of love with football and with Liverpool. I wasn’t playing either, so there wasn’t even that.

I moved back to Kerry in the early 2000s, reduced to living with my parents, but they did have Sky Sports. My elderly parents, my mom a half Scouse Liverpool fan, my dad a hurling fanatic, got me into Barcelona. They never missed a game. I began watching Messi. I started playing again, a friendly seven-a-side. I even remembered my Liverpool devotion.

I’m awful at football, but kicking and controlling a ball does mean I understand what Messi is actually doing. In the same way that because I can do simple arithmetic, I understand Stephen Hawking explaining quantum physics. Or since I can read Shakespeare, I must be able to create smooth similes.      

Describing Messi is difficult. I love football. I think it is the most important unimportant thing there is. And because it takes up so much space in my head, I naturally imbue it with a significance that others attach to art or literature.

I was recently introduced to the works of Pierre Bourdieu. He writes about power and the importance of Social Capital in maintaining power structures. How taste is constructed to distinguish between those with power and those without. Football is a sport, but also it is a sport that isn’t rugby. It is for the common folk. Not a game for serious people with serious thoughts doing serious things. It isn’t an art form nor a method for transferring power from one generation to the next.

Football is for grubby people playing out identity rituals with profane chants and fists in car parks. While I didn’t watch the World Cup, I kept abreast through minute-by-minute reports and Messi’s pass against the Dutch was mentioned. I confess I YouTubed it. It took my breath away. A moment of purest creation.

My favourite players over the years have been passers. From Molby to Alonso, it is those who see things, possibilities and movement and have the technical ability to take advantage of that vision to create something out of it. I remember Cruyff describing how when he passed a ball, it was because he saw the pass the player he was giving the ball to should then make.

Is vision followed by creation, not art? Is it the mere artisanal product of a blacksmith or the moving and enhancing experience of a choreographer? 

Messi moves me to speak about art, for he gives me joy doing an activity I also participate in. What he does is familiar, though impossible for me to emulate. But not impossible to imagine. I see it. I can deconstruct it.

I had the opportunity this summer to visit the Netherlands. Thanks to their wonderful public transport system, I visited the Vermeer Museum (Delft) and, the next day, see ‘The Girl With The Pearl Earring’ (the Hague). It is difficult to explain my reaction to seeing it for the first time. Witnessing an example of perfection is overwhelming. I had to look away for fear of crying in a roomful of strangers. But when I analysed my feelings, I was not just moved by the beauty and technical application but by cultural significance. The Girl With The Pearl Earring is one of the best things we humans have done. Art is the only thing that says we are not quite like all the other animals.

Great art is distilled humanity married with the technical ability to make real the imagined.

I play football. I have moshed to Nirvana’s music. I have written a novel. I have been to some of the best museums in the world. I have read some of the best novels and watched some of the best plays. Nothing has moved me to stunned incoherent exclamations quite like Messi’s goal against Athletic Bilbao in 2015. No one and nothing has so consistently made me leave my chair and make weird strangled grunting sounds the way Messi has. In his pomp, with the right players around him, he routinely made the impossible possible.

Messi is not unique. He is the paragon, the quintessential and the apogee of an activity that is both the simplest sport and the most complex activity. He may be dismissed as a mere entertainer, for he is certainly that, but does he do those other things that art does? Is he making the experience of being a human that bit better and richer? Does he give pause, leading to reflection on the human experience? Is he culturally significant?

I don’t know to be honest. I lack the education to insist on his artistic bona fides, but I know I see art in him. I know to my dying day I won’t go a week without watching footage of his creative genius. My joy in Messi’s movement may be a product of being working class, but I would not swap position and education for a single minute I have spent watching Messi.

Rings of Power: Eps 1&2

My new tattoo

The problem with Tolkien is that there aren’t at least two millennia and two fallen civilisations between him and us. Everything he wrote is available to us. Even his workings are public. His opinions and his comments on what he wrote are still with us. This causes tension. 

On the one hand, there’s his grand vision of reinventing a lost English mythology and then there’s the fact that not even a prolific genius can invent an entire mythology. If it could be done, then it would have been done by someone who could spin whole languages out of his imagination. But he left us an incomplete history. How could he not leave it incomplete? Galadriel left Middle Earth when she was over 8000 years old. It would take more than the span of a human life to recount the details of such life. Her part in the final war against Sauron doesn’t even make it into Lord of the Rings proper. She’s relegated to the appendices. Galadriel, arguably the most powerful being in Middle Earth, in an appendix! 

His life and work are so recent we are understandably a little precious when someone attempts to add to his creation. We are quick to dismiss attempts as fan-fiction. But when someone produces an adaptation as wonderful as Peter Jackson’s trilogy, we forgive the changes, additions and omissions. Changes in his second trilogy are not so forgivable because the entire project was less than stellar.

As for, Rings of Power episodes one and two? I loved them. Many things irked me, and I will get to some of them, but overall, I was transported back to Middle Earth. It is always my fervent wish to be in Middle Earth, and this took me there. And they showed us Telperion and Laurelin. They showed us the Trees! Sanitising the reason the Elves left Valinor irked me. Really sanitising why Galadriel left, really irked. But Morfydd Clark’s Galadriel is wonderful. Elrond, Gil-galad, Celebrimbor, all excellent. Lindon, wow. I enjoyed the Har-foots, though being from Ireland, the Oirish accents grated quite a lot. Why not just give them North Kerry accents and add subtitles? But I’ll get over it as Nori is the ‘everyperson’ character reflecting all our wanderlust and she is very engaging. As for Arondir, I couldn’t take my eyes off him anytime he appeared. If he doesn’t get passage to Valinor by the end of this story, I will be most displeased. And to see Khazad-dûm in all its glory was a pure pleasure. Adding a Dwarven princess worked for me. Sophia Nomvete’s Disa made me regret there never being a female Dwarf depicted before. And I mean within the Tolkien world, of course, Pratchett did that years ago.

The fight with the troll irked me. These are Noldorian Elves. Any one of them should have been able to dispatch a troll without pausing for breath or thought. For the same reason, I didn’t bat an eyelid when Galadriel decided to swim across a sea. She’s Noldor, that’s what they do. I’m not sure they have convincingly conveyed how much time has passed between the Elves leaving Valinor to this point in the history of Middle Earth. Though Galadriel did spell it out at one point with my favourite line in the episode. The trilogy had the luxury of ruins to show time has passed, the Second Age is not as replete with destruction and lost kingdoms.

I wait with bated breath for episode three. 

I hope this continues as is. For in a thousand years this strange mythology will still be studied. It will have survived in fragments. Scholars will debate which parts of the story are original and which were added, no one will be sure. But they will never stop poring over this wonderful secondary creation. 

Being In Therapy

Photo by Finn on Unsplash

I try to be honest about my mental health. I have been in therapy, on and off, for over twenty years for depression and anxiety and have taken medication. Is that oversharing? I don’t think so. I can be open about my mental health for two reasons. Middle age has made me increasingly impervious to the opinions and judgements of others. But more importantly, my employment contract protects me from most types of discriminatory nonsense.

It is a position of some privilege.

Working reasonably well-paid jobs without interruption all my adult life means I can pay for my mental health. I don’t mean I could afford a therapist; I can shop around. I have the freedom to decide what I think is best for me, to choose what I prefer, not what will do for now. I’ve never had to accept CBT as a stop-gap. I’ve never had to return to a therapist I didn’t think was a good fit for me. I’ve never had to justify what I mean by not a good fit.

What does that mean?

I’m never stressed about my mental health issues. In the depths of anxiety, it never occurred to me that I might be unable to get this fixed. I stressed about the best way forward and how quickly I could get this shit sorted. Never did I worry I might not be able to access the care I needed. I could just google the available options and begin exploring the various treatments and approaches. If one must have mental health issues, I think they should have them as I do. (Yes, the not too subtle subtext here is that shocking inequalities in incomes can be seen in the appalling disparities in access to quality mental health care.)

I was discussing this recently with my therapist, a person who has profoundly changed my life. And I only know her because I could Google therapists in my area and play the field. I was discussing with her my openness to therapy. Why would a culchie with a mediocre education be so at ease accessing this kind of health care? Even in my early twenties, I was aware that constantly feeling sad was something one went to a therapist to discuss. This awareness was not taught to me in school. I’m shaking my head as I write this, remembering how little my school did to prepare me for being an adult with feelings and concerns. What I did in my school years was watch a lot of American TV shows.

And in my memory of those shows, every second character was in therapy. A place they went to discuss their feelings (or more accurately their sadness) and why they had sadness. This became normal to me. Of course, it isn’t common for people without disposable income. It isn’t expected for people who weren’t taught that feeling sad all of the time is an issue that might need addressing. It isn’t usual for people who have to be very careful about what their employers might know. It isn’t normal for people who didn’t watch the same TV shows I watched in the 80s.

The only frustrating thing about my mental health, which is a doozy of self-indulgent narcissism (if you’ll indulge the tautology), is that I cannot write about why I have mental health issues. I must wait for quite a few people to die before I write my full story. It’s really annoying. It’s why I have been so creatively stunted for so long. I even struggle to blog. Interesting and concerning things are happening in my life and the world, but all I want to do is write about my childhood (and no, it wasn’t that).

Writing to not be read seems unnatural to me. I should be journaling. I should be exploring this momentous shift in my mental health through my writing, but I can’t. I write to be read. I have always been thus. It’s a need I am delving into in therapy. The need to be seen is a significant theme in the work I am doing there. Over the years, with various therapists, I have been concerned with not coming across as trivial. Not whining over things unworthy of that therapeutic space. I remember a session many years ago where I explained my devastation at a team I supported, losing a game on penalties. I saw my therapist’s eye glaze over.

I am reasonably confident wanting to be seen is not a trivial thing. Many of the heaviest weights causing that suffocating pressure in my chest have been addressed and/or ameliorated. Now I am dealing with the bad habits, all that non-living engendered. I want to write stories that people want to read. Everything else amounts to making sure the mortgage is paid.

You see how important writing is to me? The previous paragraph came unbidden through my fingers. I hadn’t realised that my primary ambition remains being a storyteller. I thought I’d moved on. I wanted to blog as a mere hobby. And I don’t know how to square the circle of wanting to write but being blocked by not being able to write the thing I most want to write. It’s a conundrum I cannot blog my way through. I am left thanking a god that doesn’t exist that I have the privilege of disposable income. My therapist is going to have to sort this one out.

Sex With The Lights Off

Sometimes a political opponent will come out with a dig that is too funny. Brendan Griffin, a Fine Gael TD from Kerry, accused the Green Party of wanting people to have sex with the lights off. It’s a wonderful line. It is communicating a message on a visceral level. Contrast that then to Eamon Ryan, leader of the Green Party, saying, amid a cost-of-living crisis, that people should take shorter showers. I know who I’m voting for in the next election and I’m actually in the Green Party.

I described Griffin as an opponent. His party is in coalition with my party. But in Kerry, what passes for constructive analysis of the problems facing rural Ireland, is to attack the Greens. It’s an understandable reaction to a crisis. There are no elected Greens in the constituency, so an easy target. The politicians who have been elected for generations in Kerry have allowed a situation to develop where there are few jobs here. Where economic development is uneven. Where the housing supply is inadequate. Where the climate crisis is downplayed and even denied. Where short-termism is regarded as common sense. Where a knee-jerk reaction is giving the ‘little’ people of Kerry what they truly need. So, attack the Greens louder and more vociferously than the other Kerry TDs. But never offer solutions.

There is an almost violent reaction in my part of the world to something called, Green ideology. I don’t know what this ideology is. I’ve yet to meet another Green Party member I agree with concerning ideology. I’ve met members to both the left and right of me. Though more on the left than the right. All that binds us is a basic understanding of science. No, not that. More, it is a willingness to accept the word of a scientific community when there is near consensus in that community. Our civilisation’s dependence on burning carbon is warming the planet. The warmer the planet gets the fewer of us it can accommodate. To head this disaster off we need to take as much carbon out of our economies as possible, as quickly as possible.

The pandemic, the war on our doorstep, the cost of living, the housing crisis, the poor state of our health system, and sex in the dark, are important. In an ideal world, these would be all that should concern our politicians and we the voters. Yet combined, they do not represent even an iota of the calamity barrelling towards us in the form of rising sea levels, extreme weather events, and famines.

I don’t have children. I joined the Green Party because I have young nephews and I was worried that their future would be one of hardship, preventable hardship, as they endure a world marred by a damaged climate. Then I began to worry about my future. Surely an overweight middle-aged man would be dead before things got bad? Now I worry about my parents, in their 70s, who might be around to see the beginning of the unravelling of what we have, for millennia, called normal.

I understand for politicians all that matters is winning the next election. That is the nature of politics. And I understand the rather underhanded assertion that Kerry’s problems are the worst and therefore most important. While simultaneously saying that Kerry is too small and unimportant to contribute anything to solving our climate crisis. To tackle the climate crisis is to embrace the enormous disruption required to take carbon out of our civilisation. There is no easy way to do that. It will necessarily be uncomfortable, possibly downright awful. And I fervently wish it didn’t need doing because I quite like my life as it is. But we have already wasted decades prevaricating. We now have mere years to change things.

I really wish an elected politician in Kerry would begin to tell the truth about this. Just one Kerry politician speaking the truth of what is to come would be a welcome change.

And if the majority of people in Kerry decide they would rather lose whole swathes of the county to the sea rather than make an effort, then so be it. At least that would be an informed choice.

Hope Versus Optimism

I think of myself as optimistic. I have invested a great deal of money in my mental health to arrive at this state. And I like it. I get out of bed with a certain enthusiasm. I still think I’ll write a novel worthy of publication. I’m comfortable with being wrong. I care about things. I like this enthusiasm. Hope, on the other hand, that I do not have. Optimism, as I define it, is rather narrow. It describes me as I interact with the world through time. Hope is more expansive. It describes the world as I interact with it through time.

I recently watched a Prime Time episode about a lake in Roscommon called Lake Funshinagh. If I wasn’t in the Green Party, I might have written; an episode about a community in Roscommon being devastated by floods. This is a weird lake. It often disappears. But over the last five years, it has been getting bigger. It is making several nearby homes and farms untenable. The County Council, utilising obsolete legislation, began works to alleviate this flooding. Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) had those works stopped in the courts. The lake is designated as a Special Area of Conservation. To carry out works there requires extensive environmental impact assessments. The junior minister with responsibility for flood defences complained that he had one billion euro to spend, but wasn’t allowed to because those assessments and court actions took too long.

I joined the Green Party for no other reason than the realisation that our planet is racing towards a hitherto unprecedented cataclysm. I did not like joining the party. Its very existence is evidence that we will most likely, as a species, fail to head off this catastrophe. If an entire political party has to exist, just to point out the obvious and is often ignored, then we are in real trouble. Especially if that party is small and always teetering on the precipice of electoral oblivion.

Ireland is getting wetter. Rainfall has increased 6% over the last 30 years. Large swathes of coastal Ireland will be under water by 2030. And one of RTE’s flagship investigative television shows, chose to emphasise how awkward environmentalists are making it to save six homes. Politicians wrung their hands at the all-powerful environmental lobby preventing them from protecting their voters, I mean citizens. A junior minister couldn’t make sense of the idea of allowing rivers room. If one was to watch this programme in isolation one would have assumed that the climate crisis was an entirely inevitable phenomenon and all that we could do was protect what we have and ride out the disaster to come. 

That is why I struggle with hope. The climate crisis is killing people. But out foreign. It is creating climate crisis refugees here, yet we refuse to recognise them as such. Tackling the crisis is portrayed as mere enthusiasm from outsiders. We wish to do the things that caused the beckoning disaster to protect us from that disaster. It is as inexplicable to me as a government minister with responsibility for flood protection not understanding the basics of river management. As inexplicable as blaming the mismanagement of a tragedy on busybodies rather than those charged with managing that wholly predictable tragedy.

A billion euro is touted as an impressive amount of money. It is a pittance when set against the great inundation that will sweep over every Irish city in mere years. No longer can we speak of decades to prepare. All that time to prepare was spent in denial, in obfuscation, deceit, and the winning of votes.

I’m from Lixnaw. An average-sized village in Kerry. In size and population, it dwarfs the community around Lake Funshinagh. In my lifetime it will disappear under water. Any attempt to save my community would be folly. It is already too late for that. Only two things matter now; limiting the rise in global temperatures to a worst-case scenario of 2 degrees Celsius and throwing our resources at the largest of our population centres. 

I do not expect either expediency to be achieved or even thoroughly attempted. I have no expectation of politicians in Kerry, or even Ireland, making and imposing the fundamental changes in our ways of life that are required. The sacrifices to be made, the pain asked for and endured. I have no hope of us staving off or even meeting with clear eyes the disaster to come. I predict with great confidence that the next election will be fought in Kerry on two issues. The first will be resisting the recently signed Climate Action Bill. The second will be for the development of a liquified natural gas facility in the north of the county. Not surprisingly, to be built in an area that can also expect to be under water in my lifetime.          

But come the next election I will knock on doors for our Green Party candidates. They will have no prospect of winning, but I will dedicate all the time I can to their campaign. And I will do so with enthusiasm. But there will be no hope. 

Language and Empathy

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I write to explain me, to me. The role of the reader is to keep me coherent and consistent as I explore my evolving values. And I’m prefacing this blog post because it was a struggle to write it. I am clear about the right and the wrong, but the act of writing about this subject is also an act of insertion. I am becoming part of the subject. That’s a little scary in this instance. Again, the right and wrong are clear, my level of hypocrisy in condemning the act, well that is less clear. Brian Leddin TD used sexist and misogynistic language in a WhatsApp group. My instinctive reaction was, what the hell was he doing letting his guard down in a WhatsApp group? You see my problem? 

Recently, Liverpool supporters targeted an opposition player by referencing rent boys. There was a time when I wouldn’t have thought that an issue. I might have joined in. What’s wrong with thousands of men baying at another man that he sells his body to other men for sex? It wouldn’t have occurred to me that in that stadium and watching on TV were members of the LGBTIA+ community, supporting my team, hearing their sexuality being used as a slur. How many supporters of my team, of the game itself, are being traumatised, driven away, lost from what I regard as the ultimate communal experience? 

I understand the cathartic joy in abusive language, the free use of invective, the headiness of unfettered expression. What possible reason could there be for constraint? Yes, this is about political correctness. And the problem with political correctness is that to be understood it requires of people who look like me, some empathy. Being an able-bodied, straight, white, cis man means I never feel denigrated. I’ve no idea what that is like. Even when a Brit says something wholly uninformed about Ireland, I feel nothing. I would need to encounter an Elf or a Vulcan to feel my place in the hierarchy threatened.

Never feeling denigrated is a bloody brilliant place to live. But it means I’ve had to learn empathy as one would learn Latin. I’ve had to try very hard to imagine what it might feel like to exist with worry and concern about how I’ll be treated by family, friends, strangers, society, the law and the state, for simply not being an able-bodied, straight, white, cis man. To imagine words and deeds, encountered daily designed to hurt me, must feel like. To experience systems that seek to keep me from fully participating in and benefiting from those systems. 

I fail that empathy test, a lot. I can imagine Elves and Vulcans easier than I can imagine feeling less than. If I come to write a memoir, the title would be, Opportunities Spurned. Even now, my tenuous grip on the concept was only made possible by a particularly brutal bout of depression I experienced fifteen years ago.

Brian Leddin, a politician I like and support, used words to describe women, which reflect very poorly on him. Yes, I’m being euphemistic. Remember my preface? In the queue of stone casters, I’d necessarily be near the end. But I am here to explore. Using the language of sexism and misogyny is a three-act play. There is the harm caused to the target, there are the values revealed in that unguarded language, and then there is the aftermath. And it is in the aftermath where most of my disappointment lies. There appears to be no understanding of why this was not mere invective, not mere unprofessionalism. There doesn’t seem to be any learning. No attempt at empathy.

There are few politicians in my county of Kerry that I have a good word for. But as I fancy myself a grown-up, a person with some political experience, I try to not lapse into invective. It’s unprofessional and it reflects badly on me. When I do indulge, the words have to pass one test and one test only; do they attack the person’s gender, ethnicity, religion or physical ability. This should not be a difficult bar to clear. But it requires an acceptance and an understanding that the game is rigged in favour of people who look like me. It demands empathy from a class of humans who haven’t had to practise empathy a lot. It means that we who would prefer our society become more equitable, doing or saying nothing to reinforce exclusion. Doing or saying nothing that denigrates those who are already disadvantaged by society.

I have the privilege of not needing to worry about words used about or against me. The only opinion, other than my own, that I choose to worry about is my wife’s. For a long time, I thought that was how everyone lived. I have had to learn that this is only the case for me and people who look like me. I have had to learn that my words matter. I’ve had to learn that anything I do or say that reinforces my privilege is an act of harm. 

Empathy is hard, but not bothering to learn it, is an unconscionable privilege.

Workers United

Last night I witnessed a marvel. A group of women took on the State. I wish I could say they won. For they did not. They were never going to be allowed that. The forces arrayed against them were vast and implacable. The outcome was never in doubt, but these remarkable women showed up. For 379 nights and 380 days, they showed up. What began as a battle for their rights has become a struggle on behalf of all of us who work.

Just over a year ago, Debenhams declared bankruptcy in Ireland. In a perfectly legal sleight of hand, they continue to exist. One can find them still selling online. Don’t seek them out. They fired their Irish workforce giving the minimum amount of redundancy allowed in Irish law. In the years preceding this, the workers had agreed to reduced terms and conditions to help save the company and in exchange they were promised (and by promised, I mean contracts were signed) four weeks of redundancy payments, if the worst happened. This agreement was not met. The workers began to picket. They did not stop picketing.

KPMG were appointed as liquidators of Debenhams (in Ireland that is, did I mention they still continue to trade?) In a perfectly legal way, the Debenhams workers were to be ignored. Other creditors were given precedence. The stock was to be sold and the workers given nothing. The picket prevented that stock from being moved. For over a year. Regardless of weather and Covid, that stock was not moved. The Government and TDs were lobbied. The Government wrung its hands and bleated about precedents being set. These were mere retail workers and women after all. They posed no threat. KPMG sought and was granted a High Court injunction which compelled the State to put its resources into the hands of KPMG so they could get that stock out of the stores, shipped out of the country and sold.

Last night was the culmination of that unequal struggle. The trucks arrived in Tralee and the Debenhams workers were moved aside by the Gardaí. Lifted, every one of them.

There were tears. Women who had never given cause for Garda notice had hands put upon them. A single act that broke another contract. Told an entire story. You will be screwed by your employer. Abandoned by your Government. Nailed by the courts. And lifted by the Gardaí. Your only means of redress moved and sold elsewhere. A single act to sum up a long betrayal.

There were tears and laughter. A humour that has sustained them for so long. The only rage expressed was for the scabs who facilitated this betrayal. The Gardaí may seek the excuse of, only following orders. But people who pass a picket line for money? Yet those women last night were fighting for them as well. Precarious employment, meaningless contracts, week unions and legally protected greed impacts us all.

This could happen again. Everything done to the Debenhams workers was legal. In response to and inspired by the hundreds of women who put their lives on hold and their safety on the line, Mick Barry TD has moved the Companies (Employees’ Rights in Liquidation) Bill 2021. Follow this link to find the contact details of your TDs. Call, email, write a letter. Take five minutes to honour the sacrifices made on behalf of all us by the brave women in Tralee last night and in Dublin the night before. Turn this into a victory by ensuring this never happens again.

Nationalism, Fascism and Racism

The thing about being a straight white man is, we don’t do feeling powerless. Even watching sport, played on the other side of the planet, we know we are contributing to the result with our roars, our oaths and our superstitions. This is a world designed for us, by us. It’s our world so not succeeding feels catastrophic. Any perceived erosion of our increasingly precarious position feels catastrophic. A lot of white men are nursing those grievances  right now. A lot of those white men are angry. And a lot of them have decided to blame anyone who isn’t a straight white man. 

I’m a straight white man. I’m from a working class background. My education is mediocre. And I have a job rather than a career. But I’m not angry. And I certainly don’t blame any one who isn’t a straight white man for my place in the world. And that interests me. I write blog posts  to better understand me. I want to know why I’m not bitter and twisted like so many people who look like me. Why don’t I fear and hate people of colour, when that is now a popular pastime for white men of my socioeconomic strata. 

I don’t consider myself racist. But I have such limited experience with people of colour that I do not know what lurks beneath my liberal facade. I grew up in one of the whitest environments on the planet. Only in the last decade or so has this begun to change. I now, occasionally, work with people of colour. Every week, I play football with people of colour. My favourite places to eat are run by Asians. As my parents get older, I increasingly interact with medical professionals from around the world. And every encounter remains a novelty. I am living in a multicultural and multiracial world, but this only happened yesterday. 

It remains a novelty. An aberration. Intellectually I recognise this as the new normal but as a middle-aged white man I still feel, wow. This is different. Not in Kansas anymore. How did this happen? It was only yesterday…

To be honest, I love it. Yet I’m discomforted by how aware I am of every encounter as being new and different. This Ireland, this growing diversity, this break from the appalling and oppressive monoculture of my youth and young adulthood is a breath of fresh air. And as I struggle to shrug off the novelty, part of me wants to hold on to some of it because I fear forgetting what it was once like in my world. The smallness. The lack of hope and imagination. The narrowness of our horizons. 

But why have I not succumbed to the anger and hate being stoked in my name? All I can think of is my mother. She’s English. Proud English. Family of military service kind of proud. Growing up in the 80s, in rural Kerry, that was confusing. The anti-English rhetoric was as incessant  as it was lacking in subtlety. But there was my mom. My grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins, none of whom could visit, because it wasn’t safe for them to do so. But we visited them. They never struck me as being devils incarnate. 

One really has to question a national identity when it  demonises one of your parents. My experience of Irish national identity, growing up, was one of utter smallness. It was a thing of failure and emigration. And I hated it. I was softer on English nationalism because, you know, my mom. And I hadn’t done the reading. That came later. 

When I did the reading, my oh my, that was a bucket of ice water dunked on my head. That made two national identities not worth a damn to me. It was then understandable for me to ask, what the hell are national identities for in the first place and are they all bullshit? National identities are taught in schools. It’s official title is history, but it’s really just identity. And every nation does it. They are carefully curated. There is some subtlety added in the universities, for those who go to university and study the history they’ll teach to the next generation. But the same national identity will be taught. 

As mentioned, my education is somewhat mediocre. Yet there is no great mystery to nationalism or national identity. One doesn’t even have to reach back that far into history to discover the creation of nationalism and see its institutionalisation.  It is, like most things that occupy the human mind, entirely made up. It, like religions, was invented to meet an immediate need. In this instance, how does one make law if a god, through an anointed king, isn’t available to lend legitimacy. The people. Ein volke. The ‘people’ was invented. Of course, people meant  propertied white men. Though sometimes even unpropertied white men were included. 

But inventing the people meant there had to be a them and us. This whole thing proved quite controversial. Taking gods and kings out of the power equation was not simply going to be  nodded through. France, where this notion got its first full airing, was invaded by every other empire in Europe. Think on that. France was attacked by all the most powerful empires in existence. And France almost won. 

It turns out that a man will fight a lot harder for a flag (oh yes, nations have to have flags) than for a god or a king. France almost won. The invented nation, the people, were mobilised, the levee en masse, and it conquered most of Europe before coming up short in Russia. But it wasn’t just the weather that defeated Napoleon. Nor competent generalship. Invent one people and necessarily other peoples will come into existence. Even kings saw the power of flags. 

And middle class intellectuals saw their chance to shine. They taught history, a carefully curated history, in the universities, to middle class men who taught national identity in the schools. In mere decades all history was national identity. In mere decades national identity was presumed to have always existed. The Romantics are largely to blame for that. 

That is not to say nationalism was a unique invention. Don’t forget, before nationalism, there was magic blood. The nobility of old built and maintained their power through violence. But they justified their hold on power through blood. Noble blood was different. Royal blood was different. One could not wield legitimate power without that special blood. Of course, one’s blood could become special if one was very good at violence or one was very rich. But the blood mattered. 

And there was another invention. As industry grew, new ‘natural’ divisions were devised. The lower orders were a different breed. Poor, dirty and powerless because that was all their blood could aspire to. Industry grew and needed more of everything to grow ever more. But that everything was usually found where people who looked different lived. Their blood was ‘scientifically’ proved to be inferior. Without ‘race’ the pillaging of the America’s would’ve proved impossible. 

And we bought it all. Still buy it. Not seeing that racism, fascism and nationalism are all synonyms for the same form of magical thinking. The idea that blood, lines drawn on a map, physical appearance and flags have intrinsic meaning. The creation of them and us. Created to keep us in our places. A trick so devious that it’s treated as fact even though the truth isn’t even hidden. 

We imbibe nationalism and it’s inevitable conclusions, racism and fascism, with our mother’s milk. Thought so natural, so ancient, we mistake it for fact. It never occurs to us that it is a construct with a specific purpose; to keep us in our place. To keep us in factories and armies. To keep us ignorant and servile. To keep us primed and vicious. To keep us from looking up. 

And it is  men who look like me who have fallen the hardest for this con. As our economic security is eroded, we look for someone to blame. As we are supplanted and surpassed by those we once looked down on, we look for someone to blame. As our dignity is stripped from us in factories that make nothing, we look for someone to blame. We look for purpose and identity in a world that no longer values our works nor our capacity for violence. So many of us have fallen back on magical thinking. 

Nation, race, identity are what many of us have chosen to cling to. Instead of looking up to see whose boot is on our necks, we have chosen flags and a carefully curated history. Instead of agency we have traded feeling powerless for magical thinking. For an invention long obsolete. We’ll do anything, but look up. 

On Being On The Left

Image by Marisa04 from Pixabay

There are many criticisms that can be levelled at the Green Party, but describing us as Blueshirts on bikes is a bit much. I’ll grant you it’s bloody funny, but I have to disagree with the sentiment. 

That is not to say there aren’t right of centre members. Or that many in the party retain too much faith in the power of capitalism to rescue us from the climate crisis. But there is an acceptance that the full weight of the state, an expanded and heavily invested state, is required to even begin addressing the climate crisis. 

When I place my part of the world, north Kerry, in the climate crisis I see how complicated it will be to make any of the changes necessary to stop and reverse the harm we are doing to our environment. In a previous post I spoke about turf. Burning turf is almost as culturally important, as it is a source of heat. For generations it has been the only way for innumerable households to stay warm and cook their food. We wax lyrical about the stuff. But it has to go. Burning the turf itself releases carbon but, just as importantly, harvesting it, destroys an important ecosystem. 

But how do we move from burning turf when for many, it’s the only fuel they have? We could simply ban it of course. A bit of the Blueshirt on bikes vibe. Informing thousands of households that they’ll just have to make alternative arrangements. Thank you very much. It’d be simple. Devastating and immoral, but simple. The Green Party way however, is to spend a lot of money easing those thousands of households towards a healthier and more sustainable future. 

It involves retrofitting houses, so they are more heat efficient, and installing alternative heating systems. And it involves training an army of tradespeople to do all this work and to service the new energy sources. This will require huge public investment. Yes, it will create jobs, but still, a lot of tax money will need to be spent. And that’s only one aspect of the environmental crisis we are addressing.

Public transport, reviving our towns and villages, supporting our farmers in mitigating their impact on the environment, reforestation and increasing our use of renewable energy, all require the state, paying and/or leading the way. If we are ever to achieve carbon neutrality, the state will need to do most of the heavy lifting.

The problem with this government, a government I voted for and continue to support, is a hidebound belief in profit for profit’s sake. For example, our homelessness and housing crises. The state, even within the constraints of the constitution, has awesome powers and access to vast amounts of cheap money. It could choose to employ planning experts and architects. It could employ project managers and contractors. It could build the houses this country needs. It could create jobs and end homelessness and provide affordable homes where they are needed. They could keep these assets or sell at cost. This could be decided on a case by case basis.

The problem, apparently, is no one will be made wealthy this way. Lots of employment. Homelessness ended. The working poor given a chance. Young people being able to leave home. Families started. But no one gets to be a millionaire. And yes, I did sign up to this. 

Another example is wind farms. With developments in turbine energy, it is now realistic for Ireland to one day be entirely  self sufficient in its production of electricity. Imagine that. No matter what is happening in the world, our lights never go off. Our houses never go cold. Our food is always cooked. And the state, as in Norway, could own it all. Instead, with the exception of community groups now being allowed to own their own turbines, profit will be taken.

The Greens know that massive investment and state intervention is required. If this government manages to survive its epically incompetent first 100 days, then we’ll see if that money is spent. If it isn’t then there is no future for us in this administration.

You can follow my political activism on my campaign Facebook page: Paul Bowler – Green Party Listowel

The Mob Has Its Way

Sometimes I read something so profoundly at odds with how I see the world I have to put it aside for a while. Then I reread it to see if my reaction is altered in any way. I’ve read Stephen Collins’ column on the Phil Hogan debacle half a dozen times. It doesn’t get any less lazy, elitist or ignorant. 

Apparently Phil Hogan is too important to be held accountable for his actions. His fall from his ivory tower has “done serious damage to the national interest” as the Brexit fiasco reaches a critical stage. Too important and the timing too inopportune. The ‘do you know who I am?’ defence is the best Mr Collins can come up with on behalf of Hogan. 

It begs the question, what would Hogan have to do in order to merit government opprobrium? Breaking quarantine rules and not being forthcoming with the details clearly isn’t a big enough sin to merit censure. A mere faux pas when committed by a personage of Hogan’s stature. I wonder if he’d deliberately coughed in an old person’s face. Would that have been enough to justify trashing his stranglehold on the levers of international diplomacy? If not one old person, how about ten old people and attending any funeral he happened upon— just for larks? Or, set against the destiny and economic well being of an entire nation is the fate of mere mortals even worth considering? Surely if he wished to feast on the flesh of virgins we must sate him, or else our country be destroyed by the powers only he can beat back. 

Yes, Hogan was ‘foolish’ and ‘flouted rules…inadvertently’ but this colossus was done down by the plebeian horde. Cast from Olympus for a mere trifle. Destroyed to pander to the lynch mob. 

Using the term lynch mob, is a special type of ignorant. Saying Hogan is too important for our rules to apply to him is one thing. But lynch mob? Is Mr Collins so concerned with the affairs of our betters that he missed an entire global movement on race? 

Let’s take a quick look at lynch mob. It’s a well known term. A handy shortcut. We are all aware of its origins. In the post civil war US, southern whites hung black people. They did so because they could and they wanted to remind black people that they could. It was important for these white people that black people knew they weren’t safe. That any black person, who drew attention, could be murdered with impunity. The law served white people and only white people. The Black Lives Matter movement is reminding us that this is still happening. Black people still face indiscriminate slaughter and myriad other forms of discrimination. It’s not any great mystery. But we do need reminding of it. It’s easier not to remember. It’s easier to say lynch mob, about the treatment of a rich old white man, than it is to consider etymology, context and proportion. It’s lazy, elitist and ignorant. And it’s symptomatic. 

Mr Collins decries the lack of a fair hearing. The kind of hearing he expects that other foolish titan, Supreme Court judge Séamus Woulfe to receive. Forgetting the government didn’t dismiss Hogan. That’s not in their gift. What Hogan did was get so on his boss’ every last nerve by withholding information on his escapades, that he had to go. This government has even less of a say in the fate of Woulfe. He’ll be left to his peers to judge. As it should be. And if this demigod should fall, then so be it. 

On this I agree with Mr Collins. “The whole affair has done further damage to the standing of the Government and its ability to lead the country in a time of unprecedented crisis.” The government did not create this farrago of bare-faced entitlement. But it will suffer the fallout. That’s the point of being a government, fault is less important than responsibility. 

It is and will be responsible for some momentous decisions. This pandemic and the subsequent health, social and economic fallout are its to deal with. An unpopular and unsure amalgam has to chart a course and if it isn’t convincing in its navigation, we’ll simply not follow. That’s the key point Mr Collins can’t see. We are not a lynch mob, and shame on him for writing those words. What we are, is the mob. From Rome, to Revolutionary Paris, the mob has always existed. And this mob of fractured and scared citizenry is living through unprecedented times. 

We will not be led. Not dictated to. Nor treated as being beneath contempt. Or reminded that the rules imposed on us, do not apply to those jumped up aristocrats making the rules. We will be governed. If not by this coalition, then by the next. Mr Collins fundamentally fails to grasp that #golfgate is not about this government. It is about governance itself. 

The mob expects and accepts a certain level of disregard, some arrogance and even a measure of hypocrisy, but #golfgate was not foolish, it was not inadvertent, it was a slap in the face. And even this government of privately educated men knows the mob will not wear that.

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