datbeardyman

Less about the world, more about me.

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. 

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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

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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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Still In Government

Image by Golfer from Pixabay

Being a local area Rep could become an intensely parochial pursuit. One tries to accumulate a store of facts and figures for one’s small part of the political environment. But many of us, who choose to be local area reps, tend to be political nerds. We situate our areas within a larger picture. As Greens we, of course, see the local as global and vice versa. I’m aware when speaking to a dairy farmer that dietary trends in China are veering towards cheese, which may impact on my neighbour’s income. I’m aware that a particular golf outing could conceivably lead to a general election and an entirely new government with a new programme for government. 

For nearly 40 years I’ve delighted in any and all misfortunes being visited on Fianna Fáil. That’s my political background. A FF minister resigning in disgrace should be a source of mirth. Then I remember the programme for government, I voted for, is imperilled by FF ministers resigning in disgrace. And that my party is unlikely to be in a position to contribute to another programme for government anytime soon. My party needs this government to last for a lot longer, if the risk we took in joining it is to be worthwhile. 

My wife thinks the TDs and senators involved in #golfgate should resign their seats. The cynic in me shrugged. I was frankly surprised they faced the slap on the wrists they did receive. I even heard on my local radio station sympathy being expressed for the minister in his difficult situation. I dislike that cynic. I fear cynic is just a nicer word for morally lazy. A who’s who of Ireland’s upper crust decided to party while the country endures the restrictions and privations of a pandemic. I should be angry. But I’m not. I’m not even particularly bothered that these were our betters, not behaving as they should. 

There has always been a significant cohort of us who don’t think the rules apply to us. In the last week alone I can cite examples of people not wearing masks indoors or wearing masks incorrectly. Of cars parked dangerously. Of cars parked to block a footpath and a cycle track, simultaneously. Of rubbish dumped. Hedges cut. And labour agreements reneged on. That’s just this week. 

People could not grieve as we have grieved for centuries. This was the sacrifice we were instructed to make so that others might live. A fundamental break with our coping mechanisms was required of us. Our betters did better for themselves. And they will all remain in positions of power and privilege. 

The world is on fire. I voted for an agreement that put Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael back into power. I did this because I judged the programme for government represented the last best chance for our nation and society to face up to this reality. Our last opportunity to transition to a place which acknowledged our planet was on fire and began addressing that calamity. If we fail, there won’t be a transition. There will instead be a series of breaks and crises and abrupt change. Traumatic collapses that’ll dwarf all previous traumas this island has endured.  

Recently I was explaining to someone why turf had to go. She, her parents and her grandparents have always burned turf. Explaining the science was easy. It got difficult when we discussed the transition. What’s involved in retrofitting her house. The new heating system. The cost and who pays. The expertise involved in that retrofit. The expertise required to service and maintain the new technologies that will heat her house. The time frame. It got so complicated we circled back to why we need to try making all this happen. And we ended at trust. Does she, do I, trust that our betters will make this transition happen? Are they competent enough, honest enough and do they care enough to do this right? 

I voted in support of this government because the planet is on fire. We need to do so much that is complicated and new. And we have to do it quickly. To succeed, we need to do it well. We need to nurture the support and trust of those who will be called upon to embrace the changes required. 

I’m not angry at the show of contempt for all who have suffered during this pandemic. But I am working on that. This contempt is a poison that will destroy any remaining trust there is in those who govern us. Without that trust there can be no hope of managed change. No hope for solidarity and the communal agreement needed to deal with the climate crisis. I need to be angrier. 

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

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Green Party Rep

I’m the Green Party Area Representative for the Municipal District of Listowel i.e. north Kerry. Or in short, the Greens have not won a thing in north Kerry. How did I ascend to this exalted position? Well, I put my hand up in a meeting and said I’ll do it. As anyone who has ever been involved in any sort of voluntary organisation knows, that’s how shit gets done. The act of volunteering. Several acts to be more accurate. Showing up and volunteering for tasks, that’s what activism is. And I don’t mean just political activism. GAA clubs, Tidy Towns, literary festivals, charities, protest movements and, of course, political parties are all built on the backs of people who show up and say, I’ll do it.

North Kerry doesn’t have elected Green representation but there are Greens here. There are Green issues here and there is a Green perspective. My role is to try threading the needle of expressing that legitimate concern while being cognisant of my nonexistent mandate. It’s an awkward one. And weirdly made more difficult by our party being in government. One can have zero mandate, but also be blamed for any missteps the government makes. 

In my previous post on this topic, I explained I do not see the environment as an ideological issue. I’m not hugely interested in the environment. If our civilisation wasn’t threatened by our abuse of the environment, I would not be in the Greens. I’m still bewildered that the Greens have to exist. It’s as if we needed a political party whose entire raison d’être was explaining why cancer was a bad thing and promoting policies to avoid getting cancer. 

But I have to keep that bewilderment firmly under control. As we are continuing to learn in this internet age, facts don’t matter, especially facts that pertain to a decade or especially severely decades from now. 

A lot of time as a Rep is taken up with learning. I’m learning about the environment (as I said, I was never an environmentalist). I’m learning more about how the political process works (I thought I knew a lot already, but there’s so much more to it than I’d thought.) And I’m learning to have conversations with people where I listen. Yeah, I know. I’m not a fan of that, but it’s proving fascinating. 

North Kerry is part of the Golden Vale. An area of rich soil that favours dairy production. We produce a lot of milk. So, I’m speaking to farmers. This one group defines north Kerry more than any other demographic. And my conversations thus far have been enlightening. I’d presumed, wrongly, that they feared us. 

During the negotiations to form the government there was a push in Kerry, by most of the political establishment, to demonise the Greens. Our stand against Shannon LNG was seen as outside interference. We were portrayed as being anti-farmer. We wanted to eliminate cars. That we were Dublin suburbanites intent on making Kerry into a grand holiday park. Old school anti-green rubbish, but I thought it was quite effectively done. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn there was cross party cooperation on the attacks.

Obviously, it was mostly posturing aimed at their leaderships but it was also amusing to be the target of such nonsense. And encouraging. And as I said, I thought it was effective. But it wasn’t. In my conversations with farmers, they are well aware that something has to be done. They look at the same news as I do. They have children and grandchildren. They see what’s coming.

I don’t offer opinions or suggestions, yet. I grew up next to a farm. Helped out on that farm. But I have zero understanding of what it is like to be a farmer. I’m still learning. But I know nothing will happen in north Kerry without our farmers.

As well as speaking with people I have had to get on Facebook. One struggles to function in the modern political world with social media, especially Facebook. I have to post everyday just so the algorithm remembers who I am and puts my posts in front of people’s eyes. I’m serving a bloody algorithm. But as I’m not a celebrity I have to collect those likes, one at the time, building my profile one person at a time. 

It’s laborious but while I’m tempted to complain, I did volunteer for this.

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

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Being in Government

I haven’t blogged for a while. I’ve been adjusting to being in a party that’s in government. It’s a weird experience. The echo chamber that is my Twitter feed is suddenly a hostile environment. Though when I say hostile, I mean straight-white-left-of-centre-man-hostile i.e. slightly less idyllic. As I watch the government and my party suffer misstep after misstep, I have to remind myself I voted for this already dispiriting amalgam. I do not regret that decision. I’m just not enthused by the idea of having to wade through a few years of this nonsense to discover whether it was the right decision. 

I joined the Greens, not for ideological reasons, but because they are the only party that takes the climate crisis seriously. My thinking was that the entire thrust of the party should be to make itself obsolete. Mainstreaming action to combat the climate crisis should be our entire agenda. Once achieved we no longer need to exist. Weirdly, the fact we’ve returned from electoral wipe-out to 12 TDs is a testament to our failure to make the climate crisis the greatest issue of our time. I still can’t get my head around that. How is the climate crisis not the number one issue animating our civilisation’s policy makers? 

The thing I learned is, a lot of Greens also don’t see the environment as an ideological issue. Much the same way cancer isn’t ideological. But public policy responses to it is replete with ideology. 

One’s chances of surviving cancer varies from health system to health system, socio-economic background to socio-economic background and from government to government. Being rich is currently the most effective treatment for cancer. The second best is living in a country with a well-developed public health system. And what is a well-developed public health system? It is a decision. That’s all it is. A decision. A decision to spend vast sums of our money to look after us. And it’s ideological. I wish it wasn’t, but it is. And it’s not perfect. Being rich is still better, but depending on what country you’re in, the difference isn’t always huge. 

What I discovered in the Greens is the idea that while the climate crisis and the biodiversity crisis aren’t ideological, our responses to them absolutely have to be. We could ban all fossil fuels tomorrow and the impact would disproportionately fall on the poor. The planet would be saved, but for whom? Climate justice is about banning fossil fuels (sort of) but also about adjusting our society so the impact on the most vulnerable is at worst negligible and at best, life enhancing. You know, spending vast sums of our money to look after us. 

And going into power with parties that don’t care about the environment, our society’s most vulnerable or anything beyond the next election really, is a gamble. And it’s counter-intuitive. And I understand why many further to the left have jumped ship. This small party has to both mainstream the climate and biodiversity crises, begin re-engineering some very entrenched lifestyle choices and protect the most vulnerable among us. Failure is inevitable. A strong government would struggle to achieve all that. A small part of an apparently incompetent government? 

We are bound to fail. Thus, even when we are wiped out at the next election, we’ll be back at the election after that. That’s one of the reasons I have a fondness for the party; it’s unique disinterest in long term electoral success. It’s so bound up with the crisis that few others are concerned by, that it isn’t trapped in the electoral cycle.

So success or failure will not be judged by seats won or lost. When our time in this government ends, success or failure will be judged on whether we made ourselves a little bit less necessary or not. 

My hope is that we manage to put enough things in place, the next government is obliged to take the climate crisis and climate justice seriously. That we’ll have put enough things in place that people aren’t so spooked by the idea of not spending so much time in their cars. Enough things done that my party faces both an identity and an existential crisis.

Anyway, this is very broad strokes thinking. And also, a tad imprecise. But I’m hoping to get into the habit of writing on different aspects of being a rural Green Party activist. Governments come and go, but it’s the unelected weirdos (activists) who get them there. And I think that’s interesting.

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

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My Pride

Pride is an odd thing. A deadly sin. An award unlooked for, yet keenly felt. I look back at the Repeal campaign with nothing but pride. I try to be angry. The vituperation. The calumny. The stakes. Such high stakes. Not a wager I could lose, for my body was not in the game. A proponent yes, an active participant in the contest, but for my part, necessarily a mere game. I stood to gain nor lose anything of me or my rights. I am left with my pride. I helped. And nothing I ever do in life will ever have such consequence. I helped where others wouldn’t. I helped where those that needed help, risked all.

I am prouder of this than I can express in mere words. It comforts me now, no matter the vicissitudes, the normalcy, the ennui, there was a thing I did. And did well. It was both process and instances. I was there from the beginning. I suggested it. “Why not Kerry?” I said. Why not Kerry? Then Paula made it happen. The details, the innumerable details. All these, she met and ticked and identified the next. I am proud of my question.

I am proud of every door I knocked on. I am proud of every canvasser coached and every door they knocked on. I am proud of their politeness when politeness was not deserved. I am proud of every evening spent in expectation of abuse. I am proud of the mountains scaled. I am proud of the tallying of the count. I am proud of the reserve. I am proud that I now know people I scarcely deserve to know.

All this pride but there was this single moment where all that pride was distilled. When I tasted the purest form of pride. When I knew I had achieved more than I am ordinarily capable. I gave a speech at our celebration. Of course, I did. For weeks I had been preparing in my mind two forms of consolation. The lesser, a national victory but a local defeat. The greater, utter ruin. My sense of duty was such that I felt it my responsibility. That was pride and that was vain. It was not my place nor would I have had the words. The stakes were beyond my comprehension.

We were all there. Well fed. Exhausted. I thanked them all. So vain to think they required my gratitude. Then I referred to Paula. Who carried us all. Who made all possible. There was applause. Such applause. Even now my hackles rise at that great sound. Our leader given her due. And oh, the pride I feel still. That sound is my pride and joy. Her sacrifice of health and well-being. The scars still carried. If I live to be a hundred that sound will carry me on. My pride.

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In The National Interest

There are many who think it’s the Green Party’s duty to enter government with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Similarly, it is thought Labour and the Social Democrats should do what they can to facilitate a FF/FG coalition. Obviously, we need a government. The columnists insist that this be a strong and stable government. Strong and stable are words that appeal to their readers. No one speaks of coherent though.

The general election left us with two blocks in our parliament. For the first time since the creation of the State, we have a group of left leaning parties that have almost the same number of seats as the right leaning parties. This is amazing. For a political nerd like me it’s the realisation of a dream. Of course, for most of my life I had counted myself as being on the right of that divide, but more on that anon.   

This is no small thing. This is not esoteric naval gazing. At the heart of the left-right divide is the role of the State in our individual lives, in society and in the economy. It had appeared that the right had triumphed and for the last several decades we witnessed the retreat of the State. Something I was very happy about. Then there was the Great Recession and I had to reassess my ideology. I thought everyone would be doing so but ideological nerdishness is apparently a minority sport.

The smaller State allowed private enterprise run amok. Greed and inefficiency meant the State had to pick up the pieces. Something it periodically has to do whenever it leaves capitalism off the rein. I wasn’t happy coming to that realisation. Unfortunately, too many of us wear our ideology as an identity as opposed to a position constantly changing as more information becomes available. I had to accept that left to their own devices, people, will put self-interest so far in front of everything else, it’ll eventually burn themselves as well as everyone else. Much like what happened in our housing bubble.

As this pandemic burns across the globe we see which countries are doing better. Generally, they have well developed public health systems, there is some level of trust between the populace and their politicians and there’s an agreement that perhaps saving lives is more important than the economy.

That is not to criticise our caretaker government’s handling of the crisis. I’ll be honest, if Leo Varadkar retired from politics and ran for the presidency, I’d probably vote for him. Or at least give him a high preference. His dealing with the pandemic merits praise. He has proven himself to be competent enough to listen to experts. That may seem like a low bar for praise but look around the world. Listening to experts is no longer the norm. Graft and ideology are more important than mere facts.

But Varadkar and to a lesser extent, Michael Martin are of a mindset that has meant we are not necessarily in a position to save every life that needs saving. Our under-resourced health system is dealing with a generational crisis when it can’t even deal with seasonal flu. Yet a lot of people are making a lot of money off of the health system. The thousands of homeless people, needlessly homeless, are being sheltered, but why can’t they self-isolate like I do? In their own homes? How much money did landlords and hotels receive in the last ten years? Men, women and children stuck in Direct Provision Centres for unending years? Unable to self-isolate. Unable to social distance? Unable to cocoon? An industry created by our politicians.

It is a mindset that lauds the monetisation of misery. I wish this industrialised callousness was the result of corruption. I’d feel a lot better about the world if Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil politicians were found to be profiting from this misery. But they are not. This distortion of the social contract is ideological. They genuinely believe they are doing the right thing. They genuinely think they, and their parties, have been doing the right thing for the country. Ideology is their identity.

I joined the Green Party because I think if we don’t prioritise the environment today, then things like ideology and coalitions and duty to govern will soon become moot. And to prioritise the environment we must be in power. The dramatic changes that are necessary cannot be coaxed into existence from the opposition benches. But the change required to deal with the climate emergency will make what is happening now appear like the most minor of minor blips. We don’t have half a century of incrementalism left to us. We need the State to make decisions and take on responsibilities that make even a convert like me shudder. Because please remember, I may now be on the left but do I feel comfortable with the chancers we elect making vital decisions on my behalf? Fuck no. I’ve met several politicians in my life. The number that have impressed me I can count on one hand. And even then, I thought most of them were wrong.

The Greens could do very well in government. We’d have ministries, extra senators and access to hitherto unimaginable resources. But we would achieve so little with these two parties in charge that the whole point of being the Green Party would be lost. We want to save the planet. Yes, that sounds naive and saying it attracts scorn. But just like Varadkar, we listen to experts too. The planet does require saving. That’s not a left or right issue. It’s just a fact. Why most Greens are, in my experience, now on the left, is the realisation many of us have had, that unfettered capitalism is incapable of achieving our most basic goal, preventing the collapse of our civilisation due to climate change.

I don’t see how Green Party participation would contribute to a coherent government if its core ideology is so at variance with its coalition partners. I can’t see it. And if we are able to coalesce successfully with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, what does that say about us?

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Greens and Government Formation

We don’t have a government. Well, technically we do, but it wasn’t chosen by the current Dáil. Negotiations to form a new government have been interrupted and/or given an added impetus by the coronavirus pandemic. Varadkar and his caretaker cabinet have been doing ok though. He knows he can’t do anything that doesn’t have the overwhelming support of the Dáil so we have, in practice, a national government in place. It’s obviously not sustainable, but for now it’ll do. And while all organs of the State are bent on saving lives, politicians have to find the time to put together some sort of arrangement that will allow, sooner rather than later, for a new Taoiseach, a new cabinet and a new suite of policies to be elected by this Dáil.

I’m a member of the Green Party. Before the election I had hoped we would be required by either Fine Gael or Fianna Fail to form a government. We would drive a hard bargain and walk away if we couldn’t get exactly what we wanted.

I joined the Green Party because it is a coalition. All serious political parties are coalitions, but I think the breadth of ideologies in the Green Party is quite something. There are sections of the party I’d really like to see get in the sea. Some I’m glad didn’t win seats. But I don’t care about them. I joined the Green Party because it is a coalition of people who’d like to see states, societies and all humans begin to treat our planet as being the only planet we can inhabit. You know, the reality. I’ve no love for, nor loyalty to, the Green Party. I can’t even see it existing in ten to twenty years time. Either we’ll be so successful that our continued existence will appear anachronistic. Or we’ll fail and have nothing to contribute to the End Times but our lettuce.

I don’t care if we go into coalition with either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. Fianna Fáil was my first preference as they have no actual ideology other than a burning need to be in power. Fine Gael have an identifiable ideology. It’s wrong but they have something. And I say that as a former member of FG. That they learned nothing from the Great Recession astounds me. Their constant need to monetise misery, through Direct Provision and HAP, appals me.

Either would have been useful to us if they’d been suitably motivated. But together? In power with one of them, we’d have suffered at the next election. But together? We’d be wiped out at the next general election. Being wiped out isn’t the worst thing in the world. It would be inconvenient yes, but the inevitable lack of progress in moving the country towards dealing with the climate crisis and the biodiversity crisis? Now that would be criminal.

Which leaves us with Sinn Féin. I despise Sinn Féin and everything they represent. I’d hoped they would never get into power in my lifetime. Then they unquestionably won the last election. They may be criticised for their election strategy but every poll indicated they would have to work very hard to just hold what they had. No one predicated that the consistent failure, the ideologically motivated failure of FG and their cheerleaders in FF would move so many people to vote SF. I despise them but any government that doesn’t include them is a government the Greens cannot be a part of. They care as little for the environment as FG and FF and they are as desperate to be in power as FG and FF. But they won the last election, morally and in first preferences.

FG and FF cannot countenance including SF in government. I understand that. For ideological reasons for the former and existential reasons for the latter. And I dare say some would also argue for moral reasons. Instead they will throw money at certain constituencies to bring Independents on board and they’ll muddle their way through, for a time. Particular constituencies will end up with better roads than their neighbours because screwing over your neighbours is ok in this country.

The Greens will be in opposition. This is a good thing. So much bigger with vastly increased resources and a motivated base. We have a maximum of five years to prepare, to campaign, to educate, to learn and to be in a position where serious environmental policies will no longer scare and confuse the larger parties. Come the next election we will be asked to support either an amalgamated FG/FF or a Sinn Féin led administration. We won’t have lost ten years by being tied to the disastrously parochial government we are about to see cobbled together.

(But if there was to be a genuine national unity government that included Sinn Féin and at least one of the left of centre parties then I’d support the Greens being in that.)

 

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Wolves, Cars and the Greens

Image by Marcel Langthim from Pixabay

Would I like to see wolves reintroduced to Ireland? Oh yes! Would I like to see a 90% reduction in car numbers? Definitely. Would I prefer if Eamon Ryan didn’t mention these things? All day long. It’s not that I think he’s wrong. Far from it, he’s entirely correct to want more wolves and fewer cars. It’s just that I recently joined the Green Party and I live in North Kerry. I will probably spend the rest of my life campaigning there. My part of Kerry is rural, agricultural and has a pleasing green sheen to it. That there isn’t a single acre of undisturbed nature to be found in the region is generally ignored. My part of Kerry is unlikely to ever embrace environmentalism. It is too radical a departure from the lived experience here. I do not expect to have an easy time trying to convince people in Kerry that we need to change almost everything. That all we’ve taken for granted is actually harmful and wrong.

But that’s the future I’ve chosen. I looked at the multitude of horrors afflicting our species and decided that focusing my efforts on saving the species is what I wanted to do. Sounds melodramatic I know. The far left would prefer dismantling the entire capitalist edifice that is destroying our planet. There’s merit in that approach but look at how people react to fewer cars. To sharing cars. To wolves. I don’t think we have the time for that notion to gain purchase. The moderate left, the centre and the rational right prefer incremental change. Nudging people along in the hope that a gentle evolution will be enough to save the planet. There’s merit in that too. It’s democratic. But again, too slow. A planet-wide decision to embrace the utter collapse of our environment, the destruction of our civilisation and possible extinction, if a democratic choice, is a choice. It’s not entirely ridiculous to prefer death to change. It just needs to be an informed decision.

That’s why I joined the Green Party. To let people know how bad things are. Why they are so bad. And how to begin addressing the everything making things bad.

Wolves are good for the environment. Cars are death. I own a car. I live about five kilometres from my village. I’m about 15 kilometres from work. It’s 10 kilometres to where I walk my dog. My parents are three kilometres away. Living my life is wholly dependent on access to a car. Wolves wouldn’t survive in my part of Kerry as there is nothing here for them. Even the trees are mere crops.

The change required here is nearly unfathomable. Sharing cars and dedicated busses for every town and village is merely a beginning. Barely even a start.

But I still wish Eamon Ryan hadn’t said anything because explaining misunderstood and misreported things to people, on their doorsteps, is hard. Radical change is never popular. If it was it wouldn’t be called radical. And with every passing moment that radical will have to be more radical because the planet is literally on fire.

I don’t know the politics of other Green Party members. I choose not to care. I don’t even care who we choose to coalesce with. All that matters to me is that the Green Party becomes obsolete as quickly as possible. And the only way to achieve that is making not destroying the planet mainstream. Like not provoking old-age pensioners. As obvious a policy as subsidising the horse and greyhound industries. As common or garden as pandering to any and all multinational corporations who might show an interest in us.

I still wish Eamon hadn’t said anything about cars and wolves. He was entirely correct but the reaction reminded me just how removed from reality people are. The species faces an existential threat yet sharing cars is what people choose to care about. I do not have a comfortable few decades of campaigning to look forward to.

 

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