datbeardyman

Less about the world, more about me.

Month: June 2011

Presidential Candidates

In October of this year, we will get to exercise that rarest of Irish electoral experiences, voting in a Presidential Election. It has been so long since we last did this, there are some who have forgotten how we choose our President. 14 years is indeed a long time between elections. Simply put, we get a ballot paper, like in a General Election and we number our preferences, just as in a General Election.

The only difference, is the level of difficulty in getting one’s name onto the ballot paper. In a General Election, one can be nominated by a political party, one can pay a several hundred euro deposit or one can get 30 fellow constituents to nominate you.

To gain a place on the Presidential ballot paper however, one must either be nominated by 20 sitting members of the Oireachtas, gain the support of four of the 34 Local Authorities or self-nominate, if one is the current President or is a former President, who has only served one term.

This October, we will be choosing the ninth person, since 1938, to be the President of Ireland and this person will be the first President elected, while Fine Gael are the largest political party in the country. This new President might also be the first ever Fine Gael President. How it must have rankled with the rank and file of Fine Gael, to have watched Fianna Fáil, all but monopolise this position for the last 70 years. Now however, they will get their opportunity to own the prestige of Presidency.

I for one would not begrudge them it. A few short months ago, almost 4 out of every 10 people who voted, put their trust in Fine Gael to sort out the incredible and disgusting mess left by Fianna Fáil. That’s nearly as many that once voted for Bertie Ahern. Fine Gael have become the largest Political Party, both locally and nationally, the Presidency is surely now their’s to lose?

Unfortunately, Fine Gael appears intent on winning the Presidency at all costs. It appears that they see the Presidency as a bauble for them to claim, another prerogative of the largest party. I thought Fianna Fáil were humiliated at the last General Election because of such presumption. I thought the electorate finally saw that Fianna Fáil had run this country for the benefit of Fianna Fáil. That in treating this country, its offices, resources and people as possessions, Fianna Fáil eventually ran this country off a cliff.

Did not nearly 40% of those who chose to cast a vote, not turn to Fine Gael for relief from this habitual and inveterate contempt. Did we not see in Fine Gael, men and women who were Irish and more, Irish democrats? Men and women who would attempt to save this Republic from the depredations of a felonious and fallacious Fianna Fáil?

Were we naive, we 25% of the electorate, who in voting for Fine Gael thought that they might hold to the high regard in which they were viewed? Or is this merely Fine Gael’s turn in the sun? Do they want the prestige, no matter who they walk over to get it?

As I write this, Fine Gael are bringing all their new found power to bear, to stop Independents running against them in October. Fine Gael control all but 13 of the Local Authorities and the Party has instructed its underlings to vote against all nominations for alternative candidates.

Are Fine Gael wrong to do this? If I was in Fine Gael I’d argue no. The more important question however is, are Fine Gael right to do this? Are Fine Gael right to exercise their legal right to crush opposition before it can even stand against them?

 To answer, one should look to Australia. That country, has as its Head of State, Queen Elizabeth II. Are Australians monarchists? Far from it, they are quite republican. The only reason they continue to retain something as ridiculous as a Queen, is that the people of Australia cannot agree on how to choose a democratically appointed Head of State. In short, they don’t trust their politicians to not sully the process.

The alternative is the German method. Does anyone even now who the German Head of State is? I had to look it up, his name is Christian Wulff. There is no popular vote, he is chosen by politicians and by politicians alone.

So the Head of State can be a prize of birth, it can be the gift of politicians or it can be the democratic choice of the entire electorate. Ireland, in our wisdom, prefers to choose. Unfortunately we did not have the cynicism of Australians, to instinctively distrust the machinations of politicians. Thus our system allows politicians to subvert the spirit of our Presidency. They are busy trying to diminish democratic choice. They are busy converting The Presidency from the jewel in Fianna Fáil ascendancy to a Fine Gael trinket.

In October there is a chance that we will have but two candidates, both firmly representative of our politicians and the politician’s world. I cannot be anything but dismayed at this prospect. When I go into that voting booth, I want to be faced with many and difficult choices. I want to have an active part in choosing the face of Ireland, the pinnacle of democrat representation, the symbolic leader of this Nation. I do not want and I hope many others do not want, to merely be expected to endorse the choices of our petty politicians.

Please join me in urging our politicians to allow us, as wide and as varied a choice as possible.

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Assisted Suicide

I am 37 and I have yet to experience the loss of a loved one. No one is missing from my life through death. I wonder how many people of my age, can say that? I do not say this to boast, but to illustrate how cosseted by life has been and how singularly unqualified I am to speak about death. I am however an inveterate blogger, so I’m going to write about it anyway. I do recognise though, that not having watched a loved one die and the fact I am healthy, does make my exploration of this topic, somewhat shallow.

From a theoretical and philosophical perspective, I have long supported the idea of assisted Suicide and Euthanasia. As an atheist I do not suffer the delusion of magical interdiction and as no one dear to me has ever had to face death, I have never had to be emotionally invested in the topic. Looked at, from a purely intellectual stance, Assisted Suicide and even Euthanasia are rational, logical and positive medical interventions.

The usual practice, when one encounters a device that is broken beyond repair, is to dispose of it. I can think of no examples where power is fed into a device just to create the illusion of functionality. When one then imagines that device as a living thing, the scenario becomes a practice in barbarity. A practice that our species would not countenance being inflicted on other animals. On the contrary, we would recoil in disgust if a dog owner, failed to spare their beloved pet, the pain of a prolonged and inevitable death. It would be viewed as a torture inflicted for the emotional surcease of a weak being. And if that person sought to justify their behaviour as being divinely inspired? Well, only sociopaths willfully inflict pain on animals to satisfy an emotional need.

Yes, I am being didactic and uncompromising about the theoretical right to die of theoretical living creatures. I could make also make a compelling argument for the systematic sterilisation of a huge number of adults. In my previous career I saw what adults did to children and any idealistic notions I had about procreation rights disappeared. I may no longer believe in those rights but I would still fight to defend them, simply because I would not trust those who would be making the decision to impose a sterilisation. I would not even trust myself to get those decisions correct every time.

For that reason my enthusiasm for Assisted Suicide is far greater than my tentative agreement with the practice of Euthanasia. It is the difference between a provision and an intervention. I see them as wholly separate services, though in reality they are not. They cannot be wholly separate as they intersect at two points. The first is that point, where someone who is availing of an Assisted Suicide, requires so much help to have their life ended that the service becomes indistinguishable from Euthanasia. The second point is consent. If someone has a Living Will which requests death in certain circumstances, does withdrawal of certain medical procedures constitute Euthanasia or Assisted Suicide?

That’s why I am more concerned about Euthanasia and more concerned with Assisted Suicide. Models for Assisted Suicide already exist, for example Dignitas in Switzerland. It is far from perfect. One has to travel, it is expensive but more importantly, it avoids any intersection with Euthanasia by only providing a service for those who can take an active role in the process. Unfortunately leading many with terminal and debilitating conditions, to suicide earlier than would be necessary, in a more understanding and flexible system.

Not having had to confront death may appear to be the biggest weakness in my argument, but there is a bigger one. What is it I am actually looking for? Am I arguing for a severely prescribed system of Assisted Suicide provision or am I looking for the widespread use of Euthanasia? I don’t know.


All that I am certain about, are my feelings now about a notional future circumstance. I am certain now, that I wish to exercise ultimate control over my fate for as long as I have the intellect to do so and that the wishes expressed when in full possession of my wits are respected when those wits desert me. I am certain now that the cessation of existence terrifies me, but to be prevented from the embrace of that nearing certainty, terrifies me more. I am certain now that my freedom to choose death, is more important than society’s desire to impose itself upon me.

 These are the things I feel now, untested and untried feelings. Watching Terry Pratchett’s documentary about Assisted Suicide was the nearest I have come to real death. The closest I have come to experiencing an examination of my opinions.

Watching Mr Smedley and his dignified, but ultimately disempowered wife, was so startling, so informative and so heart breaking. If you have not seen the documentary (and you really need to watch it) Mr Smedley suffered from Motor-Neuron Disease and had decided to seek the services of Dignitas to end his life, while still able to self-administer the poison. We watched him meet the doctor who signed-off on his decision and we saw him at the building where the suicide was to take the place. We watched him take the poison and we watched his moment of panic, before he went under.

 I have never watched a man experience his very last moments of consciousness before. It still haunts me. I had thought myself inured to such images. I am of the Pulp Fiction generation, I have watched tens of thousands of deaths in every imaginable way and no matter how arresting the images, Mr Smedley did cease to exist, I witnessed a real event and a possible future. Will I feel that moment of panic before I lose consciousness? How long would that moment seem to last, in my dimming mind?

 I am scared by death, my death and the death’s of those close to me. There is little comfort to be mined from my naturalistic view of life, especially as I know Death to be unavoidable and final. I can take some comfort in the fact that pain is an integral part of life, but it is no longer a necessary part of death. I can take comfort in the fact that science will do for me, more than even my grandparents could dream of, though it still cannot prevent the diseases of gradual death. I can take comfort in the fact that I have spoken at length, to those closest to me and I am confident that they would take what actions they could, to see my wishes fulfilled. I can take comfort in that fact that I am still relatively young and this issue remains largely theoretical for me.

Finally I can take comfort in remembering Mr Smedley and that momentary crack in his unerring bravery and resolve. My terror is not lessened, but having seen the path he laid out for those who would follow, at least now my terror is largely of the known, not the more terrifying unknown.

Ask me again however, when I have had my first experience of grief.

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David Norris

I must confess from the off, that I was supporting David Norris for the Presidency for all the wrong reasons. It is supposed to be an office shorn of petty politics and ideology, the President is expected to be the symbol of Ireland, our representative to the world, the embodiment of us. To be honest I couldn’t care less about the Presidency though of course I will vote, it is the least duty of democracy.

I supported David Norris because the symbolism of his possible candidacy and possible victory are so incredibly political and divisive that I was moved to see the Office of President as having meaning at last. A gay man, a man enjoying but second class citizenship, to become the first citizen of a still overwhelmingly Catholic country, is a wonderful irony to contemplate and anticipate. Not that him winning would indicate final defeat for the godly conservatives. I fear his victory, while indicative of a liberal advance, would symbolise more our growing disillusionment with main stream politics and its apologists.

What shocked me about Senator Norris’ campaign was that he looked like he might actually win. All my prejudices about Irish conservatism were looking as if they might be challenged and ultimately overturned. Then reality kicked in. Apparently Senator Norris is not only gay, but something of a moral relativist and worse, he is not a house trained homosexual, he views sexuality as an immense spectrum, without fast and simple rules, without predetermined rights and wrongs, without comfortable facts and mores.

Instead of being a man and just thinking about sex, he thinks about sexuality. The conservatives may have lost the power to destroy him for his homosexuality, Ireland appears to have progressed to the point where this difference can be accepted, incorporated and co-opted into our faux cultural identity, but don’t, just don’t ask questions like why is incest wrong and why is there an Age of Consent and why is it 17?

I fear that Senator Norris will not now, nor ever be, the President of Ireland and for the first time that actually matters to me. Rubbing the conservatives’ noses in the dirt would have amused me, but President Norris, our first citizen would still have been a second class citizen. That nonsense and that war should have ended in the last century. And in this century we could have begun to ask the difficult questions.

Questions, questions and even more questions, these are why I now support Senator Norris whole heartedly. I am a moral relativist, or at least I try to be, though it does not come naturally to me. I try to hold to Socrates’ dictum of an examined life. Again this does not come naturally to me, I instinctively prefer answers to and than questions. I instinctively prefer the argument, not its purpose. I instinctively prefer certainty, as most people do. Senator Norris is a man who asks not dictates.

Thus I do not think that Senator Norris has anything to answer for. I would instead suggest that he is merely asking a better quality of question than we are accustomed to. This is especially true when it comes to sexuality. Questions we must confront if our laws and customs are to have any meaning and strength.

To that end I will offer 20 questions on this subject, which I do not think can be appropriately answered with a simple yes or no. If we don’t at least examine them in the cold light of unfettered reason, we will continue to believe in things that were decided for us and was it not for that reason, our country ended up in the mess it is in today?

If you do think you can offer simple yes and no answers, please add them to the comments section.

  1. Why do we need an age of consent?
  2. How do we decide what this age should be?
  3. Who decides what this age should be?
  4. How do we define the ability to consent, if there is no recourse to chronological age?
  5. How does one explain the immense disparity in ages of consent over time and in different cultures?
  6. If we are all individuals why are we insisting on the blunt instrument of a ‘number’ which all must adhere to, regardless of intellect, maturity or desire?
  7. As we are sexual beings from birth how do we respect and affirm this aspect of our identity at all ages?
  8. Do Age of Consent laws serve more to make things easier on parents and society than to protect children?
  9. How do legal interventions serve to facilitate young people exploring their sexuality?
  10. Why do we have laws against incest?
  11. Like consent, why does our definition of and attitudes to incest vary over time and culture?
  12. Why is it still permitted to prohibit what consenting adults do in private?
  13. Are the strictures against incest motivated by a desire to see less genetic mutation?
  14. If we fear genetic damage because of consanguinity and legislate to that end, should all prospective parents be subject to ‘genetic counselling?”
  15. If ability to consent is an issue, do we prevent people with learning disabilities to fully explore their sexuality?
  16. If genetics are an issue do we also prohibit people with learning disabilities from having babies?
  17. Why in the twenty-first century do so many of us react with horror to important questions around the sexuality of children?
  18. Why in the twenty-first century do we allow the attitudes that have not served us well in the past to continue to inform our attitudes today?
  19. Why do we allow the authorities of old, that served us so poorly, to still have a say in this debate?
  20. Why do we equate permission with permissive, questioning to abandoning and sexuality to loss of innocence?

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