datbeardyman

Less about the world, more about me.

Year: 2014 (page 1 of 2)

Secularism?

Gandalf knows I’ve little interest in competitive 1916ing. I would avoid the sport altogether, except it does provide an opportunity for a little thought experiment. Imagine a class of 35 teenagers is asked to write a short essay about what it means to them, to be Irish. That is 35 individual perspectives on Irish identity.

Now before you read the essays, ask yourself the following questions; if you disagree with an opinion, does that mean the teenager is wrong? How much uniformity do you hope to see in the essays? Will the essays be much different to what would’ve been written ten years or fifty years ago? If different, is this a good or a bad thing? Will you value the opinions of the new Irish as much as the old Irish? Do you think you’ll be able to detect differences based on gender, income, sexuality, race and religion? Do you think this class of teenagers would write the same thing in ten or fifty years from now?

What I’d hope this experiment would successfully demonstrate, is the fluidity of Irish identity. I would also like to think (and I’m open to contradiction here) is that there is now greater variation in today’s multitude of Irish identities than there has ever been since the foundation of the State.

I happen to think that’s a positive development. I remember when I was in school, we were taught that one of the causes of The Great Famine was monoculture i.e. an over reliance on one crop. I can’t help thinking that the dreary sameness of Irish culture up to quite recently, had a part in producing a State seemingly incapable of dealing with crises or indeed difference.

That’s possibly why I react so negatively to 1916ing. I keep hearing so many different people insisting that their 1916 is the most authentic and that all you other 1916s are revisionist, reactionary, counter revolutionary, and not the right sort of patriot. And if you even question the motives of the 1916ers themselves, well then you’re clearly a West Brit hankering for a return of the Irish Raj.

It is as if demonstrations of physical bravery sanctify actions however misguided. This deathly piety, infects and animates both left and right with equal vigour. Will those who died in the crossfire of this ‘idealism’ be remembered? Will those who were maimed in a cause they did not support be afforded equal respect? Of course not. All that matters is that we wave the flag and insist 1916 means such and such a thing.

What the fuck, you may be asking, has this got to do with secularism? Well let me explain. Traditionally, when an Irish atheist speaks about secularism, we tend to simply attack the Roman Catholic Church. It’s almost a reflex at this point. Any and all demonstrations of Catholicism provokes us. We use terms like ‘sky wizard’ and ‘flat earthers’ and ‘Bronze Age inspired homophobes’ (ok I just made that last one up, but you get the picture).

Has this ever proven useful? I fear it hasn’t. It inspires a defensiveness we’ve never really been able to overcome. And when we resort to seemingly neutral terms like ‘rights’ ‘equality’ ‘pluralism’ and the ‘UN’ we very much meet the same reaction; this is a Catholic country and if you were in Saudi Arabia you’d know your place.

This failure, no our failure, was brought home to me by a recent incident in my own county of Kerry.

A cross at the top of Kerry’s Mount Carrauntoohil, was vandalised, cut down by someone who climbed the mountain with an angle grinder. Now my first reaction was, there’s a cross at the top of Carrauntoohil? Followed by a shudder, then the thought, is there any where in this country free from these Catholic symbols?

Then something unpleasant occurred to me. What if this was one of our lot? And I use ‘our lot’ in the broadest sense, meaning anyone who might have been motivated by secularism, atheism or anything similar. I prayed to the gods I don’t think exist, that this would prove to be a work of pure vandalism or even perhaps a rather energetic environmentalist. Gandalf knows we could do with more environmentalists in Kerry.

I’m ashamed to admit, that I even momentarily hoped it was of one the many victims of the Irish Catholic Church, exacting some revenge. An unworthy thought. Being president is just not that important.

Soon after this, representatives of Atheist Ireland were interviewed on local and national radio stations. As a member for that organisation I was hoping they’d see the danger and opportunity this incident represented. I was sadly and emphatically disappointed.

No sympathy for the communities, who’d erected the cross, was offered. And worse, its restoration was questioned. I was appalled, still am. I engaged with Michael Nugent on Twitter, but I failed to make him realise how badly Atheist Ireland’s response reflected on us all. Worse, it now makes the removal of the crucifix in the Kerry County Council Chambers even less likely. The only response from Atheist Ireland should’ve been, ‘this is terrible and how may we help?’

The cross was put back up, in an almost secret operation, such were the fears of the local communities. Think on that. What hope does a secularist now have in engaging fruitfully with those people? They are actually scared of an organisation with next to no influence and even less power.

(As it happens, the vandal did turn out to have a gripe with the Catholic Church)

I let my membership of Atheist Ireland lapse. Its clueless and tone deaf behaviour shocked me too much to have anything else to do with it.

Thing is though, I still support its stated aims of promoting atheism, reason and an ethical, secular state.

I don’t actually wish to spread atheism, but I want everyone to be as familiar with it as they are the various Christian sects, Islamic traditions, Eastern philosophies, weird American cults, astrology and paganism. Which is to say, I’d like Irish people to be as equally ignorant of the several tensions that exist as atheism, as they are the about the divisions, contradictions and rivalries that exist within all the other groups. I want this for one reason and one reason only, so that we can make some progress in creating a truly secular state.

Why? Why this need for secularism? And where does having a go at the current fashion for 1916ing come into it? Be patient, I’m getting there.

Secularism is derided by both left and right as being innately conservative and far too radical. If the Marxists and reactionaries hate you, then you’re probably doing something right. The thing is, both are entirely correct.

Yes the cause of secularism is profoundly conservative. Look at us. We are almost exclusively white men, living comfortable lives. I am not fit to wash the feet of a secularist living in Saudi Arabia. I’d blush in the presence of a Russian secularist. And I’d be tongue tied if I met a woman secularist. In Catholic Ireland I must labour under the yoke of not being allowed be President, a judge or a member of The Council of State. Imagine my rallying call; come all, join me in my fight to have the theoretical right to a pointless, but well paid, office. Help, help, I’m being repressed.

And yet, the cause of secularism is profoundly radical. For there can be nothing sacred in a secular state. Not the right to have one’s opinions respected. Not the right to cut a small child’s genitals. Not the right to impose one’s beliefs. And never a right to state sanctioned privilege.

Those of us who identify as non-religious are a disparate lot. That which is the non-religious part of our identities, contributes to our Irish identities. To some, this is a defining feature, for others, it is but a tiny aspect of the over all. But we are about 250,000 of the population. That’s a big chunk of people.

On the other hand (as opposed to other side) there are the ‘still’ millions who identify as Roman Catholic. This group is as disparate as the many contradictions found among the non-religious. And again, in varying degrees, these multitudinous identities, influence their Irish identities.

That these identities are privileged is inarguable. That they represent the vast majority of identities, is without question. And that they have the weight of tradition and history behind them, is clear to all.

They are as entitled to the respect as this ‘militant’ atheist wishes he was afforded. But for secularism to succeed they will need to change, they will need to cede some of their power, they will need to accept uncomfortably new modes of behaviour. Their perception of Irish identity will need to broaden, in some cases, considerably.

But if they ask why they should change? Why should they give up anything? Why can’t things just stay the same?

Do I answer with, your God is a sham, I want to be president (in theory), the UN said so, in fact comparing ourselves to Saudi Arabia demonstrates such low national self-esteem you should probably seek help or because you’re just being mean not giving me my own way?

Thing is, there is no right answer. There is no silver bullet for convincing someone that the way things have been done for a century is discriminatory and worse, self defeating. Convincing someone of something, who doesn’t want to be convinced, is an exercise is such futility that one must grope for Greek legends for an appropriate metaphor.

And when that attempt is made with clumsy insensitivity, then that rock gets heavier and the hill steeper.

But is this a call for surrender? No. Far from it. Nor am I suggesting, hinting or even hoping that secularism is in anyway a natural progression and we need merely sit back and watch it grow.

Even in this time of competitive 1916ing and all the atavist nonsense that it entails, it is clear that Ireland has changed and is continuing to change. While people will (in these few nostalgic riven years) speak about the Irish character and Irish identity, the days of everyone following the flag, step in step (if indeed that ever existed) is long gone.

There is now, no Irish identity. And if anyone tells you there is, they probably trying to sell you something. There are many identities, many cultures, many ways at looking at the world and now, several opportunities for minorities to assert their claim to equal treatment and esteem.

And yes, that implies I am putting the non-religious into the category of oppressed minority. And yes, I am. But quell your ire, for this is the key point I am struggling to make in this overly long post. There is a queue of minorities, all standing and waiting or marching and demanding equality. All looking for their threads in the tapestry of Irishness to be recognised. The non-religious absolutely belong in that queue, but near the back. And while standing and waiting (occasionally raising our hands to remind people we are here) our main focus should be in supporting those people ahead of us is the queue. Because if and when we’re the only ones left, we won’t even have to ask anymore.

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A view of the water charge protestors

First things first, a few disclaimers. I have a water meter and I signed up to pay the charges. Paying won’t be easy, but I will. I’m a member of Fine Gael and I also supported two of the previous three governments. Finally, I entirely agree with the concept of paying for the amount of water I use

So there are my cards on the table.

It’s also important to note that I think if this government falls because of the water charges controversy, they will have entirely earned that calamity. Even if I am knocking on doors, canvassing for a Fine Gael candidate, I won’t be pretending Fine Gael and Labour acted sensibly. Everything about the setting up of Irish Water smacks of arrogance, incompetence and noxious presumption. When a government fails to fear its electorate, then it’s time for that government to get a firm slap or go.

This blog post however isn’t about the prospects of an early general election. I want to write about who I think the protesters, who have thronged our streets, actually are. And for all of Fine Gael and Labour’s fault, they did finally provoke 100s of 1000s of people into protesting. A fitting epitaph, if one is soon required.

Obviously, as a member of Fine Gael, I am expected to rail against the ‘sinister elements’ that are piggy backing on public discontent to ferment anarchy and threaten our very existence. Pure bollox, but it’s a good lie because it resonates. It resonates with me, even though I know it’s bollox.

The attack on Joan Burton did shake me. I despise, with all my being, anyone who uses physical violence to make a political point. I am quite content to get all reactionary conservative on people who indulge in those kind of antics. It is not correct however to seek to understand the multitudes who are protesting, by referencing a fringe of a fringe.

I will not discount them entirely. But a tiny few organised thugs combined with some easily led (or eager to be led) young men, hungry for action, is in no way representative of so many people from all over the country. They are just not prevalent enough to tar such a huge movement.

So to my list of participants.

I will begin with those who actively (which does not equate to violently) seek to overthrow our system of government and uproot its foundation stones of democracy and capitalism. I’m talking about the Far Left and the even further left. Marxists, Trotskyites, communists, anarchists and various other labels I don’t understand, even after consulting Wikipedia. Fortunately, for this democrat and capitalist, they are few and far between. I’m glad they exist though. Capitalist democracy is far from perfect and is often guilty of missteps. If nothing else, a radical and explicable alternative, waiting to pounce if our democracy loses popular support, should help keep anyone with a vested interest in the status quo, honest.

The second group are the political opportunists. I would put Sinn Fein, various independents and shameless members of Fianna Fáil into this category.  I can’t criticise any of these groups for this. Water Charges are not some social or moral issue that must be supported by decent folk. It’s merely a money raising scheme, with some theoretical environmental and state finances benefits. If opposition politicians didn’t jump on this issue and use it to beat the government with, then this country would be in a worse state than it already is. Now, I’m not saying I’d trust anything these opportunists say, but if protests of this size had no politicians involved, then democracy, as I understand it, would be in serious trouble.

The third group are those who are taking a principled stand against what they understand to be a double taxation (triple if you throw in the Household Charge and quadruple if you include the USC). It’s difficult to argue against this. We’ve paid for water through general taxation since 1973. Now we are expected to pay for it again, but with no discernible decrease in income tax. The answer given, is that our water system has been so neglected, that we need extra money to fix it. It’s a compelling argument, unless one asks why has it been allowed to deteriorate so badly? Then politicians are forced to look at their feet and suddenly remember a pressing engagement elsewhere. It has been neglected for one reason and one reason only, there were no votes in it. The vast majority of us have been getting more or less drinkable water for decades, so why promise to spend money on something not yet in crisis? But now the crisis has arrived. And it’s arrived during an economic meltdown. Who’s going to pay for the decades of neglect, those politicians who prioritised elsewhere or the ordinary citizen? Exactly.

The fourth group are the people who simply can’t pay this new charge. If you need that explaining to you, then you probably stopped reading at the part where I didn’t give the leftists a bit of slipper.

The fifth group are the citizens who probably can pay, but have this feeling in the pit of their stomach that tightens when they think of the so many billions of euro that have already left Ireland to pay bank debts. Ordinary people, with reduced standards of living, people who got nothing from The Boom. The people who have lost family members to emigration, lost family members to suicide, lost their homes, face the prospect of losing their homes, have gone hungry to keep their homes, people who are forced into internships, the people who are losing hope that this iniquitous austerity will one day end. The response of Fine Gael and Labour to this, is a blind faith that more and more low-paid jobs, in a possibly improving economy, will cause enough people to forget that we’ve been royally and systematically screwed. And it’s a policy that may succeed. I’m hoping it does to be honest, but I wouldn’t put any money on it.

The sixth and final group are the ‘enough is enough’ people. This is pretty self-explanatory. Fine Gael and Labour promised all sorts of utopian nonsense at the last election. They won a huge majority, yet instead of radical change, the most they appear to be able to do is ‘the best small country in the world in which to do business.’ Has there ever been a rallying call so uninspiring? Worse, it is now virtually impossible to distinguish this government from the governments (the ones I supported don’t forget) who destroyed our country and condemned so many to poverty, immigration and despair. Enough should certainly be enough.

These groups are not discrete. They overlap in several places, but for the most part, they feel they have a genuine grievance with those elected to govern this country through an existential crisis. And they have enjoyed a certain degree of success. The government has already backed down once, quite considerably too. Unfortunately, it appears that this government thinks it has moved far enough. Almost a million households have signed up for the charges. This has all the appearance of overwhelming compliance, which the government presumes to mean satisfaction.

But I can’t help thinking they’ve misunderstood the multifaceted and complex motivations of the protesters. Or worse, they have understood and have decided to now only concentrate their efforts on appealing to their base. If that is the case, this government, which I wish to support, will end, being thought of as even worse than the previous one.

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Well I finally did it.

Well I finally did it. I ticked another item off my ‘oh my Gandalf I’ve turned 40 and I’m going to die’ Bucket List. On Tuesday, November 4, I performed a five minute stand-up comedy set in the Ha’Penny Bridge Inn.

It went well. It went very well.

I’ve been going on about this event for weeks. I shudder to think about how many people must have muted me, on Twitter, to protect themselves from my incessant neediness. On the night, despite my near overwhelming nerves, I could not help but be moved by the wonderful, generous and beautiful people of Twitter who turned up in such large numbers to support me.



Not only did the denizens of Twitter show up. Friends and family, from Dublin, Meath and Kerry did me the great kindness of paying good money to endure what could’ve been an immensely uncomfortable disaster. In attending, some of my family did experience an excruciating calamity. The MC, Ruairi Campbell, realised Kerry people, all related, were in attendance. Kerry jokes about cousins abounded

The night began with an improv group. I found myself tuning out as the realisation hit me, I would actually be standing up to make a roomful of people laugh. I tuned back in when the excellent Eleanor Tiernan did a few minutes of new material. She was very funny. Then I tuned back out. Ordinarily I might have tried some Dutch Courage, but an experienced comedian had advised against it. I suppose being a shambles is forgivable, but being a drunk one is just downright disrespectful.


I had prepared a seven minute set, but as things were running late, we were asked to reduce our sets to five. I gotta say, this really worked in my favour. I was so nervous I forgot bits. This led to my timing being perfect as part of my act involved relating a particularly filthy story about me, which would be interrupted by a timer I had on stage. The problem was, people took it as a genuine interruption and urged me to continue. I had to explain I never intending telling the story.

What I remember of the performance itself? Expending a great deal of effort on appearing calm. Remembering a lot more of my material than I thought I would. Thank you to the comedian who told me to rehearse. A lot. And even then, I think I should have rehearsed more. I remember the laughter but I wasn’t in the moment enough to really take it all in. And I remember the applause at the end.


I went outside to calm down a bit, then returned to watch the final comic, Oisin Hanlon. Now he was genuinely funny.

When we had all done our bit, the MC did the ‘victory by acclaim’ thing. More than half the people left in the room were friends and family of mine, so victory was assured. Though it was a close run thing. Oisin was that good. I even got a certificate, which I will be framing my certificate.

 

Then I got to thank everyone who turned up. Some weren’t surprised it went well. Others were hugely relieved I hadn’t died on my arse. My partner could finally admit how nervous she had been a fact she’d successfully hidden from me from the very moment I embarked on this ridiculous venture.

I couldn’t relax for hours after. It was a wonderful adrenalin rush. I now understand why comics would choose (or be drawn against their will) to a way of life that is so financially precarious.

What have I learned? First and foremost, I learned I have the coolest friends on Earth. That memory will stay with me forever. Second, I’m really good at appearing calm, even when I’m shaking with nerves. Third, I can write stuff that’s funny. As long as it’s about my deteriorating body. Finally I learned I want to do it again. I want to do it again, but be more aware of the audience and more aware of how I am feeling when I am on stage.

So that’s it. Another item ticked, a new experience experienced, something new learned, and most importantly, a new item added to my over all Bucket List; finding out if I can be any good at stand-up comedy. Well not exactly good at it, I’ll settle for being on stage and not being so nervous I have to shut down whole parts of my brain.

The very kind Ruadhri Ardiff recorded my few minutes. (May not be safe for work, depending where you work)


  


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Kerryman letter re atheism.

As appeared in Letters – The Kerryman – 14 October 2014 edition.
 
Reading Father Brian Whelan (October 1) I was amazed by how defensive he seems. One would think we weren’t living in a country with a sectarian constitution that bars atheists from high office; a country with a church dominated education system. How scared he seems to be of a noisy minority, despite the many privileges afforded his church.
 
To me his complaints and concerns about atheists seem bizarre given that a prince of his church, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, suggests that atheists are not fully human.
 
Father Whelan is free to believe in the unseen and is supported by the laws and institutions of his country in that decision. Let him try not being a part of the majority tradition for a while, then he might have something to complain about.
Kerryman 21-10-14

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Am I islamophobic?

Am I islamophobic? I’m not sure. As I’m not sure, I should try unpacking the term a little. Does islamophobic speak to an irrational fear, much the same as my fear of spiders? A fear that even makes me a little suspicious of people who are not afraid of spiders. A fear that makes me vacuum my ceilings more assiduously than my floors. Actually I’m not beginning at right place. First is islamophobia primarily a fear of Muslims or is it more concerned with Islam?

Or is islamophobia more akin to homophobia? The term homophobia (no matter the lies of homophobes) has evolved to mean an attitude toward gay people, that is similar to the view racists have towards people of colour and misogynists and sexists have towards women.

So am I islamophobic? I still don’t know.

I know that Islam scares me a bit as it has illiberalism sown into its very fabric. Then again, Roman Catholicism is similarly inimical to liberalism yet I am not scared of Roman Catholicism. More than that, I have no problem attacking the horrible nonsense that Roman Catholicism professes as truth.

There are people who think Islam is a particularly violent and dangerous religion. That it inculcates its adherents from any regard for reason or compromise. It’s not a difficult conclusion to reach if one watches the news. The ‘Muslimy’ parts of the world are always providing us with terror, destruction and all things awful.

How could one not be scared by the wanton death and destruction?

Is islamophobia really that irrational then? Am I islamophobic?

I recently listened to Dr Ali Selim, extoll the virtue of increased inclusivity in Irish schools i.e. more should be done to cater to the religious prejudices of Islam. It’s not an outrageous request. Especially if one takes one’s religion seriously and when one is a minority in a sectarian country (as Ireland constitutionally and institutionally is). In this situation demanding space for one’s own religion is entirely correct.

Of course all I heard was his Islamic prejudices about girls, music and sex. The homophobia was unstated. I am after all a liberal so his words irked, perhaps even scared me a little. Islamophobic?

I am terribly vain, so vain that I like to think of myself, (vain and pretentious) as a tiny player in the somewhat inchoate campaign to counter the misogynist, homophobic and anti-secularist tendencies that already exist in Ireland’s institutions and culture.

So I get a little freaked when I see the other side joined by a growing and very self-confident interest group, which has at its core an irredentist religiosity that would make even the Iona ‘Institute’ blush. OK, maybe not them, but many other Roman Catholic interest groups.

And of course the horror we see on the news and the words opinions of Dr Ali Selim are entirely representative of Islam. They represent the thoughts, aspirations, prejudices and hopes of every man, woman and child in Ireland who adheres to whatever version of Islam they adhere to. Don’t they? Is that islamophobic?

Not being an expert on Islam, I have to ask if it is inherently violent or is Islam merely the religion of the majority of people unfortunate enough to find themselves residing in a region, where despots are kept in power by governments from my liberal part of the world?

I don’t know the answer to that. I do know that I can’t think of any religion without an ocean of blood occupying the space their consciences should be. Nor can I think of any time in history where oppressing people didn’t require overwhelming violence and the judicious use of idealism/religion.

But what of Dr Ali Selim and his call for girls to be separated and/or to be allowed hide themselves in religious garb. He pushed my buttons. Am I islamophobic?

Our education system is, for the most part, predicated on the concept of religious indoctrination. It’s built into the daily timetable. It’s just that it’s not his religion being poured down the throats of children, so his demands are perfectly reasonable. Well, perfectly reasonable if the aim is to separate our children from as early an age as possible.

His words irked, even scared me, because their intent is to increase exclusion, but more, his words made me uncomfortable because well I forgot something important, two things actually. First, Dr Ali Selim was hawking a book and second, being on the radio does not equal representation.

I know this because I have been on the radio several times speaking about atheism and will be again. I’ve even had a weekly newspaper column where I got to extoll the virtues of atheism. And of course both these platforms are perfectly meaningless.

Am I representative of Irish Atheism? Of Kerry Atheism? Of any atheists? I figure about a dozen atheists know me by name and most of them think I’m a bit of a dick. So who or what do I represent?

I represent the men (it’s mostly men) who love the sound of their own voices so much that they call radio stations and write to newspaper editors. I am, in fact, a loudmouth with a surfeit of opinions. I may firmly believe that I would feel more comfortable living in a secular republic, but I have no proof anyone else would.

Radio stations don’t go out onto the street and ask random people, ‘are you an ordinary atheist’ or ‘are you an ordinary Muslim‘ and then invite them to speak about their concerns. What they get are the loudmouths. And it doesn’t matter how sincere the loudmouths are, we are outliers. So I can dismiss Dr Ali Selim.

But an emotion was provoked, does that mean I am islamophobic?

I don’t know. I don’t get to say some of my best friends are Muslims because none of my friends are Muslim. But I can surmise, based on my opinion of my friends who profess a faith in Roman Catholicism, that I am not entirely without prejudice.

I do have Roman Catholic friends, but I struggle to imagine sharing my life with one. I just can’t imagine the coming together of such disparate world views.

I’ve seen it done, yet it still seems too unlikely to me. I’d feel the same about someone who believed in homeopathy or paganism or someone who thinks nationalism is anything more than a hobby to be indulged in on weekends.

Is it naive or cynical to think love does not conquer all?

So am I islamophobic? I’m not sure I can say without a shadow of a doubt that I’m not.

I do know for a certainty that I fear the addition of even more religiosity in an already overwhelmingly religious nation. I know I fear certain aspects of Islam and I fear the energy Muslims may give to the Roman Catholic conservatives who already have their feet on the throats of women and LGBTQ people.

I am also subject to my own values, and those values do not allow for prejudice against minorities. And in my world, Muslims do constitute a minority. In my world Muslims should be as loud, proud, pushy and obnoxious as any culchie atheist shouting for more secularism in this god ridden country.

So yes, I think I may be islamophobic, perhaps a little less than I was yesterday, but the prejudice is there. It’s there, living right beside an obligation to do something about it.

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Eighth Amendment? Women deserve better.

As appeared in Letters – The Kerryman – 10 September 2014 edition.

Over the past few decades an unknown number of Chinese women have been forced to have abortions. This is because the Chinese government has a strict one-child policy. It is rightly condemned as a barbaric practice. We all agree women deserve better than this.

When the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act passed last year, I imagined Ireland was going to treat women better. I was wrong. Women can now be forced to continue with pregnancies they wish to end. They can be threatened with force-feeding and pressured into consenting to major surgery. Don’t women deserve better than this?

Why do some women in Ireland now face forced births? Is it simply the result of bad legislation? Is it because our politicians are too cowardly to offend the people who favour forced births? Or is it because they don’t think women deserve any better?

All law concerning women’s reproductive health has since 1983, been subject to the Eighth Amendment. No one under 49 years old has been offered the opportunity to remove that Amendment. Not a single woman of reproductive age has been able to vote on the Constitutional Amendment which limits their access to reproductive care. Surely those women deserve better?

If our politicians remain steadfast in their cowardly refusal to address the Eighth Amendment they could at least seek to reduce the harm caused by the resultant legislation. We now know that only girls and women in poverty or in the care of the State are unable to travel to the UK for abortions. The government has it within its power to ensure no woman is denied an abortion because of financial straits or citizenship issues.

It is the very least that women deserve from a government who refuses to offer them a genuine choice.

Kerryman 10-09-14

 

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If not the Eighth, then perhaps this?

I don’t yet fully know how I feel about a rape victim being forced to continue with a pregnancy until a caesarean birth was imposed. That this victim of rape, pregnancy and birth was abused by legislation I supported, makes sorting out my feelings that bit more difficult.

During the fraught passage of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, I opined that no one with suicidal thoughts should go near this legislation. What I failed to understand, was that poor women, girls in the care of the State and those mired in the asylum-seeking system, would have no choice but subject themselves to the vicious clauses of this law. A law I supported.

Now that this glaring inadequacy has been revealed in its nasty imposition, I am left hoping that this government, this government which I support, will do something. I am left hoping that a class of men and women, defined by cowardice and an aversion to controversy, will ameliorate the fully realised implications of this law.

It is not that this law denies choice, it is that this law only denies choice to the poorest and most vulnerable. A law I supported. Does this mean that I’m urging our politicians to finally grasp the nettle of the Eight Amendment?

No. I may as well urge a leopard to change its spots. The government I support will not risk the ire of those who now applaud forced pregnancies. I can understand why. It will only lose votes in this. Principles are of no use in opposition or worse, when one is without a seat.

But there is a way to demonstrate some kind of recognisable morality, while maintaining the sick practice of out-sourcing Irish abortions to the UK, but that also keeps the forced births brigade almost quiescent. All this government must do, this government I support, is pass legislation which recognises and ensures all women, whatever their circumstances, financial, legal, nationality, mental state or age, have an equal right to access reproductive services in the UK.

There will be dramatic consequences to this I know. Children accompanied by carers, women in handcuffs, women being means-tested, all accessing abortion paid for by Irish taxpayers. It’ll mean expediting all requests by asylum-seekers to prevent the risk of forced births. It might even go as far as requiring the State to purchase a clinic in the UK, for the sole purpose of providing abortions for women being supported by this State.

I would prefer living in a reality where our politicians thought to ask the people their opinion on the Eighth Amendment. I would support asking that question. I just don’t see it happening before more women are forced to continue with unwanted pregnancies for no other reason than a lack of funds or the freedom travel routinely between EU States.

In the absence of principle and backbone, I would be more than happy to support our politicians throwing money at this problem. It is a temporary solution (though politicians may think otherwise), but it is at least more realistic, for now.

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Truth and Tuam

Ever since Tuam, the overnight sensation that took 40 years to break, broke there have been calls for investigations and enquiries. Making me wonder, to what end? I’m not suggesting we leave the past in the past. Far from it. I just want to know what it is we want here?

Do we want an investigation to merely compile a list of all those survivors (and their descendants?) who must get compensation? Would we be looking for reasons why our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents appeared to hate sex so much? Or was it women they hated? Do we hope to discover even more incidents of Roman Catholic amorality? Will we finally know how little the State cares for the poor? Are we looking for reassurance that we are better people now than we were then? Do we think if we just know everything that happened, we can be certain to not repeat those mistakes? Or is it merely a macabre need to know all about those particular baby bones in Tuam.

I’ll be honest, my interest is mostly Discovery Chanel, Police Procedural, Mystery Novel reading, morbid curiosity. I want a forensic pathologist or perhaps a forensic anthropologist (I don’t know what the difference is) to lead a team of experts, who will carefully retrieve, catalogue and investigate each of the bones in whatever that is in Tuam. Then I want them to work with archivists to create a broad picture of what happened in that unhappy place and put together a data base of every single person who went through the doors of that particular institution.

After that, the sociologists, historians, apologists, politicians, lawyers, bloggers and talk-show hosts can begin the task of generating interpretations and consequences. What will most likely happen (and what in fact is happening, and I say this as a wannabe columnist) is the commentary will come before the science. So much heat and noise, that we’ll have no energy, interest or resources to do the actual forensic work. For example, has a single bone been examined by a scientist? Not that I’m aware of.

I’m as guilty of this as everyone else. I’ve written one blog post on Tuam and have written 3000 words of another blogpost on the same topic and yet no one with a white coat, white wellingtons and little trowel and brush is slowly unearthing those bones.

Must everything we do in this country be half-arsed? What is the point of a Departmental paper search, or a Judicial Review or even a list of death certificates? There is a pit of possibly human remains that may date from as recently as 60 years ago and the response has been bureaucracy. No, a parody of bureaucracy.

I love pointing the finger at Roman Catholic cruelty. I get a kick out of pointing out the inherent nastiness of conservatism. I enjoy seeing wronged people given justice. I think history is vital to understanding the present. I think sociology has a lot to teach us. And I love the sound of my own voice.

But just this once, can our dim-witted State send in a few bloody experts to actually see what, and possibly who, is buried in Tuam. If not the State itself, let it invite the Discovery Channel or Time Team or the archeology Department in Trinity to do the work. I bet they’ll be a damn sight cheaper and infinitely more useful than the gravy train of an ‘official enquiry.’ Most importantly, they might actually find some truth.

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Tuam and the death of empathy

It’s not easy coming to terms with mass graves. A mass grave always denotes a tragedy of some sort. Be it war, genocide, epidemic, famine, earthquake or tsunami, it takes a disaster of epic proportions for us to dispense with the individual care our species routinely pays to its dead.

In Tuam there is a mass grave of babies. The pit in which they were disposed was a septic tank.

The normal response to such a departure from common decency is shock and horror. Followed by a call for justice. Who were these monsters who would fling dead infants into a shithole, a pit already clogged with the tiny bones of hundreds of dead babies? Let these demonic creatures be named and shamed and the sick philosophy which inspired them, be enjoined to perpetual silence.

A mass grave of babies. What ravening savages could visit such wanton destruction to common decency?

That is the difficulty here. This wasn’t an invasion. This wasn’t alien. This was the work of hundreds of ordinary women. This was the work of hundreds of women who were taught a thing no one should ever be taught. They were taught to not feel empathy. Difficult to do?

People are generally not cruel to people. In World War II, the Germans didn’t gas people, they killed untermensch. In Rwanda the Hutu did not massacre people, they killed cockroaches. Christians didn’t murder people, they burned heretics. Americans didn’t wipe out people or keep people as slaves. They civilised savages and owned livestock.

In Tuam and in an unknown number of other locations, ordinary women were taught that the children in their care were other, were less. The ordinary rules of empathy and decency need not apply. As each creature died, it could be disposed of without the ritual and reverence we would give the meanest murderer.

Ordinary women. Ordinary women taking babies from other ordinary women. Throwing dead babies into pits. Ordinary people being extraordinarily callous.

How far is the journey from normal empathic responses to a vulnerable baby, to dismissing it as a farm animal, or a demon or an insect? I do not like the term ‘evil’ as it has supernatural connotations, but if I had to use it, it would be to describe that journey.
Imagine looking after babies. Ordinary, noisy, smelly, snotty, perpetually hungry babies. Then imagine if you can, the kind of teaching that would be required to make you see those children as slightly less than human. Just ‘other’ enough that their cries of illness or hunger never quite reach you as the cries of a ‘normal’ baby would. Just ‘lesser’ enough that when it dies you could dump it into a septic tank and still sleep well that night.

Now we have a mass grave filled with the tiny bones of dead babies. And I am left wondering about all those ordinary women who filled it up with infant corpses. I am left pondering that all too short journey from common decency to throwing babies into a mass grave.

Empathy is a truly wonderful quality in our species, but it’s terrifying how easily empathy can be switched off and for the mass graves to appear.

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What about the menz?

Imagine if you will, strapping down a baby using a device like the one pictured above. Then carefully but painfully pulling the little toe on its left foot away from the toe next to it. Then, with no anesthetic, cutting that toe off. There is nothing wrong with the toe.

The restrained and non-verbal infant can only scream in pain. It cannot defend itself, it cannot reason with the doctor. It cannot even have the procedure explained or justified to him.

Now further imagine that this painful and unnecessary mutilation was done at the behest of the baby’s parents. They may even be celebrating his mutilation. More often than not though, they have requested this mutilation be done because everyone they know does this to their infant sons. Ten-toed men are so rare they are considered to be gross by many women.

Let’s talk about circumcision.

Parents have to do some difficult things. They have to take their children for vaccinations. They have to hold their baby while a doctor sticks a needle into that tiny trusting child. How incredibly upsetting for a parent that must be. It goes against every instinct a parent has. The parent will only consent to this deliberate infliction of pain because a vaccination has long term benefits for their child.

Imagine again, the little boy strapped down and defenseless, as a doctor or religious representative mutilates it, with parental consent. How do we explain this aberrant behaviour? A normal person, a good parent, could only embrace such an attack if they genuinely believed it to be normal, acceptable, no big deal, consequence free and it was what happened to them as a baby. It could only happen if the parents’ culture normalised such harmful behaviour.

It requires one more element though. The culture must not only deem mutilation to be a good thing, it must in every way objectify children. They must reduce children to possessions. The possessions of their parents, their culture, their society and their god.

In the US, genital mutilation of little boys is all pervasive. What began as primitive religious observance, slowly permeated all of society, became a medical imperative and is now industrialised. It is worth billions of dollars to the medical profession. And to question this elective cutting of little boys is to be consigned to the margins of polite society.

Why is this important? What harm is done?

The harm exists on two levels. For the vast majority of little boys who are mutilated, they will only suffer a significant loss of sensation. A tiny few will suffer catastrophic consequences due to unhygienic conditions or untrained partitioners doing the mutilating. But if done in a hospital, chances are there will be no complications.
The harm done, though significant, is tiny when compared to what a girl suffers when her genitals are mutilated. So why mention them in the same breath?

The majority of practitioners of Female Genital Mutilation are women. They have so successfully internalized the logic of FGM that they willingly inflict this abomination on their own daughters and on the daughters of their neighbours.

One can only hope to understand the normalization and propagation of this pathological cultural practice by reference to our own legitimizing cultural mores. We can only hope to eradicate this vileness by imposing new values, by changing the cultures that harbour FGM.

There are only certain limited ways to do this. We can drop bombs on the heads of every man who supports FGM and every woman who cuts (not likely). We can accept every girl from regions where FGM is prevalent as refugees (I’d support this one). We can link aid to changes in the ‘native’ culture (I bet the cultural relativists on the left will love that one).

Or we can first change ourselves so that we are models and exemplars of a culture that recognises the individual freedoms of children and their right not to be irrevocably harmed.

Now our culture normalises one kind of mutilation because we are used to it, because it’s awkward to take on religious people and because children are the possessions of their parents.

By normalising one form of mutilating children we allow grounds for the justification of all mutilations. We are denying ourselves the moral, intellectual and even cultural high ground from which to attack and destroy the practice of FGM.

How do we hope to take on the practitioners of mutilation in far off countries when we are too afraid to take on our own?

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