datbeardyman

Less about the world, more about me.

Year: 2019 (page 1 of 2)

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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My Privileges

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Of my many privileges, missing the experience of the Repeal campaign is possibly my most noxious. I will often have a wistful reminisce about that heady time. Then, I’ll catch myself and administer a firm admonishment. Win or lose last year, exactly zero percent of my body was on the line. That bears repeating, zero percent of my body, my freedom, my rights, was at stake. I can miss it because the price of failure would not have been paid by me.

But I miss it. I miss the commitment. I miss the focus. I miss the gravity of what I was engaged in. And I miss the people. Oh, how I miss the people. I was fortunate enough to have been there when Kerry for Choice was formed. I got to attend the first meeting. And a great many subsequent meetings. I was there when it, temporarily, morphed into Kerry Together for Yes. I was there for the campaign. I was there for the count. I’ve been there watching Paula recover from the ordeal of that campaign. But I miss it.

I have never been so involved in something so momentous. Not even close. Never given so much and been rewarded so lavishly. It was important. So much at stake. The consequence of failure so cruel (but not for me). I miss it. I long for those months.

I asked Paula if she could imagine a future campaign that would demand so much of her, that she’d willingly pay the price? She couldn’t.

We tried imagining an issue that would have my body and my rights at stake. The best we could come up with is some dystopian regression where the death penalty is somehow back on the agenda. But the path to that nightmare would have seen the erosion of so many other rights that we’d both probably be in prison and thus unable to campaign.

The right the die may at some point gain enough traction that knocking on doors is required. I hope that happens. That I could get behind. It is a particular concern as I can’t help thinking myself more than halfway there at this point.

The environment concerns me. Of course it does. But there’s a part of me that’s so fascinated by our species’ under-reaction, I’m curious to see how we behave when we realise it’s too late to do anything.

The Repeal campaign presented one with a binary choice, repeal or don’t repeal. Yes or no. We knocked on as many doors and spoke to as many people as we could to explain this choice. To convince them of the necessity. It wasn’t complicated. Made easier by the religious conviction of the anti-choice side that the only way was, never.

Day after day, door after door, estate after estate. It was simple. It was all consuming. And whatever happened I’d be ok. I miss it. So much noxious privilege. The most important thing I’ve ever done and likely will ever do, but it was a free hit for me. So much noxious privilege that even combined with Paula’s intellect and imagination, we can’t envisage a realistic scenario where I’d have to knock on doors begging for control of my own body.

I’m not stupid enough to want to experience what women endured last year. Or stupid enough to want to endure what the LGBTQ+ community was put through three years before. But I do want something to care about to the extent I cared last year. One would think, in this increasingly stupid world where our species insists on self-immolation, l could find something to invest in. I can’t. I have a secret hope, it’s that I’m still recovering from last year’s effort. But I doubt it. You see my body wasn’t at stake.

I think I’ll eventually become involved in climate activism. Weirdly, a lot of the anti-choicers in Kerry don’t agree with the scientific fact of climate change. Which is good for me because I hate learning new names. But again, even if I somehow rekindle my energy of last year, I still won’t have skin in the game. I’m 45 and don’t have children. Noxious privilege to the very end.

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Fighting, Fucking and Foraging

The problem with being a cis straight white man is only being allowed to have authoritative opinions on cis straight white man things. Or more accurately the expertise I have on everything, due to being a cis straight white man, is no longer valued by society. The PC hegemony has relegated me from first place in society to a slightly different version of first place in society. It’s a dreadful waste of my talents. I know just enough about absolutely everything to have an opinion on absolutely everything. And the confidence to inform all of that opinion. I can even use ‘hegemony’ in a sentence. But no, the illiberal war on mansplaining—what was once called civilisation— means I have to hold my tongue. The dreadful penalty for transgressing this new shibboleth? There may be eye-rolling, head shaking and even the occasional look of disappointment on a friend’s face.

I’m expected, nay threatened with many rolling eyes, to confine the expression of my genius to cis straight white man things. This is not only frustrating, it is immensely boring. So very boring. It is boring because keeping my opinions to cis straight white man things alone, is the entirety of the cis straight white man’s burden.

Instead of historical oppression, I have not getting the ride as much as I’d like. Instead of finding solidarity in resisting oppression, I have why don’t people fear me like they used to? Even then, as I’m old, riding is a fun activity which is better imagined than practised. And I’m oblivious to other people so I don’t notice the lack of fear.

This oppressive thwarting of a cis straight white man’s inherent genius has consequences. The time you are wasting reading this is but one of them. Others include, hating the wrong people. And that’s about it really. But taking away the expectation that we’ll always be the most important person in any given situation will provoke a backlash.

No one, who isn’t a cis straight white man, can comprehend what it is like to be under the thumb of those rolling eyes. No one, who isn’t a cis straight white man, can know what it is to be a victim of consequence free disapproval. It’s dreadful. You are now reaping the fruit of our enraged resistance to this slight discomfort. This is war. And war is what we excel at. Well, we excel at everything, but we really excel at war. It’s like we invented it or something.

And what’s the first rule of war? There isn’t one, but as a cis straight white man if I say something with confidence it becomes the truth. For the purposes of this point, the first rule of war is making ersatz copies of the enemy’s weapons. In this case, their language.

Oh yes, the resistance has become au fait with terms like; marginalised, identity, no one wants my dick, solidarity, no really not a single person wants my dick, misandry, it’s not even a joke anymore my dick is simply dying of boredom, reverse sexism, reverse racism, it can’t be my fault so it must be the fault of every woman on the planet and triggering. And while it’s fun to speak among ourselves (for a while) about non sport things, the whole point of our existence is to be living our best lives, oblivious to the price everyone else pays. So we have to deploy these terms.

We men, we band of straight white brothers, are lost. We were grand with being oppressed and abused by our brothers. We would cope by directing our rage and inadequacy onto anyone who wasn’t a cis straight white man. We could punch down and punch down and keep punching down until we didn’t feel entirely powerless. It wasn’t a perfect system, but it worked. For us.

Then those who were being punched began punching back. And those punches landed. We had to begin watching our manners. Because our brothers who oppress us have sided with those we’d been lording it over. There’s money in it you see.

Now I know what you’re thinking; why don’t we make common cause with those we’d been abusing, against the brothers who oppress everyone? Take on those who destroy our jobs and even the illusion of dignity that kept us in our places? And I say to that, fuck off you commie nerd. Don’t you oppress me. Thor is a man, a straight white man, and always has been.

Cis straight white men were designed for fucking, fighting and foraging. And of course, being in charge. We do not have the capacity for not being in charge. Or the inclination to change. That’s science that is. We cis straight white men will, from now on, actively seek to distort reality in the pursuit of our mythic rights. We do this in self-serving tribute to our dead brothers. The cis straight white men we didn’t support, don’t care about and secretly despise. For they represent the change we refuse to embrace.

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Too Much Ideology

 

I want to write about ideology but I have to begin with Dessie O’Malley. I divide all politicians into two groups. The first group are politicians I like, respect, admire and trust. The second group are all politicians who aren’t Dessie O’Malley. I subdivide the not Dessie O’Malley politicians into two further groups. Those groups are; politicians who I think are in politics to make people’s lives better as opposed to those I judge to be on the make. Now, I further divide the politicians who are not on the make into two groups. Those I agree with. And those I don’t. The group on the make also constitute two groups. Politicians who are ideologues first, people second. And those who are in the politics game for pure self-interest. 

I’m not comfortable about how high the pedestal I’ve constructed for Dessie O’Malley is. His legacy is mixed to say the least. And I’m left asking myself if I was an economic conservative first or was I an O’Malley man first? I don’t know. 

Saying I was once an economic conservative will immediately turn a lot of people off. And I don’t mean people who disagree with (even vehemently oppose) economic conservatism. What I mean is, most people don’t use terms like economic conservatism to describe their voting intentions. It’s a term used and understood only by nerds and weirdos.  

In the 80s and 90s economic conservatism made absolute sense to me. Like my parents and their parents, I was growing up in a country that was an economic embarrassment. High taxes, high unemployment, high emigration and zero hope for improvement, as it was in the 50s, the 30s and the 20s. Freeing the population from the yoke of stultifying and incompetent politicians made perfect sense. Trusting people to improve their lot once the weight of misspent taxes was taken off their backs was the obvious and best choice. And the thing is, it worked. Until it didn’t. 

Turns out that people are as base and incompetent as politicians. Instead of the State misspending our taxes, we misspent the taxes we didn’t have to pay, even worse. Now the State is over 200 billion in debt. The application of a bit of ideology can be a dangerous thing. 

With the destruction of the economy I had a choice to make, learn or double down. I put off making that choice by joining Fine Gael. The Progressive Democrats, the party of Dessie O’Malley, had quite rightly wound itself up due to its role in the latest economic disaster. FG has a similar ideological outlook to the PDs, though not as marked. More importantly they aren’t Fianna Fáil. A party which was the senior partner in every government that destroyed the economy. And for those people unfamiliar with Irish politics, recent polling has FF as the most popular party in the country. People amaze me. 

Eventually I had to learn. I’m not a fan of learning. Learning requires uncertainty. I really don’t like uncertainty. Uncertainty means pausing to consider, before making a choice. I don’t like pausing or considering before making a decision. And I especially don’t like the effort involved in all these steps. But I did have to learn.

I had to let go of my low tax and small state idealism. It had been proven not to work. And not just here. Worldwide, while poverty continues to fall, here in the West ever more wealth is being created but being concentrated in fewer hands. For the first time since the Industrial Revolution, children will end up poorer than their parents. Mostly because profit is now being sweated from other profit rather than from things.

I finally understand, and it only took me a few decades, economic conservatism is not an ideology that promotes individual freedom. It is an ideology of profit before all else. And by before all else I mean basic human decency. 

FG, a party I’ve a certain affection for and regard as minimally corrupt, is a party of economic conservatism. A party that puts ideology before humanity. The examples of this lack of humanity are myriad. 

One can’t but begin with the housing crisis. More accurately, this is two inextricably linked crises, homelessness and affordability. The solution to both is the same. Simply build more homes. Take all the subsidies and tax breaks that are funnelling cash into the pockets of landlords, and instead build homes. Choosing to leave this social need in the hands of the private sector says two things; people aren’t worth helping, but if pushed we’ll help as long as this misery can be monetised. 

The ongoing fiasco in our health system also falls under the category of ideology before people. My private health insurance means I get the skip ahead of those without health insurance. And these aren’t minor shortcuts I’ve bought with my insurance. The people I’m skipping can be waiting years for something I have only to wait weeks for. Am I a hypocrite for slamming a system I benefit from? Damn right I am. I will always put my health before yours. I am not an ideologue. Poorer people die years younger than those with money. Think on that, a system which condemns the poor to early death. Today two new hospitals are being built in Dublin. Both will cater to private practitioners.

Our pathetic response to the global refugee crisis provides another example. People fleeing war and oppression end up in the Direct Provision system for years. The conditions within these centres are wholly inadequate. This should shame us all. Yet they are profit making. Companies are profiting from refugees. I’ll say that again, companies are profiting from refugees.

I don’t think this government is packed with innately bad people. I wish it were that simple. What our government is packed with are ideologues. The type of ideologue I once was. They are socially progressive, sort of. They don’t see why the State should say who can and can’t get married. Nor what a woman should be allowed to do with her own body, within reason. Well, within their definition of reason. But it’s also an ideology that doesn’t see the State as responsible or even capable of solving problems someone else should solve. And solve for profit. Putting ideology before people is not confined to Fine Gael. But they are getting to see their ideology made manifest.

It’s just a pity they forgot they gained power because the exact same ideology they espouse had already run the nation off a cliff.

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Milkshake Brings All The Centrist Dads To The Yard

 

Image by Dean Norris from Pixabay

I share some, if not many, characteristics of Twitter’s, centrist dad. I’m certainly the right age. Young people annoy me so much I don’t have children. But you better treat me like your dad because I have all the answers. I’m continually surprised by people not coming to me for all the answers I obviously own. I suffer crippling bouts of nostalgia. I dislike extremism in all its forms. I retain the exclusive right to define what extremism is. And did I mention an aversion to weaponised milkshakes? Perhaps I am an actual centrist dad. Well that’s a surprise.

I remember my reaction the first time Twitter informed me milkshake had been thrown as a political protest. I remember that reaction because I experience the same visceral dismay every time it has happened since. It’s a dismay filled with, ‘you could have an eye out,’ ‘violence never solves anything,’ ‘why can’t we all just get along?’ and ‘use your words not your fists.’

But being a centrist dad is more than proffering unasked for disapproval. There’s the whole Hitler thing. We don’t love him. We’d never say that. Snazzy uniforms we’ll cop to, but we don’t love him. He certainly lived his best life, didn’t he though? How can one not be impressed by the breadth of his canvass? If you take away all the bad things he did, would he not be considered a man worthy of admiration? Oops, I’m getting away from my point. We don’t love him. He went too far. We can all agree with that.

Initiating a two front war and declaring war on the US in 1941 were obviously his biggest mistakes. Not withdrawing from Stalingrad, when he had the chance, didn’t help either. He was so close to Moscow. So very close. Damn, losing my train of thought again.

There are only so many WWII books a centrist dad can read before being exposed to the fact Hitler existed before WWII. The pure weight of words forces us to consider delving into the prequel bits. It’s an onerous task. For one thing, the uniforms go from black to brown. Yeah, brown. Awful.

It’s boring, but we persevere. Next time we’re in the pub arguing about who knows more about Hitler, we can slip in the fact his party peaked at 37%. Then wrangled supreme power, with the connivance of the conservative elite and the Army General Staff, from an election where he only managed to get 37% of the vote.

That’ll show them who the real devotee is. Not so sure about mentioning the Brown Shirts though. Brown is a horrible colour. And anyway, Hitler killed them off once they’d achieved what he’d wanted. What? What did they achieve? Well, I’m embarrassed to say really. Wouldn’t you prefer we discuss why Hitler halted the panzer advance towards Dunkirk for three whole days? No? Okay. The Brown Shirts beat, tortured and murdered every far left opponent Hitler had in Germany. They attacked the unions and minorities. Organised boycotts of Jewish businesses. And effectively gave Hitler control of the streets long before the conservatives invited him into their sheets.

Yeah, apparently if you leave fascists to their own devices, they’ll spread like a vicious shit plague. They’ll take over our streets and subvert democracy to the point where it simply gives up. It’s as if fascism isn’t like a normal ideology, with normal followers. What it is, is a death cult. It can only be beaten with fire and then salt. And perhaps milkshake. But I’m a centrist dad. I’ll be okay whatever happens.

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The Stupid

Image by mollyroselee from Pixabay

Do you ever marvel at the resurgence of stupid? Is it a resurgence? It feels like stupid is more prevalent today than it has been at any time in my life. Okay, stupid may always have been there it’s just now amplified by the internet. Does it matter if it has always been there or if it was created by the internet? It probably matters. Yeah, the why matters. As does understanding the full impact of its thuggish confidence.

While the stupid is real, it’s important to remember our species is very smart. Like send a person to the moon smart. Though not so smart that a great many people strived ridiculously hard to be strapped to the top of a giant bomb so they could be blasted into space. Our smart is a particular type of smart.

We left the trees about six million years ago. We’re so smart that we can even debate the appropriateness of the word ‘we’ that I used to describe our tree dwelling ancestors. But I’m not gonna.

Six million years ago and quick as a flash, some six million years later, give or take 200,000 years, our type of human appears. And then, another 100,000 years passed, and then another 30,000 years and then the big smart brain we like to boast about appeared. So awesome a brain, not a single other human species survived it. We should be very proud of ourselves. I think.

Another 60,000 years passed before we worked out farming. And then, approximately one wet week ago, we realised we’d left the trees. And many people are very pissed at that. Their gloriously huge brains couldn’t compute, so they’ve shut the fuck down.

That six-million-year journey did not prepare us for 10,000 years ago when we began to live in villages, towns and cities. And it certainly didn’t prepare us for the 1990s and the internet when we suddenly had access to everyone and everything. Our smart brains are still hardwired for living in small clans.

The invention of religion got us through the living in cities. It kept enough of us in our places so civilisation could happen. Ten millennia later, most of us still cling to religion but have accepted science as our real guide. But our brains are still all about the small group. Who has our back? Who is taking the piss? Which berries are in season? Who here is up for a hunt? How do I get through tomorrow?

Scientists (or in the modern vernacular, so-called experts) believe our brains peeked before civilisation. Carrying your world on your back and in your hands, while navigating a hostile environment means you have to be smart. None of us are descended from the dumbest of those clans. Surviving in the wild today is so ridiculous an endeavour it can get you a lucrative TV deal. But more important than the skills were the social ties. That clan had to function at close to 100% efficiency all the time. Your life and opportunity to reproduce depended on how close knit the clan was.

Getting on to get along did not require the scientific method or scepticism. It meant getting on was dialled up to eleven. And we rocked it. The other human species, large prey, climate and distance were all conquered. We literally conquered the planet. In our little clans. Using complex language. Because getting on means one has to communicate deep, not logically.

For example, have you ever had an argument with a housemate or partner about household chores? Has the scientific method ever proven useful in that discussion? Or was the discussion more about feelings, and an attempt to create and communicate clan norms to protect those feelings? Norms that would make the clan work more efficiently. It is an exercise in emotion and vast verbiage. All for the clan. All for your feelings. All about our place within the clan.

That is how our brains work. It’s why the scientific method is a method. It doesn’t come naturally, so we have to build in a series of fail-safes so our enormous brains don’t take shortcuts to the answers we want. It’s why the scientific method, verifiable facts and the so-called experts continue to make our lives safer and longer. And that’s why our clannish brains are so ill-prepared to deal with the scientific method, verifiable facts and the so-called experts. It’s why we still have religions. It’s why we still have nationalism, racism and anti-vaxxers. It’s why the stupid appears so prevalent in what should be a scientific age.

Which is all well and good I suppose, but it won’t shift a single Boris Johnson fan away from his band of stupid or save a single child from needless illness and death. But it does help me avoid wasted effort arguing with the unreachable. That’s something.

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Simple Solutions

I’ll tell you a secret. I once knew how to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I know, amazing. I should be a lot more famous than I am. But I didn’t reveal my solution. I assumed my insight was so blindingly obvious it’d be considered a tad gauche to voice it. As it turned out, my resolution would no longer work. It may also not have worked at the time but I’m not totally convinced it wouldn’t.

My cure for that poisonous situation was simple. All that was required was for both Israel and Palestine to join the EU. I know. I know. It’s an obvious fix but no one ever seems to mention it. I can’t figure out why. I thought the moment the Good Friday Agreement was signed all eyes would turn to the Middle East silently indicating; your turn now.

Perhaps it’s the genius of the Good Friday Agreement that so few understand just how simple it was. There was a great deal of complexity in the lead up and it does smack of temporary, but it worked. It works by doing this; it allows both sides to stop killing each other for a bit. But it doesn’t solve what is an unsolvable problem.

The conflict in Northern Ireland is unsolvable. No one should forget that. Two groups that identify as fundamentally different, two groups who claim ownership of the same piece of land, two people who think they are right and therefore the other is wrong. Take away the egregious governing, take away the partisan policing and pump billions of euro into the economy, the fact remains these are two people who wish for wildly divergent destinies.

The Good Friday Agreement manages to give both sides a huge amount of what they want, even if what they are given is contradictory. If you identify as Irish, here’s an Irish passport. Border? What border? If you identify as British. Here’s a British passport. And yes, you’re still part of the UK.  Northern Ireland is expected to govern itself to a certain extent. A whole lot of politicians are paid a lot of money to govern, but with no consequences for choosing not to govern. When they don’t manage the UK government will do it, from afar, while trying not to emulate its previous centuries of vicious misrule of this island.

Simple, imaginative and dare I say elegant. Two fictions facilitated. Two exclusive identities accommodated. Only possibly because the UK and Ireland had pooled their sovereignty within the EU. Equal partners within a structure whose laws superseded their own. A bigger identity. An identity so big that different sorts of Irish and different sorts of British could become small enough not to matter too much.

How could Israel and Palestine not find a peace within that community? Once a border becomes irrelevant it’s difficult to find the energy to murder in that border’s name.

It looks like that opportunity has now passed. Even among those on the UK mainland who understand that Ireland and Northern Ireland are distinct political entities, one being part of the UK and the other wholly independent, there is no understanding of the border. No understanding that the moment it becomes visible the fiction of parallel identities is gone.

And I’m not saying the uneducated and ignorant UK citizens who caused this unnecessary crisis did so by being uneducated and ignorant. No, that’s only one part of it. The other part is that identity in the English part of the UK is now beginning to assert itself. And like the slumbering pig it is, there is not a fuck it can give about shaking the shit off its hide on all and sundry.

If only this return to identity was confined to England. Unfortunately, all over the EU, the nonsense that perfected mass murder is returning because everyone appears to have forgotten what that nonsense was and what it did. It’s like we’ve decided to replace our real history with the bullshit that caused the worst of our history. My great idea won’t work anymore. But there was a moment, in our recent history, where it just might have worked.

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Culture Worriers

Image by Sarah Richter from Pixabay

I’m confused by that cohort of my fellow island dwellers who worry about Ireland’s culture. Worried Ireland’s precious culture is disappearing before waves of outsiders. Well, I’m mostly repulsed, but I’m also confused. You see, I have no idea what ‘Irish culture’ means. I have a clue what culture tends to refer to. It’s some amalgam of shared values, norms, habits, and modes of expression, all melded together by a State curated perception of history.

It’s as vague a concept as it is broad. It contains Nobel winning poetry and a shit game of hurling in North Kerry. It encompasses an ease with using bad language and unease with modern European languages. It manages to venerate a mythological virgin woman while treating real women abominably. It lauds piety while voting for corruption. It is timeless. It is unique. It’s also entirely different to what it was fifty years ago. And it can be destroyed by a few thousand refugees fleeing Syria.

It is immutable. Perfect in its aspic tomb. Vulnerable only to the presence of accents and skin colours newly arrived to this blessed land. Unchanging, except I wouldn’t choose to live in the Ireland of ten years ago. As for 50 years ago? No thanks and I’m an able bodied straight white man.

I’m not accusing these culture worriers of racism. I’d never do that. I hate tautology in all its forms. Who can say if blaming a person of colour for the passage of time is racist? It’s obviously racist, but who can say it? When one calls a homophobe, racist, they tend to sue. And use that money to fight against women’s rights. But in fairness looking down on black people, criminalising the gays and hating on women, were important aspects of our culture. They still are, but not as much. Which is sad. For some.

The culture worriers are correct to note that things are changing. They were once in the ascendancy, now they are a bunch of cranks who live in my phone. Things are very different. Better for many. Disorientating for some. I’m a middle aged man and things have changed but I struggle to name anything I miss.

My lack of nostalgia for the uncontested supremacy of men who look and sound like me might be because I don’t give a fuck about Irish culture. There are aspects to this undefinable miasma of content that I embrace, others that don’t interest me and others I actively hate. And why do I continue to live on this oft times ridiculous island? No one gets to tell me how I should Irish. Many presume they can, but I’m free to tell them to fuck right off.

These culture worriers are not unique to Ireland. They are a bit of a surprise only because they were in charge so recently. The vile monoculture of their nostalgic wet dreams only began to crumble a few years ago. They can still taste that sweet monochrome power.

They confuse me. They repulse me. They can’t disguise their racism. Can’t hide their homophobia. Can’t explain their misogyny. They come from an island that produced four Nobel winning manipulators of the English language and they can’t put together a single coherent justification for their vicious nostalgia. If they are indeed an inherent part of Irish culture, I hope that culture dies quickly.

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Summer Campaigning

This time last year I was canvassing for the removal of the Eighth Amendment. I’m reminded of that because the sun is shining. I only remember one evening last year when our canvass was interrupted by rain. Imagine that, months of campaigning, in Ireland, and only one day of rain. It was a truly remarkable run of warm comfortable campaigning. I find myself only remembering how much fun I had. It was exhausting and all that but I was walking in the sunshine, every single day, with people I felt honoured to know. What better way to spend a summer? If I’m not careful, by this time next year all I’ll remember is the tan I earned. I suppose, having won by such a large margin also contributes to my rose-tinted reflection.

I find it worryingly easy to forget that we were involved in a life and death matter. That we were trying to free women from the yoke of a pernicious constitutional injunction. I even find it easy to blank out the awful people who were intent on keeping women under the thumb of religious zealotry. Easy to forget. Easy to rest on one’s laurels. Easy to become complacent.

Last year’s campaign cannot be forgotten. And not just because it’s important to acknowledge the amazing work and brave stances of so many women. It cannot only be about commemoration. I wish it was. A few statues, an annual minutes’ silence, increasingly boring war stories, and that would be that. Quickly consigned to an unread history book.

If, to belabour the analogy, we were remembering a victorious war, then growing irrelevance would be grand. Wars should be left in the past. They are wars after all. But we didn’t win the war or a war. I’m not even sure we can call it a battle. We won a reprieve. Some respite. What comes out of that moment of progress, that relief of pressure, is yet to be determined.

I don’t believe in good or bad abortions. I dislike the concept of safe, legal and rare. These are nudges towards judgement. Nudges towards a sliding scale of deserved medical attention. Our law, as it now stands, gives legal standing to this idea. An abortion at nine weeks, fine. At twelve weeks, problematic. At sixteen weeks, you better be fucking dying. So, some women, in very restricted circumstances, can get an abortion in this country. We cannot forget that.

While I don’t believe in rare, I do believe that a good rule of thumb for a better life is never having to go to a doctor. I never feel quite so vulnerable to unspeakable diseases than when in a busy waiting room. Who thought packing a bunch of sick people into a tiny room was a good idea? Fuck that.

A provable way of negating the necessity for some abortions is access to contraception and comprehensive sex education. Remarkably, those who live to restrict the lives of women, I mean oppose abortion, are also against increased access to contraception and sex education that is more suited to the 21st century. It’s almost as if they oppose sex more than they oppose abortion? But they opposed Repeal on human rights grounds, not religious grounds. And we know this must be true because they said it and lying is a big fat sin.

Greater access to contraception and better sex ed (and by better I mean, any) are still not a thing in Ireland. Children and teenagers (even an uncomfortably large number of adults) are walking around, hopped up on hormones, a sex crazed media and easy to access non-contextualised porn, without the tools to navigate this crazy smorgasbord of desire and consequence.

But teaching people about sex, in all its wondrous aspects and providing them with contraception, is more than a way of preventing the necessity for some abortions. More than just a way of avoiding getting the flu in some poorly ventilated room of group sniffles. It is about creating a society where each and every one of us own our body. Get to choose what we do with it. Know how to recognise and respect the boundaries of others. How to have bloody great sex. How to take care of ourselves or others when something unwanted happens. How to value our own choices and to respect the choices of others. Last year we took a single, if large, step towards that goal of educated self-possession. But a single step it was. And those religious campaigners, I mean human rights activists, who rail against free people, especially free women, still own our schools. Still have the ear of politicians. Still have unlimited resources to call on from the US.

Until last year, they wholly owned women. That ownership is now contested, but not yet settled. The sun is shining. It’s great campaigning weather. And for the next month we won’t have to knock on doors because politicians will be knocking on ours. What better use of their time can there be than to be asked how they intend empowering women to wholly own their own bodies?

 

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Straight White Man Blues

Do you ever wonder how you’d react to Climate Change? I don’t mean recycling and cycling, but what you’d do if everything came unstuck? What would you do if it led to a precipitous collapse of civilisation? Melodramatic perhaps, but a dystopic future is now probable. When it comes to dystopia, my preference is to only engage with it as entertainment. To consume it on my TV. On TV, after the collapse, the world will be left to those with fine teeth, good eyesight and healthy arches under their feet. That’s as much dystopia as I can manage. When I imagine the end of civilisation, I look at my sleep apnoea machine. I now need electricity to sleep safely. I’ve no interest in or ability to outlive the availability of a good dentist. I’m simply not cut out for such a world. So, taking the ultimate short-cut seems, to me, the best thing to do in that scenario. It’s a simple solution that solves a multitude of problems. A short-cut, complicated by my wife and my dog. I obviously haven’t broached this topic with my wife because I want her to stay my wife. As for Arwen, I don’t know what to do. Arthritis, pancreatitis, old-age and a lifetime of ease does not a survivor make. The humane thing to do is euthanise her, but how? I have no idea how one kills a dog painlessly. I have to hope she goes before civilisation does.

Do you have your escape plan ready for when there’s a tsunami heading your way? There is a piece of the Canary Islands waiting to drop into the ocean. Once it does, we are fucked. I live near the ocean, in a part of Kerry that can only be described as boggy. I’m doubly fucked. I imagine hauling my wife and dog up onto the roof of our house. But would it be high enough? When I’m at the beach I keep a weather eye on the water. If I see it retreat suddenly will I have time to make it back to the car? If I do, where’s the nearest high ground? Who do I call first? What if the tsunami hits and I’m with someone I don’t particularly like? What if we are the only survivors and I’m stuck with someone who’s a bit of a dickhead? Exploring a devastated landscape, struggling to get by, with someone I can’t help wishing had been caught by the wave.

I am, as you can see, a bit anxious. Visit my GP and see a therapist level of anxious, but not about our world ending in fire or water. My therapist says I catastrophise. She also used the term, awfulise. That’s a new one on me. Easier to spell and pronounce though. She’s right of course. I do imagine the very worst. This is not a new behaviour, but it is not entirely irrational. I grew up in the ‘80s and I was aware of the possibility of Nuclear Armageddon. I was interested in the world. I read about the world. I learned that all that was keeping the peace was mutually assured destruction. Which is mad. I don’t know how one doesn’t feel a tad uneasy about that. I was a child then, there was no way for me to do anything but worry.

Being interested in the world carries with it the price of knowing what bad shit is going on in that world. In the ‘90s, when history had stopped and we were able to address the hole in the ozone layer, I did not contemplate how me and mine would cope with disaster. Things seemed to be progressing. I miss the ‘90s, I wasn’t anxious then. Now I see disaster everywhere. Now I wonder how I’d kill my dog without hearing a whimper of pain escape her terrified face. I am anxious, but not about the world ending. If only it were that simple. I am anxious because for the first time since childhood, I feel powerless. Who’d have thought a middle-aged straight white man would manage to make the incipient end of all things about him?

As an adult I’d never felt powerless. Well, other than the experience of heartbreak, I’d never felt powerless. The world has always been my mollusc. I may be working class with a mediocre education, but I always felt I had a voice and/or a hand in the decisions that impacted on me. I knew how the system worked and made myself a part of it. I’ve always voted. Always been in a political party. Always given my opinion. Always prepared to knock on a stranger’s door to share that opinion. Always ready to make a politician aware that I have an opinion that better be listened to. I took for granted that I could understand and influence my immediate part of world. That I could understand and contribute to the rest of the world, even if only in a tiny way. I took for granted social, economic, scientific and cultural progress were inevitable. I took for granted that I had all the answers, that my optimism was well founded.

That optimism, that era of optimism, lent itself to me developing a world view which had very little self-examination in it. This was before ‘privilege’ had entered our lexicon. I was doing well, the world was doing very well, so obviously more of the same was what was needed. I looked around for an ideology to hang my hat on and neo-liberalism was that hook. Untrammelled capitalism and individualism were working. Our species had cracked the code of ever-growing prosperity and peace. If it isn’t broken, then lean the fuck into it. The only scratch on my rose-tinted glasses was Srebrenica. But more on that later.

This faith in neo-liberalism, for faith it was, crumpled in the face of The Great Recession. I had to acknowledge that my embrace of neo-liberalism was not a rational assessment of all the facts, parsed through my station and values. It was mere preference. A cobbling together of half understood concepts that were the most personally advantageous. An interpretation of reality that embraced a positive view of our species, the perfectibility of our species, that we were a rational species. An amalgam of ideas free of any understanding of my privilege or of the inevitable disaster that always awaits unchecked avarice. A failure to understand just how blindly and profoundly stupid our species is. It was a bracing experience. But credit where credit is due, I accepted I was a gobshite. I accepted I had been wrong about almost everything. I accepted that optimism is for the hard of thinking, the deniers of reality.

I lived in Dublin when Ireland’s economy took off. I moved back to Kerry just as our housing bubble was nearing its apogee. Moving back, I was struck by two things. The first was how alive Kerry was. That was new. The second was how chaotic the development was. There were housing estates being built in towns and villages but for the most part, all I saw were one-off-houses, ribbon development, bungalow blitz and whatever other terms are used to describe houses built as far away from established infrastructure as possible. I roll my eyes when rural politicians complain about the decline of villages when they continue to stand over the dispersal of population outside those villages. When they complain about the lack of public transport while defending development that makes public transport unviable. Who knew that when left to our own devices we make decisions that will bring immediate reward without any thought to long term risk and consequence?

Of course, there’s an evolutionary component to this stupidity. We did not require the ability to think long term. We evolved to meet immediate danger. We are absolutely top dog when it comes to immediate danger. We’ve mastered immediate danger so completely that we now invent it, just to feel that sweet sweet rush of adrenaline. Long term doesn’t extend beyond the next harvest, paycheque, holiday or election. So, I don’t know how we deal with Climate Change. We are not prepared to make the fundamental changes to our economy and society to arrest the ongoing damage we are doing. We elect politicians who are only too happy to pander to our unwillingness to change. And we give credence to the online charlatans who insist the moon is in fact made of cheese.

Has our species always been this stupid or has the internet made us stupid? Or has the internet merely made our stupidity more obvious? I don’t know. I don’t know how a vaccine that can prevent cervical cancer isn’t regarded as a scientific marvel. That the occasion of receiving said vaccine isn’t marked by parties and bouncy castles. I don’t know how the parents of children on the autism spectrum can think bleach might cure their children. That the best way to prevent autism is to not vaccinate against diseases that once made reaching adulthood a lottery. I don’t know how people can ignore the over 90% of scientists who say Climate Change is a result of human activity and instead believe the few others who say whatever their employers tell them to say. And I feel powerless. I don’t know how to relate to such blind ignorance. I lack the empathy. I lack the communication skills to puncture the process that turns some people away from observable reality.

I can argue the merits of one economic system over another. No, I can argue why curated capitalism is preferable to unrestrained capitalism. Even more accurately, I can only argue the appropriate level of state control of the economy with someone who wants the same result as me; equal opportunities for all and state guaranteed equal outcomes for those who require it. I don’t know how to debate with someone who sees homelessness or poverty or early death as inevitable and righteous. I can’t make that leap away from my morality. Even when I was at my most right-wing, I saw it as a means to ensure my individual freedom and the creation of enough wealth that all might be sustained to a level that even those lowest on the ladder did not want for anything.

Despite being a political nerd, I find myself increasingly disengaged from US politics. I repeatedly see politicians maintain that not everyone deserves healthcare. I can’t get my head around that. I’m not saying there’s a god given right, a moral imperative or even a philosophical argument for healthcare. I just don’t understand anyone lacking the ability to imagine themselves so fucked that they’d need someone or something else to pay for their healthcare. Do these ideologues genuinely think, that if finding themselves somehow poor, they’d eschew a visit to hospital just because they didn’t deserve a service they can’t pay for?

We do not have an inalienable right to healthcare. There’s no such thing as inalienable rights. It is an invention and it is a choice. We invented the right and we can choose to create a society where this right is vindicated. I do not wish to live in a society that doesn’t firmly hold to this invention. That doesn’t have the self-respect and foresight to make sure everyone gets looked after. And I’m happy to debate how best to see this invention realised, but I can’t engage with those who don’t have universal healthcare as an ideal. Like a language barrier, there’s a morality barrier. A mismatch of values so severe I can’t see how to engage.

A morality barrier made flesh in the guise of Donald Trump. I can understand why the wealthy might vote for him. If they’ve given up on decency and a future for our species, then Trump is the obvious choice. It’s the poor, who voted for him, that give me pause. Excluding the racists, the misogynists and the irremediably ignorant, there’s still a large cohort of poor people who support him. Despite all the evidence that he’d fuck them over at the first opportunity, despite his moral degeneracy and rampant hypocrisy, they voted for him. And they’ll vote for him again. What happened? How did so many people sink so far that they voted for this worthless conman?

I have to assume there’s some kind of desperation at play here. And I have to presume that this same desperation is fuelling Brexit and the rise of the far right in Europe. It’s a desperation I am trying to understand. It’s a desperation I imagine I might easily have become mired in had my life taken a different path. Yet, like the wilful rejection of fact, this desperation is alien to me. Even now, feeling as anxious as I do, despite my growing acceptance of the need for radical action to ameliorate the effects of Climate Change, I do not feel desperate enough to become smaller. To ignore my values in the hope some grifter might restore me to my presumed station in an imagined future based on an imagined past.

It is this retreat to fantasy that I can’t get a grip on. This return to race and nation. This embrace of bitter and vicious men who insist relief can only be found through mining the cheese moon.

That race and nation are inventions is obvious to anyone who does even a cursory reading of history. Constructs that served particular interests at particular times, and not always for ill. When trying to justify individual rights and democracy, in an age of reactionary powers, then throwing out a phrase like ‘we find these truths to be self-evident’ fills a gap. Making a country its people rather than its king was once a mind bogglingly radical idea. And it worked. It created armies that fought with a hitherto unimagined enthusiasm. Of course, inventing difference means skin colour, social class, ethnicity or religion can also be used by those doing the inventing to turn a profit or to justify the status quo.

In the ‘90s, in my little bubble of privilege, it looked like this nonsense was finally being left behind. The Wall had fallen, there was nothing standing in the way of creating a planetary system of shared values and norms. The artificial divisions that had been created to accrue profit from division would crumble in the face of peace, prosperity and education. Then Srebrenica happened. This didn’t dent my optimism, instead it made me more determined to see the nonsense of race and nation utterly consigned to history. This was when I first became interested in the EU. This is when I finally left behind any vestige of nationalism I’d still harboured. Of course, as with all relationships, I was initially blind to the EU’s faults. I saw only the positives. An unprecedented period of peace, social cohesion and wealth. An artificial construct that would never go the way of Yugoslavia. Though I was disheartened the EU required US help to intervene in Yugoslavia. Then as now, I have no problem with an armed EU.

Yes, the EU is an unlovely and unlovable amalgam, that seems unnatural, unresponsive and undemocratic. The joining together of disparate peoples in an ever-enlarging structure of laws and obligations. But this clumsy alchemy isn’t new. This systematic accretion has happened before. This is how we got nation states.

I now have a more nuanced allegiance to the EU. Its amoral actions in the Mediterranean appal me. Pandering to the racists, by allowing desperate Africans drown, will forever taint the EU. And yet, to my horror, this disgusting policy is not the reason the EU’s popularity is on the wane. It’s desperation. It’s powerlessness. It’s a dislocation felt, mostly, by men who look like me.

In Ireland, many of us decry the power of the Roman Catholic Church in our education system. The Church is quick to defend its position. They know, they’ve known for centuries, that unfettered access to unformed minds is the key to power. Shape the child and one shapes the future. What isn’t debated is the role education has in the formation of the nation state. It’s amazing the amount of work a school gets through. It has to produce loyal citizens, pliant employees and, in Ireland, good Catholics (though the definition of good Catholic has become something of a movable feast). It’s no wonder literacy and modern European languages don’t do as well as they should. No wonder so many of us find the EU distant, its institutions impenetrable, its purpose opaque. Though to be honest, I know people in Kerry who couldn’t pick a Kerry TD out of a line-up of Kerry’s five TDs. We do tend to know about the stuff we are interested in knowing. That which is uninteresting seems to quickly be considered irrelevant. My point being, our education system is tasked with the role of producing Irish citizens. Loyal tax-payers who will mouth pious nonsense about their country. This piety goes unexamined. That this form of loyalty is a relatively recent innovation is unexplained. That knowing the context of its creation is as important as knowing what happened in 1916. That every nation state shares these qualities of thinking themselves distinct and special.

It’s difficult then for the EU to garner the kind of support that we reflexively give the nation that educates us. A difficulty increased ten-fold by destructive neo-liberalism. The larger institutions, like unions and churches are fading. Replaced first by individualism and now by Identity Politics. I dislike Identity Politics but I feel unable to criticise it. I’m too privileged to even imagine the need to find safety and solace in the company of others who are like me. I take for granted that the world is my mollusc because the world is run by people who are like me. Unfortunately, the negative reaction to the painfully won progress by those who engage in Identity Politics has come mostly from men who look like me. Men of privilege, but not wealth, who no longer have groups compliantly beneath them. Others who now stand their ground. Other who fight back. Others who probably make more money, are better educated and are on TV all the time. Then Chancellor Merkel decided to save a million lives.

Race, nation, conspiracy and climate denial; the four horsemen of the impending apocalypse. And they are not why I’ve needed help for my anxiety. I’m not anxious that I might be powerless in the face of these dooms. No, the reason I am anxious is because I no longer feel the arrogant confidence gifted to me by my multiple privileges. I once thought I could change the world. I once thought we were all in this together. And now I live in a small part of a small nation that votes, in huge numbers, for people who say a god controls the weather. A part of the world where mentioning Meatless Mondays to children is seen as heresy. Where every house built, regardless of location, is seen as progress. And I don’t know how to speak to these people. I don’t know how to explain. I don’t know how to change anything anymore. I am anxious because for the first time in my life I feel powerless. Overwhelmed by the blindness of others. Stripped bare of optimism. Bereft of a common language with which to speak to those destroying my world. It seems that the end of all things is something I can deal with, but being unable to debate the nature of that doom, requires me to take medication.

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