Less about the world, more about me.

Month: August 2020

The Mob Has Its Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Still In Government

Image by Golfer from Pixabay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Green Party Rep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Being in Government

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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