Less about the world, more about me.

Month: September 2021

Hope Versus Optimism

I think of myself as optimistic. I have invested a great deal of money in my mental health to arrive at this state. And I like it. I get out of bed with a certain enthusiasm. I still think I’ll write a novel worthy of publication. I’m comfortable with being wrong. I care about things. I like this enthusiasm. Hope, on the other hand, that I do not have. Optimism, as I define it, is rather narrow. It describes me as I interact with the world through time. Hope is more expansive. It describes the world as I interact with it through time.

I recently watched a Prime Time episode about a lake in Roscommon called Lake Funshinagh. If I wasn’t in the Green Party, I might have written; an episode about a community in Roscommon being devastated by floods. This is a weird lake. It often disappears. But over the last five years, it has been getting bigger. It is making several nearby homes and farms untenable. The County Council, utilising obsolete legislation, began works to alleviate this flooding. Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) had those works stopped in the courts. The lake is designated as a Special Area of Conservation. To carry out works there requires extensive environmental impact assessments. The junior minister with responsibility for flood defences complained that he had one billion euro to spend, but wasn’t allowed to because those assessments and court actions took too long.

I joined the Green Party for no other reason than the realisation that our planet is racing towards a hitherto unprecedented cataclysm. I did not like joining the party. Its very existence is evidence that we will most likely, as a species, fail to head off this catastrophe. If an entire political party has to exist, just to point out the obvious and is often ignored, then we are in real trouble. Especially if that party is small and always teetering on the precipice of electoral oblivion.

Ireland is getting wetter. Rainfall has increased 6% over the last 30 years. Large swathes of coastal Ireland will be under water by 2030. And one of RTE’s flagship investigative television shows, chose to emphasise how awkward environmentalists are making it to save six homes. Politicians wrung their hands at the all-powerful environmental lobby preventing them from protecting their voters, I mean citizens. A junior minister couldn’t make sense of the idea of allowing rivers room. If one was to watch this programme in isolation one would have assumed that the climate crisis was an entirely inevitable phenomenon and all that we could do was protect what we have and ride out the disaster to come. 

That is why I struggle with hope. The climate crisis is killing people. But out foreign. It is creating climate crisis refugees here, yet we refuse to recognise them as such. Tackling the crisis is portrayed as mere enthusiasm from outsiders. We wish to do the things that caused the beckoning disaster to protect us from that disaster. It is as inexplicable to me as a government minister with responsibility for flood protection not understanding the basics of river management. As inexplicable as blaming the mismanagement of a tragedy on busybodies rather than those charged with managing that wholly predictable tragedy.

A billion euro is touted as an impressive amount of money. It is a pittance when set against the great inundation that will sweep over every Irish city in mere years. No longer can we speak of decades to prepare. All that time to prepare was spent in denial, in obfuscation, deceit, and the winning of votes.

I’m from Lixnaw. An average-sized village in Kerry. In size and population, it dwarfs the community around Lake Funshinagh. In my lifetime it will disappear under water. Any attempt to save my community would be folly. It is already too late for that. Only two things matter now; limiting the rise in global temperatures to a worst-case scenario of 2 degrees Celsius and throwing our resources at the largest of our population centres. 

I do not expect either expediency to be achieved or even thoroughly attempted. I have no expectation of politicians in Kerry, or even Ireland, making and imposing the fundamental changes in our ways of life that are required. The sacrifices to be made, the pain asked for and endured. I have no hope of us staving off or even meeting with clear eyes the disaster to come. I predict with great confidence that the next election will be fought in Kerry on two issues. The first will be resisting the recently signed Climate Action Bill. The second will be for the development of a liquified natural gas facility in the north of the county. Not surprisingly, to be built in an area that can also expect to be under water in my lifetime.          

But come the next election I will knock on doors for our Green Party candidates. They will have no prospect of winning, but I will dedicate all the time I can to their campaign. And I will do so with enthusiasm. But there will be no hope. 

Language and Empathy

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I write to explain me, to me. The role of the reader is to keep me coherent and consistent as I explore my evolving values. And I’m prefacing this blog post because it was a struggle to write it. I am clear about the right and the wrong, but the act of writing about this subject is also an act of insertion. I am becoming part of the subject. That’s a little scary in this instance. Again, the right and wrong are clear, my level of hypocrisy in condemning the act, well that is less clear. Brian Leddin TD used sexist and misogynistic language in a WhatsApp group. My instinctive reaction was, what the hell was he doing letting his guard down in a WhatsApp group? You see my problem? 

Recently, Liverpool supporters targeted an opposition player by referencing rent boys. There was a time when I wouldn’t have thought that an issue. I might have joined in. What’s wrong with thousands of men baying at another man that he sells his body to other men for sex? It wouldn’t have occurred to me that in that stadium and watching on TV were members of the LGBTIA+ community, supporting my team, hearing their sexuality being used as a slur. How many supporters of my team, of the game itself, are being traumatised, driven away, lost from what I regard as the ultimate communal experience? 

I understand the cathartic joy in abusive language, the free use of invective, the headiness of unfettered expression. What possible reason could there be for constraint? Yes, this is about political correctness. And the problem with political correctness is that to be understood it requires of people who look like me, some empathy. Being an able-bodied, straight, white, cis man means I never feel denigrated. I’ve no idea what that is like. Even when a Brit says something wholly uninformed about Ireland, I feel nothing. I would need to encounter an Elf or a Vulcan to feel my place in the hierarchy threatened.

Never feeling denigrated is a bloody brilliant place to live. But it means I’ve had to learn empathy as one would learn Latin. I’ve had to try very hard to imagine what it might feel like to exist with worry and concern about how I’ll be treated by family, friends, strangers, society, the law and the state, for simply not being an able-bodied, straight, white, cis man. To imagine words and deeds, encountered daily designed to hurt me, must feel like. To experience systems that seek to keep me from fully participating in and benefiting from those systems. 

I fail that empathy test, a lot. I can imagine Elves and Vulcans easier than I can imagine feeling less than. If I come to write a memoir, the title would be, Opportunities Spurned. Even now, my tenuous grip on the concept was only made possible by a particularly brutal bout of depression I experienced fifteen years ago.

Brian Leddin, a politician I like and support, used words to describe women, which reflect very poorly on him. Yes, I’m being euphemistic. Remember my preface? In the queue of stone casters, I’d necessarily be near the end. But I am here to explore. Using the language of sexism and misogyny is a three-act play. There is the harm caused to the target, there are the values revealed in that unguarded language, and then there is the aftermath. And it is in the aftermath where most of my disappointment lies. There appears to be no understanding of why this was not mere invective, not mere unprofessionalism. There doesn’t seem to be any learning. No attempt at empathy.

There are few politicians in my county of Kerry that I have a good word for. But as I fancy myself a grown-up, a person with some political experience, I try to not lapse into invective. It’s unprofessional and it reflects badly on me. When I do indulge, the words have to pass one test and one test only; do they attack the person’s gender, ethnicity, religion or physical ability. This should not be a difficult bar to clear. But it requires an acceptance and an understanding that the game is rigged in favour of people who look like me. It demands empathy from a class of humans who haven’t had to practise empathy a lot. It means that we who would prefer our society become more equitable, doing or saying nothing to reinforce exclusion. Doing or saying nothing that denigrates those who are already disadvantaged by society.

I have the privilege of not needing to worry about words used about or against me. The only opinion, other than my own, that I choose to worry about is my wife’s. For a long time, I thought that was how everyone lived. I have had to learn that this is only the case for me and people who look like me. I have had to learn that my words matter. I’ve had to learn that anything I do or say that reinforces my privilege is an act of harm. 

Empathy is hard, but not bothering to learn it, is an unconscionable privilege.

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