Less about the world, more about me.

Author: Paul W.S. Bowler (Page 1 of 29)

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. 

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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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Workers United

Last night I witnessed a marvel. A group of women took on the State. I wish I could say they won. For they did not. They were never going to be allowed that. The forces arrayed against them were vast and implacable. The outcome was never in doubt, but these remarkable women showed up. For 379 nights and 380 days, they showed up. What began as a battle for their rights has become a struggle on behalf of all of us who work.

Just over a year ago, Debenhams declared bankruptcy in Ireland. In a perfectly legal sleight of hand, they continue to exist. One can find them still selling online. Don’t seek them out. They fired their Irish workforce giving the minimum amount of redundancy allowed in Irish law. In the years preceding this, the workers had agreed to reduced terms and conditions to help save the company and in exchange they were promised (and by promised, I mean contracts were signed) four weeks of redundancy payments, if the worst happened. This agreement was not met. The workers began to picket. They did not stop picketing.

KPMG were appointed as liquidators of Debenhams (in Ireland that is, did I mention they still continue to trade?) In a perfectly legal way, the Debenhams workers were to be ignored. Other creditors were given precedence. The stock was to be sold and the workers given nothing. The picket prevented that stock from being moved. For over a year. Regardless of weather and Covid, that stock was not moved. The Government and TDs were lobbied. The Government wrung its hands and bleated about precedents being set. These were mere retail workers and women after all. They posed no threat. KPMG sought and was granted a High Court injunction which compelled the State to put its resources into the hands of KPMG so they could get that stock out of the stores, shipped out of the country and sold.

Last night was the culmination of that unequal struggle. The trucks arrived in Tralee and the Debenhams workers were moved aside by the Gardaí. Lifted, every one of them.

There were tears. Women who had never given cause for Garda notice had hands put upon them. A single act that broke another contract. Told an entire story. You will be screwed by your employer. Abandoned by your Government. Nailed by the courts. And lifted by the Gardaí. Your only means of redress moved and sold elsewhere. A single act to sum up a long betrayal.

There were tears and laughter. A humour that has sustained them for so long. The only rage expressed was for the scabs who facilitated this betrayal. The Gardaí may seek the excuse of, only following orders. But people who pass a picket line for money? Yet those women last night were fighting for them as well. Precarious employment, meaningless contracts, week unions and legally protected greed impacts us all.

This could happen again. Everything done to the Debenhams workers was legal. In response to and inspired by the hundreds of women who put their lives on hold and their safety on the line, Mick Barry TD has moved the Companies (Employees’ Rights in Liquidation) Bill 2021. Follow this link to find the contact details of your TDs. Call, email, write a letter. Take five minutes to honour the sacrifices made on behalf of all us by the brave women in Tralee last night and in Dublin the night before. Turn this into a victory by ensuring this never happens again.

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Nationalism, Fascism and Racism

The thing about being a straight white man is, we don’t do feeling powerless. Even watching sport, played on the other side of the planet, we know we are contributing to the result with our roars, our oaths and our superstitions. This is a world designed for us, by us. It’s our world so not succeeding feels catastrophic. Any perceived erosion of our increasingly precarious position feels catastrophic. A lot of white men are nursing those grievances  right now. A lot of those white men are angry. And a lot of them have decided to blame anyone who isn’t a straight white man. 

I’m a straight white man. I’m from a working class background. My education is mediocre. And I have a job rather than a career. But I’m not angry. And I certainly don’t blame any one who isn’t a straight white man for my place in the world. And that interests me. I write blog posts  to better understand me. I want to know why I’m not bitter and twisted like so many people who look like me. Why don’t I fear and hate people of colour, when that is now a popular pastime for white men of my socioeconomic strata. 

I don’t consider myself racist. But I have such limited experience with people of colour that I do not know what lurks beneath my liberal facade. I grew up in one of the whitest environments on the planet. Only in the last decade or so has this begun to change. I now, occasionally, work with people of colour. Every week, I play football with people of colour. My favourite places to eat are run by Asians. As my parents get older, I increasingly interact with medical professionals from around the world. And every encounter remains a novelty. I am living in a multicultural and multiracial world, but this only happened yesterday. 

It remains a novelty. An aberration. Intellectually I recognise this as the new normal but as a middle-aged white man I still feel, wow. This is different. Not in Kansas anymore. How did this happen? It was only yesterday…

To be honest, I love it. Yet I’m discomforted by how aware I am of every encounter as being new and different. This Ireland, this growing diversity, this break from the appalling and oppressive monoculture of my youth and young adulthood is a breath of fresh air. And as I struggle to shrug off the novelty, part of me wants to hold on to some of it because I fear forgetting what it was once like in my world. The smallness. The lack of hope and imagination. The narrowness of our horizons. 

But why have I not succumbed to the anger and hate being stoked in my name? All I can think of is my mother. She’s English. Proud English. Family of military service kind of proud. Growing up in the 80s, in rural Kerry, that was confusing. The anti-English rhetoric was as incessant  as it was lacking in subtlety. But there was my mom. My grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins, none of whom could visit, because it wasn’t safe for them to do so. But we visited them. They never struck me as being devils incarnate. 

One really has to question a national identity when it  demonises one of your parents. My experience of Irish national identity, growing up, was one of utter smallness. It was a thing of failure and emigration. And I hated it. I was softer on English nationalism because, you know, my mom. And I hadn’t done the reading. That came later. 

When I did the reading, my oh my, that was a bucket of ice water dunked on my head. That made two national identities not worth a damn to me. It was then understandable for me to ask, what the hell are national identities for in the first place and are they all bullshit? National identities are taught in schools. It’s official title is history, but it’s really just identity. And every nation does it. They are carefully curated. There is some subtlety added in the universities, for those who go to university and study the history they’ll teach to the next generation. But the same national identity will be taught. 

As mentioned, my education is somewhat mediocre. Yet there is no great mystery to nationalism or national identity. One doesn’t even have to reach back that far into history to discover the creation of nationalism and see its institutionalisation.  It is, like most things that occupy the human mind, entirely made up. It, like religions, was invented to meet an immediate need. In this instance, how does one make law if a god, through an anointed king, isn’t available to lend legitimacy. The people. Ein volke. The ‘people’ was invented. Of course, people meant  propertied white men. Though sometimes even unpropertied white men were included. 

But inventing the people meant there had to be a them and us. This whole thing proved quite controversial. Taking gods and kings out of the power equation was not simply going to be  nodded through. France, where this notion got its first full airing, was invaded by every other empire in Europe. Think on that. France was attacked by all the most powerful empires in existence. And France almost won. 

It turns out that a man will fight a lot harder for a flag (oh yes, nations have to have flags) than for a god or a king. France almost won. The invented nation, the people, were mobilised, the levee en masse, and it conquered most of Europe before coming up short in Russia. But it wasn’t just the weather that defeated Napoleon. Nor competent generalship. Invent one people and necessarily other peoples will come into existence. Even kings saw the power of flags. 

And middle class intellectuals saw their chance to shine. They taught history, a carefully curated history, in the universities, to middle class men who taught national identity in the schools. In mere decades all history was national identity. In mere decades national identity was presumed to have always existed. The Romantics are largely to blame for that. 

That is not to say nationalism was a unique invention. Don’t forget, before nationalism, there was magic blood. The nobility of old built and maintained their power through violence. But they justified their hold on power through blood. Noble blood was different. Royal blood was different. One could not wield legitimate power without that special blood. Of course, one’s blood could become special if one was very good at violence or one was very rich. But the blood mattered. 

And there was another invention. As industry grew, new ‘natural’ divisions were devised. The lower orders were a different breed. Poor, dirty and powerless because that was all their blood could aspire to. Industry grew and needed more of everything to grow ever more. But that everything was usually found where people who looked different lived. Their blood was ‘scientifically’ proved to be inferior. Without ‘race’ the pillaging of the America’s would’ve proved impossible. 

And we bought it all. Still buy it. Not seeing that racism, fascism and nationalism are all synonyms for the same form of magical thinking. The idea that blood, lines drawn on a map, physical appearance and flags have intrinsic meaning. The creation of them and us. Created to keep us in our places. A trick so devious that it’s treated as fact even though the truth isn’t even hidden. 

We imbibe nationalism and it’s inevitable conclusions, racism and fascism, with our mother’s milk. Thought so natural, so ancient, we mistake it for fact. It never occurs to us that it is a construct with a specific purpose; to keep us in our place. To keep us in factories and armies. To keep us ignorant and servile. To keep us primed and vicious. To keep us from looking up. 

And it is  men who look like me who have fallen the hardest for this con. As our economic security is eroded, we look for someone to blame. As we are supplanted and surpassed by those we once looked down on, we look for someone to blame. As our dignity is stripped from us in factories that make nothing, we look for someone to blame. We look for purpose and identity in a world that no longer values our works nor our capacity for violence. So many of us have fallen back on magical thinking. 

Nation, race, identity are what many of us have chosen to cling to. Instead of looking up to see whose boot is on our necks, we have chosen flags and a carefully curated history. Instead of agency we have traded feeling powerless for magical thinking. For an invention long obsolete. We’ll do anything, but look up. 

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On Being On The Left

Image by Marisa04 from Pixabay

There are many criticisms that can be levelled at the Green Party, but describing us as Blueshirts on bikes is a bit much. I’ll grant you it’s bloody funny, but I have to disagree with the sentiment. 

That is not to say there aren’t right of centre members. Or that many in the party retain too much faith in the power of capitalism to rescue us from the climate crisis. But there is an acceptance that the full weight of the state, an expanded and heavily invested state, is required to even begin addressing the climate crisis. 

When I place my part of the world, north Kerry, in the climate crisis I see how complicated it will be to make any of the changes necessary to stop and reverse the harm we are doing to our environment. In a previous post I spoke about turf. Burning turf is almost as culturally important, as it is a source of heat. For generations it has been the only way for innumerable households to stay warm and cook their food. We wax lyrical about the stuff. But it has to go. Burning the turf itself releases carbon but, just as importantly, harvesting it, destroys an important ecosystem. 

But how do we move from burning turf when for many, it’s the only fuel they have? We could simply ban it of course. A bit of the Blueshirt on bikes vibe. Informing thousands of households that they’ll just have to make alternative arrangements. Thank you very much. It’d be simple. Devastating and immoral, but simple. The Green Party way however, is to spend a lot of money easing those thousands of households towards a healthier and more sustainable future. 

It involves retrofitting houses, so they are more heat efficient, and installing alternative heating systems. And it involves training an army of tradespeople to do all this work and to service the new energy sources. This will require huge public investment. Yes, it will create jobs, but still, a lot of tax money will need to be spent. And that’s only one aspect of the environmental crisis we are addressing.

Public transport, reviving our towns and villages, supporting our farmers in mitigating their impact on the environment, reforestation and increasing our use of renewable energy, all require the state, paying and/or leading the way. If we are ever to achieve carbon neutrality, the state will need to do most of the heavy lifting.

The problem with this government, a government I voted for and continue to support, is a hidebound belief in profit for profit’s sake. For example, our homelessness and housing crises. The state, even within the constraints of the constitution, has awesome powers and access to vast amounts of cheap money. It could choose to employ planning experts and architects. It could employ project managers and contractors. It could build the houses this country needs. It could create jobs and end homelessness and provide affordable homes where they are needed. They could keep these assets or sell at cost. This could be decided on a case by case basis.

The problem, apparently, is no one will be made wealthy this way. Lots of employment. Homelessness ended. The working poor given a chance. Young people being able to leave home. Families started. But no one gets to be a millionaire. And yes, I did sign up to this. 

Another example is wind farms. With developments in turbine energy, it is now realistic for Ireland to one day be entirely  self sufficient in its production of electricity. Imagine that. No matter what is happening in the world, our lights never go off. Our houses never go cold. Our food is always cooked. And the state, as in Norway, could own it all. Instead, with the exception of community groups now being allowed to own their own turbines, profit will be taken.

The Greens know that massive investment and state intervention is required. If this government manages to survive its epically incompetent first 100 days, then we’ll see if that money is spent. If it isn’t then there is no future for us in this administration.

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

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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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My Pride

Pride is an odd thing. A deadly sin. An award unlooked for, yet keenly felt. I look back at the Repeal campaign with nothing but pride. I try to be angry. The vituperation. The calumny. The stakes. Such high stakes. Not a wager I could lose, for my body was not in the game. A proponent yes, an active participant in the contest, but for my part, necessarily a mere game. I stood to gain nor lose anything of me or my rights. I am left with my pride. I helped. And nothing I ever do in life will ever have such consequence. I helped where others wouldn’t. I helped where those that needed help, risked all.

I am prouder of this than I can express in mere words. It comforts me now, no matter the vicissitudes, the normalcy, the ennui, there was a thing I did. And did well. It was both process and instances. I was there from the beginning. I suggested it. “Why not Kerry?” I said. Why not Kerry? Then Paula made it happen. The details, the innumerable details. All these, she met and ticked and identified the next. I am proud of my question.

I am proud of every door I knocked on. I am proud of every canvasser coached and every door they knocked on. I am proud of their politeness when politeness was not deserved. I am proud of every evening spent in expectation of abuse. I am proud of the mountains scaled. I am proud of the tallying of the count. I am proud of the reserve. I am proud that I now know people I scarcely deserve to know.

All this pride but there was this single moment where all that pride was distilled. When I tasted the purest form of pride. When I knew I had achieved more than I am ordinarily capable. I gave a speech at our celebration. Of course, I did. For weeks I had been preparing in my mind two forms of consolation. The lesser, a national victory but a local defeat. The greater, utter ruin. My sense of duty was such that I felt it my responsibility. That was pride and that was vain. It was not my place nor would I have had the words. The stakes were beyond my comprehension.

We were all there. Well fed. Exhausted. I thanked them all. So vain to think they required my gratitude. Then I referred to Paula. Who carried us all. Who made all possible. There was applause. Such applause. Even now my hackles rise at that great sound. Our leader given her due. And oh, the pride I feel still. That sound is my pride and joy. Her sacrifice of health and well-being. The scars still carried. If I live to be a hundred that sound will carry me on. My pride.

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