datbeardyman

Less about the world, more about me.

Author: Paul W.S. Bowler (page 1 of 28)

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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In The National Interest

There are many who think it’s the Green Party’s duty to enter government with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Similarly, it is thought Labour and the Social Democrats should do what they can to facilitate a FF/FG coalition. Obviously, we need a government. The columnists insist that this be a strong and stable government. Strong and stable are words that appeal to their readers. No one speaks of coherent though.

The general election left us with two blocks in our parliament. For the first time since the creation of the State, we have a group of left leaning parties that have almost the same number of seats as the right leaning parties. This is amazing. For a political nerd like me it’s the realisation of a dream. Of course, for most of my life I had counted myself as being on the right of that divide, but more on that anon.   

This is no small thing. This is not esoteric naval gazing. At the heart of the left-right divide is the role of the State in our individual lives, in society and in the economy. It had appeared that the right had triumphed and for the last several decades we witnessed the retreat of the State. Something I was very happy about. Then there was the Great Recession and I had to reassess my ideology. I thought everyone would be doing so but ideological nerdishness is apparently a minority sport.

The smaller State allowed private enterprise run amok. Greed and inefficiency meant the State had to pick up the pieces. Something it periodically has to do whenever it leaves capitalism off the rein. I wasn’t happy coming to that realisation. Unfortunately, too many of us wear our ideology as an identity as opposed to a position constantly changing as more information becomes available. I had to accept that left to their own devices, people, will put self-interest so far in front of everything else, it’ll eventually burn themselves as well as everyone else. Much like what happened in our housing bubble.

As this pandemic burns across the globe we see which countries are doing better. Generally, they have well developed public health systems, there is some level of trust between the populace and their politicians and there’s an agreement that perhaps saving lives is more important than the economy.

That is not to criticise our caretaker government’s handling of the crisis. I’ll be honest, if Leo Varadkar retired from politics and ran for the presidency, I’d probably vote for him. Or at least give him a high preference. His dealing with the pandemic merits praise. He has proven himself to be competent enough to listen to experts. That may seem like a low bar for praise but look around the world. Listening to experts is no longer the norm. Graft and ideology are more important than mere facts.

But Varadkar and to a lesser extent, Michael Martin are of a mindset that has meant we are not necessarily in a position to save every life that needs saving. Our under-resourced health system is dealing with a generational crisis when it can’t even deal with seasonal flu. Yet a lot of people are making a lot of money off of the health system. The thousands of homeless people, needlessly homeless, are being sheltered, but why can’t they self-isolate like I do? In their own homes? How much money did landlords and hotels receive in the last ten years? Men, women and children stuck in Direct Provision Centres for unending years? Unable to self-isolate. Unable to social distance? Unable to cocoon? An industry created by our politicians.

It is a mindset that lauds the monetisation of misery. I wish this industrialised callousness was the result of corruption. I’d feel a lot better about the world if Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil politicians were found to be profiting from this misery. But they are not. This distortion of the social contract is ideological. They genuinely believe they are doing the right thing. They genuinely think they, and their parties, have been doing the right thing for the country. Ideology is their identity.

I joined the Green Party because I think if we don’t prioritise the environment today, then things like ideology and coalitions and duty to govern will soon become moot. And to prioritise the environment we must be in power. The dramatic changes that are necessary cannot be coaxed into existence from the opposition benches. But the change required to deal with the climate emergency will make what is happening now appear like the most minor of minor blips. We don’t have half a century of incrementalism left to us. We need the State to make decisions and take on responsibilities that make even a convert like me shudder. Because please remember, I may now be on the left but do I feel comfortable with the chancers we elect making vital decisions on my behalf? Fuck no. I’ve met several politicians in my life. The number that have impressed me I can count on one hand. And even then, I thought most of them were wrong.

The Greens could do very well in government. We’d have ministries, extra senators and access to hitherto unimaginable resources. But we would achieve so little with these two parties in charge that the whole point of being the Green Party would be lost. We want to save the planet. Yes, that sounds naive and saying it attracts scorn. But just like Varadkar, we listen to experts too. The planet does require saving. That’s not a left or right issue. It’s just a fact. Why most Greens are, in my experience, now on the left, is the realisation many of us have had, that unfettered capitalism is incapable of achieving our most basic goal, preventing the collapse of our civilisation due to climate change.

I don’t see how Green Party participation would contribute to a coherent government if its core ideology is so at variance with its coalition partners. I can’t see it. And if we are able to coalesce successfully with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, what does that say about us?

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Greens and Government Formation

We don’t have a government. Well, technically we do, but it wasn’t chosen by the current Dáil. Negotiations to form a new government have been interrupted and/or given an added impetus by the coronavirus pandemic. Varadkar and his caretaker cabinet have been doing ok though. He knows he can’t do anything that doesn’t have the overwhelming support of the Dáil so we have, in practice, a national government in place. It’s obviously not sustainable, but for now it’ll do. And while all organs of the State are bent on saving lives, politicians have to find the time to put together some sort of arrangement that will allow, sooner rather than later, for a new Taoiseach, a new cabinet and a new suite of policies to be elected by this Dáil.

I’m a member of the Green Party. Before the election I had hoped we would be required by either Fine Gael or Fianna Fail to form a government. We would drive a hard bargain and walk away if we couldn’t get exactly what we wanted.

I joined the Green Party because it is a coalition. All serious political parties are coalitions, but I think the breadth of ideologies in the Green Party is quite something. There are sections of the party I’d really like to see get in the sea. Some I’m glad didn’t win seats. But I don’t care about them. I joined the Green Party because it is a coalition of people who’d like to see states, societies and all humans begin to treat our planet as being the only planet we can inhabit. You know, the reality. I’ve no love for, nor loyalty to, the Green Party. I can’t even see it existing in ten to twenty years time. Either we’ll be so successful that our continued existence will appear anachronistic. Or we’ll fail and have nothing to contribute to the End Times but our lettuce.

I don’t care if we go into coalition with either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. Fianna Fáil was my first preference as they have no actual ideology other than a burning need to be in power. Fine Gael have an identifiable ideology. It’s wrong but they have something. And I say that as a former member of FG. That they learned nothing from the Great Recession astounds me. Their constant need to monetise misery, through Direct Provision and HAP, appals me.

Either would have been useful to us if they’d been suitably motivated. But together? In power with one of them, we’d have suffered at the next election. But together? We’d be wiped out at the next general election. Being wiped out isn’t the worst thing in the world. It would be inconvenient yes, but the inevitable lack of progress in moving the country towards dealing with the climate crisis and the biodiversity crisis? Now that would be criminal.

Which leaves us with Sinn Féin. I despise Sinn Féin and everything they represent. I’d hoped they would never get into power in my lifetime. Then they unquestionably won the last election. They may be criticised for their election strategy but every poll indicated they would have to work very hard to just hold what they had. No one predicated that the consistent failure, the ideologically motivated failure of FG and their cheerleaders in FF would move so many people to vote SF. I despise them but any government that doesn’t include them is a government the Greens cannot be a part of. They care as little for the environment as FG and FF and they are as desperate to be in power as FG and FF. But they won the last election, morally and in first preferences.

FG and FF cannot countenance including SF in government. I understand that. For ideological reasons for the former and existential reasons for the latter. And I dare say some would also argue for moral reasons. Instead they will throw money at certain constituencies to bring Independents on board and they’ll muddle their way through, for a time. Particular constituencies will end up with better roads than their neighbours because screwing over your neighbours is ok in this country.

The Greens will be in opposition. This is a good thing. So much bigger with vastly increased resources and a motivated base. We have a maximum of five years to prepare, to campaign, to educate, to learn and to be in a position where serious environmental policies will no longer scare and confuse the larger parties. Come the next election we will be asked to support either an amalgamated FG/FF or a Sinn Féin led administration. We won’t have lost ten years by being tied to the disastrously parochial government we are about to see cobbled together.

(But if there was to be a genuine national unity government that included Sinn Féin and at least one of the left of centre parties then I’d support the Greens being in that.)

 

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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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