datbeardyman

Less about the world, more about me.

Author: Paul W.S. Bowler (page 1 of 27)

Summer Campaigning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Straight White Man Blues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This Title Challenge

I realised something recently. I’m not enjoying Liverpool’s title challenge. This is clearly a ridiculous situation. Winning shit, or the possibility of winning shit, is a huge part of supporting a sports team at doing sports. When one follows a team as storied as Liverpool, one gets to presume that shit will be won. And won often. But, as everyone knows, Liverpool are approaching 30 years without winning the only title that really matters, the Championship. Or the Premiership as it is now known. That’s how long we’ve waited, the name of the title has changed.

In that time I’ve fallen out of and back in love with football. I even began playing again. I’ve been to college. I’ve gotten married. Grown a beard. Bought a house. Gotten fat. Got a dog. Written a book that no one read. Grown an even bigger beard. I fell truly madly deeply for Messi. He was my gateway drug back into football. Football brought me back to Liverpool.

I’m not Scouse. My grandfather was. His ashes are interred at Anfield. I like boasting about that. It confers a certain ‘legitimacy’ on my fandom. It is of course, bollox. I didn’t choose Liverpool because of my grandfather. I was born in Solihull. My father, a Kerry man, supports West Brom. I grew up in rural Kerry with Man United supporting uncles and friends. I chose Liverpool. I don’t remember why. But I did and as is the way with football one doesn’t get to change one’s mind. Not that I would anyway, but it is one of the rules. Whatever your team, that’s your team for life. I love Barcelona. But they are not my team. I’ll probably fall out of love with them once Messi hangs up his boots. Love is fleeting. One’s team is one’s team. Forever!

I’d moved away from football. I never stopped looking to see how Liverpool were doing. Football stopped being important. I’m still surprised I went years not really caring. I think my life was too busy. Working, drinking, girlfriends etc. The stuff grown-ups do, if one is willing to call people in their twenties, grown-ups. Then I saw Messi play. Saw him do things I knew to be divine.

I began to play seven-a-side. I was never any good at football but when I was young, I was fit, fast and tall. Those qualities made up for, to a certain extent, my clueless clumsiness. When I began playing again, in my late thirties, I had one advantage over my faster and fitter younger self, I understood why I was shit and what I could do to minimise my shitness.

I watched Barcelona. I read about Barcelona. Football doesn’t simply happen. It is created, with tools and imagination. Then one adds the divine spark of a Messi and something truly beautiful is born. But Barcelona are not my team.

My team is Liverpool. Even when they are shit. Even when their owners are shit. Even if they go decades without that title, they are my team. I’d fallen back in love with football and I could not escape Liverpool. They are my team.

Football is watched on two levels. There is the aesthetic appreciation. A combination of beauty, style, technique and tactics. Then there is your team. Your team can be stuffed with long-ball merchants with a penchant for ugly and miserly play, but they are your team.

But what does your team mean? A silly game played by monosyllabic millionaires really shouldn’t matter. It shouldn’t, but oh my, it really does. This seemingly irrational commitment matters. The outsourcing of one’s emotions to a bunch of rich strangers is important. It matters in so many ways.

If one lives in or is from the vicinity of a club, then that tribal affiliation makes a certain sense. Ties to a local team are understood. Proximity is a justification. When those ties move into the realm of identity (and when those doing the identifying are from thousands of miles away) things get confusing.

When speaking of Liverpool I tend to say, we. Imagine that. I’ve been in Liverpool exactly one time. We! I know I’m not the only one. We are all in this, we, we call Liverpool.

It’s the identifying with, or possibly the over identifying, that causes the addiction. And the addiction is the emotional rollercoaster we are choosing to pretend is unavoidable. What those men do on a pitch causes exquisite highs and even more exquisite lows. Oh the lows. It is the heartache of grief. The fury of quashed hope. The pain of despair. It is a stinging lash that tells you that you are alive. That you are alive. That you feel. That you are a part of something bigger. There is more than this mundane plodding from cradle to grave.

Pain, or the possibility of pain, is a huge part of supporting a sports team at sports. Yes, the highs are amazing. Istanbul. Istanbul. Istanbul. But it’s a cup. Great to win. Good for the bank balance. Good for catching the roving eyes of success hungry footballers. Losing in a final hurts. It really hurt to lose to that cock Ramos. To that uber cock Ronaldo. But Liverpool do success in Europe on the regular. And it’s a cup. One is insulated from the true depths by the knowledge that a cup requires luck. The best team doesn’t always win. It is far from a lottery, but it isn’t a league.

38 games. Home and away. Perhaps once in a generation the vagaries align to allow a Leicester to win but no more than that. Since we last won, we’ve had a few good sides. A few sides that could mount a challenge. But even with Suarez I never truly believed we would finally end the wait.

I’m not enjoying this title run because for the first time in my adult life I believe we are good enough. It terrifies me. At the time of writing, there are eleven games to go. Three months. We are top of the table. I have hope. I fear the disappointment. Will this be our last opportunity for another few decades? Will Klopp keep this team together? Will the owners keep supporting him? Will a meteor shower end all life on Earth? I support a big club, but I suffer with a small club mentality. We should be winning a couple of titles every decade. All signs point to us returning to that level. But it has been so long! I don’t know how to enjoy a race that we could win, but might not win. I support a big club, but I have a small club mentality. I have genuine hope based on facts. But nothing puts one in the way of hurt like hope. I am not enjoying this title run because I have an idea of how bad I’ll feel if we fail. I have no idea what happens if we win.

 

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So I Must Write

2018 was a lot. A lot. But I rarely wrote. There was too much. It was enervating. It was overwhelming. But I rarely wrote. For a long time I felt this failure as a slight on my identity. How am I a writer, if I don’t write? I must be a writer, it’s in my twitter profile. That’s pretty definitive. But I rarely wrote. I didn’t sleep last year. Not properly. The respirologist said I stopped breathing 22 times every hour. But at least I wasn’t going mad. At least I was miserable and useless for a good reason. I don’t always have a good reason. The antidepressants might prove superfluous. I just need to get used to this stream of pressured air being pumped into me, keeping my airway open as I sleep.

A year without sleep. A year of depression. A year of anxiety. Each a theme in its own book. But I rarely wrote. The first two I now understand, but the third was a mystery. I think no longer.

2018 was a lot. I think the best year of my life. I got to help change the world and to do so in the sun, in the company of the best people I’ve ever known. Side by side with Paula. My leader. My love. We changed the world. I got a tan. Strangers, over mere days, became friends I’d fight for and fight beside. 2018 will always be the year we changed the world in the sun. But I rarely wrote and I could not find ease in my skin.

The world was changing without our talks in the sun. Ireland was joining a modern world that seems intent on retreating from that modernity. As we embrace the promise of a new era, elsewhere, smallness is now in vogue. A smallness of intellect, of imagination, of spirit. A retreat to the pieties of nation. And I did not engage with this nonsense for I rarely wrote.

My brain was foggy and distracted. My attention diverted. My shock at this collective step back, numbing. Nonsense after nonsense. Outrage after outrage. Trump and Brexit. Nonsense after nonsense. Populism and cant. Fortress Europe, my Europe, an intellectual construct that might end a millennium of bloodshed and perhaps save liberalism from itself, condemning the poorest of the world’s poor, to Mediterranean graves. But I rarely wrote.

I was changing. I was once so certain I had all the answers. But I have been proven wrong so often, I’m trying to embrace uncertainty. But this shift remains unexamined. Untested. I am too busy being shocked at the world growing dumber. And I haven’t written a goddamn thing.

I know now why I am anxious. It’s not the stupidity of Trumpists, anti-vaxxers, Brexiteers, anti-choicers, neo-liberals, homeopaths, nationalists and climate change deniers. I’m a middle-aged straight white man. The shit is hitting the fan, but I know I will be largely insulated from the pain. I am too privileged to suffer. And too old to experience the disasters to come. I am anxious because I’ve written so little. I cannot understand, I cannot come to terms with, I cannot take a position, if I have not examined. I cannot examine without writing. I am anxious because for the first time I find the world inexplicable. If I do not write I cannot decipher the inexplicable. I cannot make sense of the world, my place in it and what I should do to tackle the nonsense overtaking us, unless I write. So, I must write.

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My Experience of the Referendum

I thought this blog post would be a necessary purge of anger and frustration. Win or lose, I expected to experience the referendum campaign as something toxic. I assumed I’d need this therapeutic outlet for the scars endured. I remember feeling angry and bitter after the Marriage Equality Referendum, but I can no longer remember why. I don’t even care to know why.

That is not to say that the campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment was all sweetness and light. It certainly wasn’t that, but as I sit here trying to write this post, I feel little else but loss. It is a selfish reaction, but I can not deny it. The experience was immersive. It was positive. It was belonging. It was an extended experience of being and feeling worthwhile. It was immersive. It was meaningful.

I was an integral member of a community that was welded together by a single and singular purpose; asking strangers to recognise a woman’s equality. And we won. If I live to be a hundred, I know I will never again feel this active belonging. That is the loss.

For the duration of the campaign I held the lofty title of, Canvass Coordinator of All Kerry (I may have added the ‘all’ part for effect). In reality, I was responsible for Tralee and the north of the county. Someone else (Lisa, a hero) looked after the Dingle peninsula and another person (Fionnuala, a god of the old school) dealt with the south of the county.

I assumed we’d have very few canvassers, and most of them novices. I hoped we’d reach 40% yes and I expected the abuse to be constant and wearing. I was confident the country would vote yes but I wanted to ensure the ‘no’ majority in Kerry was not overwhelming.

The core group in Kerry was tiny, formed around Kerry for Choice, but I knew they were all in. They could be relied on, though it numbered less than ten people. I expected that we could double that group. Twenty canvassers was a realistic ambition. We wouldn’t get close to knocking on even half the doors in Kerry but the towns, at least, would be made aware of our presence.

Paula, as is her want, looked after all the details of transitioning us from an ARC group to being, Kerry Together for Yes. She made sure we had access to the requisite training, supports and messaging. And we began preparing people for canvassing. The training took approximately two hours (in the beginning). And to my surprise, people began to show up. I hadn’t realised that Paula was maintaining a network of interested individuals, all over Kerry, who’d been waiting for this referendum to be called. I had been labouring under the misapprehension that our Kerry for Choice meetings included everyone in the county who cared about the issue. I’m never not amazed about how wrong I am about most things.

Our training was simple. Always be polite, don’t argue with a committed anti, close the gate after you and whatever your misgivings, sell the 12 weeks.

Besides canvassing there were two other planks to our campaign, the media and the information stalls. Paula and I were Kerry’s spokespeople. She did interviews and press releases and I did debates. I love being on the radio, I love seeing my name in a newspaper, but to be honest, we could have entirely ignored the papers and the radio because the stalls were, unexpectedly to me, our silver bullet.

Tralee, Listowel, Cahersiveen, Killarney, Killorglin, Kenmare and Dingle, all had stalls during the campaign. More often than not, setting up within metres of some of those stalls, would be the anti side, with their posters and leaflets. Sometimes they’d set up either side of a stall and often the adults and children they had handing out leaflets would be positioned very close to us.

Killarney had the biggest issue with antis encroaching on their patch. But on a particularly bad day a local shop owner saw what was happening and chose to stand behind our banner. In Cahersiveen, a trucker stopped opposite the stall, holding up traffic on Main Street. He came over to and took their last two Yes badges to bring back to Abbeydorney. He mentioned the Kerry Babies Case. All were struck by the symbolism.

Initially we would spread out and actively offer leaflets to people, but we observed that if we just stood at our stable, chatting and taking photos of ourselves, people came to us. More and more people. Eager for badges, eager to show their support, eager even to canvass. It began to occur to me than perhaps 40% was a little lacking in ambition. And on the day the antis unfurled one of their truly disgusting posters in the centre of Tralee, I decided that 50% was more than achievable. We couldn’t give away badges fast enough that day. Though we did have to spend time offering comfort to some very upset women. After that we rarely had less than ten activists at our Tralee table. Possibly not the most efficient use of our resources but we never again got hassle and the feedback from people was so restorative. And knowing that the south Kerry crew were holding stalls in places like Cahersiveen and Killorglin was more than encouraging. These were places I never dreamed would see activity and yet there they were, representing for Kerry Together for Yes in what were deemed to be anti-strongholds.

Paula also reached out (oh how she hates that phrase) to the political parties in Kerry to see what they were prepared to do to support us. It was important to establish Kerry Together for Yes’ leadership so that all our limited resources could be placed behind one message and that we were correctly coordinated. The response there was a little disappointing.

I’ll only mention those who helped, fuck the rest. People Before Profit placed themselves entirely at our disposal. Their activists and expertise were key to our success in Tralee. One of our most important activists and leaders is from Labour. She knows who she is. Some of us are Social Democrats. We had some support from Martin Ferris, the local Sinn Féin TD, but more importantly we had Toiréasa Ferris, a Sinn Féin councillor, canvassing with us. Taking novices under her wing, using her profile and past hard work in Tralee and Adfert to sway many undecideds and offering insights and advice at every opportunity. We even got some support from Fianna Fáil. Councillor Norma Moriarty and Senator Ned O’Sullivan publicly endorsed our campaign.

The majority of us, however, did not have political backgrounds. Most of the canvassers were young and not so young women who just knew they had to step up. They were fearful, both of the probable abuse and not knowing what they were supposed to do, but they joined up anyway. And as polling day approached more and more joined. It got to the point that canvassing training was reduced to a five-minute pep talk and an hour or so paired with an experienced canvasser. Experienced meaning, already done this for a week.

I took about a month off work so I could be out every night. I felt a responsibility to these newbies. I know how patronising that sounds. They and I were able to laugh off the abuse, but I got really angry when the old men patronised our activists. Speaking down to them. Putting hands on them to make their point. Our canvassers required neither my sense of responsibility nor my anger. Yet, I doubt I’ll never not feel both proud and protective of each and every one of them. Even of Éamonn who especially needs protecting from no one.

My focus, during the campaign, narrowed to Kerry and Kerry alone. I didn’t watch TV or read much of the national newspapers. When unchallenged lies are regarded as ‘balance’, there was little point in listening to what the media had to offer. I had to take a break from this break when I was scheduled to do a debate on Radio Kerry with a Kerry anti. As I said earlier, I love being on the radio. I am incredibly vain. Like seriously vain. But I’m not a great performer. And I am especially bad when discussing something important. My method for dealing with nerves is to not think about it and hope it all works out in the end. As you can imagine, my exam results over the years have not been great.

On this occasion however, I did my homework. My aim was not to say anything stupid and ensure the anti didn’t deliver a knockout blow. I achieved competence and that was that. I was back canvassing that evening.

Did I expect Kerry to go yes? Near the end, I did. To such a large degree? Taking Healy-Rae strongholds as well? No. Definitely no. We never did a canvass that wasn’t a majority yes. There were even several canvasses where the undecideds and noes combined were less than the yesses. Every poll had us ahead. Our stalls were a constant source of positivity. I knew we’d win, but not so overwhelmingly. Not so comprehensively. Not by so far that the antis had a meltdown on Count Day.

It was hard work, but I miss it. I have missed it every day. It was simple and it was pure. To be in a group where egos were put to one side. Political beliefs were put to one side. Where everyone was pulling in the same direction. I understood for the first time the attraction of single-issue politics. I understand its siren call.

But what I learned from speaking with so many strangers, is that I have to ignore that call. The mistrust, even hatred of women, I knew only in the abstract, was staggering. The misogyny dressed up as religion. The internalised misogyny dressed up as genuine concern. The misogyny coupled with entitlement. I miss those evenings. But I think I miss my privileged ignorance even more.

I was part of a grassroots, feminist, women-led movement that changed the world. These shrill, hair dyed, nose pierced, professors, mothers, unemployed and student women changed the world. I know this because I saw it happen. They may be written out of the official histories, but I saw it happen and I had the great good fortune of being part of it. And I miss it. I miss it. It is a selfish emotion, I know. This result will save lives. This result pushes women closer to true equality. This was a battle, not the war. And tomorrow I will argue that the legislation does not go far enough. But I will always remember this battle won. And the people I fought beside, laughed beside and got tanned beside. I will always remember those wonderful wonderful people.

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When Did I Know?

Sometimes it isn’t obvious. I overtook a truck on a dangerous hill, between two bends. There was an oncoming car that flashed its lights at me. I felt nothing. No fear, no embarrassment. Just noted that had happened. My wife told me she had a pain that may be a reoccurrence of a kidney issue. I felt nothing. Perhaps some mild irritation at the possible inconvenience. I stopped watching TV programmes where I’d built up an attachment to the characters. Their drama was too much. The tightness in my belly left. The scary tightness in my chest stopped. I stopped reading. I stopped writing. I stopped imagining. I stopped being able to do my job properly. My libido disappeared. My ability to sleep through an entire night, gone. My routine is now one of gentle chaos. I eat as if I’m not a middle-aged man whose cholesterol has almost doubled in a year. Showering is a chore. Brushing my teeth an achievement. I play computer games at the easiest level but couldn’t be arsed finishing a single game. I thought about suicide because my therapist asked about it at every session, but I’m not in pain. He said I was depressed. That felt good for a few days. I’ve been that before. It passes. The absence of pain was a bit confusing though. I stopped seeing him. The absence of pain is confusing. A month passes and it hits me. This isn’t passing. This isn’t like anything I’ve ever experienced. There is no drama. No tears. No despair. No trajectory I can recognise and pin my hopes to. It is an ever-unfolding numbness. An absence. Without tears and pain, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I don’t know how to get better. There is no movement. Pain, tears and despair I understand. Symptoms that need managing as I talk my way to recovery. For the first time in my life I went to the doctor and asked for medication. I have always taken a secret and not so intelligent pride in rarely requiring meds for anything. I think I can remember every prescription I’ve had in my 25 years of adulthood. She wrote the prescription. I knew then for sure. I could see the sadness, I could see the need to cry, but they were a distant event. I could not feel them. I could not experience them. So I need medication to feel again, even to feel pain.

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Weekly Links #29

Oops, a day late, sorry about that. Seven links and I think them an interesting and an eclectic mix. From the history of the anti-choice movement in Ireland to why someone condemns yoga as being unchristian to a critique of indemtity politics to even more history. I hope you enjoy. Also consider following this blog and looking up some of the stuff I have on offer at Amazon.

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“In the late 1970s, one medical clinic in South County Dublin did a roaring trade in pencils. But, as with so many things in Ireland at the time, this was not what it appeared. The pencils were colour-coded and depending on the particular pencil a customer bought, they would receive a certain contraceptive. Condoms were one colour, caps another and so on. But attitudes in Ireland were changing in the 1970s and the influence of the UK and America on Ireland was felt in fashion, music and in one other area that made members of Irish conservative society anxious: sexual liberation.” Story of the 8th: how right-wing Catholic groups staged a remarkable political coup

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“You can find the word yoga and the basic concept in Hindu texts dating back thousands of years. It’s true that the modern western version is not entirely the same as its traditional form, but I do not see that as a mark in its favor. After all, it’s no coincidence that it was exported to the West hand-in-hand with the philosophy of the “universality” of all religions, and it finally began to explode in popularity with the counter-culture movement of the sixties. Hindus had their spiritual purposes for yoga, we have ours. Neither purpose seems at all compatible with Christianity.” Yoga Is A Pagan Ritual. Maybe Christians Should Find A Different Workout Routine.

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“This is the electoral challenge of the extreme right in the west: to find a plausible balance between how racist it actually is, in its policies, and how racist it can appear to be in its pronouncements. Its raison d’etre is to promote and project a mythical sense of national and racial purity; its conundrum is how to simultaneously attract racists and xenophobes to that project while denouncing racism and xenophobia.” How the far right has perfected the art of deniable racism

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“In the worlds of politics and nonprofits intersectionality has become a sneaky substitute for the traditional left notion of solidarity developed in the process of ongoing collective struggle against the class enemy. Intersectionality doesn’t deny the existence of class struggle, it just rhetorically demotes it to something co-equal with the fights against ableism and ageism and speciesism, against white supremacy, against gender oppression, and a long elastic list of others.” Intersectionality is a Hole. Afro-Pessimism is a Shovel. We Need to Stop Digging.

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“Here’s an example. Should people be punished for crimes they committed in the distant past? It seems pretty obvious that we should only punish a person for a crime if we are reasonably convinced that they are the same person who committed that crime. However, on many views of personal identity, once enough time has passed between the commission of the offence and the punishment, then, even if the criminal is still alive, they will no longer be the same person that they were and so could not deserve punishment.” Why Philosophers Fail to Influence Public Debate—and How They Can Do Better

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“On January 26th, 1340, the English king Edward III stood on a platform in the marketplace of Ghent in Flanders. It was bedecked with new banners commissioned from the workshops of Antwerp, showing the arms of England quartered with those of France. And from that platform Edward declared himself King of France. A Florentine merchant who was there asked some of the locals what they thought. The better sort, he reported, thought the whole thing “puerile”. But for almost half a millennium, until 1802, the English monarchs would go on claiming to be kings of France.” Is Brexit the maddest thing England has ever done? Not quite

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“In 1824 James Mill (utilitarian, colleague of Jeremy Bentham and father of John Stuart Mill) wrote an article On Government for the Encyclopedia Britannica. In it he argued that individuals whose interests were represented by another would not be inconvenienced by being denied a vote. In this category he included children (represented by their parents) and women.” A Regency Era argument for votes for women

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Weekly Links #28

Another week another assortment of bits I’ve gleaned from the Twitterverse. An eclectic bunch, going from abortion in El Salvador,  Deep Space Nine, being gay while married to a straight woman because, god, women’s experience of pain and de Tocqueville in Ireland. I hope you enjoy.

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“As a kid, I was very concerned with being nice. It’s what was expected of me. In the culture that I come from, girls are expected to be nice and sweet (as they are in many different cultures), or to be obedient and demure. That wasn’t me, but I tried to play the part.” THE FIRST TIME I REALIZED I WAS ALLOWED TO BE ANGRY: MAJOR KIRA NERYS

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“In 1807, Britain passed a law banning the slave trade. But for three centuries, that trade had been dominated by Britain; three centuries of savage enslavement, pitiless brutality, and casual mass murder. Twelve million Africans are thought to have been transported to the Americas, half of them in the peak years of the Atlantic slave trade between 1690 and 1807. In those peak years, about half of these slaves were taken on British ships. Historians estimate that at least one in ten, and possibly one in five slaves, died on the Middle Passage, the journey from Africa to the New World. This suggests that half a million Africans may have lost their lives while being transported on British ships.” the great british empire debate

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“But here, too, doctors can be suspicious of women who live on the margins of society, of those they meet only in the emergency rooms of public hospitals.  The consequences of making abortion a crime include a pattern we’ve already seen, in the context of prosecutions of women for ingesting illicit drugs during pregnancy. These prosecutions have disproportionately targeted poor, black women, many of whom were seeking prenatal care at public hospitals. Ban abortion and that pattern will intensify. The hospital will increasingly become the site of a crime scene investigation, and poor women will be the suspects.” The Consequences of El Salvador’s Abortion Ban

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“Thus, this astute Frenchman, who had demonstrated his powers of observation and analysis in America, examined the situation in Ireland just a decade before the catastrophe of the Great Famine.” Alexis de Tocqueville in America and Ireland 1831-1835

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“Over the recent holiday season I found myself becoming nostalgic about Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Maybe the mid-season break in Star Trek: Discovery made me long for Trek of some kind, and DS9was the first series that came to mind; maybe the fact that my girlfriend is re-watching Babylon 5made me think of space stations; maybe knowing that 2018 would mark DS9’s 25th anniversary heightened its importance in my subconscious; or maybe the nostalgia was brought on by inscrutable caprice that can’t be explicated.” The Most Human Star Trek is the One With the Most Aliens

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“That act of authenticity brought many of you who will read this into our lives. Finally, we were able to live authentically, instead of this life of quiet struggle we had existed in for a decade. Finally we were able to be honest with our community, our friends, our colleagues, our families about our marriage, and about me—that I am a gay man, and that Lolly and I had gotten married knowing this about me. That I always have been gay. That it was not something I had chosen—it just was— but that I loved my wife and my life.” TURNING A UNICORN INTO A BAT: THE POST IN WHICH WE ANNOUNCE THE END OF OUR MARRIAGE

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“The Aziz Ansari case hit a nerve because, as I’ve long feared, we’re only comfortable with movements like #MeToo so long as the men in question are absolute monsters we can easily separate from the pack. Once we move past the “few bad apples” argument and start to suspect that this is more a trend than a blip, our instinct is to normalize. To insist that this is is just how men are, and how sex is.” The female price of male pleasure

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Weekly Links #27

Welcome to weekly links number 27. Only the five this week but most are reads that may take more than a just few minutes. I hope you enjoy. Also consider following this blog and looking up some of the stuff I have on offer at Amazon.

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“So many people are frightened by the wonder of their own presence. They are dying to tie themselves into a system, a role, or to an image, or to a predetermined identity that other people have actually settled on for them.” A Gentle Corrective for the Epidemic of Identity Politics Turning Us on Each Other and on Ourselves

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“The only surprising thing about this marriage of convenience between the most irritating rhetorical style and the dumbest possible ideology is that it took so long to come about. Whatever merits anti-theism may have with regard to social issues, humanism was never the prime mover for New Atheism’s most devout adherents.” New Atheism’s Idiot Heirs

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“What these findings show is that pride, gratitude and compassion, whether we consciously realize it or not, reduce the human mind’s tendency to discount the value of the future. In so doing, they push us not only to cooperate with other people but also to help our own future selves.” The Only Way to Keep Your Resolutions

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“Unfortunately, anti-abortion terrorism isn’t new. Those of us who provide abortion care have long faced cultural stigma, threats and violence.​ But the more they harass us, the more I want to do this work. Their determination to keep people from accessing abortion care reminds me how vitally important our work is.” Anti-Abortion Harassment Goes Way Beyond Picketing Clinics

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“It was this “civil society” strand that influenced the Irish constitution: a strand that attempted to stave off communist devaluing of the individual, corporatist flirtations with authoritarianism and fascism; and atomistic liberalism.” The Irish Constitution and the evolution of Human Rights

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What Of The Fathers?

I’ve had a few conversations recently, about abortion, with men. Their objection to abortion was based (or part based) on the rights of the father. It’s a point of view I struggle to counter. Not because I see any merit in it, rather I see so little merit in it I struggle to explain my thoughts. Sometimes a value is so fundamental that one rarely has to examine and elucidate it.

I hold that a man has no rights over a woman’s body, regardless of what may or may not be going on inside that woman’s body or any connection he may have to that woman or what is going on inside her body. This is not a feminist conclusion, this is being a liberal. I believe, with every fibre of my being, that no one has a right to control or a right of access to anyone else’s body, ever. While the physical autonomy of Irish citizens is routinely violated, I tend to focus on the criminalisation of abortion as it is, by a long distance, the most egregious example.

But that all sounds a bit wordy and ideological.

I’m not a father. I’ve never been a father. And am intent on never being a father. I’ve never felt that connection to a life I have helped create and/or have chosen to call my child. I can, at best, imagine it based on the experiences of friends who are fathers or what is depicted in literature and television. My conclusion is that the connection is real, it is profound and it deserves respect. It is at once, base evolution and beautiful.

The question then is how does one give due cognisance to this true emotion in the creation of a right for the father that can be vindicated, but one that also vindicates the right of the pregnant woman to her physical autonomy?

I used the term ‘father’ deliberately. I could have used any number of terms, from ‘sperm donor’ to ‘potential father’ but am opting to focus on the cohort of men who are not MRA types or who only use the status of father to disempower women. What does one say to those men, who on learning that a woman is carrying their child, deems fatherhood to have begun at the point of revelation? What does one say to those men when the pregnant woman decides she does not want to continue with that pregnancy?

My head knows and says, there is nothing that need be said. Her body, her choice. This is not mere sloganeering, it is the most basic tenet of the pro-choice movement. All our efforts are based on that simple phrase, her body, her choice. But how does one translate this assertion, this assertion of autonomy into a message that can assuage the hurt and fear of the fathers who feel that connection to their child? Is it even a worthwhile endeavour?

In asking how we convey this message of autonomy, I am aware that I am wondering how a woman can ask ‘more nicely’ to not be a slavish incubator? My skin is crawling. I don’t even know if the question is necessary. Perhaps we have the numbers already, perhaps the few men I have spoken to represent a statistically insignificant cohort who need not be given our attention during the campaign to come. I do know the majority of men of my acquaintance get the difference between potential fatherhood and ownership.

And yet, I still long for a form of words to convey my understanding while also answering the question I posed about rights. How, with empathy, do I say; you have absolutely no rights concerning a woman’s body, regardless of what’s going on inside her body, regardless of your connection to her and your connection to what going on inside her body. None, absolutely none and you and anyone else should never have the power to dictate what another person does with their body. And unless you are prepared to contemplate strapping a pregnant woman to her bed for the duration of her pregnancy there is no practicable way of giving you any say on what happens inside her body beyond what she is prepared to grant you, and even then, she can grant you no more than to listen to your opinion. But I understand her decision may cause you pain.

I’m not sure it’s an argument that will way sway anyone, but it’s all I have. It just that it happens to be true.

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