datbeardyman

Less about the world, more about me.

Category: Current Affairs (page 1 of 5)

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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Purity

Do you ever worry that the Eighth Amendment won’t be repealed because of the purity of the campaigners’ message? Yeah, me neither. Do I worry that the media lacks the energy and interest to accurately describe the Repeal Movement? You betcha. When a journalist, or a politician or anyone for that matter describes Repealers as extremist, you know you’re in the presence of a lazy person or an anti-choicer.

Understanding Repealers is not that difficult. We are the 80% plus, of the population, who think there are circumstances where forcing a woman to remain pregnant is not a good thing. We are the more than 80% who understand that to address this, the Eighth Amendment has to go for there is no other way to allow, some women, in certain circumstances, have abortions. Labelling over 80% of the population as extremist is some next level bullshit. Repealers are the mainstream.

Are all Repealers the same? No. Repealers can be broadly divided into two groups. One group regards every abortion as a tragedy, but sometimes a necessary one. The second group regards some abortions as tragic and some as a positive choice.

The only thing keeping these very different perspectives in the same camp, is the Eighth Amendment. In a civilised country, this difference would be the only debate being had. But with thousands of Irish women being forced to flee the country every year for health care, we find ourselves on the same side.

Those in the former group will be asked to make their peace with ‘abortion on request’ up to twelve weeks because it’s the only practicable way to ensure victims of rape can access the health care they want. The latter will have to accept that women who are thirteen weeks pregnant will have to continue to leave the country because in the current environment it is the only way to ensure some women get health care closer to home.

It’s an uncomfortable alliance, but a necessary one. It is a recognition that the status quo is unsustainable. A recognition that the current regime pertaining to reproductive rights is at best hypocritical, and at worst cruel and dangerous. But while we are in the nowhere land of no referendum yet called, we are all free to still opine on abortion. We are still free to say there are good abortions and there are bad abortions or that there are no good and bad abortions, only abortion. We are still free to say that the decision to have an abortion should, in every circumstance, be the woman’s. We are still free to imagine and to plan what we’ll have to do after the (hopefully) successful conclusion of this alliance.

Once the referendum is called though. Once we have a date. Then it’s the dirty and cynical world of politics and winning a vote. Then and only then will this alliance come truly alive. Its disparate parts, some admittedly holding their noses, will have one purpose, one message and one goal. It won’t exactly be easy, but it will at least be straightforward. It will be an alliance of the over 80% trying to convince that 80% to come out to vote. It will be a campaign of explaining the logic of twelve weeks on request. It will be a campaign of assuaging the fears of those who think it goes too far and reassuring those who think it does not go far enough.

Time will of course be wasted arguing with anti-choicers. Unfortunately, that will be our only way to access the media who are already gearing up to make this a straight up fight between extremists. But away from the media, not a breath will be wasted on anti-choicers. We already know what way they will vote. It’s about the over 80% who are, already to some degree pro-choice. It’s all about them. But until the date is set and the proposed legislation indicated then please expect us to be at least be honest in our views.

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Yet Another Think Piece

Something we don’t see enough of these days are think pieces on the campaign to repeal the 8th Amendment. Or more specifically, pieces on how these women are doing it wrong. So, I’m going to explain what the repealers are doing wrong and why they are making faux-repealers feel all jittery. Perhaps my unique male perspective will have an impact on female repealers and motivate them to do better. And I didn’t even refer to these women as ladies, so I think I might be able to win their trust. It’s important to speak their language.

To understand the Repeal movement, one has to examine its constituent parts. But as this is a think piece, policing the tone of the Repeal movement, I’m not going to bother my arse with that. I will instead target just one organisation within the movement. And as I happen to think I know a bit about them already I won’t need to research the innumerable other organisations that are campaigning to repeal the 8th Amendment. Economy of effort is a much-underappreciated skill these days.

Anyway, I’m going to have a go at the Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC). This is the group that runs the annual March for Choice protest. This group of volunteers somehow managed to get 40,000 people onto the streets of Dublin in support of its extremist agenda. But let’s not dwell on that unattributed success or the amount of work that went into getting that march organised. I am here to admonish them after all.

What is ARC’s extremist agenda? Abortion on demand. Yep, they believe a woman should retain control of her body at all times. This is, by definition, extremist, because the vast majority of Irish people only support a woman’s right to choose in special circumstances. This inconsistency, or hypocrisy if you will, has been designated the middle ground by those of us who write think pieces and is therefore beyond questioning by anyone, ever. To win any referendum on any topic, one must always pander to the having their cake and eating it too majority.

ARC, though rarely specifically named, is often criticised for making the cake havers and eaters uncomfortable. They insist on pointing out that philosophically, logically, ethically and biologically, a foetus is a foetus. Taken to its natural conclusion, allowing abortions in only certain circumstances means that the foetus doesn’t actually matter. What is being judged is the pregnant person. (Person?)

This is an emotional and moral sleight of hand designed to ease one’s discomfort at the idea that some women are having sex and possibly even enjoying it. If you do the crime then you must be prepared to do the time, is the value espoused by the majority, the middle ground, the non-extremists. The crime in this instance being, sex. The having of it. The possible even enjoyment of same. When an unwanted pregnancy is the result of good sex then that foetus acquires a special status that requires constitutional protection. This is the reality, yet ARC extremists continue to refuse to cater to this cohort of referendum deciders.

ARC supports all women in all their choices. That’s bad of them. This is permissive. The majority doesn’t know what permissive means but they know they don’t like it. Supporting all women, in all circumstances, means some women we disapprove of, not paying the price of our disapproval.

What ARC need to do is be more strategic. This is easy to do. Let me explain it for them. Simply throw several thousand of the women they support under a bus. Then get a nice haircut and politely ask that a few women, who pass the test of having suffered sufficiently for the majority’s satisfaction, please be allowed have an abortion here instead of in the UK. It’s not rocket science.

And anyway, in a few decades, there’s every chance the icecaps will have melted and we’ll all be dead anyway.

But now that I’ve explained how ARC can win a referendum they don’t want to win, I think it’s important to point out another major flaw in their campaign. They keep using politically correct language. They insist on reminding the majority about every single minority that is disproportionately affected by the 8th Amendment. Do I have to explain what’s wrong with this? The clue is in the term, minorities. Minorities are minorities for two reasons, first, there aren’t many of them and two, they spook the majority. The majority aren’t all that keen on trans men, asylum seekers, the disabled, the mentally ill and the poor. Yet, day in, day out, ARC rub the noses of the easily offended majority in their inclusivity. It’s a stunning level of contempt for long held, carefully nurtured and greatly valued prejudices.

I don’t expect to be thanked for my insights and unsolicited advice. I give both freely because as a man I think it is important to educate those with less understanding of the complicated world we live in. You may call it the wise man’s burden. I fully expect there to be some shrill pushback but I have no doubt the sisterhood will eventually understand that the time is yet not ripe for them to enjoy the freedoms I hardly notice I have. One day perhaps, but not today. And probably not tomorrow either. You’re welcome.

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On Being A Dickhead

Barry Walsh is a bit of a dickhead. Fortunately, this isn’t a crime. Who among us isn’t guilty of the occasional lapse into dickishness? That Barry lapses and stays lapsed isn’t necessarily the point. The point is he didn’t commit a crime. He spoke his mind and though his mind may be a small and grubby place, it’s his mind and he gets to vomit out its contents without fear of legal consequence.

And the thing is, he hasn’t and won’t face legal censure. His free speech is protected. It’s a wonderful thing, free speech. Even little men, with tiny personalities, can say what they want about whomever they want and not have to fear a knock at the door from the jackbooted agents of the State. Every Barry and even this particular Barry, is entitled to verbally abuse the women who remind him of his innate inadequacies. Free speech is indeed a wonderful thing.

The problem with free speech though, is that it only applies to legal consequences for things said. Nasty and pathetic comments are indeed protected by our State, but only in so far as the State doesn’t give a shit if you insist on being a dickhead. The State also doesn’t a shit if someone calls you out for being a dickhead.

That’s the thing about the State, it likes free speech because it means it doesn’t have to do anything about dickheads. The State also avoids having to define what being a dickhead actually is. And as what constitutes a dickhead is endlessly subjective, the State prefers to leave well enough alone. It prefers dickheads, however they are defined at any particular time, to sink or swim on their own.

This particular petty little gobshite verbally abused a number of women who weren’t impressed by his brand of dickishness. They decided his oeuvre required a pointed critique. Essentially, they fucked him up. And they fucked him up in a terribly devious way, they simply stood up to him. Nothing is more galling to the little man than a woman using her free speech, her strength and whatever other resources she can call on, to show that little man the evidence of his essential smallness. It’s a terrifying sight. Well, more funny and satisfying than scary, but you get my point.

Some may call this political correctness gone mad. Fuck them. Fuck them very much. This is far from political correctness. This is a simple example of a petty little man verbally abusing women who were in a position to fight back. Free speech would also have protected his right to verbally abuse women who didn’t have the power to fight back. And that is where political correctness comes in. The PC Brigade, bastards that they are, wish to radically change our values. They want it to be unthinkable for petty little men to verbally abuse women, in any and all circumstances. Even when those women do not have the power to fight back. I know, disgusting really.

Public life may have lost this little man forever. It’s unlikely. His brand of dickishness may well come back into fashion. Or he may actually take the time to examine his attitude towards women who disagree with him and grow the fuck up. I won’t hold my breath on that one.

The comforting thing, for me, about this little man and his ilk, is that I never have to worry about the little men. I’m a straight white man. I’m never the target of these little men. It would be a job of mere moments to alter my life so that I’d be entirely oblivious to the very existence of these petty men.

Even now I have to actively search for instances where little men verbally abuse people who don’t look like me. I’m never the target. I look like these little men. I sound like these little men. I pee like these little men.

And that’s the problem with political correctness. It makes not noticing feel a little like not noticing on purpose. This little man took on women who had the power to fuck him up. Political correctness is about supporting those who don’t have the power to fight back when the dickheads come after them.

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On Being An Extremist

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I find it unsettling when I remember I’m considered to be a bit of an extremist. It’s not usual for a woolly liberal centrist to be described as an extremist. Yet here I am, a firm believer in the notion that a woman is the best judge of what should or shouldn’t happen to her body. And that apparently is enough to mark me out as an extremist. Only in this age of homeopathy can such a thing be said to make any sense.

Ireland, it seems, is divided into two camps. There are those who believe abortions should only happen out foreign and those of us who believe abortions should be provided here. Supporting a woman to have an abortion in her own country is extreme. Insisting a woman leave the country to have an abortion is considered to be the best way to avoid spooking those poor denizens of Middle Ireland. Ireland, it seems, is divided into two camps. There are those of us who consider this to be the rankest of rank hypocrisy and those who consider this to be winning.

Ireland, it seems, is divided into two camps. There are those of us who think women should enjoy the ride, as men have always enjoyed the ride. Sexual incontinence for all, as it has always been, but now women are allowed to have a say in the process and also to enjoy the experience. Yes, use precautions, but please enjoy yourselves. Sex is brilliant. And if those precautions fail, then feel free to choose whatever option best serves you. And then there are those who shake their heads. Consequence free riding is and always has been the preserve of men. We didn’t spend generations incarcerating pregnant women just to enrich the religious. We locked them up because riding is for men. Abortions for women who enjoy the ride is akin to saying that locking up women who enjoyed the ride was somehow wrong. And that can’t be right. Can it? That’s just too extreme for Middle Ireland to ponder over its morning cornflakes.

Ireland, it seems, is divided into two camps. There are those of us think it indefensible to pick and choose the abortions we are comfortable with and to decide which women have done enough suffering to merit an abortion. This is thought of as extreme. Then there are those who need women to suffer to the point that any misgivings they have about abortions are overcome. Misgivings that will return the moment the next woman has the temerity to demand an abortion and the whole process begins again.

Ireland, it seems, is divided into two camps. There are those of us who are quite certain that a foetus is never the equal of the women carrying it. Well no, it is the equal and even more important than the woman who carries in one circumstance, when the woman carrying it decrees it to be so. A woman owning her body and knowing her own mind is dismissed as extreme. On the other side, the foetus is considered the equal of the woman carrying it unless the woman has suffered or is suffering to a yet to be legally defined degree. This legal bar of suffering may end up in our Constitution or the Constitution may oblige our parliament to make suffering and tragedy a prerequisite for women with the temerity to demand an abortion. This is not thought of as extreme.

Ireland, it seems, is divided into two camps. There are those who think campaigning for women to have access to abortion in their own country is extreme. The very act of saying we want abortion services to be available in Ireland, without demur, without apology, without euphemism, without shame, is dismissed as gauche and divisive. Then there are those who think abortions are gross and women’s voices are scary so just please leave me in peace to eat my cornflakes.

Ireland, it seems, is divided into two camps. There are those of us who go to great pain to ensure we present a professional and reasonable front when campaigning. We keep our accounts public, write letters of persuasion, advocate, canvass and lobby within civilised norms. Then there are those who see this effort and dismiss it as just the same as those who abuse, those who threaten, those who picket politician’s houses. It is considered extreme to expect people to look at what people do and note the difference.

Ireland, it seems, is divided into three camps. There are those of us who reacted with surprised satisfaction to the outcome of the Citizen’s Assembly. We’d forgotten that when presented with the facts, people will see the inescapable logic of greatly extending abortion services in Ireland. Then there are those who dismiss facts as being less important than their sincerely held beliefs. And then there are those who simply don’t expect ordinary people to be able to deal with facts. In this era of homeopathy, Brexit and Trump, they are convinced people will not raise their heads from their cornflakes to consider facts. They will keep to their prejudices and assumptions and vote accordingly. It is considered extreme to trust voters as it is extreme to trust women.

Ireland, it seems, is divided into two camps. There are those who are called extremists and there are the self-serving and lazy commentators who call them extremists. And I find I am getting quite comfortable with being the extremist they keep speaking of.

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A Measure Of Success

It’s difficult to know how to assess the long career of Enda Kenny. He has been a professional politician for almost my entire life. And I’m old. I suppose the fact he managed to keep getting elected for that length of time is something of a success. Though just citing his longevity might appear to be unnecessarily churlish. He did rise, quietly, ever so quietly, to the leadership of his party. And he did manage to survive both the public’s and his own party’s indifference long enough for his only obstacle to high office to spectacularly self-destruct. He was the head of this nation’s government for six straight years. An unheard-of length of time for someone from his party. This is unquestionably something that can be described as success.

He rose to be head of government after his only credible rivals for the position destroyed both the Irish economy and themselves in an orgy of complacent incompetence. He headed a government with an overwhelming majority, tasked with governing a nation that had careered itself into a crisis of existential severity. Through his efforts, eye-wateringly stern compromises with our international friends and swingeing cuts to the living standards of people who probably didn’t vote for him, Ireland survived as an independent (or as independent a tiny nation wholly dependent on trade with bigger neighbours can be deemed independent) nation. The nation retained what nominal freedom to conduct its own affairs that it always had. This is not nothing.

He then faced the electorate with this success as his badge, and they went a long way towards removing him from government. Only retaining his role as head of government by gaining the support of the party that had destroyed the nation’s economy. This resurgent party, whose blithe ignorance of economic good practice had heralded Kenny’s initial rise, now decided that their mess required another term of Kenny to clean up or, at the very least, be erased from public consciousness. A second term, even a cobbled together one, reliant on those who went so close to destroying the nation, is still a second term as head of government. This must be deemed a success.

After six years of Kenny as head of government, Ireland is undoubtedly more stable than it was. It is more prosperous and there is less unemployment. The sort of unrest one would associate with the self-inflicted economic castastrophe we visited upon ourselves never materialised. And during his six years as head of government, Kenny never found it necessary to change anything. As an amalgam of institutions and competing interest groups, Ireland is as it was before he rose to his position as head of government with a huge majority. Maintaining the status quo can be described as a success.

Maintaining the status quo did come at a cost. Though a small one. Those who depended on the state for support were protected from the worst of the economic ordeal being endured. Except those deemed too young to matter. Being rational people they got the message and can now be found sunning themselves in Australia. Poverty did increase. Hospital waiting lists did grow ever longer. Homelessness became uncomfortably visible. Our debasing deference to transnational corporations even turned the heads of judges. But the status quo was maintained. Ireland is now very much as it was and even the desire to change has been successfully enervated.

There were social issues that almost tripped him up. Issues he managed to negotiate without risk nor commitment. Marriage equality took everyone by surprise by not being controversial at all. He made eloquent noises at the Church of Rome while carefully ensuring it retained all its power and access. He used his huge majority to allow 26 abortions a year in Ireland, while offering 14 years in prison for anyone else who dared. And managed a form of filibuster through consultation so as not to have to deal with this issue again as leader of this nation’s government. And he managed to leave refugees asylum-seekers languishing throughout his entire term. So much potential unpleasantness, successfully negotiated. Will his successor, as head of government, be as skilled or indeed as fortunate?

How does one attribute success or failure to someone who is so clearly a success within the parameters he himself has set? Even in this he is a success. He achieved everything a successful politician would deem a worthy ambition. The nation, whose government he led, is under almost all metrics, better off now than it was after his opponents imploded themselves and the country. He was head of government for six years. This is not something that even the most ambitious of his party would dream of. Yet he did it. He left before he was pushed. A rarity for a politician who achieves such high office. How does one attribute success or failure to someone who is so clearly a success within the parameters he himself has set?

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Confusing Agreement With Support

I’m a writer who wants to be a novelist when I grow up. I love words. I’m an activist who wants to change the world. I love being involved in campaigns. I’m a man. I have a huge ego. I am convinced that if enough people would just listen to my words they would finally see every issue from my point of view and necessarily agree with me.

I often day-dream about going on Radio Kerry to discuss the Eighth Amendment and being so eloquent that Kerry becomes a bastion of pro-choice sentiment. It’s an enjoyable daydream. But I’m a writer, so sometimes I look at my daydreams for ideas. I examine the detail. And when I examine the detail of this daydream I quickly realise how full of shit it, and I, am.

I search for the words for my barn-storming appearance. They aren’t there. I know my opponent’s words. They run the full gamut of ‘unborn baby’ all the way to ‘unborn baby’ and she wipes the floor with me.

I’m an activist, I know pithy beats considered every time. What are my soundbites? I have; trust women, forced birth, Savita, choice, medical care, the UK, ten a day, autonomy. I could throw in, misogyny, hypocrisy, patriarchy and religion, but these have too many syllables to tap a nerve, inspire empathy, take the listener’s mind from…unborn baby.

I’m a writer. I try to imagine what it would be like to be someone else. I’ve tried to imagine what it must be like to experience a crisis pregnancy in this country. I last about two seconds before I’m overwhelmed by feelings of panic and despair.

I’m a straight man. The obstacles to my physical autonomy include not being able to smoke weed when I want to and the theoretical possibility that I may not be able to end my own life at some future date, if the circumstances call for it. How do I describe in soundbites the panic I imagine? How do I equate my moral outrage to their moral outrage?

I like telling stories. I like telling farfetched stories. Once upon a time, in a land far far away, a law was passed that gave an appendix the same legal status as the man it inhabited. Why would an unthinking, unfeeling clump of cells be granted such rights? No one could really remember, but they were pretty confident that it had something to do with control and keeping men in their place.

How dare you compare a vestigial organ with an unborn baby. A paragraph of talking, undone by a soundbite. How do I inspire empathy without soundbites? How do I inspire empathy when I do not want to bruise?

Imagine you became pregnant through rape. Do I want to ask someone to imagine that? Do I want to ask women, mothers whose entire experience of pregnancy was positive and joyous, to imagine something so ugly? Imagine your mother, sister, wife or daughter was raped. Really? Am I really going to ask you that? I can only manage about two seconds of imagining a crisis pregnancy and I’m asking someone to imagine something so vile as a loved one being raped?

This is the greatest weakness that we who support choice have, it is a weakness none of the tone policing columns ever hit on, we actually care about the feelings of others. But the downside of that is that we are fighting up hill, one arm tied behind our backs while taking the time to worry about the safety of those who are watching.

And because we care we end up trying to appeal to the mind, rather than the emotions. We speak in abstractions and ideals. And every time we hear, unborn babies, Down Syndrome and regret.

We hear ‘abortion on demand’ and because it has been so befouled we must condemn the term, though it is exactly what we want. It is a soundbite I wished we owned. But it does serve a purpose. We know who uses it and why. It is used by the fanatics to appeal to the middle. It is used to give comfort and protection to the sexism and hypocrisy of the middle.

We know what it means, who uses it and why. It is code for ‘no abortions for sluts.’ We know who uses it and why but we can’t always say it.

We need the hypocrites, the benign misogynists. The men and so many women, who value the foetus of the broken condom over the foetus of the rape victim. The men and oh so many women who value the foetus of the poor woman over the foetus that is unlikely to live. But how do you go into these hypocrites’ homes and help them see their hypocrisy for what it is?

And then we get a tantalising glimpse of what evidence, shorn of soundbites can actually achieve. Lock a hundred people in a room for five weekends and bombard them with facts and they will embrace free, safe and legal. But we know we can’t force four million people to examine the facts. We have to use soundbites and we must be true to our values so we won’t try to wound. We will fight their battle, on their terms, on their ground. And our allies will gripe and our false allies gripe even harder.

We will get a referendum and it will be so restrictive, so far removed from what the Assembly recommended that some of us may even vote against it. We are in the hands of cowardly politicians who don’t even know they are hypocrites. And we will continue to fight fair, declaring where our monies come from, expending energy on making our voices representative, caring for the feelings of those listening and greeting viciousness with calmness.

And in the end, we will be fighting for the right of some women, in certain circumstances, to be considered more important than a clump of cells. We will be fighting for the further institutionalisation of the concept that some women just don’t deserve the medical care they want. And we might even fail at that.

I’m an activist who does a bit. Just enough to avoid the shame of having done nothing. I do less than many but more than most. And I wonder at those who confuse agreement with support. I wonder about that gap between agreement and joining in. Is it laziness? Is it fear? Is it the misapprehension that their help isn’t required? Or is it the belief that defeat is inevitable? Or is it the belief that activism is what other people do?

We must speak in long sentences, inspire strangers unused to grappling with long sentences to think in long sentences. We do not have the soundbites. We do not have shortcuts. We must speak in long sentences. And to speak in long sentences we need speakers, so many speakers. Men and women who confuse agreement with support. Men and women who think joining in is for other people. We need numbers, so many more numbers.

To campaign for free, safe and legal abortions is to be considered extremist. We are considered by the lazy as the mirror of the anti-choicers. The lazy get to think this because there are still too few who have joined in, joined up, who confuse agreement with support.

There will be a referendum next year. It probably won’t be the referendum we want. But even at this late hour there is an opportunity to shape those words. All it takes is everyone who agrees with free, safe and legal abortions taking a single step. Joining in rather than passive agreement.

Join your local group, most counties have one. If there isn’t one, start one. It is so easy even I helped set up the one in Kerry. It’s a small step, but it could mean the difference between a dozen women a day fleeing this country and perhaps half a dozen fleeing, and one day, no woman having to flee. It’s a small step. Don’t confuse agreement with support. A hundred activists can be dismissed as extremists, a hundred thousand is a movement.

And a movement gets to speak in long sentences, it has the power to inspire thinking in long sentences.

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Herd Immunity

There’s been debate about linking child benefit payments to vaccinations. A move designed to pressure parents into vaccinating their children. It’s a perfectly logical thing to do. Yet it makes me uncomfortable. And I can’t work out if it’s just a remnant of my libertarian days making me paranoid about ‘Big Brother’ or my more progressive self not liking benefits being used as a weapon.

There are some fundamental principles that require unpacking in such a proposal. I won’t look at the science for that is long settled. And there’s nothing that can be said to anti-vaxers to shift them from their nonsensical nonsense. Such nonsense is bone deep, it is an identity, it is the nonsense of a superstition made into a plague of nonsense by social media. A nonsense that would see the return of polio and small pox and call it progress. Fuck them and their nonsense.

But I’m torn. For years, the term ‘herd immunity’ meant little to me beyond an abstraction. A process I understood intellectually but felt no connection to. Then my mother became one of those people described as immuno-compromised. After her, my wife. This means that their immune systems are not robust enough to always be suitable to receive vaccinations and worse, any infection that is doing the rounds will find them, and hit them harder than most.

It means I get the flu-vaccination. Not necessarily because I’m worried I may get the flu, but because if I get the flu chances are my wife and mother will get it. For me it’ll be very unpleasant. For them it may be much worse. They are not relying on just their nearest and dearest, they are relying on their friends, neighbours, the people who serve them in shops and people they share a bus with to also have gotten their vaccinations. The more people vaccinated, the fewer opportunities an airborne pathogen has of finding them. That’s herd immunity.

Childhood vaccinations meant that things like measles had almost disappeared from the Western World. So high were the vaccination rates that those few children who couldn’t receive the vaccination were safe. Protected by the herd immunity created by responsible parents protecting their own children. Then proven fraudster and disgraced former doctor and chief peddler of nonsense Andrew Wakefield claimed there was a link between the MMR vaccination and autism.

Vaccination rates fell off a cliff. Children began to die. But I won’t go into the science of it. The nonsense is bone deep. It is an identity now.

Recently girls in Ireland began receiving the HPV vaccination. This protects girls from most forms of cervical cancer. Initially there was nearly 100% take up. Then reports began to appear of adverse effects. The science is clear but the nonsense is bone deep. Vaccination rates have dropped off of a cliff. Women will die. Those who couldn’t get the vaccination because of prior conditions will not have the protection of herd immunity. Their nonsense is an identity.

But if parents own their children, are they not entitled to endanger their children because of their sincerely held beliefs, no matter how far removed from reality those beliefs are? It’s easy for me to make the assertion that children are held in trust by their parents, but do not own them. It is easy for me to say the State has a responsibility to protect children from the wilful stupidity of their parents. That the State has a responsibility to protect children from the wilful stupidity of other children’s parents.

I don’t have children so I can make assertions about the status of children with ease. But I’m a son and a husband of women who could suffer because this nonsense is afforded a level of respect we don’t grant Jehovah’s Witnesses who will not allow their children receive lifesaving blood transfusions.

I’m also a member of this society and I don’t want this society I inhabit to be further marred by nonsense. I don’t care that this nonsense is sincerely held. I don’t care that this nonsense is now an identity. I don’t care that this nonsense is immune to logic and reason and evidence and reality, I don’t want to suffer because of this dangerous nonsense.

But do I want the State to wield the cudgel of withheld benefits? To coerce the wilfully stupid? To finally embrace its role as guarantor of every child’s welfare? To supplant parents and their sincerely held beliefs? Of course I fucking do. If they can do it with Jehovah’s Witnesses then they can do it with gobshite, middle class, conspiracy theorist, homeopathy believing, nonsense embracing, child endangering, gobshites. And yes, I said gobshites twice, because that is what they are.

The problem of course is that this is a nonsense that mostly infects the middle class (or appears that way at least). Halving their child benefit will only further convince them that they are modern day martyrs, without actually protecting children from their nonsense. It is a nonsense that is bone deep.

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Thin-Skinned Godling

Sometimes all one can do is laugh. Sometimes one just has to thank the gods they don’t believe in for having been born a cisgender straight man. Sometimes you find yourself looking at the capital ‘A’ atheists and wonder, just wonder if perhaps…

Our Dáil, in its infinite wisdom voted to make it mandatory for TDs to stand for a prayer at the beginning of every session. The Ceann Comhairle (The Speaker) will recite a prayer, followed by a 30-second period of reflection. A sop to the heathens I assume. Those TDs who do not stand face possible expulsion from the chamber. As I laugh, I’m checking the calendar. Yep, it is 2017.

The thing is, if this act of symbolic sectarianism with menaces, was an isolated incident, then one could simply laugh it off. It is so patently absurd it deserves both ridicule and patronising indulgence. But it isn’t an isolated incident. It isn’t the only occasion when Roman Catholic sectarianism is allowed free rein in this country and its institutions.

At noon and at 6 p.m. our national broadcaster transmits the Roman Catholic call to prayer, The Angelus. It’s irksome in isolation, but added to the rest it becomes burdensome.

In certain county and city council chambers across the country, councillors have voted to have crucifixes on display. That councils are supposed to serve all in that district doesn’t matter to those who require ostentatious displays of their Roman Catholic piety.

To become President, a High Court judge or sit on the Council of State one must swear a religious oath. It’s in the Constitution.

If one’s child is trying to get into an oversubscribed school, that school is allowed discriminate on the basis of religion. And if that school does accept your non-Catholic child, it’s up to the parent to look after the child during the religious indoctrination parts of the school day.

And they own the schools. They actually own the schools.

If you are a religious organisation that owes the State millions of euro for having abused people entrusted to your care, you don’t have to worry about bailiffs seizing your assets. You may get the odd letter and meaningful look, but you are perfectly entitled to ignore such lip quivering.

If you think the law should treat living women as being the equal of the foetuses they may be carrying, you get to have the Constitution altered so that a dozen women must flee this Roman Catholic paradise every day for medical care in the UK.

If you think the law should treat living women as being the equal of the foetuses they may be carrying, you are entitled to set up agencies that lie to those women. There is no law to protect vulnerable women from your religiously inspired lies.

If you think same sex relationships are all icky and against your thin-skinned god you get to hate on same sex relationships while not being called homophobic. Because that might hurt your feelings and the feelings of your thin-skinned godling.

And if someone treats you and your thin-skinned goldling the same way you treat people in same sex relationships you get to cry foul because blasphemy is not just a sin it’s against the law. Because your thin-skinned godling and his thin-lipped worshippers need protecting from words.

If you own strategically important land, the State will build a hospital for you and allow you to own that hospital. Some sap farmer in the way of a motor way will see his land compulsory purchased so quick he won’t know what hit him.

And they own the hospitals. They actually own the hospitals.

And worse than the laws, the land, the discrimination, the sectarianism, the hypocrisy and the sense of entitlement, is that they get to feel hard done by because not everyone is grateful for their death-grip on this country. Thank fuck and thank their petty godling that I’m straight, male, have no children, don’t have any ambition to rise to high office or low office to be frank, don’t watch RTE and am relatively healthy, because at least I’m spared the majority of their parasitic sanctimony.

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Varadkar and Welfare Cheats

Photo by Fiona Hyde

I understand why Leo Varadkar would make a big splash targeting welfare cheats. I do. In his position, I’d do the same thing. It may be transparently cynical. It may not be very original. And it will certainly enrage those who wouldn’t vote for his party anyway. But it does have a proven record in garnering those votes that someone like Varadkar wants. He’s looking to those of us in the struggling middle. The people who pay for everything. The people who get little in return. The coping classes. The squeezed middle.

We’re so important we can’t even settle on one name for us.

I’m one of us. I work, I have a mortgage, I pay for everything, I struggle. I’m one of those who now worries more about the cost of the dentist than whatever physical pain the dentist may inflict on me. I’m one of those who delays going to the doctor because it’s a week before payday. I’m one of those who has to pay his car tax and several insurance policies in instalments, costing me even more. I’m in negative equity and I have no savings. I recognise Varadkar’s siren call because it is composed for my ears.

And it is seductive.

It may not be very original, but it doesn’t have to be. It is an appeal to a part of what we are as a species. It’s an appeal to the basest of our human instincts. It is that dog whistle calling to our very core. It is that opportunity to feel hard done by. To have someone to blame. To feel superior. A chance to hit back. Easy answers so that our frustrations can be exploited and allow us feel good about being so used.

There are a lot of us and we vote.

We humans are a social animal. On the face of it this sounds like an absolute positive. There are some downsides though. We don’t react well to being taken advantage or just thinking we are being taken advantage of. We can get very exercised by that. It’s a trait of ours that is readily exploited. Ronald Reagan became the most powerful man on this planet because of this predilection. He used the term ‘Welfare Queen’ to target the poor. He used it to target the poor with a side order of racism.

Othering works.

I understand why Varadkar is targeting welfare cheats. If I was in his shoes I’d be doing the exact same thing. Those of us struggling in the middle really want someone to blame. If it’s to be people who are even worse off than us, then so be it. Reagan won and he won big. He rolled back what little social welfare provision existed. Over thirty years later and there remains a visceral mistrust in America of welfare. A mistrust that is tinged with racism.

But Reagan didn’t invent this.

It worked because it is as easy to other on grounds of class as it is to for race. At the turn of the last century, British writers could dismiss the intellectual and moral fibre of the poor as readily as they did the African and Asians they ruled. Poverty, like race, was innate. The real trick was to convince the poor that this was scientific fact. That was easier done than one would expect.

It worked because, capitalism.

I say this as a capitalist. One of the foundational pillars of capitalism is aspiration. Without it, capitalism is just a very few rich people lording it over a multitude of poor and struggling folk. Without it, Ireland is just a country with 83,000 millionaires, a growing homelessness crisis and ever more children in poverty. Only faith in an ideal, no matter how far-fetched that ideal, can keep the multitude quiescent.

Aspiration is this faith.

To paraphrase a certain French warlord, every poor person carries a million-dollar idea in his or her knapsack. And no one wants higher taxes on those future millions. Yes, they’re still imaginary millions, but they’re our millions. Let’s focus on the miniscule few criminals gaming the system at the very bottom. They’re probably foreigners anyway. Work shy and foreign, and probably black, or Muslim, or both. My aspirational millions must be protected.

Othering works.

There are those who game the system at the very bottom. That they steal less than is paid out by mistake is inconsequential. There are fewer votes in assailing the incompetence of public-sector workers and their antiquated technologies than there is in condemning the poorest. There are no votes in attacking those enterprising self-employed folks who dabble in the black-economy. We applaud tax-avoidance. We laud the entrepreneur. But we will vote for anyone who deals firmly with those at the very bottom, who need social-welfare just to survive.

There are no easy solutions.

There are 83,000 millionaires in Ireland. The State has proven itself incompetent. Taxes can be too high. Our services are creaking. We in the middle are struggling. There are no easy solutions. But sure fuck it, let’s burn a few witches and warm our hands on the fire.

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