Less about the world, more about me.

Category: Current Affairs (Page 1 of 6)

Language and Empathy

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Workers United

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Mob Has Its Way

Sometimes I read something so profoundly at odds with how I see the world I have to put it aside for a while. Then I reread it to see if my reaction is altered in any way. I’ve read Stephen Collins’ column on the Phil Hogan debacle half a dozen times. It doesn’t get any less lazy, elitist or ignorant. 

Apparently Phil Hogan is too important to be held accountable for his actions. His fall from his ivory tower has “done serious damage to the national interest” as the Brexit fiasco reaches a critical stage. Too important and the timing too inopportune. The ‘do you know who I am?’ defence is the best Mr Collins can come up with on behalf of Hogan. 

It begs the question, what would Hogan have to do in order to merit government opprobrium? Breaking quarantine rules and not being forthcoming with the details clearly isn’t a big enough sin to merit censure. A mere faux pas when committed by a personage of Hogan’s stature. I wonder if he’d deliberately coughed in an old person’s face. Would that have been enough to justify trashing his stranglehold on the levers of international diplomacy? If not one old person, how about ten old people and attending any funeral he happened upon— just for larks? Or, set against the destiny and economic well being of an entire nation is the fate of mere mortals even worth considering? Surely if he wished to feast on the flesh of virgins we must sate him, or else our country be destroyed by the powers only he can beat back. 

Yes, Hogan was ‘foolish’ and ‘flouted rules…inadvertently’ but this colossus was done down by the plebeian horde. Cast from Olympus for a mere trifle. Destroyed to pander to the lynch mob. 

Using the term lynch mob, is a special type of ignorant. Saying Hogan is too important for our rules to apply to him is one thing. But lynch mob? Is Mr Collins so concerned with the affairs of our betters that he missed an entire global movement on race? 

Let’s take a quick look at lynch mob. It’s a well known term. A handy shortcut. We are all aware of its origins. In the post civil war US, southern whites hung black people. They did so because they could and they wanted to remind black people that they could. It was important for these white people that black people knew they weren’t safe. That any black person, who drew attention, could be murdered with impunity. The law served white people and only white people. The Black Lives Matter movement is reminding us that this is still happening. Black people still face indiscriminate slaughter and myriad other forms of discrimination. It’s not any great mystery. But we do need reminding of it. It’s easier not to remember. It’s easier to say lynch mob, about the treatment of a rich old white man, than it is to consider etymology, context and proportion. It’s lazy, elitist and ignorant. And it’s symptomatic. 

Mr Collins decries the lack of a fair hearing. The kind of hearing he expects that other foolish titan, Supreme Court judge Séamus Woulfe to receive. Forgetting the government didn’t dismiss Hogan. That’s not in their gift. What Hogan did was get so on his boss’ every last nerve by withholding information on his escapades, that he had to go. This government has even less of a say in the fate of Woulfe. He’ll be left to his peers to judge. As it should be. And if this demigod should fall, then so be it. 

On this I agree with Mr Collins. “The whole affair has done further damage to the standing of the Government and its ability to lead the country in a time of unprecedented crisis.” The government did not create this farrago of bare-faced entitlement. But it will suffer the fallout. That’s the point of being a government, fault is less important than responsibility. 

It is and will be responsible for some momentous decisions. This pandemic and the subsequent health, social and economic fallout are its to deal with. An unpopular and unsure amalgam has to chart a course and if it isn’t convincing in its navigation, we’ll simply not follow. That’s the key point Mr Collins can’t see. We are not a lynch mob, and shame on him for writing those words. What we are, is the mob. From Rome, to Revolutionary Paris, the mob has always existed. And this mob of fractured and scared citizenry is living through unprecedented times. 

We will not be led. Not dictated to. Nor treated as being beneath contempt. Or reminded that the rules imposed on us, do not apply to those jumped up aristocrats making the rules. We will be governed. If not by this coalition, then by the next. Mr Collins fundamentally fails to grasp that #golfgate is not about this government. It is about governance itself. 

The mob expects and accepts a certain level of disregard, some arrogance and even a measure of hypocrisy, but #golfgate was not foolish, it was not inadvertent, it was a slap in the face. And even this government of privately educated men knows the mob will not wear that.

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Still In Government

Image by Golfer from Pixabay

Being a local area Rep could become an intensely parochial pursuit. One tries to accumulate a store of facts and figures for one’s small part of the political environment. But many of us, who choose to be local area reps, tend to be political nerds. We situate our areas within a larger picture. As Greens we, of course, see the local as global and vice versa. I’m aware when speaking to a dairy farmer that dietary trends in China are veering towards cheese, which may impact on my neighbour’s income. I’m aware that a particular golf outing could conceivably lead to a general election and an entirely new government with a new programme for government. 

For nearly 40 years I’ve delighted in any and all misfortunes being visited on Fianna Fáil. That’s my political background. A FF minister resigning in disgrace should be a source of mirth. Then I remember the programme for government, I voted for, is imperilled by FF ministers resigning in disgrace. And that my party is unlikely to be in a position to contribute to another programme for government anytime soon. My party needs this government to last for a lot longer, if the risk we took in joining it is to be worthwhile. 

My wife thinks the TDs and senators involved in #golfgate should resign their seats. The cynic in me shrugged. I was frankly surprised they faced the slap on the wrists they did receive. I even heard on my local radio station sympathy being expressed for the minister in his difficult situation. I dislike that cynic. I fear cynic is just a nicer word for morally lazy. A who’s who of Ireland’s upper crust decided to party while the country endures the restrictions and privations of a pandemic. I should be angry. But I’m not. I’m not even particularly bothered that these were our betters, not behaving as they should. 

There has always been a significant cohort of us who don’t think the rules apply to us. In the last week alone I can cite examples of people not wearing masks indoors or wearing masks incorrectly. Of cars parked dangerously. Of cars parked to block a footpath and a cycle track, simultaneously. Of rubbish dumped. Hedges cut. And labour agreements reneged on. That’s just this week. 

People could not grieve as we have grieved for centuries. This was the sacrifice we were instructed to make so that others might live. A fundamental break with our coping mechanisms was required of us. Our betters did better for themselves. And they will all remain in positions of power and privilege. 

The world is on fire. I voted for an agreement that put Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael back into power. I did this because I judged the programme for government represented the last best chance for our nation and society to face up to this reality. Our last opportunity to transition to a place which acknowledged our planet was on fire and began addressing that calamity. If we fail, there won’t be a transition. There will instead be a series of breaks and crises and abrupt change. Traumatic collapses that’ll dwarf all previous traumas this island has endured.  

Recently I was explaining to someone why turf had to go. She, her parents and her grandparents have always burned turf. Explaining the science was easy. It got difficult when we discussed the transition. What’s involved in retrofitting her house. The new heating system. The cost and who pays. The expertise involved in that retrofit. The expertise required to service and maintain the new technologies that will heat her house. The time frame. It got so complicated we circled back to why we need to try making all this happen. And we ended at trust. Does she, do I, trust that our betters will make this transition happen? Are they competent enough, honest enough and do they care enough to do this right? 

I voted in support of this government because the planet is on fire. We need to do so much that is complicated and new. And we have to do it quickly. To succeed, we need to do it well. We need to nurture the support and trust of those who will be called upon to embrace the changes required. 

I’m not angry at the show of contempt for all who have suffered during this pandemic. But I am working on that. This contempt is a poison that will destroy any remaining trust there is in those who govern us. Without that trust there can be no hope of managed change. No hope for solidarity and the communal agreement needed to deal with the climate crisis. I need to be angrier. 

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

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Green Party Rep

I’m the Green Party Area Representative for the Municipal District of Listowel i.e. north Kerry. Or in short, the Greens have not won a thing in north Kerry. How did I ascend to this exalted position? Well, I put my hand up in a meeting and said I’ll do it. As anyone who has ever been involved in any sort of voluntary organisation knows, that’s how shit gets done. The act of volunteering. Several acts to be more accurate. Showing up and volunteering for tasks, that’s what activism is. And I don’t mean just political activism. GAA clubs, Tidy Towns, literary festivals, charities, protest movements and, of course, political parties are all built on the backs of people who show up and say, I’ll do it.

North Kerry doesn’t have elected Green representation but there are Greens here. There are Green issues here and there is a Green perspective. My role is to try threading the needle of expressing that legitimate concern while being cognisant of my nonexistent mandate. It’s an awkward one. And weirdly made more difficult by our party being in government. One can have zero mandate, but also be blamed for any missteps the government makes. 

In my previous post on this topic, I explained I do not see the environment as an ideological issue. I’m not hugely interested in the environment. If our civilisation wasn’t threatened by our abuse of the environment, I would not be in the Greens. I’m still bewildered that the Greens have to exist. It’s as if we needed a political party whose entire raison d’être was explaining why cancer was a bad thing and promoting policies to avoid getting cancer. 

But I have to keep that bewilderment firmly under control. As we are continuing to learn in this internet age, facts don’t matter, especially facts that pertain to a decade or especially severely decades from now. 

A lot of time as a Rep is taken up with learning. I’m learning about the environment (as I said, I was never an environmentalist). I’m learning more about how the political process works (I thought I knew a lot already, but there’s so much more to it than I’d thought.) And I’m learning to have conversations with people where I listen. Yeah, I know. I’m not a fan of that, but it’s proving fascinating. 

North Kerry is part of the Golden Vale. An area of rich soil that favours dairy production. We produce a lot of milk. So, I’m speaking to farmers. This one group defines north Kerry more than any other demographic. And my conversations thus far have been enlightening. I’d presumed, wrongly, that they feared us. 

During the negotiations to form the government there was a push in Kerry, by most of the political establishment, to demonise the Greens. Our stand against Shannon LNG was seen as outside interference. We were portrayed as being anti-farmer. We wanted to eliminate cars. That we were Dublin suburbanites intent on making Kerry into a grand holiday park. Old school anti-green rubbish, but I thought it was quite effectively done. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn there was cross party cooperation on the attacks.

Obviously, it was mostly posturing aimed at their leaderships but it was also amusing to be the target of such nonsense. And encouraging. And as I said, I thought it was effective. But it wasn’t. In my conversations with farmers, they are well aware that something has to be done. They look at the same news as I do. They have children and grandchildren. They see what’s coming.

I don’t offer opinions or suggestions, yet. I grew up next to a farm. Helped out on that farm. But I have zero understanding of what it is like to be a farmer. I’m still learning. But I know nothing will happen in north Kerry without our farmers.

As well as speaking with people I have had to get on Facebook. One struggles to function in the modern political world with social media, especially Facebook. I have to post everyday just so the algorithm remembers who I am and puts my posts in front of people’s eyes. I’m serving a bloody algorithm. But as I’m not a celebrity I have to collect those likes, one at the time, building my profile one person at a time. 

It’s laborious but while I’m tempted to complain, I did volunteer for this.

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

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Being in Government

I haven’t blogged for a while. I’ve been adjusting to being in a party that’s in government. It’s a weird experience. The echo chamber that is my Twitter feed is suddenly a hostile environment. Though when I say hostile, I mean straight-white-left-of-centre-man-hostile i.e. slightly less idyllic. As I watch the government and my party suffer misstep after misstep, I have to remind myself I voted for this already dispiriting amalgam. I do not regret that decision. I’m just not enthused by the idea of having to wade through a few years of this nonsense to discover whether it was the right decision. 

I joined the Greens, not for ideological reasons, but because they are the only party that takes the climate crisis seriously. My thinking was that the entire thrust of the party should be to make itself obsolete. Mainstreaming action to combat the climate crisis should be our entire agenda. Once achieved we no longer need to exist. Weirdly, the fact we’ve returned from electoral wipe-out to 12 TDs is a testament to our failure to make the climate crisis the greatest issue of our time. I still can’t get my head around that. How is the climate crisis not the number one issue animating our civilisation’s policy makers? 

The thing I learned is, a lot of Greens also don’t see the environment as an ideological issue. Much the same way cancer isn’t ideological. But public policy responses to it is replete with ideology. 

One’s chances of surviving cancer varies from health system to health system, socio-economic background to socio-economic background and from government to government. Being rich is currently the most effective treatment for cancer. The second best is living in a country with a well-developed public health system. And what is a well-developed public health system? It is a decision. That’s all it is. A decision. A decision to spend vast sums of our money to look after us. And it’s ideological. I wish it wasn’t, but it is. And it’s not perfect. Being rich is still better, but depending on what country you’re in, the difference isn’t always huge. 

What I discovered in the Greens is the idea that while the climate crisis and the biodiversity crisis aren’t ideological, our responses to them absolutely have to be. We could ban all fossil fuels tomorrow and the impact would disproportionately fall on the poor. The planet would be saved, but for whom? Climate justice is about banning fossil fuels (sort of) but also about adjusting our society so the impact on the most vulnerable is at worst negligible and at best, life enhancing. You know, spending vast sums of our money to look after us. 

And going into power with parties that don’t care about the environment, our society’s most vulnerable or anything beyond the next election really, is a gamble. And it’s counter-intuitive. And I understand why many further to the left have jumped ship. This small party has to both mainstream the climate and biodiversity crises, begin re-engineering some very entrenched lifestyle choices and protect the most vulnerable among us. Failure is inevitable. A strong government would struggle to achieve all that. A small part of an apparently incompetent government? 

We are bound to fail. Thus, even when we are wiped out at the next election, we’ll be back at the election after that. That’s one of the reasons I have a fondness for the party; it’s unique disinterest in long term electoral success. It’s so bound up with the crisis that few others are concerned by, that it isn’t trapped in the electoral cycle.

So success or failure will not be judged by seats won or lost. When our time in this government ends, success or failure will be judged on whether we made ourselves a little bit less necessary or not. 

My hope is that we manage to put enough things in place, the next government is obliged to take the climate crisis and climate justice seriously. That we’ll have put enough things in place that people aren’t so spooked by the idea of not spending so much time in their cars. Enough things done that my party faces both an identity and an existential crisis.

Anyway, this is very broad strokes thinking. And also, a tad imprecise. But I’m hoping to get into the habit of writing on different aspects of being a rural Green Party activist. Governments come and go, but it’s the unelected weirdos (activists) who get them there. And I think that’s interesting.

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

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In The National Interest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Milkshake Brings All The Centrist Dads To The Yard

 

Image by Dean Norris from Pixabay

I share some, if not many, characteristics of Twitter’s, centrist dad. I’m certainly the right age. Young people annoy me so much I don’t have children. But you better treat me like your dad because I have all the answers. I’m continually surprised by people not coming to me for all the answers I obviously own. I suffer crippling bouts of nostalgia. I dislike extremism in all its forms. I retain the exclusive right to define what extremism is. And did I mention an aversion to weaponised milkshakes? Perhaps I am an actual centrist dad. Well that’s a surprise.

I remember my reaction the first time Twitter informed me milkshake had been thrown as a political protest. I remember that reaction because I experience the same visceral dismay every time it has happened since. It’s a dismay filled with, ‘you could have an eye out,’ ‘violence never solves anything,’ ‘why can’t we all just get along?’ and ‘use your words not your fists.’

But being a centrist dad is more than proffering unasked for disapproval. There’s the whole Hitler thing. We don’t love him. We’d never say that. Snazzy uniforms we’ll cop to, but we don’t love him. He certainly lived his best life, didn’t he though? How can one not be impressed by the breadth of his canvass? If you take away all the bad things he did, would he not be considered a man worthy of admiration? Oops, I’m getting away from my point. We don’t love him. He went too far. We can all agree with that.

Initiating a two front war and declaring war on the US in 1941 were obviously his biggest mistakes. Not withdrawing from Stalingrad, when he had the chance, didn’t help either. He was so close to Moscow. So very close. Damn, losing my train of thought again.

There are only so many WWII books a centrist dad can read before being exposed to the fact Hitler existed before WWII. The pure weight of words forces us to consider delving into the prequel bits. It’s an onerous task. For one thing, the uniforms go from black to brown. Yeah, brown. Awful.

It’s boring, but we persevere. Next time we’re in the pub arguing about who knows more about Hitler, we can slip in the fact his party peaked at 37%. Then wrangled supreme power, with the connivance of the conservative elite and the Army General Staff, from an election where he only managed to get 37% of the vote.

That’ll show them who the real devotee is. Not so sure about mentioning the Brown Shirts though. Brown is a horrible colour. And anyway, Hitler killed them off once they’d achieved what he’d wanted. What? What did they achieve? Well, I’m embarrassed to say really. Wouldn’t you prefer we discuss why Hitler halted the panzer advance towards Dunkirk for three whole days? No? Okay. The Brown Shirts beat, tortured and murdered every far left opponent Hitler had in Germany. They attacked the unions and minorities. Organised boycotts of Jewish businesses. And effectively gave Hitler control of the streets long before the conservatives invited him into their sheets.

Yeah, apparently if you leave fascists to their own devices, they’ll spread like a vicious shit plague. They’ll take over our streets and subvert democracy to the point where it simply gives up. It’s as if fascism isn’t like a normal ideology, with normal followers. What it is, is a death cult. It can only be beaten with fire and then salt. And perhaps milkshake. But I’m a centrist dad. I’ll be okay whatever happens.

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The Stupid

Image by mollyroselee from Pixabay

Do you ever marvel at the resurgence of stupid? Is it a resurgence? It feels like stupid is more prevalent today than it has been at any time in my life. Okay, stupid may always have been there it’s just now amplified by the internet. Does it matter if it has always been there or if it was created by the internet? It probably matters. Yeah, the why matters. As does understanding the full impact of its thuggish confidence.

While the stupid is real, it’s important to remember our species is very smart. Like send a person to the moon smart. Though not so smart that a great many people strived ridiculously hard to be strapped to the top of a giant bomb so they could be blasted into space. Our smart is a particular type of smart.

We left the trees about six million years ago. We’re so smart that we can even debate the appropriateness of the word ‘we’ that I used to describe our tree dwelling ancestors. But I’m not gonna.

Six million years ago and quick as a flash, some six million years later, give or take 200,000 years, our type of human appears. And then, another 100,000 years passed, and then another 30,000 years and then the big smart brain we like to boast about appeared. So awesome a brain, not a single other human species survived it. We should be very proud of ourselves. I think.

Another 60,000 years passed before we worked out farming. And then, approximately one wet week ago, we realised we’d left the trees. And many people are very pissed at that. Their gloriously huge brains couldn’t compute, so they’ve shut the fuck down.

That six-million-year journey did not prepare us for 10,000 years ago when we began to live in villages, towns and cities. And it certainly didn’t prepare us for the 1990s and the internet when we suddenly had access to everyone and everything. Our smart brains are still hardwired for living in small clans.

The invention of religion got us through the living in cities. It kept enough of us in our places so civilisation could happen. Ten millennia later, most of us still cling to religion but have accepted science as our real guide. But our brains are still all about the small group. Who has our back? Who is taking the piss? Which berries are in season? Who here is up for a hunt? How do I get through tomorrow?

Scientists (or in the modern vernacular, so-called experts) believe our brains peeked before civilisation. Carrying your world on your back and in your hands, while navigating a hostile environment means you have to be smart. None of us are descended from the dumbest of those clans. Surviving in the wild today is so ridiculous an endeavour it can get you a lucrative TV deal. But more important than the skills were the social ties. That clan had to function at close to 100% efficiency all the time. Your life and opportunity to reproduce depended on how close knit the clan was.

Getting on to get along did not require the scientific method or scepticism. It meant getting on was dialled up to eleven. And we rocked it. The other human species, large prey, climate and distance were all conquered. We literally conquered the planet. In our little clans. Using complex language. Because getting on means one has to communicate deep, not logically.

For example, have you ever had an argument with a housemate or partner about household chores? Has the scientific method ever proven useful in that discussion? Or was the discussion more about feelings, and an attempt to create and communicate clan norms to protect those feelings? Norms that would make the clan work more efficiently. It is an exercise in emotion and vast verbiage. All for the clan. All for your feelings. All about our place within the clan.

That is how our brains work. It’s why the scientific method is a method. It doesn’t come naturally, so we have to build in a series of fail-safes so our enormous brains don’t take shortcuts to the answers we want. It’s why the scientific method, verifiable facts and the so-called experts continue to make our lives safer and longer. And that’s why our clannish brains are so ill-prepared to deal with the scientific method, verifiable facts and the so-called experts. It’s why we still have religions. It’s why we still have nationalism, racism and anti-vaxxers. It’s why the stupid appears so prevalent in what should be a scientific age.

Which is all well and good I suppose, but it won’t shift a single Boris Johnson fan away from his band of stupid or save a single child from needless illness and death. But it does help me avoid wasted effort arguing with the unreachable. That’s something.

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Simple Solutions

I’ll tell you a secret. I once knew how to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I know, amazing. I should be a lot more famous than I am. But I didn’t reveal my solution. I assumed my insight was so blindingly obvious it’d be considered a tad gauche to voice it. As it turned out, my resolution would no longer work. It may also not have worked at the time but I’m not totally convinced it wouldn’t.

My cure for that poisonous situation was simple. All that was required was for both Israel and Palestine to join the EU. I know. I know. It’s an obvious fix but no one ever seems to mention it. I can’t figure out why. I thought the moment the Good Friday Agreement was signed all eyes would turn to the Middle East silently indicating; your turn now.

Perhaps it’s the genius of the Good Friday Agreement that so few understand just how simple it was. There was a great deal of complexity in the lead up and it does smack of temporary, but it worked. It works by doing this; it allows both sides to stop killing each other for a bit. But it doesn’t solve what is an unsolvable problem.

The conflict in Northern Ireland is unsolvable. No one should forget that. Two groups that identify as fundamentally different, two groups who claim ownership of the same piece of land, two people who think they are right and therefore the other is wrong. Take away the egregious governing, take away the partisan policing and pump billions of euro into the economy, the fact remains these are two people who wish for wildly divergent destinies.

The Good Friday Agreement manages to give both sides a huge amount of what they want, even if what they are given is contradictory. If you identify as Irish, here’s an Irish passport. Border? What border? If you identify as British. Here’s a British passport. And yes, you’re still part of the UK.  Northern Ireland is expected to govern itself to a certain extent. A whole lot of politicians are paid a lot of money to govern, but with no consequences for choosing not to govern. When they don’t manage the UK government will do it, from afar, while trying not to emulate its previous centuries of vicious misrule of this island.

Simple, imaginative and dare I say elegant. Two fictions facilitated. Two exclusive identities accommodated. Only possibly because the UK and Ireland had pooled their sovereignty within the EU. Equal partners within a structure whose laws superseded their own. A bigger identity. An identity so big that different sorts of Irish and different sorts of British could become small enough not to matter too much.

How could Israel and Palestine not find a peace within that community? Once a border becomes irrelevant it’s difficult to find the energy to murder in that border’s name.

It looks like that opportunity has now passed. Even among those on the UK mainland who understand that Ireland and Northern Ireland are distinct political entities, one being part of the UK and the other wholly independent, there is no understanding of the border. No understanding that the moment it becomes visible the fiction of parallel identities is gone.

And I’m not saying the uneducated and ignorant UK citizens who caused this unnecessary crisis did so by being uneducated and ignorant. No, that’s only one part of it. The other part is that identity in the English part of the UK is now beginning to assert itself. And like the slumbering pig it is, there is not a fuck it can give about shaking the shit off its hide on all and sundry.

If only this return to identity was confined to England. Unfortunately, all over the EU, the nonsense that perfected mass murder is returning because everyone appears to have forgotten what that nonsense was and what it did. It’s like we’ve decided to replace our real history with the bullshit that caused the worst of our history. My great idea won’t work anymore. But there was a moment, in our recent history, where it just might have worked.

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