datbeardyman

Less about the world, more about me.

Category: My Politics (page 1 of 4)

Too Much Ideology

 

I want to write about ideology but I have to begin with Dessie O’Malley. I divide all politicians into two groups. The first group are politicians I like, respect, admire and trust. The second group are all politicians who aren’t Dessie O’Malley. I subdivide the not Dessie O’Malley politicians into two further groups. Those groups are; politicians who I think are in politics to make people’s lives better as opposed to those I judge to be on the make. Now, I further divide the politicians who are not on the make into two groups. Those I agree with. And those I don’t. The group on the make also constitute two groups. Politicians who are ideologues first, people second. And those who are in the politics game for pure self-interest. 

I’m not comfortable about how high the pedestal I’ve constructed for Dessie O’Malley is. His legacy is mixed to say the least. And I’m left asking myself if I was an economic conservative first or was I an O’Malley man first? I don’t know. 

Saying I was once an economic conservative will immediately turn a lot of people off. And I don’t mean people who disagree with (even vehemently oppose) economic conservatism. What I mean is, most people don’t use terms like economic conservatism to describe their voting intentions. It’s a term used and understood only by nerds and weirdos.  

In the 80s and 90s economic conservatism made absolute sense to me. Like my parents and their parents, I was growing up in a country that was an economic embarrassment. High taxes, high unemployment, high emigration and zero hope for improvement, as it was in the 50s, the 30s and the 20s. Freeing the population from the yoke of stultifying and incompetent politicians made perfect sense. Trusting people to improve their lot once the weight of misspent taxes was taken off their backs was the obvious and best choice. And the thing is, it worked. Until it didn’t. 

Turns out that people are as base and incompetent as politicians. Instead of the State misspending our taxes, we misspent the taxes we didn’t have to pay, even worse. Now the State is over 200 billion in debt. The application of a bit of ideology can be a dangerous thing. 

With the destruction of the economy I had a choice to make, learn or double down. I put off making that choice by joining Fine Gael. The Progressive Democrats, the party of Dessie O’Malley, had quite rightly wound itself up due to its role in the latest economic disaster. FG has a similar ideological outlook to the PDs, though not as marked. More importantly they aren’t Fianna Fáil. A party which was the senior partner in every government that destroyed the economy. And for those people unfamiliar with Irish politics, recent polling has FF as the most popular party in the country. People amaze me. 

Eventually I had to learn. I’m not a fan of learning. Learning requires uncertainty. I really don’t like uncertainty. Uncertainty means pausing to consider, before making a choice. I don’t like pausing or considering before making a decision. And I especially don’t like the effort involved in all these steps. But I did have to learn.

I had to let go of my low tax and small state idealism. It had been proven not to work. And not just here. Worldwide, while poverty continues to fall, here in the West ever more wealth is being created but being concentrated in fewer hands. For the first time since the Industrial Revolution, children will end up poorer than their parents. Mostly because profit is now being sweated from other profit rather than from things.

I finally understand, and it only took me a few decades, economic conservatism is not an ideology that promotes individual freedom. It is an ideology of profit before all else. And by before all else I mean basic human decency. 

FG, a party I’ve a certain affection for and regard as minimally corrupt, is a party of economic conservatism. A party that puts ideology before humanity. The examples of this lack of humanity are myriad. 

One can’t but begin with the housing crisis. More accurately, this is two inextricably linked crises, homelessness and affordability. The solution to both is the same. Simply build more homes. Take all the subsidies and tax breaks that are funnelling cash into the pockets of landlords, and instead build homes. Choosing to leave this social need in the hands of the private sector says two things; people aren’t worth helping, but if pushed we’ll help as long as this misery can be monetised. 

The ongoing fiasco in our health system also falls under the category of ideology before people. My private health insurance means I get the skip ahead of those without health insurance. And these aren’t minor shortcuts I’ve bought with my insurance. The people I’m skipping can be waiting years for something I have only to wait weeks for. Am I a hypocrite for slamming a system I benefit from? Damn right I am. I will always put my health before yours. I am not an ideologue. Poorer people die years younger than those with money. Think on that, a system which condemns the poor to early death. Today two new hospitals are being built in Dublin. Both will cater to private practitioners.

Our pathetic response to the global refugee crisis provides another example. People fleeing war and oppression end up in the Direct Provision system for years. The conditions within these centres are wholly inadequate. This should shame us all. Yet they are profit making. Companies are profiting from refugees. I’ll say that again, companies are profiting from refugees.

I don’t think this government is packed with innately bad people. I wish it were that simple. What our government is packed with are ideologues. The type of ideologue I once was. They are socially progressive, sort of. They don’t see why the State should say who can and can’t get married. Nor what a woman should be allowed to do with her own body, within reason. Well, within their definition of reason. But it’s also an ideology that doesn’t see the State as responsible or even capable of solving problems someone else should solve. And solve for profit. Putting ideology before people is not confined to Fine Gael. But they are getting to see their ideology made manifest.

It’s just a pity they forgot they gained power because the exact same ideology they espouse had already run the nation off a cliff.

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Straight White Man Blues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rational, Sort Of

I like to think of myself as rational. I know, rationally speaking, that I’m not rational. But it is a delusion vital to my image of myself and how I perceive the world. I insist on believing that when the facts change on a topic, so too will my mind. My reaction to the Fianna Fáil caused recession went a long way to propping up my delusion. Most of my adult life, I have been on the right of the political spectrum. I’ve even flirted with libertarianism. I was a member of the Progressive Democrats. There were a couple of years there, in the noughties, when I was feeling pretty vindicated. Taxes were low, the economy was flying, my wages were up, the weather seemed better, I didn’t have ear hair, it was a good time.

Of course, what I didn’t realise at the time was that there can never be a positive outcome when one part of a government is busy reducing taxes while the other part of that government is increasing spending. I was an idealist. I wanted the State reduced because I thought that humans were quite good and just needed more freedom so that they may flourish. Yet I still manged to maintain the delusion of rationality. Humans are weird.

I confused reduced taxation with a reduced State. It never occurred to me that with my wages going up and ever-increasing job opportunities (I worked in the Public Sector after all) that perhaps the State wasn’t being reduced, only its access to the resources needed to maintain a growing State, was being reduced. Here’s where I say hindsight is a great thing, but bloody hell, what the fuck was I thinking? I even bought a house, less than a year before the crash. Rational, my arse.

So, the crash happened. The PDs disbanded themselves and I had a lot of thinking to do. I joined Fine Gael. What? I didn’t say I was good at thinking. In mitigation, I will say that part (and only part) of my motivation in joining Fine Gael was the idea that Fianna Fáil needed to be crushed beyond all hope of recovery. I assumed that my fellow humans would see why this was necessary and FF would disappear. The stage would be set for a proper left-right contest between FG and Labour.

It hadn’t occurred to me that everyone else was as delusional as I am. There’s every chance that Fianna Fáil will lead the next government. And Labour spent five years in power doing everything it could to alienate anyone and everyone who looked to them to lead the left. And without noticing, I got old. I seem to be part of the shrinking demographic that remembers the blood on Sinn Féin’s hands. I still had to do a lot of thinking.

Thinking is hard. A rational person is supposed to be good at it, but I’d stopped thinking the moment I assumed I’d found the answers. I want an ideology, or religion if you prefer, so that I have at least some pointers when forming an opinion on every-fucking-thing I encounter.

I’ve had to look at some of the foundational values that guided me down the blind-alley of being right wing on the economy and left wing on social issues.

As ever, I looked first at what I wanted for me. Freedom, protection and support were, to my surprise, still to the core of what I wanted from the world. I remain, it seems, a liberal to my fingertips. That surprised me and also rattled me a bit. Everything I’d believed in had proven to be pants. Humans, given more freedom, were actually selfish and thick. Capitalism was beyond irrational. Equality of opportunity is unattainable because it is a lie. Parochialism, its horrible child, nationalism, and their crazy cousin religion, are more important now than they ever were. Science is losing out to charlatism. And in the face of Climate Change; nothing but Healy-Raes.

But I still want freedom, protection and support. What has changed? Nothing much, though to me, it feels dramatic. But rationally speaking, it really isn’t. I’ve had to readjust my attitude to the State.

Nothing, and it still pains me to admit this, can be achieved without the support, be it tacit or active, of the State. Only it, the big, dumb, self-serving, behemoth that it is, has the reach and resources to elicit change.

And change is needed. The world is unquestionably better now than it was fifty years ago. But is it better than it was ten years ago? Stupid is on the rise and so are the oceans. But I’m a liberal. If the majority of the world’s individuals decide that the sacrifices required to combat Climate Change are just too big, then so be it. But the very least the State can do is inform everyone what the stakes are?

For the first time in my life, I agree with the idea of increased taxation. For both ethical and practical reasons, I do not think it sustainable that I’m well-off compared to so many others, here and world-wide. It staggers me that the capitalism I supported, has gifted wealth on an unimaginable scale to such a tiny few. It staggers me that when I worry about the cost of going to the dentist, our Taoiseach still thinks tax cuts will address that concern. It staggers me that we treat property rights (and I’m a firm believer in property rights) as the Americans treat guns. It staggers me that one can still accurately predict an individual’s health, wealth and time of death, based on where they were born. It staggers me that in this scientific age we still can’t convince people of the safety and efficacy of vaccinations. It staggers me that nothing has changed since the Great Recession.

It staggers me that despite every attempt at a cynicism inspired insouciance, I still give a fuck about a species I no longer think highly of. It’s incredibly frustrating. The one thing I do know for a rational fact, is that I’m wrong more often than I’m right. And that is the only hope I can cling to. It’s why I remain politically active. It’s why I still write. It’s why I still try to work out what I think. Why I still read and talk and listen. Why I try to act as I imagine a rational being would act, despite knowing I’m still a collection of prejudices, unconscious biases and selfish desires, all wrapped in a ridiculous beard. But fuck me it’s hard to hold on to that hope in a world full of flag wavers, homeopaths, leaders who refuse to learn and people who insist on being led.

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Uneasy Liberal Alert

Kevin Myers has managed to become an international news story. Free Speech is being threatened. So obviously this liberal has to give his two European cents worth.

I have a complicated relationship with Kevin Myers. Before I went to college, in 1993, my house would get a few tabloids on a Sunday. That was my family’s entire interaction with print media. I would look at them for the sport and give a surreptitious glance or seven at the scantily clad women. In college however, one of my lecturers insisted we read the Irish Times as part of the course work. Thus, was my introduction to the intricacies of folding a big paper.

To this day one of my favourite memories of college, is lunchtime and a group of us bunched around a copy of the IT, completing the crossword. I quickly began to enjoy reading the Irish Times. For one thing, the sports coverage was far superior to what I’d been accustomed to. It never occurred to me that a staid broadsheet would have better and more interesting things to say about sport than what were basically lads-mags touted as newspapers. I think this is when and where I learned snobbery too.

Over the next several years I began to deviate from my ‘sports section first’ approach to IT reading. Three or four days a week my first port of call was Kevin Myers’ ‘An Irishman’s Diary.’ I loved it. He managed to appeal to every single thought and concern I had about issues it just didn’t feel safe to discuss. He took on Sinn Féin/IRA, Fianna Fáil, the brand of blind nationalism that passed for serious thought at the time, our complicated relationship with the UK in general and England in particular, the apparent anti-Semitism that animated much of the anti-Israel sentiment of that era and he introduced me to Patrick O’Brian. For Patrick O’Brian alone, I adored him.

I read him religiously. Then something happened. I’m not sure what, but something changed. I don’t know if it was him or me, but I remember trying to see the point behind his ‘mothers of bastards’ column and not only could I not see a point, I wasn’t all that motivated to find one. It just seemed so needlessly self-indulgent. Needlessly offensive. Needlessly directed at a group who did not need the extra scorn.

I’m a liberal and in my not too crystal-clear memory, I remember him as once being a liberal. And a brave one too. I don’t know who changed, him or me, but even his defence of Israel began to grate. I’m 100% for its right to exist. I won’t be moved on that. But somehow this defence stopped being about defending that right and more about excusing criminality. It became, for want of a better description, an identity. An identity that blinded him and his ilk to the responsibilities of friendship.

I simply stopped reading his columns. I’d see his picture in whatever newspaper he was writing for at the time and feel a mix of sadness and nostalgia. He was my first columnist. I don’t know who changed, but all I began to see was bitterness, entitlement, certainty and a lack of empathy.

But I’ve never questioned his right to wound with words. That is not to say I’m dismayed he has lost his current job. I believe in Free Speech, not in tenured platforms. If it wasn’t all so sad and pathetic I would delight in the irony of his dismissal. The irony of losing his job because of an arrogant belief in his right to delve into anti-Semitic tropes to bolster a sexist argument. I would bet my house he isn’t in anyway anti-Semitic but perhaps he has written too many self-indulgent columns to find a less self-indulgent way to simply be wrong about women.

I have written several boring posts about my struggle to combine my belief in both unfettered Free Speech and Political Correctness. And I fear this one has already become another one of those posts. I’m one of those annoying centrist liberals so beloved of Left and Right, so I have to explain why I’m comfortable with Myers’ sacking and why I’m also uncomfortable. And yes, I see the memes ridiculing this liberal prevarication too. They’re only partly funny because they’re only party true. Well, sometimes entirely true as well.

What function does Free Speech serve? I can think of three functions. First it ensures that no idea, belief, or value is free from examination, interrogation and mockery. Anyone who has lived on this island for a few decades and has given even a cursory glance at this island’s history must see the necessity of that. Secondly, it ensures that no one in power is ever comfortable. Our laws against defamation have stymied this most vital function of Free Speech. I cannot remember a time in this country where the powerful have ever felt anything but comfortable. The third function is perhaps a bit more ephemeral. It is the recognition that speaking one’s mind without fear of the State knocking on your door is a good in of itself.

In this conception of Free Speech there isn’t any apparent stricture against ‘punching down.’ That is its greatest weakness. I haven’t the intellect or education to imagine a form of words that ensures unfettered Free Speech but also ensures it isn’t used to abuse unmarried mothers, AIDS victims, Africans, gay men, Palestinians and any other vulnerable group Myers’ made a living attacking. Those strictures, if they existed, would need to be written into law, policed by the State and I’m already getting all faint at the power someone is going to have over what I may and may not say.

Yet his words and the words of those like him, do material harm. I just cannot square that circle.

Yet, in this instance, there was no squaring of any navel gazing liberal’s circles. He lost his job because, capitalism. The State, good taste, empowered minorities, basic decency nor solidarity, played any part in his dismissal. He threatened his employers’ bottom line, so he went. We have capitalism to thank for his being fired. We also have capitalism to thank for the fact he has made a successful living saying much worse things for several years now. He lost his job because he delved into lazy anti-Semitic stereotypes, which risked financial penalties for his employers. He did not lose his job for using lazy anti-Semitic stereotypes to make a grossly sexist argument.

He won’t be unemployed for long. He’s probably already writing his next column for his next employer.

I’m uncomfortable because I don’t know how to create a law that protects minorities but not orthodoxies. But I am even more discomforted by the fact that Myers’ has such lucrative appeal. There is a market for his kind of anti-liberal, both pseudo (and anti) intellectualist, faux-common-sense take on the ever-increasing complexity and careful use of language demanded of us by this multicultural world. This world where the certainties of the past are no longer given their due deference.

The market for his brand of illiberalism is increasingly febrile and well paid. He remains free to pander to those who feel left behind and confused. Free to communicate back to them their own prejudices and fears. I’m a Free Speech absolutist. My response to his snide hate should be to call for him to be taken on, fought to a stand-still with better ideas, more skilfully communicated, for him to be eviscerated with sharp words. But I know that’s just bullshit. I’m a Free Speech absolutist and I have absolutely no idea how to stop someone making money out of attacking those more vulnerable than me.

So yes, this liberal is troubled by the dismissal of a writer from a major newspaper. He didn’t find himself out of fashion. He didn’t find himself suddenly irrelevant. He just used a few ill-advised words to justify his peevish hate. If he’d expressed his peevish hate with different words he’d still have his job. So yes, this liberal is troubled. Perhaps the memes are right after all.

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This Is What I Believe

These are some things I believe to be true. Identity Politics is inimical to the progress of our species. Identity Politics is a necessary protection for people who don’t look like me. Our species is doomed. The world could and should be a lot better than it is. The world could be a lot worse than it is. The world is a lot worse for a lot of other people.

I’ve spent a week, many thousands of words, over several failed blog posts, trying to sort out my thoughts on the recent dispute within the Irish left. Some working-class white men (of the left) have attacked Identity Politics. Some women (of the left) have responded by calling on men (of the left) to recognise and accept the privilege afforded them as men. It has become quite nasty. There has even been poetry.

The tag line of my blog is ‘less about the world and more about me’ so please understand this post is just me trying to work out me. I’m a straight, able-bodied, working-class, white man. Until very recently I was on the right of the political divide. Socially liberal yes, but very conservative on the economy. And while I retain the belief that tamed capitalism is safer and better (mostly for me) than either neo-liberalism and socialism, I do now consider myself to be of the left, even if just barely.

When this dispute kicked off I experienced a brief flash of schadenfreude. There go the lefties eating each other again. It took me a few moments to remember that a lot of these lefties were friends of mine, people I respected, agreed with and even loved. It took me a few moments to remember, I’m one of them, even if just barely.

If a gun was put to my head and given three seconds to decide what ideology, in its purest form, was to be imposed on this world for the next several centuries, I would say, libertarianism. That is who and what I am at my most base level. And even though I know intellectually that libertarianism is a one-way ticket to dystopia, it is the ideal that has most influenced my values.

My thoughts on sexual and reproductive rights, gender and sexuality rights, nationalism, police powers, the death penalty and torture all have their genesis in libertarianism. Simply put, I was of the opinion (and still am) that a State that takes for itself the power to say a man may not marry another man, or a woman does not have physical autonomy or we must swear allegiance to a flag, can similarly insist that men with blue eyes are to have their ears chopped off, women over six-foot-tall are to be burned as witches and that we will invade the country next to us because they think their flag is prettier than ours.

It was a libertarianism leavened with Enlightenment universalism and a faith in the perfectibility of our species. I just do not care about your race, ethnicity, nationality, culture, religion, language, gender, ancestry, sexuality, age, physical or mental abilities, ideals, place of birth, place of residence, class or profession. There is one human race, one planet and each of us has but one life. And given the opportunity to thrive, we would do so.

They are good values. They are values I’d comfortably put against the most socialist of socialists and not feel overmatched. The problem, however, begins with practicalities. I remember when gender quotas were first suggested. For some reason, and I don’t remember how or why, I didn’t rely on autopilot. I did a bit of reading. The logic of gender quotas was, to me, inescapable. Leave things as they are and half the population of this nation would probably never achieve the level of representation and power their numbers would suggest they are entitled to. Someone, and in this case, it would have to be the hated State, must interfere in the natural order, if things were to ever improve.

Because of some of the people I was speaking to at that time, I began to read a little about feminism and intersectionality. I remember feeling very uncomfortable about intersectionality. Again, the logic of it seemed to me obvious and consistent. The problem of course is that it is socialism in its purest form. Shudder. And then I began to read about privilege and Identity Politics.

And the crash happened. The economy was run off a cliff. I’d supported every single policy that led to the crash. I was tempted to excuse and interpret and pretend but the facts were the facts. I could no longer sustain the belief that the State does best when it does nothing. I realised that left to our own devices, we will run the economy over a cliff every fucking time we get the opportunity. You just can’t trust people. I was forced to accept that the State is the least bad entity for interfering with an economy for the purposes of turning it away from that cliff. The least bad entity for using the spoils of that economy to ensure that everyone has a place to live, access to education and health services, and if they need it, extra supports.

You just can’t trust people. And you can’t trust the State. So, who do I trust? That’s been my struggle for the last couple of years. It’s why I am now, a former member of both the Progressive Democrats and Fine Gael, on the left, even if just barely.

And yet none of this explains privilege. I don’t like admitting to my several privileges. There was a time I was one of them capital ‘A’ kind of atheists. There’s nothing more appealing to a straight, white man than the opportunity to play at being in a minority. I got to speak in schools and on the radio and write endless blog posts about the oppression I was experiencing. I still shudder with pleasure at how liberating it was to feel oppressed. I don’t care how much empathy or imagination you have, you’ll never know the luxuriant pleasure there is in playing at being oppressed.

And the only reason I’m not now a small ‘c’ conservative, supporting lower taxes and struggling to hide my scorn for those living off of my taxes is that I’ve had to accept that not everyone gets to grow up bullet-proof like me. And I hate it. I sometimes long for that lost ignorance. I hate the struggle to understand that I’m not normal, only fortunate to have been born when and where I was born. And the gender I was born as. I hate struggling to understand that I’m not special, merely the product of what has always existed and continues to exist.

Take away normal and special, all that’s left is result. And that is anathema to ego.

When I was right-wing I had a naive faith in humanity both individually and as a species. A belief that given the correct circumstances, a rational and enlightened self-interest would save our species from its prolonged and unnecessary squalor, both material and intellectual. If we could just shed the nonsensical divisions of nation, tribe, sexuality, religion etc and instead embrace true universalism then our species might finally have a chance at real social progress, end poverty, deal with climate change and stop all wars etc. You know, utopia and shit.

I’m no longer that idealistic. Our species continues to be resolutely nasty and brutish. And I avoid most of that nastiness and brutality because I’m male, white and straight. Yes, I’m working-class, but I have to look very hard and in some very odd places to find myself oppressed.

For most of my adult life I’ve believed in the inevitability of progress; social and material. There was never a time in history that I would have preferred to live in than the present day. Never quite getting that this Golden Age is reserved for only those people who look like me. I require nothing to be sacred, nothing to be safe, there are no words that can wound me and I live always expecting to be treated with the kind of respect I’d thought was everyone’s experience. And I have that dislike for Identity Politics that only a straight white man can have.

I don’t need anything to be sacred, I don’t require safe spaces and there are no words that can wound me. That’s not normal, that’s just my inheritance. I want it to be normal. That desire is now what animates whatever future activism I may get involved with. I’ve given up on utopia, even given up on our species, but I’ve a few more decades left and I’d prefer dedicating at least some of that time to making me and my bullet-proof life normal.

And while I think Identity Politics gets in the way of that probably unattainable goal, I can’t, in good conscious, expect anyone who inhabits those identities to give them up. I’m 43 and I’ve never suffered for being who or what I am. How can I expect people who do suffer for merely existing to shed one of their most important protections just to join me, and people who look like me, in a frankly quixotic attempt to make my privileges the privileges of all?

What kind of madness would it take for someone who doesn’t look like me to try surviving, even in our more liberal West, without someone or something always having your back? I’m white straight, working-class and male. I am so privileged I struggle to even imagine what it must be like to need an identity. I’m a white, working-class man and I’m privileged as fuck.

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Culture Is A Strange Thing

European women are not having enough babies. It’s a fact. Well kind of. How many is enough babies you ask? 2.1 apparently. So, if European women would make it their business to each have more than two babies then all would be grand with the world. It isn’t often that a complex social issue can be answered with a simple number. There’s a distinct bang of 42 off of this.

Why 2.1? Simply put that is the minimum requirement for maintaining the present population of Europe. It’s important that the population doesn’t fall because we need a constant supply of young people to look after us, physically and financially, as we age. And women, the selfish creatures that they are, are neglecting, to give us enough young Seans and Hildas and Francescas to keep our arses wiped and stomachs full.

One could delve into the myriad of reasons that women are keeping the expensive, career limiting, life altering, freedom robbing, dangerous and painful pregnancy thing to a minimum, but that is for others to do. I’m more curious about the rather obvious solution that has already presented itself. Namely, immigration. Masses and masses of it.

Europe is rich. Europe is very rich actually. And Europeans are pretty good at being rich. It turns out that centuries of raping, murdering and pillaging each other, then the rest of the world and then each other again, hard, has left us rather soft. And this presents us with a problem. We don’t like the idea of obvious neglect of our senior citizens (who, totally unrelated to this of course, have a worrying propensity for voting). Neither are we comfortable with the idea (well those of us who don’t wear robes as uniforms) of insisting women do their bit by pushing out more Europeans (and again, totally unrelated to my point, there are more of them and they somehow get to vote as well).

Of course in the old days, when men were white, old people had the decency to die and women popped out a new European every other year (annually if Roman Catholic). And more importantly, people of colour knew better than to choose to live in Europe. For Europe was where white people lived. The most culturally advanced mass murderers this benighted planet has ever spawned.

But as I referenced in paragraph four, resting atop the stacked corpses and stolen treasure we grew flaccid. We were still white, even if only reflexively, but being white had become less of a lifestyle choice and more a thing that those embarrassments (or relatives for short) who kept getting older but not dying used to nostalgia about. We realised that while giving women the vote was a ridiculous notion, it had the unexpected result of creating more consumers and thus more shit that must be manufactured and thus more workers and thus more taxes and thus more money to be spent on people who simply refuse to die.

It’s a brave new world but there simply aren’t enough of us. So, filthy foreigners and their foreign ways are our only option. But there are some Europeans, or Whites for short, who are concerned that these foreigners and their ways will swamp our native culture. Our wondrous culture. Our, we conquered the world and used gods and science to justify it, culture will disappear under the weight of influxing hordes.

That’s not an entirely daft fear. Nonsensical, wrongheaded and factually incorrect, but not daft. Europe is a geographically defined place populated with human things and we all know that if there’s a piece of geography with biology walking around it, there must be a culture. And logically then, more biologicals entering said Petri Dish must impact on the native culture. Logical.

Now if one could just define European culture for me then we could, swastikas flying, fight to defend it. I’m not even sure what Irish culture is and there are hardly any Irish people. All I know for certain is that when I hear someone speak about Irish culture I invariably thank Gandalf I don’t live wherever and whenever that culturalist is yapping about.

That is not to say there are things about Europe today I would like to see unchanged. I can write that Christianity and Islam are ridiculous inventions that should be helped to disappear as soon as humanly possible. I can say that the political leaders of my portion of Europe are clownish ne’er do wells who require immediate replacing. I can say fuck the police. I can say all these things and know I get to sleep well and safe tonight. Also, I can choose not to say these things because needlessly insulting people is a tad outré.

Europe and my portion of it ensured that I am educated enough to make arguments using facts and figures and reason rather than cheap insults. I’m entitled to use cheap insults, but I shouldn’t be expected to be taken seriously.

Yet cheap insults, foundless or misdirected fear and mythology (i.e. lies) are now part of our European culture. It’s a culture of vindictive cowardice. A culture of 500 million cowering white people wetting themselves at the appearance of a few million refugees.

We invented using religion to excuse violence. We invented using violence to excuse religion. Then we stopped doing that. In some places a little later than others (looking at you Ireland) but we did stop it. Among the few million victims fleeing to Europe from the horrors of war, there will be some people with bad intentions. They have been murdering Muslims for decades and now they want to have a go at the Christians, pretend Christians and the atheists. They have had some tiny successes. Yet in that time Germany saved a million people.

But perhaps it isn’t the terrorism. Perhaps it’s the dark skin of the men and the no skin on show by the women that animates the myth makers on their quest for division and power.

Europe is the cradle of whiteness. We invented it. Turned it into a religion and promulgated it with science. If Europe did have a culture it was whiteism. It’s a culture I’d thought as relevant today as using snuff and burning women, I mean witches.

I’d thought that Europe’s culture, if it could be said to have one, was one of having learned its history. Had learned it so well that we had finally gotten our shit together. I was wrong. When I was reading our history, I was reading a list of our crimes and accomplishments. The Whiteists were reading the same books but counting the crimes as being committed against them. How the fuck else could they think White Genocide is a thing?

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On learning about Political Correctness

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I’m still trying to digest the result of the election in the US. An aspect of that shock result is Political Correctness. Many Trump supporters appear to have a visceral dislike for Political Correctness. I can understand that. Political Correctness is not easy. It’s not easy because it is a concept that calls for an intellectual and emotional engagement with subjects many would rather ignore.

It’s a concept I’ve struggled with for a number of years. On the intellectual side is the tension between Political Correctness and Free Speech. And trying to understand why Political Correctness is necessary and useful. Emotionally it’s difficult because it demands one assess one’s own situation, then exercise a certain amount of empathy towards others. Making an effort to compare one’s own struggles with the struggles of others. Possibly admitting that while things aren’t great, they are less great and for much more complex reasons for others

That is not an enjoyable journey. I’m a white, working class, straight man with a middling level of education. My travails, both structural and individual, are the most important things in the world to me. The things I know, everyone should know. What I take for granted, should be the norm. The struggles I experience, everyone should sympathise with. My station in life is not satisfactory and that should be the sole occupation of the chancers and/or ideologues who seek to represent me.

This is an easy to maintain attitude when one lives in a working class, white, almost exclusively straight environment. Even the few years I did in college, back in the early nineties, didn’t do much to teach me about those ‘others’. In part because the environment wasn’t diverse but also, to be honest, because I was an arrogant little shit who didn’t need to learn anything. Even the ten years I worked in Dublin didn’t do much to expose me to difference.

I worked caring for people who were a lot poorer than me, but I saw our difference as one of degree rather than of order.

Remarkably, when one considers the sewer that Twitter has become, it was in that weird and truculent environment that I first began to actively engage with Political Correctness. When I joined Twitter, it was for the express purpose of engaging with nerd culture and explaining to everyone why their political beliefs were wrong and mine were right. The former I enjoyed and still enjoy, the latter was an eye opener.

I happened upon people who were more educated, more intelligent and who’d had more diverse experiences than me. My infinitely self-centred world-view began to crumble. And it wasn’t because of a series of bitter battles with PC heads trying to correct my thinking. More it was just being in an environment that valued thoughtful use of words (yes youngsters, Twitter did have a golden age) caused me to begin to exercise a little more restraint.

The people I was interacting with, were people I wished to continue interacting with. So I had to adapt. This can be construed as ‘knuckling under’ or as a process of reflection and learning. Knowing my personality, I couldn’t have manged the latter without a certain element of the former. If there’s one constant in my struggle to learn new things, it’s my reflexive arrogance telling me I don’t need to know new shit. I already know all the shit I need to know.

It was and remains an uncomfortable journey. And I don’t mean I miss using racist, homophobic and misogynist language. What I miss is being the centre of the universe. I miss not being able to prioritise my struggles and my beliefs. I don’t like having to second guess the thoughts and feelings I have. I don’t like not being certain about absolutely everything. I struggle with treating a debate as an opportunity to learn rather than arena in which to dominate and win. I really don’t like that as our world falls apart my biggest concern is finding a formula that perfectly balances the exigencies of Free Speech with the necessities of Political Correctness.

I stumbled upon Political Correctness. I think that scares me. It scares me because I know that if Trump had appeared ten years ago, I would probably have been a supporter. I try to take some comfort in thinking that possibly he would have been too ridiculous even for unreconstructed Paul, but I’m not sure.

Political Correctness is hard. I understand why people, people from my background, would attack it. That pause before opening one’s mouth. That boring ass research. That patronising response from an obnoxious leftie. That genuine suffering that must take second place to some stranger’s suffering. That loss of certainty. That imposition of new rules that do nothing to improve your situation. The constant feed of easier and thus more appealing answers.

Political Correctness is undoubtedly one of the most progressive intellectual movements of my lifetime. It is an intellectual movement that actually improves lives rather than merely speculating about improving lives. And it actually saves lives. But it makes emotional demands that I fear many are unable or unwilling to meet. Who better to appeal to that emotionally insecure aspect of our characters than a man-child?

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What The Fuck White People?

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Before today, the closest I’d ever gotten to nostalgia was missing that time when Liverpool FC was the best team in Europe. In all other ways, I’d always thanked my good fortune that I came of age in a time when basic decency began to become law, both written and unwritten. I never felt threatened by those laws.

I don’t regret not being able to use the n-word. I’ve no difficulty using the personal pronoun a person says applies to them. I accept that when I voice concerns about another culture I have do so in a way that is sensitive to the vulnerabilities of members of that culture. I’d welcome a flood of refugees, confident we can sort out the details tomorrow, just as long as we save lives today. I’ve had to accept that my belief in the efficacy of liberal military might was misplaced. I’ve grappled with being one of the most privileged people on Earth and now I acknowledge it.

I’m white, cis-male, straight, able-bodied, employed, literate and live in a country where my vote counts. And I thought things were going to continue getting better. For the first time, I feel nostalgia. I miss that time about five years ago when white people weren’t such whiney cunts. OK, perhaps we were always whiney cunts, but we weren’t voting for far-right, nativist, man-children who spoke with the language of those attempting to bring down the Weimar Republic.

Or perhaps more accurately, in my cocoon of liberalist privilege, I wasn’t aware that my fellow white people were still the racist scumbags of the past, but with better teeth. I had allowed myself to believe that progress was inexorable. The West was richer, more powerful, more stable, more open, and more liberal than any civilisation in history. We’d raped the planet and murdered hundreds of millions of each other and non-Europeans but in the latter half of the 20th and early part of the 21st centuries we had finally cottoned onto basic decency. (And yes, I’m fully aware of the Marxist criticism of that statement, but I’m a liberal, not a Marxist)

We are rich beyond the dreams of Midas. And we are largely rich because we exploit people and the planet more efficiently and on a larger scale than ever before. And with that wealth we had begun to construct a civilisation of rational enquiry, of tolerance and respect. And yes, I am exaggerating wildly. This is nostalgia after all. But there is a kernel of truth to it. I’m from a working-class background and yet I got to go to college. My sort never got to go to college. I got to knock on doors and urge people to allow same-sex marriages. I get to insult my politicians in a newspaper and on my blog. I can believe whatever I want to believe.

But I got complacent. I’d begun to believe that the only argument left was the constant tension between individual rights and societal obligations. I’d begun my own journey from centre-right to centre-left on the political spectrum, but always liberal. Always focused on my personal journey I forgot to look at other white people. I didn’t take seriously the occasional cranks who decried the presence of colour in their white redoubts.

It never occurred to me that white people, enjoying all the privileges I enjoy, could seriously feel threatened by people of colour or could seriously resent not being able to discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community. In part defence of my naivete, I have lived, for the last eight years, in one of the whitest parts of the planet. I’d heard stupid things said about refugees, but that was just a lack of information, not a core deep unease at difference. Wasn’t it?

Now Trump is president elect. A majority of white women voted for him. A majority of white men voted for him. Was there an economic element to his victory? Certainly. Did misogyny play a part? Of course. Was there a backlash against treating the LGBTQ+ community as actual human beings? Yes. Did the spectre of Islamist terrorism move some lily-livered white people? I’m afraid so. But what animated them most was his insistence that being a whiney white cunt was a valid lifestyle choice. That being a dangerous, racist piece of shit was perfectly acceptable in the face of liberalism’s fumbling and erratic attempts at constructing a tolerant society. That ignorance is a badge to be worn with pride.

Fucking white people did this. Fucking white people voted for Brexit. Fucking white people have begun to vote for authoritarian pricks all over the EU. Fucking white people are bitching that Angela Markel chose the save over a million Syrian refugees. Fucking white people, in Sweden, SWEDEN! are reacting to refugees.

I know, I know, I’m a liberal. I’m supposed to attempt empathy, I should attempt to understand these fucking white people, if for no other reason that with understanding I can address their fucking white people fears. But I don’t want to. I don’t want to delve into their smallness, their inadequacies, their pathetic fears. I know one day I’ll have to. But today I can’t bring myself to feel their sick ignorance.

It’s inevitable that to beat these petty pricks we are going to have to find some way to help them mature into fully functioning adults who aren’t scared by colour and difference and exotic food and languages and the complicated work of getting along with people who see the world that bit differently.

And yes, I see the irony of that last statement. But I’m not a cultural relativist. I don’t think all cultures and all ways of doing things are equal. I’m a liberal. I believe in some universal and fundamental human rights. You can believe in any bullshit you want. You can indulge in any practice you want. But fuck you if you attempt to impose your bullshit on anyone else, be they your partner, neighbour or society.

Fucking white people. In the history of our planet we’ve never been so powerful, rich and healthy. Yet we still tremble at difference. There is so much wrong with the world (I didn’t even mention climate change) and our response is to elect fascist man-children? Just what the fuck white people? You dumb pricks have made me miss five years ago.

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Anthems and Flags

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One should be immune to controversy surrounding the Olympics. Drug cheats, the obscene amount of money a nation spends on hosting the event and ticket touts are part and parcel of the event. As for the overt nationalism, well one just accepts that as an unavoidable element of competitive sport.

But sometimes that overtness enters the realm of plain silly. Gabby Douglas, a multiple gold winning American gymnast, was criticised for not showing due deference during the playing of the US national anthem. Instead of telling her critics to fuck off and get a life, she had to defend and excuse herself. I was going to dismiss this as errant nonsense and get on with enjoying the Olympics, but then there was an item on Radio Kerry about respect for the Irish flag and the Irish anthem.

The contributors of the show fulminated on how ‘in their day’ people were taught how to behave properly (towards the flag and anthem). Dark forces were hinted at, that were trying to destroy our culture.

Not once did they suggest any reason for maintaining the traditional formality towards our national symbols and emblems. All that concerned them was their fragile sense of identity and their need for everyone else to cater to this fragility.

Why did we invent and elevate random items like a piece of coloured fabric and a song few people understand? This isn’t unique to Ireland. All nations have their flags and anthems. They were invented in the 19th Century to rally one group of people in opposition to another group of people. They grew out of the intellectual ferment that was the Enlightenment. Traditional forms of authority, the monarchs and churches, were being challenged with unprecedented vigour. This philosophical and scientific (with large dollops of mythology) revolution had to find a new source of authority. A new way to legitimise power. Thus the invention of the nation state.

In this new entity was invested all the authority that was once divine. But to ensure the acceptance of this break from the medieval, those parts of the medieval that were most useful had to be appropriated. What wondrous intellectual tools did this include? Mostly pomp and ceremony (and control of education). It’s difficult to convince someone to die for an abstract idea, but put a flag in their hands then watch that person charge at a machine gun nest.

It should never be forgotten how revolutionary and novel this idea of a nation state was. How remarkable it was to say to the representatives of the various gods, that the ‘nation’ is now their equal and in some circumstances their superior.

This invention allowed the freeing of a remarkable amount of energy. From its roots in anti-imperialist movements in South America and liberal thought in Europe to the independence movements in Africa and Asia, vast empires crumbled in the face of this wholly made up concept. So successful has it been that people soon forgot that it was just that, an invention. A way to divide people in the mythical groups, to differentiate one human from another.

Yet when I’m at a hurling game I take my cap off when they play, ‘Amhrán na bhFiann.’ When I have to visit a church, I take my cap off. When I have to attend a Mass, I stand when everyone else does (though I never kneel, that’s going a bit too far). But I have noticed these simple acts of conformity are becoming less common. Watching people looking around for cues when in Mass is a constant source of mirth to me. As for hurling matches, mumbling along to a song I’ve no interest in, is as much part of the experience as buying the match day programme.

The pomp and ceremony (and education, never forget the education) that underpin the nation state have become frayed.

I’m pleased by this and I am troubled. I enjoy pomp and ceremony. Watching any nation parade its conception of itself is both telling and usually enjoyable. It is a living history pageant. A military funeral in Arlington Cemetery, The Changing of the Guard in Buckingham Palace, Bastille Day celebrations, the 1916 Commemorations, are all wonderful spectacles. They are the costume parties of a national identity.

They have long been thought of as indispensable to nationalism. Is this a good thing? Well, without this nationalism, this regularly reinforced patriotism, a state cannot hope to prosecute a war. And on the downside, without this nonsense, a state cannot hope to prosecute a war.

Yet I am somewhat uncomfortable that a generation of people are growing up wholly unconcerned by these symbols. I would not wish them to be slaves to these inventions, as previous generations were. Rather that they be taught about them. Taught about their origins and why they once had such awesome power. How even today, in this post-factual world, they still have the power to lead people to disaster.

I wish they were offered the opportunity to at least discuss the role of the nation state in general, and theirs in particular, in a globalised world. I dearly wish I could see someone ignore the national anthem and know that this person has made an informed choice not to give a shit about nonsense some previous generations took so seriously.

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Freedom of Speech v Political Correctness

freedom-speech-v-political-correctness

Political Correctness can be a terribly frustrating thing when one also believes, wholeheartedly, in Free Speech. Of course I could just have as easily begun this post with; Free Speech can be a terribly frustrating thing when one also believes, wholeheartedly, in Political Correctness. It is a struggle I thought I would one-day resolve but only recently realised it cannot be resolved. This is who I am. These are my values. I absolutely and 100% adhere to the principles of Free speech and Political Correctness. So all I have to do for a quiet life is religiously avoid any topic or issue where these two values may be in conflict.

Easy to do, I just need to leave the internet, stop reading newspapers and not speak to anyone ever again. I’d considered only speaking about the weather but even that is political now. How do I respect the Free Speech of those who deny Climate Change and how do I maintain my poise of Political Correctness when speaking of the dim-witted people who believe these self-serving charlatans? I can’t even ask after someone’s health for fear they will prove to be believers in woo.

Where it gets horribly complicated is when discussing Islamic violence perpetuated, against Europeans, in our very cities. Some feel more comfortable calling it a manifestation of evil. That smacks of magic to me so I cannot take that person seriously. Some find comfort in labelling it a symptom of mental illness. I’ve had mental health issues, I know people suffering mental illnesses and they do not look for relief by murdering people. No evidence exists for it being a factor, so please take your false comfort elsewhere. Some say the problem is Islam itself. Then we would have 1.2 billion suicide bombers to worry about. It’s an explanation that smacks of chauvinism and opportunism. Not buying it. Don’t want to listen to you.

Then there are those who want to blame the Americans. This might be the beginning of an interesting conversation. There are two types of people who make this claim. There are the weird and semi-literate types that blame America for everything, including fluoride and keeping alien incursions secret. Fuck them and their nonsense. And then there are the ones who know a bit. While they may still suffer a reflexive anti-Americanism, they know American foreign policy was a factor and not the sole cause for someone murdering people in Brussels. And the key point here is that reflexive anti-Americanism is less problematic than being a reflexive anti-Muslim. This is not inconsistent; it is Political Correctness. The Americans can take it; too many Muslims live in precarious situations for the same to apply to them.

One can have a long and possibly productive conversation on the basis of it being entirely America’s fault. Of course this will only be productive if the causes and blame is spread a bit further than just US foreign policy. It’s a conversation I would have on Twitter and not be concerned by who might be watching. Yet when Trump targets Muslims to enhance his particular brand of strong-man-here-to-save-the-day, part of me wishes he could be silenced. Especially as it encourages others to echo his words and thoughts. Much like the upsurge in anti-immigrant violence that followed Brexit, baser instincts are always looking for an excuse to let rip. Powerful people and movements attacking minorities provide that excuse. Simplistic explanations for Islamic violence in Europe (as Europeans we obviously don’t care that much about violence in Muslim countries) paints targets on the backs of our Muslim neighbours. Political Correctness is one of the tools at our disposal to keep those targets off of them. But we do need to discuss Islamic violence in Europe, because, you know, one day I’d like to see it end.

And the reality is, understanding this violence isn’t terribly complex, it’s simply a combination of; American foreign policy, European foreign policy (past and present), neoliberalism, globalisation, oil, Sykes-Picot, the fall of the Ottoman Empire, nationalism, religion, sectarianism, racism, sexism, oppression, dictatorship, easy access to arms, Israel, the Cold War, Russian foreign policy, demographics, radicalisation, technology, young men, old men, culture, education, unemployment, Climate Change, the refugee crises (that’s the plural for crisis by the way), this global recession and probably a dozen more factors I haven’t thought of. So all one has to do is unpick this Gordian Knot and, hey presto, problem solved.

Do I even know where to begin? Fuck no; they are issues that need addressing by people smarter than me. And it will require the freedom to criticise, to question what some consider sacred, to expect change and to demand values be altered. Fortunately, my job, as a nobody who spends too much time on Twitter, is simple, I just have to make sure I’m saying and doing nothing to paint targets on the backs of my Muslim neighbours.

 

 

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