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.