Less about the world, more about me.

Category: My Politics (Page 2 of 4)

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?

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?

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.

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.

Freedom of Speech v Political Correctness

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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.

 

 

On Being A Single Issue Voter

I’ve never had much time for ‘single issue voters.’ They’ve always struck me as irredeemably parochial, worthy even of contempt. An unfortunate point of view, considering I now find myself choosing to be a single issue voter. Yes, in this general election I’m voting on a candidate’s position on repealing the Eighth Amendment and their pro-choice credentials. I’m not comfortable about it. I know it’s an issue that affects 51% of the population, all across the country, so technically it isn’t merely a local issue, but it still feels strange to be that voter.

It is especially weird as I am still in Fine Gael. I supported them at the last election and had envisaged canvassing for them in this election. And truth be told, there is part of me that hopes they still end up leading the next government. Though that is based more on the paucity of credible alternatives than any affection or faith in Fine Gael.

I joined and supported Fine Gael as I trusted them to two things if in power. I expected them to, ploddingly and unimaginatively, (and in tandem with Labour, less viciously than would be preferred by many in the party) rescue the economy from the abyss that Fianna Fáil had consigned it to. And secondly I expected then to not be Fianna Fáil. They managed the first part. Yes, there were international factors, but Fine Gael played a part. They failed on the second part. They did nothing to make politics in this country anything other than the tawdry mess that was once the near exclusive preserve of Fianna Fáil.

In fairness to Fine Gael, my disaffection is not all on them. I have experienced a gradual change in political perspective over the last few years. Where once I was a ‘true blue’ Progressive Democrat, I now find myself wondering again about the State. I have begun to wonder if my mistrust of the State’s ability to play any sort of useful role in society was less an ideological stance and more a contempt based on my experiences with habitually under resourced and dreadfully led services.

It is an uncomfortable experience, rethinking one’s ideology, one I would prefer to avoid. But contact with reality is terribly educational. I have worked in what is sometimes pejoratively described as the ‘poverty industry’ all my adult life. That’s over twenty years dealing with people who require huge wads of other people’s money to just survive, never mind thrive. The first portion of my career was spent getting over the fact that I didn’t know what poor was. I thought I’d grown up poor, but fuck me I didn’t have a clue. The next part of my career coincided with the ‘property bubble.’ That was a great time for me. There was so much money being thrown at services that my salary shot up and I had my pick of jobs. Of course it never occurred to me at the time that while I was getting better pay, more options and more colleagues, nothing was actually changing.

It took me a long time to realise that. I can be very slow at times. Reading ‘Oliver Twist’ for the first time, helped a bit. Seeing the differing experiences of my middle class friends and my working class friends helped. Owning a house and being strapped for cash helped. Getting older and having to pay for regular dentistry and GP visits helped. Twitter helped. And writing helped.

I have had to finally accept that for all its egregious shortcomings, only the State has the resources, reach and breadth to replace charity with rights. To ultimately make me redundant.

For many people that is not a startling realisation. To many it’s actually a truism, but for someone who still retains a certain sympathy for libertarianism it’s like losing a religion. It is very unsettling as one’s political beliefs do become part of one’s identity. Perhaps I now understand why so many people still voted for Fianna Fáil at the last election, or who remain within the Roman Catholic Church, despite everything.

Now what to do with this new found and still grudging acceptance of the State as a necessary vehicle for positive change? I’m not sure.

I like being in a political party. I’m one of those weirdos who enjoys political activism. But I look at what’s out there and I’m left cold. I can see why independents are so popular. In a country where politics is so degraded, voting for the local guy who’ll talk tough to them there people in Dublin, but who really only succeeds in fucking over the people in the next county, is an attractive prospect. In my county, Kerry, there’s a very real prospect of two Healy-Raes winning seats. That’s what we get for Fine Gael failing to not be like Fianna Fáil. That’s what we get when Labour destroys itself trying to prove themselves to everyone except their core vote.

I want to be in a party and it’ll have to be left of centre but as close to the centre as possible. A party that is brave enough to say that people can have world class services or low taxes, but they can’t have both. Obviously that leads me to the Social Democrats. I like a lot of what they have on offer. But I have a problem. The big beast of the left is Sinn Féin. If I live to be a hundred, I will not vote for that party nor lend them any support, direct or indirect. And being in a party of the left may lead to that eventuality.

So I’m stuck. I hope to have gotten myself out of this bind by the time the next election is called, but for now I am left trying to decide who to vote for in this election. Voting pro-choice is at least using my vote positively, but it is an unsatisfactory solution.

To that end I contacted all but two of the candidates standing in Kerry. I didn’t bother with Mary FitzGibbon, because, well why bother. And I’d already contacted Michael Healy-Rae so I know where Healy-Rae éile stands.

I emailed fourteen of the sixteen candidates. Seven chose to reply. Of them, independents, Michael Healy-Rae and Henry Gaynor were avowedly anti-choice. Independent Kevin Murphy, Renua’s Donal Corcoran, Grace O’Donnell (FG) and Norma Moriarty (FF) have all said they are pro-choice. Martin Ferris (SF) managed, in one sentence, to convey his unenthusiastic adherence to his party’s policy of repealing the Eighth.

I got no reply from AJ Spring (Lab), but from his radio appearances he appears to be an unenthusiastic supporter of a woman’s choices, but only in very limited circumstances. Same goes for Jimmy Deenihan (FG) and Brendan Griffin (FG). John Brassil (FF) is anti-choice, I know this as he canvassed me. Brian Finucane (PBP) is as far as I know, pro-choice. And the local Green is anti-choice (only in Kerry would that happen). Michael O’Gorman, Independent, no reply and no idea.

And therein lies the biggest problem with being a single issue voter. Based on my knowledge of the  candidates views on repealing the Eighth Amendment and their support for a woman’s right to choose, I will be voting for a Fianna Fáil candidate, a Fine Gael candidate, a Renua candidate, two anti-water charges candidates, with a grudging lower preference to the Labour candidate and possibly my two lowest preferences for the two sitting FGers. Not a single one of them, bar the two FG candidates, has the slightest chance winning a seat. What’s the point of that?

Moving a Nation

The genius of oratory is that it uses mere words, to inspire. It uses words to bypass the intellectual and moral sensibilities of the audience, to tap directly into its emotions. It is an art because it recognises that where an audience’s ‘feelings’ go, their minds and bodies must surely follow. It is a daunting power; the ability to move people to action, often against their better judgement.

Pearse, Churchill, O’Connell, King, Parnell, Lincoln, rare men. For they had that power, to hold the small enraptured, and once in thrall, set them to the task of being giants.

I distrust these demagogues. Moulding the mob is not just the preserve of the great. From Caesar to Hitler, appealing to the petty prejudices of the populace, can see the small inspired to be monsters.

Throughout Ireland’s most recent economic and social malaise, I have been gratified by the failure of anyone to emerge, who might seek to galvanise the citizens. Rather we should muddle through and trust, to blind hope, that those we elevate, don’t reflect our foibles too closely.

Then a country, a continent away, implodes. A catastrophe measured in millions. A devastation depicted with drowned babies. Military might, discredited. Economic power, diminished. Moral courage, gone. Leadership, reflecting our foibles all too well.

How does one move a nation to shame, once shame has been too long forgotten? How does one preach responsibility, solidarity and charity, to those who wear the mask of victimhood with such surly enthusiasm?

Pictures of dead babies no longer work, even when the babies have pale skin. Remembering history does not work, as we have been taught only to blame. A call for humanity, presumes a humanity.

Who can move a nation that shrugs its shoulders at the sight of dead babies? Who now has the power to communicate with the better angels of our nature?

Still Angry

I’ve been angry for about a month. It is anger I’ve tried hard to contain, even convert it into energy. But it remains, despite this wonderful victory. Despite my own village saying yes, despite seeing the tears of joy at the Count Centre in Tralee, I’m still angry.

I would have liked to vent some of that anger on Twitter, but social media was part of the campaign. We had to be somewhat circumspect. Instead I had to squash that anger into a little ball, push it down into my stomach and knock on strangers’ doors. I had to smile and say sir or ma’am and apologise for disturbing them, but would they ever consider letting some people get married.

And if they said no, no matter how they said no, no matter the look of appalled horror on their faces or in their voices, I had to smile, thank them for their time and apologise for wasting that precious time. Then I had to knock on the next door, smile, apologise, ask and then smile again when their eyes glazed over with utter boredom. I had to smile and knock and walk away when these strangers offered abuse. I had to smile and smile because the homophobes these days are terribly thin skinned, lawyered up and endlessly cynical.

But my anger isn’t just reserved for the anti-equality side. My side, my supposed side, were as provoking. In my part of the world, politicians were conspicuous by their absence, both TDs and councillors. We got reports that they canvassed in Dublin and in Carlow- Kilkenny. The tiny few of us, in our tiny team, who are political, won’t forget that.

I’m angry that our team was so small. Yes, we achieved 55%, in our Kerry North/West Limerick constituency, but with more people knocking on doors, handing out leaflets, having conversations, we could’ve got 60%, maybe even 65%. None of us could go to West Limerick, and the tallies showed that failure. I could only do one day in my own village. We carried it by 40 votes. A second day might have doubled that.

On the day of the vote, I’d have settled for mid 40s, with the hope that the cities would carry us over the line. Despite the positive responses I was getting on the doors of Listowel, I didn’t believe for a second Kerry would say yes and I was terrified that the cities might not vote in large enough numbers to make up the difference. I was scared every day, and that made me angry.

I was so angry at the lies, treated as truth, that I had to stop watching the debates. Again and again, I had to explain to people that we don’t have surrogacy laws to change. That gay people are successfully raising children and will continue to do so, whatever the result. I had to explain the adoption process. I had to explain why Civil Partnership isn’t a Marriage. And I had to smile.

I’m angry that my wife, who is bisexual, had to spend weeks in the rain, begging equality for gays and lesbians, while having her own sexuality virtually erased. I can see why the campaign went for gay and lesbian rather than LGBT, but fuck me, it angered me to watch her pretend be okay with that.

There is nothing useful I can do with this anger. I cried when every box in Listowel went yes. There is ego in that I know, but fuck it, it helped. I cried when Lixnaw went yes, but not for pride, but because then and only then, I knew there was no way this referendum was going to be lost.

I have a bad habit of holding onto grudges and while this anger will eventually dissipate, the grudge will remain. That the LGBT community in general, my friends in particular, but especially Paula, had to politely smile as they were lied about and insulted, or simply sidelined, is something I will never let go of. I expected nothing but the spite dished out by the homophobes, but I had not expected the media to facilitate them or for so many politicians to sit on the fence, doing nothing to counter them. There can be no forgiveness for those who chose to look away.

Secularism?

Gandalf knows I’ve little interest in competitive 1916ing. I would avoid the sport altogether, except it does provide an opportunity for a little thought experiment. Imagine a class of 35 teenagers is asked to write a short essay about what it means to them, to be Irish. That is 35 individual perspectives on Irish identity.

Now before you read the essays, ask yourself the following questions; if you disagree with an opinion, does that mean the teenager is wrong? How much uniformity do you hope to see in the essays? Will the essays be much different to what would’ve been written ten years or fifty years ago? If different, is this a good or a bad thing? Will you value the opinions of the new Irish as much as the old Irish? Do you think you’ll be able to detect differences based on gender, income, sexuality, race and religion? Do you think this class of teenagers would write the same thing in ten or fifty years from now?

What I’d hope this experiment would successfully demonstrate, is the fluidity of Irish identity. I would also like to think (and I’m open to contradiction here) is that there is now greater variation in today’s multitude of Irish identities than there has ever been since the foundation of the State.

I happen to think that’s a positive development. I remember when I was in school, we were taught that one of the causes of The Great Famine was monoculture i.e. an over reliance on one crop. I can’t help thinking that the dreary sameness of Irish culture up to quite recently, had a part in producing a State seemingly incapable of dealing with crises or indeed difference.

That’s possibly why I react so negatively to 1916ing. I keep hearing so many different people insisting that their 1916 is the most authentic and that all you other 1916s are revisionist, reactionary, counter revolutionary, and not the right sort of patriot. And if you even question the motives of the 1916ers themselves, well then you’re clearly a West Brit hankering for a return of the Irish Raj.

It is as if demonstrations of physical bravery sanctify actions however misguided. This deathly piety, infects and animates both left and right with equal vigour. Will those who died in the crossfire of this ‘idealism’ be remembered? Will those who were maimed in a cause they did not support be afforded equal respect? Of course not. All that matters is that we wave the flag and insist 1916 means such and such a thing.

What the fuck, you may be asking, has this got to do with secularism? Well let me explain. Traditionally, when an Irish atheist speaks about secularism, we tend to simply attack the Roman Catholic Church. It’s almost a reflex at this point. Any and all demonstrations of Catholicism provokes us. We use terms like ‘sky wizard’ and ‘flat earthers’ and ‘Bronze Age inspired homophobes’ (ok I just made that last one up, but you get the picture).

Has this ever proven useful? I fear it hasn’t. It inspires a defensiveness we’ve never really been able to overcome. And when we resort to seemingly neutral terms like ‘rights’ ‘equality’ ‘pluralism’ and the ‘UN’ we very much meet the same reaction; this is a Catholic country and if you were in Saudi Arabia you’d know your place.

This failure, no our failure, was brought home to me by a recent incident in my own county of Kerry.

A cross at the top of Kerry’s Mount Carrauntoohil, was vandalised, cut down by someone who climbed the mountain with an angle grinder. Now my first reaction was, there’s a cross at the top of Carrauntoohil? Followed by a shudder, then the thought, is there any where in this country free from these Catholic symbols?

Then something unpleasant occurred to me. What if this was one of our lot? And I use ‘our lot’ in the broadest sense, meaning anyone who might have been motivated by secularism, atheism or anything similar. I prayed to the gods I don’t think exist, that this would prove to be a work of pure vandalism or even perhaps a rather energetic environmentalist. Gandalf knows we could do with more environmentalists in Kerry.

I’m ashamed to admit, that I even momentarily hoped it was of one the many victims of the Irish Catholic Church, exacting some revenge. An unworthy thought. Being president is just not that important.

Soon after this, representatives of Atheist Ireland were interviewed on local and national radio stations. As a member for that organisation I was hoping they’d see the danger and opportunity this incident represented. I was sadly and emphatically disappointed.

No sympathy for the communities, who’d erected the cross, was offered. And worse, its restoration was questioned. I was appalled, still am. I engaged with Michael Nugent on Twitter, but I failed to make him realise how badly Atheist Ireland’s response reflected on us all. Worse, it now makes the removal of the crucifix in the Kerry County Council Chambers even less likely. The only response from Atheist Ireland should’ve been, ‘this is terrible and how may we help?’

The cross was put back up, in an almost secret operation, such were the fears of the local communities. Think on that. What hope does a secularist now have in engaging fruitfully with those people? They are actually scared of an organisation with next to no influence and even less power.

(As it happens, the vandal did turn out to have a gripe with the Catholic Church)

I let my membership of Atheist Ireland lapse. Its clueless and tone deaf behaviour shocked me too much to have anything else to do with it.

Thing is though, I still support its stated aims of promoting atheism, reason and an ethical, secular state.

I don’t actually wish to spread atheism, but I want everyone to be as familiar with it as they are the various Christian sects, Islamic traditions, Eastern philosophies, weird American cults, astrology and paganism. Which is to say, I’d like Irish people to be as equally ignorant of the several tensions that exist as atheism, as they are the about the divisions, contradictions and rivalries that exist within all the other groups. I want this for one reason and one reason only, so that we can make some progress in creating a truly secular state.

Why? Why this need for secularism? And where does having a go at the current fashion for 1916ing come into it? Be patient, I’m getting there.

Secularism is derided by both left and right as being innately conservative and far too radical. If the Marxists and reactionaries hate you, then you’re probably doing something right. The thing is, both are entirely correct.

Yes the cause of secularism is profoundly conservative. Look at us. We are almost exclusively white men, living comfortable lives. I am not fit to wash the feet of a secularist living in Saudi Arabia. I’d blush in the presence of a Russian secularist. And I’d be tongue tied if I met a woman secularist. In Catholic Ireland I must labour under the yoke of not being allowed be President, a judge or a member of The Council of State. Imagine my rallying call; come all, join me in my fight to have the theoretical right to a pointless, but well paid, office. Help, help, I’m being repressed.

And yet, the cause of secularism is profoundly radical. For there can be nothing sacred in a secular state. Not the right to have one’s opinions respected. Not the right to cut a small child’s genitals. Not the right to impose one’s beliefs. And never a right to state sanctioned privilege.

Those of us who identify as non-religious are a disparate lot. That which is the non-religious part of our identities, contributes to our Irish identities. To some, this is a defining feature, for others, it is but a tiny aspect of the over all. But we are about 250,000 of the population. That’s a big chunk of people.

On the other hand (as opposed to other side) there are the ‘still’ millions who identify as Roman Catholic. This group is as disparate as the many contradictions found among the non-religious. And again, in varying degrees, these multitudinous identities, influence their Irish identities.

That these identities are privileged is inarguable. That they represent the vast majority of identities, is without question. And that they have the weight of tradition and history behind them, is clear to all.

They are as entitled to the respect as this ‘militant’ atheist wishes he was afforded. But for secularism to succeed they will need to change, they will need to cede some of their power, they will need to accept uncomfortably new modes of behaviour. Their perception of Irish identity will need to broaden, in some cases, considerably.

But if they ask why they should change? Why should they give up anything? Why can’t things just stay the same?

Do I answer with, your God is a sham, I want to be president (in theory), the UN said so, in fact comparing ourselves to Saudi Arabia demonstrates such low national self-esteem you should probably seek help or because you’re just being mean not giving me my own way?

Thing is, there is no right answer. There is no silver bullet for convincing someone that the way things have been done for a century is discriminatory and worse, self defeating. Convincing someone of something, who doesn’t want to be convinced, is an exercise is such futility that one must grope for Greek legends for an appropriate metaphor.

And when that attempt is made with clumsy insensitivity, then that rock gets heavier and the hill steeper.

But is this a call for surrender? No. Far from it. Nor am I suggesting, hinting or even hoping that secularism is in anyway a natural progression and we need merely sit back and watch it grow.

Even in this time of competitive 1916ing and all the atavist nonsense that it entails, it is clear that Ireland has changed and is continuing to change. While people will (in these few nostalgic riven years) speak about the Irish character and Irish identity, the days of everyone following the flag, step in step (if indeed that ever existed) is long gone.

There is now, no Irish identity. And if anyone tells you there is, they probably trying to sell you something. There are many identities, many cultures, many ways at looking at the world and now, several opportunities for minorities to assert their claim to equal treatment and esteem.

And yes, that implies I am putting the non-religious into the category of oppressed minority. And yes, I am. But quell your ire, for this is the key point I am struggling to make in this overly long post. There is a queue of minorities, all standing and waiting or marching and demanding equality. All looking for their threads in the tapestry of Irishness to be recognised. The non-religious absolutely belong in that queue, but near the back. And while standing and waiting (occasionally raising our hands to remind people we are here) our main focus should be in supporting those people ahead of us is the queue. Because if and when we’re the only ones left, we won’t even have to ask anymore.

Am I islamophobic?

Am I islamophobic? I’m not sure. As I’m not sure, I should try unpacking the term a little. Does islamophobic speak to an irrational fear, much the same as my fear of spiders? A fear that even makes me a little suspicious of people who are not afraid of spiders. A fear that makes me vacuum my ceilings more assiduously than my floors. Actually I’m not beginning at right place. First is islamophobia primarily a fear of Muslims or is it more concerned with Islam?

Or is islamophobia more akin to homophobia? The term homophobia (no matter the lies of homophobes) has evolved to mean an attitude toward gay people, that is similar to the view racists have towards people of colour and misogynists and sexists have towards women.

So am I islamophobic? I still don’t know.

I know that Islam scares me a bit as it has illiberalism sown into its very fabric. Then again, Roman Catholicism is similarly inimical to liberalism yet I am not scared of Roman Catholicism. More than that, I have no problem attacking the horrible nonsense that Roman Catholicism professes as truth.

There are people who think Islam is a particularly violent and dangerous religion. That it inculcates its adherents from any regard for reason or compromise. It’s not a difficult conclusion to reach if one watches the news. The ‘Muslimy’ parts of the world are always providing us with terror, destruction and all things awful.

How could one not be scared by the wanton death and destruction?

Is islamophobia really that irrational then? Am I islamophobic?

I recently listened to Dr Ali Selim, extoll the virtue of increased inclusivity in Irish schools i.e. more should be done to cater to the religious prejudices of Islam. It’s not an outrageous request. Especially if one takes one’s religion seriously and when one is a minority in a sectarian country (as Ireland constitutionally and institutionally is). In this situation demanding space for one’s own religion is entirely correct.

Of course all I heard was his Islamic prejudices about girls, music and sex. The homophobia was unstated. I am after all a liberal so his words irked, perhaps even scared me a little. Islamophobic?

I am terribly vain, so vain that I like to think of myself, (vain and pretentious) as a tiny player in the somewhat inchoate campaign to counter the misogynist, homophobic and anti-secularist tendencies that already exist in Ireland’s institutions and culture.

So I get a little freaked when I see the other side joined by a growing and very self-confident interest group, which has at its core an irredentist religiosity that would make even the Iona ‘Institute’ blush. OK, maybe not them, but many other Roman Catholic interest groups.

And of course the horror we see on the news and the words opinions of Dr Ali Selim are entirely representative of Islam. They represent the thoughts, aspirations, prejudices and hopes of every man, woman and child in Ireland who adheres to whatever version of Islam they adhere to. Don’t they? Is that islamophobic?

Not being an expert on Islam, I have to ask if it is inherently violent or is Islam merely the religion of the majority of people unfortunate enough to find themselves residing in a region, where despots are kept in power by governments from my liberal part of the world?

I don’t know the answer to that. I do know that I can’t think of any religion without an ocean of blood occupying the space their consciences should be. Nor can I think of any time in history where oppressing people didn’t require overwhelming violence and the judicious use of idealism/religion.

But what of Dr Ali Selim and his call for girls to be separated and/or to be allowed hide themselves in religious garb. He pushed my buttons. Am I islamophobic?

Our education system is, for the most part, predicated on the concept of religious indoctrination. It’s built into the daily timetable. It’s just that it’s not his religion being poured down the throats of children, so his demands are perfectly reasonable. Well, perfectly reasonable if the aim is to separate our children from as early an age as possible.

His words irked, even scared me, because their intent is to increase exclusion, but more, his words made me uncomfortable because well I forgot something important, two things actually. First, Dr Ali Selim was hawking a book and second, being on the radio does not equal representation.

I know this because I have been on the radio several times speaking about atheism and will be again. I’ve even had a weekly newspaper column where I got to extoll the virtues of atheism. And of course both these platforms are perfectly meaningless.

Am I representative of Irish Atheism? Of Kerry Atheism? Of any atheists? I figure about a dozen atheists know me by name and most of them think I’m a bit of a dick. So who or what do I represent?

I represent the men (it’s mostly men) who love the sound of their own voices so much that they call radio stations and write to newspaper editors. I am, in fact, a loudmouth with a surfeit of opinions. I may firmly believe that I would feel more comfortable living in a secular republic, but I have no proof anyone else would.

Radio stations don’t go out onto the street and ask random people, ‘are you an ordinary atheist’ or ‘are you an ordinary Muslim‘ and then invite them to speak about their concerns. What they get are the loudmouths. And it doesn’t matter how sincere the loudmouths are, we are outliers. So I can dismiss Dr Ali Selim.

But an emotion was provoked, does that mean I am islamophobic?

I don’t know. I don’t get to say some of my best friends are Muslims because none of my friends are Muslim. But I can surmise, based on my opinion of my friends who profess a faith in Roman Catholicism, that I am not entirely without prejudice.

I do have Roman Catholic friends, but I struggle to imagine sharing my life with one. I just can’t imagine the coming together of such disparate world views.

I’ve seen it done, yet it still seems too unlikely to me. I’d feel the same about someone who believed in homeopathy or paganism or someone who thinks nationalism is anything more than a hobby to be indulged in on weekends.

Is it naive or cynical to think love does not conquer all?

So am I islamophobic? I’m not sure I can say without a shadow of a doubt that I’m not.

I do know for a certainty that I fear the addition of even more religiosity in an already overwhelmingly religious nation. I know I fear certain aspects of Islam and I fear the energy Muslims may give to the Roman Catholic conservatives who already have their feet on the throats of women and LGBTQ people.

I am also subject to my own values, and those values do not allow for prejudice against minorities. And in my world, Muslims do constitute a minority. In my world Muslims should be as loud, proud, pushy and obnoxious as any culchie atheist shouting for more secularism in this god ridden country.

So yes, I think I may be islamophobic, perhaps a little less than I was yesterday, but the prejudice is there. It’s there, living right beside an obligation to do something about it.

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