Tuesday, 22 May 2018

For What It's Worth

I am, as are most people I know, deeply uncomfortable with the idea of abortion. Thinking about it, I’m not sure I’d get on with someone who is. Who knows, maybe I’ll meet one someday and they’ll turn out to be perfectly lovely. Like everyone in Ireland so far this year, I have been left with little choice but to examine my thoughts and feelings on the idea of abortion. With, what I imagine to be an average, of four campaign posters per street lamp, the forthcoming referendum could hardly have escaped anyone’s notice.

Voting is, obviously, important. One only has to look at how non-voting affected the recent Brexit vote and the Trump election to see any protestations of “it wouldn’t make a difference” exposed for the nonsense that they are. As with the recent referendum on Gay Marriage, I’ve sought to consume information from those campaigning on both sides, after all in terms of subject matter, what we are being asked to vote on could hardly be more important. Below, I’ve outlined the reasons why I’ll be voting Yes on Friday, May 25th. This little note (and I promise to try and keep it little) is the how and why as to how I came to that position. I’ve put it all down in words, not in for some ill-advised posturing, but instead as note to those mates who may be erring towards a cautious No, or are currently sat on the fence. Consider this the quiet chat over a pint we would have had, had we the time.

A World Without Abortion
In any vote, there’s always a higher aim, some piece of blue-sky thinking. It may not actually be stated on a ballot paper, it might not even make the campaign literature but it’s always in there. In this instance, the piece of blue-sky thinking is a world, or more specifically here, an Ireland, without abortion.

The Yes side are for obvious reasons, not mentioning this too much but its very much a part of their campaign. The Yes vote is tied to the ideas of women’s liberation, contraception access and sexual education. Will these things eradicate the need for abortion? Probably not, sadly we live in a reality where access to an abortion, for some awful reason, will always be a reality. But access to abortion, along with those other three initiatives has seen the abortion rates steadily fall.

The No side are strongly hinting at this as an aim but are yet, to the best of my knowledge anyway, yet to come out and say it. My problem with this stance, is that they are campaigning for the status quo. They are campaigning for the same failed system that has been in place for over thirty years. Ireland is not abortion free, they just happen in another country.

It is well documented (ask and I can send you on the link) that countries with less restrictive regimes have lower abortion rates on average, than those with more restrictive regimes. This is because they tie abortion access to sexual education, to contraception access and Women’s liberation. As such, only one result next Friday will actually lead to a long-term decrease in Irish women seeking abortions.

Implications for Maternal Healthcare
So, the health of a foetus is entirely dependent on the health of the mother within which it is gestating. In some ways, the mother’s health is very much dependent on the life of that foetus. This relationship is unique and ends (in theory, but thankfully rarely in practice) once the foetus is born. And although there continue to be medical advances in this area, we still face situations where we can’t sub-in another mother, or keep the foetus alive using technological intervention.

Throughout the Oireachtas Committee hearings and in the months since, we have heard from the heads of both National Maternity Hospitals and from many other medical experts on the Eighth Amendment. And they have testified again and again that the Eighth Amendment prevents them from being able to act in the interests of the mother. As such, although the Eighth Amendment does extend Citizenship rights to one group, it does so at the expense of another. Consider in this instance then, a woman who requires a medical intervention abortion because her life is at risk. She may not receive one because under Irish law her life must be 50% in danger. Imagine instead that’s she’s just 49%. We lose her and we lose the family she may have gone onto have. It is also worth noting that our lack of care over pregnant women in this regard has been condemned by the UN and the World Healthcare Organisation.

I know that since the Oireachtas Committee hearings, some GPs have come forth to offer differing opinions. But they have done so only in opinion pieces, blogs, managed press releases or such campaign media. Anyone can fire out an opinion piece, safe in the knowledge that they won’t be cross examined on it (ahem…). When the Oireachtas Committee put out an open invite for any medical practitioner to represent what has become the No side, not one of them put their head above the parapet. In a situation where they’d actually be challenged and have their claims cross-examined, they were nowhere to be seen. One side, what would become the Yes campaign, had the courage of their convictions. The other didn’t, as such, I can only treat their medical claims with extreme cynicism.

That It’s Actually An Amendment to the Constitution
In the last bit I mentioned “medical advances in this area”. See, this is the thing, abortion is a medical procedure. I cannot fathom why something concerning a medical procedure isn’t left to the legislature. Here it can change and adapt as medical technology and healthcare practices advance. As I mentioned before, time and time again a less restrictive abortion regime is tied to greater contraception access, better sexual education and greater rights for women. These are things that reduce abortion rates.

Can’t We Have Those Three Things And Retain the Eighth?
This is a position the moderate elements of the No campaign have begun arguing in recent weeks. We’ll put aside the issues of fatal foetal abnormalities and that the mother needs to have less than a one in two chance to live for this here. To put it simply, I don’t believe them and wouldn’t trust them to deliver. In the thirty-years since the Eighth was added to the Irish Constitution, the main bodies behind the No campaign have shown no interest in improving contraception access, improving sexual education or women’s rights. In fact, they’ve campaigned on at least two occasions to have the restrictions increased. Furthermore, the sexual outreach programmes that they do run, have been caught time and time again giving false information to women. They make no attempt to cover up how they tell women that an abortion causes breast cancer. I don’t even need to tell you that that is nonsense.

I’m a Man and I Don’t Think I Should Be Voting On A Women’s Issue.
I hear you brother but as this is written into the constitution, it’s not a women’s issue. Want to make it a woman’s issue? Then get out this Friday and vote yes - as that’s the only way that that is going to happen.

12 Weeks Is Too Long
Okay so, first thing, just to make sure; bear in mind that the 12 week period does not equate to a 12 week old foetus. A 12 week gestation period begins at the date the woman’s last period ended. I know most folk know that, but thought it best to just to mention it. So, two things on the 12 weeks; firstly, we need to allow for rape cases and this is not something that can be currently done in less time with the current red tape levels in Irish law. It also places an onus on the mother to prove she was raped, and we don’t have to look too far back to find an example of how difficult and traumatising that can be.

The second one is that, this is where I trust the experts. I refer back to my previous comments regarding the Oireachtas Committee, all the medical experts backed the 12 week period, the only people to object were either not a medical expert or did not do so at the Committee hearings (despite having an open invite). I should also point out here that there is no disability test for a foetus at 12 weeks.

Can’t We Alter the Legislation for Extreme Cases?
So here’s where I put my anti-choice cards on the table. Simply put, i don’t agree with abortion access being granted without some restrictions. But then, here’s the thing, even if i were the one with power to enact this legislation, how could I go about legislating for those restrictions, let alone enforcing them? Furthermore, they’re the reasons I don’t believe in unrestricted access but as is now well-documented, other people also have their reasons for opposing unrestricted access. Once we go down that road, or start pulling on that thread, we stop talking about abortion access and start policing women’s behaviour. We need to empower, to educate, and finally to trust women to make the right decision for them, not necessarily one that makes us/me/you comfortable.

And finally…
I’m also voting Yes because I can’t bring myself to vote No. I can’t witness the testimonies of those poor people who have suffered a fatal foetal abnormality and then been forced to travel to Britain only to then receive the remains of their child from a DHL courier. It’s disgusting that we put people through that and even more reprehensible that they’ve since been asked to respectfully debate with the likes of Ronan Mullen.

This is where it gets personal, this is where I think of my friends and their partners and how they may someday have to face this possibility. To think that I’d have gone through all that I’ve gone through with my friends and then turn around on Friday to tick a box that would help consign them to that fate, I can’t stomach that.

I’m voting Yes on Friday for you, your partner (you and your partner!) in the hope that you’ll never have to go through that.

If you’re reading this, you either have my number of can contact me through the likes of FB messenger. If you’re genuinely torn or unsure then please reach out.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Long Live the Politically Correct

On Friday, as the world watched a fascist take the oath to become the leader of the free world, there were several moments of delight. Little moments peaking out from behind the curtain to remind us all not to despair for the fight remains on. The embarrassingly empty stadium seating that lined the walk from Capitol Hill, the woman of Asian descent who spent the entire inauguration giving Trump the middle finger and some glorious human being punched Richard Spencer right in the face. For those of you unfamiliar with Richard Spencer (man, do I envy you), he is a leading figure in the "alt-right". The "alt-right" for those of you who are unfamiliar (man, do I envy you) is the latest term that fascists, white-supremacists and Nazis  have coined in the hope that people won't notice all the hate-filled, fascist propaganda that spews from their orifices. It's an ironic turn of events, that a group of people who so despise the idea of "political correctness" would hope to introduce a new term for their deplorable beliefs in the vain hope that it might hide their true ugliness from themselves and others. They would champion, "saying it like it is" and "calling a spade a spade" but can't bring themselves to at least own their own prejudices.

It could be my age, I'm a member of that funny generation that are too old to be millennials and yet too young to be a part of generation X (generation housing market collapse?). It's probably more likely as a result of spending my teenage years sat inside watching television shows as opposed to out partying with friends but my introduction to the concept of political correctness was a positive one. I learnt of it from alternative comics from the late 1980s and early 1990s, the likes of Alexi Sayle, Stewart Lee or Arthur Smith. And it seemed simple enough, political correctness was simply a method of managing your language so as to show respect to the rest of humanity. Or, to put it more simply, just being polite. It wouldn't be until after the turn of the century that I would start to hear it described in a negative fashion, slowly but steadily more and more people where in the newspapers and on television complaining about how the views they were expressing in national press and television actually couldn't be expressed on account of "political correctness".

That slow but steady flow soon became the deluge that we are all now subjected too. As ten-a-penny provocateurs saturate our press, radio and television with more and more views that they are somehow not allowed to say (the fact that they have been given a national platform never seems to occur to them, perhaps they're all waiting for a pulpit and a stadium). Having observed this backlash, and on occasion, challenged it when brought up in conversation, I think I can place the people who hate political correctness into two loose groups. The first, don't really know what political correctness is, they're just worried that what they say might leave them stigmatised. For example, they might have read an article or seen a documentary on FGM. They, rightly, want to express their disgust at this practice but fear that by doing so, they will be labelled a racist or something. The second group, are cowards; the kind of people who've only ever read books written by Jeremy Clarkson and probably believe every false story about a muslim shop assistant who refuses to handle bacon. These people are exploiting the false enemy of political correctness because they're too afraid to call themselves what they are.

For that first group, consider the following statement; "it is raining, everyone has their umbrella open, open umbrellas must cause rain". The logic at the heart of the statement is ridiculous, yet it is this misrepresentation on  correlation that is at the heart of being politically correct. Let's rephrase the statement, "that housing estate is full of people from France, there is a high crime rate in that estate, all French people must be criminals". Again, the sentence covers all the facts but misses the conclusion by some distance. If you were to make such sweeping generalisations against the French, I daresay no-one would bat an eyelid. Yet, if I were to change the ethnic make-up of the fictional estate to that of a Muslim community, the statement would raise a few eyebrows. The inability to make the same sweeping generalisation, regardless of the genetic make-up of the fictional estate would be cited as political correctness gone mad.

Here's the thing though, it isn't. I'll put myself forward as an example here. I am a heterosexual caucasian male of western European descent. I was raised in a middle-class household and graduated from university. I have never faced, even the slightest hint of discrimination. It gets more ridiculous, at 6ft 2" in height with a 34" waist line, I've never been turned away from a ride in an amusement park or had to consider getting a second seat on an airline. I was even raised on the protestant side of the political divide in Northern Ireland, so in that regard I was already a part of the establishment. I don't even have ginger hair. At this point you're probably picturing me as a pale pink balloon tied to a yardstick and you'd not be far wrong. I've never had to ask an entire nation if I can marry the person I love. I've never had to pay VAT on an essential medical item because its deemed a luxury. And despite being the grandson of an Orangeman, I've never had someone label me a terrorist on account of the actions of others from a similar background. 

Again, being politically correct, is just managing language in a fashion that pays respect to the fact that many have not been as privileged as I have. How we use language is important as continued use of overtly incorrect, generalising statements will simply reinforce stereotypes and compound the discriminations built into society. Case and point, a woman who sleeps with a lot of men is a slut, a man who sleeps with a lot of women is a legend. If you're the kind of person who still take umbrage at a woman taking many lovers and enjoying one night stands, then can I help you find a rock to climb back beneath? Perhaps there is a bridge nearby you can live under.

To that second group then, the cowards. Those of you who would claim that by not being given a platform, your side of the debate is being censored. We know what your side of the debate is, we've been fighting fascism for decades, many of our countrymen died fighting a war against your side of the debate. Just because you've given it a fancy new name and a bit of a makeover doesn't change what you are or the ugliness of the views you espouse. All I ask is that you have the courage of your convictions, go-on call a spade a fucking spade and at least call yourself what you are. Political correctness is silencing no-one, just admit it to yourself, you hate them because of their colour, you hate them because of who they pray to, you hate them because of who they go to bed with or because of what genitalia they've got between their legs. 

At the very least stop trying to muddy the waters of the debate to hide your true prejudices. It is one thing to have an issue with the method through which halal certification can be attributed and quite another to claim that the presence of halal meat in your local Tesco is a symptom of Islamification.  It's not Islamification, it's a capitalist enterprise recognising an opportunity to expand their market share. And you know well why Christianity is the butt of more jokes than Islam. Because Christianity is the dominant western religion, built into everything from our education system to our legal and political oaths. Great comedy will always kick up rather than down.

To that second group, one last sign off. Fuck you, fuck you and everything that you stand for.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Cakes and Gay Cakes

I have no doubt that Van Morrison is an incredibly talented and gifted artist. Given his international standing and how his songs and albums regularly feature in top 100 lists, I have no doubt that I'm the one who's missing out by not listening to his music. Here's the thing though, it's not my fault. At this stage my aversion to his work is something built into my nervous system, the opening bars to Brown-Eyed Girl invoke in me a physical reaction similar to the one most people would have when they hear nails being dragged down a blackboard. This is less to do with the song and more how I came to hear it. The song featured on a heavily repeated advert of my youth, probably trotted out by the tourist board, about Northern Ireland. "Things are changing in Northern Ireland...", a voice over would state, before a series of sunny day scenarios of happy families and idyllic scenery would play out, pretty sure those swan boat things in Bangor got a look in too. This advert was inevitably, always, followed by that advert with the confidential telephone line with Ugly Kid Joe's Cat's In The Cradle before a UTV News story about a car bombing. You see, Van Morrison has been lying to me since I was child.

The recent ruling regarding the Ashers Bakery is just another moment in a long series of events that demonstrate just how far the North has still to go. I'm not talking about gay rights specifically; one only has to look at some of disgusting rhetoric used by the "No" side prior to Ireland's referendum to see that the North is not alone on that front. The Ashers ruling is just another demonstration that large portions of the North are struggling to, or (as I suspect is more likely) unwilling to define themselves in any other manner than through their religion. The divide in the North has always been a religious one, it may have manifested itself in different ways down through the years but religion was always there at the root of the cause and more than happy to appear at the branch. As I grew up, a line was trumpeted to my generation on repeat, that Protestants and Catholics would soon come to put aside their differences and we would learn to live together in harmony.

There is no doubt that things have gotten better and there is a debt my generation owe to the like of David Hume and Mo Mowlam that we'll never repay. To date however, we have failed to remove religion from its prominent perch within the national consciousness. Large parts of my generation, those that came before and those coming up the line after us, still gleefully define ourselves by our religious beliefs. The problem with gleefully defining yourself as a particular religion is that you have built into your set-up the belief that everyone else is not only wrong, but that they will burn in hellfire for eternity. There are few things more at odds with the Jesus I was taught about by my parents than taking delight or even just some kind of self-inflated smugness from the knowledge that the family over the fence are facing the pitchforks come judgement day. This in itself is bad enough, but in the North it has been coupled with another issue, that of culture, rights and perceived discrimination. Accepting that the political problems in the North have a religious grounding, ties them to the idea of religious persecution. And when you have politics defined by religious partisanship, as opposed to simple policy divide; then nearly all issues can be made a battleground for one side’s rights.

The Unionist movement, and by extension the Protestant community with which it is intrinsically linked has held the cards of power in the North for the guts of a century at this point. They've never been denied work or housing based on their religion and when Stormont has been open and functional, they've held the majority of the seats. Their political rights, which they see as inseparable from their religious beliefs have never been infringed. If you had the benefit of growing up in the North on that side of the divide (as I did) then this is the norm. As such, any change in this is not a shift in the social attitude, nor is it a concession of ground to a lesser party. It is an imagined attack on the world as you understand/like it. To use an analogy not based on NI politics; we all know that one person who has at one point opined, "why is there no straight pride march?" Whilst being fully aware that they've never been made to feel ashamed for being heterosexual.

Ashers Bakery and their supporters are trumpeting a line that it's one gay cake today and tomorrow they'll be burning down the churches. They've somehow managed to tell an entire community that they won't serve them based on who they love, whilst convincing themselves they're a modern day William Tilsdale, martyrs for a worthwhile cause. They've received a cake order (a fucking cake order) and somehow deluded themselves into thinking they're Rosa Parks, refusing to move to the back of the bus. One is more inclined to remember George Wallace, standing on the court house steps declaring that educational segregation should continue. The whole thing would be a bit more palatable in logic terms, if not on grounds of taste, if they were at least universal with this principal. For every wedding cake order, have they demanded evidence that the couple are getting married in a church? For every cake celebrating an engagement, did they check to see that the straight couple were not yet co-habiting? This Protestantism of theirs is very a la carte. I wonder if I can still get my cake celebrating infanticide and child trafficking iced? 

"Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man intimately. But all the girls who have not known man intimately, spare for yourselves". Numbers 31:17-18

Sadly, they've an unlikely friend in that most modern of social constructs, the wannabe contrarian. That unwanted white noise trumpeting in the background of this debate with some unhelpful nonsense like, "I'm an atheist but even I don't think they should be made to make the cake". Again, I'd invite them to try that sentence with some word replacement like, "I'm an atheist but even I don't think they should be made to serve black people" and then see how it sits. We've all read Letters to a Young Contrarian, but most of us weren't dumb enough to think we're Christopher Hitchens as a result. This is not a case of legal rulings or government policy forcing you to think or adopt liberal policies. This is a case of legal rulings and government policy protecting the rights of a minority. The other common argument from this side relates to an imaginary bacon sandwich, something they believe the Equality Commission would not force a Muslim owned Cafe to serve them. The scenario painted here is stupid enough to dismiss the argument. For this argument to have any sense of muster, it requires a Muslim owned and operated cafe to exist which serves bacon sandwiches, an item from their menu they will then refuse to serve you because it infringes on their (the owners, waiting staff, chefs etc...) rights. Is this really the argument you're looking to use here?

Ultimately, I don't think the Equality Commission should have taken Ashers to court. This whole circus has just been more fuel to their incredibly pompous fire of self-deluding lunacy. In the age of social media, a well-aimed boycott of their services would probably have been a better tactic. That said, I'm a heterosexual white guy and as such will check my privilege on this one. I'll let the gay community decide what fights it believes are worth fighting. 

As for the MacArthurs, you know you're not being persecuted against, you know you're rights have not been infringed. You've chosen to mask your decision with your religion to give it some kind of veneer of respectability but as I've previously covered, this religion of yours appears to be quite selective. This pick'n'mix approach to religious teachings isn't about morals, it's about justifying your bigotry to yourself. Pay the fine, introduce a series of pre-selected templates your customers can choose from (at least then you can get that mask of tolerance back on) and then, on behalf of all us who are anxious to put this ugliness behind us, kindly go and fuck yourselves.