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Listrade

There are few text books on how to be an adult. I don’t mean those self-help or advisory books written by do-gooders with a sample size of one, reverse engineering things they did as a definitive model of parenting or existence.

There’s nothing in there that details your attraction to “lounge wear” as you age. Or the daily hazard of sitting on your own testicles when you wear lounge wear. It’s all mindfulness, keto diets, gender neutral toys and the bold step.

My underlying secret to adulthood, parenting and existence is that I make it up every day and hope for the best.

I accept that because I’m just a normal people, doing normal things. The consequences of my actions are to myself and those I know. It is rarely a global or national impact.

Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I get it wrong. Most of the time it’s of little consequence, sometimes I have to deal with consequences. Hopefully I’ll learn from the bad stuff as much as wI’ll learn from the good stuff. Sometimes I don’t and end up sitting on my testicles again, even though I did the exact same thing the day before.

For us all, as long as we accept our weaknesses and lack of omniscience, society will probably still function. The problem comes when we expect others to have the characteristics we lack. On paper, it’s not unreasonable to expect politicians and world leaders to be competent.

I can spend my days under the dark cloud of imposter complex, pressing the right buttons, hopefully faking competence enough to fly under the radar of any real scrutiny. But we at least expect our politicians to know what they’re doing. They can’t be like me, they can’t be just making it up on the spot?

There’s a looming potential crisis that is starting to get scarier and scarier. Two sides locked in an immature battle of wills. Trading childish insults like two gamers on FIFA…or more accurately like me and my son on Pokken Tournament DX. At least he has the excuse that he’s seven.

Neither side accepting the bigger picture of impending disaster choosing to continue blindly with fingers in their ears, in the hopes that their supporters don’t stop and realise neither has an absolute clue what they’re doing.

It’s another Brexit article. At least this time it was only 400 words and an anecdote about my testicles to get to the point. I’ll tell you all my secrets, but I lied about my past.

Brexit is happening and it’s currently looking like it’s going to happen along the lines of Worst Case Scenario as was always likely in the diplomatic pissing competition the referendum created.

The problem is that there is a certain view of the harder it is for Britain and the bigger the impact on them, the better. That’ll show them to have a referendum. That’ll show the proles for not listening to their big city bourgeoisie betters. It’s the father of f**kups and you did it on purpose.

Except things don’t quite work like that. It isn’t just the UK. You can’t unravel an integrated economic, trade and governance system, even for one nation, without consequences on all. Ireland especially. The complexity of the arrangements goes some way to proving the point the Vote Leave Campaign had about bureaucracy.

Unfortunately, Leave don’t get any credit for that as they had no idea of the complexity of processes and agreements, they were more concerned that small business owners couldn’t sack an employee because she was pregnant and had to do stuff like make sure the work didn’t harm the unborn child and fill in a form too. It’s like Agincourt all over again.

The entire EU system is overly complicated and overly bureaucratic. It’s like bad coding and programming. Cut and paste rules from older code that seems to work, older redundant code left in place or just boxed off in the hope it wasn’t relevant and won’t do any harm.

Occasionally the European Courts had to step in and point out what the rules meant. Rather than admit a drafting error and change the rules to something more reasonable, the EC doubles down on the ruling, pretends that’s what they meant all along and tells everyone to just get along with it. Pretty much like every government does anyway.

The scariest thing is that I’ve got to a point where I sympathise with a British Tory Government. The sympathy comes from what I interpret as a bit too much gloating over just how bad this could be for Britain.

The vocal Remainers take a perverse pleasure in reminding Leavers that they are basically going to be screwed. It’s a laugh a minute as it looks like those most vulnerable at the moment are going to be in an even worse position post Brexit.

Then blame them for voting Labour too because Corbyn hasn’t any policy about reversing a process that even the top legal minds aren’t sure can be reversed. But he should do it any way.

There is some truth to the Tory incompetence in the whole process, it is naïve at best for them to expect the EU to give in to their demands when they are the ones leaving. However, there is justification for their view. It will be bad for the UK, but it will also be bad for the EU. Both will be hit by this process so it is on both sides to get an agreement.

The EU should have had a plan for a member leaving. It doesn’t. They didn’t expect any one to leave. The rules around Article 50 are vague and unspecific. There was no planning by the EU for this eventuality. Not even when the European Parliament started to become filled with Eurosceptic parties on the left and right three years ago.

It’s not like it’s been a staple of business contracts to have detailed conditions on exiting the contract and a requirement for an exit plan for years. It’s not as if there wasn’t a model that could have been used.

The EU seems to be getting all the sympathy, but its position of a hard Brexit is going to have a significant impact on numerous current EU members. Ireland being one.
It is clear the EU doesn’t want this to be easy for the UK so that other member states don’t get any notions of leaving either. But that line is as naïve and malicious as the UK’s.

The line being spun to Ireland and others a vague promise that we can all mop up the multi-national exodus from the UK. But that is a long-term impact. The short-term should be worrying everyone.

Car manufacturing in the EU relies on bits and pieces of cars being manufactured in different plants in the EU and then shipped to another plant in the EU and being assembled into a car. No tariffs and no border controls. In 18 months, with the hard Brexit, anything made in the UK will no longer benefit from this.

It isn’t just finished goods, it’s parts too. Manufacturing in Poland is likely to be hit unless there is a deal on tariffs and or assembled parts being moved to and from the UK. The lead-in to moving the UK-based work to within the EU is pretty much past the point where it would be finished in time for Brexit. Sorry Poland.

And what will happen when there is no agreement on movement of labour? The newest EU members like Romania still have significant unemployment. Like Latvia before them, like Ireland, they benefit from mass economic emigration as they save on welfare payments. In 2015 there were 220,000 Romanian immigrants in the UK (Tony Blair said it would be a tenth of that). Where do they go? Back home? Romania couldn’t cope with that.

It’s unlikely Germany or France could (or would) accommodate them. And that’s just the Romanian Diaspora, there are 3 million EU citizens in the UK. Where will they go if the EU continues to not accommodate a deal?

Of the 3 million, just under half hare working at the moment. That’s 1.5 million jobs the EU needs to replace. Where will that come from? Some companies will move and take those employees with them. Some will close altogether. Some will move work to existing locations. There’s no guarantee the work will follow.

Then there’s the 900,000 who are family or looking for work. That’s a lot of people to be accommodated elsewhere within the EU. But the EU’s stance is going to force a hard exit whereby those people may have to relocate.

No deal is possibly as disastrous for the EU as much as the UK. Ireland stands to lose considerably with Brexit. While we try to seduce the multi-nationals to base themselves here. It isn’t without competition from elsewhere. It’s also likely to be more financial companies basing themselves in Dublin.

That’s unlikely to help the border businesses or employees that will be affected by a hard border. It won’t help the regions who aren’t quite meeting the pace of recovery that Dublin has. We’re unlikely to get any manufacturing, we just don’t have the infrastructure and again, a fair portion of the service industry for manufacturing is based in the North. Oops.

Instead we’ll have a few big names setting up an office on in the Docklands. Announce huge jobs, but forget to mention that most of those jobs will already be filled by the company. But at least there’ll be a few part time cleaning jobs going and we’ll always need more baristas.

I was prepared to give the benefit of the doubt to the government that behind the scenes Ireland (and others) were lobbying for a softer Brexit. To convince the EU to stop acting the maggot and think of the impact on EU members.

Then we get a budget that has no preparation for Brexit. Good luck border towns, at least you’ll get a fiver a week more when you’re out of work.

I get it, it’s fun to laugh at the Brits, a bit like the What Could Go Wrong gifs on Reddit and idiots getting predictably hurt. But it’s time to stop buying the EU line that their position is correct or justified. It’s time to stop thinking of them as master negotiators against the flailing UK delegation.

They failed to plan for any member state exiting. They are willing to sacrifice several smaller members in order to provide a deterrent to leave and prove some petty point.

If the motivation for the EU really was harmony and prosperity for all member states, then their position shouldn’t be dragging down smaller nations in order that France and Germany keep up the impression of being strong and decisive.

I suspect the truth is that just like the UK had no idea what was embodied in membership, the EU didn’t either and they’re just making it up as they go along.

Like me.

Listrade can be found on twitter @listrade

Listrade

The left has always had a strange relationship with George Orwell. He was and always was a solid socialist or social democrat. One of them, I’m not entirely sure what sub-genre of left political movements is which.

He was briefly a communist, but his dalliance with that part of left politics was short and unhappy. Out of necessity, he joined the Communist Party in order that he could fight for the Republicans in Spain.

Despite the common goal of fighting fascism, more battles were fought between the Republicans themselves as the Communist (under the support of Stalin) fought for leadership. Ultimately, using propaganda to portray all non-communist Republicans as traitors and spies. Orwell took a bullet in the neck for his principles.

Even from the early days of publication, the right has taken Orwell’s most well know works, Animal Farm and 1984 as parables against the left. Specifically, communism.

Orwell constantly checked his own beliefs and values. His opposition was Stalinism, not communism. His opposition to the Communist Party was their blind devotion to Stalin. They opposed fascism when Stalin did. Supported it when Stalin did and went back to opposing it when Stalin joined the allies in World War Two.

Orwell, at least initially, saw himself as a Trotskyite. Essentially, more anarchy and trusting people to be inherently good, less totalitarianism and genocide.

However, his one constant was that he opposed totalitarianism in any form. Stalinism and Fascism were held in equal contempt by Orwell.

He repeatedly stated he was a socialist democrat. Not liberal, not centrist, left. He saw his works being selectively quoted by the right, in the same way Darwin’s whole theory would be used by Capitalists and Libertarians when it suited them. You can’t teach evolution in schools, but we can throw out “survival of the fittest” to justify right wing social policies.

Orwell was rooted firmly on the left. He put socialist principles and support of the needy at the top of his values..He was also a raging homophobe. Like, hated them. Which is awkward. But it doesn’t come up much in conversation.

Bertrand Russell, a brilliant mathematician, eminent and important philosopher, gave the world a summary of Western Philosophy so we could all have a nice thick book on our bookcases and pretend we were smart. Also gave the world the greatest portrait picture in the world. An atheist who could deconstruct religion and its beliefs without the egotism, aggression and “look at me I’m so smart” of Dawkins and Hitchens. Wrote a gripping review of the inherent features and worrying aspects of power, those who seek it, those who gain it.

Then spends a chapter, right in the middle of the book stating why women will never be able to attain or hold power, because, you know, all that wimmin stuff. It doesn’t come up much in conversation.

Norah Elam was a leading figure in the Suffragette movement. Imprisoned three times (alongside Emmeline Pankhurst) for her political activities. She was labelled a terrorist for daring to go out in public and say that women should vote.

She was also Irish, born in Dublin. She was part of the few that changed the world. She rightly celebrated for being a Suffragette, a feminist and even back in the early 20th Century the founder of the anti-vivisection movement.

She was also a fascist. A literal Feminazi. She wasn’t alone. There were a few others who actively took part in the Suffragette movement who went on to join Oswald Mosely’s British Union of Fascists (Black Shirts). It doesn’t come up that much in conversation.

I bring this up, not necessarily as a criticism of the people, though that is part of it, but by way of a follow up to an issue I left hanging in my last article.

I made an effort to add some nuance to the issue of people voting for Far-Right parties. Arguing, after long winded irrelevant personal anecdotes, that it may not be as easy as saying everyone is racist.

There is no doubt that a consequence of this voting pattern is that it has empowered those who are racist, but more importantly: if those who voted aren’t racist, they were willing to overlook overt racism when casting their votes. That is true. That is a concern. The implication is that they may not think they are racist, but by virtue of overlooking racism, they are racist.

As is apparent from the opening paragraphs of this piece. I will bore people for hours on Orwell, his politics and his works.

He managed to write about poverty without patronising those he wrote about. He managed to explain his politics objectively. You knew what he stood for (if you cared to read his work unlike most right-wing commentators who selectively quote him). He had proven how far he will go to defend his principles.

In part my obsession with Orwell was fuelled by the Communist’s Party’s rejection of Orwell. He was my rebellion, my punk. But in the main, I understood, agreed with and wanted his vision of a socialist democracy.

But, again, he was a raging homophobe. He made no secret of it. It was known at the time. It is known now. Am I homophobic for overlooking his homophobia in favour of politics that suit me and my roots?

Granted, it is a weak comparison. Orwell didn’t put his homophobia at the front of his beliefs. He didn’t push for socialist democracy for all except homosexuals. His answers didn’t revolve around blaming homosexuals for the plight of the working class. But it is still a big thing to overlook.

My only comfort is that the cognitive dissonance required to overlook on-the-record behaviour that clearly contradicts my own morals and ethics to like Orwell isn’t some intellectual defect on my part, it’s just another aspect of who we are.

There are some good descriptions of this in two books for those interested, “Sapiens” by Yuval Noah Harai and “Built on Bones” by Brenna Hassett. These chart the rise and development of the human species.

There were certain ideas we needed to go along with as a collective before we could evolve into what we were to become.

One was empathy, as demonstrated with caring for elderly and sick rather than leaving them behind to predators, one was a moral code of acceptable behaviour that would make it easier to live as a collective, cooperative group and one was cognitive dissonance. We wouldn’t have formed in groups with leaders without it. We wouldn’t have equated power and leadership with wealth material possessions without it. We wouldn’t pin our colours and support to obviously flawed and corrupt leaders who do not have our interests in mind without it.

The entire construct of power and leadership relies on cognitive dissonance (but not women according to Bertrand Russell). Any power, any political party, any person held in esteem for their opinions gets there in part on their words and actions, but also because a group of people are prepared to ignore obvious hypocrisies. Left, Right, Centre, all of us.

Just how racist were the working class Brexit voters? According to the London-based media: very. Not just racist, but stupid and uneducated (the BBC still has its breakdown of the Brexit vote based on those who never went to college}.

They were taken by surprise with both the turnout in these areas (over 80% in many) and the strength of voting to leave (over 60% in many). It’s the same shock the coastal media had in America. The same the West German-based media had this week.

Less than a year after Brexit, there was a general election and the London-based media decided that this would be the death of the Labour Party. All those uneducated, racist working-class northerners have moved away from Labour (the Labour party that has always had its roots in Euroscepticism before its centrist shift). They would now show their true colours as Tories or UKIP.

Labour gained 34 seats. Jeremy Corbyn increased Labour’s share of the vote by more than any other of the party’s election leaders since 1945.

UKIP gained no seats and returned no MPs. Bloody racist Brexiters, suddenly not being racist like everyone expected. Maybe they weren’t quite as racist as is reported.

Sadly, maybe racism isn’t as big a deal-breaker to them as it is to many of us. That they aligned with the principle of Leave, rather than those who were behind Leave.

Trump’s rallies show his true base. The true, ugly, white racist misguided patriotism that existed before him and has been empowered by him. But that base couldn’t have got him elected and won’t sustain him as he isolates more and more.

It was the other blue-collar workers, like the miners in Philadelphia. I’m not sure how pointing out that there’s thousands of jobs in California installing solar panels, that coal is bad, that their bosses are evil, helps them find work or feed a family.

Only one person said they’d help them. It was a lie. But after a decade after the economic collapse being told they should vote for a “greater good” that would inevitably see them slip further behind wasn’t going to be a strong message. It’s easy to be less selfish when you are comfortable and doing ok.

None of this justifies the decision to overlook racism and far-right politics, but it does show how much the left moved away from speaking to and for these people. There was only one side offering them hope, even though that hope was hung on dangerous, odious hate.

With a very short campaign in the last UK general election, Corbyn went from a perceived joke to a viable candidate. Little or no media support, little or no Labour “elite” support, little or no “twitterati” support. Those that were supposed to have been ignorant racists who had switched to Tory or UKIP got behind a campaign that offered them hope.

Ireland has repeatedly rejected every attempt at a far-right party, but there was something in the water protests that is telling. Like Brexit, the issue was important, but it was also a cause and an opportunity for those who have been left behind to protest against those who have ignored them.

It was a rejection of the Government, more importantly a rejection of Labour, a party that is no longer their voice.

That voice is being filled, whether you like those who are filling it or not. The pattern isn’t so much far-right, the pattern is activity among those who have been hit the hardest by austerity rejecting the status quo. When there is a party on the left offering that rejection, people side with them.

The overriding motivation isn’t bigotry, its hopelessness and desperation. If we let that gap be filled by those who peddle hate, then we will see the rise of a strong far-right. If, like in the last UK general election, we offer a viable alternative, then people drop the far-right like a hot stone.

To varying degrees we’re all influenced by cognitive dissonance especially when it comes to politics. What we decide is acceptable dissonance depends on both our own sense of “red-lines” and our circumstances. The more desperate, the greater our sense of injustice, the more we’re willing to overlook for a message that we align to.

State your heroes and in no time I’ll be able to show up some hypocrisy. Left, Right, Centre, they’re all flawed. It is just a matter of how much you’re willing to overlook.

Hang down your head for sorrow, hang down your head for me. I’m no better.

Listrade can be found on twitter @Listrade.

Listrade

Back in the summer of 1989, I had a collective “what the f*** was that?” moment with a small group of friends.

I’ve stolen the WTFWT term from the DJ Andy Kershaw, who has used it to describe moments in his life where new music has stopped him in his tracks. A song or a gig that suddenly snaps you out of your thoughts or movements, takes your full attention and things are never the same again as your musical journey takes a new unexpected twist.

We were watching, as we did in between NES sessions (memory dictates it was Zelda, memory could be wrong), pirated Skateboard videos. I wasn’t a skater due to being crap at anything physical or skilful outside of computer or board games, but my friends were.

My interest was in the music in the videos. While we had stalwarts of underground music available on the radio, the real underground music could only be found on Skate videos.

And so, one summer, we’re watching these kids from California dreaming of their lifestyle. Cool clothes, empty pools in their back garden, huge municipal skate parks and sun. I’m just watching, pretending I know what the tricks are.

About halfway through the video we stop. A song opens, an opening guitar hook, a scream and then “God, what a mess, on the ladder of success.” We were introduced to The Replacements.

The song played through in mutual silence. When it finished, we shared a look of what the f*** was that. Rewound and spent the next hour rewinding and replaying, while trying to record the song onto a tape from a cassette recorder held up to the TV speaker.

Context is everything. It was 1989, we were 15, it was a small town and the only option for employment was a local factory which was just going through another round of mass redundancies.

As Tommy Tiernan said,“We couldn’t have found work even if we’d have wanted to.” Our hormones had drawn us to the angst of Husker Dü, Dinosaur Jr, etc, but there was little that expressed just how bad the outlook for our generation was right then.

Now there was The Replacements. Past their peak and on the way out as a band. They’d never been the darlings of the European music press or radio, that had been reserved for REM and the Pixies. They became the perfect “cult” band for us.

Nobody liked them anymore, not that many liked them in the first place. We couldn’t be accused of being the late 80s version of hipsters.

Nothing can ever do as much justice to the self-destructive, troubled history of the band as last year’s  biography “Trouble Boys” by Michael Mehr. Everything was always a fight.

Recording albums started and continued to be a nightmare between the general belligerence of the band to accommodate the opinion and advice of the producer and the short window of ability to actually play and record due mostly to alcohol. They fought with themselves, but especially with anyone who was in authority.

Despite all that, they were still on the cusp of fame all they had to do was play two songs on Saturday Night Live. Stay sober, not mess about. Just go on and play. Of course they got blindingly drunk and their now notorious set effectively saw them banned from mainstream television.

Through my obsession with everything Replacements related, outside of the music, there was one key thing that had me hooked. I knew these guys. I went to school with them. I was related to them.

There but for the grace of God, I could have been them. Except, due to lack of talent, I wouldn’t have been in a band, I’d have been dead, or in the army, or on disability, or stuck in that gap of people in their 40s and 50s, unemployed and 10-20 years too young for anyone to take on.

There but for the grace of god, I’d have probably ripped up my Labour membership and looked at the populist far right too.

The Replacements weren’t right wing. They weren’t left wing. They were pretty much that politically apathetic, angry at everything, cynical, beat-up, desperate, no prospect youth that is out there outside of the main metropolitan areas.

As with me and my friends, the release for that life, the escape, was music. For most of us, it only ever got to be a mental escape, living vicariously through the words and musicianship of our betters. But for a few, like the Replacements, it really was the only thing they could do to escape their lives.

It’s easy to see, reading about their early years in Minnesota (the bad part as opposed to Husker Dü’s decent part) how these guys are now the angry disillusioned on 4Chan or Reddit.

As sweeping a generalisation as the portrayal of every Brexit voter as a racist northerner or Trump supporter as a redneck hick. Culchies in their bootcut jeans, wearing their county jersey to the local sticky carpets nightclub on a Saturday, slavishly voting for FF or FG and only sympathetic to the Church.

Anything outside our enlightened metropolitan perspective, generalised with a simple retort. You’re just a bigot. Your opinion cannot be one of personal experience or nuanced. I can support the Palestinian plight, but not terrorism. I can be anti-Israel policy, but not anti-Semitic. I can have nuance, but not you.

They are the Bastards of Young, just as I was, just as The Replacements were. Except, for my generation it was pre-internet, the left was still a viable alternative. It wasn’t centrist. It was left.

It was populism of its day, speaking to us with little and little prospects of anything different. There were few saying anything different, our boogeyman was those on the right, those who espoused Thatcherism or Reaganism of the time.

Then as the left moved more to the centre, as the prospect of them achieving power became a reality, that attraction was no longer there.

We were told globalism was good. Relaxing financial regulation was good. You were a racist if you disagreed because you’re putting yourself and your family’s need for food and shelter over the new location of your factory in India and their needs.

You’re only angry because you hate brown people. Here’s a few bob to retrain at FAS as a forklift truck driver, there’s loads of call centre jobs in Dublin, you just aren’t trying hard enough.

The blame shifted and there was no one else offering people a political answer. If you didn’t agree with centrist politics, you were wrong, backwards, and a bigot.

And so that void was filled online for the youth and it was filled by the Far Right for the older generation. It didn’t have to be, but we didn’t all party.

Centrism made things good for the lower middle classes and above. Benefits and handouts became the unsustainable pay-off to those who were being left behind, while we sold their houses from under them and sneered at them for having a nice telly.

But it wasn’t benefits they wanted, if we listened, it was a chance, it was prospects, change. Like 81 years ago, the British who took part in the Jarrow March, they weren’t going to London to hand in a petition for more handouts (after devastating and crippling welfare cuts…thanks for war lads, sorry we broke your industry in the meantime), they went to ask for help, help in getting work.

After the 1980s when it became necessary to make that request again and after decades of successive governments, successive political parties ignoring the request, this time around Jarrow voted Leave.

Of course, they’re just racist. It couldn’t possibly be nuanced.

There was no “Road to Wigan Pier” for this generation. Nothing written or spoken about to give the middle classes a nod to what was happening on their doorstep. Instead they were portrayed as lazy, entitled, criminal, cheats and now racist. Poverty was global, they just didn’t know how good they had it compared to others.

The violent few on the left. The anti-Semitic few. The “snowflake” (for they exist) few. The “virtue signalling” few. They don’t speak for us. They don’t portray us on the left.

We get riled up when critics use them as sweeping generalisations of all that is wrong with the left. These few exceptions are used to belittle and undercut a socialist democrat’s argument. We are nuanced in our opinions from our experiences.

There will be those who voted for AfD who are just filled with hate and racism. Just as AfD feed on that with their own brand of populism. But there will be many who have been left behind economically and politically.

The parties that used to speak for them long ago abandoning them or ignoring them or dismissing them as protectionist racists just because they’re thinking of their own difficulties and not thinking about the wider issue of global poverty. If there is only one party speaking to them, how else can they engage in change?

The door was left open to those who would speak to and speak up for this now growing population. The left abandoned them and left the void open to the far right to peddle hate and offer hope.

It’s not too late though. Regret over Brexit and Trump shows this (if only we could stop sneering at them). It seems that in a pique of hopelessness and no other alternative people have opted for extreme votes.

As the dust settles, they have realised what they overlooked in their protest. Give them the alternative and the rise of the Far Right can be stopped.

The alternative has to be prepared to listen first without judgement, without interrupting with their own views from their metropolitan biases.

The ones who love us least are the ones we’ll die to please. There but for the grace of god went I.

Listrade can be found on twitter @listrade

Listrade

Looking back, my childhood wasn’t normal. It was at the time, you accept circumstances as a child. That’s just how it is. That’s life and life is what you know. But it was only when I left home and started mixing with others in college that I started to grasp just how different things had been.

I was shocked to find out that others hadn’t gone on Union marches and protests from the age of five. Initially, this was probably more of a lack of babysitter issue than indoctrination to a particular cause, but march we did. Joining in with chants that were meaningless to me and my sister.

Taking turns to hold banners, knowing that at the end of the process would be a warm bottle of “non-corporate” pop, a paper straw that collapsed in on itself after two sips and a packet of crisps.

Others were taking swimming lessons, in football teams or watching Saturday morning cartoons. We were running around playing hide-and-seek while the local Labour group met to organise canvassing for the local candidate.

We’d tag along, knocking on doors, handing out leaflets. On election day, we’d spend our bonus day off school at the polling station giving out Vote Labour stickers.

But the “cause” stretched further into our lives. Prohibitions were placed on any entertainer who had ever expressed any sympathy towards anything other than full Marxism. This left quite a void in the TV schedule.

Kenny Everett was banned (he professed a fondness for Thatcher), Cilla Black gone (same), Dallas and Dynasty violently switched off in disgust, even if it was a short promo, even when it was a news item for “who shot J.R.” because of their promotion and glorification of capitalism.

The list of the banned and the suspected political enemies rivalled McCarthy’s black list (a list that featured strongly in our house as a list of entertainers it was OK to watch and support).

I also learned the concept of hypocrisy as watching and supporting Liverpool Football Club was encouraged, despite several of the team being quite fond of lower taxes and Mrs Thatcher. It didn’t matter, Shankly was a socialist, even though he had recently died, which meant Bob Paisley was too. That was all that mattered.

There was a small sense at the time that we were missing out on something. School ground discussions on the previous night’s television would naturally cover some of the banned programming.

You’d just nod along and pretend you were in on it, laugh along with the others, “ha, yeah that was classic”, repeat the catchphrase, then steer the conversation to something you had seen. Thankfully, Doctor Who was never prohibited, nor any kind of Sci-Fi. Top of the Pops was only banned when Jimmy Saville was on, but that was due to his Thatcher and Royal ties rather than prescience of any other issues.

It wasn’t until college that I played my first game of Monopoly. This came as a shock to my flatmates. It came as a shock to me that here we were, 18 years old, free from parents and they wanted to play a board game instead of going down to the Oak in Headingly and taking advantage of their £1 a pint on a Thursday.

I’d just realised that you could buy a single Pot Noodle for 50 pence in the supermarket, pay with your debit card and get cash back. Due to the early stages of this technology, it didn’t seem to check with the bank how much was in your account, so you could withdraw money that didn’t exist. I was flush with twenty quid, enough for a curry and a lot of Theakstons at the Oak.

Instead, my bourgeoisie flatmates (all broke and unwilling to take part in my Pot Noodle scheme) wanted to spend the night playing a prohibited game. A game that had never been allowed in my house, a game that glamourised all the evils of the capitalist system. I was about to be a traitor to the proletariat.

I was assured that Monopoly was true equality. This was the very foundation, I was informed, of Marxism. Everyone has the same, irrespective of race, gender, religion or politics, you start equal. Life as a game of chance, not privilege. What could be fairer?

I lost. Badly. Quickly. I had a tactic of buying the railways and utilities, an attempt at nationalisation. I kept them free of properties, determined to keep ownership with the People, to not profit from the People.

I watched for a while, made my Pot Noodle in lieu of a curry and watched as the game descended into petty arguments, jealousy, accusations of cheating and was finally abandoned. Thankfully just in time for last orders at the Oak.

The experience neither strengthened or weakened my political views, but it did stick with me. Admittedly, more for the missed opportunity of a pound-a-pint night than anything existential.

It came back to me this week, along with a disgust of Pot Noodles, a thirst for Theakstons and the first of many very uncomfortable discussions with my Bank Manager a few months later.

The now ex-Google employee made a pitch for the futility of trying to force equality and the commentariat split off into their usual divides.

In the background, actual scientists tried to debate the issues at hand aboutmale and female differences. Many are shouted down by non-scientists because their research seems incredulous to the individual’s beliefs.

It is true, men and women are different. We have the science. We don’t need to debate that. The differences do not equate to differencing abilities though. They do not equate to differing interests.

Women can be interested in technology as much as a man, that interest may arise for different reasons, but it is an equally valid and productive interest. We just see and feel differently about some things.

The criticism of the Google employee has focussed on his use of science to explain difference. It turns out he is mostly right. He may have oversimplified, he may have been too general, but his references and science check out. That argument is done.

The foundation of his argument is wrong though. This is what hasn’t been challenged enough. Through all the, mostly ignorant, arguments on science, few arguments have picked up on the assumption that a job or a workplace is inherently unequal.

Like my childhood, we tend to accept the normal as being just that. That’s how it is. Some work is ruled by pressure, by long hours, by isolation. It’s how I do it. It’s how it must be for everyone.
Come down off the cross, we can use the wood.

We all think we’re special. I’m more complex than you could ever imagine on the inside, we say to ourselves daily since 14 years old.There has to be a meritocracy because I am where I am due to merit, grit, talent and hard work. I think.

But not that lot over there, they’re incompetent, they must have something on the boss. I got where I am by working this exact way. That therefore has to be the right way. The only way.

On the surface Monopoly seems equal. We do all start with the same, there is no privilege. Tactics can only go so far as you’re a slave to the chance of a dice. But the game is rigged. The principle of the game is to win. The only path to winning is to own more and earn more than anyone else.

Not just earn more, but ensure the bankruptcy and defeat of the competition. Who says that is the right or natural way of work or life?

We accept this as natural. We play the game, happy we’re all equal at the start. Oh look! A Rick and Morty Monopoly set, how cool is that? Now I get to make a child cry as I send them into a spiral of debt.

The assumption that Computer Engineering doesn’t suit women is based on the assumption that the only way to Engineer is in isolation, for long hours, in highly stressful circumstances. This largely exists because that’s how the tech companies started, small start-ups understaffed and no money, (but enough for a foosball table).

It was their path to success so it must be the only way to maintain success right? It doesn’t matter that necessity and lack of money forced their hand. It’s how they did it, so it is how it is.

Has anybody asked if it really needs to be that way? Maybe it does have to be that way, the author of the memo never discusses this, nor do the critics or supporters. Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it’s a pretence of equality like Monopoly, attached to an unfair, unnatural system. We’ll never know unless we ask the question.

Fitting the science to those circumstances it is possible to see why you could conclude women won’t be attracted to the tech industry, so why bother? Fine, but only if those circumstances are necessary and not just from a lack of imagination around a finding better way.

The key thing for all businesses should be getting the best employees. We know that high ability men and women avoid competitive circumstances. If you’d only ever seen The Apprentice, you could have come to that conclusion on your own, we didn’t need science.

Why would a business want to foster or develop an environment that discourages the high-ability employees and only benefits low-ability? Yet this is exactly what they do because it is all they know. We all accept this as natural as it is all we know.

I’ve played Monopoly since. It’s only a game. If I can accept the concept of dragons and magic in other games, I’m fine to accept the premise of Monopoly. Despite the unauthorised overdraft fees, I’m still sore over missing the cheap drinks when I had money burning a hole in my pocket.

But we still need to be wary and critical of ideas of equality pasted over an inherently unequal concept. We need to be wary of distractions in debates that avoid rooting out the problem.

I’ve also sent this out as a memo to my entire company.

What could go wrong?

Listrade can be found on twitter @listrade

Listrade

Under the UK’s Labour Party Manifesto “For the many, not the few”,, the words “fair” “fairly” or “fairer”, are used 40 times. For example:

On the economy:

“Labour understands that the creation of wealth is a collective endeavour between workers, entrepreneurs, investors and government. Each contributes and each must share fairly in the rewards.”

On Taxation:

“We believe in the social obligation to contribute to a fair taxation scheme for the common good.”

Economy again:

“More democratic ownership structures would help our economy deliver for the many and lead to a fairer distribution of wealth.”

And so on.

But what does “fair” mean? I know what it means to me, I know what I think fairness in application to me and my family means. I would think you too have your own definition. And I suppose your guess is more or less as bad as mine.

It’s assumed in the manifesto that we know what fair means, that we have agreed what is fair. But we haven’t. It’s not even as if there is a binary definition of fair where the left has one idea and the right has another.

The political spectrum is exactly that, a spectrum. The centre left his its own idea on fairness, which is different from the moderate left, which is different to the moderate socialist, which is different to the socialist, which is different to the communist which is different to the “hard” left, which is different to the anarchist left.

As an aside, in my younger politically active days on the left, I always admired the communists. Not communism, communists. Despite popular opinion that the active left is rife with communists, communists were always shunned from activity on the left.

There was that unwavering support and justification of oppressive communist regimes that just got a bit weird at times. Many weren’t allowed high positions in unions (unless they rejected their communist party membership) and so didn’t have the chance to get on the gravy boat of rising up the union ranks, into local politics and onto national politics.

But my admiration was more for their clear definition of fair. They, more than anyone else on the left knew what they thought fair was. Like Corbyn’s “For the many”, they recognised that there would always be a few who were in power and accumulated wealth.

Fairness then was focused on the many. Under communism, at least the majority of people are equally miserable. The communists believed that under that oppression and equal misery lay true happiness and fairness.

There was a grain of truth to this idea of happy misery. We’re never happy. Even when times are good, we complain and generate something to be angry about whether righteous or not. So why not have it so life is tough and miserable as a default.

That way you’re happy because you have a genuine complaint, but everyone is in the same boat, so you have nothing to envy. If you complain too much and start sounding a bit too revolutionary, you get shot or stuck in a gulag.

No palpitations and faux outrage for two weeks because Trump likes his steak well-done and with ketchup. Moderate grumbling, accept that everyone has it just as bad, ensure adequate stock of homemade hooch.

Most politics is based on a model of fairness and achieving that. It just varies as to what is considered fair. The problem is that there hasn’t been any real attempt to justify fair. Isn’t that the first thing we should define?

Apart from a few outliers at the edge of the political spectrum, surely most agree that society should be fair? Where we can, we should be clear on what fair is and what it means, then look to the policies that get us there.

As someone on the left, when I say “fair taxation”, there’s an assumption it’s based on a common ideal of fairness. When I want fair taxation, I want to pay less tax and have someone else picks up the tab, usually someone with more stuff than me. Maybe that is the common ideal of fairness, maybe it isn’t. Maybe we should take the time to find out what is fair.

This is where we need politicians and policy makers. We don’t need them to be ideology spinners setting policy based on an undefined output. That old chestnut of “evidence-based policy”. That old chestnut of competent and capable politicians.

The problem is that the more specific you get with objectives, the more defined your standards, the more you could be held accountable for not meeting them.

We still need those politicians though. This is where the likes of the MacGill Summer School would be ideal. A place away from rhetoric and politicking. A chance to put aside party lines and look at governance for the common good based on defining what the common good is.

Yet as both Dan Boyle and Derek Mooney have attested, we are still waiting for anything impactful to come from this event.

The extent of party rhetoric only serves the status quo of nothing ever changing, except for a merry-go-round of who is in charge and who we’re angry at. Rhetoric we all fall for.

Many with short memories (except for the younger voters who weren’t around at the time), are in the process of lamenting the eventual downfall of the Affordable Care Act. The failure to replace it isn’t a victory, it just means ACA will go and all the benefits of that system will go.

But it’s the flip flop by both sides that shows how much our opinions of fairness are vulnerable to rhetoric. The ACA was largely based on a Republican proposal (a republican leaning think tank anyway), Obama said as much. It was part of his messaging to get it passed. It first came about in the early 90s as a counter to Hillarycare.

We didn’t like it because it was suggested by the right.

Twenty years later Obama resurrects it as his proposal for healthcare. So now on the left we liked it (with caveat, the same as Hillarycare was liked with caveats), but on the right they hated it. And they still hate it, even though it was their idea. And now we really, really like it because they hate it and we think it is fair. But we didn’t think it was fair in the early 90s.

Maybe there’s a lesson there. Maybe the loud and growing hooligans of the hard left should propose right-wing policies, forcing Leo into left-wing policies just to spite them.

Maybe the lesson is none of us know what we want really, we just want the opposite of what those we consider gobshites want. And I suppose your guess is more or less as bad as mine.

Dabbling in politics from activism to public policy, there is a common thread I’ve picked up. The same thread you pick up in normal social interaction, I’m no more or less special. It’s that the majority of people are good.

The majority of people want a society that is fair for the common good. The majority don’t want harm to come to others through government policy. That includes active party members and politicians.

We’ve just split off and pinned our loyalty to a political rhetoric as if it were a lifetime pledge to our Country GAA sporty thingy team. We’ve let that lead us instead of a defined goal for society.

We tried it once, the constitution goes someway to defining a fair and just society, but we’ve come a long way since then as a society and the document itself isn’t perfect. Minor amendments don’t really do justice to how much society has changed in that time.

Maybe that is where we start. Give it a shake like an Etch-a-Sketch and redraft what we believe a fair society should look like, then look at the policies that will get us there.

First though, we should check ourselves. What do we think is a fair society? What do we think is the common good? Do our own political biases and leanings match up to that? How close do the policies and change we support come to that? Is it even possible to measure the policies we support against fairness?

*Fade out to Man in Mirror by Michael Jackson*

Listrade can be found on twitter: @Listrade

Listrade

During the Brexit referendum run in, Michael Gove stated, “I think people in this country have had enough of experts.” Turned out he was right.

I can see the appeal in that statement, it’s not nice holding opinions that are contradicted by experts, especially not when you’re trying to win over an electorate. Soundbites work, vague promises work, facts don’t. Facts get in the way of an opinion it took hours on Youtube to determine. Books they all know they’re not worth readin’.

You don’t get anything for nothing, remember. Sure, some traitorous, hard left, communist-type experts might argue, “well apart from air, or sunlight to name but two.”

But it’s not relevant that you do get quite a few things for free (Laws of Thermodynamics permitting, but that might involve experts) nor is it relevant that the vast majority of people aren’t asking to get everything for free. It’s all about the snappy soundbite that avoids any solution.

Lack of solution isn’t a bad thing, as long as we are brave enough to admit we don’t know right now. Solutions to problems are usually in short supply, but they tend to only come about when you ask the right question or find out find out what the problem is. Politics on the other hand is mostly about creating a problem that fits your pre-ordained, party-line solution/ideology.

Plato was a good man for getting to the root of the problem. He asked the right questions. His problem was that he wasn’t great at the solutions. Which is fine because he pretended they were Socrates’s solutions. Don’t shoot the messenger.

The right question was: how do we get a fair society that benefits the majority rather than the minority? From this he had more questions like, how do you separate wealth from power to avoid corruption? How do you have a fair, balanced society if women can’t participate? How do you determine what “fair” is?

Then he went and spoiled a lot of the good work with some of his solutions. Women are restricted from participating in society because of that pregnancy and motherhood stuff. Simple answer: remove baby from mother at birth so she can get back to work.

We’d better hope Leo didn’t cover Plato in his leaving cert.  Removing children was across the guardian class (Police, Civil Service, etc) in order that they were free from nepotism. You can’t give your kid a job, if you’ve no idea who your kid is.

Even though some stuff like this remains unworkable, like creating a guardian class who are not allowed possessions (and therefore cannot have wealth), Plato finds the problems. That’s where politics should start. Like: how do you separate wealth from power so that power can’t be corrupted? It’s not as if we haven’t seen continual, major implications of failing to do so in the short history of this nation.

You don’t get anything for nothing. Except illegal state aid on taxes. Or corporate welfare.

This isn’t to say the left has answered the problems either. The central problems identified by Plato remain unfixed. The left, the centre and the right maintain the status quo of power and wealth being together, except with disagreements on the fringes of tax and welfare for the few.

Solving those problems requires long-term solutions. Few politicians are brave (or competent) enough to look to solve an issue when the solution won’t be realised for several election cycles.

We could find a solution to power and wealth, but it’ll take a while so nobody will vote for me, instead here’s a short soundbite about some vague thing to be angry about. Google Tax! Immigrants! That’s the generous answer, giving politicians credit for knowing what the answer is and being calculated and self-serving. The less generous answer is they are just bad at their jobs.

In many cases we haven’t even tried. There are TDs who have business interests (vintners, landlords, etc), business that are directly affected by the decisions they do or don’t make. Businesses that, as it turns out, are rarely impacted negatively by their decisions. TDs get to set their own wages and benefits. They get to accumulate wealth along with having power.

Left, centre, right, they all voted for their own pay rises. They all voted for unvouched expenses. They all kept the civil services untouched with senior civil servants getting richer. Even without light-touch regulation, even without corruption, those in power have made it so that they accumulate wealth. Every unit of the state has those in power accumulating wealth.

This is not conducive to a fair society. Now, if only I knew what a fair society looked like.

According to Plato, those who would know what fair is, what right is (the correct right, not the other right), would be philosophers. Elders who have been groomed and educated in ethics and knowledge. Not the wishy-washy philosophers we know contemplating existence.

These philosophers would make the decisions, the guardians would implement, the rest could get on with our lives safe in the knowledge we are protected and it is fair (plus we have the wealth seems a good deal).

The problem is that being ruled by an unelected class of those who know better has always made Plato’s ideals appeal to tyrants and dictators. Instead of actually knowing better, these tyrants just think they know better.

But in reality you can take any text any writing and twist it to your agenda. All you need is to stick with the bits you like and ignore all the rest. I could probably find a few soundbites and faux-philosophical musings from a Wanderly Wagon script if I tried.

Plato’s Philosopher’s really would be as horrendous as they sound if they came into being, but again, the problem they solve is a sound one. Too much of politics and rule (whether democracy, autocracy, theocracy, monarchy, etc) is based on rulers who have a belief in answers rather than knowledge of the answers.

Party politics are driven by a belief, it doesn’t matter what you know, if you want to be a party member you have to align to core beliefs and values. This doesn’t have to be religious, it just has to be something you hold as true no matter what the evidence says.

According to Plato, rule should be based on demonstrable truth and knowledge, not what an individual believes. It’s hard to find anyone in modern day politics whose complete policies or manifestos are evidence-based. Most are based on the sense of what they or their party “feel” is right, rather than what is right.

Skip over the Plato idea of Philosophers being schooled in what is right by people who know what is right. Start with fundamentals like scientific evidence or principles of risk.

Humans are pretty bad at analysing and understanding risk. It’s why we do dumb things and hurt ourselves and others. But risk can be estimated and scaled. It’s not a prediction, just a quantification of probability (another thing people are bad at understanding).

Take the drug policy across most of the western world. Take David Nutt who researched the risk of drugs. Take the UK Blair government at the time who saw the report and then sacked David Nutt as chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs because he published a scientific report that went against what they believed.

But it is all there, open to peer review and correction (which it has been where necessary). Alcohol is more harmful to society than Crack and Heroin. Horse-riding is more dangerous than taking ecstasy. With everything taken into account (frequency of use, reported injury and illness) current government policies do not meet the actual risk posed by drugs.

Most of the risks that exist are directly attributed to the current illegality of drugs rather than the drug itself. Does that change your views on drugs?

It has yet to change any politician’s views. Drugs have to be bad, because that’s what I believe. It’s incredulous that they could be anything but harmful, because that’s what I believe.

People will spend more time researching why David Nutt’s report is wrong than they will reading the actual report. More effort has been put into finding a way to find a tiny thread to confirm an existing belief than face an uncomfortable truth. When that fails, sack the messenger and just lie.

Take all other policies, how are approaches to welfare, to jobs, to homelessness, to health based on knowledge? We may all enjoy a good debate around what we believe is the cause and solution behind these, but do we actually know? Do the people we have elected know, or are they just basing more policy on belief?

Like the belief that the best way to run things like healthcare is to be more “business-like”. The fundamental reason for healthcare is an empathetic and humanitarian one, very few successful businesses exist based on empathy. It’s a service, but not a service like the “service industry”, it isn’t to fill a gap in needs or skills, it’s to keep people alive.

Businesses exist for profit (not that there’s anything wrong with that), can you run a humanitarian enterprise as a business? I don’t know, but then I doubt that those who advocate for that know either.

This is where any interest in politics and civil society can become depressing. We’re all great at spotting problems and mapping solutions to our existing beliefs. We all compromise on who we vote for and who we elect. One person or one party tends to tick more boxes in my beliefs than the other.

I’d be happier under a left government, but they’d still be crap and fail to identify the real problems in how we govern. They’d still ignore any evidence that went against their core values, no matter how true it is. They’d still vote to give themselves pay rises. They’d still fail to address obvious corruption. There’d be no change and people will still suffer.

Happy days.

Listrade can be found on Twitter: @listrade

Listrade

Back in 2008, an outsider politician took on the establishment. His pitch was simple, they don’t listen to you and they are in the pockets of Wall Street. They are the rich elite, serving the one percent while having long ago abandoned the pretense of caring about those who are struggling and the working class.

Despite being a long way behind in polls, despite being written off, a rousing speech in Iowa against the establishment, promising those hit hard by the recession hope and change. It proved a turning point in Barrack Obama’s campaign for the Democratic nomination against Hillary Clinton.

Eight years later and the DNC is surprised that the same people who’d been told Hillary was the establishment and was serving the one percent, didn’t change their minds and vote for her this time around either.

Populism. It’s a nice term. Has a patronising ring  about it too. Seems like it’s only appealing to the uneducated voter, not the learned, they would never fall for it. Like the learned don’t read “popular fiction”, they read “literary fiction”.

Over the last twelve months we’ve seen several elections and a referendum. Populism has played a significant part in all results. There are common features to populism, but it’s too easy to ignore them because of the division between left and right.

When it’s Trump or Le Pen appealing on populism, it’s only appealing to old racists and uneducated. When it’s Corbyn or Sanders, they’re “galvanising” the youth. And it appears that there is some truth to that in terms vote demographics as opposed to motivations.

They all blamed the “establishment” whether it is the established political parties or those that hold influence over them. They all pointed to the current political system not working. They pointed to your woes, your struggles and more importantly, they offered solutions.

The best thing that happened to Corbyn was the leak of the draft manifesto. The leak was malicious, an attempt to ridicule Corbyn as an old out of touch Trotskyite.

In the words of the Gibb brothers “I started a joke, which started the whole world crying. But I didn’t see that the joke was on me, oh no.” (I prefer the Faith No More version)

Instead of mocking, people looked at the manifesto and thought it was pretty good. It had actual bone fide promises and deliverables. The Tories had little. Their promises were to look into social welfare, look into health care but only when re-elected. No substance, at least none that people could easily see.

Macron’s election and later majority shows that even the centre-right can take advantage of populism, especially when running against a far right populist. You can even create a new political party and still win.

The key is to understand that there are a lot of people out there who are not seeing the benefits of the recovery. Those who have been left a long way behind due to austerity. Those who aren’t working for financial, pharmaceutical or tech companies and aren’t seeing the benefits of globalism. They want hope, they want change.

They will follow a leader who can speak for them who can give them a solution. It looks like they’d prefer it if that promise didn’t involve the prospect of goose-stepping and mass deportations. But, you know, any port in a storm.

Then there’s Leo Varadkar.

Leo.

Dear God.

Leo has decided to vilify the left and their supporters. He’s right from one perspective: they are a threat and are likely to be a threat in any election. But he’s now put him and his party exactly where everyone suspected they were: the establishment.

There’s a chance that this attack on the left will have similar consequences as Hillary’s “bucket of deplorables”. The disenfranchised have shown that they will turn up and vote against you when they are given a figurehead. Leo has set himself up as they perfect foil for anyone who wants to take up that mantle.

Who exactly is advising him? Has he read any analysis of the last 12 months? Or is this actually his idea of how populism works?

The left don’t have to respond, they don’t have to do anything except capitalise on Leo portraying himself and his party as the vindictive establishment.

The only thing standing in the way of the left (or any party) is concrete policies and a cohesive party. Which admittedly is a pretty big thing to not have and, unfortunately, they don’t.

Anyone could do this. The alliance of the left could come together under a new party.

The alternative is that one of the other parties takes up the mantle. But we’ve seen that it’s only ever effective for those who can show that they are “outsider” and underdogs. It’s an opportunity for the right too, in the spirit of Macron.

In a very turbulent year, we have seen that there is widespread disenfranchisement with the political class. The parties will always have their base, but that base is always small.

Their success is reliant on swinging voters and the youth staying at home. Now even the swing voters are looking for change and the youth seem to have got its act together.

It will probably need someone who isn’t currently part of the political world. But the opportunity is there if they want to take it. Leo has set it up perfectly for anyone to capitalise on this, if they want to.

I’m just worried nobody does want to.

Listtrade can be followed on Twitter: @listrade

 

Listrade

All I know is that I don’t know nothin’. And that’s fine.

There’s a certain peace and restfulness that comes from admitting that the more you learn and more you know, the more aware you are of just how much you don’t know.

Each bit of knowledge and education only opens up a whole other area of knowledge and information about which you are ignorant.

At this point you could insert one of numerous Richard Feynman quotes on learning, life and everything like, “Nobody ever figures out what life is all about, and it doesn’t matter. Explore the world. Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough.

He’s right, it doesn’t matter. It is much more interesting to have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned (Feynman again). Sorry seems to be the hardest word, but it isn’t as difficult a phrase as “I don’t know.”

All politics, all ideologies and all religions are all about easy answers. You can rest easy because we’ve done the difficult thinking for you and here are our answers. All we ask is your unconditional support and belief.

Except, it turns out that they don’t have the answers either.

The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act (PLDA) 2013 was supposed to be an answer. But what was the question? It wasn’t how do we protect unborn life and it wasn’t how do we protect the life of women after Savita Halappanavar.

The question was how we protect doctors when making a decision that might conflict with the Constitution. Doctors shouldn’t need the enactment of legislation in 2013 to help them make a judgement on what is best for the life of the patient. And yet they insisted they did.

But the Supreme Court insisted they didn’t.

In its decision on the X Case, the Supreme Court discussed at length the conditions that would permit abortion under the Constitution. For 22 years doctors had some clarity that where there was a real and imminent risk to the life of the mother, they could perform an abortion.

The death of Savita had nothing to do with lack of legislation and was all to do with doctors not wanting to make a decision.

The PLDA was bad law enacted in haste and yesterday we saw that doctors still won’t make a decision, even when the Supreme Court and the law says they can. Suicide is a risk to the life of the mother, PLDA allows for this and for an abortion.

Except if someone is suicidal and a genuine risk to themselves, then they should be committed to a mental institution. The former requires three medical opinions, the latter just one.

Oh, but not when you jump in a river and actually try and kill yourself. Then you’re grand. No risk there.

The problem with narratives is that when you have them, they become like a hammer and everything looks like a nail. It’s easy to read a lot into what the psychologist did in committing the girl to an institution. We’ll probably never know and so shouldn’t speculate.

But to repeat an old mantra, never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

The problem with narratives is that we can’t discuss abortion as we should. Not religion, not ideology, just ethics. Unfortunately, we’ve let ethics become synonymous with religion.

We’ve allowed a situation where one specific branch of one specific religion gets to be the dictator of ethics. We need a debate free from that. Unfortunately, no politician would be brave enough to have that discussion.

If you were to do a list of who has an abortion and why they have an abortion, the results of that list might be swayed by your views on abortions. Are the women old or young? Married or single? Is the abortion due to their health or the foetus’s?

Our only basis for answering this is to look to the statistics from those countries that do have legalised abortion. Great Britain (not UK as many in the UK have realised recently due to legislation not being enacted in Northern Ireland) is probably the best comparison.

Any legislation is likely to be the same where abortions require medical approval and a similar set up. From the statistics available, we know that in 2015 185,824 (3,451 from Ireland) abortions were performed.

· Based on 2015 births, approximately 20% of pregnancies were terminated in England and Wales.*

· 80% of abortions are performed in the first 9 weeks and 98% within the first 19 weeks (69% and 97% respectively for Irish women)

· 70% of women are in a relationship (65% for Irish women)

· 77% of women are white.

· 54% had been pregnant in the past through to delivery (47% Irish)

· 38% have had previous abortions (19% Irish)

· 98% have abortions on the grounds of Category C “risk to the physical or mental or mental health of the mother” (96% Irish)

· 86% of women are over 20 (52% aged 20-29, 34% 30+) (91% Irish, with 46% 20-29 and 45% over 30)

· 3% of abortions were for serious abnormalities or disabilities to the foetus (Category E) (4% Irish)

· 3 abortions (number, not percentage) were performed in emergency situations to save the mother’s life (due to mental or physical harm).

· 629 (0.3% of abortions) were because the foetus was diagnosed with downs syndrome (1.1% Irish)

*very rough approximation

How do we interpret this? I don’t know. Looking at the statistics above: it’s complicated. It isn’t, as Leo claims, like the lads popping off to Amsterdam.

This is mature, rational women, in a relationship, many who have seen a previous pregnancy through to birth.

They are 98% of 185,824 who have weighed up the pregnancy and its consequences and a doctor has agreed an abortion is necessary. Over 180,000 individuals like the population of County Limerick.

There is no single group mind behind their decisions. The only common feature is they live in a state that allows them to make that decision in consultation with a doctor.

In Ireland, we’ve legislated for the three abortions that were medical emergencies. But someone had to die before we even did that. We haven’t addressed the issue of suicide risk, but then we haven’t addressed the issue of suicide risk in general.

Under the PLDP, it isn’t enough to be diagnosed with cancer; it needs two doctors to confirm the cancer. With mental health, we want three doctors to confirm your state of mind before anyone will make a decision.

Twenty two years after the Supreme Court said it was permissible without legislation, that suicide risk was a risk to life, that you can take the threat of suicide at face value, you do not have to wait until they are pressing a knife to their wrists.

One doctor can do that. One doctor can believe the woman and act. The constitution does not prohibit that. Doctors did not need to wait 22 years, we didn’t need legislation. Doctors didn’t need to lobby our legislators so that it required three doctor’s opinions.

You can make of the statistics above whatever you want. You can use them to support pro-life or pro-choice. But they are what they are.

All I know is that I know nothin’. It’s complicated. Life is complicated. Somehow, we’ve managed to make complicated the bits that aren’t complicated when it comes to permissible abortions under the constitution..What hope do we have with the bigger issue of abortion in general?

The only thing I can say for sure is that it’s time to listen to those who have had experience here. Not those who want to insert an ideology into other people’s decisions.

There are over 180,000 of them in Britain, over 3000 in Ireland. Maybe listen to them, not me.

Listrade can be found on Twitter @listrade  where he mainly steals jokes from Keith Chegwin.

Yesterday: Tony Groves on The Three Doctors

Listrade

You can tell Derek Mooney’s column on Monday on Brexit was a good piece because there were no overly negative comments. Not even the usual abusive ones about Derek. He summed up much of what I was thinking about how Brexit is being entered.

Brexit will probably be bad. Not because the principle of a Brexit is a disaster, but because of how this Brexit came about.

The nature of the Brexit campaign was xenophobic, untruthful and incompetent. The only reasonable explanation is that this was a deliberate tactic so that the result would be remain.

A Larry Beinhart conspiracy in the real world, except devised by idiots. Now those idiots are running the negotiations. It doesn’t bode well.

The West Wing and House of Cards have given an unreal expectation of what happens in the corridors of power. All give far too much credit to cunning and scheming politicians.

Principled public servants and devious lobbyists. A lot more sex and less murder than the real world. The political world is far more Yes Minister written by P.G. Wodehouse than Dobbs or Sorkin.

The art of negotiation is well documented. Experts will sell you books and courses on the subject for decent fee. If you didn’t get onto the Oxford PPE course, you can at least feign status with some good buzz phrases. At least nod at them when you hear them like on holiday when you recognise one of the French words the waiter said.

It was disappointing when you got a policy change through without a bit of a fight and negotiation. When the relevant person accepted their mistake and changed it, you were always left a bit flat.

They weren’t doing it right. We’re supposed to do the dance of banging desks, slamming doors and letting me say at least once “I have a mandate from my members!”

A good prolonged negotiation was a soap opera you could pitch back as a David and Goliath. Sell like it’s a lost cause and you’re the only one standing up and speaking the truth.

Members want you to be having meetings and shouting. They don’t want resolution with a courteous email and phone call.

You never went into a negotiation (in Ireland or Europe) with the idea of compromise or of listening to the other side. This was your opportunity to show everyone how wrong they are.

How if they listened to you and your “facts” they would have no choice but to concede on every point. Your preparation was to have your argument laid out with “facts” and attacks on the other side’s “facts”.“You call that a source?” “You’ve misrepresented those results.” “You made a spelling mistake; it means your entire argument is void.” You had no intention of actually listening to the other side or to reason.

Sounds familiar?

Of course, the real negotiations happened outside the grandstanding of the formal room. Over coffee or a pint you could throw off the shackles of your mandate; agree it was all crap and that both had a point.

Unfortunately, we could never admit that formally and the cod-negotiation continued. “Here comes a regular, am I the only one who feels the shame?”Nah. We had mandates remember?

Except we didn’t.

Members are like voters. They preferred for us to do the hard work and tell them how to think. At least that’s what we thought. We’d analyse the policy, find something inflammatory and send out a biased overview. Anger-up their blood and there was our mandate. The more we found, the more we justified out existence.

The members we spoke about were like the constituents politicians speak of. The man with two pints Enda spoke of. The British Brexit voters Theresa speaks of. The 28 Member States Michel Barnier speaks of. All figments of our imaginations. Traits and opinions we make up and condensed into a mythical person or group.

The people and the Member States exist of course, but what they think or would think is complex, diverse and a bit more rational than we’d like. So we created their opinions for them. Manipulated genuine and easily corrected mistakes to fit into whatever Key Action Point we’d promised to deliver on that year.

We should worry about how the UK will enter these negotiations. They sold Brexit on a promise of getting rid of foreigners and a lie about British Sovereignty.

But we should also worry that the EU won’t care too much about little old Ireland. Heck, there’s even a chance that what’s bad for Ireland in this will benefit Central Europe. The greater good being those large states losing out to Ireland.

The EU has already created its own strawman to fight the UK strawman. There’s a reason it took so long to negotiate an EU deal with Canada. It had nothing to do with complexity. It was 28 Member States who still consider themselves as 28 individual Member States.

One nation would object to an aspect of the deal that would impact their particular interest. Britain only has to negotiate on the terms of British interest. It will no longer have to take account of what will upset the other 27 states.

There is no central EU-mind. It isn’t just Britain who is parochial, each member state is. We’re still European by politics and geography rather than culture and mind. European when it suits, like in golf. We’d still stab the others in the back if it were in our interests, like in Eurovision.

Because of the UK’s stance on negotiations, the EU has created its own aggression. The diplomatic and greater good is for a soft exit. The outcome is more than likely to be a hard exit for no other reason than spite.

Any impact on Ireland, positive or negative will be accidental. Our interests are handy soundbites, but they will not impact the outcome. The EU cannot allow exiting to be easy or soft, no matter what the consequence.

Like most negotiation, there is nothing to negotiate. This isn’t a peace negotiation, this is pure fictional politicking. Compromise is a fallacy, sometimes one side is right and the other wrong. Compromise implies equal validity to opinions.

Political compromise is rarely true compromise. More often than not it is giving a few things to one side and a few things to the other side. See the 20 years of Social Partnership and National Agreements. Both sides could stand like Chamberlain waving their pieces of paper. The common good forgotten in the need for both to show that they didn’t lose.

Negotiation is about how both sides come out without looking weak or incompetent. It is rarely about fixing the problem. Ireland will have to take a hit to prevent wider chaos in the EU.

Michel Barnier’s brief will be that the greater good is making sure the Union remains. Making sure that no other state gets notions of leaving. Make it as hard and painful for Britain as possible. If Ireland is collateral damage, it’s a price worth paying.

We’ve spent a year laughing at Brexit, now a UK win in the deal might be the best result for Ireland.

No problems there then.

Three years ago Listrade asked himself “are we the baddies?” after 10 years working for a lobbying group and now works in PR and Communications for the Bilderberg Group. He is widely credited for leading the group away from its New World Order manifesto and into investing in Pizza restaurants.

listradeListrade

 

Listrade writes:

One of the more interesting things about inhabiting social media or comments sections is playing behavioural psychology bingo. This act in itself is a form of cognitive bias. It suggests I consider myself above the average commentator who regularly indulges in logical fallacies and cognitive biases.

The average driver considers themselves a better driver than the average driver. Wikipedia-researched logical fallacies and cognitive biases get thrown out into online discussion as tools to diminish an opposing argument. The accuser implying they would never be so stupid as to fall into that trap.

The good news is that practically everything that annoys or angers you about people on the internet is easily summed up by one of the numerous Wikipedia articles on Psychology. The bad news is that it applies to us all equally.

Sticking to our so-called “bubbles” gives the impression that opinions appear to have become more polarised and hardened. That only the side we align with shows logic and reason. That it would be a better world if the other side would just admit they are wrong.

The biggest problem comes from the fact that the “other side” usually doesn’t exist. We’ve created it and tagged it as a reductive left or alt-right. We’ve assigned characteristics from a minority to the majority.

Polarisation of opinions has been inevitable, not because people are unreasonable or irrational, but because people are people. This dive into the “post-truth” world was always going to happen ever since the first BBS [bulletin board system]. Then came the dark days when Uncle Tupelo split up and you had to choose between Farrar or Tweedy. No middle ground, choose now.

Mathew Inman did a great strip on something called the backfire effect in the latest Oatmeal, which was a distillation of the You Are Not So Smart podcast’s three episode in-depth look at this effect. The principle is that some beliefs are so key to who we are, that no matter what the evidence put in front of us, we will reject it.

Reject it and become even more hard-lined in our belief. In short, somethings we hate being wrong about and will believe all kinds of crap in order that we can convince ourselves we aren’t wrong. The current polarisation of opinions can be put down to the backfire effect.

Way back in my early days of public policy, a new early draft of legislation landed and I was charged with finding all the problems with it. For problems, read things that the people who paid our wages wouldn’t like, i.e. things that would cost them money.

There were a lot of problems with it and not just financial ones. It was a mess. The bits that weren’t poorly written were cut and paste from archaic UK regulations (UK references left in place) There was no way it could go through as it was. Except it very nearly did.

Once the errors and necessary corrections were highlighted, rather than them getting changed, the responsible Department dug their heels in and put all their effort into pushing it through with the legislation as it was.

The only amendments accepted at the initial stage were those that would make it worse (for us at least). It was 12 months of swimming upstream against the backfire effect before we got anything changed.

There is plenty of research (much of which is gone through in the podcasts) that seems to show this effect and on a range of issues and topics.

We argue away in a vain attempt to convert and change people’s minds and it turns out it is all for nothing and only works to make them more hard-line in their belief. If anything it drives them to be more extreme in their views than lessening them. That’s how we end up with r/Donald.

However, a worse trait is that when someone finally admits they were wrong against all the psychological odds, we shame them. The Twitter user @Trumpregrets has over 250,000 followers. Its soul aim is for us smarter liberals to laugh at those who now regret voting Trump. Instead of welcoming them or working to align them to a cause, we create a twitter account for all the smart liberals to laugh at the stupid blue-collar workers.

We routinely remind politicians and celebrities of when they were wrong years ago, even though they’ve admitted their error or changed their minds based on evidence.

We say they’ve flip-flopped and post a tweet from seven years ago of them stating something different. It’s acceptable when they deny ever having held such an opinion; have at them, but when they’re admitting they were wrong, that’s different.

Against all the odds and human nature, some people accept their belief was wrong. Let them have that moment without sneering or shaming.

After far too long in public policy and my eventual epiphany, it became as physically draining working against the backfire effect in the legislature as it is trying to reason with someone on an internet comment section, except with less Youtube links.

I vowed to never be that person, to weigh up the evidence and not dismiss contrary views so quickly. I would admit when I’m wrong and not be ashamed. I’m sure that when the day comes when I am wrong, that’s exactly what I’ll do.

Three years ago Listrade asked himself “are we the baddies?” after 10 years working for a lobbying group and retired to Argentina with other ex-lobbyists and baddies. Since then he has never finished the novel he’s been working on for 20 years, but has completed Undertale in peaceful and genocide several times and is two Korok seeds short of 100% completion in Zelda.