Bandaids and Bulletholes: on privileging theory over practicality


I just got into a leeeeeeetle disagreement over on the Facebooks over this:

My views on this are that Clare Cullen is a massive ledgeface* who you should all go subscribe to immediately because she is saying words that basically mirror rants I have inside my head every single time anyone runs for election, ever. We don’t elect people to be Official Fixers Of The World and Havers Of Opinions. We elect people to particular jobs with specific responsibilities and powers. It’s insulting to the electorate (you know, the people who you’re asking to employ you) if the material you’re using to persuade people to vote for you is either vague to the point of meaninglessness or refers to things that are drastically outside the remit of the job you’re actually applying for.

Anyway, one of the people she targets is the Socialist Party** candidate, Paul Murphy, who’s looking to get reelected to the European Parliament. Grand so. She’s got criticisms that I see as legit- overly negative campaigning with a lack of actual alternatives put forward. Anyway, since I’m a leftie myself and since Ireland is a tiny country where everyone knows everyone, it was inevitable that a bit of a palaver would ensue. Which is fine. It’s  just that.. there’s something that happened there that I disagree with hard enough to write a blog post about it, and that was this comment by CH- someone who, by the way, I respect a shedload and who gave me the okay to :

Paul is running on a platform of party ideals/alternatives (anti-capitalist) to domestic policy and EU. It is merely to have a voice to raise issues that are railroaded in the EU and their wider agenda of Austerity… maybe you missed the part about wanting a socialist alternative not band aids for bullets wounds of capitalism. It not about legislative change which is a narrow outlook of oppositions role anyway.

Okay. You see, this? This is something I have a huge issue with. Not necessarily when it comes to policy or perspective- I agree with a bunch of Murphy’s views. But with CH’s defence of his actions. Let me explain why.

The Role of a Legislator Is To Legislate

The first thing that I want to take issue with is this:

It not about legislative change which is a narrow outlook of oppositions role anyway.

There are many ways to do opposition. Shedloads of ’em. Despite what you hear, working through parliaments (as well as stuff like voting etc) is just one way of many to create change. In fact, I’d go further than that. The vast majority of the time here in Ireland, any legislative change that is enacted on social issues happens after shifts in public opinion. If you want to create change without engaging directly with the legislate process? Do that! Do grassroots work. Educate and communicate your views. Work at the local level to create models of how you’d like things to be done, and put in the everyday work of keeping those things going. Protest and demonstrate. Campaign, or provide support to campaigns. Write a book or a blog, submit articles for people to read, start a vlog if you like.

There’s many, many ways- most of which I’m sure I haven’t mentioned- that you can help to bring about the change you’d like to see which don’t involve legislation. Legislation is one tiny piece of a huge jigsaw.

But if you’re going to apply for a job as a legislator? I expect you to be interested in legislating. Period. End of sentence.

I expect you to take that job with the intent of working your butt off for your entire term at legislating.  And I expect you to show me that you can get legislation passed. I expect you to be willing to grit your teeth, hold your nose and work on the compromise legislation that isn’t exactly what any of us want because the alternative is so much worse. If you’re not wiling to do that, then you have no business looking for that job. There are many other spaces where your voice would be better used.

Hell to the Yes, I Want That Bandaid.

Let’s go to the next part.

maybe you missed the part about wanting a socialist alternative not band aids for bullet wounds of capitalism

To describe short-term legislative change as “band aids for bullet wounds of capitalism” is to use some pretty strong words and make some extremely strong assumptions. I’m going to take three premises out of this, and address them in order:

  1. That the harm caused by capitalism can be likened to a bullet wound- that is, is not just extremely serious but requires urgent action.
  2. That the small changes possible through immediate legislative change can be likened to a band-aid: something that will cover the wound, staunch the bleeding, but won’t do anything about the bullet lodged within you.
  3. That tackling immediate needs and creating long-term substantial change are mutually exclusive.

My answer to the first? Yep, there sure are some extremely harmful things going on which need to be addressed urgently. I wouldn’t personally use the single term ‘capitalism’ to describe the forces causing these- I think it’s a whole lot more complicated than that and there’s a lot of forces involved, and I also prefer to think of capitalisms as opposed to one unitary thing. But I have a feeling that that kind of pedantry isn’t terribly useful right here. Let’s agree that there’s some seriously harmful stuff happening and we need to do something about it, sharpish.

It’s when we get to the second part that we’re going to start to disagree. You describe the kind of legislative change possible from the EP as bandaids. I’d use a different metaphor: they’re more like first aid. Sure, they’re not the well-equipped intensive care unit of culture-wide change creating a society where each of us is able to live without fear of destitution and has real opportunity to thrive. But first aid will keep you alive. First aid is the thing that’ll keep you breathing until the ambulance gets here.

Theory can never, ever trump practicality

That third premise is one I have even more difficulty accepting than the other two. If that’s the case, then you need to take a long, hard look at where your theory is coming from, because I have no interest in theory that puts itself before people’s real and immediate needs.

A real alternative to the way we’re doing things now is all well and good, but some of us- a lot of us- don’t have the luxury of theory. Because of piss-poor, inadequate legislation here in Ireland, people now have a higher chance of surviving pregnancies that threaten their lives than they did a couple of years ago. Piss-poor, inadequate legislation means that as long as I don’t work in a school or a hospital I probably won’t get fired for not following Catholic dogma, the way I could back in the ’90s. It’s ludicrous that pregnant people have to travel overseas for abortion services if their lives aren’t in danger, and it’s a disgrace that the RCC can hide behind ‘ethos’ to force people into closets. But it’s better than nothing, and I’m glad we don’t have to live without it. 

In short? If you’re not going to actually attain that socialist alternative next week then fuck yes I would like some bandaids please. And if you can’t hold your nose and enact piss-poor legislation that is all you can get but better than nothing? Then there are far better places to take your activism than Parliament.

 

*Translation for non-Irish people: most excellent person who does things I approve of greatly.

** Surprise for you USian people- ‘Socialist’ isn’t actually a dirty word ’round this neck of the woods. Woop!

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You have your opinion, I have mine


“It’s my opinion” “I’m entitled to my opinion”

Have you any idea how much those words set my teeth on edge? Let me give you a hint. Imagine nails on a blackboard. Someone else using up the last of the milk and putting the carton back in the fridge. The whine of a mosquito right by your ear as you’re trying to get to sleep. That guy on the bus who insists on playing his music loud enough that you can sing along. Put all of those together, add a pounding headache and let’s throw in having just stepped in a freezing puddle that is seeping its way through your shoes. And you still haven’t had your damn breakfast. And someone just drank the last of the coffee.

That comes close to the level of headdesking, facepalming, oh-god-not-this-again frustration bubbling up in me whenever I hear that phrase.

We all have opinions. Isn’t that great? We all have opinions, and we all have the right to say whatever words we like in the vast majority of situations without getting carted off to jail for it. This is an excellent fact. It’s a thing that many people fought and sacrificed a hell of a lot for.

And do you really, really think that the people who fought for freedom of speech did it so that some nitwit could justify their ridiculous beliefs with “you have your opinion, and this is mine”?

Let me back up a second here. Before I go any further, I’d like to state for the record that no matter how irritating I find this, it is still marginally better than, say, the Inquisition. Okay, significantly better. I’m not saying we should go back to the old days of rampant censorship or anything. Not, of course, that that was particularly long ago, or that you’d have to go particularly far away to find it today.

But I digress. From a point that I haven’t even made yet.

It would be entertaining if I got to the end of this post without making an actual point, wouldn’t it?

Saying “it’s my opinion” is meaningless. It adds nothing to a conversation. It isn’t an argument, it isn’t a justification. It isn’t even a grunt of acknowledgement that the other person has said something. It’s less than all of those.

What “it’s my opinion” says is this: I can’t be bothered coming up with a reason why I think the way that I do. In addition, I can’t be bothered listening to a word you’re saying to me. If you’ve put effort into communicating with me, you really needn’t have bothered. I have this thing called an ‘opinion’. I’m too lazy to have it challenged or contemplate the possibility that it isn’t correct.

In fact, whether my opinion is correct or not is absolutely irrelevant to me. I don’t care if my opinion is as real as the moon being made out of a lovely sweet Emmental*.

What “I have my opinion, I’m entitled to my opinion” means is that I don’t care about truth.

And, well, as a person who cares a great deal about truth, this matters a hell of a lot to me. It doesn’t just matter to me because that’s my opinion- although, of course, it is. I’m willing to back up that opinion. I’ll justify it. Because truth matters to me for reasons. Having an accurate picture of the world around us is what allows us to base our decisions on reality. It allows us to make ethical judgements based on real-life factors. It ensures we’re not accidentally trampling over others in our ignorance. It also, incidentally, is what led to my being able to communicate to you in a great big string of ones and zeroes. Truth about how the world works. It’s awesome.

*Everyone knows it’s Gouda. And it’s kind-of old and a bit dry by now. At least, that’s my opinion. You have yours. I have mine.

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Interesting or Interested?


English: A bored person

This was WordPress’s suggestion for this post. Am I boring or is he just sleepy? Who can tell? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’ll be a continuation of my recent theme of being (fashionably) late responding to things. I, by the way, decided recently to say a hearty “feck that” to the imperative of responding to stuff immediately or not at all. Today: things I’ve been thinking about a Captain Awkward post from March. March!

Way back in the end of March, Captain Awkward answered a letter from someone asking advice on being less boring. The letter writer felt that their life was in a rut, that they didn’t do anything interesting and were worried about being a boring person to talk to. The letter broke my heart a little bit- the LW talked about having read tons of articles with titles like “best hobbies for 20 somethings” and “how to meet new people”, as well as on topics like being a good listener and building social skills, but that none of it really stuck for more than a few days and they just didn’t feel.. interesting.

We can put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be interesting, don’t you think? We’re a relentlessly social species living in a society where we focus incessantly on competition and act as if love and belonging are scarce commodities to be fought over. It’s not surprising that interesting feels like a thing we need to aspire to.

You’re going to say there’s a catch now, aren’t you

It’s a pity, then, that interesting doesn’t exist. Not in any objective sense, at least. We can’t learn the interesting things, tick the interesting boxes and become a person that everyone wants at their dinner party. Interesting is a subjective mix of who I am, who you are, what we have in common and how we are different, and that unpredictable spark of chemistry that may or may not be there between us. Interests in common help, sure, but we’ve all met people who like the same things as us who we find dull as dishwater. And we’ve probably met people who were drastically different who we found fascinating.

You can’t predict interesting. It’s one of those things that is too dependent on the whims and vagaries of far too many people to be reliable. There’ll always be people who don’t like you. I mean, there’s people who don’t like me, and I’m bloody brilliant, y’know?

You can’t measure interesting. Without seeing into the minds of every single person who encounters you, you can never tell for sure how interesting you really are. You’re stuck with your interpretation of the actions, filtered through your brain with all its insecurities and biases. Is that person bored of me, or has she just not had enough sleep in days? Is that other person trying desperately to find an excuse to get away from me, or are they simply preoccupied with the things they need to get done? And is this person listening to what I am saying because he’s interested in what I have to say, or is he just being polite?

I’m not saying that interesting doesn’t exist, or that some people aren’t more interesting than others. It does and they are. But chasing after interesting can’t be anything more than stumbling through the dark towards invisible, moving goalposts made from cobwebs so fine you’d never ben sure if you’d felt them or a trick of your mind.

That, and doing things because you think they’ll make people find you more interesting is.. a terrible way to become more interesting.

Got a better idea?

I prefer to aspire to interested. Where interesting is about other people, interested is about me, my brain, and what makes it light up.

In some respects I’m almost certainly a lot less interesting than I used to be. This past year I’ve bored more than one person silly talking about roller derby (I’m lookin’ at you, Ladybro. Thanks for putting up with me ❤). The worst that happened? I got told to STFU after crowbarring skates into yet another conversation, decided to keep the worst of my rhapsodising to people who want to listen (I’m lookin’ at you, derbs. And also you, Tumblr), changed the subject, and moved on. It wasn’t the end of the world. And yet, despite becoming a person who really wants to bore the life out of a substantial portion of my friends, having that interest in my life made me a hell of a lot happier, and got me meeting dozens and dozens of new people who’ll talk with me for literal hours about wheelyboots and the finer points of the 2014 WFTDA ruleset. What’s yawnworthy to Ladybro is delicious to the derbs.

Interesting is subjective. Interested is subjective too, but it’s all about choosing what to do based on what’s subjectively awesome to you. Where we can’t really measure our overall interestingness, there’s nothing difficult about working out whether or not something’s interesting to you. Is there some spark to that thing that draws you to it? Do you want to learn more? Do you think about it even if you don’t have to? Does it make you smile, or fascinate you? Yep, you’re probably interested.

And fortunately, with a good seven billion of us on this rock, if you go with interested you’re bound to find yourself some of what’s interesting to you.

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