Different system, same story

This week, I had an amazing experience. We’ve been talking about capitalism and its role in Creative Industries in one module, and in another, we had a look at the Pirate Bay case. So I’m sitting in class and suddenly I just have the equivalent of a lightning storm in my mind. It all just came together. I sat there frantically making notes, trying to pin down the explosion of ideas pouring through my mind. Three pages later it comes down to this: neither capitalism nor socialism has worked*. We need something completely new.

As the week progressed, my thoughts did, too. Why did neither system work? Because in each and every system that has been widespread in human societal organisation, those holding power worked out how to work it to funnel ever more wealth and power their way, and push those without power further into a position of precariousness and fear. The masses have to be too preoccupied with avoiding poverty to have time to think about how unfair things are, and revolt. But they must also be kept just far enough away from hardship to not be motivated to revolt. There’s a sweet spot where we the people have to be kept. So we need a new system, and it must be one that aims to address this problem.

I believe in universal basic income. People more informed about economics and stuff have explained and written about it at length so I’ll not do so here. So I think we should pay a universal basic income, and then we sould cap wealth. Earnings over a certain amount get taxed at 95%. Because you know what, an individual can only spend that much in their lifetime. You don’t need a hundred million euro, you don’t even need fifty million euro, and at those amounts there is no way you could have earned it without massive help and participation from all of society. That wealth doesn’t belong to you alone. There should be a cap on wealth.

But let’s not decide how much the cap should be. Let’s let the wealthy and powerful decide the cap – make it a multiple of the minimum wage. Want to earn more? Lift up the lowest. You go nowhere without them.

Of course no economic system can be that simple. Yet the foundational principles of it can. I’ve no doubt none of these ideas are brand new, but I think we need to stop being scared of change and be prepared to think in wholly different ways.


*My idea of a system that works is one that brings the greatest amount of happiness to the most people. Capitalism has delivered widespread poverty and increasing inequality. It forces a definition of human worth on us which values you based on what amount of monetisable product you can deliver (if we also think of service as a product).

The cost of avoiding a short walk

In a June article, Talk of the Town reports that the place where I study, Dundalk Institute of Technology (DKIT), has suffered massive cuts to its funding. This is placing a huge strain on staff, who struggle to continue doing their jobs with less money, but more students. A saving of €31,200 would no doubt be welcomed, even if it’s just a drop in the bucket, it’s a drop that can pay for an extra staff member, or for upgrades to ageing equipment, or for a number of other needs.

Instead, €30,000 of that money is spent on sparing Catholic students a journey of 1.1km. That is how far they’d have to travel to get to the nearest Catholic church. You can walk that in about two minutes. Should the student not want to walk, they can instead hop on the local bus. If they get the Halpenny service, the bus will literally drop them directly in front of the entrance of St Patrick’s Cathedral.

If students are Presbyterian, DKIT cares a lot less, but they still care. They pay €1,200 to a minister from that church to be on standby to rush over so anyone belonging to their organisation won’t have to travel the horrifying distance of 3.3km to reach the nearest of their churches. Should they take that same Halpenny bus, they’d have to walk roughly 260m from where the bus drops them to their church. Can’t have that, now. Let’s pay for the minister to travel to campus!

If you’re a member of any other religion, DKIT doesn’t give a crap how far you have to travel to see one of your priests/ministers/overlords. Fuck you, student, there’s this thing called a bus. Only Catholic and Presbyterian stuents are considered too stupid to take one.

Let’s give more to men

I’ve been bothered for a while with how we talk about sports. It’s rugby, and women’s rugby. Cricket, and women’s cricket. The assumption is built into this way of talking that there’s the real sport, then there’s the other version. Like the priceless oil painting, then the amateur copy.

How do we solve this, though? It’s a fact that physically, men and women are different. Even beyond gender, we have different limitations which require acknowledgement for everyone to get a chance of recognition for excellence. There need to be different categories, the broadest of these being men’s, women’s, and parallel. We can’t avoid the need for categorisation.

There’s a very simple solution: a complete embrace of those categories. Why not start referring to men’s sports the same as we do to other categories of sport? Why not call it men’s cricket, men’s rugby, men’s football, on television news and in written reporting, in announcements of upcoming games, in every official and controllable way available? There will of course be massive resistance initially, but this would be nothing new. With persistence and patience, we can reach a place in a decade or two where the name of a sport doesn’t automatically mean the men’s version.

This is one matter in which fairness and equality will be helped not by giving women equal status, but instead by giving men equal status. It’s a simple matter of changing a small issue of language, but it can bring about a huge change in how we think about sport.

With “friends” like these…

You are Facebook friends with Jack. You’ve never met in the flesh, you connected because you had a mutual friend, or maybe you got talking in a group you both belonged to and discovered you had mutual interests. One day, you open Facebook and on your timeline it tells you Jack liked this:

I think blacks are awesome. I have one in my toolshed, next to my lawnmower.

If you’re anything like me, you would see that Jack liked a “joke” that is excruciatingly callous about the history of slavery, that expresses the view black people are not human, that celebrates and condones racism. I understand enough about white privilege to realise joking about such issues is like Marie Antoinette criticising starving masses from the isolation of her opulence. Clearly, our hypothetical Jack is ignorant and lacks enough higher brain function to feel empathy.

So when this morning I opened Facebook and saw a “friend” had liked this:


…I unfriended him. I didn’t unfriend him because I think he’s a misogynyst, but because he is clearly either ignorant of the extent of the suffering, persecution, bias, violence and objectification women endure around the world every single day (with gay women experiencing even more intense suffering), or he is aware but lacking in the necessary higher brain function that would enable him to empathise enough to be repelled by a “joke” like that.

And if for a second you think: “Oh, but we’re laughing at the idiot who thinks that way, who can’t make a distinction between relationships and pornography, who doesn’t have a clue,” do me a favour and THINK HARDER. When we portray haters as clowns, we portray them as harmless. There are few more dangerous, enabling things we can do.

I can’t celebrate with you

There is nothing like an outsider to look at something a society does and go: “What the hell, people? Ew.” It can pop a bubble around you, inside of which something was just normal, just the way things have always been done, and open your eyes to how weird it really is.

I had a similar epiphany about Afrikaner school anthems a while ago, and when I mentioned to a Northern Irish friend that as a child, black adults would refer to me as kleinmies (little miss), and my brothers as kleinbaas (little boss). Believe it or not, my family were considered progressive, because we were required to be respectful to black adults, but while we were required to address white adult men as oom and women as tannie (literally uncle and aunt, but in practice simply a less formal title than sir or madam), black adults were addressed by their first name. It never occurred to anyone that this was strange, because it was the norm. The sheer, staggering brokenness of what was simply normal when I grew up, simply the way things were done, never really hit home until someone else said: “What?!”

You wouldn’t think, coming from a society as messed up as Afrikaners, that I could look at anything Ireland does and go: “What?!” You’d be wrong. In the same way you might describe the weird habit of Slovakian men whipping women with willow branches at easter, I describe the utterly bizarre Irish ritual of dressing their kids up in wedding outfits and dedicating them to their church.

To me, the horror is confounding. Here is an organisation which has gone to extraordinary lengths to hide the sexual abuse that was rife in its ranks for decades (centuries?), that ran slave camps for women who dared fall pregnant without being married, that ran schools which indeed filled a gap in education, but was a gift wrapped in brutal abuse which caused festering trauma people still suffer from to this day.

This organisation then used the deference of the government of the time to make sure the victims of their abuse paid their own compensation. Let me repeat that: these feckers raped Ireland in every sense of the word, then cosied up to a spineless bastard to add insult to injury and make sure the long-suffering Irish paid for their abusers’ wrongdoings again. They were cynical, calculating and absolutely put corporation before people, more so than the most slimy banker you can imagine.

Parents across the country respond by dressing their little boys and girls up as brides and grooms every year, and watching in delight as they declare themselves dedicated to this stinking, corrupt pile of manure.

Forgive me if I don’t show enthusiasm for your kids’ confirmation pictures, or clap my hands in delight at how pretty they looked in their little outfits for their first holy communion.

France makes laws to push social responsibility, while US makes laws to screw the poor

This morning I saw an article on my Facebook newsfeed:

“It is now illegal in France for supermarkets to throw away food. They can donate it all to charities, or as animal feed.”

Underneath, as usual, was a list of related articles. One of them had this headline:

“It is now illegal to distribute food to homeless people in 21 cities.”

You seldom get a complete blog post more or less written for you in two headlines, but there you go.

Control, again

Ireland is set to vote in a referendum about same-sex marriage, and some other thing almost nobody can remember. It’s all about whether we should or shouldn’t allow people of the same gender to get married. The Yes side has dubbed it a question of marriage equality, the No side has dubbed it a question of anything but what it’s really about, screaming alarm over adoption and surrogacy, both completely irrelevant to and unaffected by the outcome of the referendum. This obfuscation manifested in both their claims of what motivates their opposition of the proposed amendment to the constitution, as well as their denial of what really motivates them.

While of course there will be exceptions, the vast, vast majority of those who are campaigning for a No vote, are motivated by a religious-based conviction that homosexuality is wrong. The Bible says it’s bad, the Church (in this country that of course always means the Roman Catholic Church) says it’s bad, therefore…

And this is where my disagreement with these views goes from “whatever, dude” to “stop, because what you’re doing is wrong”. That sentence above ends with “…I want everyone else to live according to my convictions.”

Of course, society often enforces legal prohibitions not everyone agrees with. We strive, hopefully, to limit such contested bans to activities that can clearly be shown to be harmful to the greater good if allowed to go unchecked. Murder and theft are two perfect examples of this. Someone else’s relationship with a consenting adult cannot possibly fall into this category. It’s clear the No side understand this, which is why there has been this remarkable distortion of the facts and intense effort to obfuscate the issue on hand.

But the truth is that a No vote is rooted in the very Catholic desire to not only live your life as you see fit, but to also force others to live their lives the way you see fit. This country is still steeped in that kind of approach.

On 22 May, I will be voting yes for a number of reasons relating to my conviction that deeply loving and committed couples should be able to make that relationship official, and that homosexuality is as normal a variation in the human condition as is being left-handed, though apparently slightly less common. Primarily, though, I’ll be voting yes because what consenting adults do with their lives is none of my fucking business. Society in Ireland crosses a line when it comes to control of individuals. We go way too far, still, in dictating forced organ donation onto women, in our interference with how people raise their children. A yes vote would be a step in the right direction, following a good few before it, and hopefully to be followed by many more in the future.

Bring it on.