The Abortion Referendum

Our first day in Ireland was May 24, which was the same day that the Republic held a referendum on whether or not to repeal the eighth amendment to the constitution, which dates from 1983 and which prohibits the practice of abortion except in very extreme circumstances. As you may be aware, the Irish voted overwhelmingly to repeal the eighth amendment, 66.4% to 33.6%. What I did not know is that the eighth amendment was also enacted after a referendum back in 1983, which the Irish people voted for by a similar margin: 66.9% to 33.1%. So the result was seen as symbolic of a sea change in attitudes over the course of 35 years, part of the secularization of society and of the declining power of the Church, something observed across the western world over the course of the twentieth century and which has only belatedly come to Ireland.

I think it’s great that Ireland decides these things by referendum. It’s much better than leaving it up to five of nine Supreme Court justices and whatever creative and tendentious interpretation of the law that they come up with on a given day.

As you can probably imagine, we saw a lot of advertising on the topic throughout the country. Unsurprisingly, the “No” side had most of the signs in rural County Kerry, while the “Yes” side had most of the signs in urban Dublin. But it was unreflective of the actual results: the only constituency that “No” actually won was County Donegal, and there only by a slim margin.

I took this photo from the coach as we were heading into Dublin. I wanted to get signs from both sides in the same frame. As chance would have it, this is about as strident as it got (“killing babies” vs. “my-body-my-choice”).

Otherwise, I was surprised at how subdued most of the propaganda was, as reflected by the above two signs. The “No” sign in the bottom photograph was sponsored by something calling itself “Love Both,” i.e. both mother and child, the two “O”s forming an “8” for the amendment in question. This, I suppose, was in response to the “Yes” side’s emphasis on “compassion.” (I regret to say that I did not get a photo of a sign communicating this message.)

But there was certainly some mockery of the other side: note the “Love Boat” sticker over the number of days at which the fetus’s heart starts beating. This is in reference to the “boat” that Irishwomen must take to Britain or the continent in order to procure abortions there, and which the “Yes” side cast as an undue hardship. (They can’t go to Northern Ireland – as I discovered, abortion is banned there as well. Apparently this is a rare thing that both communities can agree on.)

The Catholic Church, of course, was flat-out for the “No” side. I picked up some pamphlets in the churches I visited.

I thought this one laid it on a little thick…

But what I found most interesting is the appeal to Irish nationalism (not necessarily Catholicism, although of course there is going to be some overlap).

As far as I can tell the first three people at the top of this sign are the Irish revolutionary leaders Sean Mac Diarmada, Patrick Pearse, and Eamonn Ceannt. (I cannot discern who the fourth one is.)

Note how this drink coaster makes a connection between the rebellion of 1916 (see the declaration of the Irish Republic in the background) and the “rebellion” against the movement to liberalize abortion laws in 2018.

And, as is traditional with Irish nationalism, Britain is figured as the prime source of evil. I saw another sign citing the British abortion rate, and exclaiming “Don’t Bring This To Ireland!”

But neither religion nor nationalism worked this time. (“Cúram le Chéile, Vótáil Tá” = “Care Together, Vote Yes.”)

Chinese Diplomacy

Interesting article from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, courtesy Lachlan Mead:

Chinese students being taught ‘us and them’ brand of diplomacy

Future diplomats in the Chinese foreign service are taught that a particular set of ideas and ways of thinking are “correct”. Above all, they are being taught the importance of maintaining correct-ness.

While the future of Chinese diplomacy is without doubt exceptionally intelligent, talented, earnest, and hard-working, many budding diplomats have been immersed in a socialisation process that may not equip them to deal with the fast-paced global environment in which they will find themselves.

Recently, an article was published describing the global public relations challenge looming for China as its experienced and savvy diplomats age, with no clear replacements lined up to take their places. While the shortage in numbers of diplomats is important, what is also noteworthy is how new diplomats are being trained to think and operate in the international arena….

The first and most fundamental element in students’ socialisation process is the overriding sense of identifying themselves as part of the great imagined community of “we Chinese” above all else.

Students would often describe world affairs in terms of “women zhongguoren” (“we Chinese”, translating as “middle country people”) and “nimen waiguoren” (“you foreigners”, literally “outside country people”) — a vast and generally undifferentiated mass of everyone else….

Students also tended to articulate strong views around what China’s role in the world should look like in the future. They argued that the era of hegemony was at an end, and it was now the time for a multipolar international order. They saw China as one of these poles, of course, with others including the US, the EU, and Russia.

China was almost without exception understood to be a force for good, a peaceful and benevolent actor, and the leader and representative voice for the developing world.

This was based on the premise that China — according to them — had always been a peaceful world player, who, although powerful in the past, had never viciously conquered or invaded others. The example of the Ming dynasty maritime explorer Zheng He (1371-1433) regularly featured in the discussion.

More at the link.

Half-Staff

Another mass shooting, another round of flags flying at half-staff (or “half-mast”… I am inclined to say “half-pole” myself). Here is a view of the Waleska Post Office this morning:

At least this one was ordered by the President – one of my pet peeves is how people are all too willing to lower the flag – everyone’s flag – to half-staff because they have suffered some private loss. But the national flag should only come down during times of national mourning – let the state governor order the state flag down, the mayor order the city flag down, the college president order the college flag down, etc.

But I think that half-staffing of the national flag happens way too often anyway. It’s like the standing ovation: “Formerly reserved for those rare instances when mere applause seemed insufficient, the standing ovation morphed into just another hollow social obligation some time ago.” And anyway, the desire to participate in Media Events is juvenile and should be resisted.

Apparently this is a problem in my homeland as well. Colby Cosh wrote a blog post that has stayed with me over the years:

Yeah, I’d say flag protocol has gotten a little sloppy in this country.

As I understand it, tradition and correct procedure permit Canada’s flag to fly at half-mast only when the Sovereign or one of her representatives dies, and only for thirty days at a time. But aggressive idiots–the kind who say things like “How dare you tell me how to express my love for Canada?”–have ruined the ceremonious pleasure of the flag for everyone; when in private hands it now dips, routinely and almost universally, to honour cirrhotic disk jockeys or police dogs. In fact, try finding a Canadian flag not on a government building that ever flies at the top of the mast; it’s not as easy as it sounds.

I guess I thought the abuse of the flag had lost its power to annoy me–but have a look at this photo from the grounds of Woodhaven Middle School, which is performing a ritual act of patriotic obeisance on behalf of an outstanding employee.

Steven Bradley Smith, 31, was found hanging by paramedics who were called to his home at 19035 46 Ave. in Edmonton before midnight. … charges against Smith, laid by Spruce Grove RCMP last month, include sexual assault, sexual interference, inviting sexual touching and sexual exploitation involving… two girls. Smith was also charged with making child pornography and shooting digital video footage of one of the girls while she was nude, as well as having anal intercourse with her. Police alleged the incidents took place between Sept. 1, 2003, and Oct. 30, 2005, and said both girls were under 14 when the alleged assaults began.

Er…. A nation mourns?

Fake News

From the Atlantic:

Before ‘Fake News’ Came False Prophecy

From medieval Britain to the present, fantastic stories speaking to readers’ darkest fears have proven capable of altering reality.

The revelation that fake news deceived voters in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election generated real outrage in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s electoral victory. The top fake news stories garnered more clicks than the top real news stories on Facebook in the final three months of the campaign season. Fake news and other campaign fantasies led Oxford Dictionaries to select ‘post-truth’ as the word of the year for 2016.

But stories that gain popularity by presenting readers’ fantasies and nightmares as current events are hardly new. In medieval Britain, national and local political action was guided by prophecy. Prophecies were invoked by rebel leaders, appropriated by ruling elites, and, ultimately, censored by a government fearful of their disruptive potential. Prophecy’s effectiveness in shaping medieval politics offers a rejoinder to those who suggest that fake news and other political falsehoods can be ignored, or laughed off. Prophecy, like fake news, worked as persuasive writing because it told people what they wanted to believe or spoke to their darkest fears.

British politics provided ample opportunity to test the power of imagined worlds. When Owain Glyndŵr, Edmund Mortimer, and Henry Percy plotted against Henry IV at the turn of the 15th century, they used the popular “Prophecy of the Six Kings” to justify their actions. A later historical account has the three rebels committing to treason on the condition “that they are the people about whom the prophet speaks.” The fantasy that Glyndŵr, Mortimer, and Percy were prophesied saviors—a fantasy they themselves may have believed—had the very real effect of attracting popular support for their insurrection.

More at the link. Lesley Coote’s book Prophecy and Public Affairs in Later Medieval England (Boydell, 2000) will tell you more. Of course, in our current age, going after “fake news” has the very real potential to descend into “going after news that I don’t happen to agree with,” so such a movement would need to be exercised with care. And blaming “fake news” for Mrs. Clinton’s loss borders on blaming “false consciousness,” which is always psychologically satisfying to some people but isn’t very useful if you have to operate in free elections in a constitutional republic. People want to be convinced, not condescended to.