About Kevin J.J. Murray

An aspiring young writer from Dublin.

Why You Should Support Gay Marriage But NOT the Judgement of Ashers Bakery

Most of you probably know about the case of Ashers Bakery in Northern Ireland. The bakery refused to make a cake bearing a pro-gay marriage slogan and were taken to court because of this. Today the judge ruled that the bakery is guilty of discrimination:

Giving her ruling at Belfast County Court today district judge Isobel Brownlie said: “The defendants have unlawfully discriminated against the plaintiff on grounds of sexual discrimination.” — Independent.ie

In this article I want to explain why this should be a shocking and deeply unjust judgement.

The requested image for the cake.

DISCRIMINATION AGAINST A PERSON OR A SERVICE?

Crucially, the judge has confused discriminating against a person and discriminating against a service.

Let me illustrate the difference. This is important because if this is not discrimination against a person but against a service, then, if we change the person, the bakery’s argument should still hold.

Suppose it had not been a gay man who requested the cake. Suppose it was the most heterosexual man in the world (I am imagining a Hugh Heffner type character, with 4 female supermodels in rapt attendance :P).

The bakery would have refused the cake here too; they don’t want to make a cake promoting gay marriage. Yet they cannot be discriminating against this man on the grounds that he is gay, because he is NOT gay.

Well, maybe they’re discriminating against him because he supports gay marriage? Let’s eliminate that as well: let’s suppose he’s actually a fervent anti-gay marriage campaigner. However, he has a fifth supermodel at home and it’s her birthday. He wants to get her a pro-gay marriage cake as a practical joke.

The bakery still refuses to make the cake. They’re not discriminating against the man, or his beliefs. They’re refusing to provide a particular service.

It is wrong to discriminate against a person, but it is not wrong to discriminate against a service.

For example, it would be wrong to make a birthday cake for a straight man to give to his daughter, but not make one for a gay man to give to his daughter. This is discriminating against the person.

However, it should be perfectly OK to refuse to make a cake saying “end racism now” because you want your bakery to be uninvolved in political issues. This doesn’t make you racist. It has nothing to do with the person who requested it. It is up to you what type of services your business does provide, or doesn’t provide.

In fact, I think a business should be perfectly entitled to refuse any service, on the grounds of what the service entails. They should be allowed to refuse to make cakes with messages that are opposed to their strongly-held beliefs. Or to refuse to make any with a political message. Or to refuse simply because they’re tired today and don’t really feel like working.

There is no need for strong-arm legislation to protect equality. The financial incentives for not discriminating against services (if you don’t perform a service, you lose customers and money) should be protection enough.

A BOGUS ARGUMENT

It seems to me that the judge attempted to address this point. However, her argument here is confused as well:

The judge told the court she believed if a heterosexual person had ordered a cake with graphics promoting “heterosexual marriage” or simply “marriage”, the order would have been fulfilled.

“I have no doubt that such a cake would have been provided. It is the word gay that the defendants took exception to,” said Judge Brownlie. — Independent.ie

Attempting to judge this based on individual words is completely nonsensical.

Suppose I refused to make a cake saying “Support Teenage Marriage”. Apparently this judge would say that I am objecting to the word “teenage” and am therefore discriminating against teenagers.

This is clearly untrue. I have nothing against “teenagers”; my issue is with “supporting teenage marriage”. The former is about people, the latter is a political and controversial position.

Just so with gay marriage. The bakery’s issue was not with the word “gay”. It was with the phrase “support gay marriage”.

The judge stated that the bakers must have been aware of the ongoing same-sex marriage debate. I assume, therefore, that the judge is well aware of it as well. She should be aware that it is a divisive issue, and that people are fully entitled to oppose this political position, or to not want to be involved with it.

You cannot pluck a single word out of a phrase, and judge someone based on that. It is unfair: the meaning of a single word is different from the meaning of the person’s position, as fully expressed by the totality of what they’ve said.

Picking a single word and using its meaning out of context is bogus reasoning, and it is incredible to see this reasoning being employed by a district court judge.

A LIBERAL SHOULD SUPPORT CONSCIENCE CLAUSES

I support same-sex marriage. I support it because I believe in the values of liberty, equality, and toleration. I believe these are the best values for a society which is pluralistic like ours.

If you share these values, then you should support conscience clauses as well. These clauses protect people’s freedom to not do something they are opposed to for deeply-held moral reasons. They are about recognising that people have different moral beliefs. They are about tolerating those differences and giving the people the freedom to live according to these different values.

Opposition to conscience clauses, and this judgement against Ashers, is not liberal. It is conservative. Indeed, it is the bad kind of conservatism: it is the kind which is deeply intolerant of difference, and refuses to give people the freedom to be different. It is moral authoritarianism, which attempts to strong-arm people into conformity with what one deems to be correct.

The family who own Ashers leaving the court.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR THE REPUBLIC OF IRELAND

I live in the Republic of Ireland, as do probably the majority of the readers of this article. This case from Northern Ireland about conscience is relevant to us today and in the future.

(A) Today

We are currently having a debate in Ireland about same-sex marriage, with a referendum to be held on it in 3 days time.

The No side of this debate have raised concerns over what this referendum could mean for freedom of conscience. Luckily, religious organisations are protected by Irish law through recognition of freedom of religion. This means, for example, that Catholic churches will not be forced to marry same-sex couples, as this directly contradicts the doctrines of the Catholic sacrament of marriage. I am glad to see that both yes and no sides in the debate are supportive of this law.

However, the No side have argued that freedom of conscience will not be protected in the areas of business or education. They say that the government is opposed to conscience clauses for small businesses, and that this could lead to situations like that of Ashers bakery. This is extremely concerning, and should be given serious consideration, regardless of one’s voting intentions in the referendum.

Indeed, there have been countless examples of dangerously anti-liberal values and moral authoritarianism festering—and even being encouraged—during this debate. No side posters have been defaced and torn down, No side supporters have been bullied and ridiculed, and these acts have been cheered on by many people on social media.

Apparently the irony of supporting gay marriage on the basis that people should be free to live how they want and should be respected by society, while at the same time destroying No side posters—in other words, being deeply disrespectful of another group and denying them a key freedom of speech as enshrined in our democratic system—has been lost on literally thousands of people.

Interestingly, this aggression can be seen in how the tone of the No campaign has become very defensive. As the debate has progressed, different groups on the No side have produced defensive slogans along the lines of “It’s OK to vote no” and “You can make your own mind up”.

I have seen many people on the yes side laugh at these slogans as being patronising. Certainly, it is understandable that they may come across this way to a dedicated yes voter. However, it is important to look at these slogans from a neutral perspective and to examine the intended message. The intended message is not to imply that yes side voters are ignorant, but to reassure those who feel they cannot vote no that they can, in fact, do so.

And if this is the intended message, then it should be deeply worrying that the No side feel it has to be given.

Let me be clear: liberty, equality, and toleration mean that a yes vote is the best option. However, they also mean that people opposed to a yes vote should be free to express and hold this opinion, and that they should be treated with equal respect and toleration.

Far too many people on the yes side have descended into self-righteousness, and whitewashed the no side as homophobic or ignorant. This is an absolutely shameful attitude to have. This is a nasty type of liberalism which only extends liberal values to those who agree with you.

Of course, I would extend the same criticism to people acting this way on the No side as well. The reason I have focussed on the Yes side here is that while I have seen literally hundreds of examples of intolerance from the Yes side on social media, I have seen very few from the No side. (This is unsurprising, considering that the vast majority of my peers [I am 24] are in favour of a yes vote.)

Defacing posters is absolutely unacceptable.

(B) The Future

I think it is very important that liberal values be carried on through future debates in Irish society, and that conscience clauses be strongly considered in all areas of life, not just ones related to issues about homosexuality.

For example, conscience clauses will be even more important when we come to debate various bio-ethical questions again as a country, such as abortion, surrogacy, or euthanasia.

When these issues arise, I will be advocating for conscience clauses there as well. If a doctor genuinely believes that abortion is murder, as is consistent with many of the religious worldviews protected by freedom of religion, then they should not be forced to perform an abortion.

This shouldn’t be problematic: abortions are not emergency procedures, and there should be plenty of doctors available who are perfectly willing to perform them. Overriding a doctor’s conscience in this case would be a needless offence to their liberty.

In my video on same-sex marriage I argued that our consideration of liberal values needs to go further than the current referendum. Conscience clauses for medical professionals is just one example of where I think this consideration ought to go.

CONCLUSION

To sum up, the case of Ashers in Northern Ireland reflects an extremely worrying view of society, and a confusion as to what discrimination actually entails. The court has incorrectly found the bakery guilty of discriminating against a person on the basis of their sexuality, when in fact they were discriminating against the provision of a particular service. While the former is, of course, unacceptable, the latter should be unproblematic.

I support liberal values, and it is important to note that these support not only same-sex marriages but conscience clauses as well. People should not be forced to do something which directly conflicts with their morality; people should be free to live according to their values to as great a degree as is possible.

Laws or court judgements which prevent people from having that freedom are wrong. This is moral authoritarianism and is directly contrary to the values of liberty and toleration.

I was delighted to read that Mr. Paul Given was campaigning for a conscience clause in Northern Ireland. I have not read the wording of his proposed bill, but I can 100% endorse his reasoning behind it.

Mr Givan said that “Christians do not feel there is space being made for their religious beliefs”.

“The issue at stake is when you’re asked to produce a particular service,” he said.

“It’s about the message you’re being asked to endorse, not the messenger who’s asking for it. Say someone comes in and asks for a cake saying ‘I support gay marriage’ – that’s a direct form of communication you’re asking this Christian-owned company to produce and they don’t want to be forced to do that.

“I don’t think that’s unreasonable, I think that’s tolerant and if we live in a pluralist, liberal society we need to make space for difference.”

Equality provisions might reasonably necessitate restricting such freedom if a given group was totally silenced—for example, if no bakeries would make a cake supporting gay marriage there might be a case for requiring them to, in the interests of the voice of the gay community. However, this is not the case here, and it is extremely unlikely that it ever will be. In regards to businesses, the financial incentives to indiscriminately provide services should ensure that (unless it is legally prohibited) everyone has access to the service they need.

This case reveals the need for our society to examine its values more deeply. It should be a clear indication that we, in the Republic of Ireland, need to think about conscience clauses in the future of our society, and their importance when it comes to promoting a society which is truly liberal in the face of divisive social and ethical issues.

It should also call us to reflect on our attitudes towards discrimination, and our attitudes towards the current referendum debate on same-sex marriage. If we truly embrace liberal values then we should allow same-sex couples to marry. However, we should also be respectful of people who have conservative values or who disagree for other reasons.

The actions and statements of far too many people in the current debate have revealed that while they apply liberal values in the first sense, they do not apply them in the second sense. The hostility and aggression that is being shown to conservative and religious people today should be deeply worrying and distressing to anyone who truly believes in liberalism.

In conclusion, it is my hope that you will endorse freedom of conscience, and that you will join me in opposing these situations, such as the case of Ashers bakery, where this freedom is under dangerous attack.

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Wondering About Right and Wrong

“Morality is the basis of things and truth is the substance of all morality.” – Mahatma Gandhi

If I asked you to think of fundamental ways that people think about the world, most of you would probably agree that morality is one of the most basic and pervasive lenses that we use to do so. And, as I hope many of you will also agree, it’s probably the most important as well. Morality, essentially, means figuring out the difference between right and wrong. It is the question of how to live a good life; it is the question of which values and virtues are worth fostering; it is the question of how to be a better person and how to make the world a better place.

While writing this blog I tried to think of examples of actions that have nothing to do with morality. I came up with the example of deciding which side of a piece of toast to butter: surely that has nothing to do with right of wrong!?… But then I said, “Wait. Surely one side of the toast must posses the most pleasing soft-and-buttery to crunchy-and-toasty mastication ratio!?!” If that is the case, then that side is better. Therefore that side is the right choice and choosing the other side is wrong.

If it’s possible to find a moral approach to something so insignificant I think it’s safe to say that humans are wired to think of nearly everything in terms of right and wrong.

And we’re not always very good at doing it. Or at even beginning to agree on what right and wrong even are in the first place!

Hume’s Guillotine – You are not always a Scientist

“Knowledge of physical science will not console me for ignorance of morality in time of affliction, but knowledge of morality will always console me for ignorance of physical science.” – Blaise Pascal

Hume’s Guillotine, also called “the Is-Ought Dilemma”, states that there seems to be an insurmountable gap between describing how the world is and prescribing how the world ought to be.

The problem is that we apply our moral reasoning so naturally that we constantly leap past this gap without realizing what we are doing. We are constantly ascribing value to things. But if Hume is right, and we want to be serious about ethical questions, then we need to take a step back to work out how we are justifying this leap from reality to value.

Let’s take an act of torture as an example. We can empirically see that the chemical and electrical activity that occurs in the victim’s brain means that they are going through immense pain and suffering. And then we say that this is horrific; awful; wrong. Yet where was the tangible, testable evidence that this act was wrong? Where is the chemical test for wrongness? Do the laws of physics help? Did we spot 3mg of evil through our microscope? Science tells us this act causes pain but it cannot tell us that pain is wrong; it describes what pain is but cannot prescribe whether it should or should not be caused. That’s a different kind of knowledge entirely. You cannot find morality in a test tube.

So where then do these moral values come from? How are we to work them out? Are we simply making them up? When talking about morality you must leave the moniker of “scientist” behind. Science can certainly inform morality (if we understand how pain–for example–works then we can make more informed judgments about what to do about it), but morality is not reducible to science. Because when you make a moral judgment, much more than scientific knowledge is being used.

“Eureka! I have solved the problem of evil!”

What does God have to do with it?

“The greatest tragedy in mankind’s entire history may be the hijacking of morality by religion.” – Arthur C. Clarke

“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds” – Heb 10: 16

It would seem that morality is an altogether simpler thing if you believe in God. If God exists, morality is, to paraphrase St. Paul, “written on our hearts”; it is part of the nature of the universe. It is quite a relief to think that morality is not an arbitrary human invention but the natural law of creation, and it is reassuring to think that the injustices of our world will be righted in the world to come.

One of the classic philosophical problems that is raised with this is the question of God and goodness. Is something good because God says it is? Or does God say it because it already is good? Either goodness is arbitrary or it is actually greater than God.*

I feel–as I often do when people speak about God–that an overly anthropomorphic view of God is being used. We think of God as a human being when God categorically transcends any human nature. The concept of God is being put in a human shaped box.

Does God make judgments like a human does? No. God does not even exist solely within time. God is pure being; perhaps it is helpful to think of it as God’s will and the quality of goodness occurring simultaneously with neither preceding the other. Yet even to think of God as existing within an instant of time is to limit God–but human understanding simply can’t achieve anything else.

Much like the existence of God, our capability to comprehend God’s goodness must have a rather unimpressive limit; before too long you must simply shrug your shoulders and say, “Why does God exist? God just does. Why is God good? God just is.” At the end of the day, such answers are probably no more satisfactory than the alternatives.

*[[You might argue that goodness is arbitrary but that God is consistent. Secondly, the universe has been designed with these values in mind. Therefore, it is a closed system; whatever is outside it is–for all extents and purposes–irrelevant. Thus the question doesn’t matter in the first place.]]

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right

Are we TOO Moral?

“Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike.” – Oscar Wilde

I’ve been listening to a lot of talks by psychologist Steven Pinker recently. One of the talks touched on the content of his newest book which studies human violence. One of the most interesting things that he said in his analyse of violence was that humans are too moral. He points out that most murders, for example, are committed for moral reasons: maybe the victim sexually abused the murderer; maybe they cut them off on the road while driving. When someone is murdered because they “looked at me funny” and therefore “deserved it”, we can see how someone’s sense of morality and justice has gone overboard. If we moralized less, says Pinker, we would be much better off.

Our natural moral inclinations often fail to live up to our considered ideas of what right and wrong should be.

Pinker is a thinker!

Everyone is a Racist

“Morality is the herd-instinct in the individual.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

What way do humans naturally behave? That’s a big question–one which evolutionary psychology tries to answer. I think the “In-Group/Out-Group” theory is a solid one. In short, people like people who are like them, and dislike people who are not. Our in-group typically includes ourselves, our friends, families and loved ones. Our out-group might include people from foreign countries. (I would say it’s not an exact either/or option but rather a spectrum of in-ness/out-ness.)

An easy example that shows this in effect is our willingness to spend money on people. Most of us would be happy to spend €100 on perfume/cologne for our partner. Yet many of us do not give the same amount of money to charity to support people who are starving across the world. €100 would do far more good feeding a starving person than it would making your boyfriend/girlfriend smell nice.

So why do we act this way? It is because we value people subjectively; the closer a person is to you, the more you value them. It is not natural for us to treat people equally.

When we buy new clothes not to keep ourselves warm but to look “well-dressed” we are not providing for any important need. We would not be sacrificing anything significant if we were to continue to wear our old clothes, and give the money to famine relief. By doing so, we would be preventing another person from starving. It follows from what I have said earlier that we ought to give money away, rather than spend it on clothes which we do not need to keep us warm. To do so is not charitable, or generous. – Peter Singer, Famine, Affluence, and Morality, 1972.

How would we act if we valued each person as equal to ourselves?

Furthermore, morality is subjective in the sense that we are often quite happy with changing our minds when we feel that we need to. Our moral sense is flexible to our needs and to the context that we find ourselves in.* While the open-mindedness of this trait can be a good thing, it is easy to point out ways that it is bad too. What is the point of having morality if we abandon it at the first sign of pressure?

*[[Morality is also highly shaped by our culture. Consider attitudes to sexuality, family and marriage. These have changed hugely over the past few decades. But do most of us understand the different perspectives or the values that may be supported or denigrated by them? No. Most of us simply take the values of our culture on board relatively unthinkingly. If we do search for reasons, we can usually content ourselves with ones that justify the position we find ourselves in. If we think morality is a serious issue, we need to be aware of the factors that form our opinions–be they cultural or otherwise. A word of consolation: if you’ve taken the time to read an article like this one, you’re at least taking some steps to doing so!]]

What is a Good kind of Morality?

“A system of morality which is based on relative emotional values is a mere illusion, a thoroughly vulgar conception which has nothing sound in it and nothing true.” – Socrates

When I decided to write this blog I reflected that there’s a circular problem that seems practically unavoidable: how do you decide if a system of morality is good or bad when it is the means of working out how to make such a judgment that is in question? I would imagine that every coherent system is self-justifying! Perhaps it’s a foolish quest.

Nonetheless all of these fundamental questions perplex me. Should a system of morality recognize the reality of human nature and seek to celebrate it? Should it–as Singer would say–push us to be altruistic beyond our basic instincts? Or should it–as Nietzsche  would say–push us to break free from the instincts and sympathies that shackle us?

It’s hard to know where to even begin!

Why I Don’t Vote

I don’t vote. I think it’s a waste of time. I think it achieves absolutely nothing worthwhile. I think it is a pleasant but vacuous idea which people blindly indulge in to make themselves feel like they matter. It is today’s opiate of the people.

To explain why, let me ask you this question: what is a vote actually worth?

Let’s look at your vote in the context of all the votes that will be cast. I don’t know what the official figures are for Ireland but I’m going to use 2 million as a rough estimate.

So, out of 2 million points, your vote is worth precisely… 1. And one two millionth is hardly an encouraging proportion.

To quote my old CSPE book: “What does one voice matter?”

I always found it very amusing that those books tried to convince us that a vote was worthwhile with a picture of lots of little cartoon men asking “what does one voice matter?”, only to realize that when you add up all their individual voices you DO get something that matters.

But when you stop and think about it isn’t this a strange way to argue for the worth of the individual? Isn’t there a big difference between “one vote” and “loads of one votes”?

Yes, when you add them all up then all these votes do matter. Unfortunately, that has nothing to do with you. When you walk into a polling station you do not cast “loads of one votes”; you cast precisely “one”. You do not speak for everyone, you speak for you and you alone.

One vote does not equal loads of votes. It only ever equals one. One out of 2 million. In my opinion, that is worth approximately…… nothing!

When it comes down to it, your vote does not change any important decision. Unless an election literally came down to one single vote, your single vote has not changed its outcome. It’s kind of like playing the lottery except… well… you can’t actually win.

Your vote does not affect the outcome. I’ll say it again: IT HAS ZERO EFFECT. All it affects is the analyses that occur after the fact. When the politicians and journalists and lobby groups crunch the numbers to determine public opinion–that is where your vote has an effect. Your vote is found in the opinion polls, in the pie-charts, and in the numerical reports that these people deal in.

Just one more nameless figure

And it’s not even worth much there. At the end of the day, you are a fraction of a percentage on a bar chart. (And if the bar chart doesn’t deal in fractions… Well you’re basically not there at all!) Your effect is a tiny, negligible, essentially imperceptible drop in the sea of factors that determine what people will vote for in the future, and how people will try to control that.

Your effect is this: .00005% of people thought X.

Congratulations.

Now, it doesn’t matter what is being voted for: I’m discussing the merits of the mechanism, not the things being voted on.

Let’s take something else as an example: a million euro. Everyone would agree that a million euro is a very valuable thing. However, if it was divided among 2 million people, the individual dividend would be… 50 cent. Would  you find that worthwhile? So it is for me with voting.

THAT is how mu–Wait… Er… Something has gone wrong here…

Compare it also with giving money to charity. Imagine Ireland’s active votership collectively raised 2 million euro for charity. This is a good thing. People would give out to you if you said you weren’t bothered: “What do you mean not bothered?!? Is 2 million euro for the starving not important to you?!?” Well, yes, of course it is. But if I fail to donate–be it because of apathy, an analysis like this one, or even a bad dose of the flu–it does not mean that the 2 million euro never materialises. No: it just means that 1 euro less is donated to those people. A loss for them, yes, but a relatively tiny one. And you know what? The press release would probably round it up to 2 million euro anyway. That’s how little your vote matters.

So… what is a vote actually worth? To sum it up, not much at all.

I’d rather not waste my time.

Some arguments against my position:

One of the best arguments I can think of against my position is that I am being selfish: I am only considering the worth of something as it’s worth to me. Voting is not only good for you, it is good for everyone who is affected by the vote’s outcome. (For simplicity’s sake let’s assume that the realm of politicians is one of great honor and integrity.) Therefore, although your vote achieves almost nothing, the fact that it is for the good of others makes it more valuable than something purely self-serving (i.e. sitting at home instead).

In response I would say that your altruism would be better employed elsewhere. Instead of taking 30 minutes to vote, spend an extra 30 minutes working and donate the money to charity–hell, go to McDonalds and buy someone a happy meal! Spend 30 minutes with your grandparents. Congratulations! You’ve just made the world a better place than your vote ever would.

Here are some more objections:

1. If everybody thought the way you did then what would happen?

That would be an interesting point except for one problem: clearly, everyone doesn’t.

Please, call me when they do. You won’t find me though–I’ll be busy voting!

It’s an interesting question at which point few enough people vote for it to be worthwhile; the fewer people that vote the more valuable your individual vote becomes. Everyone will have a different threshold (on one end there are probably people who will vote no matter what, and on the other probably people who will only vote if their vote is guaranteed to be the decider). However, I’m willing to bet that enough people value voting around the level that we have now that the threshold will never drop very low.

And that’s too high for me.

2. “Your great-grandparents died so you could have this vote.”

You know what? I really don’t care.

Parents? Care very much. Grandparents? Care very much. Great-grandparents onwards? Couldn’t give two hoots.

My ancestors undoubtedly fought–and even died–for many causes throughout their lifetimes. The right for women to vote? The natural dominance of men over women? The right to own a slave? You’ll excuse me if I don’t see how their opinions force some binding moral contract upon me. I like to value things for what they are actually worth (based in this moment, upon my own best judgement), not what some romanticized stranger once believed.

Besides, maybe great-great-granddaddy Murray fought for the good ol’ absolute monarchy?

Murray for monarchy!

3. “You have a civic duty to vote.”

Ah! One of the great “Dogmas of Democracy”! (Yes, I made that up right there! Catchy isn’t it?). Thou shalt not blaspheme the sacred altar of the polling booth! To me it just looks like something that people made up to justify the importance of voting. Need to make something unquestionable? Call it a duty.

I find it funny that rhetoric which at one second pronounces individual empowerment (“it’s YOUR voice”) turns to social duty (“but it’s not for you, it’s for your COUNTRY”) in the next. How aptly political.

4. “Young people aren’t voting enough. You need to do your part so they get a voice in society.”

I am not the representative of young people and they are not representative of me.

Moreover, why is this even an issue in the first place? It’s not like there’s some strange curse on the people now aged 20-30, whereby 30 years down the road political commentators will be baffled by the strange group of 50-60 year-olds who suffer from an extraordinary amount of political apathy,unlike their younger and older brethren.

Because here’s the thing: people generally start voting more as they get older. People who are in their 20s now and not voting will one day be in their 50s and probably utilizing their vote quite often.

For simplicity’s sake let’s say that people start voting at 30 (whereupon they suddenly become civilly responsible) and stop at 80 (whereupon they keel over dead. Cheerio!). Everyone gets 50 years to vote; everyone has an equal and sizable chance to have their input into society.

There’s really no problem at all. Currently young people have just as much voice in society as their currently older peers do. Because nobody stays young or alive forever.

In fact, forcing people who are young now to vote NOW gives them TEN EXTRA YEARS of voting and therefore MORE of a voice in politics than their elders. When you look at it that way doesn’t it seem rather unfair? We’d have to ban them from voting after 70 to even things out.

Best keep things the way they are. Let’s all have an equally irrelevant say ^_^

Why I Respect Miley Cyrus

130826-Miley-Cyrus-VMAs_0

“Shakin’ it like we at a strip club.”

In this week’s big news, Syria and the USA tussle over chemical weapons Miley Cyrus’ gyrations stir up a hornet’s nest of disgust at the VMAs!

However, contrary to most people saying she has made a fool of herself, I think that Miley is, in fact, a genius.

She clearly had this planned quite meticulously.

A quick glance at Facebook etc. reveals a horde of people shaking their heads about the fact that “sex sells” or that females are exploited by the music industry. [[I know readers, I hadn’t realized these things before either. I’m just as shocked and horrified as you!!]] And Miley Cyrus is being touted as an example of these flaws–one which is apparently so bad as to have made her a walking parody of what it means to be a pop star.

Somehow, suddenly, everyone has forgotten the equally important adage that bad publicity is better than no publicity (or even good publicity in an awful lot of cases).

Because, you see, publicity sells.

It’s incredible how many people are discussing this as if Miley is some foolish girl who sat down in her sitting room one day and said to herself, “Yes, I think I will look respectable doing this.” The reality is she probably sat down in a meeting room with her manager, her publicist and a bunch of other music industry people, and they brainstormed a number of career images for her and decided that this one would be the most lucrative.

Note: lucrative, not respectable.

I’m pretty damn confident that the Cyrus Team fully expected the outrage that ensued from her performance. Let’s face it, the original response to her new image in the video for “We Can’t Stop” was probably a bit of a give-away.

miley-cyrus-we-cant-stop-1-650-430

Yup. I never would have seen that VMA performance coming.

Was she sexy at the VMAs? No, not really. Was she outrageous? Yes, very much so. Miley Cyrus is a million dollar business. I’m sure the brains behind that worked this out long before you did. Apparently they also worked out that outrageous sells as much as sexy before most of you too. [[I think most of Lady Gaga’s career is a good example…]]

Publicity sells, and in terms of publicity, Miley’s performance has been an outstanding success.

I’ve seen a few people say that she has no right to act like that because she’s a teenage role model. That’s a lovely sentiment. It’s also total bollox. I must have missed the memo that said that pop stars should be good role models. The music business is… well… a business. A pop star’s image is a marketing ploy. Their only obligation is to make more money. If you expect a pop star to be a good role model, you are an idiot.

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Quick! Someone forgot to give Rihanna the memo too!

The power of role-modelling is the perfect target for profit-orientated manipulation.

I suppose you could be upset that this is the nature of the celebrity culture. Personally I don’t see the point; I don’t see how it could be any different.

“Good girl gone bad” has been done countless times before. Because they don’t care about being morally respectable role-models; they care about creating an image that makes money. Lots of money.

That’s what baffles me most about this whole situation. Why do people still yammer on about things like “What was she thinking?!?”, “Does she think she looks sexy?!?”, or “I hope she’s sitting at home now realizing that she’s a total disgrace”

On the contrary, I doubt she’s thinking anything like that at all. If I was a betting man, I would say that she’s probably sitting there thinking how easy it is to exploit people like you.

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Because this image says more about the music industry than all the others put together.

Abortion and Stupidity

pro-life-vs-pro-choice

When I was blogging regularly a year or so ago one of my friends told me that I should be more aggressive and opinionated. In honour of that wish, I’ve decided to write an article where I sound off on some of the Pro-Choice arguments I see that strike me as total bullshit.

Cynicism engaged. Let’s begin!

“But You’re Not Being Forced To Have An Abortion”

One fantastically stupid argument which I have seen bandied around is that the pro-life position should give up because: “They’re not being forced to get abortions. Give us the freedom to have them and them the freedom not to. That’s the fair solution.”

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Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of a pro-life advocate for one short second. What’s the most basic way you could summarise their position? My best attempt is: “Abortion is murder”. Therefore what this argument is basically saying, from their point of view, is: “You’re not being forced to murder anyone. Give us the freedom to murder; you will have the freedom not to”. If I put this forward as a justification for legalising murder you would laugh at me. Since that’s what abortion means for a pro-life person, why should they not laugh at you if you use it too? I’m baffled that anyone could consider this to be even obliquely compelling.

Consider this analogy: If a law was passed permitting the sale of a perfume which one section of the population thought was very good but another section found utterly repulsive, you would not deny the second group’s right to argue it should be banned. Of course the analogy breaks down a bit at this point: it’s only perfume so you might well argue that the anti-perfume group will just have to get over it—bad smells are unpleasant but in the grand scheme of things they don’t tend to be morally unbearable. Murder, however, is on a totally different level of seriousness. The right to life is so foundational a moral principle that you cannot tell people to just get over it. “Accept that you have no business in opposing murder” is not an argument that is going to fly.

But perhaps I’m being a bit unfair.

Perhaps people who make this argument have an especially liberal political philosophy—liberal in the traditional sense of wide-ranging individual freedom and small government involvement in society. I also hold the belief that this would be the ideal society in an ideal world (of course, we don’t live in an ideal world so the matter becomes much more complex—but we don’t need to get into that now). Nonetheless, I think it would be incredibly unusual to find someone who would argue that there should be no laws or rules at all. And I would also bet that the first rule people would agree should be preserved is “You aren’t allowed to murder people”. It’s the foundational rule for practically every contemporary concept of society. The suggestion that people should just sit by uncomplaining as what they strongly believe to be murders are being carried out–vindicated by the laws of society–is simply absurd.

Therefore we have two options regarding people who make the “You’re not being forced to have abortions” argument. Either: (a), they have a particularly unusual anarchic political philosophy; or (b), they have not put a single second of genuine thought into the argument which they’re making and how it sounds to the people on the receiving end of it.

I’m a bit of a cynic: I’m going to assume the second option is true.

I think this problem highlights how we should be asking very different questions. In fact, I believe that the issue we should be wondering about is the complete opposite of the “You’re not being forced to have one” line of thought. The question which I find myself asking is: “Why do people who are anti-abortion and live in a country where it is legal not fight to abolish it more vehemently?” I think this is a much more thought-provoking question to wonder about.

My Motivations and Goals in Writing this Article

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Good ol’ Dublin doing me proud.

Let’s take a short break to talk about why I’m writing this article. A lot of it comes from reading Pro-Choice messages on Facebook and hearing about a few of the rallies that have gone on in Dublin recently. Of course, people on my newsfeed who post political views on Facebook are a small subset of Facebook users and an even smaller subset of people in general. Nonetheless, it seems to me that debate which fully acknowledges the valid points of the pro-life argument is surprisingly rare among young Irish people, both online and off. This lack in turn means that bad arguments from the pro-choice side escape unquestioned; they need only be mildly intuitive to be touted as valid. This worries me.

Even more worrying is the vehemence with which many of these posts are written. Outrage and anger can be reasonable products of reasonable thought; left unchecked, however, they run a high risk of spelling its end. It reminds me of the Europeans crossing the Atlantic on a crusade to convert the ignorant heathens; to save the primitives from themselves. Righteousness and fervour are not solely the province of religion and they are almost always the enemy of fair-minded thought. Rallying slogans of “them against us” replace considered thought. I find this unsettling, no matter what form it may take.

[[I am fully aware that I am probably being hypocritical in this regard!! Unfortunately—although we all like to use it in such a way—hypocrisy does not necessarily mean that a person is wrong. I have consoled myself with the fact that you don’t see a lot of people saying what I am saying. In that much at least I hope that I’m adding to the debate in a constructive manner.]]

A Woman’s Bodily Autonomy

Another bad argument is to claim that the main issue regarding abortion is a woman’s bodily autonomy (a woman’s right to make her own decisions regarding her own body). In this regard Pro-Life is better named than Pro-Choice. The issue is about life, not about choice at all.***

Let’s look at autonomy in the case of abortion. Nobody denies that a woman has autonomy over her own body. But what about a foetus’ autonomy over its own body?? If both have autonomy you have to take both into account—you can’t simply ignore one party in an ethical dilemma. And surely abortion directly contravenes the foetus’ bodily autonomy in the most dramatic way possible?

If you say that abortion is about a woman’s bodily autonomy then you have already excluded the foetus as being of any consequence. You’ve taken two steps in your thinking and we need to return to the first. Let’s use this Pro-Choice poster as an example:

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“Counter the lies”? I could have used this in the vehemence section as well.

“When it’s your body it’s your right to decide.” But isn’t the foetus’ body rather involved as well? That body is not yours; I don’t see how you could possibly have autonomy over it. The argument has already decided something in the background: it’s decided that the foetus and its bodily autonomy aren’t significant at all.

Therefore the question of the woman’s autonomy is secondary and the question of the foetus’ is primary. The argument that a woman’s bodily autonomy justifies abortion is based on the preceding premise that the foetus does not have any, or only has it to an insignificant degree. This is the premise which is being debated. This is the issue which is controversial. This is what we need to be thinking about. What is a foetus and what rights does it have? The question is about the foetus, not about the mother. Endless proselytising about the mother’s bodily autonomy is a waste of time; it is a cacophonous and pointless banging of heads which obscures the genuine points of debate.

Perhaps you believe that a woman’s autonomy completely overrides the foetus’. Perhaps you believe the foetus’ doesn’t have any at all. Either way the thing in question is the status of the foetus. The only situation I can think of where bodily autonomy is the primary question is one where you believe that autonomy always trumps a genuine right to life. And that’s a pretty dubious claim.

***[[There are four main principles when looking at bioethical issues: autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence and justice (essentially personal choice; doing good; not doing harm; and giving people what is due to them). I think our basic contemporary liberal morality is summed up by autonomy and non-maleficence: “Do what you want so long as you don’t hurt anyone.” It’s a phrase you hear quite often. I find it a pretty narrow vision of morality; there’s a big difference between passively avoiding harm and actively doing good. It’s the difference between saying “don’t abuse group X” and “respect group X”. A morality which incorporates all four principles is better than one which excludes some.

Yet even if you reduce the debate to autonomy alone, the first thing you must address is the autonomy of the foetus, not the autonomy of the mother. The ontology of the foetus (what a foetus is) is the topic for dispute, not anything else. Is the foetus a person? Does it have rights? Does it have bodily autonomy too?]]***

“We Have to Make Abortions Safe and Legal”

Let’s look at the argument which uses “Women will have abortions whether they’re safe or legal or not” as a justification for legalisation. If they’re going to have them anyway, we should help them have them in the safest way possible. When you look at it like that it seems pretty practical and reasonable. But then people also commit fraud all the time; should we make that safe and legal too?

The idea behind this argument is to protect and safeguard women, and that’s a wonderful thing. But consider the fraud example: we believe fraud is wrong, so when a woman commits fraud it would not be just to make it a safe and legal enterprise. It’s nothing to do with her being female, it’s do with fraud being an injustice. If you believe abortion is wrong, then it would not be just to make it a safe and legal enterprise either. Likewise, this isn’t anti-woman at all; it’s because then an abortion is an injustice.

The argument for safety seems reasonable when you have already decided that there is nothing wrong with abortion. If they’re not doing anything wrong then failing to support them is grossly unjust. However, if they are doing something wrong, then not supporting them actually means that justice is being upheld. The circumstances of abortion are often tragic and you should certainly be sympathetic. But sympathy and justice, for better or for worse, are very different things.

If fraud is wrong we cannot justly condone it. Likewise, whether or not we legally support women who have abortions will be based on whether or not we believe abortion to be wrong. It doesn’t prove which is the case; it just tells us what we should do when we have decided. It cannot justify legalisation on its own; it is a secondary argument.

I read an article in the Guardian which put forward this argument and claimed that to refuse women access to abortion is misogynistic. He said we wouldn’t deny access to abortion to men. I thought this was a facile argument. Pro-Life is not about misogyny, it’s about justice; it’s not about being unfair to women, it’s about being fair to foetuses. Justice doesn’t change if you’re male or female.

ProChoice

Grrr men. #females-unite #what’s-the-opposite-of-misogyny-again?

The idea that men would be allowed to have abortions although women are not is made-up nonsense based on wishful thinking and emotional manipulation. It generalises, caricatures and reduces the Pro-Life position to misogyny:  “All opposition to abortion is motivated by misogyny. Remove misogyny and you remove opposition to abortion.” Step one: take something people don’t like. Step two: substitute it in for something you don’t want them to like either. Step three: profit. Take your empty rabble-rousing rhetoric elsewhere.

A Few Final Thoughts

1. The issue of abortion to save the mother’s life is highly topical in Ireland today. If both mother and child will otherwise die unless an abortion is performed–thereby saving the mother–then I fully agree that this is ok. It should be a last resort but it’s still ok. If there is a choice between saving the mother and saving the child I honestly don’t know which one you should choose.

2. The idea that men should have no opinion on abortion as it is only a women’s issue is just outright rubbish. Perhaps we should replace all the judges in the criminal justice courts with convicted criminals while we’re at it?

3. For people who are unsure about abortion and whether or not it should be legalised I would like to share this idea. The question here is risk. When you throw a bottle in the air there is a risk that you will drop the bottle and it will break. If you decide to throw it in the air anyway, then you are probably willing to accept the possibility of it breaking. If you are unsure if abortion is right or wrong, this means you believe there is a risk that abortion entails murder. A bottle breaking isn’t too serious but a murder happening certainly is. A bottle breaking is usually an acceptable risk to take; the possibility of a murder should never be.

Basically to legalise abortion you have to be certain that it is not murder or that it is but is still acceptable. If you are unsure, you should default to the position that it should not be legal. If you think you’re unsure but still believe it should be legalised, you’re probably a lot more decided than you think.

4. Finally I present to you what I think is an interesting thought experiment regarding abortion:

  • Imagine that I was shrunk down to microscopic size and placed in your body. Would it be ok for you to abort me?
  • If I would be there for 9 months without noticeable effect, would you do so?
  • If I would be there for 9 months and mirrored the effects of pregnancy, would you do so?
  • Imagine I was placed in your body because you drank a banana smoothie. You know that people who are accidentally shrunk to microscopic size often get trapped in banana smoothies. You know that drinking the smoothie carries a small chance that you will be implanted with one, but it’s deliciousness outweighs the risk. Unfortunately, this time the odds were not in your favour and you were implanted. How does this situation affect your answers?
  • Imagine I was kidnapped and shrunk by an evil scientist. He then kidnapped you and in a horrific and excruciating procedure he implanted me within your body. How does this situation affect your answers?

It’s pretty basic I know, but I think it can help us think about the importance we attribute to different factors in abortion, such as the differences between a foetus and an adult, the experience of pregnancy, the relationship between bodily autonomy and rights to life, and situations involving rape. I’m not trying to pass on any message with this thought experiment; my agenda is clarity.

Cronk the Crocodile

Cronk the crocodile lay abed
Scaly, warm and trim.
And when his friends the birds did call
Cronk smiled and let them in.

He proudly bared his mighty maw–
With teeth that mouth did brim!
He held it fast and safe and wide
And let the birds begin.

The first bird was an eager chap
As fast as he was dim.
With lightning pecks and darting leaps
He quickly cleaned Cronk’s chin.

The second was a pompous sort
Who gazed ’round with chagrin.
“Dear Cronk!” he moaned, with much dismay
Your mouth smells like a bin!

Yet later when their work was done
Cronk’s mouth was finally clean.
And when the birds flapped proudly off
Cronk’s beady eyes did gleam.

For a third young bird had just arrived
Far plumper than his kin.
This bird had lived an easy life–
Was fat where they were thin.

“Welcome to my mouth,” smiled Cronk,
“Come have a look within.”
And when the poor bird hopped inside
Cronk did an awful thing.

His mighty jaws and teeth came down
And with a single bite,
Cronk gobbled up the poor young bird
And swallowed with delight.

The next day when the birds returned
Cronk didn’t say a thing.
“Oh where is our dear brother gone?”
They never guessed Cronk’s sin.

They attended to their work once more
And scolded Cronk’s hygiene.
His mouth was in an awful mess
The worst they’d ever seen!

So in the end they never found
Their poor lost chubby twin.
Their chores had cleaned off every trace
From Cronk’s sardonic grin!

Nom nom nom!!!

Bad Cronk!

A Desert Prayer

Hail deliverer, here I am.
Weave a wicker basket, not a wicker man
Then draw me forth to pass over
The snap and hiss of knives in hand.

Because I am who I am and nothing more
I dug a grave with my own hands
To hide a whip and cruel thoughts
I left my God behind.

But I long to leave this in my past
And burn old laws in desert heat
To sink my soles in scalding sand
And stumble far on burning feet.

Because I am who I am; nothing more
And there is no place for sandals here
A burning vision came at night;
That vision called on me.

Hail deliverer, here I am!
Go and call; speak and free!
Drop the staff and strike the breast!
River to wine, bread to feed!

Ten chimes through a hurried meal
We grab our cloaks and go and steal.

I am who I am! I will unchain!
Hail deliverer! Borne in reeds!

And still…

The sand is loose between my toes
Yet fear will not pass over me
Though burning lights guide our way
The path’s not always clear to see.

For doubt still daily plagues my thoughts
Like chariots that I must flee
A task to do; these words to speak;
A burden which weighs heavily.

I have looked back through desert heat
And here I am, down on my knees.

Hail deliverer, now I pray:
Open my eyes so I may see
The sacred flame that I once saw
And hear the voice that guided me.
Split the waters that blind my sight
So I can know all I can be
Unweave the wicker man I am
Like your people, set me free.

The Amazing Spider-Man — Review

 

My spider-sense is telling me that we’ve seen this one before… Just ten years after the first Sam Raimi movie, Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) has taken up the reigns of the beloved arachnid franchise. If you think that having a director named “Webb” (!!!) is reason enough for this reboot, I won’t contradict you; but if you need something more, read on to see if he’s spun a good tale…

The good news is that Webb’s indie roots have infused The Amazing Spider-Man with a fresh indie vibe, setting it apart in tone from the original trilogy. It’s much less epic than either The Avengers or The Dark Knight Rises (the two competing superhero movies of the summer), telling a simple origin story of how Peter Parker becomes the man behind the mask. The result is that the human elements of the film, rather than the superhero bits, really shine out; and the acting–apart from Chief of Police Stacy–is absolutely superb. (Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben and Sally Field as Aunt May are stand-out stars, bringing an incredible emotional weight to the movie.)

This emphasis on the human side of things is evident from the fact that Peter does not get bitten until over a third of the way into the movie. Giving more time to Peter Parker and less to Spider-Man, though, turns out to be a good thing. Seventeen years old, Peter loves to saunter around with his hood up and a skateboard at his side. He gets bullied, he has a silly crush on a girl in his class, and he’s smart yet also naive. Most importantly, he’s a complex and likeable person. The biggest strength of the Peter/Spider-Man character across all formats–the fact that, unlike Batman or Superman etc., Peter Parker is an everyman who we can all relate to–is wonderfully portrayed here.

Andrew Garfield, sporting awesome gravity-defying hair, brings just the right amount of vulnerability and charm to the role, confirming him as the perfect replacement for Toby Maguire. Emma Stone plays a much stronger lead female role as Gwen Stacy than we saw from the original trilogy, and the two bring a genuine chemistry to the screen together (Webb’s previous directorial position clearly coming into effect!). Both actors look a lot older than their character’s seventeen years, but it’s a niggling issue at worst.

The bad guy, Dr. Connors, played by Rhys Ifans, is an interesting character, but his transformation into the Lizard also signals a transformation into genre tropes. As a villain he’s heavy handed, and doesn’t reach the potential that the Lizard from the comics could.

The film’s visual effects are great: Spidey flips around the screen like a juiced up acrobat; the Lizard’s limbs grow and melt away realistically; and the web-shooters that Spider-Man uses are fun and flashy weapons. Simpler things like the clothing and set design of regular characters and places (such as Peter’s bedroom) are equally brilliant, creating an absorbing world that these characters can believably inhabit.

Unfortunately though, the big action sequences fall a little flat. The Lizard is big and strong and Spidey spends most of the fights running away from him. It’s not particularly tense and it ends up being formulaic. They’re not bad scenes per se; they’re just nothing we haven’t seen ten times before in similar movies.

All in all, The Amazing Spider-Man is a good movie. It’s a refreshingly human take on this familiar story, but the Spider-Man action sequences aren’t as exciting as they should be. Unfortunately, it will undoubtedly emerge as the weakest of this Summer’s superhero triumvirate, but if you can stomach more spandex it’s definitely worth seeing. Expect a strong sequel 🙂

3 out of 4 stars

Book Review: The Hunger Games

Cover art. - Wikipedia

The Hunger Games is the new big thing in the post-Potter post-Twilight world of young adult fiction. And when the movie adaption comes out tomorrow it’s going to get even bigger. It’s based on an interesting premise: in a dystopian future 24 teenagers are thrown into a massive arena for a brutal televised fight for survival, where only 1 is allowed to leave alive. It’s easy to see how this could become such a popular new series in young fiction – but is it any good?

I won’t keep you in suspense: I must admit — that from the very start — I was pretty disappointed.

The Hunger Games suffers from a two major weaknesses: firstly, the setting of the novel; and secondly, its basic premise. Post-war USA has been split into a number of Districts and a capital city (originally named “The Capitol”…). The Capitol is super-rich and high tech, whereas the Districts live in medieval conditions, performing menial labor under the constant threat of starvation (it’s all very black and white). The fatal problem that arises is that the world Collins has created is so incredibly simple that it’s lacking in all the areas that are needed to make it believable. As far as I could tell, the people in the Districts spend all their time working or sitting at home feeling hungry. The basic components of society — community, activities, religion, socialization for God’s sake!! — are all nonexistant. The world is mechanical and empty; it’s a mere cardboard cutout propped up to justify a bunch of kids killing each other.

This brings me to my second problem: the concept of “The Hunger Games” themselves. The Capitol annually hosts a televised teenage deathmatch called “The Hunger Games” which (we’re told) keeps the Districts in line by forcing their children to kill each other. But wouldn’t this actually make them more likely to rebel? I guess not. It’s also apparently very entertaining stuff to watch for the people in The Capitol. To be honest, if I lived in The Capitol I would rather watch a nice sitcom instead. Or maybe the 6 Nations. The 6 Nations is pretty good. This fundamental premise that “The Hunger Games” are the height of entertainment just didn’t convince me at all.

The things that do work well are the action and the main character, Katniss. When the battle in the arena finally starts it’s entertaining enough. In terms of emotional impact and violence Collins is definitely pulling her punches for her younger audience, but it’s tense and exciting nonetheless. Katniss is a good protagonist, managing to be ruthlessly cold-hearted yet likable at the same time, even if she is a bit too simplistic. Peeta is quite bland (as is the romance) but he does provide a decent counterpoint to Katniss at least. The other characters are one dimensional, and the twists that I expected them to pull never materialized. I kept thinking that each competitor was appearing the way they were as a ruse — that they were lulling Katniss into a false sense of security, only to turn on her when she was vulnerable. This never happens — it’s all shockingly straightforward.

Frankly, The Hunger Games was a bit of a let down. It’s a good book but it just doesn’t live up to the hype that’s been generated about it. When it comes down to it, it’s too simple and straightforward to truly excel. Sure, it’s fun and exciting when you get to the actual arena bit (It should make a flashy movie. If the don’t censor it too much. Though they probably will. Oh well.), but the rest is mediocre at best. It’s written for teenagers, and if you’re an adult, I highly recommend that you approach it as such; you won’t find any political or philosophical exploration here. Take it all at face value, and it’ll be a short, fast-paced, and relatively enjoyable read. But nothing more.

2.5 stars

21

The date says I am 21,

Few years once were many.

“In 9 more you’ll be 30 son;

In less I was a daddy.”

.

This slideshow sequence — strange to see

Myself from way back when.

I wonder what makes that child be me?

What links me now with me back then.

.

Familiar stranger/old friend:

In 9 more years will I still see,

When I look back upon me now,

A distant child that’s somehow me?

.

Yet freezing time is wistful fear,

Potential must Become:

As chrysalis; then spreading wings;

To be Realized… And no longer young.