The Not So Gentle Art of Compromise

I like Jill Lepore. Her essays in the New Yorker show a kind of depth that is completely missing in Irish journalism. There’s no space for it.

What I like is that she asks the kinds of questions we should be asking here, and provides really well researched, intelligent commentary.

Writing in the New York Times about Ben Franklin’s little sister Jane, she’s asking - in a smaller way, about whether we decide what’s important before we make big decisions.

Jane Mecom buried 11 of her 12 children, was married at 15 and wasn’t provided with adequate education. While the question of infant mortality has been dealt with, the factors that lead to teen motherhood haven’t been - the social welfare system (especially that it’s better for couples not to live together, or at least claim not to), the pathetic LCA (and even more pathetic LCVP) offered as an alternative to standard Leaving Cert - and the presumption that there are those who can’t aspire to do a standard leaving cert because of their geography, their status, their relations.

I also can’t help thinking that if there was a programme or organisation that placed the same kind of emphasis on girls that the GAA places on boys in sport, things could be different. Because what the GAA offers is a cheap chance to excel or even succeed in a non academic arena. What is the alternative for girls who don’t do well in school? And if we were to deal with that huge issue of teen pregnancy - and the educational ignorance, social marginalisation, government sponsored welfare traps that support it, what positive difference could that make to the lives not just of young women, but to their children? And to the social environment we all share?

Across the world aid agencies realise that the way to support communities is through educating women so that they and their daughters can make better choices about their bodies and their lives and their skills. We have no Taliban, but we do have a system that keeps a certain cohort of young women in chains that we all have to pay for socially, economically and financially.

What scope is there for improving lives in communities and families if we deal with this effectively by creating better opportunities for young women and enabling them to make better decisions about those opportunities? If you educate the mothers, you educate the families.

Jill Lepore quotes Ben Franklin in her NY Times piece. This is what the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation proposed.

Has enough changed in the last almost 100 years? Are we cherishing all the children of the state equally? Not the teenage mothers, the disenfranchised teenage fathers or their sons and daughters. We’ve failed and continue to fail young men in very different ways that have had a lot of discussion here already.

The social welfare system is really the worst aspects of the public service for poor people. Get in and stay in and make sure they can’t get you out. Get used to the system of ‘entitlement’ without service, where increments are replaced by supplementary payments or additional payments for more children. Become part of a system which requires no confidence, no motivation and no desire for change - and no impetus for change. It’s a velvet coffin.

It’s un-aspirational. It’s anti-aspirational.

What strikes me today is that in all our current talk of political values and economic value(s), I don’t see the media or the mainstream parties making any effort to consider what social values we should prioritise in the decision making that’s happening now and the bartering with the EU/IMF. It’s interesting too how we discredit those who advocate for various groups by suggesting they have no grip on economic realities - the community and voluntary pillars. There’s a common ground somewhere but why the reluctance in treading it?

Hi Kate P, I dont sign in here very often, morer of a lurker than a poster. But I’d just like to congradulate you on your post. Very well written.

The GAA are doing a lot to encourage more girls to play - I don’t think they can be blamed for the low participation rates of women in sport.

Come on. Women have the same access to education as men. The majority of 3rd level graduates are women. The majority of new entrants into professions such as law, accounting and medicine are women. There is still a majority of men in the professions, but I fail to see how that can be attributed to education if the education system prefers women.

So not only are you not happy that women generally get better educations than men, you want to increase the inequality further? It’s one thing to have open entrance policies in education, it’s another to bring in active encouragements for a demographic section that is already over represented.

I’m sorry but these two comments seem to contradict each other. You want us to do more for people because we have already taken away their motivation for change? If you want to motivate them, instead of talking about how we have failed them (which continues to treat them paternalistically) you should talk about how they have failed us. I agree that social welfare creates a trap which causes people to lose self motivation, but the solution is not to make people on welfare further dependant by another scheme, the solution is to make sure that welfare entitlements are set sufficiently high to ensure that no one starves or lives in inhuman conditions but also sufficiently low that it is not a long term viable solution for people. Our current system has a mix of people living in woeful conditions (homless or in slum rental accomodation) and others getting massive payouts.

Ultimately, while I would be fairly left leaning I am also a realist. I despise the socialist workers types who will always advocate increases in social welfare, public sector pay etc as being left wing without a thought as to whether the level is too high or not. Clearly social welfare and minimum wage are far too high in Ireland at the moment and the scope to abuse the system too rife. But the alternative i.e. to give food instead of cash, to provide temporary public housing instead of private rental/mortgage interest suppliments for the long term unemployed is simply off the table - not because it is a bad solution, but because it would cast shame on people who are on welfare. Well I’m sorry but I see no reason why we as a society should spare the blushes of people who do not contribute when they can. It is different for disability and temporary unemployment on JB, but for the long term welfare recipients I see no problem with making their lives harder.

Yes, great post Kate P. I too wish we could see more of the type of article you linked to.

As you say, ‘she asks the kinds of questions we should be asking here…’.

  • It seems to me that this is at the very root of our current malaise… our cultural narrative has been usurped not in how questions are answered, but in the very questions that are posed in the first place.

As I see it, they have already prioritised them. - They only make a pretence at holding the values they already deeply hold up to the light of reflection, enquiry and soul searching.

Taking the institution of FG as an example, all members hold a set of common social values close at heart, that ALWAYS dictates their decision-making and direction of efforts.

And such initiatives as for example their election website that invited public opinion was merely PR driven charade. None of it was ever going to have the slightest impact on the common values they hold and that drives everything else they do.

In my view, these core values they hold are indeed cause for concern. - In the same vein as the NYT article you linked to. But they will never shine a light on these core values - they will shine a light on something that they will pretend are these core values, but are not. - They will shine the light at something that ensures that their real core values are protected from the light.

This thread reminds me of Mary Robinson’s hissy fit at educated women returning to the household and rasing their children. Shock horror.

I’m surprised that its necessary to post this video. Again. Listen and learn.

Coming from a family where both parents worked full time and my sisters have just as good (if not better) jobs and salaries than me all coming from hard work on the part of both my parents and on the part of myself and my sisters, and also knowing many highly successful highly motivated women, you can fuck right off with that video and all that boo hoo shite.

Look, there is equal access to the means of production to both men and women. Nothing further can be done. If women lack ambition to earn more or whatever then it is not the fault of men.

The thorny issue is childcare, but there are countless examples of successful women who work full time and have children. Some have house husbands, others don’t. So it really is just a load of boo hoo poor me nonsense, mixed with some dubious statistics that are distorted by lack of women’s rights in other countries.

IMHO, all this equality lark is just a way of oppressing women - it tells them that they are being picked on and they start to believe it, thus developing a siege mentality and thus failing to progress in business or in life. All of the self motivated women I know look on this feminism/gender bias stuff with severe scepticism, and rightly so.

Getting down to real business:

Projecting the right image with women to the front in Fianna Fail’s new PR drive:

… Boohoo shite or not, the state of play is fairly clear in front of your face, even now in the year 2011.

For heaven’s sake. Did it ever occur to you that the women are shorter that’s why there put at the front of a photograph? Or have you never taken a photograph!

Wow. Perhaps women aren’t in politics because they find the lying and the back slapping tiresome.
Or maybe voters don’t vote for women politicians because the ones we’ve gotten have been so useless.

Ah, that explains it then. Silly me. It was only my imagination then my perception that:

(a) there are very few serious, independent self-made women in the government cabinet, in the Dail, and indeed, across many of our state’s institutions.

(b) Fianna Fail’s appointees Averil Power and Mary Fitzpatrick were made to lend the party “a younger, more relevant image” (as the party political machine put it themselves).

… Apart from the fact that there are few women in general, the fact that the majority of the ones that there are, are institutionalised muppets (for the most part), doesn’t strike you at all?

EDIT - Anyway, I’m not sure the above is what the OP was about.

One thing about that equals video that pisses me off is the part about parenthood. Balancing the inequality that is there has resulted in a totally skewed setup in this country anyway and in lost of Europe. From the citizens’ information site -

Compared to

Which all in all doesn’t help promote the type of social values mentioned in the OP.

This is a class issue first and a gender issue second in my eyes.

The points you make are indisputable in so far as they refer to middle and even many working class families. Girls have better opportunities, do better, stay longer… if they have a good start in the first place.

But that is not the case for girls from families on long term unemployment for whom leaving school early offers relatively few opportunities. Your sisters - and mine, didn’t find themselves in that position. And if they hadn’t been doing well in school, our parents would have worked hard to find something they did succeed in. Your sisters were motivated, have a sense that there’s something out there to aspire to and that’s within their grasp - what about those who don’t have that experience or expectation of life? In the long term,

A poster here - I can’t remember who, made the point about the number of middle class families who are putting off having family or increasing the size of their families because of economic uncertainty, but that’s not a concern for those who live in the welfare trap. This has implications for the lives of women, for families and for society.

Joan Burton was wittering on the News at One about a way that* might*, if all the criteria were met and someone were to make a decision, reduce the payments of maybe half a dozen people who don’t take advantage of a*
reasonable * opportunity for training or work. If that’s the best we can come up with to ‘encourage’ people to come off welfare, we’re beyond help. It’s a purely financially drive decision, borne out of the cynical desire to be seen to be doing something - the kind of PR that roc mentioned above. It doesn’t make things any better.

@Leospeed and roc - thanks.

Um, what independent self-made men are there in the government cabinet? I’m really struggling…

I think the big problem is the unions. Bastions of male dominance, it appears. Sheila Nunan is the first female General Sec of the INTO in its 141 year history. Liam Doran leads the nurses. Kings inns and the Law Library are others. I would consider them unions…

While the tradition PS or protected sector routes are the successful ones into politics for those impatient with the seniority ladder, there won’t either be a good standard of politicians or a decent number of women.

And being a professional skanger is what is often available to the boys. Poverty traps apply pretty universally, the outcomes may be expressed differently, but the inescapability of them is, er, inescapable.

I love the use of stats from the islamic and third world, to make it look like women in the west are hard done by

Sorry. But this was just another vacuous bien pensant op ed piece in the NYT. Pretty much indistinguishable from acres of op eds they have been publishing for decades. I’m sure it was read with smug self-satisfied knowing smiles in the tasteful drawing rooms of Cambridge.

So Benjamin Franklins sister life did not turn out like her brothers. Well whoop de hoo. Sounds like she had a very typical 18’th century life for a woman. And for the vast majority of men. Nasty, brutish but not as short as it had been before. Franklin was a polymath you know. So unless his sister was also a polymath she was going to have a typical 18’th century life (for both sexes). Which was not very pleasant and full of illness and death (and children who died during childhood).

Her other points are about as trite as her “scholarship”. Local wars are really nasty? Famous people have narrow bigoted opinions? And the Tea Party is historically inaccurate? Its a political movement for gods sake. Political movements are based around historical narratives that usually only have the most impressionistic connection with historical events as they really happened. Pretty much like high school American history as it has been taught for the last 30 years. What was taught before was a simplistic (and often self justifying) narrative but it at least had the merit of being much closer to what the primary actors of the time actually thought and believed. And in the broad sweep of history far more accurate than the current catalog of the supposed crimes of white European males.

As for the current political discourse. I dont see any problem with the subjects you mention not being discussed. Events and the natural development of society will take care of it. If the last century is any guide good intentions and legislation is usually a very bad mix. Almost all attempts to politicize and legislate egalitarianism and equality of outcome seems to end up creating social problems even worse than the ones they were supposed to fix. In the US the Great Society program has been the biggest set back for blacks since the end of Reconstruction. Same goes for affirmative action and the resulting massive discrimination against Asians which is now little different than what happened to the Jews during the interwar period. If I see an Asian in a position of power or authority I know that they got there on merit, if I see a black I have learned to assume that its probably an a.a situation. This does a huge disservice to those blacks who do rise on merit. Because all a.a has achieved is to over-promote the incompetent which utterly devalues the achievements of a whole group.

The same applies to women. Why should someone be promoted just because of their sex. As long as there is equality under law then the question should be removed from the political (and legislative) domain. This is purely a civic / social question. In the US the question will be answered by simple biological facts. The simple fact is social conservatives out breed social liberals by a wide margin. And in the US a childs social outlook is very strongly formed by family to a degree that is unknown in Europe. This is the US’s single greatest strength. As a parent one has real control over just how little or how much and which part of modern culture you actually want your child exposed to. So the social liberals may control the media and the public discourse for the moment but demographics is destiny and the more lefty the politics the lower the birth rate. In my experience social conservatories make better neighbors and more pragmatic and responsible local citizens than lefty / progressives. Which is what you need for a healthy stable society. So over the next few decades the US will become a lot more socially conservative. So all gains woman hold on to long term will be those that have real merit and real utility for society as a whole.

The process will be different in Europe but I see it returning to a far more socially conservative environment. The real question for woman is how they hold on to the most valuable gains they have made but make accommodation to the new reality. I think Scandinavia is definitely the route to follow (in general social evolution not legislative) with what is starting to happen in Mediterranean Europe as a warning to what happens to societies if the social attitudes don’t keep up with social realities. Educate women and give them careers but then degrade their status on marriage and it will lead to a marriage strike, and more importantly for long term viability of society, a baby strike.

Unfortunately Ireland seems to be an inbetweeny county, a Northern European country with southern European politics and public culture. But fortunately it does not have the (demographically) fatal social flaw of the overbearing mother inlaw so it should escape the worst social effects of the next 30 years. I think to find any answers to your question about what to do you should stop looking at the anglophone world, especially the UK and US, and start looking at the Nordic countries for practical and useful guides to how a small peripheral country goes about dealing with these real problems. The reforms in Sweden over the last twenty years may provide some of the most interesting pointers to the future. Of course Ireland will have to become a lot more Lutheran in attitude, but I think that would be a good thing.

Maybe I’m just grumpy today but having grown up on a council estate I say just neuter the vermin. and work camps.

I had a bit of wading to do there, to get to the point relating to the OP, but I found it.

It’s a bizarre statement because Nordic countries have little in common with Ireland when it comes to the cultural factors which have such an enormous influence on teen pregnancy. We have far, far more in common with the US and the UK

There is no appetite here for a Nordic Resolution type programme with free, on demand abortion, free contraception and an extensive education programme. I remember being visiting a school in Sweden where teenagers were being taught how to put condoms on bananas. I think we’re a while away from that - but it would be a useful addition to the Leaving Cert Applied course. Or Junior Cert Applied, if we had such a thing - because Unicef research from the last decade showed that 73% Irish teenage mothers (15-19) had no upper secondary education and 69% of them were not working.

What we could have, which would make a difference to start with, and has been shown to make a difference, is a far broader, earlier and more comprehensive sex education, to the point where Irish kids become as easy talking about sex as their Dutch counterparts, for whom - to quote a teenager there, using contraception becomes as ingrained as not breaking a red light.

What all this shows - and I wish there were more up to date figures available, is the necessity to do something rather than nothing, and how doing the right thing works.

the quickest way to cut the teen pregnancy rate would be to stop paying teenagers to have children, and stop giving them houses

do that and the numbers would drop in an instant

I think this is more of a Piston Thread. On the teenage pregnancy (remember it takes two to tango) My friend Theodore Dalrymple said the following in the Times on 11 March 2008


I’m sure all this is selective, but having gone to a close Irish approximation to a crappy UK sink estate school it rings true to me.