We need to ignore the tribal drumbeats in abortion debate
TRIBALISM can be a source of great sport. The tribal champion unwittingly sets himself or herself up for all kinds of devilment and can expect to feel the poke of fun at every opportunity. The passionate Manchester United supporter or the dyed-in-the-amber Kilkenny cat are favourite targets, along with those who wear their political allegiances on their sleeves.
Tribalism is also an affliction that causes much anguish. On our own island it has sent people to the grave and made life a living hell for many. At its most violent it turns some humans into victims and others into perpetrators.
In the United States, tribal politics has paralysed the country and smoothed the path to the top for Trump. Republicans, who three years ago would have been appalled at the things he says and does, are now cheerleading for the man, because he is of the tribe and their tribe is in power.
On the other side, it is hard to find a Democrat who believes there is such a thing as a good Republican. In tribal politics there is only victory or defeat, winners and losers.
The tribalists are so locked into the advancement of their own tribe they only have eyes for winning while becoming devoid of the capacity to appreciate or savour anything less than victory.
This can also be true of the passionate sports fan. Very often they cannot appreciate a good game — they have to win and will choke before they compliment the skill, technique or performance of opponents.
When it comes to politics in this country it can be tribal to the core. Staunch Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael supporters will seldom if ever give their respective parties credit for anything. Even the current confidence and supply arrangement is constantly in danger of coming apart on the rocks of one-upmanship.
It is to be feared that the same tribalism will apply when it comes to the referendum on the Eighth Amendment. I’m not talking here about party politics, I’m talking about entrenched positions on this issue that have been established over the decades between so-called conservatives and liberals. Over the years they have shown sparse signs of listening and learning. Meanwhile, furnaces of heat are generated in the dark with little light shed on anything.
I was heartened by the early stages of the debate where some of the initial discussions were very informative and civilised. Now, though, it appears to be drifting towards the rancour and cacophony that marked other referendums around similar issues.
Some weeks ago I was in company and the topic of the amendment came up for discussion. One person became very excited and took off on a rant that went something like this,: “This one is not going to pass. We’ve given in on everything on the liberal agenda; we’ve given in on divorce, on Articles 2 and 3, we’ve even let the gays get married but we are not giving in on this one. The liberals will not have their way this time.”
He proceeded to name a number of people known for their liberal credentials and described in no uncertain terms how the very sight of them gives him blood pressure.
This would all be very amusing were it not so serious. There was no thought about the plight of women with an unwanted pregnancy, about the massive decisions they have to make. As far as this person is concerned, this is a tribal war.
Then there are those who see the referendum as an opportunity to put a decisive nail in the coffin of the Catholic Church, ending what they regard as the tyranny of theocracy foisted on the country by the Church of Rome since the foundation of the state. This is tribalism too, a tribalism of ideology while the plight of the woman with the unwanted pregnancy is at best ignored and at worst used as ammunition for the final assault on the citadel of Catholicism.