SUZANNE HARRINGTON: The bubbles that really need bursting

When I left Ireland in the 1980s, it was because, at that time, Ireland felt like being inside a bubble where everyone looked the same, spoke the same, dressed the same, acted the same, ate the same, and thought the same says Suzanne Harrington

Everyone seemed to be a straight, white, conservative Catholic. To a disgruntled teenage misfit, it felt like a bubble from which the oxygen of self-expression had been sucked, and replaced by rules put in place by priests and old people. Like all the other disgruntled misfits, I legged it.

Today, I live in another bubble. This bubble, however, is of my own choosing. I live in a town full of vegan yoga teachers; as a vegan who likes yoga, this works for me. Politically, the town is eco-lefty, welcomes refugees, has a significant LGBT demographic; as a lefty tree-hugging do-gooder who loves a shiny gay disco, I have no plans to move. Everyone I know thinks like I do. We are awfully nice people, and have the Go Fund Me pages to prove it.

“You’re in a bubble,” my sister tells me. She’s an academic, and can’t rant because it’s considered unprofessional. She has to be measured, even about Trump. (I’d make a crap academic.) I am so much in a bubble, she says, that she uses me as an example when defining what being in a bubble is to her politics undergraduates.

“I like my bubble,” I tell her. “Nobody in my bubble voted for Brexit.” Yet Brexit is happening, and Trump has happened. Perhaps remaining inside my bubble is as narrow minded as how I perceive those with whom I disagree politically — the Brexiteers, the Trump supporters. They can’t all be swivel-eyed racists, can they?

My chap insists the only way to understand the Other Side is to engage with them; to stop shouting and start listening. I can’t quite bring myself to do what he does — to directly interact with people whose politics I find abhorrent — because I am intolerant of muppets who voted for Brexit.

But I can certainly seek out unheard voices and differing points of view, given how the mainstream media is mostly filled with the middle-class liberals (the kind who like yoga and tofu).

Which had led me to the two most arresting books I have read all year — Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance, and Poverty Safari by Darren McGarvey. While the first is an interesting account of how a clever boy from a deprived background made it to Yale, the second grabs you by the throat.

McGarvey is a young working-class writer in a world dominated by middle-class writers. He has survived an early life that we the soyaccino-sippers could not comfortably imagine. He is left wing, but says the most radical act a person can undertake is to change themselves. McGarvey is all about bursting the bubble, and seeing beyond it.

Poverty Safari is my book of the year. I urge you to read it now.


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