Sober thoughts on sectarianism

Many years ago I once thought it smart to take a couple of jellies (legal heroin) and go for a walk through Govanhill one easy Sunday morning. 

My mission:  take advantage of the new licensing laws which meant I did not have to wait until midday to legally purchase alcohol.  Armed with a few loose cigarettes, a can of Stella and an increasingly lower centre of gravity, I set off.

Staggering along the pavement loudly, my friend (drug buddy) and I shared sips of lager while chain-smoking and faintly recalling our previous drug experiences like whirlwind romances.  I remember laughing as I fell into an open bin.

The off sales, masquerading on the street corner as a grocery, was not yet open for booze as we were five minutes early.  Not to worry.  We simply forced the door next to the shop and waited at the foot of a tenement close, open tins in hand, smoking like our lives depended on it.

This was, to my mind, a perfect moment.  I felt such a deep connection with my friend and was filled with a sense of optimism I’d spend years chasing afterwards.

In reality I was a drink and drug addict hanging about in a close waiting for the bevvy shop to open.  Had I walked past myself and peered in I’d have judged pretty harshly.

That’s the thing with delusion: you never think it’s you.

We sat in that pishy close with a context for our behaviour and a context for one another.  We understood why we were there and we re-enforced and validated each other’s misgivings.  To passers-by we would have been thought of as neds, jakeys or junkies…but this didn’t even cross our scattered minds.

Had anyone been cruel enough to condemn us it would have only solidified our bond; searing into our hearts that shared sense of virtue and victimhood that justified all of our words and actions.

We were right.  They were wrong.  We were misunderstood.  They were bullies.

Day of the living dead

We went home and watched Night of the Living Dead and truly believed it to be a parable in which those who passed judgement upon us were the zombies and that we were the last survivors of the vanguard; rallying against amorality with a fag in one hand and a half bottle of buckfast in the other.

When I look back on that day honestly I see a lot of self-delusion going on.

I wasn’t optimistic, I was full of opium.  He wasn’t my friend he was one of the only people I could depend on for a steady supply of drugs who would uncritically co-sign my bullshit.   I was, in fact, completely fenced off from reality all the while transfixed by the very potent notion that I had finally figured it all out.  But this delusion was not as a result of my drink and drug use.  My drink and drug use were a product of the delusion.

The more morally indignant I became the harder I threw back the wine.

Increasingly unable to truly examine my own prejudices, self-seeking behaviour and ulterior motives in life, I was forced to extrapolate inaccurate meaning from events around me, personal and political, to create reasoning for why I always felt misunderstood, angry and victimised.

I came to see myself as others would see me and lost touch with the thorny reality of who I really was.  Instead of confronting my own absurdity I clung tighter to the delusion, playing the leading role as the protagonist of my own internal mini-series.  Never far from the eye of the drama-storm.

It never occurred to me I could also be a bully or a bigot in someone else’s eyes. Or that the events that beset me so often stemmed from my own poor decisions.  It never occurred to me that behavior I believed to be well-intentioned and intellectually complex was in fact quite shallow, self-serving and transparent.

It never crossed my mind that I could become all of the absurd things I thought I was pointing out in everybody else.  And all of this denial and confusion was the furnace in which much of my old life eventually burned.

There’s still a faint heat in that ashy mound of twisted logic I once mistook for a personality.

Challenging bigotry – and bullies

There’s a reason I don’t write about feminism in any serious way.  It’s because I am self-aware enough to know that people who would disagree with me can easily dismiss me as a misogynist.  It would be a pointless argument.  The only function such an undertaking could possibly serve would be to satisfy me and those who agree with me, which is hardly the most virtuous reason to pursue such a target – save for the sport.

The only way I could ever broach the topic would be to preface my gripes about feminism with some reflections on my own personal issues around the fairer sex.  The fact I have found it hard to trust women in the past and that my expectations of them have been unrealistic and selfish.  In doing so, I create something more honest and valuable that can be taken seriously by a broader range of opinion.

Something that disarms the opposing side and also gives me emotional freedom from the absurd pretense that I am somehow void of resentment or prejudice around this issue.

People who genuinely want to challenge bigotry should honestly examine their motives beforehand.  What is your back ground?  How was the subject handled at the family dinner table?  What has been your previous experience of the issue?  Do you honestly feel you can be a useful arbiter of fair-mindedness in this particular context?

Ultimately, do you have a dog in this fight that you are not declaring because you are unable to perceive it?  Do you harbour any niggling resentment or prejudice in a dark corner of your heart?

If the answer is even half yes to any of these then just walk away.  The problem is better left to the passage of time.

It’s hard to challenge a bully when they think they are the victim.  This is the central misconception at the heart of sectarianism in Scotland – particularly Glasgow – and applies to sections on both sides of the divide.

The casual observer sees only two tribes warring in much the same fashion: externalising evil and exalting their sect at the expense of the other side.

Intellectual tyranny rooted in victimhood.

Today I am one year sober and still coming to terms with a terrible truth I once cringed to contemplate:  that squalid tenement close wreaked of piss because I was pissing in it.

Photo: “Activists govanhill” by BelVecchio – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – 


  1. kate says

    women know women are not all good all the time – my frequently enraged mother once cracked my brother’s head with a broom for instance, while i gather yours threatened you with a knife amongst other forms of abuse. womens relationships with other women can also very warped by misogyny . misogyny is everywhere, both sexes have it . i think of it as a cultural given more than a personal attribute. but who you mention least in what i ‘ve read of your writing online is your father. why is that? perhaps you could write about sexual politics via an exploration of your masculine inheritance? which perhaps for you was more positive & protective?

  2. Hilary Temple says

    This struck me as an extraordinarily honest piece of self-analysis and makes me wonder what I am missing about my own rather self-satisfied existence. Certainly true that bullies see themselves as hapless victims. Rather as your true paedophile will see a child as “begging for it”. How can we create systems in which people can find out this stuff about themselves? It would take such a long time!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *