datbeardyman

Less about the world, more about me.

Month: June 2014

Truth and Tuam

Ever since Tuam, the overnight sensation that took 40 years to break, broke there have been calls for investigations and enquiries. Making me wonder, to what end? I’m not suggesting we leave the past in the past. Far from it. I just want to know what it is we want here?

Do we want an investigation to merely compile a list of all those survivors (and their descendants?) who must get compensation? Would we be looking for reasons why our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents appeared to hate sex so much? Or was it women they hated? Do we hope to discover even more incidents of Roman Catholic amorality? Will we finally know how little the State cares for the poor? Are we looking for reassurance that we are better people now than we were then? Do we think if we just know everything that happened, we can be certain to not repeat those mistakes? Or is it merely a macabre need to know all about those particular baby bones in Tuam.

I’ll be honest, my interest is mostly Discovery Chanel, Police Procedural, Mystery Novel reading, morbid curiosity. I want a forensic pathologist or perhaps a forensic anthropologist (I don’t know what the difference is) to lead a team of experts, who will carefully retrieve, catalogue and investigate each of the bones in whatever that is in Tuam. Then I want them to work with archivists to create a broad picture of what happened in that unhappy place and put together a data base of every single person who went through the doors of that particular institution.

After that, the sociologists, historians, apologists, politicians, lawyers, bloggers and talk-show hosts can begin the task of generating interpretations and consequences. What will most likely happen (and what in fact is happening, and I say this as a wannabe columnist) is the commentary will come before the science. So much heat and noise, that we’ll have no energy, interest or resources to do the actual forensic work. For example, has a single bone been examined by a scientist? Not that I’m aware of.

I’m as guilty of this as everyone else. I’ve written one blog post on Tuam and have written 3000 words of another blogpost on the same topic and yet no one with a white coat, white wellingtons and little trowel and brush is slowly unearthing those bones.

Must everything we do in this country be half-arsed? What is the point of a Departmental paper search, or a Judicial Review or even a list of death certificates? There is a pit of possibly human remains that may date from as recently as 60 years ago and the response has been bureaucracy. No, a parody of bureaucracy.

I love pointing the finger at Roman Catholic cruelty. I get a kick out of pointing out the inherent nastiness of conservatism. I enjoy seeing wronged people given justice. I think history is vital to understanding the present. I think sociology has a lot to teach us. And I love the sound of my own voice.

But just this once, can our dim-witted State send in a few bloody experts to actually see what, and possibly who, is buried in Tuam. If not the State itself, let it invite the Discovery Channel or Time Team or the archeology Department in Trinity to do the work. I bet they’ll be a damn sight cheaper and infinitely more useful than the gravy train of an ‘official enquiry.’ Most importantly, they might actually find some truth.

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Tuam and the death of empathy

It’s not easy coming to terms with mass graves. A mass grave always denotes a tragedy of some sort. Be it war, genocide, epidemic, famine, earthquake or tsunami, it takes a disaster of epic proportions for us to dispense with the individual care our species routinely pays to its dead.

In Tuam there is a mass grave of babies. The pit in which they were disposed was a septic tank.

The normal response to such a departure from common decency is shock and horror. Followed by a call for justice. Who were these monsters who would fling dead infants into a shithole, a pit already clogged with the tiny bones of hundreds of dead babies? Let these demonic creatures be named and shamed and the sick philosophy which inspired them, be enjoined to perpetual silence.

A mass grave of babies. What ravening savages could visit such wanton destruction to common decency?

That is the difficulty here. This wasn’t an invasion. This wasn’t alien. This was the work of hundreds of ordinary women. This was the work of hundreds of women who were taught a thing no one should ever be taught. They were taught to not feel empathy. Difficult to do?

People are generally not cruel to people. In World War II, the Germans didn’t gas people, they killed untermensch. In Rwanda the Hutu did not massacre people, they killed cockroaches. Christians didn’t murder people, they burned heretics. Americans didn’t wipe out people or keep people as slaves. They civilised savages and owned livestock.

In Tuam and in an unknown number of other locations, ordinary women were taught that the children in their care were other, were less. The ordinary rules of empathy and decency need not apply. As each creature died, it could be disposed of without the ritual and reverence we would give the meanest murderer.

Ordinary women. Ordinary women taking babies from other ordinary women. Throwing dead babies into pits. Ordinary people being extraordinarily callous.

How far is the journey from normal empathic responses to a vulnerable baby, to dismissing it as a farm animal, or a demon or an insect? I do not like the term ‘evil’ as it has supernatural connotations, but if I had to use it, it would be to describe that journey.
Imagine looking after babies. Ordinary, noisy, smelly, snotty, perpetually hungry babies. Then imagine if you can, the kind of teaching that would be required to make you see those children as slightly less than human. Just ‘other’ enough that their cries of illness or hunger never quite reach you as the cries of a ‘normal’ baby would. Just ‘lesser’ enough that when it dies you could dump it into a septic tank and still sleep well that night.

Now we have a mass grave filled with the tiny bones of dead babies. And I am left wondering about all those ordinary women who filled it up with infant corpses. I am left pondering that all too short journey from common decency to throwing babies into a mass grave.

Empathy is a truly wonderful quality in our species, but it’s terrifying how easily empathy can be switched off and for the mass graves to appear.

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