A rush to moralise? March 10, 2017Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
Such is the morally charged climate around the Tuam home that anyone who keeps an open mind as to what happened there risks being denounced as an apologist for horror. But we must keep an open mind.
If we look calmly at what is actually known, then it seems that while the home was an awful, tragic place, it was not necessarily a site of insanity or evil.
But the problem is that the facts, the unadorned facts, of the case are such as to evoke a sense that the awfulness and tragedy of the place- unimaginable to most of us as they are – shade into something profoundly worse. A stunning lack of respect for those who were shut away in these places and for their children. And even his own words go quite some distance in pointing up just how grim the circumstances are:
The evidence we have so far suggests life in the home was exceptionally difficult and, of course, utterly unjust: these women had committed no crime. We also know the infant mortality rate was terribly high, no doubt as a result of poverty or institutional neglect, or both.
What he does, though, is argue by taking some individual and limited examples of rhetoric (drawn from Twitter and so on, as if that is what characterises the totality responses to the issue) in relation to ‘holocausts’ that that characterises the broad response to Tuam. But that’s a rhetorical device in itself – not least because he has to go back to 2014 to find two very specific usages of the term. One doesn’t need to see Tuam as representative of a ‘holocaust’ to have a sense that it represents something uniquely awful all on its own terms.
Opinions may differ over the following:
As an atheist, I have no interest in defending the Catholic church. I want to defend science, rationalism, and approach history in a measured way.
You see, this is the terrible irony of the Tuam ghouls. In running ahead of the facts and turning this into a black-and-white morality play, in which they star as paragons of decency against hellish nuns, they reveal that they share something in common with the Old Ireland they claim to hate: a preference for moral zealotry over reason.
It’s a bit difficult to see where science and rationalism come into this as is. And the morality play has already passed through town, again and again. When the Taoiseach of this state has himself in the Dáil chamber this very week and argued (albeitly to my mind in far too studied terms) precisely that Tuam was abysmal it seems almost trite to complain that those who are shocked and express that shock are ‘ghoulish’.
After all, given we have had case after case, one doesn’t have to believe all nuns were hellish to know that some were. One doesn’t have to dissent from the idea that the homes were of their time to still see that they were awful, unjust, exceptionally difficult (all O’Neill’s words), that even on their own terms they were particularly, appallingly, grim – they wasted lives, in every sense. One doesn’t have run beyond the facts of the matter to position this within a context where women and their children were marginalised, made as other, removed physically and in other ways from the society because their pregnancies showed up the hypocrisy of that society. One doesn’t even have to hate the Old Ireland, but rather acknowledge that in amongst the good and bad there was the awful. The truly awful. And the point is well made in comments btw that there is a further aspect to this, that a society and religion which placed children and mothers at its supposed centre while allowing actual children and mothers to be treated in this way achieves a level of hypocrisy that is hard at any remove to stomach, and that that religion exercised that power into the contemporary era and attempted, and still does to an extent, to shape social policy in this state.
I know three people who have been directly touched by this. I read O’Neill’s words and I think of the pain and anger of one person I was talking to about this only this week, whose own mother died in one of these institutions and not that very long ago.
That person is no ghoul, they have seen this, and are acquainted with previous instances of this, how could it be otherwise? This is their lived experience. And there’s one other aspect. Even the nature of the burial, in the grounds – and tellingly unconsecrated ground, in and of itself speaks of the sheer detachment of these processes – the wish to conceal, to keep away, to remove.
Perhaps most importantly, none of this is new, whatever O’Neill might like to think, none of this is entirely unexpected. The IT notes how in the Bell in 1941 there as an article on how high the death rate of ‘illegitimate’ children was in the 1920s. And how in Mary Raftery’s and Eoin O’Sullivan’s book, Suffer the Little Children from 18 years ago noted that ‘the sheer scale of the system has in part resulted in the strange public silence on these institutions for most of the 20th century’.
None of this is new. It is hardly contentious to suggest that Tuam isn’t anomalous but rather is symptomatic of broader dynamics. The problem with pieces like the one linked to above is the sense that they’re tut-tutting at people as they argue ‘you don’t really have a problem, or if you do it’s not as big a problem as you think, and even if it is keep quiet…’. Which tellingly makes is much more similar to the situation and attitudes prevailing at the time these institutions were in operation than O’Neill’s strained effort to compare supposedly identical zealotries… But when the facts themselves are so strikingly grim…