Caveat emptor: the things that flow through my consciousness are not always pleasant, complete let alone right.
Psychopathy and sociopathy seem to feature large in everything this week. Failures in duties of care dominate the news.
I needed an acronym to make it easier to write about. I’ve chosen AVE as my acronym for Abuser, Victim and Exploitation. AVE as a shout of farewell. AVE as greeting. Two meanings. Going and coming. Double standards. Mental reservations. Ave Maria. The Hail to Mary who despite never having had sex, fell pregnant. It’s long been considered quite an honour to bear a son for a god. Her consent isn’t recorded. This scepticism is no more blasphemy than faith is scientific. Should we not continually question moralities and ethics from our evolving viewpoints? Shouldn’t we ask whether something said or done ever occurred.
AVE has been put to the front of my mind by Netflix, the BBC, The Irish Times, Colum McCann, Ahmet Altan and Margaret Kelleher. That list is in no particular order and I wouldn’t blame you if you stopped reading now. There’s nothing good in the following text unless it is that I live where vile things can be talked about. Cherish the freedom of speech for without it there is no is freedom of listening. If you can’t speak out, nothing can be changed.
Netflix brought Filthy Rich into our home. It was hard to watch the lives of so many that were unravelled solely for the pleasures of Jeffrey Epstein. Who exactly did he financially abuse to make the money that enabled him to enjoy plain-sight paedophilia and child-sex-slave trafficking while partying with presidents, princes and tycoons? Some might say that the FBI that once prosecuted and persecuted thousands in the McCarthy era is outed as shockingly incompetent or shamefully negligent. The scale of the abuse and the breadth of the conspiracy are the most disturbing aspects of this story. His system of recruitment by turning the abused into pimping criminals is surely not unique. Very well done to indefatigable journalist Julie K Brown and journalist Tim Malloy and the freedom of the press. Congratulations Michael Reiter, police chief on whose watch this was exposed. Good job to James Patterson and John Connolly whose book Filthy Rich brought the story to TV. There are so many wrongs in this story that I’m amazed anyone could work out where to start and weren’t stopped by Epstein’s legal teams. Adrian Horton wrote an article in the Guardian here that will fill you in with more than I can bear to write.
There’s a hideous child abuse story in another Netflix documentary Tell Me Who I Am. Compelling viewing because, yet again, the abuse was happening in plain-sight in a very disturbing conspiracy. And there are some quirks to the story that make it all the more informative, educational. If we are not learning what is broken, we can’t make useful repairs. Quite a cautionary tale.
The BBC are broadcasting I May Destroy You at the moment. Some would say that consent is at the core of a storyline that is still unfolding. My take on the story, so far, is that it’s about dissent. My sense is that this is a story informed by personal experience. Consent, it seems to me, is an active verb yet society sees passive consent as different to dissent. None of us are comfortable in the grey zones that exist in the transition between consent to dissent. The predators in this series purposefully strike from the grey zones while their victims are elsewhere. Every victim is also a perpetrator in this mind-altering narrative. Why should you have to say no if you are incapacitated? The test of consent should be that you documented ‘yes’ otherwise it can be called ‘no’.
These three TV series are about the failures in the duties of care. That innocence is assumed before guilt is a core value in our legal practices. AVE turns everything on its head and the system ends up abusing the abused because the guilty are innocent until proven otherwise.
In the physical sciences there is a useful methodology with a dreadful name that is worth considering for the management of crimes like abuse. The method of the ‘renormalisation group’ is to group language, framework and equations for one scale and shift it for different scales. The way Brian Greene illustrates this in Until the End of Time is to observe that science is best understood with a narrative structure. You can predict the trajectory of a baseball without understanding the deformation that occurred when it was hit by the bat. The story you would tell is coherent at each scale. Greene says ‘divide and conquer has long been the rallying call of physics.’ Tax enforcement relies on you proving you are not liable. Guilt before innocence is already among us.
The Irish Times recently ran a story about an 87 year old man dragged through the Irish courts. He had to defend himself against an allegation of groping a woman in a nightclub. The case was dismissed because of the CCTV evidence. I was outraged that it took a judge to make such a ruling when a policeman or a public prosecutor could not. If the laws are inadequate, they must be changed. In this case, surely the vexatious plaintiff should be prosecuted, the public prosecutor should be sanctioned and the police involved should be reprimanded? As I wrote, EVA turns everything on its head and the system ends up abusing the abused.
Colum McCann’s Apeirogon tells a story of abuse, victims and exploitation in which many victims are often cruel perpetrators. It seems that the cycle of human rights abuses is enshrined in the existence of the states, as intertwined in those two states and in those people as the helix of our DNA. The jails are not cells but streets, cities, provinces and nations.
I read I Will Never See The World Again recently. Just imagine being Ahmet Altan and going to jail because a judge has a bus to catch at 5 o’clock. ‘Each night, the eagle owl calls three times.’ sums up the strength of spirit, the pain of deprivation, the imagination of a man who can ‘pass through your walls with ease’. His jail is a cell. His crime is unclear.
Margaret Kelleher’s sublimely researched book The Maamtrasna Murders (2018) tells the salutary story of ‘an Irish-speaking man wrongly convicted of murder in an English-speaking court.’ Justice resulted in his being hanged in 1882. Myles Joyce was pardoned in 2018 when his conviction was ruled unsafe. Justice has changed across 135 years. While this has happened too many times and too recently on the island of Ireland in the last century, I am proud to live in a country where justice continues to be scrutinised. I am ashamed that we have needed it. Then again, many of these injustices have been perpetrated within the laws of a nation remote from this island. Some might argue that the expediency that placates the tabloids, an allegation implying a politically motived judiciary, is an unconscionable threat to our human rights.
Cén lá a chrochfar mé? What day will I be hanged? A chilling question in any language. I saw this in a cartoon of the time, framed on a wall somewhere in the UK and I wrote the phrase in my diary in 2016, stunned by the concept, forgetting to record it. My diary note also says ‘William Marwood messed up the Maamtrasna hangings in 1882, December 15.’ I often wish I’d paid more attention to where I saw the cartoon and had a phone-snap to share.
I took the photo when I was lucky enough to attend a conversation about the trial, the pardon and the book in Dublin’s Green Street courthouse in 2018, the same courtroom where Myles Joyce was tried.
There’s an excellent podcast with Kelleher as a City of Books episode in a conversation with Martina Devlin.
Salutary is the right word.