Apathy and self-pity yield to the excited flush of taking on enemies, fighting them to the death. A strong sense of history, a fervent religious commitment, an attachment to neighborhood and to nation be it Britain or the Irish Free State , all combine to make individuality less prominent. Among children, pictures of the self are done with great reluctance; among adults, egoistic display is rare. These are people who feel solidarity with certain others, and have an enemy to help define who is a friend.
All of the above is no small psychological asset, as a Catholic mother surely knew when she offered these comments about her children: "They don't have the best life. If we'd emigrated, like my cousin, to the States, to New Jersey, I know we'd have more--a car, a washing machine, better food. But she has a lad of sixteen, and he got arrested for speeding, and they found drugs in the car, and he doesn't want to do anything but own a motorcycle; that's his goal in life. I told my son, and he's the same age, and he said he's glad we're here, and we have the Orangies to stand up to!
I asked my children once if they thought we should leave here. All the pain, the Brits and their guns, the Prods and their terrible hate of us, the fighting, every day the fighting--should we kiss it all goodbye? No, said they over and over--not for American porridge, and not even for a motorcycle.
We're not a spoiled people; and our children aren't spoiled. They may swear a lot at the Orangies, and they may be tough, even with each other; but they're not brats, they're not out for themselves, each for himself. They're for each other, for the Ardoyne, and for a united Ireland! But we are rather more grudging and skeptical about other kinds of judgments. A child's moral life is stereotyped, dominated by reflexes, derivative, imitative, various social scientists insist--as if the ego can be endlessly manipulative the suave, knowing negotiator , and the id cleverly insistent, unashamedly sure of what it wants, and what it will, at all costs, manage to get, whereas the superego is doomed to be a mere dangling object, its motions and purposes blindly responsive to particular parental voices.
I do not believe psychiatric theorists have done even conceptual justice to the operations of our consciences; and I believe a place such as Ulster offers the empirical evidence that ought to help us understand better how our children learn what is "right" and what is "wrong," what is believable and what is absurd, even dangerous, and not least, what they will stand by, even fight and die for, and what they will never be willing to embrace, no matter the constraints imposed upon them. During the four years of my visits to Ulster, for instance, I was constantly told by both Catholic and Protestant children--sometimes as young as four or five years old--that they knew, always, their "enemy" among their own generation.
How can that be? I wondered and asked. Gradually I began to get answers. I was being educated by young boys and girls--lessons in sociology and anthropology and history, lessons as well in moral values, in one or another philosophical point of view. Now I know that Catholics play hurling, with a hurley stick, and Gaelic football, whereas Protestants play hockey and soccer; that "bat" is an English word, not used in an Irish sport; that in Belfast the Irish News is a Catholic newspaper, the News Letter a Protestant one, and the Telegraph acceptable, mostly, to both sides; that clothes tell the man, so to speak--plaids or tartans of green and brown for Catholics, red, white, and blue for Protestants; that names bespeak creeds--Seamus as against James, Sean as against John, Cathal, pronounced "Cahal," as against Charles; that pins on a lapel are a giveaway--Gaelic clubs, religious medals, as against for the Protestants, of course the crown in miniature, or the red hand of Ulster, harking back to a historic migration from Scotland.
It was a nine-year-old girl in Derry who first let me know, defiantly, that citizens of Northern Ireland can hold either Irish or British passports; that Catholics choose, most of the time, Irish passports; and that no one in Ulster need serve in the British Army, in accordance with an agreement made in at the time of Partition. It was a seven-year-old boy in Belfast, Protestant, who let me know early on that Catholics are excluded from entire factories; that the two religious groups have quite separate and distinct musical traditions, different folk songs as well as different military ones; that the schools are thoroughly segregated, and that he could tell in an instant whether a home is Catholic or Protestant.
On what street is the building located, and inside, is there a "bleeding heart" or are there "crucifixes and statues," or is there a picture of the queen? In Derry as Catholics call it; Protestants prefer the full name Londonderry , I was given a tough, vivid lecture by a seven-year-old Catholic girl, Nora: "Never say Londonderry here in the Bogside. You'll be killed! Everyone will think you're an Orangie. Maybe if you're lucky they'll hear you say a few words, and they'll know you're an American; but if they don't spot your accent, you'll be wiped out!
Her naive, proudly open-minded and evenhanded listener wants to know why the vehemence, if not murderous venom. She lets loose a blast of historical references: "You see that wall over there? It was built in The English came here, businessmen from London. They named the city after their capital. They used to stand on that wall and call us 'crappies,' and throw pennies at us. They called us pigs. They said we belonged in huts, and we should do their dirty work, and be honored we had the chance.
The bog--they said that's where we belong! Well, let them chase us out of the bog now. This is Free Ireland! Are we to dismiss such remarks as mere rhetoric, memorized at the knees of parents, or learned by rote in an elementary school classroom? Are we to insist that these are the declarations of a child cowering in fear at the hands of adult authority, and so ready to say anything and everything, so long as what is spoken meets with the approval of various emotionally significant grownups? Maybe all that is true; but true for us, even when we become eighty or ninety.
The unconscious is timeless, including that part of it we call our "conscience. Many of us psychoanalytically trained psychiatrists emphasize in our discussions of children the relentlessly punitive, demanding side of the superego, and certain cognitive psychologists hand out questionnaires or make experiments in offices or laboratories, and then talk of a "preconventional" or "conventional" stage in children, wherein they do what serves their "hedonistic" purposes, or what will obviate punishment, or gain the sanctioning nod of a mother, a father.
Those same theorists, however, deny to children the more subtle, compassionate, ethically reflective "stages" of moral development--indeed, deny such personal, ethical, psychological, and intellectual progress to many adults as well. Only a handful, we have been told, an ethical elite Herbert Marcuse's "advancing edge of history," for instance can free itself of the individual emotional and the socially or culturally enforced constraints that blind a truly "mature" ethical awareness. In view of the vicious persecutory "morality" that has come out of various sectors of the twentieth century's "advancing edge," one wonders what children in, say, Belfast or Derry really have to look forward to possessing, morally, when they become older and, if lucky, more privileged socially and educationally.
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In any event, as we wait for that millennium to arrive, boys and girls the world over may not be fashioning psychological concepts, but they are, it seems, struggling hard and long to construct a moral life for themselves. Here is a Derry mother, a Bogside mother, describing her nine-year-old daughter's confusing behavior: "Cathy teases the Brits.
They come on their patrols, and she asks them what they're afraid of. She says: 'We have no guns, and you have so many! She smiles back! She tries to talk with them; she starts talking about her father, and how he was fired by a Protestant, because he wanted no Catholics in his place, even to do the dirty work. She shouts that 'Catholics are poor and Protestants rich,' and she asks them is that fair. She got one soldier to argue with her, and he told her, after a while, that she belonged in the House of Commons! No, she said, she'll go to Dublin if she has to leave, but she wants to stay with us!
Sometimes I look at Cathy, and I remind myself she's only a little bigger than a wee baby.
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But she stands there and tells the Brits that they can point guns at us, and pull the triggers, even, but that won't win for them, because we're right and they're wrong--the Prods, and the Brits. The other day she got another Brit to talk with her. He was a Paki [Pakistani]. Cathy asked him why he was over here, fighting for the old lady queen, and for Paisley and his gang. Then she reminded him that if he got killed, what about his family, they'd miss him. I told her to hush up. She kept going, though--and he came over and told her she had a sassy mouth. He pulled out some candy, and told her to take it, and maybe it would sweeten her.
She did; she chewed on the caramel, and she said thank you, and she gave him a big smile, like she does her father when she wants to cuddle up to him.
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He thanked her, and the following day they had a longer talk, and they became friends. He told me I had a nice girl, and I said I know I do! When Cathy said her prayers, she asked God to spare her Paki friend. Then she decided, one day, that it isn't the individual Brits here who are the enemy--it's the rich Prods, and it's England and the way the English government treated our people.
She's always having these long talks with God! And with the priest! Father would say Cathy is truly a Christian.
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He says in his sermons that our children are close to Jesus, just like He said they were when He came down to us. Her British soldier friend had drawn upon his personal life in an intriguing way. Cathy gave her mother the gist of the observation, and the latter, in turn, offered it to me the next day: "The Paki told Cathy he had the answer to our problems in Derry.
He said that if a few hundred of his people were brought here, then all the Catholics and Protestants would unite--and hate the Paki people! Cathy said no. I did, too. But at night, cleaning up and talking with my husband, I changed my mind. I think we'd have a lot of unhappy people in Derry, if there was a district filled with colored families. I admitted as much to Cathy, and she asked, 'Mummy, do you mean that the only way we can be nice to each other is to have people around we can point at and not be nice to?
Would Jesus stand up for them today? They've been bad to us, and they still are; we're 'pigs' to them, and they say so, and we are poor, and they own everything. Father said, 'True,' the way he always does, but he said, 'Hate feeds on hate,' and someone has to break the circle, and Christ did that, and if we could only be Christians, we would, too. Of course, I do believe Father wants us to keep fighting for our rights; I know he doesn't want us to surrender.
He wants us to stand up for ourselves as Christians, and not stoop to the level of those who've been so bad to us.
But that is hard to do, very hard! We're only human; we're not gods! The everyday speech of common people, uneducated and thoroughly impoverished. Trite remarks, perhaps meant to serve the purposes of self-justification. As for the Pakistani man, a British subject serving Her Royal Highness, he has had no college education either. His family took advantage of their Commonwealth status, migrated to London after the second world war--another partition the English engineered as they extricated themselves, yet again, from a stretch of the Empire's swollen territorial domain.
Did Freud, however, say any more than that soldier with these words in Civilization and Its Discontents? I remember another girl of the same age, American and black, struggling against mobs in New Orleans during the integration struggle that dominated that city's life in the early s. This child, only six, of humble and illiterate background, prayed at night for her white tormentors. I was sure she had "Ether feelings"--located where else?