Words and Secrecy

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

I was just listening this morning (Sunday Oct. 29) to RTÉ1 radio. I like to lie on in bed on Sunday listening to the various offerings until eventually I force myself to leave the comfort of words, ideas, a pot of tea and a warm duvet  to face the day.

Starting about 08:20h this morning, I was in time to get the end of a report on the assassination  of of the Maltese journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia on October 16 last. The Guardian wrote: “EU officials have denounced Caruana Galizia’s death as an attack on journalistic freedom and insisted that the rule of law must prevail. Malta is widely considered a tax haven and a tempting venue for those looking to launder or hide ill-gotten revenues. When I heard the reference to Malta being “considered” a tax haven, I sat up straight in bed and nearly spilled my tea! But that paled into insignificance when I considered the assassination of a woman who used words carefully but with deadly accuracy.

The next item on World Report was about Jose Alberto “El Pepe” Mujica, former President of Uruquay. I hadn’t heard that name before or if I had, I hadn’t remembered it. But when I heard a reference to Che Guevara, a great hero of my earlier Socialist world, I put the cup down just in case! The remainder of the programme was quite riveting. Jose Mujica uses words as blunt and direct as the methods he used when he was a former urban guerrilla fighter with the Tupamaros and with equally explosive effect. I particularly liked a comment from “El Pepe” quoted in the Guardian report on him written in 2014 with a minor update in 20117: “A left wing vision of the world requires you to imagine a future Utopia, but one doesn’t have the right to forget that the most important thing for every human being is the life they lead now.” I have been struggling to articulate a current preoccupation of mine in regard to Socialism and Capitalism in general. We seem to be locked into a two-dimensional political world of Right versus Left with  ambiguity compromise holding the balance in the Centre of Compromise. Nowadays with Capitalism and Socialism being questioned by electorates around the world as they appear to be rejecting both or else opting for extreme Right, I ask myself the question: if we had a three dimensional political arena what would be the third dimension? But more of that another time.

I returned to the radio about an hour later to get the Marion Finucane Show. The topics promised to be interesting so I sat back into bed with the remainder of my breakfast and listened. The panel was promising but I became increasingly uneasy with the “huffing and puffing” about the sentence imposed on Mr. Humphries last week, mirroring the comments thrown by many others in the media. I hope I don’t need to say it, but for safety reasons, perhaps I should say that his behaviour was reprehensible and had to be punished. But let us not forget that the law is not about justice, punishment, or rehabilitation, it is about .. the Law!

Much play has been made about the word “consensual”. I have always understood that to mean “agreed”. How on earth did a 14 year-old girl “agree” to that behaviour? Nearly seventy years ago, in an extremely conservative Ireland, my mother advised the eight-year-old me quietly one day that I was not go playing in a part of Cobh (now a housing estate) which then was called the Bush Field, a great place for kids to play “Cowboys and Indians” and run wild among gorse bushes, clumps of trees, winding pathways, with a small quarry and lots of places to hide and seek. Mam’s message was simple. “There is a bad man there and I don’t want you to go there until it is safe again.” Without her having to go into details, I accepted the advice. I knew from her voice that this was not negotiable.

There are questions that still have to be asked in regard to that whole story about Tom Humphries. I have answers to offer but this is not the place to pursue them. Nevertheless, I will not collude with those who may say, for reasons I am only anticipating, that these questions should not be asked. This child, this girl, now a teenager, may one day want answers so that, as an adult, she may be able to give them to her children and protect them. I wonder has anyone given thought to this aspect of the case.

The French have a word for it but the reference may be lost here. They say, “You need a longer run-up, to jump further.” Let me put it more relevantly so: We need a bigger shovel to dig deeper. We need to “dig” deeper into the circumstances and I am not convinced that the law and legal procedures and settings are the most appropriate way to do that. Ultimately these questions can only be answered by our asking these so far unasked questions of ourselves and others.  And do we ask these questions?

Remembering myself and my awareness as a young Irish child when, as we now know, we were less exposed, rightly or wrongly, to circumstances less openly discussed in public. Today’s society is very different in many ways to that of Ireland in the 1950s, but that does not necessarily imply that today’s human problems are any different to those faced by earlier generations.  I suggest that the following questions still need to be answered:

  1. How can a 14 y.o. be described as “consenting” to such behavior?Surely, to consent to something means that we are in full possession of the facts? If only one person knows what is going on, how can we then say that the other party is also consenting?
  2. What was lacking, or present, in her personal life that made such an arrangement attractive or inviting to her, especially during the grooming stage? Did she have any doubts or questions as to what was developing? Who might have she discussed it with?
  3. If that many thousands of messages were transmitted daily, (as reported) and mainly between 10 p.m and 6 a.m. did nobody, either family, neighbours, friends, teachers, in her family , in her circle of friends, in her school, notice anything about her physical appearance or behaviour to show that she regularly had less than 2 hours sleep per night over an apparently extended long period?
  4. How did she afford to pay the mobile phone bill for so much message traffic? I know that I cannot afford to spend a lot of time checking my email or surfing the web on my mobile phone before I receive grossly inflated phone bills. It happened once, but never again!

There is a lot of other questions that might be asked but I hope I have made my point clearly. I hope that I am not speaking to myself. Words are important. Silence covers secrets.