Writing about the novelist Iain Banks at his death on 9 June 2013 Erica Wagner observed that “great writers do something new; great writers do something no one has seen before and actually it is a great compliment to upset people. That’s really the job of art in some way . . .” It is inconceivable that Wagner meant to say writers should set out deliberately to “upset people.” Rather, I understand her to say writers and other commentators on the realities of their environment should not be overly concerned about reactions to truth.
It would seem Luke was of the same mindset when he wrote at 12:48: “Of whom much is given, much is expected.” The apostle held that that servant who knows his master’s will but does not get ready to follow his master’s instructions will be beaten with many blows; but the one who unknowingly does things worthy of punishment will be beaten with few blows. Moreover: “If a person sins and does any of the things which the Lord has commanded not to be done, though he is unaware, still he is guilty and shall bear his punishment.” When you’ve screwed up, don’t count on ignorance getting you off the hook!
It is also said that the devil quotes Scripture to suit his purpose. But just this once I would prefer, for all our purposes, we pretend I am not the devil; that I’m only a writer on this occasion quoting with calculated intent the apostle Luke. And what is my intent? Certainly not to upset people; even though, as already we’ve been told, there ain’t nuthin’ wrong with that. My purpose is to remind readers that a man’s profession, his wealth, his social status should never be allowed to shield him or her against the law and fair criticism.
That was my thinking recently when, without buffers, I spoke my piece about St. Mary’s College principal Rowan Seon, Archbishop Rivass, and several soi-disant social commentators who are, by my measure, willing weapons of mass distraction. My detractors, the majority pseudonymous Facebook mind readers, carefully avoided my song. They sought instead to concentrate on this singer’s presumed motives. One in particular, doubtless fishing for support among the faithful herd, quoted me as saying on TALK that I had come this close to calling Archbishop Rivass some kind of ass. Which was true. But then the caller to Newsspin went on to say only a man separated from his mind would say something so obviously asinine, not to mention blasphemous. And on TV!
“Rick has gone mad” cried the morality maven. To which the wise-owl Newsspin host replied: “Oh, no, Rick’s not mad. He’s just er . . .” He paused, presumably for dramatic effect. “Rick’s just different!” And I, listening at my laptop thought: Damn, that’s good. Rick’s just different! My own description of myself is a tad more prosaic: an equal opportunity ass-kicker, whether such ass be bejeaned or cassocked.
For several reasons have I long respected Rowan Seon. But one of them is more personal than the rest: on more than one occasion Mr. Seon had permitted me the opportunity to address his impressionable students. It matters not that they had requested my presence; their principal could’ve kiboshed the idea. Or decided my initial appearance had been more than enough. I had taken the first opportunity to revisit the circumstances that a century or so ago had led to my expulsion in absentia from the revered institution. I never had an opportunity to defend myself against the charge brought against me by person or persons unknown.
The story, as I learned several years later, was that the school’s operators—the Presentation Brothers—had somehow discovered I had been fornicating with a young member of their kitchen staff. We were both 14 years old. I was the first tenant at the institution’s hostel and regularly ate lunch in the monastery’s kitchen. I knew the fornication story to be altogether false; so did poor Lydia. But coming from the mouths of monks as white as their starched cassocks, their story might just as well been Scripture. My dearly departed Catholic mother had swallowed the tale as if it had been delivered by the hand of Moses. She beat me near to death. Oh but the lesson I learned from the experience was well worth the blows: it’s not only books that should not to be judged by their covering. If in my childish naivete I had imagined holy white folk incapable of lying—and impervious to female veal, however young and enticing—I twice confronted at age fourteen and thirty numbing reality. The second shocker was handed me by Lydia herself, as I say, years after the fact, when by accident we were reintroduced. Only then did I learn the reason I had been kicked out of St. Mary’s without trial had less to do with the school than with the aforementioned cook’s assistant.
It is high time we acknowledged that the office does not make the man. But the man can make or destroy the office. Mr. Seon merits the adulation of his students, present and former, as well as the respect given him by all who know him. But Mr. Seon must know what happened at the college three weeks or so ago represented but an egg dropped by the monster he and so many other well-placed citizens had chosen to ignore for over half a century. He still deserved his blows, if he didn’t know (check Luke above). The signs were everywhere: a monster was developing in our midst that sooner or later would consume us all. By whatever name, the monster fed on our collective hypocrisy; our determination to keep on pretending all was well with our society when the contrary evidence was overwhelming. The justice system was not only unfair to those most in need of its protection, it also shielded the crooked in high places. Instead of exposing corruption in public office, we took the easy road and permitted ourselves, with our tacit endorsements, our convenient blindness, also to be corrupt. We saw only the poor and defenseless filling our prison and spoke not a word not a word not a word!
On the night three obviously misguided individuals broke into St. Mary’s a young man was fatally shot as he sat in a parked vehicle belonging to a former MP and hundreds partied around him. There have been no related arrests. On the same night, shortly after she accepted a ride from her Dennery neighbor, a woman was raped and chopped up like pork at an abattoir. There were other equally egregious incidents on the evening in question. But what broke Mr. Sean’s scholarly heart and brought the holy Rivass out of his stable was what had occurred at the college. I expected Mr. Seon to have demonstrated concern for our deteriorating society much earlier. Rivass, too. And the other criers for justice on the occasion. I was most disappointed with what appeared in my eyes to be less than genuine concern for the expanding monster in our midst. And yes, I said as much. On TV. In language calculated to stir the hypocritical loins island-wide. I have no regrets.
More indisputable truth: our social commentators profit from their silence. Or think they do—until the consequences of their cowardly silence grab them by their throats or—as the possible next US president would say—“by the pussy!” This week was not without its share of commonplace horrors, more rapes, more homicides, more suicides. As usual, there have been the usual over-heated expressions of concern that had nothing to do with the causes that have rendered our society, our justice system, our churches, our leaders complicit. What will it take to force us to tackle the monster in our midst; the insatiable monster that was born of our complacency, our greed, our disgusting silence?