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UCC Express W/C 29th Sep - Addiction

A recent story about the horrendous treatment an elderly man received on board a bus from Tralee to Cork, not only at the hands of the driver, but also from the majority of the bus’s passengers, has shed some light on to the unpalatable truth of just how inhumane and uncaring some sections of modern Irish society have become. Many assume this to be an isolated incident, where an elderly man simply had the misfortune of sharing his difficult journey, not only with passengers, but also a driver, seemingly vacant of any shred of human compassion. But, to assume this would be incorrect, in my opinion.

An argument that has been put forward to justify the awful treatment this sick, elderly man received, is that the lynch mob aboard the bus, as well as the driver, thought he was drunk. But even if that was the case, which it most certainly wasn’t, why should the fact that someone is intoxicated have any bearing on people’s desire to help a distressed, elderly man, or any human being for that matter? Is someones intoxicity a “get out of jail” card when it comes to displays of humanity? It seems so.

We have entered an era where narcissism and a rush to prejudge seem to trump all other human qualities and prerogatives. Modern day society has become so preoccupied with self worth, self portrait and selfishness, that the very qualities that make us human have long been forgotten about. An ill, elderly man’s treatment at the hands of some despicable people rightly grabbed headlines, and in doing so forced Bus Eireann to issue an apology and investigate. But because one man’s plight has grabbed headlines, don’t assume that many more plights and instances of depraving inhumanity, are not ignored by media outlets on a daily basis.

A pet peeve of mine is how addicts are treated in this country, particularly the most recently maligned heroin addicts. Cork has recently experienced a massive upsurge in the use of heroin. By it’s very nature, heroin will create addicts, and have no doubt about it, heroin addiction is not a nice place to be. Walk any street in our beautiful city and you will encounter what have commonly become known as “junkies”. Even the use of this term shows how desensitised society has become to the plights of others.

The ability to just disregard another human being as a piece of thrash, because of a personal addiction, an addiction that befalls many who have torrid lives, is so blatantly inhumane it amazes me it is so widely accepted. And accepted it most certainly is! The same media who embellish stories like that of the unfortunate, ill, elderly man, use the same degrading terms about addicts regularly, seemingly ignorant to the fact that addicts are human beings also. A cursory scan through social media would show that such terms are even used by the supposed progressive and more liberal of journalists.

Of course at this stage, many will imply that addicts have no one to blame but themselves. This view is completely at odds with the reality of serious drug addiction. It is no coincidence that abuse victims, the homeless and those living in abject poverty make up a sizeable portion of drug addicts across the nation of Ireland and wider humanity at large. Many experiment with drugs before they have the requisite knowledge and maturity to grasp the consequences and so never have an opportunity to make an informed decision on their future as a “junkie”.

It is ironic that in a state with such a definitive and elaborate drinking culture, that we bear such attitudes to addicts and wider illegal drug use. What is the difference between someone who has a few too many down the local every night of the week, and the addict who spends every waking hour, roaming the streets, looking for their next fix? Nothing, only the fact that one is classified as a criminal and the other a “poor crater” by society, not to mention a legal system that has proven itself time and again to be inept and totally incapable of dealing with modern day issues. 

By now, people may think I am being overly critical. I can understand that sentiment, as this is a topic that frustrates me a lot, and so I have not dressed up my dismay. Because of the impression this may have given, it is important to note that there are charities and societies up and down the country, filled to the brim with hugely dedicated men and women who give up their time every week, just to help those less fortunate. I’m sure most of you encounter acts of inspiring humanity every day, but we, as individuals, can always do more to challenge the prejudices against those that society deems undeserving of our humanity. 

Next time someone uses a term like “junkie”, “zombie” or “scumbag” think about the human being that lives with that tag. Remember no one grew up wanting to be an addict, we are nothing if not constructs of our environment. I know this because I come from a family who share my beliefs, born to a mother, who in fact instilled my beliefs, a mother, whose grace and humanity I try emulate every day. I share classrooms in this very college, with some of the most compassionate and inspiring classmates and lecturers anyone could hope to have. Neoliberalism’s grip on the Irish mind is just as strong and damaging as it has been on that of Ireland Inc and so as I get older, I truly hope that the tide of humanity that makes the Irish people the most charitable and humane on the face of the earth, does not recede so far, that eventually it leaves us all lost at sea, undeserving of one another's compassion.

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