Objections and honesty from the streets
That's men:Was my use of the phrases “the male of the species” and “the female of the species” in a recent reference to drug addicts objectionable and dehumanising? One reader thinks so.
In this column on February 12th, I wrote that: “The most likely place to find an Irish woman delivering a monologue is in the vicinity of the Luas stop in Lower Abbey Street in Dublin where drug addicts congregate and the female of the species can sometimes be heard haranguing the male of the species joylessly for lengthy periods to absolutely no effect at all.”
My reader writes: “I object to the description of drug addicts as a species. I understand that you intended this as a joke, but I feel that it contributes to a culture that dehumanises drug addicts and casts them as legitimate hate figures, setting them up to absorb abuse from the rest of society and making it harder for them to rehabilitate.
“I don’t want to give the impression that I am writing from an ivory tower. I have worked (mostly in retail) in jobs in areas in Dublin where I would come in contact a fair bit with people who abuse drugs. I have also met people who used to be heavy heroin users but have since recovered (they do exist).”
The species usually referred to in phrases like “the female of the species” is humanity in general rather than any group in particular and isn’t usually taken as dehumanising. Perhaps my use of the phrase ridiculed drug addicts. But if ridicule of addicts discouraged people from getting into heroin use in the first place, would that be objectionable?
I should add that I, too, know people who used to use heroin but who are in recovery and are very fine people indeed.
So while I might make a joke out of the ridiculous carry-on of the small groups of addicts who are to be observed around Lower Abbey Street, I would not knowingly dehumanise them.
Addendum: In that same column I wrote about refusing to give money to a young man begging on the street and justifying the refusal to myself on the grounds that he would probably spend it on drink. As soon as I had justified myself in this way, I realised that in his place I would do exactly the same.
In response, another reader writes with this impressive example of honesty from a man begging in Dublin:
“Years ago while down near the Custom House, a tall man removed himself from the steps of the Custom house, approached me and asked me for money. I replied that I would give it to him if he spent it on a meal. My thought process was like yours. He was going to spend it on drink.
He fixed me with an eye and said that he would be telling me a lie if he said that he would do that. I gave it to him anyway as I was taken aback and impressed with his honesty.
That, in my book, is a rare honesty indeed and I hope I too would have handed over money in the circumstances.
“I do not know what the solution is to persons begging on the streets,” my reader adds. “The view now is that we should not give in those situations. I prefer to keep the question open as you may be concluding.”
I don’t know the answer either. I was sheltering from the rain beside a man recently who remarked it would be a bad night to be homeless. He works in the city centre and has noticed an increase in the number of people who spend the night sleeping in doorways. Not all can be there because of the drink. Some, I suspect, are stranded because they are unable to afford rent and barely able to survive on meagre welfare payments. I expect they will be joined by others before long, even as we “return to the markets” in a welter of self-congratulation.
Padraig OMorain (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a counsellor accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His book, Light Mind – Mindfulness for Daily Living, is published by Veritas. His monthly mindfulness newsletter is available free by email.