Never mind the evidence, feel the ‘truthiness’ of what Gerry Adams says
For Sinn Féin’s leaders, things that appear incompatible can be resolved
Pádraig MacLochlainn put it most touchingly: “I know the character of Gerry Adams and I absolutely believe him.” It’s that “absolutely” that should alert those of us outside the party that we are in the realms of pure truthiness. Photograph: Collins
I owe Sinn Féin an apology. I have been judging the handling of child sexual abuse by the wrong standard. Like many equally mistaken people, I’ve been asking for truth. But the proper standard is not truth, it’s truthiness. The American satirist Stephen Colbert coined “truthiness” to describe the tendency to believe things because they feel right to you rather than because they accord with mere evidence.
Sinn Féin is a truthy party. Over the last fortnight, one after another of its smart young TDs has come out to tell us that what really matters to them – and thus what should matter to the rest of us – is not evidence about what Gerry Adams did or did not do. It is the way their personal knowledge of Gerry makes them feel, which is, inevitably, an unshakeable sense of trust. Pádraig MacLochlainn put it most touchingly: “I know the character of Gerry Adams and I absolutely believe him.” It’s that “absolutely” that should alert those of us outside the party that we are in the realms of pure truthiness.
It’s no excuse for my error, but I presume you have to do some kind of course to achieve this level of truthiness, some training where you finally “go clear” of mere concern with objective truth and become whatever the Irish is for Operating Thetan. But, not having done the course, there is still one problem, rooted no doubt in false consciousness, that bothers me. I now completely accept that what matters is what people who know Gerry Adams believe absolutely in their gut. What I still can’t grasp is which Gerry Adams they believe absolutely.
Is it the Gerry who wrote in Republican News in 1976 that “I am an IRA volunteer” or the Gerry who insists he was never in the IRA? Is it the Gerry who told us his brother Liam left Ireland in 1987, after his daughter told Gerry that he had abused her from the age of four, or the Gerry who later accepted this was not so? The Gerry who told us his brother was “out of my life” from 1987 to 2002 or the Gerry who, in his 1996 autobiography Before the Dawn makes 11 affectionate references to “our Liam” and, in the acknowledgements thanks him “especially” for his help? The Gerry who says he had his brother Liam “dumped out of Sinn Féin” in 1997 or the Gerry who had Liam as chairman of the Lower Andersonstown Sinn Féin cumann in his own constituency from 2000 until late 2005?
Social servicesThe Gerry who said last week he advocated that victims of sexual abuse be directed to social services or the Gerry who did not tell social services in Donegal (where Liam was living with another young daughter), in Dundalk or in Belfast (in both of which Liam was a “youth worker”) that a man he knew to be a child abuser had access to children?
The Gerry who told his brother’s trial, under oath, that “I didn’t believe at that point that my brother was a danger” [to children] or the Gerry who told the same trial, in relation to his brother’s rape of his daughter, that “a person who would do such a thing is a danger to other children”?
The Gerry who made no mention in a statement to the PSNI in 2007 of his brother having admitted the abuse to him, or the Gerry who remembered this admission in a statement in 2009?
To those of us not trained in truthiness it is impossible to understand how smart Sinn Féin TDs can “absolutely” believe Gerry when he says things that, to the unenlightened, appear contradictory. But we have to acknowledge the party’s leaders have reached a level of consciousness where things that appear incompatible can be resolved. Mary Lou McDonald presumably sees no contradiction between her complete support for Gerry now and her call in 2009 for those in the Dublin Catholic archdiocese and the Garda who failed to get known abusers away from children to be “arrested and made to face the full rigours of the law”.
Two mindsMartin McGuinness is clearly untroubled by what might appear to the rest of us a conflict between his call (in 2010 and again in 2012) for Cardinal Seán Brady to resign because he had failed to act against a child abuser and the absence of any suggestion that Gerry should do the same. But becoming an adept in truthiness clearly allows you have not just one mind but two, operating entirely independently of each other.
No wonder Sinn Féin is furious: how galling for people who operate on this higher level of truthiness to be dogged by those who are stuck on the muddy ground of mere truth. Being able to believe absolutely in absolutely opposed statements has an unfortunate cost: it is hard to communicate with the deluded ones who think that something either happened or didn’t. And with those who would like to be governed by people who act on evidence, rather than on what they feel.