Scenes from the aftermath in Oakland:
stories of victims, survivors and healers.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Undefined Hatred in Oakland and Ireland

Then: Irish party fight

In early 19th Century Ireland rural farmers and farm workers, generally referred to as "peasants" in those days, would form secret societies, or parties, which sometimes would turn to violence for the purpose of resisting abuse by Protestant landlords.  Sometimes they fought each other, sometimes for no apparent reason.  In some ways, they were like the gangs and turf groups of Oakland and other urban places in America today.

Here, a character in a contemporary story by Irish novelist William Carleton describes the problems with the parties, with the vagueness of their mutual hatreds, the senseless violence they commit, and how they passed their hatred from generation to generation.

The writing is a little old-fashioned, but clear, and the joke of the title of the story, "The Party Fight and Funeral," is that whenever there's a party fight, inevitably follows a funeral.

I read it last night, and it reminded me of what many thoughtful people in Oakland have told me about the nature and depth of our own troubles:

I believe you would find...difficulty in ascertaining the cause of the feuds from the factions themselves. I really am convinced they know not, nor, if I rightly understand them, do they much care. Their object is to fight, and the turning of a straw will at any time furnish them with sufficient grounds for that.  I do not think, after all, that the enmity between them is purely personal: they do not hate each other individually; but having originally had one quarrel upon some trifling occasion, the beaten party could not bear the stigma of defeat without another trial of strength.  Then if they succeed, the onus of retrieving lost credit is thrown upon the party that was formerly victorious.  If they fail a second time, the double triumph of their conquerors excites them to a greater determination to throw off the additional disgrace; and this species of alternation perpetuates the evil.

These habits, however, familiarize our peasantry to acts of outrage and violence -- the bad passions are cultivated and nourished, until crime, which peaceable men look upon with fear and horror, lose their real magnitude and deformity in the eyes of Irishmen.  I believe this kind of undefined hatred between either parties or nations is the most dangerous and fatal spirit which could pervade any portion of society.  If you hate a man for an obvious and palpable injury, it is likely that when he cancels that injury by an act of subsequent kindness, accompanied by an exhibition of sincere sorrow, you will cease to look upon him as your enemy; but where the hatred is such that, while feeling it, you cannot, on a sober examination of your heart, account for it, there is little hope that you will ever be able to stifle the enmity which you entertain against him.
                                          --William Carleton, The Party Fight and Funeral, 1852 

Now: Oakland crime scene

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