Imagine living in a world where people look at you and judge you by the amount of sides you have. Your entire worth is based on weather you are a circle, square, triangle, and so on. Laws and the definition of conduct are determined by the resident within your society who has the most circles, the priest. The real world that we live in is mandated in such a way. We, as a society, have our own type of sides that determines the way society see’s us. I some countries you are judged by religious qualities, in others the number of children one has may determine status. Here in the good old U.S.A. we look up to those who know the big shots, we approve those who go with the flow (those with the Tommy Jeans), and being a capitalistic society, those with the most dead presidents have the most sides. In countries other than ours some religions see other religions as having less sides. This even stretches into their societies and affects everything from their children to their economy. Some go as far as putting bombs on buses and shooting one another. In this reaction of Flatlands by Abbott, I will attempt to to apply the events that have unfolded throughout Ireland and how they coincide with Flatlands by Abbott.
Let’s start with the aspect of education in Northern Ireland. If an inhabitant of Flatland is born to an isosceles triangle then that is that child’s status, the same goes for the education of those in Northern Ireland. Controlled schools in Ireland are predominantly Protestant. When the school is opened members from the protestant church are approached to sit on the management committee (not the Catholic church); when there are vacancies for new students, a list is submitted to the Protestant churches to curtail the
enrollment of Catholic students. The same goes for the faculty of the schools. The Protestants feel that Protestant children should be taught by Protestants.
On the other hand the Catholic (maintained schools) are attended mainly by Catholic students and staffed mainly by catholic teachers.
Voluntary schools are mainly long established grammar schools attended by Catholic and Protestant students. Because of geographical location these schools have a very low rate of enrollment.
Most of the teachings, except for history, are similar throughout Catholic and Protestant schools, yet the attendance of students is less in the Catholic groups (25% Catholic; 30.9% Protestant). This has to do with the fact that there are far fewer Catholic grammar schools the Protestant grammar schools, so even if they qualify some Catholic children cannot enter school. This leads to less educational attainment by the Catholic societies, therefore increasing their “sides” when it comes to achievement. The backgrounds of the youth influence education in different ways also. The Catholic students come from the background of “triangles”; most of these students have parents who are in the blue-collar type of employment.
The Protestant students come from a more “of a equilateral triangle” background increasing their opportunities because of being in a higher class. Therefore we can see that social class, or “sides”, effect the education of younger Catholic subjects increasingly denying them opportunities the Protestant youths will grow up to have. This causes the Catholic subjects to have to
remain in the discriminatory Northern Ireland more so than Protestants making them subject to my next observation, the discrimination of the Roman Catholic people.
When discrimination rears it’s ugly head to the “triangular” subjects of the Catholic people, it does so in many different forms. I have elaborated on education and yet education is only part of it. Discrimination against Catholics, and the catholic community as a whole, was the key driving force in the Civil Rights movement of Northern Ireland. In areas of occupation opportunities, employment, policing, housing and segregation as a whole is influenced by whether you are Catholic or Protestant. Let’s begin with the subject of occupation opportunity and employment.
Well-educated Catholics do not seem to suffer any occupational disadvantages when compared to well-educated Protestants. However, the Catholic people are restricted to servicing their own community most of the time causing them to settle for the less gratifying careers than the Protestants. Most Catholics are forced to settle for a more “manual” occupation while the “squares” of the Protestants go into more professional, broader areas of employment. “Catholics are caught in a cycle in which lower occupational status leads to lower educational attainment which leads to lower occupational status and so on”(Boyle, 1976, p99). The observation by Boyle just goes to show that the “triangles” of the Catholic people are stuck in a cycle that keeps them “triangles” from generation to generation. Being in a cycle such as this that keeps the Catholics “triangular” seems to be unbreakable especially when the society the live in try
to keep them “triangular”. All of society in Northern Ireland influences the downfall of the Catholics, even the police.
The concept of looking down on someone because the are somewhat “less” than you seems unjustifiable, especially when we look at it from the viewpoint of Flatland.
What I mean by this is that the soldiers in Flatland are triangular such as the lower class. So can we compare the soldiers in Flatland to the police of Northern Ireland and the Catholics to the “triangular “ lower class? If so the why do those who are considered to be “triangular” so prejudiced against others who are “triangular”? The segregated areas of Protestant and Catholic Northern Ireland are policed by the same force. Yet the police seem to patrol and ensure order against paramilitary groups more often on the Protestant side. When there is civil unrest between the two groups the police more often than not take the side of the “square” Protestants than that of the “triangular” Catholics. This unjustified act is repeatedly common in Northern Ireland even with the rumor of peace talks. Even though the police, according to Flatland, are at the same hierarchical order in status as the Catholics the Catholics are still discriminated upon by them because the Protestants are in control. The policing process in Northern Ireland is a bad one, yet so is the housing situation.
58% of Catholics live in rented homes as compared to 31% of Protestants. Catholics also have twice the number of inhabitants per household. This goes back to financial status. The most common home in Flatlands in a five sided pentagonal home, for the Catholics those sides are very short. The effects of the segregation have affected every
thing from the education of youth to where the inhabitants of Northern Ireland live, but what are the factors that influence the segregation of the two groups?
A number of reasons can be identified which explain the tendency towards segregation. One is the tendency to live close to ones own religion. People find it more comfortable than mixed communities. It appears that Protestants find it important to keep segregation lines clear by using only Protestant owned services and giving available opportunities only to the Protestant people. Each community is unaware of its own behavior and attitudes, which signal its own cultural identity, and this suggests the exclusiveness of those outside: this is known as cultural blindness. This concept is not only influenced by personal contact, but is influenced greatly by reports and the media. Also when the Catholics begin to become stronger in a certain area in the culture, such as community involvement, the Protestants tend to separate themselves from the involvement to keep the segregation as it is. For example, a new leisure center that was open to Protestants and Catholics was predominantly used by Protestants. As the increase of Catholics began to inhabit the center, the Protestants cleared out. Much of the segregation has to do with what people find convenient to stay segregated.
In my lifetime, being a white male in a white male dominated country, I haven’t really experienced discrimination or segregation that much. Yet, coming from a large, blue collared background, I have experienced a feeling of inequality when it comes to economic status. Unlike the Catholics in Ireland I haven’t suffered or struggled as much yet I have struggled to achieve and attain what the “squares” of the world take for
granted. Just the opportunity to go to school has been attained at a large price on my part. The world, weather you are in Ireland or Huntsville, is different for everyone. It’s just easier for those with more “ sides”.
Barritt, D. and Carter, C. (1962) The Northern Ireland Problem: A Study in Group Relations.Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Smith, D.J. and Chambers, G. (1991) Inequality in Northern Ireland. Oxford, Clarendon Press.
Gibson, F., Michael, G. , and D. Wilson (1994). Perspectives on Discrimination and Social Work in Northern Ireland. London: Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work.