fpb: (Athena of Pireus)
For me, personally, the final evidence of the guilt of British criminal Hanratty, of anarchist Nicola Sacco. and of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg - however different the circumstances - have been a personal shock. They are the undeniable proof that people can lie even in the face of death and eternity, that claims of innocence from the scaffold are no more reliable than from any other point. The case of Sacco's fellow-accused Bartolomeo Vanzetti seems even darker: he was probably himself innocent, but he knew that Sacco was guilty as Hell, and he deliberately died with a lie on his lips, for the sake of his imagined revolution. (And to add a further taste of futility to his false sacrifice, the historical fact is that the only party who benefited from his and Sacco's executions were the Communists, who had organized all the protests against their executions, and who were sworn enemies of Vanzetti's Anarchists and would have murdered him a good deal more nastily if he had ever fallen into their hands.) But perhaps the most significant of these is the lie of Hanratty, because that had nothing of the ideological justifications of Vanzetti and the Rosenbergs. Hanratty was not fighting for any "cause", however bad: he was a rapist and murderer with no ulterior motives. And he declared his innocence right to the point of death with a passionate intensity that deceived generations of activists including myself.


Jul. 21st, 2014 10:48 am
fpb: (Athena of Pireus)
The narrow defeat of the Obama administration in the Hobby Lobby case has sent its supporters into ecstases of rage and hate that have to be seen to be believed, and that in some cases can only be described as murderous. I am glad I don't live in the USA. But this fury, that bewilders many conservatives and independents, does not bewilder me. The Mandate was criminal from the beginning, criminal in its prehistory. Remember how deliberately the President lied to poor Bart Stupak and destroyed his career. And the Mandate is really much more basic to the Obama project than people realize, because they can't see its actual purpose. Le me draw a historical parallel.

Ireland has one of the saddest modern histories of any country in the world. Repeatedly invaded and devastated by the larger neighbouring island, its Catholic majority was reduced to a pulverized peasantry, paying tax they could not afford to Protestant landlords and being tithed for Protestant parsons; a miserable swarm of penniless, ignorant and leaderless grubbers of the soil, fed by potatoes, with no middle class or aristocracy or any consistency. But what you have to realize is that, the destruction of the Irish educated classes, in spite of the frightful massacres and repeated wars, were not the result of military oppression or even of mass murder; they were, in the main, the result of laws. England wrote dozens, indeed hundreds,of laws, to destroy the Irish nation as elaborately and as legally as possible. As the Irish Protestant Edmund Burke said, the English laws against Irish Catholics - or "penal laws", as they are shamefully called - were "a complete system, full of coherence and consistency, well digested and well composed in all its parts. It was a machine of wise and deliberate contrivance, as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people, and the debasement of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man.”

The Mass, of course, could not be said: to have it said or to say it meant life imprisonment. But neither could Catholics be educated: to set up a Catholic school was equally a matter of life imprisonment. And Catholics were to be robbed by law: "Every Roman Catholic was... to forfeit his estate to his nearest Protestant relation, until, through a profession of what he did not believe, he redeemed by his hypocrisy what the law had transferred to the kinsman as the recompense of his profligacy." The law encouraged Protestants to steal from their Catholic relations, or even pretended relations; and not just large amounts, but everything - every bit of property they had. "When thus turned out of doors from his paternal estate, he was disabled from acquiring any other by any industry, donation, or charity; but was rendered a foreigner in his native land, only because he retained the religion, along with the property, handed down to him from those who had been the old inhabitants of that land before him."

"....Catholics, condemned to beggary and to ignorance in their native land, have been obliged to learn the principles of letters, at the hazard of all their other principles, from the charity of your enemies. They have been taxed to their ruin at the pleasure of necessitous and profligate relations, and according to the measure of their necessity and profligacy,"

"Examples of this are many and affecting. Some of them are known by a friend who stands near me in this hall. It is but six or seven years since a clergyman, of the name of Malony, a man of morals, neither guilty nor accused of anything noxious to the state, was condemned to perpetual imprisonment for exercising the functions of his religion; and after lying in jail two or three years, was relieved by the mercy of government from perpetual imprisonment, on condition of perpetual banishment. A brother of the Earl of Shrewsbury, a Talbot, a name respectable in this country whilst its glory is any part of its concern, was hauled to the bar of the Old Bailey, among common felons, and only escaped the same doom, either by some error in the process, or that the wretch who brought him there could not correctly describe his person,—I now forget which. In short, the persecution would never have relented for a moment, if the judges, superseding (though with an ambiguous example) the strict rule of their artificial duty by the higher obligation of their conscience, did not constantly throw every difficulty in the way of such informers. But so ineffectual is the power of legal evasion against legal iniquity, that it was but the other day that a lady of condition, beyond the middle of life, was on the point of being stripped of her whole fortune by a near relation to whom she had been a friend and benefactor; and she must have been totally ruined, without a power of redress or mitigation from the courts of law, had not the legislature itself rushed in, and by a special act of Parliament rescued her from the injustice of its own statutes..."

It says enough about the power of brute prejudice, of a kind we see in the highest places today, that this unanswerable attack on a disgraceful law lost Burke an election he should have won. The English had been taught to hate Catholics so much that they evidently thought that nothing done to them could be wrong or unjust.

What the Mandate is designed to do, mutatis mutandis, is exactly this. This is why the political and media leadership of your country has fought for it so obstinately, so savagely, and so underhandedly; this is why it took even a narrow defeat with murderous rage. It is because the real purpose of this abomination is to exclude Christians and especially Catholics from economic life. In a world in which money is the only power that can really affect politics - as Obama and his people know all too well - it is intolerable to them that there should be a number, however small, of rich people and of company owners who take their Christianity seriously. In this day and age it is not yet possible to make it legal for a man of the government's party to simply steal the property of his dissenting relatives; and besides, there is not - or not yet - a simple test of identity to separate the government's friends from its enemies, as membership in the "Protestant" church was in Burke's time. But they can impose a tax for a purpose that no Christian can accept, and then savagely penalize them - not by jailing them, which is not what they want, but by fining them into ruin.

Look at it in this light, and the whole mechanism becomes lucid, clear, rational and perfectly designed for its purpose. It is intended to make it impossible for Christians to have any independent economic activity in the USA, by making sure that they either have to resign their principles or be taxed into bankruptcy for them. Of course, they could not possibly declare their purpose; of course they lied from beginning to end. But that, and nothing else, is what this Mandate does.

Incidentally, this also gives you an insight into the real view that Obama and his henchmen have of the political process in your country, and of the nature of political power. This law is not meant to strike at Catholic or Christian faith. It does not try to obtain conversions. It does not set up anything like the imposing apparatus by which republican France, after 1875, worked tirelessly to break the ancestral Catholicism of its masses. The only thing that matters, the thing for which they have fought, the thing for which they have lied, the thing for which they ruined Bart Stupak and compromised the word of the President of the United States of America, was to be sure that no rich Catholics or Christians should exist. Wealth had to remain exclusively among people who had no problem with paying tax to distribute IUDs and abortifacients with a shovel. Because in the eyes of Obama and his crowd, only the very rich are politically significant. This attempt to winnow the Christians from their numbers makes it perfectly clear.
fpb: (Default)
Dear Natalie,
there will be no singeing of eyebrows or of any other anatomical part, because you have retracted - or rather, you have made it clear that you had no intention of saying - what had offended me in the original post. As long as we agree that any moderately mature human being has a right to have, and a duty to defend, a view of the value and significance of human life, regardless of his/her knowledge of medicine, biology, or genetics, there is no fundamental problem between us.

Indeed, I would argue that if you accept that much, you have conceded my point of view; not by the first admission, but by the corollaries it involves. I mean, we agree that the views of ordinary humans about human life are potentially of equal value. I will not say, of equal value, full stop; because, in many cases, they will contradict each other - one person will state for a fact something that another person will take as absolutely false - and in that case, to say that both views are of equal value can only mean that neither is of any value at all. Which is the exact opposite of what we were trying to say, of what, I think, I can say you accepted.

No: we have to say that although all views have potentially the same value, some will be found to be closer to the facts, and consequently to the truth, than others. Some will have to be discarded, some accepted and developed. Some of us will be right, some wrong; most at some point between being utterly right and thoroughly wrong. What we meant about the potential equality of value of all views, then, is this: that each adult human being has the potential to achieve a correct and helpful view of the significance and value of human life, simply by dint of being human. That is, the experience of living as a human being is the only necessary intellectual equipment needed to reflect and argue about the significance and value of human life.

At the end of the day, this is not too difficult a view to reach. We all experience human life on equal terms. We are born, live, and die. There is no special magic in any particular branch of science to open avenues in this unknown to the average man. C.S.Lewis put it extremely well when discussing the Death and Resurrection of Jesus: a modern scientist can give you all the stages of physical degeneration in a dying and dead body, down to the stage where the blood breaks down (as described in the gospel of John, 19.34); but a tribesman from central Africa will just as easily tell you that dead bodies don't just get up and walk. Physical death is not different to either of them, in any way that will alter its meaning and value; and both of them may reach contradictory views about it.

The reason for this is that life unfolds itself, not only before, but within us; that our understanding of life is based first and foremost on the kind of thing we are. And that being the case, the experience of life of the most ordinary person, so long as s/he is open to understanding and not in denial about him/herself (which, alas, can happen), is as valuable as that of any other. It is the only area in which it is as valuable. I might be wary of accepting my grandmother's view of foreign policy, or antiquity, or nuclear physics (were it not that it would not occur to her to express any such views); but I have no qualms at all about listening to her about people, friends, relationships, behaviour, conscience. These are all things she has every right to speak about with authority.

Among the things that are known only by experience is the way in which human life develops. My brother-in-law told me that being a father means being continuously surprised by the growth and change of his baby. I know what he means. For two years now, I have seen this little thing grow and develop. Everyone knows about the difference it makes when the child first stands, walks, or says his first word; but, to me, one of the most stunning changes was when, after months of picking up things and placing them in his hands, he one day gave me something. Because it meant that he had begun to realize that I was the same sort of thing that he was, a self as he was a self, and that he could give things to me just as much as I could give things to him.

I did not keep a diary of my nephew's development, but I feel fairly sure that this was before he began to articulate words. However, the precise stage at which this happens is less important than the fact that this was a stage: that is, a definite point in a structured procession of events that was to lead my nephew to acquire all the essential features of a human being. The recognition of other humans as the same sort of thing as oneself, the ability to interact with them, not passively as the baby receives his bottle, but actively as he gives me one of his toys (or his empty bottle), is something that very definitely was not there then and is there now; one of a number of things implied in the process that is very inadequately called "growing up".

"Growing up" is more than an inadequate label, it is a misleading label. What it implies is that the difference between a new-born baby, a child of six, and an adult of twenty, is only size (a fallacy that leads people who know nothing about children to rant about "children's rights" and insist on treating children as miniature adults). As a matter of fact, anyone who observes a child "grow up" realizes that the process is not only one of increase in size, but of increase in faculties, in abilities, in perception. The child knows from the beginning that it is dependent on the adult; or, if not "knows" - an absurd verb to use for a creature that has yet to gain the ability to learn from imitation - it at least exists in such a way that to demand help from an adult, and especially from the mother, is natural to it. And adults are so made that the upwards look of a baby to them becomes, to the vast majority of them, a demand in and of itself; whether asking for food or for warmth, there is a direct need to satisfy it. But the child does not know that the adult is the same kind of thing as oneself; this, in my view, only starts to happen when the child - as I experienced it - starts handing things back to the adult, doing to the adult the same kind of thing that the adult does to oneself.

I think this growth in consciousness has to come before the growth of language, because the realization - or acquisition - of common ground between baby and adult is a necessary pre-requisite of the baby being able to communicate at all. Communication depends on the awareness of a common nature; the very words are connected; to communicate, from Latin communicare, means to make common, lat. communis - and that in turn means something that belongs to all member of a given group, *cum+munis, where a munus is a property or endowment or quality or gift. Communication, then, is making a property, an endowment, a gift one has - such as knowledge - common with another, or to share in something that is common; both meanings are deeply relevant to the acquisition of communication - it is both the gain of something new in common, and a sharing based on a common nature. It cannot take place without a common ground in existence. In spite of famous jokes and even more famous folktales, sane people do not talk to trees - and if they do, they do not expect to be answered back.

At a minimum, this means that common humanity between child and adult is not acquired until the child and the adult achieve communication. That is, if you take the contemporary view of the embryo and the process of birth - that the embryo can be regarded, until a particular time, as not human at all, potential at best, a lump of inert cells at worst - then we have to push the limit of entry into common humanity, with all the legal protection this implies, very high indeed; perhaps to the second year of life outside the womb. In other words, the sinister Princeton philosopher Peter Singer, who advocates the right to infanticide, would be perfectly right: if we grant the right to abortion because the embryo, until a certain point, has nothing human about it, then our own logic demands that the born child be similarly regarded. Our ancestors, who were not as a rule sentimental, knew this, and treated what is commonly called "exposure" (leaving an undesired or disabled infant out in the night to die, or even throwing it down certain ravines) as a normal part of child-rearing. The Roman historian Tacitus actually found it detestable that the Jews of his time forbade exposure and abortion, with the result that their numbers constantly increased (Historiae 5.5: cetera instituta, sinistra foeda, pravitate valuere... Augendae tamen multitudini consulitur; nam et necare quemquam ex agnatis nefas... putant: hinc generandi amor...").

We know that nobody could contemplate such an idea in the modern world without horror, without, indeed, being silenced by an universal howl of indignation and rage. While the child still within the womb is supposed to be regarded purely as an inert mass, the child fresh out of it is the object of the most tender and eager regard; and people like Singer are simply regarded as desperate maniacs, instead of people who just argue from common viewpoints. And indeed, while exposure could be treated as something normal - and its rejection as weird and dangerous - in the intellectual world of an aristocrat writing as it were in a vacuum, the evidence is that it was, as an institution, attended by terrible pain and overwhelming guilt. There is no legend of exposure that does not involve horror, guilt, and eventual ruin; the most famous, that of Oedypus, leads the exposed child to murder his father and marry his mother, which are only the first of a hideous series of further crimes that end in the complete destruction of their common city, Thebes. And all because a child was exposed.

Let's face it: while the ever-rational and argumentative mind of the Greeks and Romans had managed, by reasoning, to cope with the idea of getting rid of defective or unwanted infants, their imagination was incapable to deal with the results. They were as subject as we are to the sense of need that a child's big eyes and tiny mouth and nose convey naturally to our emotions. The argumentative reason that writes laws had accepted the idea of exposure; but the imaginative reason that creates myths and writes tragedies had found in it nothing but horror, that threatened doom. The exposure of a child, whatever the reason, would doom a city; the exposure of Oedypus dooms Thebes, and the exposure of Paris dooms Troy; the more efficaciously if the gods themselves are said to have commanded the exposure - because what passed for a divine command was not an order, but merely a statement that things would happen that way, so that the desperate measures taken to counteract the doom actually make it come true.

Human nature, then, recoils from the notion of exposure and infanticide. We know, we can observe easily - and the more easily the more babies we are familiar with - that the baby is not fully human; but we feel a bond with it that means that the notion of dealing with it as we deal with dogs and rabbits, cats and fishes, simply revolts us. We can only force it upon ourselves by the usual means by which all such perversions are accepted - by brutal argument.

All these are experiences that all human beings can experience, and it is for this reason that the view of any human being on these matters is potentially - I can never stress that enough: potentially - as valuable as any other's. However, the impasse we seem to have reached - between a supposed reason that would allow us to kill children of two at will, and an emotional reaction that makes the very thought revolting - is in fact a false problem. It is the premise of the reasoning that is wrong. It assumes that there is a cut-off point at which the being reaches the status of a human being. This is nonsense. Humanity is not a static state, but a process. It is what a human being is at five, what s/he is at twenty, and what s/he is at seventy, even though these conditions are greatly different from each other.

Now as soon as you awaken to this, you realize that the obvious definition of humanity tends to include all points of life. This is, in fact, the immediate intuition of the imagination, of the emotion, that rebels against the killing of human beings at any age. And it is not too hard to see that if you identify humanity with the whole process, the arch, of human life, then you find that imagination and reason agree. And that, far from being easily defended on grounds of reason, the exclusion from humanity of the early months of life is unreasonable and superstitious.

Now then, you will see that this argument easily stretches to an argument against abortion. If there is no point at which one can reasonably say that humanity enters the already living being, then there is no reasonable point at which you can deny it of the unborn foetus. It would clearly be the height of absurdity if, having united all points of human life from birth to death under one common notion of humanity, we suddenly stopped it at the moment when the waters break. We would have fallen right back into the trap of assigning an arbitrary limit that has no reasonable or logically defensible significance. As a future doctor, you know far better than I do just how far childbirth can be anticipated and life kept going. There is no magic about the ninth month of pregnancy; these days, we can anticipate the birth by months and still obtain a living and often healthy human being.

I would simply place the limit of humanity at the first presence of the individual life. It is not a matter of marking a precise moment or limit; it is rather, a matter of saying - a minute ago this thing was not here, now it is, and as long as it is, it is this kind of thing. Namely, human life. "When, exactly, does it start?" is a false problem; "is it there now?" is the proper question.

You see what this implies. A firm no to abortion and to all those kinds of contraception that destroy a zygote already created. And a conclusion that, from your point of view, has to be totally counter-intuitive: that is, that I do not object fundamentally to reproductive cloning, because to me a human life is sacred no matter how it starts; but I do utterly oppose the idea that you can create human life merely as a tool to be destroyed and employed mechanically for any kind of medicinal or other purpose, I find utterly revolting. It is, in my view, the same kind of reasoning from wrong premises and reaching wrong conclusions.

This essay has lasted much too long. There are, of course, a lot of things that could be said against my position (e.g. what about all the embryos that die naturally), but I hope that this bare outline has shown, at least, that it is a position that can be defended rationally. And - have you noticed? - without a single mention of religion.


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