Lately, the buzzword that has been racketing around in my head like a confused housefly, bumping into barriers of logic and insight while trying to find a way out, has been this bizarre "Culture of Life" thing. It's wrong on so many levels that I just don't know where to start.
I didn't really follow the whole Terry Schiavo issue because it struck me as an invasion of privacy on a rather grand scale, and I didn't think it seemly to watch; however, it was clear to me at the onset that the husband was within his rights and did the right thing.
There has to be somebody with the authority to speak for you whenever you are unable to speak for yourself, and according to the laws of this country, that person is your spouse; if you don't have a spouse, then your parents; barring parents, then your nearest blood relative; and barring any of these, the State has the authority. It's very clear, orderly, and rational, which is why nobody was able to stop it. It has nothing to do with life, or with God... it's about the maintenance of personal authority and the orderly devolution of property, which are the entire foundation for all marriage and estate law.
And let's pass lightly over the inherent contradiction that this "Culture of Life" is being touted by a group of people who think that execution is a super-duper way of dealing with criminals, that bombing civilians is a perfect solution to political infringements on the oil trade, and that everyone should have the right to own as many instruments of death as they can afford to buy at the gun-show... of course it's illogical, because it isn't based in Truth: none of these people actually believe in what they're saying, they're saying it because they want you to believe in it.
What is more important to my skeptic's mind, when presented with this rather gaudy distraction, is to look around and see what it is I'm supposed to be distracted from. And with this government, it's not hard to find... BushCo has not been notable for its subtlety.
I mean, this war is dragging on and on, the Iraqi people are still (surprise!) not unanimously thrilled with their "liberation," Osama bin Laden remains at large and Saddam Hussein remains untried, Halliburton still gets paid before our soldiers, who are still being killed due to shoddy equipment, and our national debt is going through the roof while at the same time gas prices continue to skyrocket (I paid $2.82/gallon for 87-octane at the pump yesterday); unions are going bankrupt protecting their workers against corporate-shilled legislation, unemployment continues to rise as more jobs are sent overseas, consumer debt is growing at an alarming rate (I just read in Reader's Digest, not a left-leaning publication by any means, that the average American is carrying over seven thousand dollars in credit-card debt, which doesn't even include mortgage and other loan debt) while prices for just about everything keep on going up and up and up; the American family is getting poorer while the American corporation is getting richer.
Let's face it, this administration will point and holler at just about anything to keep us distracted from the mess they're making of our world.
"Hey look, two dogs fucking!" the government yells, and the simple majority of the country (and I do mean simple) turns obligingly around to gawk in fascination and disgust. "Turn a hose on 'em," someone shouts; "Leave 'em alone, it's just nature," another someone shouts; "Don't let the children see," a lady who's never had an orgasm screams; "Whoever owns those dogs should be fined," a man with a collection of animal porn in his basement demands... and so on and so forth, and the thieves continue to clean out your houses while you're out on the lawn arguing with each other and trying to decide what exactly it is you're supposed to feel about the relative rights and moralities of those fucking dogs.
And those of us who really aren't interested in the fucking dogs, those of us who'd like to keep our DVD-players and heirloom silverware inside our houses, are attacked by the morons on the lawn who will not turn around and look at what we're looking at... because to do so would be to admit they'd been stupid in the first place; they can't admit they were (and are) stupid, so instead they accuse us of being anti-decency, anti-life, anti-children, and somehow anti-God.
What makes the "Culture of Life" and Terry Schiavo brouhaha so confusing is that it's really a distraction from another distraction, which in turn was a distraction from an earlier distraction, so many layers of distraction that I don't think anybody remembers what hidden sleight-of-hand started the whole cascading mess of scrims and curtains. The Schiavo case touched on a number of emotionally charged issues, and if commentators and observers were allowed to follow trains of thought too far afield from the central dramatic image of this poor brain-dead woman with a "loving expression" in her open empty eyes, a lot of little card-houses would have tottered and maybe even fallen, revealing the sordid little sins underneath.
So this big media circus pops up, focused around a central dramatic image, and the current administration of demagogues have to jump up and start turning their tricks. But there was a bit of a problem brought up by the Schiavo case: the legal issue of marital rights. And we can't be allowed to look too closely at marital rights because, just now, one of the biggest puppet-shows being put on for our diversion is Gay Marriage versus Defense of Marriage; and if we start asking whether or not a husband has the right to speak for and make life-and-death decisions on behalf of a brain-damaged wife, we might start thinking about the other various legal definitions of marriage, and that wouldn't do at all.
The chief argument that has to be played for the Defense of Marriage (because all the other possible arguments can be shot right out of the sky with one or two observations from an intelligent person) is the sanctity of marriage, focusing on the socio-religious connotations appertaining to marriage. There is no reason based in law and logic to deny marriage to same-sex partners that will not rebound unpleasantly on a lot of already-married opposite-sex partners, so the legal and logical issues have to be smoke-screened with emotional and religious issues in order to keep the puppet-show going.
And in order to keep the religious element of this or any other puppet-show alive, you have to pander to the religious zanies of this land (of which there are many, and always have been... ours is a nation that owes its cultural foundation to religious zanies, after all); pandering to and manipulating religious zanies is fairly easy, because they have faith-based brains rather than reason-based brains, and can be counted on to not think things through with any clarity... you can also count on them to influence the less-zany religous folk of this land, the not-so-vocal moderate Christians in particular, because once you invoke the name of God and threaten a person's ability to worship as he or she chooses, if you can somehow paint the scapegoat as the common enemy of all Christians no matter the denomination or creed, you can usually sway that person to your point of view.
I do not mean to disparage Christians as individuals, I have many Christian friends and family; but I have observed over the years that the religion of Christianity has a tendency to discourage logical thought processes. There are Christians who are true Christians, who love God through their fellow human beings and who take with a grain of salt the innumerable contradictory interpretations of the Bible; there are Christians who eschew the easy answer and continuously seek God's will rather than coming to the dangerous conclusion that they already know exactly what it is. But you cannot escape the problem that revealed religion is inherently irrational, that miracles and divinity are inherently irrational, and by building one's life around such irrationality, one damages one's ability to be rational.
Many Christians are taught to simply accept the existence and will of God without questioning either, to simply have Faith that the Bible is the literal and unreinterpretable Word of God despite any logical argument or scientific proof to the contrary; many Christians are taught that their doubts are planted by the Devil, and that to entertain a doubt as to the veracity of your particular congregation's interpretation of Scripture is sinful and must be ignored (which is a great way to get people not to argue); quite a few Christians have had their doubts shamed out of them by the essentially totalitarian regimes of the denominational and dogmatic churches that make up the majority of Christian worship, and would no more admit to doubting their religious tenets than they would admit to playing with their assholes while masturbating.
With this kind of training, started in toddlers' Sunday School and reinforced by being completely surrounded by one's church community all of one's life, many Christians can be led by an authoritative-sounding preacher, or any politician who claims God as his authority, because they've been taught not to question such people. And if you don't question God, how can you possibly question your own beliefs? And if you can't question your beliefs, how can you know what you do, in fact, believe... how much of what you think you believe is just a habit of mind?
Be that as it may, religious zanies are difficult to control because they jump to judgements rather quickly... religious zanies are to puppet-show politics what dynamite is to railroad construction: terribly useful, but a trifle unpredictable. And so you can't base your smoke-screen puppet-shows solely on religious grounds... you have to go even deeper into the science of propagandistic manipulation by playing on people's deepest, most irrational animal fear: all you have to do is threaten their children; and if that doesn't work, threaten them directly.
The problem the Schiavo case presented to the larger American populace, the reason it caught the public interest in the first place, was a parent's right to protect the life of his or her child. Though in law, the spouse has first rights, no parents ever quite lose the biological urge to protect their own children, no matter how grown-up or married they are. When the television-watching masses were presented with this heart-rending representation of parents unable to intervene over the slow death of their daughter, the parents in the audience reacted to the story as if it were their own: they related to Terry's parents by thinking about how they would feel if that had happened to their own child.
It was also the individual fear of death that brought this up: now, as far as I know, most people in a persistent vegetative state look like people in a persistent vegetative state; but Terry Schiavo looked awake. Her eyes were open, and though her face was slack and the doctors who were treating her (rather than the doctors who came on television to swear she could be saved) knew that she really wasn't alive, the simple configuration of her facial features had a sweet pleading look... a look that sells papers and television ratings shares. So the simple folk of America saw this woman about to be sentenced to death by her husband, and they thought "What if I couldn't talk, and they pulled the plug on me!?" They couldn't comprehend what Terry Schiavo might have wanted, what wishes she may have made clear to her husband before she was incapacitated; they only knew that they would want to be kept alive.
These fears for our children and ourselves are what keep abortion in the forefront as a diversionary puppet-show: the political planners behind the Pro-Life movement never invite us to consider what kind of people these aborted fetuses might have become (statistically likely to become criminals, if the studies I've read about disadvantaged children raised in State care or in poverty by parents who don't want them can be believed); they invite us to consider having aborted the live, already-born children we have, or consider our parents having aborted us. They don't ask how many more Welfarre moms and drug-addicts and petty thieves there might be in the world if there were no abortions; they ask you how you'd feel if the child you already have and love and bonded to had been aborted, how you would feel if you had been aborted. As if you'd know how you'd feel if you or your child didn't exist!
It's a stupid argument either way, abortion is an impossible question that has no simple solution; but the "what if it was you or your child" argument is very powerful, speaking directly to our animal instincts to survive and preserve our offspring.
These same fears have been exploited, with even less logic, for the last goddess-knows-how-many-years to keep homosexuals as a scapegoat in the American consciousness: We're out to get your children! Bwahahahaha! and barring that, We're out to fuck you in the ass, mister!
Let's forget for the moment that most homosexuals can't stand children; or that almost all homosexuals were raised by heterosexuals in heterosexual contexts inundated with heterosexual information and images, and nevertheless still turned out homosexual; or that the only thing that makes gayness dangerous and undesirable as far as the safety of your children is the fact that gays have been scapegoated; or that if we gays actually knew how to turn a man gay, there wouldn't be one hot straight man left in the world. Let's forget for the moment that most gay men refrain from fucking random strangers in the ass without their permission. All of these inescapably logical considerations are put to rout by simply implying a threat to The Children or your own backdoor.
So, anyway, here we have a case that has caught public attention (egged on by the news media, who happily aid and abet this puppet-show demagoguery because it keeps their ratings up), and Oh no! Two puppet-shows have collided and are contradicting each other! How can we protect the sanctity of the Schiavo marriage while still protecting Terry Schiavo's parents' child?
Easy! We blame it on that dratted cold-hearted Judiciary!
And this is where we start stepping into really dangerous territory. It's one thing to rile people up with religion and child-protection and survival fears, but scapegoating the Judiciary is something you should save for a really special balls-to-the-wall occasion. The Judiciary is there to be blamed for the hard decisions, and politicians have for generations pointed at the Supreme Court as the cause behind the failure of popular legislative movements (or the passage of unpopular civil rights legislation). But if the Judicial branch of our government is threatened, disempowered or discredited in any way, it's a short stroll from there to dictatorship.
That may sound alarmist, but really: the Judiciary is what keeps representative government from getting carried away with popular sentiments, it enforces the Constitution that was very carefully drafted to keep the demos part of democracy from running away with itself; and if the Supreme Court becomes subject to the shifting whims of an ill-informed and overemotional populace who are being led around at the nose by a bunch of corporate-funded demagogues, there will be anarchy... and not fun punk-rock fire-circle anarchy, either, but real live dying-in-the-streets anarchy that opens the way to martial law and totalitarian government.
Now we have public figures standing up and denouncing "activist" judges, trying to throw out the almost-two-hundred-year-old fillibuster tradition so that one party can shove judges onto the bench without any recourse for the minority, and otherwise doing everything they can to stack or declaw the power of the Judicial branch in favor of one party. I don't know if the fact that it's the Republican party doing this is incidental or not; but the Republican party is currently caught in a very strange place, cementing an uneasy marriage between the essentially amoral corporations that pay their bills and the hypermoral religious groups who do their grunt work.
I don't really think the Democrats are any better, I just think they tend to be subtler... because modern Democratic demagogues try to create an uneasy marriage between the corporations and the intellectuals, and intellectuals are harder to divert than religious zanies, being as a rule more intelligent, or at least better-educated. Nevertheless, demagoguery is demagoguery, and no matter how you slice it, the people with the profits to protect are going to be the ones funding the demagogues.
And I also want to point out that not all of our elected government officials are demagogues. A lot of them are good people, people who've run for office in order to do some good for their nation. But they are shoveled in cheek-by-jowl with the demagogues, in the same building, with the same election expenses... and they get tainted by the demagogues and their backers.
But aside from all of this demagoguery, aside from the puppet-shows, I worry about this "Culture of Life" sentiment. It seems to infest a huge portion of our public health policy. There is this tendency among medical professionals to preserve life at any cost, regardless of the quality of life that would ensue, regardless of the hideous impracticality of making everyone live longer. And the public wants this: most people are quite adamantly opposed to dying.
And I think that's stupid. I'm all for not being sick, for not suffering; but we all have to go, and when our time is up, we should go. I love being alive, personally, but I wouldn't want to be kept alive after it's my time to go. In case something happens before I ever get around to having a legal document drawn up, let this article stand as a statement that I don't want to be kept artificially alive if I am unable to communicate or feed myself. And I only hope my courage holds up if, someday down the road, I am offered an organ transplant or a sick-making therapy that will extend my life unnaturally.
But the genie is out of the bottle, now, you can't take away the knowledge and the substances. And so inspired, medical science keeps finding more ways of keeping us alive longer and longer. These are subtle things, too, not "extreme measures"... a tiny cheap pill you can take every day to keep your blood-pressure down, a tiny slightly-more-expensive pill you can take to prevent strokes, and suddenly you've lost the cause of most under-seventy deaths. When I was in grade-school, the average life-expectancy was seventy-four; twenty years before, the average life-expectancy was seventy; now it's eighty-something. More and more people are living longer and longer... and now there's a drain on the Social Security and Medicare system. Suprise!
And as if the world weren't being overrun by oldsters, medicine is making further strides to make more babies be born. There are little pills and therapies that can keep a pregnant woman from miscarrying; there are fertility pills and therapies to allow sterile people to reproduce. And though I know how hard it is to lose a baby, I've seen it happen to people close to me, nobody seems to think about what effect this is going to have on the ecosystem to exponentially increase the number of babies being born.
Not enough is being done to reduce the number of births... in fact, it seems to me that this "Culture of Life" sentiment is what's behind some of the most asisnine public health policies regarding birth control. For example, did you know that Medicaid does not cover sterilization procedures? And now they're looking at not paying for birth-control pills and implants for economically disadvantaged women. And of course there's always the bugaboo of abortion, and even those who support a woman's right to choose are nevertheless stringently opposed to actual abortion.
Pursed-lipped self-rightous religious ladies say that maybe those women should just stop having sex, and then they wouldn't get pregnant. And I agree entirely. But people do have sex, they want to have sex, they want to have sex really really badly... and they often think that vaginal intercourse is the only "real" sex. And a lot of young women don't use birth control when they have "real" sex because birth-control requires pre-planning, and they are afraid that by planning to have sex they'll look even guiltier in the eyes of God than if they just had sex spontaneously.
Something that's always bugged me about the religious types when they start talking about homosexuality is that homosexuality is only directly mentioned once, and then only obliquely mentioned a handful of other times in the Bible; yet fornication and adultery are mentioned over and over and over and over, directly and specifically... and condemned in no uncertain terms. Yet there is no move afoot to legally prevent fornication. Makes you think, huh?
But the reason I brought this last bit up is a girl Caroline and I used to know in high-school. She was pretty much a baby-machine, she had three children between the ages of fourteen and eighteen, who knows what became of her after high-school. And when Caroline asked her why she didn't use birth-control, she said that birth-control was sinful. More sinful than having sex? Caroline wondered, figuring that as far as sin goes, if you're in for a penny you're in for a pound. But no, using birth-control is planning to sin, but having sex without really thinking about it is more of an accidental sin and therefore not so bad.
See what I mean about irrational thought in revealed religion? And yes, perhaps that girl was especially ignorant and not representative of the majority of Christian thinkers... but even if they aren't a majority, there are a frighteningly huge number of people who think like this.
The other thing that I find difficult is that people can't seem to figure out how to separate their animal urges from their rational urges... not that one is better than the other, they are intertwined and indispensible; but a person should know which urge is coming from which part of his or her person. The urge to believe in God is a rational urge, it's part of an abstract thinking process of which only humans are capable. But the urge to reproduce at all costs, and to preserve our own lives at all costs, is an animal urge. The fact that Christianity tends to encourage some animal urges and discourage some rational urges is one of the things I find problematic about the religion.
Have I come to a conclusion? Have I even made a point? I don't know... I've been writing this all day long (it's two a.m. Wednesday as I write this sentence), and it's gotten out of hand, beyond my ability to organize these various thoughts into a nice tidy essay. So here are just some of my thoughts as inspired by the Culture of Life.
I will leave you with this thought: think about why you believe what you believe, think about why you want what you want, and think about what will happen if you do whatever it is you're about to do. Thinking rationally is what makes us human, to act in the interest of our animal natures instead of our intellects is an insult to the God who made us.
I also leave you with this image, entirely unrelated to any of the above.