Day before yesterday, around the kitchen table, we were discussing how different the Spartans were from what 300 showed, and how 300 softened things considerably. (One of the advantages of having the boys home for the holidays is that it elevates the cultural tone of the house. Being rather devoted to our work, Dan and I usually just discuss “things we’re stuck on.”)
One of the things we discussed was “father decision.” I.e. when you presented the newborn to the father, yeah, he could reject him (or her) for gross deformity, for weakness (my dad who loved me dearly used to joke with me that if I’d been in Sparta, having been born very premature and at 11 inches long, I’d have been toast.), or simply because he wasn’t feeling it.
This brought to mind a discussion I had with my friend Eric Scheie, who says that the problem (one of them) with the current abortion system is that for all intents and purposes it makes humanity conditional on the mother’s say so.
This is not a post about abortion: it is a post about being disposable, and about conditional humanity, and fleeting “I won’t kill you” status. But it is impossible not to touch on abortion.
Now whenever I bring this up, I’m met with a barrage of very strange argument, something like “Well, if the babies aren’t wanted they’re not going to be happy, so this is the right way to do it.”
Um… okay. I don’t know about you guys out there, but I was not a wanted baby. At least not by my mother. (Dad wanted a large family.) I wasn’t even wanted after she was pregnant with me.
Though I’ll say that after I was born she fought tooth and nail to keep me alive, a dicey proposition my first three years of life, and sacrificed time, health and treasure to the endeavor.
How much of this was that she now wanted me and how much was basic human decency, I don’t know and don’t care to probe. I’m fairly sure she loved me by the time I was 16 due to an incident that proved it. And we get along now. (Btw. if you’re a doctor, telling the ten year old who just came in with a massive autoimmune attack that the asthma/arthritis/eczema complex is the “mark of the unwanted child” is not a kindness. While it is possible, because epigenetics does amazing things, you’re still doing no one a favor when you say that.)
Yeah, mom and I had our rocky patches — anyone here didn’t have a rocky patch or two with their parents, particularly in adolescence? — partly because we’re different and alike in all the ways calculated to drive the other insane, but if you asked her, with as much of a pain as I was, I’m convinced she’d tell you I was worth it, now.
Leaving that aside, I might not be living amidst rose beds, but I’d say I’m one of the happiest people I know and certainly the most blessed.
A perusal of craigslist pet adds (I sometimes found myself there, and no, I don’t know why) tells you how fleeting and unreliable the “If you’re wanted you’ll be spared” status is.) All those pets there were, presumably, once upon a time wanted. And let me say right now that hell reserves a particular place for people who give away elderly dogs. You keep the animal all his life, and convince him he’s loved and wanted, but when the going gets rough you expel him from the pack to live among strangers? I’m sure killing the animal is kinder.
I don’t know which came first, abortion for convenience of the enshrinement of “being wanted brings happiness.” Back in the eighties I noticed Americans in general were more likely to euthanize their pets because “he’s senile.”
Now, we have euthanized two pets, and two others died while we were considering it. In both cases there was no doubt death was imminent and there was nothing but pain on the way. One’s kidneys had failed, and he couldn’t move and was just crying. And the other, cancer fused her jaw.
However in the eighties I saw people euthanize pets literally because “he’s not as pretty as he was.”
I come from a farm culture, where animals meant not much. (Even though I always had a tendency to get attached to birds who had fallen from nests, and bunnies missing a foot, and other things I dragged home. Not right in the head is the real problem. Too soft by half.) But treating a pet like a child or a family member and then killing it for not being pretty shocked me.
So the element of disposable was already there, in the eighties.
But there is more to it. There is a justification or at least a strong excuse for this callousness. Our lives are massively more complex in terms of changing circumstances than our relatives. My dad had two jobs, and retired at 80. Dan has had … 5? (I think. I haven’t counted.) And he’s not near retirement age, yet. My parents moved once. They lived with my grandparents for years after marriage, then moved when I was seven to their own house, where they still live. This house we just sold was the house we lived longest in: 13 years. The next house we buy will be our fifth. Our kids were born in different states. And we’re a very stable, never-divorced family and celebrated our 30th anniversary yesterday.
In all this change, children or pets that were very much wanted and even needed, suddenly are encumbrances. Because I’m soft in the head, we kept the cats all through these moves, even when doing so cost us having to rent while selling. But we did give up a (young) dog once, simply because I was afraid she was going to get killed. Our life had entered one of those periods when everything went crazy, I was (unexpectedly though very much welcomed) pregnant, and she got bored and kept tearing up the boards of the fence and getting out. We lived on a four lane road, with continuous traffic. She had several narrow escapes and then we decided we had to give her away.
Strangely and very much to my chagrin, 6 months later we were living in a semi-rural area with a dog-proof fence and our lives had changed to where I’d have cherished the dog as a walk companion. I still miss my loup garou.
Which again goes to show that “wanted” or “inconvenient” is a fleeting state that should not be the only mark of “you’re human.”
There are already — spits — bio ethicists proposing euthanasia for kids who … don’t meet specs, I guess. Or that the mother stops wanting. I’d very much hope this never catches on but with all the arguments of “if you’re not happy you aren’t human” who knows? I know in Europe, in certain countries (Holland, I’m looking at you) “I’m not happy” is a valid reason for assisted suicide.
It’s not our fault. Our lives are complex and ever changing. What was convenient and even a source of pleasure — a cat, a dog, a baby — becomes an unbearable burden when the job change or the house move, or the financial disaster strikes.
But perhaps that is the very reason that getting rid of living things or making them precious only at the whim of one of the members of the family or one of the partners in a marriage is a strange way to go about it.
At least the Spartans, once they’d accepted the kid, assumed he was human. … well, at least unless he failed his manhood tests.
I don’t regret keeping the cats with us even when it was hellish during moves/changes. I do regret giving loup garou away.
Maybe it’s because I’m soft in the head. Maybe normal humans don’t feel that way.
And maybe I’m the one who is crazy thinking “mother’s approval” is a weird way to distinguish the babies we’ll chop to pieces in the womb from the ones we will go through extraordinary measures to save at 26 weeks.
This is not a post about abortion, because dying might not be the worst thing that can happen to you.
I’m wondering more about the babies who were born and who are if not discarded treated like they’re not human because a new marriage, a move, or the child’s own lack of perfection made them “unwanted” and therefore less than human.
Like a lot of other people, I was “born owing money.” From my earliest years I had the idea that there was something I must make up for. BUT at least it never occurred to me that I wasn’t human. Or that by not being wanted my life was worse than death. Which is what we’re telling unwanted kids now.
I wonder what effect that has on adults. It probably doesn’t stop them finding happiness, but does it make them feel more like they’re adrift in a world that doesn’t want/love them?
Maybe that’s why the “We all must belong to something. I belong to the state” respondent at DNC said what she did.
And maybe that is the problem with trying to have a republic of free humans right now.
I don’t know. I don’t care. For all of you reading this: If no one else wants you here, I do. And I will fight for you if needed. It’s all I can do.