Thursday, May 31, 2007

A Time To Kill?

One of the books that had a big influence on me as a teenager was The Chrysalids by John Wyndham. It actually formed half of the basis for my grade 12 English essay. The other source book? Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

What great insights to these classic works of literature did I have at the ripe old age of 17? I haven’t got a clue. If I was so inspired (and at 5 am I am rarely functionally {see, that makes no sense}, never mind inspired) I’d dig through the trunk containing my unusable records that for some reason I’ve saved from the 80s (and probably should just toss in the garbage in a massive purging around here) and see if I still have this essay. I’m nowhere near as bad as my sister in the packrat department, but there are some things I’ve kept over the years, although I suspect this isn't one of them. My grade 13 essay on Hamlet is more likely, but that's another story, one that’s not important for the purpose of this blog post. I wasn’t sure if I’d blog today. I haven’t been in a wonderful mood the past few days, and the main thought that I kept coming back to is that I just don’t belong in this community. Now, don’t presume you understand what I mean by that – if I can sort it with enough clarity I’ll explain tomorrow. Or I might never explain this one.

But the feeling of detachment - of not belonging - goes to the heart of what is significant about these two classic works of literature. What is it these books share in common? One is about mutants facing persecution by religious zealots. The other envisions a future where firemen don’t put out fires – they start them, to burn books. An underlying theme they both share has to do with control.

The other day news broke that a man was burning books. It was hours before I waded in with a firm opinion on it, and when I did it was an indictment. This goes back to the history of the printing press and the first Bible reproduced for the common folk to read: What threatens people about the written word is that they lose control. Control of information, the ability to mislead, brainwash, to influence thought. It makes me think of Nazi Germany, and of religious fundamentalists burning Harry Potter. No matter what the reason, burning books bothers me. (Whatever his real intent - protest, publicity stunt, stupidity, boredom - the message this guy sent is that books aren't very important, because he's certainly saying they don't need to be cherished and appreciated. If he wanted to just get rid of them and didn't care how he'd donate them to street people for their fires so they could stay warm at night, at least.)

It’s really the bit about control that gets me. In The Chrysalids the mutants are sent away after being sterilized, so that they can’t reproduce. Because they aren’t allowed to stay in “society” children grow up hearing they’re evil, that they aren’t created in the image of God as the scriptures say, and they have no information to suggest otherwise.

It’s a lot easier to brainwash people who are, by default, ignorant.

That’s the great threat of books. A program is on television. It is easy for someone to share the experience with you, to monitor the information you’ve been exposed to. Books, by their very nature, must be read alone. Hours of time spent digesting information that (unless they have their own copy) others don’t have access to. Hell, some kids might get some ideas reading a book on their own. They might learn something their parents don’t know.


I’m familiar with this line of thinking from some religious communities. Don’t let the common folk handle the scriptures because they aren’t enlightened. They don’t know enough to get it right. This is where cults are born. Although it’s certainly true that people misinterpret books (the Bible being a biggie when it comes to this) due to a lack of understanding that may be corrected through further study, or deliberately to suit their own purposes, taking away a person’s access to information is a way of handing over mental control to those who profess to know more. One only needs to read some medieval history – about indulgences and the crusades and witch trials – to imagine the rant I could go on here about the abuse of religious authority over the history of time.

Yesterday I read one of the stupidest things I’ve ever read in my life. The gist was that spam couldn’t be made illegal because that would violate a person’s right to free speech. I suppose the next time JWs come to my door I have to listen to them to respect their right to free speech? I think not. I have the right to kick them off my property – they do not have the right to impose their philosophy on me, but let’s not get me started on this today.

I believe in free speech. I don’t always like the bi-product, but I figure at the very least it allows us to see who the real freaks in our society are. That’s what people find so frightening about secret societies. Any time you can’t gain access to information about a group right upfront and have to pass through a number of rituals while receiving their ‘code’ in little bits and pieces you are yielding mental control to a group you actually don’t understand. I mean, evil incarnate as he was, Hitler had brains. He didn’t get elected and then start killing people the next day. He didn’t even start a war the next day. What did he do? He started disseminating false information. He started youth programs geared at giving kids things they otherwise wouldn’t have had, inflating them with pride in their country. He muddied the waters so much that when he started his atrocious acts, the thinking was already compromised. (How did this get dropped off in the cut and paste process? Geesh.)

But free speech allows us to know who the people worth staying away from are.

Now, what on earth has prompted this rambling bit of nonsense from me this morning? Do They Deserve To Be Born?

Yes: No civilized society considers expense and practicality to be more important than goodness and humanity
Tatiana and Krista Hogan-Simms appear to be on the wanted posters of every euthanasia advocate in Canada.

Because the little girls were born as conjoined twins there is some bloody, vulgar rush to argue that they should not have been allowed to be born or, in some cases, that they should now be exterminated.

Instead of relishing life and praying and hoping that the girls will survive and even be surgically separated, the foot soldiers of the eugenics movement shout for death. But it should not really come as much of a surprise. 

The eugenics movement in question became immensely popular in the early 1900s. It was embraced by the socialist left, with famous authors such as Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells advocating all sorts of extermination policies.

Humanity had to be purified and improved, they argued, and this meant emulating the animal kingdom and removing the weaker of the species. The ideology became intensely racist under Hitler, but was at heart no different even from what many Canadian "progressives" were saying at the time.

The list of undesirables included homosexuals, Africans, the "slow and simple" and, according to Wells, the author of the Time Machine and the Invisible Man, "anybody who doesn't fit into the demands of the modern age."

Which quite clearly these little girls do not. They'll never appear on American Idol, never take illegal drugs and be promiscuous, never scream and swear at anybody who challenges them. Never be typical stars of the contemporary mess in which we live. Even worse, they'll be different!

Yet I meet people every day who are not very clever, not very attractive, not very entertaining. They ostensibly contribute very little and may appear to make society less compelling than it could otherwise be. Thing is, according to whom?

It's easy to see that someone like Stephen Hawking expands our knowledge and imagination to an enormous degree, but may well have been killed if the social engineers had their way. Yet even if he'd only sat in a chair for his entire life his life would still have possessed an objective quality.

And this surely is the point. Objective quality. If we are subjective and make our own value judgments we might as well wipe out all sorts of people. Or we could simply grow up, develop our compassion and intelligence and realize that existence is a sufficient contribution in itself.

There is an absolute that we have to tackle. Life is either sacred or it is not. If it is, preserve it at all costs. If it is not, we might as well destroy it at will. It is terribly expensive to keep the sick alive and wholly impractical to prolong the life of an ill person who will die anyway.

No civilized person or society, however, considers expense and practicality to be more important than goodness and humanity. If it did, it would immediately wipe out, for example, drug addicts, the homeless and people with AIDS.

Tatiana and Krista will be loved and, important this, will love back. They will smile, laugh, cry, be sad and happy, sometimes frightened, sometimes excited. Just be. Which is quite enough. And God forgive anyone who awards themselves the right to decide who may be and who may not.

No: This should be a wakeup call for us to prevent unimaginable future cruelty of this kind
Six months ago Tatiana and Krista Hogan-Simms entered this world in British Columbia as conjoined twins. Now they and their parents have become international celebrities appearing on major television shows. In the press the conjoined twins are described as "little angels." But every time I see their pictures I wonder why anyone would allow this cruelty to happen.

The tragedy of conjoined twins occurs in the early stages of pregnancy when the fertilized egg fails to divide completely. Few such tragic newborns live long enough to be considered for surgery.

Reports claim that Felicia Hogan-Simms was advised by doctors that her pregnancy could be terminated, but she refused. I assume that she considers life of any kind sacred, and abortion never an option.

What a tragic life awaits the twins. For as long as they live they will be unable to care for themselves or lead a normal active life.

It's hard to comprehend a parent who would want such a tragic pregnancy to continue. Nature in this case has created a catastrophe. Why compound the mistake by subjecting these twins to this fate?

Hogan-Simms is quoted as saying, "At least they will never be alone." How correct she is! It may be their greatest misfortune, never having the option of being separated. No chance of ever enjoying one pleasant moment to do their own thing, imprisoned together on their backs.

Hogan-Simms also believes "the girls were born for a purpose to teach people about tolerance; that it's OK to be different." But the point is, how much different? Unless there's a cataclysmic change in human nature, she has destined her girls to be stared at as a freak of nature as long as they live.

They will never walk, joined at the head in such an abnormal position. Physically they are destined for ill health, lying on their backs forever. They will become obese and develop the myriad of diseases that accompany this problem. Their lives will be a living hell.

This should be a wakeup call for us to prevent unimaginable future cruelty of this kind. We are a compassionate nation and we routinely remove children from parents who abuse them. I would ask this question. Is there anyone among us who would want to be born this way or willing to trade places with these conjoined twins?

Hogan-Simms should not have been allowed to make the ultimate decision. I have in the past always cast a jaundiced eye on committee decisions, but I like to believe in this instance an ethics committee would have seen the logic of terminating this pregnancy.
Hogan-Simms may be a caring mother, but not a rational one. After all, she has stated publicly she believes in a magical life and says, "I do believe in fairies. I always have. They're magical and mischievous creatures like a mystery to life."

These unfortunate conjoined twins will need more than magical fairies to help them face the misery that awaits them in years ahead.

Peter Singer, Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, believes that children with major deformities of this kind should have life terminated within 28 days of their birth. But in my opinion it would have been a greater kindness to terminate this pregnancy in the early weeks of gestation.

Well Dr. Gifford-Jones, if the argument that because I wouldn’t have wanted to be born that way is justification for killing these children, the doors are wide open. I wouldn’t want to be born into a family where there’s abuse. I think most people wouldn’t choose to be born into a family that’s poor, or born with cancer, or with dna that makes them prone to genetic illnesses. Why not kill them all? Hell, just take a look at your life and decide that it’s not stacked up as favourably as you like and check out. No biggie.

I don’t really need to write a commentary here, do I? Reading this, it made me think of The Chrysalids automatically. Little Sophie is a threat because she has an extra toe (or toes, I can’t remember if it was six on each foot).

It made me think of the gift of every child I’ve worked with who was considered “different” but knew how to laugh and love and had a beautiful heart. I would certainly wish that no one, least of all a child, had to suffer if it was possible, but to say they should be exterminated? Thrown out like trash?

Michael Coren has already said it, and so, so well, so I won’t try to do it justice. That’s why I included the whole thing here. I think the ultimate tragedy is that supposedly educated individuals have and do support such things like extermination policies. It ties in with The Last King of Scotland as well (a movie my good friend Ken Bruen repeatedly told me to watch, and I forgot to give him his due in my recent blog post about it and thank him for the recommendation) and every political regime we’ve condemned in the history of time. Dictators control information, and they annihilate the threats.

When we kill what we don’t understand, we open the doors to justifying all the atrocities since the dawn of time. We allow what is different about us to become the dividing line and use it as a justification. Black, white. Male, female. Short, tall. Blonde, brunette. Where does it end?

As much as I’m repulsed by the extreme of the belief – that anyone endorses that children who don’t fit a certain “image” be exterminated – I can thank free speech for making me aware this morning that man is not nearly as civilized as we think. He’s one small step away from Sparta, Carthage, from the thugs of the past.

And finally, thanks to Anne of the haunted flat and vibrating bed I bring you the answer to which tarot card I am, because I’m sure you’ve always wanted to know.

You are The Lovers

Motive, power, and action, arising from Inspiration and Impulse.

The Lovers represents intuition and inspiration. Very often a choice needs to be made.

Originally, this card was called just LOVE. And that's actually more apt than "Lovers." Love follows in this sequence of growth and maturity. And, coming after the Emperor, who is about control, it is a radical change in perspective. LOVE is a force that makes you choose and decide for reasons you often can't understand; it makes you surrender control to a higher power. And that is what this card is all about. Finding something or someone who is so much a part of yourself, so perfectly attuned to you and you to them, that you cannot, dare not resist. This card indicates that the you have or will come across a person, career, challenge or thing that you will fall in love with. You will know instinctively that you must have this, even if it means diverging from your chosen path. No matter the difficulties, without it you will never be complete.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.


Randy Johnson said...

The only comment to your post I can make is, "Here, here!"

Christa M. Miller said...

The NYT had an article recently about how the number of abortions were up among parents whose babies had been diagnosed with Down Syndrome. The concern among families who choose not to abort is that they and their children will not have as much support in their day-to-day lives, which can be - and often are, thanks to medical advances - quite fulfilling - as I found out when researching the 1/61 chance my younger son had of being a DS baby.

Human life has always been devalued - look at the huge exterminations that have taken place throughout history, including the Massacre of the Innocents. That strikes me as being part of (fallen) human nature... science and technology tell us we should know better, and yet so many people persist. It's in the people who don't persist that hope lies.

JamesO said...

A very thought-provoking post, Sandra. Thankyou for getting my addled brain working.

As both a man, and someone who has never wanted to have children, I am perhaps not the best to comment here. I am never going to carry a child, so I will never be faced with that terrible decision - I believe it should ultimately be the mother's choice and the father should stand by what he has done. But I can't help thinking that if I knew early enough on in pregnancy that there was something terribly wrong, I would want to opt for a termination rather than bring a blighted life into the world.

On the other hand I know and have known many people with varying disabilities, none of whom I would wish to see dead. I see the argument for abortion as very different to the argument for early euthanasia, and muddied further still by the continuous advances in medical technology that now allow babies to survive what would have been called miscarriages just a couple of decades ago.

But as I said, my brain is addled today, so I won't go any further.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Thanks Randy.

Christa, you're right, it has always been devalued. Sadly.

James, I think that you're right, it is different to argue about abortion and extermination. And what I think about abortion is also complex, but here's my 2 cents as it relates to this: I doubt most women truly know until they face that choice what they'd do. Even those that insist they know might not. I had a friend who learned during the course of a pregnancy that even if she successfully carried to term the baby likely wouldn't be born alive, and if the baby was born alive the baby certainly wouldn't live. There was 100% no chance of a happy outcome. If she had chosen an abortion I would have understood that and supported her decision. She didn't. She held her child in her arms - born alive - and watched her die.

I doubt she would trade that moment she had for anything, other than perhaps her child being healthy and here now.

But taking two real babies and using them as the poster-children for a movement, saying they shouldn't be alive? Unbelievable. I can just imagine the parents, even knowing things wouldn't be easy, hearing about all the medical breakthroughs and other successful surgery and deciding to cling to hope that their children could be okay.

Evil Kev said...

My issue with people claiming that BSP is freedom of speech and opposing it is violating some sacred foundation of that built civilization is that it is just crap. Freedom of speech allows people to express opinions that might now be unpopular.

But freedom of speech is just that: freedom to speak. But BSP is not speech but action. Spamming people, cornering people, turning every conversation into a sales pitch. These are activities, aggressive actions that changes every contact into a opportunity.

But every time I see someone focused almost exclusively on marketing their book, I assume the book is just a product no different than dish soap. If the act of writing is a distant second to selling, then I don't consider that person an author.

Selling and marketing have a important place, but it is not the most important place. If you write outstanding books, people will discover them. We live in a world where a reader can let hundreds to hundreds of thousands know how much they enjoy the book.

No one is entitled to success. You want to be an author, be an author. Write books. Write the best book you can. Stop trying to figure how hand sell your way to success, give the readers a product worth their time and their money.

The real mark of success to sell a book because someone liked your last book or your other work.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Honey, would you join DorothyL and exercise your right to free speech with some posts on bsp? Please!

(Really is one of the stupidest things I've ever heard... but let's not go there.)

Christa M. Miller said...

James, my brain is addled too. How - in this case - is the argument for abortion different from that for euthanasia?

I'm not trying to start anything. I really am just trying to understand. Is it the difference between a person who already is, and a person that has yet to be? The fulfillment of an existing personality, in other words, versus one that doesn't yet?

Sorry. I'm probably not being clear. I can see both sides of the coin, having been pregnant - children have very different personalities in utero (evidenced by the way they move), but even after they arrive, it's not terribly obvious for several weeks. So I could see how abortion might be considered less of a loss than death from euthanasia. If that is indeed what you were getting at. %)

I think what it boils down to is the promise of the future, and different people's tolerance for that promise. Some people think it's cruel to the child and selfish for the parent to let a disabled child live, but others want the chance to show that child love and think killing it (at any stage of the game) kills a small part of humanity itself.

Wow, that was all over the map.

Kevin, BSP might be forgivable if it delivers. I just read an article about how the Boston Police Department sold itself hard to minorities in its community - by promising that they could help rebuild public trust and safety by becoming part of the force. That generated a record number of applicants for its civil service exam. With regard to books, if someone drives a hard bargain because their book really IS the best ever, the BSP is forgivable. Unfortunately, that might describe... oh... .001% of all books/BSP efforts?

Sandra Ruttan said...

Christa, I think it has to do with the fact that abortion is legal. Whatever our opinion on that, it is considered by law a legal, medical procedure. (How cold.) But euthanizing someone isn't. There was a case here not so long ago where a father killed his severely disabled daughter. She was, I think, 12 at the time. Certainly not even a baby. It opened the floodgates of controversy.

Once we start to consider who is normal and abnormal, it isn't far before the line is smudged to who is useful and useless. If it's okay to murder "retarded" children should we euthanize alzheimer's patients? It is the slippery slope we're starting down. An excellent book you'll never get your hands on called The Josiah Files by Linda Hall touches on that. It's an old, old, Christian fiction book. One of the most thought-provoking books I've read.

As to the bsp debate, I am probably yet going to go at it full tilt on the blog. But it is unforgiveable in the extreme context of which Kevin and I are talking about. The ends do not justify the means. Something Lee Child once said was if you carry yourself like a bestselling author you'll be treated like a bestselling author. When people have read your work and are genuinely enthusiastic about it, they'll talk about it. If your work is solid you'll get great reviews. We're not saying you can't do any promotion, it's all about how you do it.

This came up because of a spam campaign to promote a book this week and I resent anyone going on a discussion list, removing my email address and sending me unsolicited marketing material for their book. I don't care how great they think they are... I mean, here's a note to all you marketing maniacs - join DorothyL and harvest the email addresses of subscribers to build your mailing list. (I'm not taking about you Christa but) every author who defended those actions is one I'm not planning to read now. Should I deprive myself of great books, as one person said? Well, there are a hell of a lot of great books out there. More than I have time to read already. I have yet to read a Ruth Rendell or a John Harvey or James Ellroy... I'm sure I could be busy for years, conceivably, without ever picking up the work of any of these new, in-your-face, heavy-duty marketing types and be quite happy. I'm not interested in rewarding arrogance or invasion - I get enough spam already.

Christa M. Miller said...

Oh, I didn't realize it was a specific instance of BSP. Never mind then!

As for abortion, I think the line between legal and illegal is rather specious. Abortion wasn't legal for many years; the more people see their loved ones suffer from debilitating diseases and disabilities, the more they will ask "why not euthanasia"? Kevorkian put the idea out there; now it's not so repugnant that the show "ER" (for instance) can't feature a major character euthanizing her father, or "Without a Trace" can't show cancer victims seeking euthanasia out. So it would not surprise me a bit if euthanasia became legal sometime in the next 25 years. Isn't it The Netherlands that allows babies to be euthanized for Down Syndrome and other genetic disorders now? One of the northern European countries does.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Yeah, sorry, I'm still just trying to wrap my head around the idiocy of a free speech argument to justify spam, but anyway...

The thing with euthanasia is that I can see the other side of the coin. But when it comes to children, infants, there are all sorts of moral quagmires to consider. It's one thing for a person who knows they're terminally ill to make a choice that they don't want to live any longer and to put their family through that. It's quite another to decide you're going to put down your child.

And yes, over time we will see attitudes change. Sometimes for the better, other times for worse. I can see the reasoning and the compassionate side of me understands in some cases, but it is all the gray and murky parts of it that really bother me. That anyone would presume to go on the record and say these two girls shouldn't have been allowed to be born is frightening. Will we end up with governments one day that will make those decisions? Should anyone have had the right to force the mother to have an abortion?

The thought scares the hell out of me.

Anonymous said...

I actually found the argument for the children not being allowed to live really weak. Wow, they're going to be obese because they can't move-so should we kill all obese people, they're going to have health problems associated with obesity-yeah, this is a great argument and the one that really pissed me off is that the

y will never be alone. This is a great tragedy. Who the fuck is anyone to judge the value of a life. And yes they are teaching people tolerance. His argument that they are such freaks that this is impossible is bullshit. Already people are becoming more accepting of conjoined twins.

And what about Lori Lansens The Girls which is about conjoined twins and won a literary prize, I think the Orange. It's an absolutely beautiful book and how many people would have been transformed by it and therefore more compassionate.

Sorry, it's late and I'm blathering, but I found his arguments to be completely weak and to in no way justify the need for a committee to decide who should and shouldn't be born.

JamesO said...

Christa, sorry for not responding - the addling of my brain was due to a digestive disorder which is still giving me gip and cutting into my blog time. In answer to your question:

Is it the difference between a person who already is, and a person that has yet to be? The fulfillment of an existing personality, in other words, versus one that doesn't yet?

In a nutshell, yes. This is my view. My caveat is as before: I will never carry a child, and have never wanted to procreate, so I am perhaps rather emotionally distant from the process. I can thus accept abortion as a perhaps unsavoury but not abhorrent practice. The termination of an existing life is another question.

The whole argument can be dressed up scientifically or religiously, in favour or against, but I tend to the pragmatic in most things. An unborn child is potential, but not viable outwith its mother's womb (the continuous progress of medical science notwithstanding). The process of birth changes this, in my view.

Euthanasia is, as they say, a whole nother can of worms. But again the pragmatist in me thinks... why not? Normally, however, this is in the case of voluntary euthanasia - the terminally ill deciding to go with dignity as it is sometimes sold. Now I know that the subject is rife with complications, but I do think that if someone wants to die, they should be allowed to. That, however, is a long way from killing someone who is incapable of making that decision for himself.

I will shut up now, before I dig myself any deeper in.