Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Response to a Comment on Abortion

Recently one of my readers posted a lengthy and passionate rebuttal to my conclusion that abortion is a great moral wrong. I will try to respond to that posting in a systematic way.

First, the idea that a man is not entitled to have an opinion about abortion because he cannot experience pregnancy and menstruation is absurd on its face. All of us have opinions, even strong ones, about things we cannot personally experience. You have never owned slaves or been a slave, but I am quite sure you have opinions about slavery. It is not necessary to have been in combat to have strong opinions about war. One does not need to commit rape or murder to have opinions about them. I could suggest dozens of other examples. And so your first point, which in some ways is the premise of your entire argument, is demonstrably false.

I find your remarks about bloodletting puzzling. I doubt that any man gets through his life without seeing blood, and given that combat has traditionally been a man's role, most men have, I daresay, seen a good deal more blood than most women have throughout history. As for the arduous nature of pregnancy... well, no one doubts it, but no one also doubts that billions of women have chosen it, endured it and even found joy and love in it. In general terms, the fact that something is difficult, even impossible, has never been and ought never to be a rationale for destroying the possibilities inherent it in.

Now we move on to your point about the fetus being unwelcome in a woman's womb. We must ask: How did it get there? Apart from immaculate conception, its presence is the result of sex, and sex, most often, is a choice. You cite rape and violence as counter arguments, but statistics show that pregnancy as a result of such violation is quite rare compared to the number of pregnancies which result from consensual sex. (In cases of violence, there is, I think, the strongest argument in favor of abortion.) Since pregnancy is usually the result of consensual sex, then we must ask ourselves why the sex is welcome but the result is not. If you are claiming that the irresponsibility of the couple is the explanation, then I must ask whether such irresponsibility is resolved or compounded by terminating the pregnancy. In other words, does one make up for an irresponsible act by inflicting death on an innocent child?

I find it curious that you do not question whether the fetus is a child, is human, as is usually done in such arguments, even in the case of your own abortions. I applaud you for this. Given that, we must ask ourselves under what conditions is it acceptable to end the life of a child? You cite poverty, the inability of the parents to pay for the child's upbringing, the unfit nature of the father. I submit that none of these is a rationale for killing an unborn child. Many children, indeed, historically, most children, have been born into poverty and deprivation. If the possibility of poverty and neglect were sufficient cause for abortion, the world would be a much poorer place, lacking many of the greatest minds, talents and spirits which have graced it. I will not bother you with a list of the names of such people; I am sure you can compile one as easily as I. I am equally sure that many of those who read these words were themselves born into poverty, or into dysfunctional families, but that did not mean that their lives had to be ended before they began. And I am sure, too, that they are grateful for the fact.

You then move on to paraphrase the hackneyed argument of couples who are too immature, self-absorbed or fearful to have children; namely, that the world is a hard and evil place. It is hard and evil, as everyone knows, but if that were a cause for children not to be born, then none would be born at all. If we actually believe that the world is such an evil place that innocent children should not be consigned to it, then we must ask ourselves: Do we make the world a better or more evil place by killing those innocent children?

Instead, I would argue that if there is any hope for the world becoming a better place, it lies with children who have been well and lovingly raised, and even with those who have not, but who manage nonetheless to make for themselves lives of dignity and purpose. But no matter how impoverished or loveless a child's life may be, he or she will never have the opportunity to create such a life if the mother cuts it off before birth on the grounds that to do so would be impossible. Life is stronger than death, and even a life which lacks caring and resources in its early years may still create love and richness in adulthood. That is why life is the basic sacred possession of all people, and why life, liberty and happiness are the cornerstones of our society.

I do think that carrying to term and adopting out, no matter how trying for the mother, is preferable to taking the life of the fetus. In this way, the mother avoids the possibility of committing a moral wrong, and, if she genuinely does not want the child or cannot care for it, she still offers it a chance at an authentic and fulfilling life. She, or those responsible for placing the child, have a duty to ensure that the adoptive parents are people who can, in fact, provide for such a life. The fact that they are strangers does not mean that they cannot be capable and caring parents. Further, if you would argue that the conception of the child was irresponsible, then adoption offers the mother the opportunity to rectify that irresponsibility by acting responsibly in the child's interest. Again, life is the primary value, and in choosing adoption, she is choosing life over death and humanity over the prospect of inhumanity. And so, none of these arguments of yours carries any weight, I am afraid.

You then go on to tell us that you have had two abortions. You chose that course because the father would have been a drug addict and deadbeat, which raises the question: Why did you become pregnant by him in the first place? A woman’s inability to choose a suitable father for her child is her fault, not the child’s, and the child should not be made to pay for it. We do not, as a matter of morality, compel others, particularly innocents, to pay the price of our mistakes. You had options, which I need not enumerate here, and you did not take them. All of them would have been morally acceptable, but you chose instead an option which many regard as immoral.

You say, courageously, I think, that you carry the souls of your unborn children with you; you feel their absence and even mark their birthdays. You suggest that they may be in heaven, but if that is true, who put them there, and did she have that right? The world can be a cruel place, but it is the place where our souls find their salvation, where they are tested, matured, where they experience joy, wonder, sorrow, ideas, poetry, music, heartache and love. All this, while it may be challenging, is wonderful, and none of it can be experienced by children who were denied the opportunity to live even before they were born.

You take it upon yourself to suggest that unwanted children or children born to difficult circumstances will live lives of misery and failure, but what gives you the right to make such a judgment? We do not know what may come of any young life, no matter the circumstances of its conception; but if we are to be people of dignity and worth, we must assume the best, not the worst, let alone use our assumption of the worst as a rationale for the killing of children. No evil can come from joy, but great joy can come even out of evil. Life must come first, and then everything may follow, for life is endless possibility. But in choosing abortion we choose death, and nothing can come from death inflicted on the innocent but regret, remorse and haunting, even as, I suspect, you feel it, based on what you have said.

You are correct that children do not ask to be brought into the world, but neither do they ask to be killed before they reach it. You argue that some aborted children would be grateful for their deaths – but, really, who, given the choice between life and death would be thankful to be killed? What child would prefer to be dead rather than alive? What species of rationalization is this? Your assertion is obscene. Just as children have no choice in their conception, so parents have no natural right to choose to prevent them from living. The general principle is that if we are in doubt in matters of life and death, we must always choose life over death, especially in the case of innocents. Otherwise we place death above life, and when we do that, even our own lives are put at risk. For if the innocent can be killed in their mothers' wombs, which of us will be safe outside of them?

You then go on to talk a good deal about hormones and premenstrual syndrome and the inability of men to experience them. All of this, while it is important to women, is irrelevant to the discussion of abortion. However, you neglect to acknowledge one fact which is both relevant and important to men: We are fathers. Our children are just that: our children. They are us; they are ours – our flesh, blood, spirit, future and responsibility. Now, in my essay on abortion among these postings, I concede that since the woman must carry the pregnancy, she must have the prevailing view in this matter; however, hers is not the only view. I for one take my role as a father extremely seriously – it is my first, most important and most sacred responsibility, the source of my claim to humanity and my greatest joy. A father helps create the child, and he is not a man if he does not care for, love, nourish and protect it. Given that, he certainly cannot stand silently by while the mother chooses on her own to kill it. He is entitled to a voice, to an opinion if you will, and to some power in the making of the decision whether or not to terminate the pregnancy in his role as co-creator and co-parent. I would support the right of any man who insists on allowing the child he helped create to have a chance at life even over the objections of the woman. That, it seems to me, should be a matter for the courts to decide, if, indeed, there is a dispute. As for myself: no one is going to take the life of a child of mine if I can possibly prevent it – not even its mother. Such is my duty as a father and as a man.

This brings us to your final point; namely, the “ownership” of the fetus. I submit that, as the fetus is a human being (a point you do not dispute) then no one “owns” it. As a race, we stopped claiming ownership of humans a long time ago – men even shed their blood to ensure that that concept was wiped out of our society. You do not own the child because it grows inside you, nor I because without me, that could not have been the case. It is not a question of ownership, as if the child were a car or a piece of furniture: it is a question of life, of humanity, of what it means for us to be human. And just as we, no matter how welcome or unwelcome we were as children, how impoverished or how privileged, how loved or neglected – just as we have had a chance at life, a chance to live and grow and learn and suffer the exquisite pain of love and heartache, of joy and loss, so should the infants we create, whether intentionally or not, be allowed to have that chance.

For life is what is sacred – not our comfort or convenience or our need to erase an irresponsible mistake. Life, once created by us, must be nurtured not destroyed, if we are to call ourselves human. And that is an aspect of the debate that the pro-abortionists always ignore: not the question of whether or not the fetus is human, but whether or not the parents are. For to create a life from your own lives and then willingly to destroy it runs the risk of negating your humanity. What is in question then is not only the humanity of the fetus, but that of the parents as well. Kill you own child, and how can you regard yourself again as fully human?

I do concede in my essay on abortion that there may be circumstances under which abortion must be considered. In such extreme cases, the decision to terminate the pregnancy must be made only after the greatest thought and soul-searching, for the most compelling, even overwhelming reasons, and as early in the pregnancy as possible.

Some argue that the fetus is not human during the first trimester, and so abortion during that time raises no moral question. To that sophistry I reply: Why is it not morally wrong to terminate a pregnancy on the 89th day, yet it is a moral wrong to do so on the 91st? And why it is morally acceptable at 11:59 pm on the 89th day, but morally objectionable at 12:01 am on the 90th day? Besides, are not all pregnancies different? And so how can one find a dividing line in any particular case, or in general? As an alternative, I offer the presence of the heartbeat as a guideline, though even there I have great reservations. I do so, however, in acknowledgment of the fact that women bear the primary burden of pregnancy, and, in rare cases, abortion may be necessary. What I object to, however, is the fact that abortion is the most common elective surgery performed on women in this country. That, to my mind, is a shameful tragedy which cannot help but have implications for the moral condition of our culture.

You conclude by wondering rhetorically how I can “have this specific opinion about something so personal and detached from you as a man, when all your other points seem to direct your philosophies in a completely opposite direction.” While I am not sure what you mean by this, since something that is personal to me cannot be detached from me, I gather that you wonder how I can have so strong an opinion about an experience (pregnancy) which I will never have and a procedure (abortion) to which I will never be subjected. I state again: We not only may, we must, take firm moral positions on matters of common interest, whether they are first-person experiences or not; and as fathers, men must have a say in the fate of the children they create.

It has been said that for evil to flourish it is necessary only that good people remain silent. In such critical questions as abortion, none of us - man or woman - can remain silent. But the ground of any decision regarding the treatment of children must always be a moral one, taking into account the fact that it is life that is the fundamental sacred value in our society, and that in matters of life and death, when there is doubt, we, if we are to retain our humanity, must choose life.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Wuerl of Lies

I just witnessed a sorry Christmas spectacle: the Archbishop of Washington being interviewed by Chris Wallace. Cardinal Wuerl's demeanor can only be described as milquetoast, and his performance as mealy-mouthed.

As one of the authors of the Catholic Church's new guidelines on priest sexual abuse of children, he was asked if this has solved the problem. He replied that it was "one of the Church's great accomplishments." To behave as decent human beings? To prevent the rape of children? To act with basic humanity as an institution? To desist from facilitating the most heinous crimes against innocents? This is "one of the Church's great accomplishments"?! It is as if he were saying: "We no longer officially countenance, encourage, facilitate and cover up pedophilia and that is one of our chief moral accomplishments"!

Not content with this shameful assertion, Cardinal Wuerl went on to characterize the sexual abuse scandal as being a phenomenon of "the past ten, twenty, even thirty years." This is a despicable lie, but one to be expected from a mouthpiece for an amoral institution. Priest sexual abuse of children goes back centuries, has occurred in generation of priests, and continues, doubtless, to this day despite the new guidelines. It has occurred at every level of the Catholic clergy, as was demonstrated by the admissions of hundreds of priests, the collusion of dozens of bishops and cardinals, and the alleged culpability of the present pope. To suggest, as Wuerl has done, that the new guidelines have extinguished the problem is pernicious nonsense. Written guidelines do not change pathological criminal nature. They may force it deeper into the shadows, but if Wuerl actually thinks that the problem has vanished he must be a fool.

The fact, of course, is that he is not a fool. He is a witting apologist for a Church the official behavior of which and the unstated policy of which for centuries has been to enable and to protect child molesters among its own ranks. Wuerl is no better than the official spokesmen for the old Soviet Union, for Cuba and North Korea and Hussein's regime in Iraq: paid liars whose principal job is to protect the criminals they serve so sanctimoniously.

During the course of the interview, we were treated to images of Wuerl's investiture as cardinal at the Vatican. These images reminded me of nothing so much as those of the Nazi rally at Nuremberg, with the clergy ranged in neat rows, each section wearing the colors of its own brigade. And presiding at a defiled altar was the leader of this vast conspiracy to protect child rapists, a man whose own priest- brother stands accused of the abuse of the children under his care, and the pope who, apparently, helped to cover up his and others' bestial crimes.

At the end of Arthur Miller's powerful play, "All My Sons," the main character realizes that every boy who flew in the flawed aircraft he helped produce were his own children, and that he, personally, was responsible for their fate. "They were all my sons," he admits, accepting with that statement his personal guilt in their deaths, and he then goes on to do the only thing a man in his amoral condition can do - he kills himself. In exactly the same way, those thousands of innocents who were molested with the collusion of the members of the Catholic hierarchy were all their children, and each and every one of them should at last take personal responsibility for his guilt.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Swan Song

The other night I saw the movie 'Black Swan.' I thought it was brilliant; intense, almost unbearable at times, but eloquent and lyrical in its more ethereal moments. Now, I must mention that I love the ballet and have a subscription to the dance series at the Music Center in Los Angeles. But I did not admire the film for that: indeed, while set against the ballet, it was, essentially, a study of a frail and gifted young woman under enormous, even lethal, pressure. And as such, it succeeded wonderfully.

Natalie Portman's performance was, to my mind, perfect. She did something I have rarely seen an actor do: She hewed her acting style so close to her character that at times her acting seemed flawed. But that was in the nature of the character - a woman so fragile and so delicately balanced on the edge between ambition and insanity that her perception of reality became that of the audience. We identify so closely with her that even her most macabre imaginings become plausible, indeed, inevitable to us. We are with her wholly as she navigates the knife-edge of art and madness. If she does not win the Oscar for leading actress, there is no justice in the world.

Rarely does an actor take such chances. Recently, I saw Forest Whittaker do something similar in his guest appearances on the TV series, 'The Shield.' Playing an internal affairs officer brought in to investigate Vick Mackie's corrupt strike force, Whittaker's acting style was so at odds with that of the strike force members that at first I thought he had made a serious error in judgment. But as his role went on, I realized that he had, in fact, deliberately chosen a style intended to throw off the performances of the closely-knit group, because that was the nature of his character. He had been brought in precisely to disrupt the strike force, and his acting reflected the fact. It was a brave and brilliant choice, and it worked beautifully. (To my amazement, he was not even nominated for an Emmy for his performance.)

In much the same way, Natalie Portman's performance was meant to convey the very delicate inner condition of the ballerina, and with great skill and courage she played her part so near to the edge that the effect is mesmerizing. We rarely have an opportunity to identify so closely with an actor, and feel so intimately the depth and power of the performance. It is for this reason that I say that her performance was perfect - the perfect instrument to realize and incarnate her character.

Additionally, the film is brilliantly directed, well-written, and impeccably edited. Darren Aronofsky made choices just as daring as Natalie Portman's; for example, the persistent use of black, white and grey, the use of sound effects to heighten certain moments and gestures; and the tattoo on the back of the rival dancer, Lily, a pair of skeletal black wings, is so close to the edge as to be outre, if not for the strength of Mila Kunis's portrayal and Aronofsky's vision. There are moments in the film of such horrifying intensity as to rival the most frightening shocks of the best of horror films. At such moments, the audience gasped, and some people had to turn away; a young woman next to me even cried at one point. And yet all of this is in service to a tale of the artistry, rivalry and terrible beauty of the ballet, and the crushing pressure of pressure compounded with insecurity, desire and ambition. 'Black Swan' is an act of sustained vision and courage, containing performances of the greatest boldness, skill, and intense delicacy.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Summing Up

I am borrowing the title of Somerset Maugham’s memoirs for a catalog of some conclusions I have reached on matters of general public interest. The thought processes behind these conclusions are long and complex and I will endeavor to explain them in any instance for which a reader desires an explanation. Stated here are the simplest forms of the results of those processes. They will, I know, be controversial, but please bear in mind that these ideas are works in process, and I will expand and modify them from time to time. I offer them in no particular order of subject matter or importance, for your interest, your bemusement, and your comments.

1.The concept of god is meaningless, and the conceptual god is the single greatest obstacle to the achievement of spiritual truth. That said, I believe that everyone possesses a soul, a spark of the animating force in the universe that gives rise to life. Given that, every individual, and the race as a whole, has a spiritual destiny. I believe the closest that any religious thinker has come to describing this destiny and the means to attain it is the Buddha.

2.Human personality does survive bodily death, but only for a short time in proportion to the degree of spiritual advancement achieved during life.

3.Abortion is a great moral wrong.

4.Government is the greatest enemy of personal liberty and as such must be limited in size and restrained in power as far as possible. The U.S. Government, as it currently exists, increasingly threatens our freedom, and must be reduced in size and influence in our lives radically. If this cannot be done – if it has grown too large to be reined in – then a second American Revolution is necessary to preserve individual liberty.

5.U.S. Senators should be limited to two six-year terms, and members of the House of Representative, to five two-year terms.

6.Anyone who commits a murder with special circumstances should be put to death. Such convictions should be subject to no more than two appeals, and the time taken by those appeals should be no more than five years. Evil exists, and it is possible for a human being to behave with such evil that he or she forfeits the right to live among us.

7.The United States tax code should be eliminated and replaced with a flat tax (both individual and corporate) of no more than fifteen percent per annum.

8.The United States is gradually becoming a Western-European style socialist democracy in which personal liberty and individual initiative are being replaced with collective welfare and dependency on government. If this process continues to its conclusion, this nation will have ceased to be as it was founded and as precedent generations of Americans have known it. And the last, best hope for the survival of individual liberty in the world will have been traded for comfort, “fairness” and low-risk mediocrity.

9.Public education, and the left-wing agenda which has infused it, are destroying the intellectual, political and cultural life of the nation.

10.Marketing is devouring the arts.

11.In the near future of this country there will be, essentially, two classes of citizens: those who have fostered their own individual intellects, characters and souls through hard work, education, initiative, creativity and ambition, and those who have not. The first class will be quite small and will be increasingly isolated from the much larger remainder who, since their numbers will so outstrip the others, will be at war with them (through jealousy and resentment of their achievements and prosperity), and will eventually drag them down through the corruption and manipulation of the political process. We are seeing this taking place right now.

12.Children must be raised to be rugged individualists if this nation is to survive.

13.There are no excuses for failure or bad behavior, either in one’s own life or in the life of society. For too long in this country we have sought to rationalize and excuse the failure and bad behavior of classes of people, and the result has been a general degradation of our society.

14.Every individual is responsible for his or her own success or failure regardless of circumstances. It is simply not possible to shift responsibility for one’s failings onto others.

15.Love is the measure of all things. How we love and are loved tells everything about who we are.

16.Animals cannot be said to have rights, except the right not to be abused. Rather, humans have responsibilities with regard to all living creatures. How one treats animals is an index of the condition of one’s soul.

17.It is wrong to kill animals for food, except in times of desperation.

18.Every human being should have the right to live the life he or she chooses with dignity and without interference from outside. Identity is the private property of everyone.

19.Humans are bi-sexual by nature; sexual orientation is largely a matter of cultural prejudice.

20.Death is not the end of life, but rather, a return to the essence of life.

21.We should protect our personal liberty as though our lives depend on it, because they do. We must resist the allure of dependence on government and submission to it.

22.Music is the highest form of art, and poetry, being the closest to music, is the highest form of literature.

23.Liberalism is a charming romantic prejudice of youth, and all youths should embrace it. However, with age comes wisdom, and wisdom, by its nature, is conservative.

24.The Roman Catholic Church is a conspiracy against the innocence of children.

25. Love survives death. It has to.

Into the Lists III

And so I go farther into the lists. My last two posts have prompted a friend to ask whom I regard as the greatest writers who ever lived. I've already dug myself into two holes, so why not a third? In no particular order, but in two ranks, they are:


They clearly fall into the front rank. To that I would add:

Anton Chekhov
James Joyce
Joseph Conrad
Mihail Bulgakov
T.S. Eliot
Samuel Beckett
G.M. Hopkins
John Donne

So, as Tupac Shakur said, "Holler if ya hear me."

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Into the Lists II

A comment on my post about the greatest artists in the Western tradition, which points out that none of those named lived in the twentieth century (Tolstoy died in 1910 at age 82 and was, essentially, an artist of the late nineteenth century) has prompted me to examine whom I regard as the greatest artists of the past century.

I offer these thoughts, again referring only to the Western artistic tradition, in no particular order. It is, of course, subject to revision.

Sergei Prokofiev
Samuel Beckett
James Joyce
Nikos Kazantzakis
Pablo Picasso
Andrei Tarkovsky
John Coltrane
Rudolf Nureyev
T.S. Eliot
Frank Lloyd Wright

I should add that while I have the greatest regard for these men, I do not consider them geniuses on the level of those in my earlier list. This list will, I am sure, provoke some comment, so please feel free.