Sunday, April 03, 2005
Ah...the Culture of Life
Originally uploaded by jonnybutter.
This post isn't mainly about Terri Schiavo, because the controversy to which her name became crazy-glued wasn't about her, either. It is impertinent (to put it mildly) for me to pronounce myself either glad she's finally 'resting in peace' or sad that she has passed on. None of this was ever my nor the public's business. Unfortunately, the 'drama' will probably continue; we're probably going to have to find out what kind of freak Terri's dad was, about her eating disorder, etc. etc. You can run, but you can't hide.
Just in case you couldn't bear to read Peggy Noonan's Schiavo 'piece' in the WSJ called, appropriately, 'In Love With Death' , I'll offer a few highlights shortly. Don't roll your eyes; yes, Noonan is pretty...pretty vacant, and has lots of harder-edged dimwitted company , but her piece is exemplary.
And it is indubitably a 'piece', not a mere op-ed. Peggy is good at what's known as 'creative writing' (it's not just writing; it's creative writing!), a concept invented in the US sometime in the late 60s - early 70s. A particularly cheesy remnant of that era, 'creative writing' was one manifestation of the vaguely leftish idea that 'expressing yourself' (however incoherently) trumps reason, persuasion, logic, critical thinking. In other words, just having an opinion or a 'feeling' of some kind is the total extent of your responsibility as a, pardon me, sentient human. This overall concept's wholesale political adaptation by the GOP gradually affected a change in how Americans see their own basic role as Americans: the role of 'citizen' was supplanted by that of 'consumer'. It's a subtle but fundamental change. A citizen is active and makes judgments; a consumer is passive, and has only to have an opinion. This confusion of the two roles is summed up in the cliche 'voting with your pocketbook'. That is such a common phrase and concept, we don't realize how absurd it is. You can't vote with your pocketbook anymore than you can breathe through your feet. You're doing something with your pocketbook, but it's not voting.
This change is a basic fault deep in the heart of the Reagan Cultural Revolution. It's usually euphemized as 'individualism', but it's really fetish-individualism, ie desperate. In practice it means a set of extremely rotten values: greed, self-absorption, atomization, suspiciousness, superstition, lying (especially to ones' self), responsibilty-shirking, resentment ('coveting'), and ultimately, nihilism ('rapture'). The very word 'citizen' in this context sounds 'collective' or 'social' - in other words, 'commie'! Can't have any of that! Civic Virtue itself has become suspect. The Reagan ethos was/is: Don't think, just feel; believe what you want to believe; there is no price to be paid for anything; if it feels good, do it; you can always have your cake and eat it too - and with extra frosting, if that's what your 'heart' tells you you ought to have. Forget about informed judgment, responsibility to people you don't know, consequences, forethought - all that stuff. Be positive! The Invisible Hand (and the Invisible Army) is a system! It just works by itself! (And if it doesn't, we're in the 'last days' anyway.)
'Magical Thinking' - a term of art in the psych world - is not only bad mental health, but, as a civic or personal ethos, is morally slack in any serious sense of the word 'moral'. It is opinion without knowledge. Action without consequences. Faith without struggle. Rights without responsibility. Sound familiar? Reagan embodied this way of thinking, as when, for instance, he explained that 'my heart tells me' we didn't trade arms for hostages, but 'my head tells me otherwise'. He instinctively wanted to have an opinion about a fact. This is beyond 'wishful thinking': it's Magical Thinking, and his 'revolution' institutionalized it.
Common sense tells you that there is more than a little Projection going on in the red-faced right wing cultural barking of the past several years. How can all those rotten values I mentioned before be described in one word? 'Permissiveness'. When you hear boomer 'conservatives' yack on about 'permissiveness' (usually for tidy sums), you know they know, deep down, that they're really talking about themselves. No wonder they're so angry! The stupidest part of the '60s-'70s ethos - a quite literally mindless Free-Lunch-ism - was co-opted by the Reagan Cultural Warriors, and they hate themselves for it, as well they should. They will never stop squirming and blaming.
The 'Culture Wars' are an expression of the self hatred of the warriors. The Republicans of the 80s won and profoundly changed the direction and cultural shape of the country. They, not Hollywood, or liberals (HA!) promulgated the culture we have now. Us Regular Folks out here in the real world (the 'American People') know perfectly well that politics shapes culture far more than the other way around. Politics, in the real world, is: who lives and who dies, who makes money and who doesn't, who's educated and who isn't, and what the rules are. American politics has been dominated by the Republican party for 25 years, and we live in the porno culture they stewarded.
Originally, I had a little delayed gratification here, tantalizing the reader with anticipation for the creamy-goodness, the sheer sugar-and-spice girlish charm of Noonan's piece to come. I'd had a brief detour into a column by legend-in-his-own-mind Nat Hentoff , who, as a 60s NYC hipster, I felt simply must be paired with Peggy in the context of this post. But...I thought better of it. Hentoff's column really didn't add anything, and was just full of stock lies you can read anywhere, like this one:
Terri Schiavo has never had an MRI or a PET scan, nor a thorough neurological examination.
Anyway, Nat Hentoff, meet Peggy Noonan. You kids have a lot in common.
The 'It' Girl
I do hate to wallow in this herpes outbreak of an issue (paraphrasing Eric, I'm not apologizing, I REALLY hate it), but Noonan's column sums up a lot about a lot, and is the most direct way through, I think. Her job - as a speechwriter and now - is like that of a gilder, in the sense that not just anyone can do it, even though it looks easy. Naturally though, it's not razor-thin gold she's expertly floating onto the frame. It's perfectly uniform cheese-food, fresh from the can:
[The Shiavo protesters] do not want an innocent human life ended for what appear to be primarily practical and worldly reasons--e.g., Mrs. Schiavo's quality of life is low, her life is pointless. They say: Who is to say it is pointless? And what does pointless even mean? Maybe life itself is the point.
I didn't realize that these protesters were Jains! My mistake. 'Life is the point', eh? OK, but that means no killing at all - of insects, of animals; no wars, no self-defense, no death penalty, no living wills, no nothing. No 'worldly reasons'. Life is the point. Deep, Peggy.
I do not understand the emotionalism of the pull-the-tube people.
Er...did you say 'emotionalism'? Hmm...emotionalism...emotionalism... Other than the hordes of liberals and white-coated, clipboard-clutching 'science-types' marching in the Florida streets chanting 'kill her!', I'm not sure who you're talking about, Peg.
The chairman of the Democratic National Committee calls Republicans "brain dead."
Tasteless indeed, albeit about a 'two' on the logarithmic 'tasteless scale' for this Very Special Television Event.
Michael Schiavo, the husband, calls House Majority Leader Tom DeLay "a slithering snake."
Well, that is horrible, except for the fact that he IS a slithering snake. By the by, I wonder if DeLay will someday have a deathbed change-of-heart, like Rove's mentor Atwater did (along with so many others)? Deathbed changes of heart come conveniently too late to stop or correct any damage done by the person, but it is the traditional way to insult one's religion one last time. Just wondering.
I don't "know" that any degree of progress or healing is possible for Terri Schiavo; I only hope they are.
Epistemological Peggy! It's perfectly alright that you don't "know" (important quotation marks, those). Let's make this the Happiest Place On Earth, Peggy, a Shining City On A Hill. We don't need to 'know' stuff. Ya just gotta believe! (Perhaps we can levitate the Pentagon! ) 'Knowing' stuff is for atheists. Clearly, Christian faith is not about a life of personal spiritual struggle and reflection - all THAT crap; it's about believing what you choose to believe! It's your right to believe what you want, right?
How do the pro-death forces "know" there is no possibility of progress, healing, miracles? They seem to think they know. They seem to love the phrases they bandy about: "vegetative state," "brain dead," "liquefied cortex."
How do they know? Or how do they 'know'? Yeah, those darned 'pro-death' forces do seem to love 'bandying' snappy phrases like 'liquefied cortex' around. They DO seem to love it! They DO seem..! They....I....it's...!
Ackk! Torture me no more! Tear up the floorboards! Behold the beating of the hideous heart!
The pull-the-tube people say, "She must hate being brain-damaged." Well, yes, she must. (This line of argument presumes she is to some degree or in some way thinking or experiencing emotions.)
Strawman Peggy! Cover-all-bases Peggy!
Who wouldn't feel extreme sadness at being extremely disabled? I'd weep every day, wouldn't you?
Terri Schiavo's brain damage denied her even the dignity of weeping.
But consider your life. Are there not facets of it, or facts of it, that make you feel extremely sad, pained, frustrated, angry?
We have arrived at the crux of the 'piece', and we can't avoid an unpleasant truth: this is about Peggy and her ilk, not Terri Schiavo. This is not 'respect for life' but fear of death.
But you're still glad you're alive, aren't you? Me too. No one enjoys a deathbed. Very few want to leave.
Consider your life, dear reader...the facts and the facets of it. The windmills and the highways and the byways of your mind. The Times of your life. Wouldn't it make you extremely sad if something icky happened to you, or even just something unpleasant - especially when you're still pretty hot for your age? Wouldn't that make you feel sad? Pained? Frustrated? But you'd want to still live, wouldn't you? Me too.
...why do those who argue for Mrs. Schiavo's death employ language and imagery that is so violent and aggressive?
Speaking of violence and aggression, Peggy goes on to compare what she calls the 'pro-death' forces to the Nazis, etc., calling them 'red-fanged and ravenous' (I'm not kidding).
And finally, since Peggy is definitive on all this, her piece wouldn't be complete without a word about those who - sadly for them - are 'still learning'; a word about.....wait for it.......the children:
And those who are still learning--our children--oh, what terrible lessons they're learning.....They're witnessing the Schiavo drama on television and hearing it on radio.
Ah, the 'PMRC Oral Sex At Gunpoint' phenomenon. Again. Yes, the children have indeed learned lots of terrible lessons from some of their pathetic parents in the past several years. All the humiliating National Porno you can eat, year after year. If people like Peggy took their cultural responsibility to their children and grandchildren seriously, they wouldn't project their own hysteria onto the entire country. (Not to mention the fact that it's all stultifyingly boring - no small sin.) This is solipsism writ grotesquely large. I guess when you've been 'washed' of all sense of shame and humility, when it's Morning Again in your soul, you need have no qualms...
Winning One For the Home Team
I part ways here with some 'moderates' from my side of the aisle, who feel that we should've been 'sympathetic' to the other side in this argument - and I mean the political other side, not Mrs. Schiavo's parents. The blowhards, the politicians, the charlatans, and the goofballs in FL, used Terri Schiavo as a human spittoon, a cypher, a psychic dildo. It's telling that most didn't even bother tolearn her name correctly ('She-avo' not 'SHY-vo'). They didn't give a shit about her, personally. Not one bit. The ugly truth is: if this woman hadn't really been in a persistent vegetative state, the whole circus would've been impossible. The 'forces of life' people needed her to actually be in the state they denied she was in. If she had been able to communicate, respond, etc., the whole thing wouldn't have 'worked'.
Feeling sick yet?
So! Are we as a nation content to, as it were, kick the dog when we really want to yell at our boss? Are we really facing our mixed feelings about abortion and euthenasia, and our fear of eugenics (and of science), when we seize on and demonize this poor Schiavo guy, and fetish his poor wife? It's called 'dysfunction' for a reason, folks - dis-function. The license to be spoiled , ignorant and credulous is a cherished American entitlement - Ronald Reagan (with the signal help of Noonan) effectively made it the law of the land two decades ago. Messing with that entitlement is the real 'third rail' of politics at the moment. But can we really afford it anymore? It is a terrible luxury - absurdly expensive. I see some 'hard choices' on the horizon. We going to have to deliberately step on that third rail at some point, and end it all. Only illusions will die.
I admit to being 'red-fanged', rhetorically, about this. I hope this whole awful 'in love with death' episode backlashes horribly on these ghouls, these American death-cultists, and the attendant profiteers. Unlike DeLay, Frist and Bush, my aim is not narrowly partisan; I'd just like to see a win for the 'home team', AKA homo-sapiens. I hope this is some kind of a watershed event. (Even though Terri is dead now, let's keep seeing those 2 clips of her face over and over on tv for another week or two. Since the damage is already done, since her inherent, basic human dignity - which was all she had left - was already pissed-on and sold out before she died, why not?) Institutional obsession with death, fear of our own learning and intelligence, religious superstition, solipsism - these things are literally a mortal danger to us all in the long run. Life itself IS the point.
[Cross-posted at Total Information Awareness ]