Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Human Community


Those of you who know Michael Gerson primarily as a man who was willing to write outrageous lies about Iraq's nuclear program, in order to make carpet-bombing Baghdad seem like self-defense, may be shocked to learn that he has a softer, more tender side. He worries about children, and puppies, and snowflake babies, and human-animal hybrids, and the emasculation of religion by dime-a-dozen graces like humility and mercy. Which just goes to show that no one is all bad.

In a new column, Gerson worries about stem cell research, which is nothing but a way-station on the road to Auschwitz:

Biotechnicians have been freed from the vulgar moralism of the masses, so they can operate according to the vulgar utilitarianism of their own social clique -- the belief that some human lives can be planted, plucked and processed for the benefit of others.
This is potent stuff. Note the careful distinction between "vulgar moralism" and "vulgar utilitarianism," which may or may not be two different things. And the alliteration, which is always a sign of deep moral seriousness. And the implicit understanding of Lysenko's great truth that "a class enemy is always an enemy, whether he is a scientist or not." Above all, note the portrayal of scientists as the equivalent of the "greys" in UFO lore, who represent a cold, alien, parasitic intelligence with a sinister fixation on genetic engineering and hybridization.

The effect is wasted on me, since I don't care to be lectured on vulgar utilitarianism by the guy who came up with the line "we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud"; killing foreigners for fun and profit doesn't become moral just because you forged God's signature on your permission slip. But as crackpot scapegoating goes, it strikes me as fairly impressive. It might even inspire some freedom fighter to shoot a bunch of people at his local mall, which seems to be the gold standard for conservative rhetoric these days.

So far, so good. If we get sentimental enough about innocent life — and what life is more innocent than one that exists solely as potential? — then no one can call us a bloodthirsty nation. No one who frets over unborn babies can be brutal or heartless, and anyone who dares to suggest otherwise needs a serious ass-kicking, at the very least.

Now, Katherine Sebelius is Catholic and supports abortion rights, which makes her a hypocrite, obviously. But there's more here than meets the eye, according to Gerson:
It is probably not a coincidence that Obama has chosen a Roman Catholic -- Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius -- to implement many of these policies as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Obama has every right to a pro-choice Cabinet. But this appointment seems designed to provide religious cover. It also smacks of religious humiliation -- like asking a rabbi to serve the pork roast or an atheist to bless the meal.
Right. 'Cause if you want "religious cover," it makes excellent sense to publicly humiliate the person who's supposed to provide it. That's Machiavellianism we can believe in!

We've ascertained that Sebelius disagrees with the Catholic Church, while Gerson disagrees with the Sermon on the Mount. Which means it's now time to x-ray the so-called conscience of the liberal God-hater:
Some say they will not impose their private religious views on others. But moral beliefs about human dignity are not religious dogmas such as transubstantiation or the Trinity. They are assertions about the nature of political justice.
They're not dogmas, see, but assertions based on...on...on transcendental fact. Which means it's A-OK to impose them on other people, by force of law if possible, and by force if not. At the same time, the unwillingness to impose such "assertions" on other people has nothing at all to do with "moral beliefs about human dignity," so there's no reason to defend it as a principled stance, despite its manifest contribution to the development of Teh Greatest Country Ever.

And besides:
Removing the transcendent basis for human rights would also remove the central argument of the Declaration of Independence and the primary motivation for American social reform from abolition to the civil rights movement.
Gerson recognizes slavery and segregation as injustices, to his credit. But the idea that these injustices were justified by "moral beliefs about human dignity," and that this is exactly what made overcoming them such a difficult and gruesome endeavor, doesn't seem to have occurred to him. The average anti-abolitionist had no more regard for the human dignity of slaves than Gerson has for the human dignity of Iraqis, or his correligionists have for the human dignity of gays. Political oppression and murder rarely suffer for lack of a transcendental basis. Honestly, I thought everyone knew that.

Being as you, dear reader, are an ivory tower elitist with a closet full of buttplugs and abortion pills, you might argue that the environment and healthcare are also "pro-life" issues. No way, says Gerson.
It is true that nearly every political issue concerns the preservation of human life. But not every issue concerns the definition of the human community -- who we count as one among us, and who we cast beyond our protection.
Sometimes I wonder if writing columns like this one is some new form of Satanic rite, to replace reading the Lord's Prayer backwards. Of course healthcare and environmental issues have to do with "who we cast beyond our protection," and of course Gerson has no problem booting inconvenient human beings into the outer darkness, for the sake of money or personal righteousness (assuming there's a difference).
If developing life is merely protoplasmic rubbish, it has the legal claims of a cyst or a toenail. But if a politician believes life is sacred, the destruction of more than a million lives a year cannot be merely one issue among many.
If this is the fundamental question, I can address it easily. No American politician believes that all life is sacred. Gerson doesn't believe it. Sebelius doesn't believe it. Obama doesn't believe it. Bush didn't believe it. No one who has ever been president of the United States believed it. You'll see an atheist connoisseur of child pornography elected president — an admitted one, I mean — before you see a believer in the unqualified sanctity of life elected to the city council in the most Christian town in the country. Anyone who truly does believe this, and makes a serious effort to live according to that conviction, will be treated by Gerson and his ilk like a mad dog.

The main reason public figures claim to believe this is because it makes them and their constituents feel better about the mercenary cruelty of the culture and country in which they live, which is why the most highminded "pro-life" rhetoric amounts to little more than grotesque self-flattery (as well as an attempt to define the human community to exclude nonconforming women, and cast them beyond "our" protection). As always, sentimentality and political violence go hand in hand, and a mawkish preoccupation with "innocent life" justifies any crime we wish to commit. Which is why Michael Gerson will probably never have to worry about being out of work.

10 comments:

Jazzbumpa said...

If developing life is merely protoplasmic rubbish, it has the legal claims of a cyst or a toenail. But if a politician believes life is sacred, the destruction of more than a million lives a year cannot be merely one issue among many.

This is typical wingnut biobabble. WTF does Developing Life mean? Tracing this presumed line of thought back to it's logical beginning must be the reason for the Christian Right's belief in the sanctity of the sperm cell. (Sorry, I'm a recovered Catholic.)

Let's see how this goes. The sperm infiltrates the egg, they get jiggy and make a blastocyst, which can develop into an embryo, which can develop into a fetus, which can develop into a person, if everything goes along OK.

The idea that life begins at conception is just as arbitrary and indefensible as the idea that life begins at birth.

If a blastocyst has life, it is the same sense that the drop of blood blood that dripped onto the tabletop the last time I had a minor accident with a kitchen utensile had life.

Wiping it up with a tissue, that then got discarded, makes me . . . uh, it makes me the same as those people who discard the stem cells that don't get used for research, and end up in the garbage. NoT the people. The cells. In the garbage, that is. I'm the same as the people, not the cells.

That clear?

WV: metaddle. I think I just wrote some.

Phila said...


This is typical wingnut biobabble. WTF does Developing Life mean?


Maybe the problem is that you're looking at it biologically, instead of from the standpoint of property rights. It'd explain the men's rights movement, at least....

Jazzbumpa said...

I dunno. Historically, most men have always been quite generous about sharing their sperm cells . . .

missy said...

Gerson has no problem booting inconvenient human beings into the outer darkness, for the sake of money or personal righteousness (assuming there's a difference).

One of the many things in this post I wish I'd written.

Kudos.

Phila said...

I dunno. Historically, most men have always been quite generous about sharing their sperm cells . . .

It's not sharing...it's claim-staking.

Jazzbumpa said...

killing foreigners for fun and profit doesn't become moral just because you forged God's signature on your permission slip.

This is what I wish I'd have written.

Point taken on the claim staking.

BTW, what does the lovely Jennifer Eccleston have to do with Gerson? Can we dispute any claim he might think he has?

willf said...

It also smacks of religious humiliation -- like asking a rabbi to serve the pork roast or an atheist to bless the meal.

I was once asked to say the blessing for a meal, I stood, lifted my gaze ceiling ward, held my hands out over the food, palms down, and said: "This meal is now blessed."

Then I sat down and asked for the mashed potatoes.

Phila said...

BTW, what does the lovely Jennifer Eccleston have to do with Gerson? Can we dispute any claim he might think he has?

I just thought that the sight of "Miss Shock and Awe" smirking in front of a burning city said something about the "human community," as conservatives tend to see it.

I don't actually much of anything about her. I remember they tried to make a sex symbol out of a newscaster during Gulf War I, too, and he wasn't too happy about it....

St Paul E Wog said...

Well Said Indeed, Phila. Great Post!

BruceH said...

Egads, I just realized that my closet does not contain a single butt-plug or abortion pill. Not one! I do have my tattered, sticky copy of the Origin of Species but I confess that I only masturbate to it once a day, and never anywhere but the sterile confines of my golden throne. I understand that a True Librul decorates his Ivory Tower Penthouse with dead babies and signed copies of union contracts, and at that too, I have failed.


I hereby surrender my Ivory Tower hall pass and sense of entitlement. I will be forever shamed.