How Prolifism Substitutes For Genuine Ethical Engagement With A Fantasy Life of Moral Heroism
I've been trying to write this post for years. I keep failing at doing it, for various reasons. It keeps on needing to be written. So, this time, I'm just going to write it, and fail, and post it anyway, however far or not I get, and however muddled it is when I can't go any further.
I've talked about having been a "single-issue voter" in the past and people have asked me how I could go from a solid-Republican, Pat-Buchanan-and-Alan-Keyes-voting "prolife" conservative to a flaming liberal voting for "proabort" Democrats, and I've tried to explain in bits and pieces over the years.
I've also tried to explain what it's like being such a person from the inside, as a corrective to outsiders' uninformed speculation (aka ASSumptions) and how it's not wrong to say that "they really just care about the babies and saving innocent lives" - but it's also not wrong in the least to say that "they just want to control women, they just hate female sexuality" either.
Those are not actually mutually exclusive positions,
and I don't know a single "save the babies" prolifer IRL since 1975 who didn't instantly switch to slut-shaming and believed that all women - except for herself - were monsters of depravity, selfish and/or foolish who would be willing to torture a helpless child to death for the sake of her own selfish pleasures (not sexual ones though, no normal woman wanted sex for its own sake - just things bought with money), or gulled easily by always-male doctors and Democrats into believing that she was doing nothing wrong so that they could make money and/or go on using her for sex.
This is the dialectic I was raised in, by my mother, from the time I was a small child, for reasons that are not entirely
clear to me still, since this was a subculture that she found and chose and entered entirely on her own, in part in rebellion against her own "secular humanist" mainstream American family but why this
particular one, this particular brand of neo-Traditional Catholic "crunchy" conservativism of all possible rebellions and subcultures is a puzzle that I have only partially reconstructed over the years. Nevertheless, she dove headlong into it, dragging my stepfather who was from a different but equally alien background into it along with her, and our house was filled with Right-to-Life publications and propaganda from my earliest memories in the mid Seventies.
There are, or were, photos of me as a preschooler posing proudly with my little "Abortion Kills Babies" sign that my mother made for me, protesting on some very early anniversary of Roe v. Wade, somewhere on one coast or the other of this country. I don't remember more certainly than that - I can't nail it down tighter than that, which of three possible states or the capitol district we might have been at.
That's how long, and how deep in, we were. I also knew
that the Pill Kills, from the time I was in grammar school, even if I didn't learn anything about the mechanics of sex until much later than most of my classmates - Sex Ed was bad, because it caused Premarital Sex and ruined our Innocence, and my parents would teach me what I needed to know when I was ready for it (of course they didn't, for me or any of my sibs) and I couldn't understand how so many apparently nice ordinary folks who went to our church were so deluded, or evil, as to be okay with contraception and to think that it was nobody's business what women did with their bodies. How could they be okay with helpless little infants being scalded to death with salt or chopped up by scalpels wielded by brutal abortionists? How could doctors, who had taken the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm, be so cruel?
Truly, ours was a decadent society that needed to be Redeemed, and any disasters that befell us would surely be the fault of our wickedness in tolerating this, which was even worse
than the wickedness of slavery, since the victims were even more
helpless. And any mother who could be so cruel, surely deserved
to die for torturing a helpless baby to death for her own selfish reasons. So no, no exceptions for the life/health of the mother - though I was also taught that these days there never were
any health risks in pregnancy, that was just another liberal lie. (But if there had been any, they wouldn't matter, because it's better to save an innocent life at the cost of your own than vice versa.) The only excuse for any of these wicked women who just wanted to escape The Consequences of sex was that "perhaps they didn't know any better" and were just ignorant - but that meant we had to force them to do right, since they weren't intelligent enough to see through the lies of the Liberal Establishment.
Abortionists were just like the Nazis, IOW, and people who said that contraception was okay and a woman's right to choose was a constitutional right were just like the Europeans who looked the other way during the Final Solution.
It's all very clear, when you're seven years old, and this is the only worldview you're presented. They're kitten-burners,
and kitten-burners are capital-E Evil. Only they're worse
than kitten-burners, because they're denying these new Holy Innocents the chance of eternal bliss, condemning them to a perpetual second-class citizenship in the Afterlife, doomed never to enjoy the full Beatific Vision because they were slaughtered before baptism. (No, the fact that by this logic God is the greatest abortionist of all was never mentioned: miscarriages let alone their frequence didn't enter into the picture at all until my mother had one and had to revise her thinking, whereupon maybe "conditional baptism" could work as a kind of retcon because after all Divine Mercy is infinite blah blah blah - these days the Church has abandoned the whole Limbo thing, so it's a moot point. Principles? What are those?) This conviction that everywhere - all around - all your neighbors and everyone who is not a fellow True Believer is wickedly and willfully burning kittens alive every day and hour will drive you insane, if it really is a conviction and not a moral pose.
But when you're seven, you're not expected to do anything about it, except pray and offer up your sufferings to the Blessed Virgin, at least. Though you are expected - if you're a girl - to grow up and have all the babies you physically can manage, unless you become a Bride of Christ instead. And of course I said that I wanted this, because it didn't occur to me that I could want anything else, when put on the spot - although what I really
wanted to do when I was alone in my head, or running LARPs in the yard with neighbor kids, was to be an archeologist, or a paleontologist, or a starship pilot, or a famous painter, or...
But I knew, intellectually, that those were off-limits to me, even if I hadn't faced up to it at that point. Because I was female, and thus had only two moral career paths open to me: wife/mother, or nun. But cognitive dissonance is easier when you are still considered a child and not a Young Woman by your elders.One True Thing I [Still] Knew
By the time I was in junior high school my parents' marriage had devolved into outright warfare, a constant low-grade sniping hostility punctuated by random outbursts of savage, destructive violence, all covered in public with a phony pretense of amiability and decorum. For over three years I dreaded the bus ride home after school - no matter how much I hated and feared the outbound bus ride to the day's harassment at school itself - not only because of the familial hostility and inflicted pain I anticipated personally, but because I could not shake the conviction that someday I was going to come home to blue lights in the driveway and yellow tape on the front door.
It was not a misplaced or overwrought fear, though it never did come to that; but that is another long story. But one consequence of this so-blissful traditional family values homelife (beyond the PTSD, beyond the hypervigilance, beyond the vows to Diana and the short-term memory loss and the migraines and the dissociative disorder and the cutting and all that goes along with existing in a 24/7 state of panic for years) was that I became largely convinced that humanity was an abomination that should never have existed and really would be no great loss to the universe. I saw no convincing evidence that adults were anything but predators upon each other and their own young; I could not argue any longer with the pessimism of Ecclesiastes; I could only distract myself, and the more I knew of the world the less I could find that could distract me from the predator/parasite relationship that was at the root of human existence.
The ongoing lie, and the success of it, of my parents' situation - the way so many outsiders thought they were a loving couple, that we had a happy home (of course us kids loyally lying to protect our family's reputation didn't help in that regard) and completely fell for the facade - made it impossible, you see, for even those oh-so-few adults I encountered who seemed
to be in egalitarian relationships, who seemed
to treat their (own!) children kindly and with respect as if they, too, were human beings, to be believed.
I rely on seemings, when I knew how little outsiders could see through the ones that I
knew from within? How could I believe that there was any good in the human race, and that the Albigensians and Cathars hadn't been right all along? Of course I could never admit that I sympathized with their "anti-life" heresies as they were presented to me then - aloud or to myself, even, explicitly. But "Love is a lie and a leash" was a daily, often hourly mantra of mine, as was "Protection is a racket" in response to all the household patriarchal babble of Woman's Need For A Husband's Strength To Protect Her--
I also knew, not long after puberty, that I wanted nothing
to do with childbearing myself: my mother's way of handling the biological aspects of sex ed when I started to develop (aside from telling me not to talk about it when I tried to ask her questions) was to hand me a copy of All Creatures Great & Small
and - I kid you not - Horse Breeding & Stud Management
. Between those, and an old medical cutaway diagram of the progress of childbirth hanging in my freshman biology class (not this one, but similar)
) I was absolutely certain that childbirth was nothing
I ever wanted to do, and that I had "consented" to the idea that I wanted to be a mother to all the children God might sent me only because I had been uninformed - or dis
informed, seeing as my mother had insisted that it was a no-risk, minimal-pain process - and now I was stuck, with my only option to be a nun.
Which, after reading about the bullying and control-freakiness and general trappedness
of the convent life in works like the Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux</i> wasn't very attractive now either
, but hey, it beat being a general serf and sex slave with no option to not consent to what was "the fate worse than death" if you were unmarried but just part of the job once your prince came, with your only "consolation" being taking care of lots of small biting critters for whom you had neither respect nor liking and could only rule by violence and manipulation, 24/7 until the oldest daughters got big enough for you to foist them off on so you could run away to Perpetual Adoration or RTL meetings...
IOW, making more people to torment and dooming them to endure the sufferings that you were obliged to participate in yourself, thanks to the rules of the oh-so-loving God, to question which was damnation, or heresy and exclusion from this hellish society which was unfortunately the only one available to me, except for the ones I could find in my own imagination. Which grew more and more difficult to find refuge in, the more my illusions about human kindness and male justice were shattered.If this is how the world is - and I can find scant, scant evidence that it is even possible for it to be any other way - then the Universe is evil, evil in its inception, and thus the Creator is evil since this is how it is Meant To Be, and the only right response to it all is suicide
- this was the endless, daily, hourly temptation that I faced from the age of eleven-twelve on until I was nearer thirty than twenty, and turned to front and fight these Shadows of Death-in-Life orwellianly-guised as Love and Life and Virtue and Goodness and The Divine, and no longer be imobilized by spiritual lies. But that was a long time in the future, many thousands of days of trapped torment in adolescence and young adulthood to come; many thousands of days in which I daily opted-out of society and the whole game of war-of-all-against-all that it involved, in so far as I was able.
And yet I could not entirely escape, having a conscience, having empathy: no matter how much I wished
I could reduce my hometown to a smoking crater, call down the airstrikes, call down the Death Star, burn all the world to ash with my mind, and end our self-caused species' pain as a bad experiment - I wasn't
able to stop pitying us, and to want rather for a better
world, a society that didn't
consist of mutual predation on all sides, no matter how futile a wish every word and deed before my eyes proved it to be.
I could find no consolation in prayer, I could find no consolation nor refuge in the Church, I could no longer convince myself that things would ever be all right in my family, or that they would magically be better when I was older - I could only see the choice before me of two traps, one more horrible than the other, marriage or the convent, which were all I was morally permitted to choose between as a female human, according to my mother's religion. So I fled, so far as I was able, into the past of the Western Front and still greater horrors that swallowed up my own by comparison, or the abstractions of botany and geology - plants were safer, and rocks safest having no genders at all - or music (but music is a human
thing!) or the faint and treacherous hopes of speculative fiction, occasionally finding hints that not everything of sentience was locked into this predator/parasite cycle that was falsely called "love" --
would chivy me out of my "escapism" because after all I should
be trying to fix things, not indulge myself, and the way to do that was by Prayer and Self-Sacrifice, according to the rules I had been raised in; every waking moment should be spent in service
to others, and here I was daydreaming of Amazons riding dragons and telepathic alien princesses and grimly-determined ambulance drivers like Charles Ryder's long-lost mother in Brideshead Revisited
and what was I doing not saying endless rosaries or offering up my petty sufferings to end the Holocaust of Abortion and bring about the Conversion of Russia and China, anyway?
And babies, at least, were innocent
, still, of the using and taking and cruelty of humanity; they were too young to be contaminated by sexism and exploitation, too young to accept the diabolical bargains of "civilization" and thus were the only ones who "deserved" to be protected absolutely, who could not be said to participate willingly in the mutual torture that comprised human society.
So this would gall me and drive me to burn and cut as well, and I would fret further on such occasions as it would be cast in my teeth by my father that if I really
were virtuous and prolife I'd be like so-and-so's daughters who protested at Planned Parenthood (not of course that my parents were the least bit involved themselves any more beyond talk) or got themselves arrested with Operation Rescue, and I would feel guilty that I was afraid of being thrown in jail - some heroine! - and beat myself up mentally and physically some more.
I wasn't even old enough then, to "vote prolife" - and of course since I planned to be a nun, the whole hypocrisy of deciding that other women must do what I had vowed I never
would endure for love nor money was something I could completely avoid: I was going to keep my legs shut, I would never sell myself in marriage, and unless I got raped (which I no longer believed impossible as my mother's lies that only the immodest and sluts were ever sexually harassed had long been debunked by my actual experience) pregnancy would never be an issue. I was, of course, equally resolved to carry any such rape-caused pregnancy to principled term, and terrified of such a prospect to the point of nausea; so I traveled more heavily armed at all times as a teenager than anybody ever suspected, in defiance of all school rules and the CW of the day that girls should never
resist a rapist lest he do worse (this despite simultaneously
being presented with Maria Goretti and "fate worse than death" to lose one's virgin virtue but let it never be said that consistency was a hobgoblin afflicting conservative Catholics), and studied how to bend-fold-spindle-or-otherwise-mutilate larger human bodies in secret, nauseated by the thought of having to gouge out an eyeball or ram a razor blade through tendons but not as nauseated as the alternatives. It was worse since I didn't know
the mechanics of human
sex and didn't know if I could be secretly raped and impregnated in my sleep by a housebreaker, which made for some wretched times during those early years of irregular periods.
(Sometimes my father would insist, as would others, that my claim that I just wanted to be a nun when I grew up would only last until "the first guy came along with his big clumsy lips and kisses you" (direct quote) and that would put down my pride, but no. It wasn't like any of the sexist gormless punks I was surrounded by, the ones my age and the older ones in our communities, ever turned me on as a teenager- or like the bishonen and courtly heroes of fiction were real, to pose any threat to my willpower. For the longest time I thought I was asexual, before realizing late in college that I was a) bi, and b) when the choice is between moldy bread and bread with just some mold spots on it, nothing at all
looks a lot more appetizing. Especially when sex is presented as nothing but bloody pain and male-dominated humiliation in all the more-explicit romance novels you can find once you finally stop worrying about being "pure" and "avoiding the near occasion of sin" and try to learn a little about what you're expected to do as a dutiful wife, and all the other ones that aren't geared toward a female readership, too.)
And yet, the adults I was with at class and at work who were the kindest to me, the ones who unlike my parents treated me with courtesy and respect and sympathy - even the Catholic ones who were "uncomfortable" with the idea of abortion and would never have one themselves of course - were all openly derisive of "prolifers" particularly those who bombed or burned down clinics
and called them hypocrites, supposedly caring about human life but being willing to kill people in the name of saving babies. And I didn't say anything, because on the one hand they were the only people who were kind to me, at all, and I had to work with them on a daily basis, and I was too much of a coward to jeopardize that tiny bit of hope and air in my life with apologetics that came from a group that I now no longer believed
in as the moral center of the universe. And they seemed so very certain, and their ethics seemed sound in so many other areas! But when your parents and all their friends constantly talk over dinner and dessert about how Planned Parenthood is just like Dachau and your moral duty if you'd been alive in WWII would have been to blow up concentration camps or shoot prison guards, wouldn't it have been the right thing to do? even if you got killed doing it - and you have been raised on this kind of talk year after year since you were four years old, this does not not seem so obvious.
On the other hand, I couldn't help but see the point of my "secular-humanist" elders who scoffed at the notion that we were "prolife" if we were going to risk bystander casualties by setting fires or bombs, and dismiss it as "double effect" - that
seemed different from equating nurses and doctors with the S.S., and I wasn't fully comfortable with the "double effect" excuse for civilian casualties (heresy for an Air Force brat, of course) even then, and anyways it did
seem to make sense that We Should Be Better
Than Our Enemies - and fortunately for my tormented conscience a way was presented me.
There had lately been shows on PBS about the process of in-place demolition of buildings, aka implosion
, using carefully-placed explosives to bring down a condemned structure without wrecking balls, quickly and efficiently and without destroying buildings to either side. It was a wonderful thing to watch, a sort of magic trick - and it was also, to my desperate ethics, an answer to the dilemma of how to End Abortions without risking the lives of innocent bystanders.
I spent more than one study hall - and class - daydreaming of carefully sneaking into the local PP after hours, setting dynamite in the dark when no one was around (the local Army/Navy surplus store near my workplace even had night vision goggles) and reducing that place of villainy to rubble, imagining with pleasure the dismay of all the sinners standing "in wonder", confounded at Babylon Fallen, and even if I were tracked down and arrested still I would have Made A Stand and it wouldn't be in as useless and vainglorious a gesture as handcuffing myself to the door, because though it might eventually be rebuilt, still the abortion clinic would be gone!
--I didn't know where to get
dynamite, or how; I had no idea how to set up explosives in such a way as to demolish a building, nor even where to find out how - nor did I ever try, and when I did find out that someone else in the prolife movement we knew had a relative who did
this for a living I didn't suggest it to them or try to make contact - tho' I did
wonder how come it never occurred to our friends the So-and-Sos to do it, if they were so very prolife and had such an opportunity to hand?
It was never anything more than a passing fancy, as much as my classmates' talk of becoming ninjas or commandos like the heroes of popular films back then, entertained as a way out of all the other torments: a fantasy of Virtuous Heroism, pure and untainted by the corruption of all political causes that I had studied, unselfish and altruistic - which is, after all, the entire point of Prolifism as a political stance.
There may be more of this post, but I have to get ready to go to work now.
Tags: ethics, feminism, history, intersectionality, owning my shit, prolifism, religion, sexism