This morning I awoke at four o’clock a.m., realizing that I had experienced a dreadful nightmare as I slept. Perspiration lay on my face and body despite the cool temperature in the room. I remember thrashing a bit as I awoke from my dream. Gracie lay next to me, raised her head to see the cause of the commotion and then lay back down to complete her rest. Apparently I had not shared my miasma with her.
This week I have been re-reading and thinking about some of the ancient philosophers as they debated the subject of ethics. It amazes me that people actually sat and discussed these issues. I contrast that with where we place our focus for discussion in today’s America – and in the world generally.
Sadly, I had combined this with a re-read of Orwell’s, “1984.” It’s been a long time since I perused that work – at least ten years. It was more chilling than when I read it the last time because we have moved much closer to having a society which resembles the one that author describes.
I thought about my nightmare which I remembered vividly and realized that the source for my unease was an offshoot of the Roe v Wade decision. For those who feel the world of politics can be reduced to a single issue, this is probably the one which finds more partisans than any other.
The question of whether it is “acceptable” to abort a fetus lies in our definition of what constitutes a human being. Most mainstream Christians believe the embryo is a person from the moment of conception. The teachings of Judaism say that until the child is able to breathe independently outside its mother it is not a person.
Both sides believe that their position on this issue is ethical. Given the fundamental assumptions that the two sides hold I would have to agree that within their respective belief systems they are indeed both acting ethically. But my nightmare came from the potential for extending the Pro-Choice position far beyond its present limitations – into a world of “1984.”
A quick review of the 20th century world suggests that sometimes people rise to great political power who do not share our generally-accepted concept of ethics. Adolph Hitler was one – to cite an obvious example. His vision of the world was one in which humanity had been purged of all those who were inferior.
He was magnanimous in extending that definition to people whose skin color was different, to the Jews and Slavs, to homosexuals, and to people who had been born with deformities. These were all “lesser people” to his way of thinking. Purging them from the earth was not only ethical – it was a responsibility.
His programs included the sterilization of members of these groups and the elimination of those who had already been born through the gas chambers in the death camps. Who knows what our world today would look like if he and the Axis powers had prevailed? And it was that vision that was the source of my disquietude as my mind thought about it in my nightmare.
If we are able to define someone as being non-human or at the least sub-human because of something as trivial as skin color or ethnic background, how big a step is it to start extending that definition to other aspects of our humanity?
I pictured a world where the political powers had finally achieved their ultimate goal – total domination. These were the true 1% – the rest of us being the 99%.
It was a world in which there was no Constitution, no Bill of Rights – no individual rights at all but to serve the will of the leadership of the state – that not being a right but a mandated obligation. It is a world into which we are rapidly transitioning.
If we start with the premise that a potential mother has the right to choose not to become one for any of a variety of reasons – how big a step is it for us to take that the state might determine that she ought not to bear a child?
If we are to have a “productive” society, does it not make sense to ensure that those who have lived unproductively in poverty for generations not be allowed the right to bring more of their kind into the world? That was the thought that motivated Hitler’s sterilization programs.
With our scientific achievements if we cannot already determine the potential intelligence of an unborn child – it will probably not be long before we can. Then what do we do with an embryo who has a low IQ expectation? At this moment, the mother would have to make a decision about whether she wanted this child. But what if that decision were taken from her and lay in the hands of the state?
By further extension, with our present or futuristic scientific capabilities, what if we decide – that in the interest of a more perfect and uniform society – we refuse to allow those with “undesirable” physical characteristics such as hair or eye color or height or body type to be born? Once we start down the slippery slope there’s no telling how deep lies the abyss at the bottom of the cliff.
Over the years I’ve known people who are both Pro-Choice and Pro-Life. I find it fascinating that almost all of my Pro-Choice friends oppose the death penalty, while their counterparts almost universally endorse it. I have never understood what I view as an obvious inconsistency in these views on life.
I have also never understood why my Pro-Choice friends have not considered the possible scenario I outlined above – or why my Pro-Life friends have not incorporated these arguments in their dialectic against what they view as the most heinous “crime against humanity.” Perhaps thinking about these sorts of things is too terrible for most of us to handle.
If that is the case then there is, at the least, hope. That hope springs from the fact that we have found a common ground for our ethical standards on which we can build. And I hope we indeed do build on that foundation.
I don’t want to experience any more nightmares like the one I just had.