Sunday, May 13, 2012


Yes, Proctor & Gamble is one of the Lesser Satans. Yes, the Olympics has become a loathsome concatenation of greed and cupidity. Yes, advertising in general is the Devil's Siren Song.That said, every so often the wrong people, for the wrong reasons, say something very touching. And this is one of those times.

You don't have to have a child hoping to be an Olympic athlete to appreciate the little fable recounted here. Just think of your own mother or father and the lifetime you and they have spent building. Or your own son or daughter.

I think the best description of the entire business of taking an embryo and producing a man or a woman I've ever read comes from a very sad little science fiction story called Aftermaths by Lois McMaster Bujold. The setting is what amounts to a graves registration party recovering the bodies of those killed in a naval engagement in deep space. The speaker is laying out the body of a young enemy soldier that her assistant has reviled as "garbage".
"Not at all" said the medtech. "Think of all the work he represents on somebody's part. Nine months of pregnancy, childbirth, two years of diapering, and that's just the beginning. Tens of thousands of meals, thousands of bedtime stories, years of school. Dozens of teachers. And all that military training, too. A lot of people went into the making of him."

She smoothed a strand of the corpse's hair into place.

"That head held a universe, once. He had a good rank for his age."
I think you know of our struggles with children and parenting. I have no idea of yours, but I do know that there is no such thing as "easy". So on this ridiculous corporate fiction "Mother's Day" let me just say that there is a virtue in doing the right things, even if they are done in a parlous way, in a difficult place, for the wrong reasons and for no better excuse than hope and desperation. The grace is in the doing, and not in the hope of reward.


Lisa said...

The sci-fi quotation expresses the thing that always hits me whenever people endeavor to tear down (from the personal level on up): What a lot of waste. Waste of spirit, materiel -- energy. How much more we could achieve if we did not fight each other and attrit our energies and resources.

"He achieved a good rank."

Noble, yes, but destroyed. We are builders and demolition men. I wonder if humans can be (should be) anything else.

IMHO: Parthenogenesis is not lesser than oogenesis; all reproductive strategies reflect a simple biological impulse to replicate. Not one is more exalted than the other, either in form or production. (Perhaps that was your titular point.)

It is interesting the religions overlay of "miraculous" on human birth; if so, then birth in each species is a miracle, but one can only say that if one is willing to say the inspiration of lungs is a miracle, too. Wonderful, perhaps, in that it works so well, but miracle implies something unknown, and there is nothing unknown in either phenomenon.

The miracle may be the perdurance of the human spirit, in the face of so many obstacles. Maybe the spirit even gets depleted, but the fact that most of "get on with it", anyway.

FDChief said...

Since passing from the days of my feckless young adulthood, Lisa, when pride of power made me like Job's horse, swallowing the ground with fierceness and rage to - I hope - genuine maturity I have come to appreciate this miracle; the passing of humanity, the teaching of compassion and the strength to be not strong, but tender from one generation of humans to the next.

I'll admit that I haven't come as far as jim in seeing all our tearing-down as pure waste; I still believe that there will be time - until we can see through to our common humanity - for soldiers.

But the dawning recognition of the labor that goes into creating and shaping all of those universes has led me further and further from the love of destructive power and towards the appreciation of the creative.

And, at the same time, a growing disdain for the increasingly deferential and hierarchical society we're constructing here in our own country, where somehow some human births, and lives, are worth "more" because of where the are and how much they are "worth"...

If I could have my way we would look to those among us who are kindly, and thoughtful, rather than (as we seem to prefer) the loud, the wealthy, the angry, and the stupidly confident.

Lisa said...


It is a great advert, and thanks for sharing. It makes one feel better about the mind-numbing routine integral to raising a family.

It makes me wonder if we would even do it if childbirth were easier, a la Midwife Toad, or hanging an egg sac among the rushes. Mothers feel a connection via the amount of time the fetus spends in utero, and the men stick around, well, to derive the benefits that accrue to him, from the ensuing domestic arrangement.

But might we just toss the sullen, mean, cruel and stupid ones back, given a smaller investment? I can envision a society in which the duds are passed off to some kind of institution to raise them for more suitable work, outside of a forced socialization which is ill-suited for so many.

Mind you, I'm not advocating this system (no Ayn Rand, here), but just considering what might be should we divest this otherwise mundane biological imperative (gravidity) from its human overlay of "miraculousness".

Were most of us not so selfish and self-oriented as to imagine that we are special and will hurtle into infinity on the backs of our offspring, how would that allow the process of procreation to be different?

Lisa said...

I just saw your reply:

Per: this miracle; the passing of humanity, the teaching of compassion and the strength to be not strong, but tender from one generation of humans to the next

--Yes, but, not solely within the confines of your offspring. Because there is no guarantee they will choose to implement your wisdom. The miracle is to be able to teach that lesson to all whom you meet who are able to share it with you.

Per: the "growing disdain" for the attitude that "some human births, and lives, are worth "more" because of where the are and how much they are "worth"..."

I would say, this is simply a matter of inborn proclivity for tribe, scabbed onto our hypocrisy.

IN FACT, we act as though "every sperm is sacred," but when the crack baby, or FAS baby, or chromosomally-challenged arrives, we know this is a lie. And always, the privileged (via money or beauty or status) are favored.

That's just the way it is. Until we find some other hierarchy with which to categorize, because we are categorization-making hominids. I don't think our society is changing one jot in respect to valuation of human lives.

In fact, if anything, our religious overlay upon our preference for tribe causes us to be be more tolerant of those who truly are "less valuable" in terms of what they might potentially contribute to society.

FDChief said...

"The miracle is to be able to teach that lesson to all whom you meet who are able to share it with you."

I wonder, you pointed out in the remainder of your comment, we really ARE ridiculously insular. Hard enough to get humans to take the notion of being their brother- or sister's-keeper seriously, but if the teacher isn't from our tribe, or clan...

I guess that's one reason that I'm not hopeful for our success in taming the immense issues facing our existing civilization; population, economics, industrial nightmares like AGW, overfishing, soil deterioration...all of those require humans to be WAY more cooperative, way more outward-focused than we seem to like or want to be.

And since we can't even seem to agree that throwing away other humans because they're not in our clan isn't a good thing...

Damn. Now I've gone and depressed myself and all.

Labrys said...

In spite of myself, that made me tear up. Damned leaky eyeballs, anyhow. And yes....Mothers' Day made me think, too; I got the usual DOD 'who died today at war list' for that day.

My first thought was the poem form "haikai"":

What Mothers' Day gift?
News of a son's death at war
Heart break and no joy.

But in German it is said,
"Gift" is the word for poison.

And poison it is
To bury one's child so soon
Mothers' Day broken.

FDChief said...

Labrys: I think that Herodotus pretty much summed this up when he wrote "No one is so foolish as to prefer war to peace. In peace children bury their parents; war violates the order of Nature, causing parents to bury their children."

Still; it's hard not to grieve for those parents even now...

FDChief said...

Lisa: I should not neglect to mention the context of the Bujold quote I excerpted for the post.

The story ends with the woman quoted recovering the body of her own daughter.

" war, parents bury their children."

Lisa said...

Chief observes, "we really ARE ridiculously insular," and wonders then how we might then hear the wisdom or cries of others, and I agree that we seem to lack the ability to recognize and address those pressing global issues.

But in our favor, religion has inculcated the brotherly love message (even if we're not so good at applying it.) And while that message has been warped to justify everything from wars on down, it can also serve us as the world becomes annually a place of more porous borders.

Mostly, my thought question involved how life might be lived differently if we were to divest worldly phenomena from the overlay of its occult status. If we were not to imagine an immortal self that perdures (as Gothic religions teach us.) If procreation were just a biological imperative, and we took responsibility for that fact (rather than the "miracle" that so many make it, in order to justify any number of transgressions.)

I'm arguing for a sense of responsibility that I so rarely see, since we seem to have this inborn tendency to withdraw into the strictures of our upbringing. Very few people are radically free from those messages. Dawkins argued for The Selfish Gene; Wilson, for the selfish tribesman.

Standing alone doesn't seem safe when the tigers are at the opening to the den.