Thursday, July 16, 2009

Just Whose Life Is It, Anyway?

In human sexual reproduction, it takes a male sperm and a female egg uniting to begin the process that eventually leads to the birth of a child. Male and female contribute copies of their personal genome, they are stirred together, and out comes a related but different genetic code, which takes the best (and sometimes the worst) of the parental code, to create a unique new life. It is an amazing process, that ensures the continuation of the human species by diversifying and extending it, creating new features and new facilities in the process. The continuation of human life is beautiful.

As beautiful as it is, the events leading up to human sexual reproduction have become problematic. Humans seem to have developed a sexual schizophrenia, at one time impelled by instinct and hormonal desire to engage in sexual union, while at the same time seeking to implore ourselves to avoid sexual congress and placing limitations on what is considered "proper." Some segments of society have freed themselves from the clinging mores of puritanical belief, while others indulge in the desire to control all aspects of sexuality and its by-products, to ensure it only occurs in alignment with their moral code. Rules have been written, cruelly enforced, then cast off in bursts of societal frenzy, as men and women tried to cope with changes to their world.

Inevitably, this has led to clashes on so many fronts. It has wound its way into so many aspects of human society, from marriage to child-rearing, into religion, and even politics. In the end, our inability to compromise, to let each person choose, as they may, how they will express their sexuality, has led to some of the greatest "debate" in our modern times. It pits state against citizen, family against congregation, child against parent.

Our nation was conceived as a place where its citizens could fulfill their dreams of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," without the undue influence of government. While some regulation must be made, to provide for the safety of all, how the individual chooses to explore and ultimately express their sexuality should not become a battleground for morality. Like so much of life, belief and how one lives one's life is up to the individual, and while society has a right to expect that members of certain groups will not be allowed to force their way of life onto others, such it is that society cannot arbitrarily decide to impress itself on certain groups. Our government was given a mandate by the Founders, expressed through the Bill of Rights, that the individual should be protected at all costs, even to the extent of overriding the desire of the majority of citizens.

This treading of the fine line between individual liberty and American society is starkly silhouetted in the debate over the right of gays to marry. Marriage, which started as a religious bonding ceremony, became a state-sponsored means of generating revenue, and has now become it's own industry, stands as the bulwark from behind which, the forces of intolerance seek to reduce gays from citizens into stereotypes. Religious leaders, politicians, and their teeming masses of followers continue a pernicious campaign of trying to convince the bulk of the American citizenry that while equal rights are fine for for everyone else, those with an "improper" sexual orientation should not fall under that umbrella. Somehow, because the result of the union of a man with a man or a woman with a woman cannot lead naturally to children, that makes the idea of gays being bonded in mutual love abhorrent.

Such beliefs show that human society is still mired in its past, even as it surges into the Information Age. Dragging along the dead weight of outdated concepts slows our progress, forces us to relive and re-fight battles that should no longer need to be fought. Every few decades, we are forced to endure a new revolution, a new birth of conflict, as those who continue to sow the bitter fruit of conformity to the dead ideas of the past make war on the new enlightenment of the day. Human society looks to break free of its past, but there are those bent on chaining it down, forcing it accede to their dusty, moldy thoughts.

It is not enough to see people as they are, but that they are defined, and in so being, channeled into the appropriate paths, even if those paths take them away from society as a whole, to strand them in backwater slums, where they can go about their business without having to be seen. Let them do what they will, but let them do it out of sight, where "decent" people do not have to be exposed to it.

To allow homosexuals to marry would be an indignity, in the eyes of some. It would mean the State endorses their way of life, by providing them equal rights and equal protection. It would lessen the meaning of marriage, turn it from prized possession to common commodity, even though that turn happened long ago, in the birth of the "wedding-industrial complex," wherein weddings were made into expensive and lavish affairs, though little thought was given to the actual health of the relationship.

There is no actual harm to "marriage," either as actuality or concept. If homosexuals can marry, then there are new markets for suppliers, new fees to be collected by the State, and potentially homes for children who have no one to care for them. Why should it be so hard to accept that love can exist between people of the same gender, when love is a function of the brain and not the body? And is not marriage the ultimate expression of love between two people? Doesn't the world need more love, not less?

Old prejudices dies hard. It far easier to stay within the confines of the rickety house that is Old World belief, than to step into the sunlight that bathes those who walk among the hills and valleys of tolerance and reason. It is more comforting to stay steadfastly wedded to beliefs that cannot withstand the touch of logic, than to admit that reality is far easier to understand and tolerate when it is accepted as a natural phenomenon. Why see things through new eyes, when the dull and dirty glasses of ignorance fit so well?

Eventually, the forces of intolerance, those whose beliefs will yield only to death, are passed by, swept out by the tide of change. Human society has broken free of its chains many times before, and even now, strains against its newest restraints, which groan under the load and weaken imperceptibly every second, until one day they will snap. The gay community cannot and will not be denied their right forever, and one can only hope when the day comes that enlightened society installs them forever in their rightful place, that it will be the last time we allow ourselves to be tied to ignorance and prejudice.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Compassion, Not Inquisition

Abortion. If it can be said that there is one issue that polarizes us, it is this. It pits science, reproductive health, politics, and religion against each other, in a cage match that is a continuous ball of fury, with no clear victor, but many losers. If it can be said that abolition was a major causative factor in The Civil War, in that is was the call for the abolition of slavery that drew a line between the North and the South, and ignited the fuse which led to Fort Sumter, then abortion carries the hallmarks of the next great divisive split in American society. The problem in this interpretation, is that the battle lines are not so clearly drawn, as the battle is waged across the length and breadth of the nation, in small hamlets and large cities, every single day.

The problem with the "debate" (a term used very loosely) is that there is no common language, no agreed upon mutual framework to allow for rational discussion. On one side, stand those who believe ardently in a "right to life"; on the other, the "pro-choice" forces. Right there is the initial contradiction -- each side approaches the question of pregnancy and abortion from its own ground, by labeling their cause for their fundamental belief. The "right to life" group can be better termed the "anti-choice" group; despite the range of individual beliefs held by members of the group, they are united by their desire to see the ability to "choose" abortion as a reproductive health option completely removed. On the other side, it is hard to see the "pro-choice" movement as "anti-life"; the group does not advocate the utter destruction of living things.

If we decide to use roughly comparable terms for the groups (pro-choice/anti-choice), we are not out of the woods. The anti-choice group has taken to calling those who perform abortions "baby killers" or "child murderers"; their position is that from the moment of conception, when sperm meets egg, a "baby" exists, a living being which has a soul, and which is the subject of the depredations of abortion providers. The pro-choice group aligns more with the definitions delineated by science, where gametes meet to form a zygote, which begins a long process of division that forms a fetus, which eventually reaches a stage where it is as developed as it can be in the womb, and must be expelled to live on its own, independently of the mother. The stages of development are well-defined, and it is possible to say how developed the fetus is at any stage in the process.

The gulf between both sides broadens and deepens as you take the debate outward, until, as during The Civil War, you have two sides, poised behind their barriers, shouting, harrumphing, but not communicating. Battle cries uttered, shots fired, and in the end, mindless casualties.

To a woman who has become pregnant unexpectedly, it is like being trapped in the No Man's Land between both sides, as they fire fusillade after fusillade of invective ordinance. It is not enough that she suffers from her own doubt and uncertainty about the life growing inside her, but now she is assailed by voices professing her doom if she "kills that baby" or telling her that "she is in good hands." What right has anyone, outside of her deity or her own conscience, to tell her the fate of her soul? And while abortion, when done legally and under proper conditions, might be a safe and effective medical procedure, where is the assuaging of doubt or guilt? Can it be so clinical or cold, so easy to do? And how can someone else tell her it will be all right, when she does not know if she should be doing it in the first place?

Lost in the cacophony of the fight, is the piteous cry of a woman who does not know, in her heart, what is best. Perhaps it easier for some women, for what woman would wish to carry to term the seed of a rape, or a child that will definitively be shouldered with some horrible malady that will lead to early death? For many, it is not so clear cut. For many, while they understand the mechanics of abortion and know the risks of pregnancy, there is a sense that there is something larger at stake. Whether they are afraid of their own guilt, frightened by the thought of losing the support of friends and loved ones, scared of being cast out of their chosen belief system, or even simply muddled by the glow of potential motherhood, they carry with them an angst not so easily dealt with, or assuaged by reason and logic. It is they, who are ultimately the casualties, souls wrenched by the gravity of the decision they know they must make. In a time of confusion, when the answer is not clear, they need to know that there is no right or wrong answer, only what they feel is best for them. In the end, compassion should rule the day.