[Paleopsych] Schaivo and ...

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Sun Mar 27 18:52:38 UTC 2005

Emerging issues of the right-to-life of chimeras (mice genes placed in humans, 
or human genes placed in mice, which has already been done in South Korea) or 
of just experiments manipulating the human genome that cannot live on their own 
but could be kept alive at great expense are going to be far more important 
that the instant case of Terri Schiavo. Saying that such creatures should not 
be conceived or be allow to develop to term does not solve the ethical problem 
of what happens if they do, any more than what happens when genetically quite 
normal but socially irresponsible parents give birth to children they cannot 
support in a reasonable fashion until they have completed schooling. 
Responsible parents will provide a decent education for their children and take 
out insurance for death and disability. Irresponsible parents are the source of 
the greatest negative externalities (public bads) in the country. The rest of 
us pay for this through public education, welfare, and so on, and have elected 
politicians to make these provisions. Yet rarely are irresponsible parents 


Below I show how the rhetoric is playing out. There are 50,700 articles as of 
right now, but 35,400 on Wednesday when I made a count. Now that Lent is over, 
I'm resuming my postings and will concentrate today on the Schiavo case, 
sending the best background articles I've come across and those that display 
the wide range of opinions. This I do to get you to think for yourself but also 
to drink deeply in the human comedy. As always, I wish we could have heard Mr. 
Mencken's reactions. I'll put, yet again, a succinct statement of his on 
American politics, at the end.

Expect up to twenty articles on all sorts of subjects if you are on one of my 
private lists. If you are just in my address book, I'll send just
this one article on the Schiavo case. I may, as always, send you things on 
other subjects at other times. I'll target public lists selectively.


My observations on the Schiavo case:

1. Death is a small price to pay for life. We now know from evolutionary 
biology that death occurs because of sexual reproduction, though the jury is 
out on which theory or combination of theories explains how sexual reproduction 
came about in the first place. That the price is small is, of course, a 
judgment of value, but all such judgments should rest on factual foundations.

2. Human life ceases to be of value when the brain gets below a certain point 
or when pain greatly outweighs pleasure. At this point, the price of what was 
once a valuable life should be paid. Michael should have let go of Terri soon 
after the medical facts became apparent.

3. The law is correct in assigning a strong presumption in favor of the spouse 
in making end-of-life decisions in case the patient can no longer make them. 
This is to promote family values, for the greatest purpose of monogamous 
marriage is to turn cads into dads. The spouse gets to decide, even if going 
against the express wishes of the patient, when death, the price of life, is to 
be paid. All this is rebuttable, but nothing in the instant case came anywhere 
close to making such a rebuttal.

4. When these cases come before courts, it is better to err on the side of 
death, of paying for the price of life right now, rather than on the side of 
valueless life. The monies could be better spent on many other things.

5. Though the price of a valueless life should be paid, the spouse should be 
free to pay, out of his own pocket or to use insurance he paid for out of his 
own pocket, to withhold paying the price. Michael did so for many years. But no 
one else should be able to claim the body, and the taxpayers should not have to 
pay for continued care. (Medicare paid for part of the costs of keeping Terri 
alive, Michael paid for a lot of it for many years, and the various hospices 
Terri stayed at picked up part of the tab. Whether, in a country where health 
care is hugely regulated by governments, this amounts to indirect taxation, I 
do not know.) I applaud Michael for standing up for his own rights and refusing 
the offer of a California businessman of $1 million to assign him the power of 
attorney over Terri.

6. The Evangelical and Roman Catholic response is quite understandable. Unlike 
their relativist counterparts, they hold to an absolute source of morality. 
(It's a continuum, really. More some other time. I'll be sending a piece on the 
various Jewish views later.) This source is their own interpretation of their 
religion. (There are a few secular believers in what Frank Knight called 
"relatively absolute absolutes": Larry Arnhart, the late Robert Nisbet, Roger 
Scruton, probably Gertrude Himmelfarb, and me.)

7. There has been far too much group think among these Christians. The 
ostensible source of the revealed source of their absolute morals, namely the 
Bible, is silent on these issues. David Hume noted two centuries ago that the 
Bible does not prohibit suicide. (Neither does it prohibit abortion.) We would 
certainly be hearing the relevant chapters and verses if they were there. 
Instead, we get the constructs of theologians.

8. What the absolutist does is draw a line that must not be crossed. The line 
can and will be arbitrary. Indeed, state laws are arbitrary and it is the job 
of lawyers, judges, *and* jurors to decide just exactly what the law is in 
specific cases. What's important is to understand the necessity for this 
element of the arbitrary and to abide by the rule of law and not to keep going 
back to overturn the voter count in Florida in the Presidential election of 

9. I charge the Democrats with gross hypocrisy in the Schiavo case. The notion 
of a "Living Constitution" is not an absurd one, and Mr. Jefferson was 
something of a proponent of it. But for the liberals to have suddenly 
discovered the merits of Federalism is too much!

10. The Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives who voted for 
the Terri bill were playing it safe. Their votes in favor will be entirely 
forgotten by the next election. Meanwhile, Republican unity has been damaged by 
the escalation to the Federal legislative level, whether for good or ill to the 
Republic, deponent sayeth nothing.

11. The contest became a primate territorial fight, a battle over what Freud 
called the narcissism of small differences.

12. I had predicted that someone would assassinate Michael in order "to save 
Terri's life," since custody over Terri would devolve upon her parents. This 
has not happened so far. Michael, along with Judges George Greer and James 
Whittemore have received death threats, as has Michael's brother and family, 
which he has moved to safety. No assassinations yet, but the culture war could 
escalate this way and into suicide bombings. The Bible does not directly 
prohibit suicide but it repeatedly praises martyrs. We shall see.

13. My record as a prophet is not a good one.

Google News has 35,400 articles on Schiavo, as of Wednesday, March 23. Here's 
the number that also contain:

44 Hitler
18 Osama
14 Stalin
  1 Lenin
  0 Mao
  0 Pol Pot
  0 Ghengis Khan

   19 dictator
   18 monster
   11 saint
    1 sinner
   54 sin
  825 murder
1150 suicide

But (no surprise):
15,500 Bush
  1,450 Clinton
     35 Hillary
     25 Lincoln
     21 Jefferson
      0 Fillmore
      0 bathtub

And then:
49 Nazi
23 communist
20 genocide
  9 racist
  7 fascist
  1 elitist

> From religion:
77 Heaven
81 Hell
21 Limbo (Terri's state between life and death, legal limbo, Terri's own 
"hellish limbo")
18 Devil
12 Satan
  2 Purgatory
  2 Paradise
  0 Nirvana

  60 grandstanding
  30 "political advantage"
  25 exploit
  23 exploiting

2740 tragedy
   37 farce
   27 disaster
   19 comedy
    4 calamity

And, sadly, only:
  48 federalism
  12 federalist
  80 "states' rights"
  28 "state's rights", but
  675 "separation of powers"


On Being an American

by H.L. Mencken  (from Prejudices, Third Series (1922))


All the while I have been forgetting the third of my
reasons for remaining so faithful a citizen of the
Federation, despite all the lascivious inducements from
expatriates to follow them beyond the seas, and all the
surly suggestions from patriots that I succumb. It is
the reason which grows out of my mediaeval but
unashamed taste for the bizarre and indelicate, my
congenital weakness for comedy of the grosser
varieties. The United States, to my eye, is
incomparably the greatest show on earth. It is a show
which avoids diligently all the kinds of clowning which
tire me most quickly -- for example, royal ceremonials,
the tedious hocus-pocus of haut politique, the taking
of politics seriously -- and lays chief stress upon the
kinds which delight me unceasingly -- for example, the
ribald combats of demagogues, the exquisitely ingenious
operations of master rogues, the pursuit of witches and
heretics, the desperate struggles of inferior men to
claw their way into Heaven. We have clowns in constant
practice among us who are as far above the clowns of
any other great state as a Jack Dempsey is above a
paralytic -- and not a few dozen or score of them, but
whole droves and herds. Human enterprises which, in all
other Christian countries, are resigned despairingly to
an incurable dullness -- things that seem devoid of
exhilirating amusement, by their very nature -- are
here lifted to such vast heights of buffoonery that
contemplating them strains the midriff almost to
breaking. I cite an example: the worship of God.
Everywhere else on earth it is carried on in a solemn
and dispiriting manner; in England, of course, the
bishops are obscene, but the average man seldom gets a
fair chance to laugh at them and enjoy them. Now come
home. Here we not only have bishops who are enormously
more obscene than even the most gifted of the English
bishops; we have also a huge force of lesser
specialists in ecclesiastical mountebankery -- tin-horn
Loyolas, Savonarolas and Xaviers of a hundred fantastic
rites, each performing untiringly and each full of a
grotesque and illimitable whimsicality. Every American
town, however small, has one of its own: a holy clerk
with so fine a talent for introducing the arts of jazz
into the salvation of the damned that his performance
takes on all the gaudiness of a four-ring circus, and
the bald announcement that he will raid Hell on such
and such a night is enough to empty all the town blind-
pigs and bordellos and pack his sanctuary to the doors.
And to aid him and inspire him there are travelling
experts to whom he stands in the relation of a wart to
the Matterhorn -- stupendous masters of theological
imbecility, contrivers of doctrines utterly
preposterous, heirs to the Joseph Smith, Mother Eddy
and John Alexander Dowie tradition -- Bryan, Sunday,
and their like. These are the eminences of the American
Sacred College. I delight in them. Their proceedings
make me a happier American.

Turn, now, to politics. Consider, for example, a
campaign for the Presidency. Would it be possible to
imagine anything more uproariously idiotic -- a
deafening, nerve-wracking battle to the death between
Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Harlequin and Sganarelle,
Gobbo and Dr. Cook -- the unspeakable, with fearful
snorts, gradually swallowing the inconceivable? I defy
any one to match it elsewhere on this earth. In other
lands, at worst, there are at least intelligible
issues, coherent ideas, salient personalities. Somebody
says something, and somebody replies. But what did
Harding say in 1920, and what did Cox reply? Who was
Harding, anyhow, and who was Cox? Here, having
perfected democracy, we lift the whole combat to
symbolism, to transcendentalism, to metaphysics. Here
we load a pair of palpably tin cannon with blank
cartridges charged with talcum power, and so let fly.
Here one may howl over the show without any uneasy
reminder that it is serious, and that some one may be
hurt. I hold that this elevation of politics to the
plane of undiluted comedy is peculiarly American, that
no-where else on this disreputable ball has the art of
the sham-battle been developed to such fineness...

... Here politics is purged of all menace, all sinister
quality, all genuine significance, and stuffed with
such gorgeous humors, such inordinate farce that one
comes to the end of a campaign with one's ribs loose,
and ready for "King Lear," or a hanging, or a course of
medical journals.

But feeling better for the laugh. Ridi si sapis, said
Martial. Mirth is necessary to wisdom, to comfort,
above all to happiness. Well, here is the land of
mirth, as Germany is the land of metaphysics and France
is the land of fornication. Here the buffoonery never
stops. What could be more delightful than the endless
struggle of the Puritan to make the joy of the minority
unlawful and impossible? The effort is itself a greater
joy to one standing on the side-lines than any or all
of the carnal joys it combats. Always, when I
contemplate an uplifter at his hopeless business, I
recall a scene in an old- time burlesque show,
witnessed for hire in my days as a dramatic critic. A
chorus girl executed a fall upon the stage, and Rudolph
Krausemeyer, the Swiss comdeian, rushed to her aid. As
he stooped painfully to succor her, Irving Rabinovitz,
the Zionist comedian, fetched him a fearful clout
across the cofferdam with a slap-stick. So the
uplifter, the soul-saver, the Americanizer, striving to
make the Republic fit for Y.M.C.A. secretaries. He is
the eternal American, ever moved by the best of
intentions, ever running a la Krausemeyer to the rescue
of virtue, and ever getting his pantaloons fanned by
the Devil. I am naturally sinful, and such spectacles
caress me. If the slap-stick were a sash-weight, the
show would be cruel, and I'd probably complain to the
Polizei. As it is, I know that the uplifter is not
really hurt, but simply shocked. The blow, in fact,
does him good, for it helps get him into Heaven, as
exegetes prove from Matthew v, 11: Hereux serez-vous,
lorsqu'on vous outragera, qu'on vous persecutera, and
so on. As for me, it makes me a more contented man, and
hence a better citizen. One man prefers the Republic
because it pays better wages than Bulgaria. Another
because it has laws to keep him sober and his daughter
chaste. Another because the Woolworth Building is
higher than the cathedral at Chartres. Another because,
living here, he can read the New York Evening Journal.
Another because there is a warrant out for him
somewhere else. Me, I like it because it amuses me to
my taste. I never get tired of the show. It is worth
every cent it costs.

That cost, it seems to me is very moderate. Taxes in
the United States are not actually high. I figure, for
example, that my private share of the expense of
maintaining the Hon. Mr. Harding in the White House
this year will work out to less than 80 cents. Try to
think of better sport for the money: in New York it has
been estimated that it costs $8 to get comfortably
tight, and $17.50, on an average, to pinch a girl's
arm. The United States Senate will cost me perhaps $11
for the year, but against that expense set the
subscription price of the Congressional Record, about
$15, which, as a journalist, I receive for nothing. For
$4 less than nothing I am thus entertained as Solomon
never was by his hooch dancers. Col. George Brinton
McClellan Harvey costs me but 25 cents a year; I get
Nicholas Murray Butler free. Finally, there is young
Teddy Roosevelt, the naval expert. Teddy costs me, as I
work it out, about 11 cents a year, or less than a cent
a month. More, he entertains me doubly for the money,
first as a naval expert, and secondly as a walking
attentat upon democracy, a devastating proof that there
is nothing, after all, in that superstition. We
Americans subscribe to the doctrine of human equality -
- and the Rooseveltii reduce it to an absurdity as
brilliantly as the sons of Veit Bach. Where is your
equal opportunity now? Here in this Eden of clowns,
with the highest rewards of clowning theoretically open
to every poor boy -- here in the very citadel of
democracy we found and cherish a clown dynasty!

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