Dorothy Day Caucus of the American Solidarity Party A Revolution of the Heart
by Tara Ann Thieke
Lifehack. Best life now. Treat yo self. Have it your way.
The 20th century saw the triumph of advertising, its language welcomed, absorbed, and personalized by all members of society. Perhaps it was inevitable: popular demand for entertainment and comfort is real, so why wouldn't a people with meaningful, orienting traditions falling like autumn leaves all around them, accept products as a replacement for atrophied communities? What was money good for if it couldn't make life a little easier?
The consumer mentality didn't stop with a new vacuum, personal computer, third car, larger house, or trip to Disneyworld. New products came on the scene with the advent of new technologies, and through the efforts of social engineers and the desires of a for-profit medical industry, our understanding of what it meant to be human underwent a dramatic shift, one whose ramifications have yet to fully reveal themselves.
Children are no longer an inevitable result of sexual intercourse. You can have the pleasure without the cost (that's the short-term sell, at least). If you do have children, there's no need for them to limit your desires. You can still have it all!
In order to have it all (a good car, a pleasant house, frequent vacations) you will need money. To make money you will need a good CV, and to have a good CV you will need to be busy, and so you will need to avoid the kind of distractions that cannot be turned into a shiny line item. Sick parents, sick children - all of these are rocky pebbles which impede the Path to Success.
There is nothing to be learned from taking care of an ailing loved one unless one can monetize it as a memoir. Consumerism is a word we've heard so many times it's easy to roll the eyes at. But what if we were to see it afresh? To hear it as it really is: the yanking and stripping of all that is transcendent from our lives in order to pursue our appetites? Consumerism is the mentality of "Bigger, Better, Faster, Stronger," of more more more. Anything that does not bring More, anything that does not bring speed, is an encumbrance when we are required to go ever faster, ever more efficiently, into a Utopia of fulfilled desires.
This is how we become dominated by what I call the yuppie mentality: life is a product, an experience that I, the manager of my personal consumption, must tweak and perfect in order to give a 5-star review. Can I instagram it? What does my personal brand buy me in terms of success? As I heard a young man tell some women recently as he attempted to recruit them into some sort of pyramid scheme, why wear a shirt or have a drink without getting paid for it? Your body and what you do with it: this is advertising space, he said. Use them. Get paid.
There's no room in such a shopper's worldview for the less-than. Diversity is a photo-spread of travel destinations and international restaurants, not the difference between an ailing Alzheimer's patient, a healthy young woman, and a child with Down Syndrome.
To be pregnant in the 21st century and a member of the middle-to-upper-classes is to walk a surreal wonderland. One has decided it is time to accept a new product, and like all new products it must be closely managed and scrutinized. If it is not perfect then we reserve the right of return to seller.
Over and over the terrifying chill has raced my spine when confronted with a question so eerie I cannot believe I am really hearing it: have I genetically tested my child for Down Syndrome yet?
A tight "no," and shake of my head has been my response throughout two pregnancies. What I want to do though is run, run from a question the speaker does not fully understand, for in the very words are echoes and foreshadowings, death and murder. I know the implications. They're asking if I've made sure my unborn child is one of the elect. If it's perfect enough to live. And the terror, the horror, comes from the knowledge that the question is perfectly decent and normal in right-thinking society.
Wedding ceremonies are another act of self-creation these days, but there's often still some small nod to attendees that they play a part in marriage. They'll be asked if they consent to "being there" for the married couple, to supporting them through life's burdens and trials. People will cheerfully nod along, confident nothing serious will actually be asked of them. That's what a managed-society focused on perfecting our consumption does to us: anything too inconvenient is removed from sight. A child with Down Syndrome will be "taken care of" before anyone has to do anything so troublesome as love him or her.
Empathy is a hallmark of the human race. Perhaps we don't have enough of it; sometimes it blinds us. But standing on its own it is a good thing. Suffering qua suffering is bad. All things considered, there is no doubt health is preferable to illness. Who would not seek to move the moon if it would save a child from pain?
This is the question truly before us. Eugenics is a terrible thing. Abortion is evil. Their advocates are absolutely wrong. But, for all the suffering they inflict, we must also understand that at some point, it was fear of suffering which drove the flight from reality. The nature of their response must be questioned. The apathy, indifference, and+ utilitiarianism must be shunned. But we must always recall that the universe is a hard one, and human life is not sunshine.
It is a century of advertising bombardment and a shift to a consumerist culture which has warped our already weak ability to process suffering and demand eternal sunshine. Our common tongue has adopted the language of business, of shareholders, of magazines selling the new and improved. With this we have blocked out not-for-profit metaphysics, which points us to something greater than our appetites and fears, and so gradually more and more domains of human life fall under the sway of the language of marketing.
A child is not a sandwich. People must not be made to order. A unifying, transcendental definition of what it means to be human is our only defense from being reduced to products ourselves. All human beings matter regardless of the color of their skin, their beauty, their sex, their height, their intelligence, or how many chromosomes they possess. No human being should have their existence threatened by another's desires. No one should be an instrument to another person's "best life now." If one human being's value is reduced to how convenient they are then everyone's value is reduced. Your security does not rest in your possessions; it rests in your attitude towards the world. They who value every human being will create a world where they are valued themselves. They who treat human beings as objects to be tweaked, honed, or discarded as at a sandwich counter will find that they have put themselves into the same position as the product they thought they were ordering. At the end of the day, when questions of virtue have been extracted from ethics and 'ethics' itself is code for "whatever we want to do," the only real question left will be who wields the power, who decides who is convenient, whose appetites will reign supreme.
Artificial contraception does not just warp a biological function; its effects spill over, the same as with every new technology. It has created a culture of convenience and those who are inconvenient are unwelcome. This is clearest in the delusional tone the Icelandic people adopt as they cluelessly celebrate a genocide of Down Syndrome people, a genocide that will never end because Down Syndrome is not hereditary. But how can one even be angry at those so blinded by a culture of comfort, convenience, and selfishness that they cannot conceive of the magnitude of their sin? How can one be angry at the well-meaning people who ask if you've tested your child to see if you should allow it to live? They mean so well. They don't want you to suffer. They don't want anyone to suffer. If that means they have to erase the one who suffers, well, then they must be erased in the name of compassion.
When compassion is capable of rationalizing and extolling murder it is time for a new definition. Otherwise where does such false mercy stop? Is it compassionate to give birth to a blind child or a deaf one? Will those with an inclination to heart disease or breast cancer be allowed to live tomorrow? What happens when we can check to see if an unborn child carries a marker for bipolar disorder? Is it compassionate to the poor parents who now have a "burden," or a child who won't experience the full spectrum of human life? How can happiness be anything other than circling modernity's buffet without impediment? If one cannot be an athletic, moneyed, wired-up, credentialed denizen of the city with passport in hand, does life have any point?
I once joked such logic had no stopping point. "Life itself is a risk!" I pronounced. "Everyone dies. It should probably be a crime to have a child at all, considering it's a guaranteed death sentence." Well, I should have known better than to joke in this day and age.
We're told science will prevent such problems in the future. Perhaps reproduction will become an entirely artificial process, thus ending the need for abortion. We'll be sterilized but our eggs and sperm shall be preserved elsewhere. That would end abortion, and abortion is evil, so shouldn't we be happy?
There should be no skepticism that genetic testing on the unborn is but a way station, and there should also be no doubt all our embryonic testing, our Dr. Frankenstein-meddling of humans with pigs, the murdering of the unsightly will all be done in the name of compassion. This is why we must confront the nature of compassion and the nature of suffering. This is also why we must question our own popular demand for an endless stream of products, of easy living. For in the very goods delivered us is a worldview, one which especially bears the rotten fruit of original sin. Our happiness is not tied to mere security, convenience, or comfort. Those are good things, but they are not ends in themselves, and if we pursue them alone we will lose our humanity in the seeking.
Psychologists increasingly speak of the value of 'resilience.' We become aware, grudgingly, that a smooth road is deceptive in its own way. Diversity requires, well, diversity. Hands which do not knit, sew, hew, carve, sow, reap, soothe: they still find a way to suffer. Anxiety, depression, a sense of unease fill us, because we have fled from suffering, which means we have fled from an opportunity to conquer our appetites and choose love rather than desire. We have fled from the chance to receive grace, choosing to dictate the terms under which we live instead. Love can teach us how to desire rightly; desire pursued for its own sake cripples our ability to love. Grace can help us bear suffering; the unyielding pursuit of control snaps our humanity in two.
Only Christianity can truly move us from a utilitarian acceptance of suffering to love. This has been dismissed as masochism, the religion of slaves and women. Personally I think Ayn Rand and Nietzsche lacked the joy and peace of the saints. There is, perhaps, a practical argument to be made that true happiness is to be found in the Cross. But happiness pursued for happiness is doomed to failure. Happiness is an after-effect of love. And when we love the sufferer we do not eliminate them. Our fate is bound to theirs. There is more to this than meets the eye: these are gifts, if we dare to receive them.
May those of us who still believe life is not a product to review reject the "bigger better faster stronger" mentality as the road to suffering without redemption, a world of nihilism, of permanent fluorescent lighting blinding us from understanding the grace we receive when we accept everyone as our neighbor, however they appear to us. As long as one human being is labeled an inconvenience unworthy of love and acceptance, we are all in danger of being labeled so ourselves. Rather than denying ourselves the mysteries of love, suffering, and existence, let us instead choose a compassion that leaves room for grace.
Tara Ann Thieke