Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Shallow Pretensions of Evil

The New York Times reports on the phenomenon of women who've conceived via IVF "reducing" their twins to singletons. The quotes speak for themselves.
“Things would have been different if we were 15 years younger or if we hadn’t had children already or if we were more financially secure,” she said later. “If I had conceived these twins naturally, I wouldn’t have reduced this pregnancy, because you feel like if there’s a natural order, then you don’t want to disturb it. But we created this child in such an artificial manner — in a test tube, choosing an egg donor, having the embryo placed in me — and somehow, making a decision about how many to carry seemed to be just another choice. The pregnancy was all so consumerish to begin with, and this became yet another thing we could control.”
One of Stone’s patients, a New York woman, was certain that she wanted to reduce from twins to a singleton. Her husband yielded because she would be the one carrying the pregnancy and would stay at home to raise them. They came up with a compromise. “I asked not to see any of the ultrasounds,” he said. “I didn’t want to have that image, the image of two. I didn’t want to torture myself. And I didn’t go in for the procedure either, because less is more for me.” His wife was relieved that her husband remained in the waiting room; she, too, didn’t want to deal with his feelings.

A. and her partner were sick, physically and emotionally. Because A. had already miscarried once, her doctor worried she might not carry two to term; if she reduced, the doctor said, she had a better chance of taking a baby home. The women were tempted to reduce both pregnancies, so each woman would carry one, in part to ensure that even if one miscarried, they would have at least one baby. “But we discovered that the reality of having two pregnant moms when you have a 14-month-old is insane. We’ve both been very ill from the pregnancies, and it’s been hard to give him what he needs. At 14 months, they’re inquisitive and energetic, and it was becoming harder and harder to chase him and get him up and down the slide. There were days I’d be in the bathroom throwing up, she’d be on all fours with him, and then we’d switch. We all think we can conquer the world, but then reality hits you, and you realize you have limitations.”

For the sake of the boy they already had, they decided to reduce A.’s pregnancy to one, and right after that A.’s partner lost her whole pregnancy. “I don’t wish this on anyone,” A. says. “I’m very grateful that we had this option at our disposal, that it can be done safely and in a legal way, but it was very difficult for both of us. I still wonder, Did we choose the right one? — even though I wasn’t the one who chose. That idea, that one’s gone and one’s here, it’s almost like playing God. I mean, who are we to choose? Even as it was happening, I wondered what the future would have been if the doctor had put the needle into the other one.”

I mean, who are we to choose?

I really do believe that the people uttering these chilling words believe that they are brave, that they are enlightened, for being so honest about their motivations. But it makes one more culpable, not less, to put a name to the venal motivations for committing an evil act. And to kill a child because he or she can be equated with unwanted merchandise is evil.

In a Facebook discussion about this article, a wise friend who specializes in the bitter history of Eastern Europe, especially the region brutalized "between Hitler and Stalin", said to me:
I wonder if we are missing something when we speak of understanding? Perhaps here it is the problem that evil itself is elusive - that we cannot understand it in the same way we understand goodness because the thing itself is actually opposed to meaning? Real mysteries, holy things contain hidden depths - but it could very well be in the nature of evil to appear to be deep and complex but to be as simple?

...I wonder if we face the kind of difficulties that made it so hard for people to face the atrocities they were committing decades ago? That dehumanization which is the precursor to personal violence actually requires us to shut down the connections between what at some level we know to be true and what is being done. For example - if we were aware that a few blocks from us there was a place where people were bringing in toddlers to be butchered, what really would deter us from gathering a posse of our friends and going there immediately to at a minimum protect any children near it - and if possible to destroy such a place? Yet we are compelled by all sorts of deeply powerful social forces and institutions to live by such institutions day in and day out, knowing that the difference between my hypothetical toddler butchery center and an abortion clinic is not that great. Yet we really are powerless and any effort to change by force our own society's violence would rebound on us and harm the unborn.

But to take it a step further - those who are murdering are successful in forcing their concepts upon us and upon the state - we face a language in which some people literally feel it is a matter of life and death to keep as muddy as the SS men and Nazi administrators worked to convince themselves and those around them that Jews really were subhuman. Again, the differences are real, but the similarities are also quite compelling when you think about it - the sustained effort to subvert, contain or delegitimize the protests of those who had a radically different way of seeing requires a great deal of commitment on the part of those who are "pro-choice."
I think some of it is that in my neck of the historiographical woods people tie themselves up in knots about how we can't understand the Holocaust or other deep evils. In the back of my mind there is the description in C.S. Lewis of the demon in Perelandra which "employs reason the way a soldier learns to use the bayonet" but also rather despises reason and on its free time just likes to torture animals for "fun". I also think there is that Augustinian tendency in me to think that we have gone far too far in our fascination with evil, and we forget that we are not Manichaeans - that evil is not simply the opposite of good, Satan is not God's kid brother - that evil is the movement toward non-being/nothing.

It could be there is a steep fall-off from any and all meaning when we get to the kinds of things about which you write are incomprehensible - that there really is NO meaning or content in such things - that a person "feeling two children inside of you, seeing them, and saying "kill this one, love that one." - is someone who has lost something key - and all that is there is fear and even perhaps the demonic - a force that delights in murder for the sake of murder, and is able to enter the empty place where should beat the heart of a mother and takes possession to pursue its own agendas (and needless to say, as N. points out that emptiness is enabled by the missing love of the man who should be there to both comfort the soon-to-be-mother and protect his child).

A Polish colleague is doing some good work on the demonic that proposes a good deal of our practical atheism comes not from the effort to deny God but from our denial of the devil (no, they are not equal, but in denying the possibility of radical evil I think we miss key facts about the world that blind us to other, more primary and important realities - it is the people who have never felt deeply the sting of their own sin and betrayals who I think tend to natter on and on the most about the brutality of the crucifixion - i.e. they cannot contemplate how little and great evils form links in a chain).


Rebekka said...

That is just chilling.

Foxfier said...

I'm re-reading a vampire novel, the first one I ever met the "greatest trick" version of why nobody knows about vampires-- it makes it easier for them to operate, so they encourage it. That comes to mind with the last paragraph.

It's hard to recognize how bright light is if you never see the absence of it-- might denying the possibility of real evil, or the downgrading of evil so that it includes "doesn't agree with me on tax rates," be a way to avoid thinking about how good God is? Down grading examples is a common emotional defense method.

lissla lissar said...

Especially chilling, personally, for me, because we've got a surprise pregnancy that- even more surprising!- has turned out to be twins. I can fathom thinking, "I can't deal with this! This is huge!, because I've been thinking it a lot, but to continue on to, "i'll kill one of them to make it more manageable." is so utterly, overwhelmingly selfish. It's scary.

MrsDarwin said...

Lissla, congratulations! Wow, that's amazing.

lissla lissar said...

Thank you. It is amazing, and a little terrifying. We're going to be doubling our number of children.

We've known for less than a week, and I've already run into about four parents of twins who have given me huge amounts of information and encouragement.

So far, my plans look like- we're going to have to buy a car, and I should bake a lot of muffins, and freeze them. When chaos looms, I turn to cooking. If everyone's fed, everything's okay, right?

Foxfier said...

I like your planning....


My dad was a twin-- his mom did the same thing as you, doubling her sons in one birth. ;^p It turned out just fine. The only advice I remember is her mentioning that you did NOT want to do names that were too similar!

lissla lissar said...

We're actually praying for girls. Two quiet, shy, cuddly, little girls, to balance our two hyperactive, loud, fast boys.

We think we're likely to be calling them "Whatever-your-name-is" quite a lot, for all our kids. We already do it. Heck, my parents regularly called me by the dog's name (I was an only. I still feel a bit shellshocked- I don't know how you do sibling dynamics).

This means we needs to come up with lots of names, boy and girl, and two sets of godparents. We're running out of Catholic friends (we're converts).

Anyone want to be godparents? (joking. Mostly).

Foxfier said...

*laughs* Oh yes, my Kit is use to being called by a wide range of names already, and Kaboodle hasn't even shown up yet-- don't worry, you'll do fine on "sibling dynamics"-- just try to keep the bloodshed to a minimum. (Mostly joking....)

Good luck on the Godparents thing; I had to take a page from my folks' book and ask a relative to do the job... and it was still a bit tougher than I like to think about....

You might "cheat" and ask your boys' godparents to each take on a child. I was going to suggest having the same godparents for both twins, but I seem to remember that can be a point of contention-- folks feel like they're not quite two people. (I know that having "my" color was very important when I was little, to differentiate myself from my sister, and we were over a year apart.)

JMB said...

I stopped reading the NY Times because of stuff like this. A part of me just doesn't want to know about what people do in private. It's awful.