Things often dawn on me very slowly. And so it's just recently occurred to me (more than a little late in the game, I confess) that the consistent application of a mother's right to abort her child would make the lives of each of us, without exception, precarious in the utmost extreme. Just imagine trying to apply the principle forwards no less than backwards in time. Applied backwards, each of us has the right to be here solely because at one time our mothers "wanted" us, and saw fit to carry us to term. Doubtless over time, as bit by bit we got a little older, the "wanting" part of it became less pronounced, and the "putting up with" part took on a more preponderant share of the burden. But in what sense, I wonder, are any of us adults still wanted? And what happens when, however much we oldsters may continue to be suffered to go on living, we will have pretty much ceased to be wanted altogether? What will happen when I get so much older, and become - if one could imagine it - even more unproductive than I am now? What will become of me, when I become not a relatively small inconvenience and encumbrance to a couple of human beings - one of whom is able to carry me about within the confines of her own body - but a great big gnarly, ungainly burden to five or ten or more busy people?
"Oh but you're something of a dinosaur," you assure me confidently. "Back when you were born, you may have been wanted - after a fashion. But how much of that wanting was a tired, bitter, grudging thing, done from a sense of duty? And sadly, I'm afraid, that may even affect how well you are treated in old age. But please understand, in the world to come, virtually everyone alive will be here because of their parents' freest, most unfettered possible choice. And as a result everyone's chance of being no less freely loved and appreciated will be that much stronger."
Fine. In that case I have another question. In this idyllic future world, as you unscroll it before me, every child may be that much more loved and appreciated on account of being "wanted" at birth. (Never mind how much the parents may end up regretting their decision three months later; apparently they're all but guaranteed to become virtual saints of parenting because of a decision they made while basking in the rosy glow of an ultrasound). Answer me this, then: As each of these children grows up, and slowly or quickly ceases to be as desirable as a darling newborn, will it be easier for the adults around them to give them what they need - to listen, to understand, to nurture, to restrain and correct and discipline them - or will it be harder? Remember, in most things human 'tis practice makes perfect. So regarding these enlightened adults of the future: how practised will they be in exercising patience with a "terrible" two-year-old, if they feel neither guilt nor shame in disposing of a child's life when it is by comparison far more helpless, and (normally) nowhere near as obnoxious?
In short, I just can't summon much enthusiasm for this near-utopia of prenatal choice. The fact that a given society is willing to entrust the very beginnings of human life - life at its least demanding and most elementary level of need - to the discretion of one or two confused and frightened individuals, whose presence and peace of mind may vary sharply from week to week, or even day to day, is very poor assurance of that society's humaneness in more trying circumstances. Above all, it does not reassure me concerning that same society's power to "put up with" human life as it becomes more complicated, more demanding, more inconvenient. And even less does it persuade me concerning our mutual capacities - yours and mine - to put up with each other, as one or both of us gets older.
Not all of us reach old age, of course; some of us don't make it to adulthood; others don't get to be a teenager; and a few of us don't get much of a childhood or even an infancy worth mentioning. But every living one of us has been born in some fashion or other. And for nearly all of us - until there can be devised a more nurturing receptacle - the human womb will continue to be the place where we first drew breath, and began the process of becoming recognizably sentient and human. It is where we all came from. If human life does not continue to be sacred there, it is unclear to me how it can go on being sacred anywhere. And observe already how that sacredness is become rather a sick joke. Indeed one may plausibly argue that, in today's abortion-on-demand culture, life has become so cheap a few of us are prepared to kill an abortionist or two in defense of it. And in this bold new age of Apocalypse-as-Entertainment, what quicker path to universal conflagration than to fight fire with fire?
And what a wholesale conflagration it has been - and continues to be - however slowly the fires may spread. Even now we are fools to think abortion poses no similar threat to life outside the womb. Once again, if "helpless" life be an irksome thing when merely kicking, will it be less of a nuisance when it starts talking? and talking back? and becoming not passively helpless but a positive hindrance to other fun things we'd like to do? Meanwhile back at the adult ranch, we wonder why it's getting so hard - and so impractical! - to value human life for anything more than the productivity we can extract from it. Recall, even before the onset of mega-recession, how we trembled at the thought of paying even our most productive workers a wage remotely commensurate with record profits. Good heavens, man, what would Wall Street think? Or worse yet, Beijing? And then we watched - for what else could we do? - we watched as consumer spending, on which our US economy always depends, became more and more fueled, and households more and more strangled, by runaway debt. I mean, the spending had to come from somewhere, right? And then we had the dunderheadedness to be shocked and angry at the severity of this downturn. But what were we expecting - utopian endless prosperity? Why, of course we were! Because as every rational economist knows, the less you value human beings as economic instruments, and the more you regard them as so much costly overhead, the more hopeful they will feel about their own life prospects. And thus - freed from the siren voices of fear and panic - the more rational and clear-headed decisions they will make to secure those prospects.
I believe it was St Therese of Lisieux - the aptly-named "Little Flower" of Jesus - who said we love flowers not for what they do but for what they are. On the strength of that analogy, I'd say nowadays we Western humans have all been assigned the proportionate value of chemically-treated hothouse tomato plants. Certainly there are few if any flowers left in our gardens. And let no one forget good fertilizer is expensive . . .
But maybe you think I'm being much too hard on our poor, hapless, misunderstood, "God knows I'm only trying to make a humble profit" Western nations. I wish I could find a reason for going easier. But even now I see little if any progress in Human Efficiency's most vital component: the way we humans treat each other - and in particular the way we treat those peons on whom we depend to keep our operations running, not from year to year, or even month to month, but from one God-given day to another. Perhaps we're being compensated by our superior moral rectitude in some other area. But how big of an area can it be? And what power of microscope does one need in order to see it? Let's face it: these days we Westerners are not exactly moral paragons in much of anything. Certainly not in the realm of anything one might call procreative morality. Nor are we necessarily, I fear, the first to notice it. A beam in one man's eye seldom keeps him from detecting the mote in his neighbor's. And if a being as visually obstructed as Satan can retain a sharp eye for the sins of his enemies, what on earth is there to stop the likes of al Qaeda from discerning ours?
And don't believe for a second our enemies don't see what's going on. They see the wastefulness and ease with which we Westerners use, abuse and dispose of healthy human life - mostly, again, in the name of something we call profit (though I suspect it bears about as close an affinity to real profit as the Pharisees' system of moral debits and credits resembled real holiness). From there the rest is a familiar story. Our manifold Western sins provoke in them a predictable kind of sanctimonious moral outrage: the kind that makes our modern jihadist work all the harder - please note - not to set for us infidels a better moral example, but to become for us a far worse one. And yes I know, we can debate that delicate point till all the cows come from test tubes. At all events I see no reason for our present and future Osamas, whatever religion they may hail from, to look down on the rest of us, much less to feel morally superior. Really, given the amount of indiscriminate blood already caking their own hands, one is moved to wonder if they intend to establish a class of combatant hitherto unknown in the history of warfare: The equal opportunity destroyer. Meanwhile, if nothing else, I would hope our modern jihadist might feel a tremor or two of gratitude towards us in the West. And even for our culture of on-demand abortion which he professes to loathe. Didn't we, after all, help create the moral climate in which he lives, and moves, and is prepared to sacrifice all being?