Saturday, June 04, 2005

The sanctity of life

The talebangelicals are claiming that every fertilized human egg is a human being and crowing about the "sanctity of life." Bush is, of course, mentioning the "sanctity of life" whenever he opposes abortion and stem cell research. That would be the same Bush that got his underage girlfriend pregnant and pressured her to have an abortion. That would be the same Bush that gleefully consigned 152 Texas prisoners to execution after giving no more than 15 minutes' consideration to each of them (his 2-hour lunches were obviously of greater concern to him). That would be the same Bush who mocked Karla Faye Tucker's plea to be allowed to live so that she continue to minister to her fellow inmates. That would be the same Bush that lied the US into an illegal war that has (at the time of writing) claimed the lives of over 1,600 US military personnel (the true figure is probably twice that because those who die in the operating theatre or on the way to the operating theatre or commit suicide at the thought of life with such a badly shattered body are not counted as having died through enemy action), and somewhere between 10,000 and 100,000 Iraqi lives. That would be the same Bush whose economic policies mean that children are consigned to poverty and hunger without medical benefits and possibly even death through starvation or illness. That would be the same Bush whose "no condoms" policy with regard to medical aid in Africa will consign millions to death from AIDS.

But none of this matters because, according to Bush, a fertilized human egg is a human being with a soul and must be protected. Which is standard Catholic doctrine and, to a greater or lesser extent, the doctrine of other Christian creeds. At the moment the sperm fertilizes the egg, God intervenes and doles out a soul to that single cell (or maybe the cell attracts a soul automatically - I'm not au fait with the finer points of theology). And because that cell has a soul, abortion at any point along its development is murder.


In the Catholic doctrine, if a mother has an abortion not only does she end up in Hell but so does the aborted foetus. That is a horribly pernicious doctrine and it is all too easy to see it as a cynical piece of manipulation by the Catholic church. Firstly, by encouraging unfettered reproduction, it allows a minority Catholic population to eventually become a majority. Secondly, and far worse, poverty and religion go hand-in-hand. If you work 16-hours/day for a meagre subsistence then all you have to look forward to is "pie in the sky, when you die, by and by" - your reward in Heaven. In order to get your reward in Heaven you must be a devout Catholic. In order to be a devout Catholic you must not use any form of contraception (other than "Catholic roulette") and you must not have an abortion. And so, as a devout Catholic in poverty you have plenty of children - which makes your poverty even worse, which makes you even more dependent upon your reward in Heaven as the only meaning to your pitiful existence, which makes you more dependent upon the Catholic church, which makes you have more children...

Creating a religious doctrine for the purposes of outbreeding competing religions is evil enough. Creating it knowing that it will increase poverty, misery, and suffering and therefore increase the size of your flock amongst the poor whilst reinforcing their poverty is even more evil. But the final touch of evil is consigning the aborted foetus to Hell.

Very few women (apart from rich dilletantes like the Bush daughters) would consider abortion as a trivial way of dealing with (what they see as) a trivial inconvenience. Most women agonise over having an abortion. They have an abortion because they've been raped, or because the child would be incapable of surviving long after birth, or because both the woman and the foetus would die if the woman attempted to carry it to the point where it could be born prematurely by Caesarian section and survive. There is one other reason why desperate women consider an abortion.

Women living in poverty consider an abortion if they know that they cannot support yet another child and that if they have the child then it, and possibly some of their other children, are likely to die of starvation. It is a terrible position to be in, yet many women living in poverty face it. And the number of women who face that decision has gone up significantly since Bush stole power: poverty has increased and so has the abortion rate under Bush. And this is why the Catholic doctrine that the aborted foetus goes to Hell is evil. A woman faced with seeing her newborn and one or more of her children starve to death or having an abortion so that her other children won't starve is likely to choose the abortion even if it means she is consigned to Hell for having it - the instinct for maternal sacrifice comes into play. The doctrine that the aborted foetus to Hell is pure fucking evil - the reason why will be seen after this aside.

End of aside

The fact is that most conceptuses do not develop to term. The majority never get beyond a few dozen cells. Some get as far as the first month then spontaneously, naturally, abort (the woman usually never even realizes she was pregnant but thinks she had an unusually heavy period). Find somebody who is employed at the sewage works cleaning the filters and ask him or her about the number of foetuses that have to be removed. The simple fact is that most conceptuses are not viable, which is why many couples can try for years before the woman gets (noticeably) pregnant. For every baby born, there are tens or hundreds of spontaneous, natural abortions. And each and every one of those spontaneous, natural, abortions has a soul (according to most Christian creeds). According to Catholic doctrine, if I interpret it correctly, because they were not Christened then they are destined for an eternity in Hell (or at least Purgatory). The only way to avoid the spontaneously, naturally, aborted foetus going to Hell/Purgatory would be for women to always flush the toilet with holy water (and even that may not be enough, it may be necessary to have a priest present).

Trying to reconcile Catholic doctrine, a God of love, and 90% of humanity being consigned to an eternity in Hell without being born is somewhat difficult. According to Catholic doctrine, we are destined for Hell from birth (unless we are "saved" by becoming Christian) because each soul that is created is tainted with "Original Sin" (what a wonderfully moral doctrine - it's like being sentenced to death because your grandfather didn't pay a parking ticket). It's hard to reconcile each soul being created equal with birth defects (which Christians pass off as God "handicapping" an exceptionally good soul).

It's even harder to reconcile souls being consigned to Hell before they can even experience even a few seconds of life outside the womb with some of the souls that lived to adulthood. Genghis Khan. Attila the Hun. Stalin. Adolf Hitler. Pol Pot. Prescott Bush. George H W Bush. George W Bush. Evil fucking bastards, each and every one. And yet they were all allowed to emerge into the world and do their evil. How much more evil, therefore, must be the 90% of souls that were consigned to Hell before they had a chance even to take their first breath.

That Stalin foetus? Oh yeah, he'll probably kill tens of millions of Russians. Let him through. Those other nine foetuses? Nah, you can't let them out into the world. They're evil even though all souls are created equal. Let Stalin through, terminate the others. So mote it be.

If that's the way it really works, then God is the ultimate in evil not the ultimate in good. If that's not the way it works then Christian doctrine is a pile of steaming manure. Either way Christian doctrine is not up to the task of determining the morality of abortion or of using embryonic stem cells to cure diseases.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Of psychopaths, sociopaths and the presidency


I am not a mental health specialist, nor have I ever played one on TV. But I've encountered a few "evil fucking bastards" (the layman's term for psychopaths and sociopaths) over the years and have come to understand how they operate.

The terms "psychopath" and "sociopath" have undergone many changes over the years, including being, at times, used interchangeably (see here). The US Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has long since lumped the two conditions together ss "antisocial personality disorder". The distinction I once heard went as follows: "The psychopath knows other people have feelings and enjoys hurting them; the sociopath has no conception that other people have feelings and any harm caused is purely incidental to his own ends." So, for the purposes of this rant, and because there is a useful distinction between the two modes of thought, here is how I define them:

Does not understand that other people have feelings, emotions, wants and needs like himself. The world is populated by robots that look similarly to him and act similarly to him but have no feelings whatsoever. Like a child in a world where toy soldiers are everywhere he looks, these "toys" can be destroyed as part of whatever game he is currently playing. They are infinitely replaceable and cannot be hurt. Everyone but himself is an animated doll.

Understands all too well that other people have feelings, emotions, wants and needs like himself but gets off on hurting them. Although causing pain may be enough, usually the psychopath wants to make himself feel superior to his victims. The psychopath will warn his victims of his intentions as a way of "handicapping" himself, although truth be told the psychopath may believe his victims are on an even footing but they are actually at a disadvantage: the warning serves to make the victims struggle (in vain) to avert the impending disaster and heightens their suffering. The psychopath will gloat in his successess: the gloating serves to rub in the psychopath's success and make the victims suffer even more.

So what of Bush and Cheney?

Bush is quite clearly a psychopath. He enjoys fucking people over. He gives you warnings of what he's going to do to you so you can suffer in the anticipation. For example: "If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator" - Bush is well on his way to becoming a dictator. For example, what people assume is a mispronunciation when he declares a "War on Terra," is a warning - everything Bush has done has been aimed at destroying the ecosystems of planet Terra (if you don't know Latin, "Terra" is Latin for "Earth"). Bush loves rubbing our noses in it too: take this deeply sick "humour" as an example - he fucked us over and he gets his jollies knowing it.

Cheney is not so clear-cut. Cheney hides in the shadows. Cheney doesn't give us warnings of what he's going to do. Cheney doesn't gloat afterwards. It's possible that Cheney is also a psychopath but one who gets greater kicks from financial reward than by hurting people. However, when you look at Cheney's "dead fish" performance in interviews, and the lies he tells long after even his supporters acknowledge they are lies, it's clear he thinks he's talking to his animated dolls.

Which of the two is more dangerous? Psychopaths are more likely to over-reach than sociopaths: Pyschopaths are driven by an urge to prove their superiority; sociopaths are just playing with their animated dolls. On the other hand, psycopaths understand that they can over-reach whereas sociopaths have no conception whatsoever that it is possible to over-reach, and would be as astounded by people reacting negatively as a child would be by its toy soldiers staging a mutiny.

Perhaps the DSM has it right and there is no significant distinction: both Bush and Cheney are evil fucking bastards. Knowing what drives them doesn't change the diagnosis, only (perhaps) how we attempt to counter them.