Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Something Borrowed

with 5 comments

So, it’s Monday morning, and I have a lot to do.  I am also faced with a recalcitrant web site that I need desperately that’s had a “server problem” since yesterday.

So I’m here, and I’m almost transitioned out of writing mode.

But let me go back to one of the themes from the last two posts–for me, in particular (in other words, not speaking for all of us) what do I feel I’ve lost since the Fifties that I want back?  And what do I feel was good riddance?

Maybe I should start with just what I want, period.

There are, of course, Big Things, like:

1) A world in which the first law of morality is that every single human life–including the lives of the old in dementia, the desperately ill, the disabled–is infinitely valuable, and therefore represents a life worth living.

I chose that last phrase deliberately.  It was a clarion call of the eugenics movement and, of course, later of Hitler, that some lives are “not worth living.”

These days, of course, we’re a lot more squishy about it.  Apparently, even some of our courts–see Oregon in the “wrongful life” suit that paid the parents for a “wrong” done to them when the hospital didn’t catch their child’s Down Syndrome so that they could abort it–to sign on to the idea that it’s somehow “better” for people who aren’t as…perfect…as we are to be dead.

In this case, of course, I’m probably not being nostalgic for anything.  In all that I know of, there has been at least a large minority view that the old, sick and disabled are somehow burdens to themselves and others and ought to be “put out of their misery.” 

People who are healthy, well and very bright seem to find it almost impossible to accept the idea that people who are none of those things can lead happy lives, or that they might prefer to be alive even in their disability than to be dead.

We may all look  horrified at Singer and his followers when they suggest “after birth abortion,” but the idea that “defective” infants should be put to death is as old as Western civilization.  In fact, the adamant objection to the practice n Roman society was one of the selling points of early Christianity to women.

So that’s my biggie.  And since we’ve never achieved it in totality in any Western society, I suppose I shouldn’t expect us to achieve it now. I will say there have been periods when it has been more widespread a view than others.  I’d like something more like that, than like now.

But aside from the big things, there are also little things, lots of little things.  Some of them have been around during my lifetime.

a) I would like a return to the societywide assumption that most people are basically decent, most parents love their children and are unlikely to harm them, most spouses love or at least like each other and are unlikely to hurt each other, that most grandchildren care for their grandparents and are not likely to rip them off.

Before you jump up and say that we can’t think any of those things because none of them are true–the fact is that they are ALL true MOST of the time.

What has happened in the last thirty years or so is not that we have become a society where spouses are all batterers and parents are all abusers.

What has happened is that we have moved from assuming the best about people to assuming the worst.

And not even the best.  “MOST parents love their children and are unlikely to harm them” is not a statement of some lofty ideal.  It’s an everyday description of reality.

A world in which we assume that families are all violent and abusive is a world in which public policy is directed first and foremost at “protecting” family members from families and, inevitably, to forcing families into nonexistence as soon as possible. 

At the very least, it is a world in which families require constant “oversight,” and if we can’t manage that by putting an observer in every home, we’ll deputy anybody a family member comes in contact with to report “signs” of abuse, violence, and neglect.

And those “signs” include a vast array of circumstances and behavior that are prevalent even in non-abusive situations, with the decision as to whether or not the “sign” indicates abuse left up to the subjective opinion of the reporter.

And then we tell the reporter–if you DON’T report when you “suspect” abuse or neglect, we’ll take your professional license away, fine the hell out of you and make your life not worth living.

Which makes it entirely unsurprising that most designated “mandatory reporters” jump to report just about anything.  Because the determination of whether or not they “suspected” abuse is left up to—the subjective opinions of superiors, agencies and courts.

In the Fifties, the first loyalty of teachers, nurses, doctors, dentists and other “helping” professionals was to families.  These days, the first loyalty is to a legal apparatus that treats the family as the enemy. 

Maybe it’s not so surprising that so many parents come in to teacher conferences already loaded for bear.

So the first thing I want back is that, the society wide assumption that families are generally good things and that the lives of family members are first and foremost embedded in the family, so that “helping” professionals have as a duty to respect the family’s wishes unless there is serious, physical evidence that something else is going on.

b) I want a return to the society-wide conviction that money is not enough, and that it mostly isn’t the point.

Forget all the treacly Hallmark Card posters–some people are so poor, all they have is money–which point in vaguely the right direction, but that are on posters because people are not living there.

The fact is that we have reached a place where money is all that counts.  And I do mean all.  If you have it, it doesn’t matter a damn what you did to get it, and if you don’t have it, it doesn’t matter what else you’ve done.

One of the reasons I think my students have so much trouble with the story of Dr. Jonas Salk is that they are very aware, on a visceral level, that in this society at this time, if you don’t have money you don’t have respect.

Money is the point.  It is why we do what we do.  Having stuff is what makes us happy.  If we have money and stuff, why would we care that we got it being a madam or ratting out our friends or exposing our genitalia on the red carpet or, you know, whatever?

Goodness only knows, having committed a crime is no longer any reason why somebody should not be famous and celebrated.

Charles Rangel was convicted of eleven ethics violations and forced to step down as head of the House Ways and Means Committee–and now he’s got his own show on MSNBC.  Tom Delay was found guilty of money laundering and ended up on Dancing with the Stars.

People yell and scream about “income inequality,” but what bothers me is not the lack of  income equality but the proliferation of it–all money is created equal. 

And the first thing you need to do with your money is to buy a lot of stuff that you can then show off to other people.

And that’s a start.

Note–I’m designating the “big” things with numbers (like 1) and the smaller ones with letters (a, b, c).

I’ll get back to this tomorrow.

Written by janeh

April 16th, 2012 at 8:36 am

Posted in Uncategorized

5 Responses to 'Something Borrowed'

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  1. Well, on the subject, here’s a blog with some crime stats for the entire 20th century. The 1950’s seem to represent sort of a golden age for low crime — but we’re approaching those (overall) rates again.

    The difference being that what crime that occurs now:

    http://blogs.berkeley.edu/2010/06/16/a-crime-puzzle-violent-crime-declines-in-america/is far more concentrated.

    If you live in the suburbs, regardless of race, you’re pretty damned safe, regardless of what scare ads from home alarm companies imply.


    16 Apr 12 at 1:31 pm

  2. Oops. Messed up the formatting on that post.

    Hopefully everyone will be able to muddle through . . .


    16 Apr 12 at 1:32 pm

  3. Double oops. Got home,checked the link and figured out that the reason you don’t go to the right place is that a word in the sentence it ended up in the middle of got sucked into the link. Here’s the right link:



    16 Apr 12 at 7:40 pm

  4. The presumption of fmily misbehavior could be fixed–but only after a heroic political struggle, since we now have an immense apparatus invested in the opposite belief. We would not have to abolish our welfare system, but we would have to abolish the apparatus. All those “caring professions” and “mandatory reporters” would have to work for families and local governments again.

    The other point may not be money so much as celebrity. Consider the book, TV and movie deals of known frauds and perjurors. (When DeLay showed up on DWTW, did you turn off the program? Call the Station? The sponsors? If not, then they were right to put him on.) To turn from the conviction that fame and/or money are everything, we would, as a society, have to resume moral judgments, and certain people would have to be made pariahs. I expect this too will happen in time. Our present system is unsustainable.

    But I wouldn’t like to say when.


    17 Apr 12 at 5:06 am

  5. The article mentions the limitations to the data – murder (and, actually, car theft) have the best connection between reported and actual rates of occurance. It’s enormously difficult to compare rates of other crimes, not just because it often isn’t reported, but also because it can be redefined over time or from one area to another. And he got the ‘proportion of young males in he population’ effect. He does seem to ramble a bit from point to point instead of making a tightly-reasoned argument. Or maybe he just doesn’t have any answers, like the rest of us.

    Robert, you can’t make anyone a pariah unless you judge them, and, well, of course ‘judgemental’ is the worst thing you can say about a person, so no one’s going to admit to suffering from such a character defect! Personally, I think being judgemental gets a bad rap, because how do I decide on what kind of behaviour I should try to emulate unless I form a judgement on the behaviour of someone I’m considering as a role model? But this is an unpopular stance.

    I certainly didn’t see DeLay on TV, but I don’t count in such matters. I think I’m entirely the wrong demographic. No one puts stuff I like on mainstream TV, and I don’t generally watch what’s there.

    Oh, and I agree entirely with Jane about the value of human life. The attacks on that are one of the most dangerous things we face. There’s some kind of vicious combination of the conviction of the primacy of the individual, the absolute insistance, as for a ‘human right’ that whatever the individual wants must be accepted publically and enshrined in law, irrespective of what other individuals, particularly weaker ones, might want. And, of course, an absolute conviction, flying in the face of all evidence, that humans should be immune to suffering and disability, that ‘dignity’ is not an inherant quality of a human beings, but something defined by the level of care they need – adult diapers, undignified. Complete self-centredness, dignified.

    Jane and I always part company on the laws bit, since Jane is a libertarian and I’m not.


    17 Apr 12 at 7:01 am

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