Saturday, February 22, 2020

Abortion: (A.K.A.) That Thing We Don't Like to Talk About

At UCSB I took Classics 120 with Professor Athanassakis in 2009, and it was a terrific class. Like most of my required reading books I purchased throughout my undergraduate, I kept the course reader, which was a collection of poetry and prose from a variety of sources. All of it very fascinating and very interesting. The takeaway I had was, primarily that the Romans were "like, totally, just like us." And then I remembered that we used to know how to make quick dry cement 2200 years ago. So, yeah, the Romans were pretty rad, as far as the alternatives were concerned.

Something that stuck with me was one section on Abortion, selected from Jo-Ann Shelton's As the Romans Did, which she sources from Soranus' work Gynecology 1.64. 1-2 and 1.65. 1-7:

"In order to dislodge the embryo, the woman should take strenuous walks and be shaken up by draft animals. She should also make violent leaps in the air and lift objects which are too heavy for her [...] If this is ineffective, she should be placed in a mixture, which has been boiled and purified, of linseed, fenugreek, mallow, marsh-mallow, and wormwood. She should use poultices of the same substances and be treated with infusions of of olive oil, alone or mixed with rue, honey, iris, or wormwood [...]

A woman who intends to have an abortion must, for two  or three days beforehand, take long baths and eat little food. She is then bled, and a large quantity of blood removed from her [...] After the bleeding, she must be shaken up by draft animals."

The section continues for another paragraph focusing on the things one SHOULD NOT do to instigate a miscarriage.

The only reason why I bring this up so randomly is because I was watching Michelle Wolf's newest standup on Netflix (which was amazing) and one of her bits was about her experience getting an abortion, and the general apathy / antipathy that women experience when getting the procedure done. Obviously, when Roe v. Wade passed in the early 70s, the days when women would get back alley abortions was, at that time considered, hopefully over with. (I don't know if this was truly the case, or if it took a few years of general developments for the service to become widely accessible.) But one can assume that the procedure, before the landmark legislation was passed, was likely dangerous and unregulated, or improvised with varying degrees of risk to the mother.

The Reader in Question
Given that Soranus was a physician living in the 1st century, writing about abortion, it would be reasonable to say that getting an abortion, legal or not, is nothing new. In fact, this document indicates that its as old as Western Civilization, if not older (if we look at the Ancient Near East). And this reality is something that I often confront when I think about the "normalizing" of abortion and the upheaval it has echoed throughout history.

Excerpt A
Excerpt B
If I had to go with a moniker that would, unfortunately, carry the weight of tremendously unwanted baggage, I would have to say that I'm "Pro-Life." At the same time, were my wife pregnant with a life threatening pregnancy complication, I would very reluctantly choose to abort the fetus. (Obviously, my wife would be the final authority on the matter, but that goes without saying.) The saving grace of Roe v. Wade, is that, in the event of the above, my wife and I at least have the option, to avoid the horrendous outcome of a fatal pregnancy. For everyone else, it means not having to undergo some form of underworld surgery that isn't regulated or controlled by a board of medical directors. If history can teach us anything, abortions will continue to be practiced regardless of the legality of it, and it is reason why Roe v. Wade SHOULD NOT, be thrown out.

Legality and use cases aside, I've never liked the idea of abortion because its a morally ambiguous position. I would never vote against Roe v. Wade under controlled conditions, but the fact that so many, male and female, talk about it with flippancy is unmistakably horrifying, especially when considering the existential ramifications of the procedure. This is because the decision ultimately is decided based on a value assessment of the fetus. Were I to kick a woman in the stomach, instigating a miscarriage, whether or not I serve a life sentence for murder depends on the viewpoint of the one who is pregnant. (ie. If she had paid me to do it or if I did it out of malice/aversion of being a father.) In the thought experiment, the child is the controlled variable, the independent variable is the binary choice of abortion vs non-abortion, and the dependent variable is the perceived moral outcome. Why is that? The child's value is relative to the caregiver in either scenario. And let me be absolutely clear: I'm not even, remotely, suggesting that a woman should be shamed for having an abortion. Do not put those words in my mouth, please. What I am struggling with here is the philosophical situation at hand where one life is of depreciated value, based not on medical complications or tragedy of circumstance, but based on whether or not the child will place an imposition on the caregiver's emotional, financial, social, or occupational livelihood. Granted there are outlier incidents like rape or incest that do make up a minuscule percentage of the sum total of abortions accounted (1% and .05% respectively according to the Guttmacher Institute, a strictly non-partisan research group that studies sexual/reproductive health and was founded by a former president of Planned Parenthood), but I am focusing on the vast majority of other instances.

There are common objections to my previous points, but the main one that I hear, one that seems to cast a shadow of influence over all, is the idea that an embryo, regardless of developmental state, is simply "just a bunch of cells." The fallacy of that argument lies in the reality that everything is "just a bunch of cells." Killing a grown adult, child, or elderly human specimen, is morally repugnant in most cases. Killing a grown adult, child, or elderly human specimen,because their existence places a emotional, financial, social, or occupational burden would be exponentially worse. I would argue that this utilitarian approach to placing value on life begets other odd conclusions, such as devaluing the autonomy and rights of animals, as well as hyperbolic solutions to "solving the homeless problem." In each case the subject of these debates are "just a bunch of cells." So this leads me to conclude that these value assessments are made on the immediate state of the organism, and not, simply, what the organism could be at a later point in time. This doesn't sit well with me because any formal consensus on the matter would lead to rippling effects. For instance, is the purpose of criminal justice to "punish" inmates for an offense, or is the purpose of criminal justice to "rehabilitate" them? The former makes a value assessment on the immediate individual, without any thought taken to modify the behavior against future offenses. The latter does not consider the immediate individual, but considers the potential individual, and takes steps to transition one to the next.

There are other ideas at play here bigger than me, obviously. So many so, that I could not begin to address them without writing a book. I intentionally did not evoke religion in this assessment because individual values may not subscribe to the authority of scripture. (Which is fine.)

My argument for life in potentia can be subverted in a variety of ways. Some may say that life is not only based on value assessment but also general consensus. (Life based on consensus values the viewpoint of the group however, not the individual.) Others may argue that reproductive rights proceed from earlier movements in gender equality and women's suffrage. But, at the end of the day, opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one, and they usually stink. I can accept that the viewpoint I have cultivated over my general life experience may not suit everyone. I can even state that, according to my theological presuppositions, I firmly believe that every aborted fetus is predestined to spend an eternity with God the Father, because it would go against everything I have read in scripture to say otherwise. Like any debate, however, nuance is often lost against monolithic ideas. I would just ask of anyone to consider the extent of the argument and exercise the ecumenical due diligence.

Peace and Love, bitches.


Saturday, February 8, 2020

The Top Lists

Hey-ho-let’s-go talk about something a little lighter. Ranking systems, contrived or rooted in reality, have always captured my attention with such vigor that I often find myself arrested by them. It’s cathartic, discovering what is—and is not—worthy of our affections. A crystalline high like no other. (Maybe it’s similar to the effects of public shaming, or social outrage, knowing that the world’s fattest man was ousted by some young upstart from Wisconsin?)

Even though it's slightly delayed, I wanted to feel out the things that moved me in 2019. So the following categories summate my spurious attempt to do so. (Does anyone else alliterate when they’ve had a couple of beers?)

YouTube Channel



YouTube has evolved so much that I scarcely remember what it was before. But what it is now is a wide array of DIY cable networks, where the things you actually like are all prepared and ready to be viewed at any time, any place. This year, while videogamedunkey and Easy Allies have vied for my affections, I somehow have come to love TysyTube Restoration. Tysy, who I suspect is from Switzerland—his pieces are demonstrably European, varying between French, German, Spanish, and Italian—finds derelict baubles and proceeds to renew them with practical equipment that I’ve known my whole life. Much like the surgical videos that cater to cathartic eruptions emanating from pustule-ridden human tissue, there is an inherent relaxation that accompanies Tysy’s exhaustive and meticulous excise of wretched decay from inauspicious relics of the past. (Ooof! This is a strong beer!) I think there is an eternal sediment that awaits to be shaken from our lives. We all yearn for it. We all seem to be guided toward this principal that we are in need of cleansing and purification. Tysy’s renewal, then, must be tapping into a reservoir far more primal than cat videos and pirated broadcasts of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.

Book

What a difficult thing to quantify: books and their recreational appeasement. I have read The Mysterious Flame of Queen Lorana, The Island of the Day Before, Numero Zero, A Once Crowded Sky, and just began reading Baudolino. There have been comic books as well. There always is. But the act of reading a book always—to me at least—becomes a comprehensive investment. Even though I haven’t finished it yet, I find myself just enthralled with Baudolino, which narrates the exploits of the eponymous main character through a very playful adventure of wit and deliberate candor. As always, the story qualifies as “historical fiction,” given the breadth of detail given to reconstructing the 13th century milieu of continental Europe. Umberto Eco, author of all the above (except A Once Crowded Sky), wields a level of interdisciplinary competence that I have not yet encountered in any living person, other than N.T. Wright. His stories are exhaustive and precise. Every detail is intentional. Not only are they entertaining, they are informative and critical of society and historical movements that predominated each era of Western Civilization. Much like Paul Gilbert (a virtuoso guitarist), Eco very much conveys his love for his subject, and his unrelenting desire to communicate the way he feels through his work.


Album



The Similitude of a Dream kept me above water for the later half of 2019 in a way that I had never thought possible. Especially because most Christian music is terrible, filled with bad theology, and songs that lack the emotional honesty suited to the average human being. Neal Morse is well known in the progressive rock community as a singer and songwriter, and adept at cultivating a community of session and touring musicians. And despite the fact that he unabashedly writes christian worship music, musicians from all philosophical dispositions love collaborating with him. Mike Portnoy, who left Dream Theater in 2010, once said that he equates Neal Morse to Paul McCartney in song writing ability. Personally, I feel, Morse lends an artistic credibility to christian music (compositions and lyrics) that have not been (in my opinion) demonstrated since the Enlightenment. The Similitude itself is a double album, within a larger double album (Bro...), based on John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. Like most progressive rock albums, there is a story that spans the entire work, chronicling the tumultuous life of a man seeking God in the real world. The album is all over the place emotionally, and seems to touch all the parts of life that we, as people, encounter on a daily basis. Incidentally, it's one of those albums that I wish I had in my early christian years. Broken Sky, to put it bluntly, saved my life.

Friend



It's Desmond. (Who the fuck did you expect?)

Instrument

2019 was one of those years where, after a decade of not playing music on a regular basis, I wanted to make my glorious return. When I was in college, I was the lucky recipient of a cash prize from abstaining from alcohol until I was of legal age, which I used to buy a guitar, custom built to my specifications. I immersed myself in the speculative guitar making community, researching the different tonal aspects of wood and why they are used. Guitar pickups were another abyss I had to wade through, listening to different sound samples from guitars of similar build materials. After this rock-polishing, tumultuous journey, I received the guitar which had been damaged in shipping and I had to wait an additional 6 months before it was repaired. After putting an additional $1000 into the instrument, I was 30 years old and feeling completely shitty about my adventure in guitar gear.

However, last year, I finally got the genuine item (used): the Ernie Ball Music Man John Petrucci signature guitar. And, in one, year I went through more strings than I have in almost ten years.



I have a really ugly guitar face...

...

I'd like to do this more often and I'm hoping to actually get a more formal list coming soon for each new year. I hope I was able to make you laugh, ponder, and muse.

~Happy New Year!


Saturday, January 25, 2020

New Decade New Me

With the hustle and bustle of the holidays I found myself without time or the focus to write or work on anything other than my book. This year I spent a Christmas apart from my family out of necessity to save my marriage, though, in truth, the reality was a little less hyperbolic. This holiday season, I made some interesting discoveries, changed some vital behaviors, learned that I was suffering under some kind of banal alcoholism, all—it would seem—in preparation for the decade ahead of 2020.
               
Much to my chagrin, my unprofessional dispositions at work have led to the reality of being held back (yet again) in life from joining my contemporaries in the sun. My arrogance, like some Aesop fable, has prompted me to very painfully come to terms with where my career is going and how I should continue. It fucking sucks and it makes me so depressed.
    
Silver linings... At least I have a new desk.
Where to go from here then? That’s the question, isn’t it? I have vacillated on the possibility of either quitting my job or reducing my hours to part time to pursue—more aggressively at least—my writing career once Eowyn starts kindergarten. Joining local writing groups. Being more active in my peer community. Submitting stories to journals. Crowdsourcing for insight and strategies that I could not otherwise formulate on my own… I could go on. But I struggle with whether or not this is a selfish thing. Being a Youtube star, or a writer that couch surfs from apartment to apartment, takes no particular brand of courage when there’s nothing to lose. (And I don’t mean to intimate this as something particularly disparaging to those in my circle of friends that have done this/continue to do this successfully.) But when there’s a family involved, when your child is depending on you for a good life, the picture becomes hopelessly muddy. Can one be virtuous these days, while still being “dangerous”? Something to pray on, then.

Busy at work...
               
I’ve wanted to produce another “Little Bits” post, but I keep forgetting to record my momentary sparks of “genius” when they are prompted by some cursory observation or thought. Similarly, an opportunity arises every so often to write a short story, but these moments always come when I am pressed up against an unmovable deadline (ie. I have to go to work/church/bible study/the store/in laws’ house). Perhaps the imminent danger of being late to something get’s the juices flowing? Possibly. But this goes back to previous posts, lost somewhere in the ether, where I’ve mentioned the ease of writing a short story versus a novel. Short stories are accessible and “punchy.” (The structure of a short story is “Look here!”, then “Oh snap!” whereas a novel adds an additional piece: “So what?”) They are formulated with relative ease, and any subsequent work is less focused on the verbosity of the content but on its composition and flow. Lawd! A novel requires investment and an endurance that I somehow possess in the literary realm, but not in the social and occupational strata of my life. Anyways… this little rabbit trail is brought to you by my lack of focus and my lack of communication these past few weeks.

(…)

One thing that I’ve noticed now that I’ve been 31 for a while and have suffered a major setback in my professional career is the transition from a somewhat youthful awareness and motivation to a laid-back, adult complacency. It’s very strange. Everything now seems deliberate, as opposed to spontaneous. Life choices are weighted by the amount of chaos that would be injected into the ongoing domestic equation. It kind of sucks, but I’m hard pressed to establish an alternative life hack to change this pattern. How does one pursue a “van life” with a family? Probably not very easily, definitely not once the kid reaches the age of public schooling. (That is unless you are a huge piece of shit.) The shadow of domesticity isn’t that bad though, now that I’ve settled into it with Alyssa. There is a flow, a routine. I can expect certain things and rule out others. As 2020 rolls out, I have many ambitions that I hope to see happen. I want to print my next book, run a Kickstarter, and better establish myself as a writer. Hopefully that’s possible with that additional stability on hand? After doing taxes this year, I can say with some certainty that we are “doing okay,” but there’s always something else, isn’t there? I have a feeling that this year, somehow, will be a “shit or get off the pot” kind of year.