3/26/2005

From the ever-annoying David Brooks, of The New York Slime:

"The core belief that social conservatives bring to cases like Terri Schiavo's is that the value of each individual life is intrinsic. The value of a life doesn't depend upon what a person can physically do, experience or achieve. The life of a comatose person or a fetus has the same dignity and worth as the life of a fully functioning adult.

"Social conservatives go on to say that if we make distinctions about the value of different lives, if we downgrade those who are physically alive but mentally incapacitated, if we say that some people can be more easily moved toward death than others, then the strong will prey upon the helpless, and the dignity of all our lives will be diminished.

"The true bright line is not between lives, they say, but between life and death. The proper rule, as Robert P. George of Princeton puts it, should be, 'Always to care, never to kill.'"

I think Brooks has been spending too much time smoking crack amongst his beloved Bobos. He's dead wrong in his assertion that the right grants equal value to each individual life. What you see very plainly in the Schiavo case is just the opposite. Schiavo's life is worth more. For the right, Terri represents the model citizen: a 98 lb brain-dead fetus. We should all aspire to emulate this worthy role-model. Wouldn't our civic life be more orderly if more of us did?

There is more than a hint of original sin in this. On the undeniable evidence of their hostility to social welfare of any kind, the right cares infinitely more about the unborn than it does for children once they have been expelled from the little Edens of their mothers' wombs. There is obviously good reason to protect the vulnerable in society, but the right very rarely advocates doing this in any real or practical way.

What they typically get up in arms about is any case in which they can demonize the individual. Abortion is not as much about the innocent in the womb as it is about the evil mothers and doctors who claim them as victims. According to their worldview evil must attach to someone, and that someone it attaches to is then evil, more or less through and through. Evil is, in this fairly unexamined view, indivisible, and in Terri Schiavo, so is good. Good is devoid of will, utterly incapable of committing evil. Terri cannot do anything at all.

The right sees good and evil as intrinsic in some. It's common for flaky fundamentalists to speak of angels, but where there are angels there must also be devils.

It is important for the religious right to have explicit targets in the form of evil-doers, rather than more dispersed and general influences like lack of adequate social services or economic opportunity (each of which is tied to the prevalence of abortion) which place a measure of responsibility on all of us for the welfare of the weakest of us.

I remember a conversation back home last year around this time. My mother, who had recently joined one of those charismatic megachurches with an auditorium the size of seven football fields brought up the issue of stem-cell research. Someone had told her that were it to be legalized women would be getting pregnant and lining up to sell their fetuses to mad doctors rubbing their hands together in glee at the thought of all manner of evil experiments they would be conducting on them.

Who were these women? I asked.

There are apparently hordes of evil-doers out there just waiting for the opportunity to do evil. And that is what the Schiavo case is about for the religious right.

As for Brooks' inane argument that without church- and state-sanctioned morality we are left with "do what thou wilt," it's hysteria. Common sense and proper socialization go a long way toward a just and prudent society in which free thought is an asset, not a threat. Dogma does nothing but make people vulnerable to demagoguery.

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