Abortion

Writing the first version of my essay “We need to talk about this” – the updated is in the works – forced me to think about issues I had never thought about before in great depth and I had to leave many of them untouched at the time.

For example, I am a feminist and I have always believed in a woman’s right to abortion. While I was considering how we could regulate the new eugenics, I ran into boundaries. It included having to think about how to fit abortion into the topic. That was a significant hurdle.

I was no longer able to say “of course women should be able to have abortions” – which I had always done in the past – but had to think about why and when they should, regardless of my own personal feelings. Because what I was writing about selecting pre-embryos and fetuses clashed with the general ideas that I had always entertained about abortion but had never examined in detail.

Legislation and protocols can sound very cold to people, but it’s not enough to just state something like “we think this is very very good” or “we think this is very bad”. That wouldn’t work in practice. If you want to make sure legislation is solid and leaves little room for abuse (deliberate misinterpretation), you end up with language that can come across as heartless. But that does not mean that the legislation (or protocol) is heartless or that the people who wrote it are!

It can be difficult to get that across, I have seen in various online comments (on for example the Groningen Protocol). It works the same way for traffic rules or rules for building skyscrapers. The law can’t just say something vague like “drivers should be careful” and “buildings should be safe” and leave it at that.

When Obamacare was introduced, a staunch Republican (and stauncher Libertarian) wrote to me that it was ridiculous that its legislation was taking up more than 2,000 pages or something like that. (Who would ever read that?)

I replied to him that I knew a jurist who works in precisely that area in the Netherlands and explained what that kind of legislation has to include. Fortunately, he listened to that explanation.

Unfortunately, I have found that even people who see themselves as the voice of reason (and sometimes as having absolute wisdom, too) aren’t always willing to listen to what someone “from the other side” is saying.

A certain brand of callousness

In my essay “We need to talk about this” I mention that I have on occasion been shocked by a certain brand of callousness that I have seen (too) often in Britain (both in the media and in real life). Here is one example of what I mean.

 

You can only justify such occurrences by applying a tweaked form of utilitarian reasoning. One person was suffering, but “wasn’t really harmed” and the number of people who were enjoying what was being done to George Cheese was greater than 1, hence these occurrences “increased overall happiness”.

The fact that utilitarianism was associated with the higher classes may have given this type of reasoning or events an unfortunate aura of “cleverness”. It could also explain why anyone who condemns the sort of things that were being done to George Cheese is seen by some as “naïve” and “not quite with it”.

Utilitarianism also attached little importance to individual persons’ rights. It would have stopped short from, say, stabbing someone like George Cheese as opposed to setting his clothes on fire and stuffing him into the trunk/boot of a car. This is the kind of background, I think, that enabled Simon Wright to say “It did not go too far.”

In reality, abuse targets like George don’t get to LIVE. All they are allowed to do is wait for their natural deaths. George Cheese said “FUCK THAT!” and stood up for himself in the only way he had left.

At least there is an inquest. That’s good.

 

 

Poverty is (not) a personality defect

“Poverty is a personality defect.”
– Margaret Thatcher

I think that one thing dear Maggie was in denial about is that it’s generally easier to get money if you already have money. It’s easier for a person with a job to get money for something he or she does not need than it is for a person without money to get money for bare necessities.

Pervasive myths such as Margaret Thatcher’s statement help maintain that imbalance.

I realized when I heard about a donation someone I know had made to another person I know.

Factors like gender (sex) and skin tone can play a role too. Men, for example, generally don’t like the idea of empowering women. Something primitive in them wants them to enslave women instead, tether them, keep them small and under control. Own them. And break them, if the women can’t be controlled. If it happens in everyday life, it also happens in many professional relationships. And we all know this, but most of us rarely think about it.

Yes, what I have written here will anger or upset some men, but for every man who does not recognize himself in it at all – bless him – there is another one who will readily admit that it’s true.

Hormones and (mental and physical) health

For most women, PMS is an unpleasant but manageable part of their period. But for 5-8% of women (around 80,000 in the UK), their symptoms are so severe they can be fatal.

Laura experienced anxiety and panic attacks into her twenties, and was forced to temp because she couldn’t hold down a job. “Every month I’d get so tired I’d have to sleep 18 hours a day for three days. I started getting suicidal thoughts.”

She was suffering from Severe PMS or, as it is sometimes referred to in the UK, Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. The condition is recognised by the NHS.

“PMDD is actually the American Psychiatric Association’s definition of one type of Severe PMS,” says consultant gynaecologist Dr Nick Panay. The UK’s definition is slightly different. “‘Severe symptoms interfere with someone’s ability to function normally.”

This is an important article. Read it:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcthree/item/82dcd957-fb96-422c-b037-ad2645d7d3b7

I mention something similar in my book “We need to talk about this” in relation to a woman whose child was taken from her womb because she was in advanced pregnancy and has bipolar disorder. Hormones can wreak havoc. Blame the hormones, not the women. Don’t punish the women. Support them.

I happen to know a highly intelligent and spunky woman with bipolar disorder. She has a PhD and her own business. She was hospitalized twice. Want to take a guess as to when that happened? Right. When she had her daughter – who is now an adult and doing fantastically well, I might add – and when she was going through menopause.

Cut people some slack. Don’t punish them for their conditions, certainly not when the condition is otherwise highly manageable and well-managed by the woman in question. Punishing someone with bipolar disorder for going through a rough patch is like punishing someone else for having a bad flu.

By the way, Italy has just introduced period leave for women. And in case that makes you wonder about this, the gender pay gap in Italy is lower than in quite a few other European countries.

You, me and plastic

Like just about everybody else, I use too much plastic and have started to take small steps toward reducing my plastic footprint. Plastic not only ends up everywhere, including our own bodies and the food we eat, it also greatly impacts wildlife.

Instead of toothpaste, I use baking soda that comes packaged in paper and cardboard. Using baking soda is cheaper than using toothpaste.

Instead of buying containers of liquid hand soap, I make my own from a quarter bar of soap and refill the containers I already have. This too is much cheaper than purchasing ready-made liquid hand soap and the effort involved in making my own is negligible.

I try to keep plastic food containers and reuse them at least once for seedlings on my window sill. It’s nowhere near enough. I would like to see a system geared toward collecting and reusing  the plastic used to package food.  Maybe I’ll start one myself one day.

 

Solidarity and compassion

There are two kinds of solidarity. Exclusive solidarity is essentially protectionism. Groups rally to stand up for their own kind and do each other favors such as recommend each other and give each other jobs. It exists on the basis of what divides us, what makes us different from others.

Birds do this too. If you are observant and like being outdoors, for instance go for walks, you may on occasion have seen crows appearing from all sides and forming a circle around a crow attacked by someone’s dog. You can also occasionally hear a lot of loud cackling, look up and see a group of magpies around a cat that has climbed into a tree.

Inclusive solidarity, on the other hand, is much closer to compassion. It does not ask many questions and exists on the basis of what we have in common.

Birds do this as well. If for example you happen to have lived with certain parrots, you may be quite familiar with this. I adopted two quaker parrots in 1994 and they both stood up for my cats if they thought some harm might be happening to one of my cats, for example if I had to stuff a pill into a cat’s mouth and make sure the cat swallowed it, for a very good reason. This happened regardless of whether the cat in question was kind to birds or not.

Birds are capable of compassion because they appear to have something called “theory of mind” just like humans do.

I have seen one of my little parrots quickly step forward and snatch a bit of feces off the other bird. It was stuck to a feather. That other bird never even noticed what happened. This was an act of selfless compassion based on the first bird’s reasoning that she would not want to have feces stuck to her own butt and therefore the other bird probably wouldn’t like it either.

I have two kinds of confirmation for this.

In the past, I have seen that particular bird come running down a series of perches (in a huge cage) and then stop short to avoid stepping into fresh feces.

This particular bird was a pretty intelligent rascal who went through phases of pranks involving feces. For a while, she took great delight in pressing her butt against the bars of the open cage to help her aim and then pelt poop at my shoes whenever I sat reading in a chair near the cage, for example. Poopball. Goal! This means that the bird assumed that I would not like getting feces on me and also that she knew that getting feces on my shoes wasn’t so bad.

This bird has forever changed the way I look at birds. I used to see birds as completely devoid of anything resembling human intelligence. Birds flew, hopped and tweeted. That was it. Oh, and they laid eggs, too. Particularly the flying made me experience them as distant, I presume. Removed. Different.

I couldn’t have been more wrong about that.

I still remember the look that parrot – the longest-living of the two – gave me when I apologized to her for it having taken me so long to realize how intelligent she was. How stupid the two of them must have thought we humans were and how desperate they must have felt at times. “Is she ever going to get it?” She was a very wise one, that one. (She started showing me, by anticipating my moves and wishes and acting on them, all by herself. The first time that happened I was stunned.)

We’d all do ourselves a favor if we could focus more on inclusive solidarity and less on protectionism. I believe we’re slowly getting there.