Monday, June 16, 2008

Care for the world, care for our children

This is an excerpt from an essay by Wendell Berry that not only deserves to be read, but memorized.

I know of nothing that so strongly calls into question our ability to care for the world as our present abuses of our own reproductivity. How can we take care of the other creatures, all born like ourselves from the world's miraculous fecundity, if we have forsaken the qualities of culture and character that inform the nurture of children?

Maybe it is because our society is so dominated by the economic ideal of productivity that we have no time for people who are not highly productive. Or maybe it is because of our rather frivolous idea of personal freedom that we shrug off the claims of those most in need and most deserving of our care. Or maybe it is the fault of an economy that now requires both parents of many families to work away from home. Or maybe it is the increasing commercialization of family relationships, according to which nobody, not even a husband or a wife, should do anything for anybody else that is not compensated by a price agreed upon in advance.

Whatever the reason, it is a fact that we are now conducting a sort of general warfare against children, who are being abandoned, abused, aborted, drugged, bombed, neglected, poorly raised, poorly fed, poorly taught, and poorly disciplined. Many of them will not only find no worthy work, but no work of any kind. All of them will inherit a diminished, diseased, and poisoned world. We will visit upon them not only our sins but also our debts. We have set before them thousands of examples--governmental, industrial, and recreational--suggesting that the violent way is the best way. And we have the hypocrisy to be surprised and troubled when they carry guns and use them.

There are of course many parents who care properly for their children, and traditions of good upbringing still survive. But, like the local traditions of good land-use, these traditions of family life have become subordinate. As a lot of parents have found out, it is not easy to bring up your children in a way that is significantly different from the way your neighbors are bringing up their children.

A child psychologist told me not long ago that he frequently sees four-year-olds who, when asked, "Who loves you?" reply, "I don't know." If we have even a suspicion that we must not exempt anything from care, how can we bear this? And yet this neglect is hedged around on every side by talk of rights and freedoms and careers and professions.

Abortion, for instance, which might be defensible as a tragic choice acceptable in the most straitened circumstances, is defended as a "right" derived from "the right of a woman to control her own body." The right of any person to control her or his own body, subject to the usual qualifications, is incontestable--or, at any rate, it is not going to be contested by me. But the usual qualifications hold that if you can control your own body only by destroying another persons body, then control has come too late. Self-mastery is the appropriate way to control one's own body, not surgery.

I am well aware of the argument that a fetus is not a child until it can live outside the womb, but I am aware also that every creature is surrounded by such questions of dependency and viability all its life. If we are unworthy to live as long as we are dependent on life-supporting conditions, then none of us has any rights. And I would not try to convince any farmer or gardener that the planted seed newly sprouted is not a crop.

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