by Brendan Beery
Americans are notorious for the fall-off of their collective concern for any human who has crossed the threshold from fetus to person. In fact, the birth of a human baby – during the nanosecond it takes for a spanking to cause wailing – seems to transform our doting into contempt.
We all need causes to give our lives meaning. But many among us are far too lazy to adopt causes that would require real commitment. One can be “pro-life” just by screaming and yelling and stomping; championing the interests of the unborn requires only advocacy. But a fetus, once a baby, requires nurturing. And nurturing, in turn, requires much more than screaming and yelling and stomping. Nurturing a child is a long-term project whose appetite for selflessness is utterly incompatible with the self-absorption of our ubiquitous narcissism.
And then there’s the matter of original sin. A fetus is innocent. But many Americans, orthodox mythological literalists that they are, believe that, on birth alone, the human becomes corrupted.
This past week produced the image of a three-year-old Syrian child whose corpse washed up on Turkish shores. We’ve learned nothing from the world’s outrage at beholding the image, because we already knew that humans will bury their heads up their own assholes to avoid seeing any travesty that is not thrust upon them against their wills — and then they will squeal like spooked swine. Only when there’s a photograph that cannot be unseen will we cop to getting the gravity of something we vaguely — but deeply — already knew.
For all our blustering about the tragic plight of this child, we must, as a people, take this to our own graves: Americans, especially right-wing Americans, don’t give a shit. For starters, the little tyke was a brown person. Even worse, an Arab Muslim. But more to the point, he’d already been born. Postpartum babies are not our problem if they happen to exist between a US Tomahawk missile and its target, or if they happen to have been born to drug addicts, or if they happen to need food or medicine. If daddy and mommy didn’t start a trust fund with JP Morgan, oh well …
And Jesus knows, what with all our American exceptionalism, we can’t confess our complicity in all of this — like, for example, having started it by abiding George W Bush’s oedipal acting out.
One cannot, on seeing an image of what we already knew was happening, suddenly discover that the wellbeing of babies is the concern of the whole global village after one has spent decades screeching the cultural obscenity, “It takes a family.”
The image of this little human as a carcass was and is sickening. But only those of us who see the care of children as the province of all humanity have standing to say so.