It’s not an idyll if it’s built on bones

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There is no debate anymore. That’s a problem. There is a token circulation of limited ideas, less than that, there is a token circulation of conclusions separated from any of their reasoning or development. Modern society has goals without games, destinations without the mental journeys, conviction without deduction. We know we want this and we want that, but we don’t know the layers of polemic that drew the fibres of the principle into being. The problem with this is that the idea become an ideology; it becomes separated at its conception from reality and quickly morphs into a sociological Frankenstein. It’s where Nazism, Fascism and the other dangerous isms come from; ideas that took on a life of their own because their being was manipulated into existence to serve a political purpose rather than an organic development based on reason and debate and a continuum of truth outside of time. Unmoored from reality to begin with, the idea develops over a short time into an ever more aggressive solution as it wins adherents and dissemination and familiarity, until the created ideology becomes a tolerable alternative opinion. Next it gathers up the marginal on one hand and the influential on the other, drawing one for their empathy for the embattled and the other for their love of novelty. Growth of support brings increasing intolerance of disagreement and debate. The idea has become an ideology, subsisting in an aim beloved to many almost none of whom can sit eyeball to eyeball and reasonably back their ideology against necessary scrutiny. The metal isn’t tested. It grows ever more dangerous, intolerant and dislocated from reality.

Welcome to today. Today is 2018. There is little or no debate on much of anything, certainly not in mainstream or state affiliated media. We can see agendas and manipulation, controlled media output, pseudo journalism, sycophantic toeing of the line. There is a world of people who find it hard to get information that isn’t filtered through political screeds, coming out a watery shade of grey. The result? Truth is rare and ideologies are sprouting up like Triffids. And they’ll get you and gobble you up if you aren’t damn careful. The new ideologies are aggressive, utilitarian, waspish and righteous.

‘Strike for Repeal’ Protestors in Dublin

The Idyll

So what can we do, at the relative mercy of mass media (global manipulation tool) and the only measure of right that counts these days; popularity. It seems to me that the one thing that every platform claims and few dare quibble with, is the crown of ‘human rights’. Today’s measure of all things good and desired is human rights. Human rights are good, lack of human rights are bad. If such and such is a human right, you need to fight for it or at least not fight against it. If you fight against it you are a bigot filled with hate. When we one day achieve the ideal of human rights everywhere the world will be idyllic and everyone will be happy.
Lovely, just precious.

Here’s the problem. What is a human right? What if popular opinion calls something a human right that isn’t a human right? What if popular opinion calls something wrong a human right? What if the law says a wrong is a human right? Well then it is altogether less straightforward and less fairy-tale. We need to know what a human right is, and what it’s not. We need to know that human rights are not based on licence, they are based on freedom, which in itself is a much misunderstood thing. Human rights are not an endless list of bandwagons disappearing over the horizon of the future as we work through every gripe that someone with a grudge and a twitter account can conceive. Human rights, in other words, have limitations beyond which they are no longer a right. A human right for one, extended past its boundary, becomes tyranny for another. So this heaven of rights that today’s world thinks is the ability to act upon a perpetual list of whims in the search for personal fulfilment and happiness – that’s not rights. That’s despotism, 2018 fascism with a dash of lipstick to disarm us perhaps, but not human rights.

Go on, be happy

Lets pare it back a little further. Human rights are based largely on freedoms… freedom of speech, freedom to worship, freedom to own property (not people, seems obvious, but apparently not…), freedom from persecution, and so on. What is freedom? It’s the ability to follow your dream, right? The freedom to be happy, to do what you want so long as you obey the law… well I would hazard a different definition. What we’ve described there is licence, and it is the aspiration of the social justice warriors and the twitteratti today… you have a right to be happy. And if your happiness has to get a leg up at someone else’s cost, that’s ok, we’ll call it a Right.

No, freedom is a different thing, more limited in some ways, of greater depth in others. Freedom, I would hazard, is the ability to take on responsibilities. Licence, conversely, is the liberty to forgo responsibility. Sounds like a horrid sort of freedom does it? Imagine if your life had no responsibilities… no children, no partner (indeed, no loyalties at all), no job, no hobby, no reason to curb excess in any area of consumption, no need to feed your dog, wash your body, visit your mum, tidy your house or even get up in the morning. What an utterly degrading sort of life that would be, no one you need, no one who needs you, nothing. You would feel pointless. Now see freedom as the ability to bear responsibility… you are responsible for all of the above for example, and so much more that I can’t list. Your life has meaning, it’s not easy, but it has significance. It has value and love. That is freedom; the ability to take on responsibilities and retrieve from them the affirmations of self worth. That is why men and women who act like children are pitiable… tantrums about who won a twitter spat over how misogynistic some fella is for manspreading on the train. Get a life kids… get responsibility, grow up, know your worth because it’s inherently more than twitter has you valued at. That’s freedom, the freedom to fulfil your worth.

He said that

Embracing redundancy

Anyway, back to rights. If we can run with freedom as the ability to have responsibilities, then it is equally true that the ability to shed your responsibilities is not a freedom, indeed not a right in the true sense, but is a shirking that will leave you feeling temporarily buoyant but unfulfilled in the cool light of the morning. Sure, you don’t have to take on such and such a role, you are ‘free’ of it, but you won’t really feel worth more for your freedom, you will be less needed, socially speaking, not more. There are lots of things getting thrown around as ‘rights’ today that aren’t rights at all in this sense. Abortion fits in here. It’s not to say having the baby is easy, it’s to say that not having it leaves you freer to pursue your wishes, but equally will leave you with a gaping hole; a member of society who needed you and now, due to their absence, no longer needs you. How very sad that we pretend to call something a freedom and a right that leaves us simultaneously less essential to the fabric of society with all its interwoven dependencies (though not reduced in terms of human worth; that is an unchanging dignity within us all).

No choice, no child

So abortion reduces our responsibility, we like to think that is giving us greater freedom. I have suggested that it instead leaves us with a reality of redundancy. I should clarify here, because someone somewhere, likely on twitter, will suggest I am saying that childless couples are pointless hangers on. I can’t roll my eyes the full 360 but I’m trying. Freedom is the opportunity, nay the privilege, of taking on responsibility, of being needed, of being valuable to society as a whole and to individuals in our lives. That may include children, if or when they are sent, and if they aren’t sent then that couple is still woven into into society in a myriad of other ways, other responsibilities bring them fulfilment, society being made up of a broad mix of roles and peoples, the broader the richer. The key thing is that the responsibility has not been rejected, and so their own sense of value should not suffer, they haven’t chosen a false freedom over fulfilled interdependence. I hope that was obvious.

Rights, wrongs, choices and laws

Back to abortion. The other place where abortion as a right comes a cropper is of course the damage done to another. Some people say the thing inside the woman isn’t a baby. I’m not going to even talk through this argument because it is infantile (no pun intended). This is a denial of science and I really, really cannot be bothered wasting my time with someone who is that far detached from reality. Let’s assume you know the product inside the woman is an individual human being, with his or her own unique DNA. It is human, and it is alive, and it is discrete from the mother’s person though reliant on her body. It follows that you cannot purposely damage that human being in the name of your ‘rights’… that is contrary to the concept of rights given your rights cannot be at another’s cost. So lets be very clear, abortion is not a human right. It is not a reproductive right, it is not a woman’s right. It is a choice for sure, everything is a choice; in the way that I can slap someone in the street or not slap them. The law may decide that a woman can choose abortion, but it cannot make it a right. The right to rife is antecedent, irrevocable and enduring. The right to take life is like trying to round a square, you can twist legislation up in all sorts of perilous moral spaghetti, but you can never actually make a wrong into a human right. Which is why, should abortion ever be legalised in Ireland, it will remain wrong, it will still not be a human right, and it will still be an exercise in licence for some at the cost of a true and inalienable right of others.

You cannot damage a human being in the name of your ‘rights’

The hard cases and the thinking behind them

I can hear cries of how can you say that the victim of rape is rejecting responsibility, the mother of the terminally ill baby in utero, the victim of abuse, the women who had no choice in either how their baby came to be or in the quality or shortness of life their baby would have. I don’t deny these cases. They are difficult, horrendous, fearful, damaging, soul wrenching, and life changing. However, we cannot change the definition of human rights for the hard cases. This is not to say the hard cases don’t matter, they do, but you simply cannot decide that in some situations one person’s right (to not give birth after rape, or to a dying baby) takes precedence over another’s more fundamental right to live. There is no right greater than the right to live because without that there is nothing, no rights, no freedom. So abortion after rape adds a violation on to a violation, the mother is the victim of rape the baby of a death sentence. These are not flowery words to be emotive, it’s just a fact. If a heartbeat is stopped, that person is dead. The baby is a person, the life is purposely ended; that’s a violation of human rights in the name of human rights. Mad world that we are in.

Let’s take this thinking to its logical conclusion. If a woman has the legal right to choose to abort up to 12 weeks for no reason, why not 20 weeks, why not 30. Why don’t my rights to freedom mean I can knock off granny, she’s doting and going to die soon anyway, and it makes me anxious that she could have a stroke any minute and I’d have to spoon feed her or pay someone else to. She’s had a good life, but this situation is undignified for her. My 4 year old has a serious paralysis of the body and a degenerative neural disease, the doctors say she will probably die before she’s 6. Her siblings find it hard to live a normal life, her care takes over everything. I love her so much and I hate seeing her like this. Can I let them go sweetly by arrangement because it’s so horribly difficult and I’m running on empty and have no support and they are going to pass anyway? No you can’t, because they have a right to life. My hardship and their vulnerability does not equip me with a right that takes preference over their right to live. What you should receive, freely and generously, is more help.

Saying no to abortion, is not a yes to the status quo

So what about these poor mothers, and indeed fathers; the hard cases? We take abortion off the table, what happens to the mothers? Well, in the case of rape the rapist should be the one punished, instead of so often getting off entirely or lightly or indeed never charged or investigated because women are scared for many valid reasons, a number of which are the fault of society in general and others the fault of the state. Especially now that our government sees fit to cut funding of rape crisis centres. There is not enough support and care and encouragement for mothers in any of the hard cases, from counselling to economic help, housing, professional and specialised medical care, privacy, security, legal supports, palliative care, adoption support, the list goes on. Ultimately the failure of the state and society to provide the needful in these areas has created an argument for abortion which should never exist. Not only that, but abortion is not the solution for the poverty in all these provisions, that ‘quick fix’ will ensure these inadequacies continue.

The measure of a right

The truth is that something can only be a human right if it is for the common good of society, not solely the individual good. Human rights may be an individual good as well, generally are, but never at the cost of the common good. If the common good is damaged by something touted as a human right or even legalised as such, it’s a false human right and usually at the cost to some degree of another person. The ending of life of babies in utero is not a common good, it enshrines in legislation the idea that one person’s choice is more sacred than another’s heartbeat. But a true right doesn’t subordinate fundamental rights to lesser rights or preferences. It doesn’t base its vindication on emotional arguments (the hard cases). It doesn’t base its vindication on popularity, indeed a genuine human right may be unpopular in some eras or cultures. A human right isn’t created or demolished by legislation (good legislation will build itself around rights, but legislation isn’t always good, or based on the common good of society). Fundamental human rights are immutable, constant, unchanging. Slavery was wrong when it was legal and popular. It’s wrong now when it’s illegal and unpopular. The law didn’t make it wrong, it was intrinsically wrong all along. No man can own another man. Rather like no woman can ‘own’ her baby or be the giver and taker of its worth, even if no one loves it or wants it. If no one ever loved or wanted you, you have worth. It’s something innate to our being, it’s part of what makes us human.

Ireland’s social tapestry; a legacy worth preserving

I can’t tell you what this thought process is called. All that you’ve read above, it hasn’t a name. You know why… it’s not an ideology! I don’t espouse any particular ideology, I don’t feel the need. I don’t want my thinking to be curtailed by the outcomes expected of some ism. I hold some popular views, I hold some unpopular ones, I don’t rate my thought processes by how they go down with my friends (much loved nonetheless). I am not Left, and I am not Right, I am not Centrist either if that means getting a sore ass on a fence. I hate fences. I think if there were fewer people willing to label themselves, jar themselves into an ideological recipe, curtail their thinking by always coming from an angle they espoused at some point in college or when it was popular, we might actually get some original thinking going on. We might actually have an argument that gets us and others out of our boxes. We might decide that actually there are ways to view the world that will lose you friends and gain you beliefs and that that’s ok. That’s good. That’s growth. We might decide that the world can’t run on an ideology, certainly not before we start to see the worth and beauty in humanity instead of what we want from life for ourselves. We might start to give back more, love more, sacrifice more, and receive in return a society made up of care, responsibility, support, humanity, conscience, truth. A progressive society, but not an ideological society. A responsible society, a society exercising freedom from irrelevance, where people are needed and valued in a million different ways and roles. It’s called community. Ireland needs to find her community again.

Léan Nic Chomhaill

About the Author:

Léan is a wife and mother. "There is some good in this world and it's worth fighting for" -- J.R.R. Tolkien
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