The Culture of Blechh
The other day, I announced my pregnancy on my Patheos blog. Having used up all my creativity in making the actual baby, I didn't order custom-printed baby announcement M&M's to sprinkle around the house and then video my kids' reaction when they discovered them. I just put a picture of my belly sticking out and wrote, "Hooray!"
Because I am lucky, I got dozens of happy congratulations, some from people I know, some from people I've never met or heard of. Then, inevitably, a surprsingly slow 48 hours later, a commenter left the first poo in the punchbowl, saying:
"Here's to every woman's right to exercise her sexual and reproductive functions in the ways she and not someone else, chooses. Congratulations on your new baby."
Lovely! They should print that up on a Hallmark card and display it on the "Miserable SOB" shelf.
Look, I do not require each and every citizen of the world to be happy about my new baby. It's nice when people are happy, but if they're not, what do I care? I'm getting a baby out of this -- I don't also need a round of applause. If you don't care, or if the very idea of another Fisher child makes you want to run out and buy another bumper sticker comparing the human race to a cancer, then I'm sorry about the four seconds of your life I ruined. Probably it would be best for all of us if you just went back to reading Paul Erlich for Dummies to your granddog and pretend this never happened.
Because that's what normal people do when they read personal news that doesn't make them happy: they move along. Right? Remember, this wasn't in the middle of a conversation about whether or not we ought to go around making sexual and reproductive choices for other people. It wasn't a conversation about how many children people should have, or whether or not it was appropriate for people to have an opinion about other people's reproductive choices. This was a direct response to a post that simply said, "I'm having a baby, hooray!"
In that one short comment, there are three distinct things that depress the socks off me. One is the phrase "woman's right to exercise her sexual an reproductive functions in the ways she chooses." This is how someone -- a human being, presumably -- describes making love and bearing children. Can we all just pause for a moment and grieve for the English language, that it should be brought so low?
Second, the comment intentionally implies that, as a Catholic, I generally spend my days forcing people to exercise their sexual and reproductive functions in ways that they do not choose. This is not so. Heck, I didn't even neuter my dog -- he came that way. The most intrusive act I've ever committes is tospray a flea contraceptive all over my house, because I am cruelly indifferent to the reproductive rights of vermin. But other than that? Mainly, what Catholics do to earn the reputation of rights-suppressors is to quietly offer observations like, "You know, sex often makes babies" or "When it comes right down to it, killing people is bad, and so is treating people like things."
Third and most distressing, the main problem with the comment was that it was just so unutterably gauche. What kind of person responds to someone's joy with an agenda? I don't even care if you're right or wrong: that's dehumanizing (and last I heard, most people on both ends of the political spectrum are generally opposed to dehumanization). You've heard of the Culture of Death, which teaches people to sneer in disgust at the good, the true, and the beautiful. What we have here is its sad sack cousin, the Culture of Blechh, which teaches people to turn every occasion, whether happy or sad, into a basin to catch the Very Important Message they perpetually disgorge.
Planned Parenthood is notorious for this, sending out Christmas cards with a message about choice and access. But pro-lifers are just as guilty, and it's just as distasteful. A prime example happened the other week, when the news of Robin Williams' death was followed immediately by howls of outrage from Catholics: "The death of an actor? Who cares? But who will shed a tear over the eleven million babies who die each hour in abortuaries across the nation!" As if being sad about something else for a minute somehow invalidates your sadness-over-abortion credentials. This is the Culture of Blechh, and it stinks the place up something awful.
We can grow so addicted to the outrage of being righteous that we lose our humanity, in big ways like jijhadists of various kinds, or in small ways, like people who can't just pause and say, "Congratuations!" or "My condolences." All human beings are entitled to joy over happy occasions, and all are entitled to grief over tragedy. No cause is so noble that it's suitable to smear over every conversation. We're still people. Let's remember to respond to each other as people, even when we disagree over really important things.