Friday, January 16, 2009

The Unborn

I have been thinking about birth and its rights, members, and appurtenances whatsoever. More particularly, I have been thinking about how we talk about birth.
Thou know'st, the first time that we smell the air
We wawl and cry. . .
When we are born, we cry that we are come
To this great stage of fools. -- King Lear

Indeed, we are "born crying, live complaining, and die disappointed," as Thomas Fuller said, and certainly I have done my bit along those lines. That said, there is a term that bears consideration, for we have increasingly begun to use it in a novel manner. That word is, as you can foretell from the title, "Unborn."

On a literal level, "unborn" makes no sense whatsoever. It is the opposite of being "born again," despite the number of people who call themselves "born again" who worry about the "unborn." To be unborn is to reverse birth, to undo delivery, to return to sender. To be placed back in the womb.

Some smug psychoanalysts would say that being "unborn" is the source of all our desires. Residual fetal memory, you see, is the source of the concept of the Garden of Eden, Marx's idea of "primitive Communism," and any other lost idyll. Therefore, getting un-born would be every human's greatest desire.

That, of course, bears no relation to the meaning of the term "unborn." "Unborn" does not mean unborn. It means "not yet born human being." As such, it is a begging the question term in a political argument. The abortion argument, after all, is not an argument about when life begins. No one is fool enough to say that the zygote isn't alive. The argument about abortion is about when "human life" and "separate human life" from a legal standpoint begins. The term "unborn" suggests that there is a "person" in there, waiting. It therefore presupposes the answer to this question of whether a fetus is a "person" or a collection of cells. If you use the term "unborn," you are very definitively stating that the lump is not a part of the mother, that it is a person who simply has not yet experienced birth.

The abortion "argument" will never be solved by science, because the question is not scientific. The question is purely legal: when is something attached to the mother's body not the mother's body? When is the potentiality an actuality? These are questions palliated, slightly, by holding to standards such as "viability" (when can a fetus survive being removed from the placenta?), but those questions are only attempts at achieving the real need: social consensus on a social designation.

I assume everyone has her or his own position on the matter. I do not. I haven't a clue. I know that I won't have to have an abortion, and I know that I wouldn't want one, but that's about all I know.

The odd thing about "unborn," though, is that it was conceived and delivered in politics. It was a very precise statement of a position, and yet the news media have employed it, as they have generally given the anti-abortion forces more camera time than those in favor of the status quo, and now we see the term being used generically to mean "fetus." Congresses in various states and in Washington D.C. have attempted to normalize the term, as well, by passing laws making it a crime to kill an "unborn" human in the commission of a crime (e.g. killing a pregnant woman makes you guilty of two murders). These measures seem superficially acceptable -- who doesn't think it's worse to kill a gravid woman than otherwise? -- but they sneak in the concept that fetuses have the same protections as the born.

The point is that this political term, this rather nonsensical one, that was so obviously a statement of beliefs, has gone somewhat neutral.

There is a movie out now called "The Unborn." The premise of the film is that, once upon a time, a woman was pregnant with twins, but only one of them survived in utero and was born. The one that did not survive then haunts and strips naked the living one for ninety minutes. The film is directed by Michael Bay, so you know it's deep.

Now, there is something profoundly odd about this premise. I have nothing against spectacle. Ok, I do, but not every time. However, there is some seriously odd metempsychosis being implied here. So, we have a fetus that has a soul. We have another fetus with a soul. Sketchy...but alright. Now, one twin gets more nutrients from the placenta than the other. Alright: this happens frequently, and it's why our hearts are broken so regularly by the runt of the litter. The term "unborn" is here obviously a euphemism for "stillborn" or "aborted." The villain in the film is stillborn or aborted.

So far, although it's a rather icky thing, we're dealing with a familiar, natural, and infinitely sad question of reality, except that, in this case, the "unborn" child is literally unborn. It goes back. The soul that migrated into the zygote must go "back" to wherever it would have migrated from, and, from that perch, start looking for other types of "birth," such as possessing precocious ten year olds, mirrored glass, and shower stalls.

How odd is it that we have "unborn" used as a euphemism for natural abortion or failure to thrive or stillbirth, and then extend that to the idea of a soul hanging around, looking for a body, and then getting royally annoyed by the wait for flesh?
"No one recovers from the disease of being born, a deadly wound if there ever was one." -- E. M. Cioran

"Birth," in the context of this movie's discourse, has nothing to do with gestation. It is purely a matter of some sort of pre-existing entity that employs a mother and father as a method. The problem there, and I know some of the eschatologically minded will be annoyed that I say this, is that it is, prima facia, absurd.

Why do I single them out, when I could be annoying many more people than that? Well, a lot of people have a very, very particular understanding of the anti-Christ. They believe that the anti-Christ is an already-existing entity that dwells in Hell and who will be born in a sinister mirroring of the Incarnation. I will take no time arguing with them that they are wrong or resting on incredibly slender theological legs. The actual Incarnation is special, because Mary was impregnated by the Holy Spirit. I do not in any way accord Satan equality with God, and therefore I do not see how there was the Word and an anti-Word from the beginning. If Satan is going to have a child, I think it's going to have to be by possession or infusing with infernal soul, and not be incarnation.

You see, sperm and egg unite and create a nearly always unique combination of genes that are further expressed in pretty unique ways due to conditions in utero. Whatever the creature is who results from fertilization, he or she needed both sets of genetics to get there. If he goes back, he goes away. So, if there is a soul that waits for parents to be expressed, then it's only a soul, not a "person." In Michael Bay's profound cinematic universe, though, it's a creature, and Mommy was merely a way station.

Mothers and fathers are only carrying cases? This takes the assumptions of "unborn" to the most irrational position it has ever occupied.

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