March 29, 2005

What Good? No Good at All.

AT SOME POINT LAST WEEK, caught between the online Scylla and Charybdis of the Democratic Underground and the Free Republic, I began to understand that common humanity in general, myself included, was not going to be advanced no matter what the resolution of the Terri Schiavo matter. Indeed, it didn't seem to matter what your opinion was, you were going to be -- as these things go now in America -- dragged into the mire along with the rest of the country. Once it became clear that there would be no reprieve for this woman, but that the sentence of death-by-starvation-for-her-own good was set in stone, the entire country was condemned to be tainted by the unfolding spectacle.

If I had any doubts about this, they were swept away yesterday when watching one of the "reporters" on the scene tell us yet again that Michael Schiavo's attorney, George Felos -- the now superstar of Right-to-Die lawyers -- said, yet again, that he'd "never seen Terri look so beautiful, so at peace." Within a few minutes, the same or another reporter (it really doesn't matter, does it?) felt compelled, utterly compelled, to tell us that Mrs. Schiavo was receiving morphine, a substance well known for putting the recipient 'at peace.'

Then, just as I wondered how, in the face of the court order prohibiting all food and fluids, Mrs. Schiavo could have received the morphine, the reporter -- a professional without a hint of shame in her voice or on her face -- filled myself and the nation in. It would seem that the 'nurses' at her 'caring hospice' had gotten around the letter of the court order by giving Mrs. Schiavo a morphine suppository.

It was at that moment that I felt a wave of revulsion suffuse me. It was soon replaced by disgust directed at the reporter for reporting it, myself for listening to it, and the entire country for having let itself and its institutions slide into a slime-pit where that sort of detail was communicated without hesitation or shame to any and all who would listen. It was, after all, only our vaunted "right to know" that was being honored above all our other readily-assumed "rights" this vile example of the "rule of law" had brought to the fore.

Reflecting on this today I found myself thinking that the famous question asked by Joseph Welch of Senator Joseph McCarthy should now be modified and addressed to all of us as: "Let us not assassinate this woman further. We've done enough. Have we no sense of decency? At long last, have we left no sense of decency?"

The cold and true answer is, "No, we have no sense of decency left in us." Our media is our mirror and, regardless of which way it is slanted, the reflection we see is still ourselves; and in this instance we see our entire nation as a kind of super-modern high-tech picture of Dorian Gray. It is little wonder we do not want to turn from the mirror and look at our image directly.

And yet, inexorably, we will have to turn towards ourselves as this dumb show of slow starvation plays itself out. Besides the vile details as reported above, we have also seen but the beginning of a whole spectrum of revolting issues played upon our screens now that Mrs. Schiavo's death is assured.

We've seen the taunting denial of Holy Communion and Last Rites followed by the "permission" for them to be given from the "Legal Guardian" who stands as some grotesque Gatekeeper.

While the condemned woman still breathes we've witnessed the argument over the disposal of her someday-soon-to-be-dead body -- autopsy or not? burial or cremation? The answers, possibly for this day only, were -- first no autopsy and quick cremation, then full autopsy followed by, perhaps, burial but maybe cremation with the final resting place of body or ashes still tossed up into the air. Again the Guardian designated by the finest judgments our entire legal system can deliver stands at the gate issuing first one decision and then, as the heat increases, another. Perhaps, if the heat lessens, there will be other "decisions and revisions whhich a minute will reverse."

There have been and there will be numerous other indignities heaped up onto the pile of detritus that has been assembled over the years it has taken this woman's life to play out, first in private and then increasingly and inexorably on the numberless televisions of the nation.

Feeling the nausea from these and other moments still to come, many begin to cower from this vision of what we've become; to insist that the whole thing is an "intensely private matter." At this far point, they'd prefer it all wrapped up in a muffling cloak of our much worshiped "privacy." They'd prefer the gaunt and wizened body of what our system has created discretely zippered into a body bag and smuggled from our sight in an unmarked hearse sometime in the dark hours. As it will be. But it is far, far too late not to see what we have made, if only in the mind's eye of our shared consciousness. We may disagree about what this means, but we all know what this looks like.

No, this time there will be no turning away. This entire episode has long since risen to the realm of myth and represents our collective failure as human beings to resolve first things and last things cleanly and humanely. This is an ugly and base spectacle that will not fade away. The results of it will haunt the nation for a very long time. As they should.

There is no question that it is time for a long, long look at the real and grotesque portrait of this facet of ourselves under very bright lights, without the benefit of flattering mirrors. Our detailed examination of every suppurating pore should be sustained long after the death of one American woman that is approaching.

As it does, I suspect that for the more serious among us all the palaver about politics and culture-of-life versus culture-of-death will fade away like the seedy tents and wagons of HBO's Carnivale, and we will each and every one of us be left with a stark vision of who we are -- as individuals and as a society.

The resolution of this as individuals I leave to each individual to struggle with and resolve as best they can, according to whatever internal compasses they may possess. I've come to resist writing about this matter since so much of very little moment has been and will be said. But since writing about something is the only way I can discover how I feel and think, I am drawn back to it as the days of Mrs. Schiavo's life drift away. The French say that "The whole world desires a crescendo," and it is clear we are close to having one here. For myself, I could have done without it but it would be a failure in my soul to ignore it at this point.

As a society, it seems to me there is little we can do other than don what comforting disguises we can scrounge out of our shabby prop-room, and pretend we've got a handle on this issue at last. We've already seen a few of the more predictable of these slap-dash ready-mades trotted out under the general label "What can we learn from this tragedy?"

The answers have tended to be fallow and shallow: "Make sure you have a living will;" "States rights trump all;" "States rights should not trump all;" "The liberals are for a culture of death;" "The Conservatives are controlled by religious fanatics;" "Politicians should not get involved in politics;" "Our judicial system is rife with activist judges who make their own law;" "This case was given every possible chance under our legal system and decided fairly according to the law." I've read and heard dozens of other thin and shallow arguments "about it and about, but evermore came out the same door wherein I went."

My door remains a question asked by many early on as Mrs. Schiavo's death became daily more certain, "What good does it do to kill this woman?"

I take up that question and repeat: "What good does it do to kill this woman?"

As all can see, but nobody can stop, the killing of Mrs. Schiavo, for all the legalisms and philosophies blown in to obscure the simple fact of her death by starvation, the stark answer is: "It does no good at all."

"It does no good at all."

The discussion now and in the days to follow until the last stroke of doom will not cancel out one word of that answer.

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Posted by Vanderleun at March 29, 2005 5:25 PM | TrackBack
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

thanks Gerard. Impressive.

Posted by: sered at March 29, 2005 1:08 PM

Dragged into the mire kicking and screaming.. I haven't watched TV for a week so repulsed have I been with the events of the Schiavo case. Add to that Michael Jackson's daily review. I only watch Fox but quit when they gave Mrs. Schiavo her own theme song. Now I hear Jesse Jackson is scum-diving into it all. Repulsed? There has to be a better word to describe such repugnant fare.

Posted by: Amy at March 29, 2005 1:47 PM

I lost myself. What I think upsets me the most about everything is the complete disregard for dignity. Has the very notion of dignity disappeared from our planet?

I just can't stand it.

Posted by: Amy at March 29, 2005 2:01 PM

Alas, the only dignity that seems to still exist is "death with dignity" and that is no dignity at all.

Posted by: Tom Spence at March 29, 2005 2:12 PM

My thanks for helping me to aim my sense of disgust here. Your lucid, empassioned account of the issues involved is helpful to those of us struggling to keep up, to sort through the many conflicting statements of the players, the onlookers, the politicians and the just luridly curious.

Posted by: Everyman at March 29, 2005 2:33 PM

Masterful. If blogger would ever let me, I'll link to it.

Posted by: TheAnchoress at March 29, 2005 2:34 PM

A viewing of Ace in the Hole is instructive in these times.

Also ...Carneval?

When the right reverend bozo showed up ... I tuned out. I can't take it anymore.

Posted by: Steel Turman at March 29, 2005 3:40 PM

A hellish grotesquery indeed, and crowned by the addition of Jesse Jackson. What a crazy cartwheel ride to who knows where.

Posted by: pbird at March 29, 2005 4:07 PM

Now that the 24-hour news cycle reigns supreme, no detail is too lurid nor too intimate for full and repetitive airing. Enough is definitely more than enough.

The only consolation is that the relentless focus on this tragic story and the Michael Jackson trial is an indication that events in the Middle East must be going rather well right now. If only we could have another summer of the sharks, what a good sign that would be!

Posted by: neo-neocon at March 29, 2005 7:42 PM

"It does no good at all."

What else can be said?

If anyone, anywhere, ever needed a primer on the fallibility of man, we've got a great edition for the college- level course right in front of us.

I feel soiled.

Posted by: TmjUtah at March 29, 2005 8:34 PM

"Man without God is a beast, and never more beastly than when he is most intelligent about his beastliness." --Whittaker Chambers

Posted by: Dennis at March 29, 2005 8:56 PM

Let's see if this will fly again:

We can now have had --

Breakfast at Bernie's, cocktails at Hunter's, and (wait for it) Dim Sum with Terri.

Naw, doesn't quite get it, does it? There is a perfect punchline somewhere for Terri in that formula, but I can't find it. Something which would cast the affair in the proper ghoulish light of the way the media feasts on these things and turns them absurd and bizarre if you only follow it throught the media's eyes.

The media is a kind of walking talking self-parody now. It isn't even funny to illustrate it, anymore since the entire notion of common decency appears to have vanished from our overall culture.

Posted by: mark butterworth at March 29, 2005 11:33 PM

Looks like neo-neocon may get her wish. Headline on Fox this a.m.:

Swarming Sharks Close Florida Beaches
Wednesday, March 30, 2005
Associated Press

Let's hope . . .

Best,
Rick

Posted by: ricksamerican at March 30, 2005 7:02 AM

Amen. It seems Don Henley is a freakin' sage/prophet:

We got the bubble-headed-bleach-blonde who
Comes on at five
She can tell you ’bout the plane crash with a gleam
In her eye
It’s interesting when people die-
Give us dirty laundry

Can we film the operation?
Is the head dead yet?
You know, the boys in the newsroom got a
Running bet
Get the widow on the set!
We need dirty laundry

You don’t really need to find out what’s going on
You don’t really want to know just how far it’s gone
Just leave well enough alone
Eat your dirty laundry

Kick ’em when they’re up
Kick ’em when they’re down
Kick ’em when they’re up
Kick ’em when they’re down

Posted by: Dan N. at March 30, 2005 7:45 AM

Good catch... upgraded to an item on the main page.

Posted by: Gerard Van Der Leun at March 30, 2005 9:41 AM

Flannery O'Connor country...Amen

Posted by: K.T. at March 31, 2005 8:22 PM

Hi Gerard, You took me on my first date in San Jose California. We went to Sausalito to have hamburgers on a boat restaurant called Juanita's.

You've done well, very impressive!

Geri Carbone

Posted by: Geri Carbone at August 11, 2005 2:47 PM
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