As I think I’ve mentioned before on a couple of occasions (in my Pollyannaish way), this is the time of year when thoughts begin to turn to the Spring, to the return of life to the bounteous earth and so on. In a recent post the poet Francis Meynell was musing thus – “I keep this time, even before the flowers/ sacred to all the young and the unborn /to all the miles of unsprung wheat“. It’s time we saw a lamb or two : the birds are in song in the early morning and are eyeing up suitable locations for their nests (e.g. my roof). Tomorrow is St. Valentine’s Day and the young uns have got a bit of a glint in their eyes. You get the picture.
It does seem, though, that some people’s thoughts are turning in quite a different direction.
A couple of weeks ago, for instance, I read the following alarming piece of writing on the blog Stumbling and Mumbling – A modest proposal. It’s too complex a piece to paraphrase accurately (and, as always, frighteningly brainy) but it asks why, if we accept three commonly accepted beliefs (that the population needs to be reduced, that public spending needs to be cut and that there is a self-perpetuating criminal underclass) we should not be in favour of the compulsory sterilisation of those who are likely to produce feral children. As the title of the piece implies, the author isn’t actually advocating mass sterilisation, and, indeed, states explicitly that he is against it (though he doesn’t exactly seem to be motivated by savage indignation about the idea either). But I do find it alarming (and baffling) that the thought came into his head in the first place, and equally so the calm and rational way in which the debate proceeds in the comments.
There are any number of rational arguments against this proposal, but I don’t think I can get past what I think the author means by ” The Urgh Factor“. Imagine what it would feel like to be a woman with few other prospects who had set her heart on having children, only to be informed (presumably by some government functionary) that she was to be carted off to hospital and sterilised instead. At which point the mind of anyone with an ounce of sensibility would indeed revolt and go “Urgh – what a disgusting idea”. And that would be an end to it.
I might have forgotten this, if, a couple of days later, the comedian Ricky Gervais hadn’t come out with the following, in an interview with The Times –
“Should we impose a limitation [on having children], then? “Yes, based on … stupid, fat faces,” he snarls. “If there’s a woman in leggings, eating chips with a fag in her mouth, sterilise her.” (Why leggings, incidentally?)
I do realise that Gervais – as a comedian (that new clerisy) – is only joking, but it’s still worth noting how many people seem to agree with him – though perhaps they too are only joking. The most highly rated comment on the Mail Online, for instance, is “you know how the saying goes…’many a true word said in jest’! I’m with him on this one 100%” and there is a frankly flabbergasting discussion on the official Richard Dawkins fansite – http://forum.richarddawkins.net/viewtopic.php?f=17&t=108274.
I might also mention in this connection the enthusiasm expressed in a couple of comments on this (excellent) post – This article is not witty– for the idea that castration is the way forward in dealing with those who are likely to perpetuate a cycle of abuse. The slight difference of emphasis here (castration rather than sterilisation) is, I think, down to the commentators being women rather than – as in the case of S&M and the Mail – mainly men.
And then again, at a slight tangent, we have Master Amis’s latest amusing thought experiment – that we should set up euthanasia booths for the elderly to prevent “a population of demented very old people, like an invasion of terrible immigrants, stinking out the restaurants and cafes and shops.”
Now of course S&M is really saying something about the nature of managerialism. Gervais is only joking and Amis is being satirical, but I do find it shocking quite how many people there seem to be going around with this stuff swilling around their heads – this fear, this disgust, this contempt for the poor, the feckless, the old even and quite how little permission they seem to need, once the unsayable has been said, to indulge in these weird fantasies of mucking about with other people’s reproductive systems. Slowly the poison the whole bloodstream fills …
Mind you, I do quite like the idea of “The Urgh Factor” and think it could work as TV programme. The aim would be for a succession of controversialist bloggers – contrarians, sweary libertarians, what-iffers and general loons – to see who could make the panel of judges – all bleeding heart liberals – the most angry and upset. Bonus points would be awarded for the superficial plausibility of the argument, but making the panel physically sick would ensure instant victory.