Saturday, May 05, 2012
George Will's column about son with Down's Syndrome inspires more debate
George F. Will stirred up some more emotion with his May 2 piece (in the Washington Post) on the 40th birthday of his own son, Jon, who has Downs Syndrome.
Will gives a narrative of his family’s experience before Roe v. Wade, and concurrent with the development of amniocentesis. He is critical of baby boomers whose sense of “entitlement encompasses an entitlement to exemption from nature’s mishaps”. He also talks about his son’s visits to Nationals Park, his mixing socially with the players before games, and with his impressions of nature’s lottery, which makes some of us gifted and others not. (Santorum, in his consideration of "the Common Good", insisted that equality does not exist in nature among individuals. But there is specificity and quality in gifts as well as quantity.) But parents can try to give any child the best life possible (or a "good life").
There was some pointed reaction in the LTE’s Saturday in the Post (curiously, not online yet as of noon Saturday). I particularly wanted to note that, while, yes, Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg are “gifted” in very specific areas (not many of us can throw a baseball at 100 mph or hit one pitched that way), gifts in other areas somehow impress me more. I wonder if George Will watched the “teen tournament” on Jeopardy last night. At high school age, women tend to dominate the competition, in except last night’s thriller, that was not the case as a high school sophomore from my own KU neighborhood won “in extra innings”. Or take gifts in music, or computer super-literacy, which also, in my experience, seem to run in families. (Facebook has even become a family affair; Mark probably owes his business success to two of his sisters.) Even in my own orbit, the person who may be best qualified to edit my film (if I get it made) is a self-taught teen.
Will points out that societal attitudes toward those born with heritable disabilities in past generations were not particularly kind, despite the outward social conservatism of earlier times. Some people were put away in institutions. Indeed, underneath the moral debates over abortion and even contraception seems to be an idea more challenging than just the abstract right to life of a conceived future person. It seems to be a question as to whether others are really willing to love them just (as my own father would say) "as people." The “natural family” may seem to be the only place that such love can be nurtured. But a “natural family” still needs a social structure, someone (or a married couple) in charge. There is still a hierarchy, which can control the choices even of those who won’t have their own children. As in any “tribalist” or political environment, the power in such a hierarchy can be abused, become corrupt (as with the Stefano patriarch in "Days of our Lives"). Libertarians see individualism as the antidote to such corruption, but individualism does not take care of the “ungifted” very well. But with “tribalism” (even as defended in Edward O. Wilson’s recent book, as on my Books blog May 1) there comes a “natural” tendency for people to fantasize about who is the “fittest” to carry the lineage and run the clan, and that can lead into fantasy areas that have disturbing implications for the less well off (as in my own NIH days in the early 1960s). There is no perfect system, no ideology that always works. There is only the actions of people, incorporating both personal responsibility and compassion.
The link for Will’s piece ("Jon Will's Gift") is here.
Also, I have to quote President Obama speaking in Columbus, Ohio right now. “Corporations aren’t people. People are people.”