Saturday, January 12, 2008

Michael J. Fox

I have cerebral palsy. When I was born, the physician fucked up, and my brain did not get enough oxygen. That means that a big swath of nerve tissue in my cerebellum atrophied. It just died and to this day, more than thirty-eight years later, remains dead. The cerebellum is responsible for, among other things, fine motor coordination. Because a large part of my cerebellum is dead, my fine motor coordination is not fine at all. This means that my balance is bad. My gait is slow and awkward. I've been mistaken for a drunk many times. In fact, cops will stop me, thinking that I may be guilty of a WWI (Walking While Intoxicated). I've been refused service at a bar even though all I wanted was a cola.

I have a speech impediment. I talk funny. Many people when they first hear me think I am mentally retarded. Physicians who specialize in neurological disorders tell me that the speech impediment of the mentally retarded and that of those afflicted with cp are very different, but in my experience this distinction is lost on most people. Because I am paranoid about being perceived as mentally deficient, I have developed the habit of intellectual pre-emption. I make damn sure that everyone who meets me learns in the first minute of my acquaintance that I know at least one foreign language, that I can quote huge quantities of Shakespeare, that I'm a member of Phi Beta Kappa (and that I know what those letters stand for), that I use lots of polysyllabics found only in the OED, that I have a predilection for obscure arcana, that I am a very proud, elitist intellectual snob, and that I was educated by the same order that educated Descartes, the Jesuits. And after that minute no one mistakes me for a mental deficient. Of course, people more often than not get the impression of me as an overbearing pedantic asshole. Fine. At least they know that my cerebrum was not deprived of oxygen.

I really fucking hate cerebral palsy. I would really like to be able to do what other people simply take for granted such as, say, tying shoelaces, driving an automobile, working fast enough to satisfy an employer, or assuming that my speech will be understood by a normal person. Yes, I would really like to be rid of cp, especially in this American "culture" that says that if you are not a rugged individual, you are somehow less than human. Well, I can't be a rugged individual. My cerebral palsy is nothing but a curse and a bane.

In 1992 a physician told me to be of good cheer for something was being done right then that held the promise of bestowing upon me normality. Yes, something that would finally make me fully human. Something that would remove the quintessential American shame of being weak and powerless. Oh, yes, the promise of someday having a gait and a speech smooth enough to woo beautiful women into my bed was thrilling. Even more so was the hope that I could finally talk without the annoyance of being patronized as a babbling retard. And then there was the fondest hope of all, having a voice that could finally be trained for the poetry of Shakespeare. I have often said that I would sell my soul to Satan for the chance of performing the role of young Hamlet on stage. That has always been my wildest dream. It still is.

I should not be so quick to strike a deal with Satan. The physician who told me to be of good cheer wanted me to rest my hope in embryonic stem cell research. Sometimes Faustian Bargains do not come with lots of lurid flames and evaporating dry ice. Sometimes they are as clinical and as inconspicuous as a petri dish.

Embryonic stem cell research does not just kill human embryos. In vitro fertilization does this by creating more embryos than women are willing to implant, leaving the "excess" embryos waiting around to die. IVF is evil enough. Embryonic stem cell research compounds this evil by making human embryos into a useful commodity, thereby creating a market for the production of human embryos for the sake of their destruction.

This is sick, and no amount of playing the pity card will make it less so. For Michael J. Fox to use his particular palsy to win the pity vote for this neo-Mengelism is as disgusting and reprehensible as it would be for me to use my palsy to get mercy fucks and more so. Much more so for Mr. Fox wants us to be so blinded by pity for his pathetic state that we will think the assent to a market for mass murder is the compassionate thing to do. As evil as fornication most assuredly is, the capitalization of mass murder is exponentially greater.

Yes, I sympathize with Mr. Fox's plight. Truth be told, his Parkinson's disease is worse than my cp. And, yes, I understand that Mr. Fox is more desperate for a remedy to his suffering than I am for one to mine. After all, I was born with cp. I am used to awkwardness and the lack of normality. Mr. Fox is not. Every single day he must wake up with memories of what he once was only to be tempted to despair by realizing what he is now. I would be desperate, too, even desperate enough for a Faustian Bargain. But the obvious must be noted: Despair is never reasoned argument, and Mr. Fox's plea for embryonic stem cell research is nothing more than despair. No one should ever be swayed by despair for that is Satan's main weapon.

All of us, every single one of us, was once an embryo. Or, to use the language of that "moderate" Episcopalian priest, John Danforth, we were once all, each and every one of us, merely "a clump of cells", in an absolute state of weakness, utterly dependent upon the goodwill and mercy of our mothers, the exact opposite of the Rugged Individual. To say that human embryos should be used for spare parts as if they were junked cars is to say that simply being human has no intrinsic inviolable worth. Yes, the proponents of embryonic stem cell research will acknowledge that the primary purpose of the embryo is to grow into a born child, but they understand this purpose in simply a practical sense and not as ontologically inherent. If the little human does not do this job of growing up, well, then, let's junk the slacker and cut him up. Thus, being human has no intrinsic worth. Action has priority over being, and the human has value only as a job or a natural resource. And if you don't want to be exploited as a natural resource, you'd better pray that you have a secure job because only Arbeit macht frei.

Human life is a gift of God and as such is ultimately a mystery. We want to do away with that mystery by making every part of it as functional as a machine. Poetry cannot exist when the only god is functionality, for functionality does not desire praise; it only needs the care of prosaic mechanics, and so poetry withers.

I will admit that my only chance at fulfilling my wild dream of acting the role of Hamlet may very well lie in embryonic stem cell research, but the very premise of this research snuffs out the joy of poetry, and so, as with all other Faustian Bargains, the promise of stem cell research will fulfill my dream only to kill its joy. It is not worth it.

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