Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Last Day For This Topic For Now

I had hoped to leave that topic yesterday but I can't resist pointing something out to you.  In the update to yesterday's post I posed a theoretical:

I wonder what would happen if, in such a play, someone took a child who was taken from their parents and trained in some other ideology which was not religious but which the parents didn't approve of but the religion of the parents was "the wrong one" how it would be received.  Say a child who was being schooled in creationism taken and turned into a conventional materialist-atheist-Darwinist.   I can't imagine the feelings of the parents would count for much and such a play would almost certainly not be written or made into a movie.

The dynamics of the situation would be the same, a child taken, without reason, from the parents to be trained in an ideology they didn't approve of and likely alienated from them, perhaps in ways Edgardo Mortara was not from his family with whom he maintained contact.  As I was writing that it occurred to me that it was possible that the Judaism of the Mortara family might contain a more literal notion of the story of creation than the theatrical folk, reviewers, writers, ideological hacks, blog blatherers, my trolls, etc. pretending to take their part would approve of.  Though I'm certainly no expert in such matters among the Jewish community of Bologna in the mid 19th century.  I'd wonder if the central issue were made the circumcision of male babies what would get written.  Is the opposition to that most definitive of Jewish practices still a thing among American atheists as it was not long ago?

If the case were not a traditional ideological weapon to use against Catholicism, no one would still be rehashing it in books or making plays or movies about it.  I'd love to know why that case and not so many others.

I think it's interesting why the case of the unjustly institutionalized Carrie Buck and her daughter Vivian Buck. taken from her mother by the social work establishment of Virginia, an act enabled, ultimately by the high priesthood of the U.S. Supreme Court isn't so treated.  It is a far more compelling story without the ambiguities and contradictions that make the Mortara case impossible to make into a salable, honest drama, including the fact that the central figure in the case, as a sane and rational adult, approved of what  was done but which causes us such outrage.   Not only was Carrie Buck sterilized against her will and institutionalized, she and by implication her daughter and parents were slandered from the Supreme Court bench by that most cold-blooded of saints of pseudo-liberalism, Oliver Wendell Holmes, as "imbeciles".  Most relevant to this post, the only child she would ever have,  Vivian Buck, like her mother of demonstrated normal intelligence,  was taken from her and put in foster care where she died as a child.  By the action of the state of Virginia as supported by the Supreme Court, she didn't live to be in her eighties, able to give us her adult consideration and judgement of her life as Edgardo Mortara did.  I think it's more than possible that if she'd been left in the care of her mother, she well may not have died.

Now, that's a case with clear cut dramatic potential that wouldn't have to suppress inconvenient, untheatrical or embarrassing facts such as the judgement of the adult Mortara stated about his own life.  But I can't name any plays or movies about it, can you?   I mean without googling it.

I suspect that is because the villains in the story are the wrong villains who playwrights and producers and directors either are afraid of attacking or who they wouldn't find to be as gratifying objects of incited hatred.  I don't think the motive in kicking around the case of Edgardo Mortara has much to do with the injustice to the long dead Mortaras, it's got everything to do with who they can use this to attack, today.  The Catholic Church is such a traditional and gratifying object of hate in the English speaking intellectual class but they'd never dare go after Oliver Wendell Holmes in the same way.   It wouldn't even occur to them to research it.  It hasn't been done before.  They've done more remakes of that story than I have posts on the topic since Sunday morning.

Update:  As you would see if you read the link given above, the Nazis completely understood that the goal of Oliver Wendell Holmes jr. and theirs were the same, to exclude the descendants of those they selected as "inferior" from the future.  At the time of the Buck v Bell decision, the Nazis weren't even openly talking about more than an American style eugenics program to sterilize those selected as "unfit", as I have pointed out, elsewhere, many of the leading lights of British literature and politics, such as George Bernard Shaw, were the ones who were talking about putting them in gas chambers and killing them with gas, he'd been doing it for at least a decade and a half before the Bell decision.

Holmes and the state of Virginia did in the one case of Carrie Buck, just that.  Her child died - perhaps as a result of having been taken from her - and she could have no more.  I'm not sure if Vivian were sterilized as a young girl but I am pretty certain she would have been as she entered her adolescence.  I have also pointed out that it was the Nazis who kept the best records of a Dr. Perkins who was doing his best, in consultation with such people as Charles Davenport, to exterminate the Abenakis in quaint, rural, New England Vermont according to the current best practices of progressive science.

As I pointed out, during the Nuremberg trials the Nazis were able to bring up the words of Holmes and other Americans in their defense, which must have been awkward for Francis Biddle, who led the court, he was Holmes' private secretary and confidant.  A lot of what the Nazis did was informed by the public thinking of supposed British and American liberals, only "liberals" in the "enlightenment" use of the word, not in the traditional Christian meaning of the word.  There were lots of Christians who fell for that corruption as progressive at the time and after, too.  That's one thing you can't blame the Catholic Church for, they were opposed to eugenics from the start.

Update:  in effect "What right did E.M. have to have an opinion about his own life!"

I really have already said this several times but I'll repeat it again. 

A. The kidnapping of Edgaro Mortara was wrong, in my opinion. 

B. The fact is that, as a rational adult Edgaro Mortara said it wasn't bad that it had happened.  I haven't seen any evidence that he wasn't capable of deciding that for himself,  if he'd said he was wronged, we wouldn't have any problem with that, now would we. 

C. I don't have any right to substitute my judgement for that of the guy who was the central figure in the case, not even if that leads to an unsatisfying stalemate of contending ideas or, in the case of you guys, emotions.   

D. Obviously, many people don't care what he thought about his own life, expropriating his right to decide that for themselves.  I'm not pretending I or they have any right to not care about it.  It was his life, not yours to judge, not mine.  He didn't commit any crimes that might give us that right. 

Now, go soak your fat head.   You can consider that my little Fat Tuesday celebration.   Tomorrow I've got to try to be good. 


  1. And why not? A woman, average in nearly every way, accused of state-defined stupidity because of poverty, sterilized against her will,imprisoned, denied her humanity.

    Is it because the entire legal basis is too clearly connected to Nazi Germany (we only abandoned eugenics laws because of WWII). Or is it the issue of poverty, and how we treat the poor? After all, Carrie Buck can't have the victory of a Norma Rae. And we can't give her the trappings of wealth.....

    1. Considering what Alfred Urey said his opening into writing his play - leaving out the POV of Edgardo - was a picture of Pius IX in his neo-medieval papal drag, maybe if the Supremes wore livelier robes it would do it.

      I'm now curious to see what Tony Kushner comes up with, though I can't imagine it's going to be honest or even honestly ambiguous as Kushner's early work could be. I can't imagine Steven Spielberg could make a movie like that. He wouldn't know how to think about it, trained in the conventions of Hollywood fablulation. In that old post about Holmes I linked to I speculated about the role of that really awful, entirely dishonest piece of Hollywood hagiography, The Magnificant Yankee played in selling that cold-blooded Darwinist as a liberal was. It certainly wasn't his rulings which were more Nietzschean than liberal. Even his free-speech rulings included the idea that a bloody, deadly struggle where the strong would destroy the weak might be salubrious.

      I also have to wonder if Carrie Buck were a man and Vivian a boy if they would have ruled the same way.