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May 19, 2009

How to Compile an Inventory

I have to admit it is difficult to not throw something at the television when watching old white men, some of whom are professionally celibate, discuss the "issue of abortion." 
     
I just had a similar reaction watching Vikram Pandit try to be cool, and Jack Welch get flushed and cranky, as they discussed the perilous state of capitalism and their concerns about regulation. They certainly don't want too much regulation over private interests and investment because that would be bad, bad, bad. But by contrast, lots of regulation regarding female reproduction is fine?
     
I feel the same way when I hear people discuss the issue of school violence, specifically Columbine and Virginia Tech, as if these violent events reflect a broad problem in "today's youth." No, this is not a problem with today's youth. This has been a problem among a subset of boys. Shooting up schools is not a problem among girls, who are fully 50% of the aforementioned youth. But this is never the lede, and the headline is usually gender-free. 
     
And oddly enough, this is true with the issue of abortion as well. Honestly, I felt that Obama's mention that abortion is a "wrenching choice for a woman" was almost a footnote in his speech at Notre Dame, not the centerpiece it should be. The operative word there being woman, not wrenching. For many women, I am sure the choice is not at all wrenching. But it sure as hell is a choice about a procedure that no one who is without ovaries will have to undertake. 
     
I have never accepted this false parity between the genders on issues of violence and reproduction, and have never understood this hypocrisy about the regulation of private interests either. I do not see the rationality of the arguments presented by people who claim to be "deeply committed" to the issues. 
     
Why advertise an epidemic of school violence as a youth issue when it is clearly a gender issue, unless you have no real investment in getting to a solution? Why advertise that the "abortion issue" is something that should be seen through the lens of a church headed by celibate men, unless you wish to keep the "abortion issue" permanently unresolved? Why protest against any government regulation of disastrously unregulated capital markets (or sow the fear of a permanent socialist state when these regulations are tested) unless you have no true interest in regaining any semblance of balance?
     
Which makes me wonder yet again about what deep commitment to an issue actually is, for others. And to worry that it is often simply a commitment to propelling oneself forward, not to fixing a problem. 
     
Or perhaps it is simply a commitment to making noise about action, any action at all, because taking action (even action about nothing) is what living is supposedly about. 
     
I think perhaps writer Umberto Eco provided the perfect description: "I had to set up a committee of logicians, who suspended their own researches for three days. In my statement of the problem they saw something comparable to The Set of Normal Sets. Then they decided that the act of compiling an inventory, as it is an act, is not an object and therefore cannot be inventoried, but they further decided that its output is the catalogue of the inventory and, as this is an object, it can be inventoried. We asked the private firm to bill us not for the act but for its result, a result that we then inventoried. For several days I distracted serious scholars from their specific tasks, but I avoided going to jail."

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