Monday, March 12, 2012

Risk and Responsibility


Back in the late ‘80s, I was living in Tustin, Ca., and my house was right underneath the approach corridor for planes landing at John Wayne Airport (formerly Orange County Airport). Sometimes the jetliners would come in so low that you could see passenger faces staring out the windows. I was standing out in the driveway one evening when a particularly big one came soaring over, and I yelled for my wife to come out and see. We oohed and aahed for awhile under the descending mist of jet fuel exhaust, then looked down just in time to notice that the front door of the house had been left open, and our six month old daughter was barrelling through the doorway in her walker. Right toward the two high cement steps that led from the driveway into the house (or vice versa, in her case). Like a bat out of hell I started toward her at a dead run, just as the wheels of her walker tipped over the first step. Over she went, and everything cranked down into slow motion as I desperately launched myself in her direction, sliding prone across the asphalt-and-gravel driveway in my shorts and t-shirt, and somehow managing to slide my extended hand between her infant skull and the pavement just as- I swear!-  her hair touched the ground.

Forward several years. I now had two daughters, the younger of which was around 3 or 4 years, I think. We were walking along the shore at Newport Beach, shoes off, kicking along in the shallows. Nice day, no tide to speak of. I remember the kids were toddling along behind me, just a few feet, picking up shells and whatnot. Then out of nowhere, a tall wave rose up RIGHT AT THE SHORE, hit the beach...and my daughter was gone. Just that quick. All I could do at that point was try and extrapolate from the position she’d last been standing, dive in and hope for the best. I couldn’t see a damned thing under the churning aftermath of the wave, but somehow my extended hand (there’s that extended hand again...how iconically symbolic!) automatically closed around her heel, and I managed to yank her out of there like a wet fish.

Forward another several years. I was driving a speedboat in the dead of winter on Lake Powell. Snow falling on the water. Nobody else on the lake. We’d gone 50 miles out from the marina to see Rainbow Bridge, a beautiful and amazing natural rock formation, a giant arch carved by flowing water over millions of years. I was driving on the way back in, doing around 50 knots on a surface so smooth and glasslike that it felt like we weren’t moving at all. We were about 5 miles from the marina when I saw some grass sticking up out of the water, and it was about then that I noticed someone had trashed one of the guide buoys meant to keep boaters in the middle of the channel. I turned to my friend and said something like, “Hey, I think we’ve got a prob...”, and that’s when the boulder seemed to rise up right in front of us out of the snow and gloom. It was probably 20 feet across, and sticking up out of the water maybe 2 or 3 feet at the highest. If I’d noticed it a bit earlier, I probably would have tried to turn the boat, we would have come into it sideways, and all of us would be dead, probably not even missed until the next day or so out on the deserted lake. As it was, it all happened so suddenly that I had no time to react, and that’s what saved us. I simply held the wheel and drove straight into the rock, which launched us high into the air and delivered us on the other side, maybe 100 feet or so down-water. My daughter, who was wrapped up in several layers of clothes and was sleeping in the back of the boat, was tossed up into the air and hit her head on the canopy. Thankfully, since she’d been traveling the same speed as the boat and as there’d been no change of direction, she came right back down in her seat, a bit flustered but none the worse for wear. Even more miraculously was the fact that the boat had suffered no damage, not even to the prop! It seems the moss- slicked rock had had much the same effect as a ski ramp...weird, huh? To this day I tell people we ‘James Bonded’ over the boulder:)

These are a few of the more dramatic sort of incidences that probably all parents experience from time to time. Par for the course, as it were. Of course, none of these events were initiated on purpose; at least, not in the direct sense. Then again, I knew from experience that these things happen, and so in perhaps a less-than-direct sense I caused them all; or at least, was definitely an agent in their cause, providing the innocent lambs for sacrifice upon the world’s altar of existential Russian Roulette.  One might certainly argue that since no harm was done, and especially since my own actions prevented said harm, that my culpability is somehow erased; but, really, this is nothing more than a form of special pleading to justify delivering new lives into the arena of existential risk in the first place, an argument that’s extended - and quite ambiguously, I might add- dependent on the whys and whens and wherefores of a tangled skein of philosophical and cultural justifications so convoluted as to become laughable at times, if it weren’t all so damned sad.

Do I regret the risks I’ve taken with my children, directly purposeful or otherwise? In retrospect, I’d have to say ‘no’ for the most part. As so many of AN’s opponents point out, risk is part of what makes life worthwhile; at least, for the living. Of course, the reason I don’t particularly regret the risks with my kids is because they came through them unscathed. It would be a far different story if my children had died; or much, much worse in my view, tragically harmed in a way that would have significantly robbed them of the joys which are to be found in this life. And then there’s the fact that the risks continue to this day, and will continue until the day they die, and that some of the downsides to these risks might involve horrible, life-shattering suffering that might even cause them to curse the day they were born, as so many do and have always done. And everything bad that happens to them, including the eventual decline in their health, and their fortunes, as well as their deaths, is ultimately my fault. Why? Because I brought them to this place, knowing full well that nobody gets out alive.

As I sit here writing this, my dog, Little Voice, is slowly dying. Her respiration is shallow, and in the last few days she’s lost the ability to walk. On my next day off, I think, I’ll bum a ride from my ex and deliver her into the finality and utter peace of non-existence. I’ll go in with her, like I’ve always done, and tell her how much I love her as the needle is inserted and she closes her eyes. It’s as good a way to die as there is, I reckon, although it still makes me feel like a murderer every time I have to go through it. I hope I’ve given her a decent life, and that she’s been relatively happy. These last 13 years have gone by so quickly, in my mind I still see her as the puppy hiding under the Christmas tree. I’ll try to get some thoughts together on this subject as soon as I can. Until then, take care one and all.

31 comments:

Shadow said...

Awesome post.

There´s this other tragical side of life here, I reckon:

"These last 13 years have gone by so quickly, in my mind I still see her as the puppy hiding under the Christmas tree."

Even when life is 'ok', the memories we have of it are practically unbearable. We suffer because of them, because of their 'sublimeness'.

Your posts make us feel like we are talking to someone we know for so long. I feel like I know you already, dude.

Cheers!

Rob said...

And everything bad that happens to them, including the eventual decline in their health, and their fortunes, as well as their deaths, is ultimately my fault. Why? Because I brought them to this place, knowing full well that nobody gets out alive.

Take heart: no one is ultimately responsible for anything -- neither you for your kids, nor they for their kids, and on and on... unto heat death. It is impossible.

metamorphhh said...

Hi, Shadow. Yes, that's the other side of the tragedy, isn't it? Loss, and how it diminishes us in so many ways. And it's as universal as the religious fantasies concocted to say it ain't so.

metamorphhh said...

Hi, Rob. I understand what you mean, and in the strictest sense you're right. It's blind causality right on down the line. But the feeling of personal responsibility is also a causal by-product, and so is as intrinsic to the human experience as anything else. And the fact remains that isolated effects are still tied to isolated causes within the ocean of greater existence, albeit in a somewhat abstract way, much in the same way any boundary can be seen as both real, and imaginary.

metamorphhh said...

Rob, thought you might like this. Thanks for the link.

TGGP said...

Those stories aren't depressing enough for the Antinatalism blog. Such near-brushes give one happy feelings, grateful to be alive and eager to enjoy the life still possessed.

Karl said...

Absolutely beautiful post, Jim. Gorgeous writing. You give the impression of a man who's reached a kind of equilibrium of acceptance with his own life. It put me in mind of a phrase I heard the English philosopher Roger Scruton use a while back: "All philosophy can do is help us arrive at a serene acceptance of the hopelessness of the human condition".

And Shadow, great observation about the power of memory. Even recollections of happy times can become a form of torment as we realise the past is irretrievably gone and can never be relived. I tried reading Proust, the great master of such themes, when I was 18, but it did nothing for me, now that I'm older I think he might.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps this post, in an indirect way, also asks a question. How much do we "owe" our parents? Especially if our lives suck because of genetic inheritance and/or decisions and behavior of theirs.

Shadow said...

Karl,

That´s a good tip on reading.

And great quote!

"All philosophy can do is help us arrive at a serene acceptance of the hopelessness of the human condition".

Stacy said...

Anonymous,

I don't think we owe anything to our parents. They brought us into existence without our permission. We have to live through a life because of them, and all of the harm that involves.

Karl said...

Re.parental responsibility, here's an excerpt from a Thomas Ligotti interview:

"If I were to father a child, I couldn't look the kid in the eye. I would be responsible for dragging it into this land of decaying flesh. I would have to explain that it was sentenced to suffer so many years of school and a lifetime of toil before it could rest a bit, with any luck, in the latter years of its term on this pretty blue planet. If people are going to reproduce, they should at least set up a system that will provide all material wants of their offspring for the life of the product. Of course, I understand the urge of pedophiles--this term has really been misused--who just can't resist the idea of a cute little baby or someone to carry on the family name or who knows what rationale. I understand that for people to become full-fledged members of their society, they must offer a sacrifice by birth. I also understand that all of this is completely insane."

Anonymous said...

Great post, Karl, and great quote by Ligotti. I think parental responibility should become a much greater part of the AN discussion.

metamorphhh said...

Karl, this is a great Ligotti quote. I was just thinking about this the other day, this idea that our children owe their parents and the greater society so much just for the fact of having been brought into existence, when of course it's the other way around. Children are inflicted with 'duty' from day one, burdens laid upon them one by one until the day they die, and they're expected to feel thankful that, sometimes, there's a little marrow of happiness to be sucked out amidst the pain and drudgery.

metamorphhh said...

Karl-

"All philosophy can do is help us arrive at a serene acceptance of the hopelessness of the human condition".

Is this the sort of acceptance one with good hearing feels as he listens to the guillotine blade slicing through the air above his neck? :)

Anonymous said...

yesterday: Switzerland bus crash kills 28 people, including 22 schoolchildren

They mostly write about the dead children; i'd rather be one of the dead than one of the severe injured.

They write how horrible this is for the parents, but the parents are the guilty ones. They knew that they were forcing beings into physical bodies into a physical world where absolutely everything can happen to them.

metamorphhh said...

Anonymous-

"They write how horrible this is for the parents, but the parents are the guilty ones. They knew that they were forcing beings into physical bodies into a physical world where absolutely everything can happen to them."

A point that cannot be stressed enough. But there's the other side of the argument as well, as alluded to by commenter Rob, that parents are as much victims of their biological limitations and imperatives as are their children. I try to hold to both these truths simultaneously, a hard juggling act at times, to be sure, but in the end each of us is both criminal and victim, predator and prey. We're all locked into a game that no one can win, and the best thing we can do is to not bring new people onto the playing field.

PrisonExistence said...

Hey anon, a belgian here. i read somewhere where the first at scene paramedics where in shock when they heard the children crying in the smashed bus. It's a national mourning day here in Belgium but honestly it should be mourning every day worldwide, only on days like this is the illusion gone, people see the beast and can't forgive it and in the end they will keep procreating more food for it.

Truly horrific and i agree anon, ultimately it's the parent's fault but i think they will stalk you with pitchforks when you say something like that. You are the logical COLD monster, "we loved our children, there is always hope,it was worth it blablabla."

Still their lives are also effected, a russian roulette backlash..losing your children must be the ultimate fuck you from a cold uncaring universe. I just don't understand how they can defend Life after witnessing something so horrible? Anyone for that matter/

metamorphhh said...

PrisonExistence:

"... honestly it should be mourning every day worldwide, only on days like this is the illusion gone, people see the beast and can't forgive it and in the end they will keep procreating more food for it."

You've said it all here. Powerful.

PrisonExistence said...

thank you Jim, i'm glad that you starting posting again:)!, kinda missed the central hub of AN^^

Anonymous said...

Belgium and Switzerland are in shock after a coach crash on Tuesday night in Valais ...

Good that shocks cannot cross borders ...
Man, i'm shocked too, maybe that's why i sound cold. I'm shocked every day (1 child dies every 5 seconds as a result of hunger - 700 every hour - 16 000 each day - 6 million each year ...) - i have to be cold otherwise i could not survive on this planet.

I imagine i was in that bus or if i had a child in that bus ... this is all so fucking horrible. It makes me look like being cold, but it really haunts me.

I should not have written it as above; i hope none of the parents comes over here. Sorry.

Things like that will still happen in the future and i only know that it will not be my fault for i will never ever be a father.

PrisonExistence said...

Anon i can relate, if my nephew was in that bus would i hate my own conduct? if i saw my own post i would probably be pissed. Logic and emotions is a tricky thing, i dunno:(

I combine this http://youtu.be/DVdKQ0I35qo with the knowledge of Antinatalism. It works..sometimes.

Karl said...

"I'm shocked every day (1 child dies every 5 seconds as a result of hunger - 700 every hour - 16 000 each day - 6 million each year ...) - i have to be cold otherwise i could not survive on this planet."

How sadly true. If we could actually experience and live a fraction of the world's total suffering, we'd be driven to suicide immediately. It seems Nature has given us the equivalent of a mental condom around our brain to stop too much pain getting in and thus making voluntarily walking out of this farcical existence an extremely difficult option. What a bitch.

Jim, yes, the "serene" in the quotation was a tad optimistic. I guess reacting with serenity to this world would indicate a certain insensitivity and indifference to the fact that ultimately it's one relentless abbatoir.

And re.the Belgium tragedy, although I've relayed it here before, I'm can't resist recalling again an argument concerning antinatalism I once had with a friend who is a father of two. I asked him if his two-year old daughter was kidnapped, raped and tortured for the next ten years and finally murdered, would he regret having brought her into existence. He said no, on account of the two happy years she had had and the two years happiness SHE HAD GIVEN HIM. When otherwise intelligent people trot that out, I know AN is fighting against all the odds.

Anonymous said...

My sister, not yet 50, was diagnosed with breast cancer about two months ago. She is currently on a chemo/surgery track. My google research tells me about five year survival rates and that chemo may be worse than the disease...Just a personal note that reinforces my antinatalism.

Brigid said...

Anonymous, I am sorry to hear about your sister's illness. It must be a tough time for you both. I hope she is able to access enough accurate information to make an informed decision about where to go from here. We don't know each other, but you are both in my thoughts.

Brigid said...

Having grown up in the UK surrounded by Take That-mania, I was interested and encouraged to come across a 2006 article in which the singer Robbie Williams (member of the pop group Take That) expresses some philanthropic antinatalist sentiments:

"I don't know if I want to be in a relationship. I don't believe that to be fulfilled you have to have kids. What's the point? I can't guarantee my child won't suffer pain - because that kid's going to be in pain at some point in their life. I don't want to see that. It's too much."

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-423417/I-wont-having-little-angels-says-Robbie-Williams.html#ixzz1pDNkXS22

Sadly though, it seems Williams has since changed his mind and has been quoted as saying that he is "desperate" to have children.

I'm not normally a fan of celebrity gossip etc, but found it interesting that a mainstream figure was expressing philanthropic antinatalist sentiments. Not something I recall hearing before. A great shame he appears to have turned his back on the idea.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the kind words and sympathy, Brigid.

Anonymous said...

@Brigid

i was a huge fan of Trent "so much blood for such a tiny little hole" Reznor of Nine Inch Nails for many years. The bigger his drug-problems, the bigger his suicidality, the better i understood him and the more i loved his music.

Many say NIN are dead since the music sucks now; for me he is dead for he is a father now. For days i thought this was a hoax ...

rae said...

with my condition i am denied from almost everything in life. mostly i can just sit on the couch or sleep. being dead is one thing but being alive and dead at the same time, as i am, is being in hell. being in prison is one thing but being imprisoned in your body...thats hell. i've never been brave enough to ask my parents if they feel guilt or remorse over having me....i don't know if they could bear for me to ask. i've not told them that i regret being born. the great thing is that one day this nightmare is guarenteed to end, one day i will die and that will be like a gift from heaven. we just had to put my own elderly dog to sleep and it was awful hard but i am so glad we did it so he cannot suffer anymore.

Susan Sharp aka Sharkbabe said...

I commented at some length on another blog just now, and referenced Jim.

http://my.firedoglake.com/tomengelhardt/2012/03/27/chip-ward-apologies-to-the-next-generation-for-the-turmoil-to-come/

I just found the guy's post silly and vain I guess. Why doesn't anybody ever get to the GD heart of things (except around here)?

Susan Sharp aka Sharkbabe said...

very best to you and your sister, Anon

sincere condolences rae, on the loss of your dog pal .. hope another critter/teacher finds you

Karl said...

Enjoyed your comment on the other site, Sharkbabe. Shame the original poster didn't arrive at all-out antinatalism in his youth, though. Would have spared all those he's so worried about now!

Rae, all my sympathies, buddy. I hope you find some ways to make things as bearable as possible.