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Subject: Percy-L: Literary, Religious, Scientific, and Philosophical Discussion on Walker Percy

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  • From: janet cantor <janetcantor37 AT>
  • To: "Percy-L: Literary and Philosophical Discussion" <percy-l AT>
  • Subject: Re: [percy-l] A Walker Percy piece written for the NY Times 30 years ago
  • Date: Tue, 8 Feb 2011 08:20:18 -0800 (PST)

Walker Percy announced that he was speaking as novelist, not as a doctor. He gave his opinion as a novelist. He also complained that some of his allies give him as big a pain as his opponents on this issue. You don't give him credit for this admission.
As a free citizen with an opinion he has a right to offer it.
You don't seem to show that you think he has that right.

I appreciated your scientific descriptions and they are interesting to bring to the table.
And I loved your comment about Dracula. That was something I expect the novelist, Percy would have appreciated a lot.

Here's where you go too far, I think. Remember I too am a free citizen with the right to express my opinion.

To talk about the authoritarianism of the anti abortionists without acknowledging that pro choice people have their own authoritarianism is to be either blissfully unaware or to leave out a big fact. I am willing to consider all sides in this complicated issue. I don't have a real side. I agree with some things in both
arguments. But when I listen to pro choicers, they are much more obnoxious and closed minded than most pro lifers I know. And I know personally a lot of leaders in the pro life movement. I find them as people much more affable and open to argument than my pro choice friends, whom I often find utterly unwilling to accept the good intentions of the pro life people.This is a complicated issue and neither side should dismiss the other's humanity or good intentions. Talk about authoritarianism - the pro choicers take the prize in my small experience. Talk about brandishing literalism, the pro choicers again show much more evidence of that than most pro lifers I know. When I argued with no less than William F. Buckley on this very subject about his wrongheadedness in trying to foist his will on mothers whom he, then, would have no responsibility for what they would have to  bear because of his forced decision, he agreed with me and devoted a full half of a future issue to present all sides of this compllicated issue. show me any pro choicer who would be so generous.
Your paragraph on your difficulty because you are autoimmune and don't like when scientific decisions are made by people with no scientific knowledge is apt. But then why would you celebrate government bureaucrats deciding your life and death decisions in a nationalized health care or insurance plan?
 No one is working to keep you from getting health insurance. In fact you should applaud those who are working to try to make insurance more affordable and available. But you are assuming that only if the government provides it is it good. It seems to me you talk out of both sides of your mouth.
You ask what is the point of making something a crime if you can't detect it. Will you also decry Obamacare's plan to make it a crime if a doctor does not do exactly what the government forces him to do, to the tune of $100,000. per instance? Is this what we want from our government?
You ask what Walker Percy is suggesting in this editorial. He is suggesting, as an observer of humanity, that when someone cavalierly destroys a fetus because a baby is an inconvenience, instead of thinking beforehand and behaving more responsibly, that he destroys his humanity and perhaps our society. Percy may be naive, but he is a free citizen and has the right to express his opinion. You can compare it to when Nancy Reagan said, "Just say no." We all know that is naive and impossible. People take drugs. They are self destructive and stupid, but some people just are that way. But how does it hurt our society if a public person tries to set a good example?
Walker Percy showed in the epilogue to The Moviegoer, I believe, that he had something like this on his mind. We should take responsibility for ourselves and for others. We should make choices that do no harm, or less harm. His writing this editorial is consistent with what he thinks. Why are you so threatened by what he is expressing here? What is it you see when you look in the mirror, I wonder?

From: Wade Riddick <wriddick AT>
To: Percy-L: Literary and Philosophical Discussion <percy-l AT>
Sent: Tue, February 8, 2011 12:23:34 AM
Subject: Re: [percy-l] A Walker Percy piece written for the NY Times 30 years ago

>age than most. People get desensitized. Who wants to go about his

>business being reminded of the six million dead in the holocaust, the

It was twelve million in the Holocaust, wasn't it?

<excerpt>There is a wonderful irony here. It is this: The onset of

life is not a dogma of the church but a fact of science. How much more

convenient if we lived in the 13th century, when no one knew anything

about microbiology and arguments about the onset of life were

legitimate. Compared to a modern textbook of embryology, Thomas

Aquinas sounds like an American Civil Liberties Union member.

Nowadays it is not some misguided ecclesiastics who are trying to

suppress an embarrassing scientific fact. It is the secular juridical-

journalistic establishment.


So what do we want to discuss here - the fact that the _Roe v. Wade_
decision is consistent with the early 19th Century Catholic church's
views on abortion - before the church altered them over French
political concerns?

Speaking of addressing modern facts, do we want to discuss the fact
that - for purely natural reasons - conception is a messy
trial-and-error process in which half of all fertilized eggs never make
it to term?  Are we to count this as a 50% infant mortality rate?

I'll tell you why we don't add millions more to the infant mortality
statistics every year.  That would mean there was a "disease," a
potentially addressable, "life-saving" medical concern that would
necessitate research.  We would have to spend money investigating human
fertility in a petri dish.  We couldn't do it with monkeys because
humans follow a particular, peculiar development pattern unique to our

And what's the church's position on in vitro fertilization work of any

What will we do with reckless endangerment and homicide charges?  If a
woman doesn't know she's pregnant and drinks or smokes or exercises too
strenuously and the blastocyst doesn't implant, do we prosecute her?
How will we know it wouldn't have been one of the "natural deaths"
instead of the woman's fault?  Do we install electronic monitors in
every womb?

What's the practical point of making something a crime if you can't
detect it?

How many abortificants will we remove from the store shelves?  Will we
ban birth control pills - which, when taken in the proper combination,
act as a "morning after" pill?  Will we ban herbs like rosemary and
thyme?  (Remember that old Simon & Garfunkle standard, "Scarborough
Faire?"  One of the old Child ballads upon which it's based is
purported to be a folk recipe for abortion using common herbs.)

<excerpt>Please indulge the novelist if he thinks in novelistic terms.

the scene. A Galileo trial in reverse. The Supreme Court is

cross-examining a high school biology teacher and admonishing him

that of course it is only his personal opinion that the fertilized

ovum is an individual human life.


I don't know too many human beings you can slice in two to make two
completely new human beings.  You can do that with blastocysts - but
then that wasn't proven until the 1980s, after Percy wrote the
editorial.  Still, the existence of identical twins points to the
existence of this natural process in the womb.  This means blastocysts
- embryonic stem cells - are qualitatively different than the actual

I don't know what Walker Percy is suggesting in this editorial.  Is he
just venting at changes in the sexual mores of American society wrought
by a post-hippie hangover?  Is he proposing actual changes to the legal
code?  I certainly applaud his denunciation of the infant formula
companies.  The processed food industry has damaged a lot of lives
because it substitutes political interests for rational, scientific
evidence when making business decisions.  (I am, at this very moment,
struggling with a sinus infection that I could treat with
over-the-counter decongestants if only they didn't all contain
allergens like food dyes and sugars I can't tolerate.  These fillers
have nothing to do with efficacy but are added for marketing reasons to
make the pills colorful and palatable to consumers.  The FDA makes
these allergy pills available over-the-counter because they are deemed
"safe."  But in order for me to get the medication properly compounded
in a form that won't make me sick, I have to go to a doctor for a
prescription because, you know, getting allergy pills that don't cause
allergy attacks is really, really dangerous and I, as a consumer, have
to be protected from that.)

I may deplore living in a culture of easy abortion and easy sex when,
in fact, neither is ever easy, but on a practical basis what do you
expect the law to do about it?  Government can't bring about heaven on
Earth.  It's not here to maximize happiness, as the Benthemites desire.
No government can instill virtue in its citizenry.  Government can
make it easier to behave well and harder to behave poorly but one
should never expect perfection in humanity.

It's a bad idea to base public policy on misunderstood science - which
Walker Percy does here - or on an intolerance for sin - which he
doesn't.  We have, in our current era, a prominent combination of both

Authoritarian movements are, by their very natures, intolerant of the
truth and devoid of irony.  Like Bram Stoker's Dracula, their
narcissism is so deep they cannot see their self reflected in any
mirror.  They depend on ideology to triumph over reality.  They
brandish literalism, fundamentalism and constitutionalism to quash the
independent-mindedness necessary for democracy to function.  When
Christians fall into literalism, like all literalists they become
functionally illiterate.  The general issues of justice and fairness in
society slip as politicians focus instead on empty symbols of perceived
civic virtue.

And that's the real lesson, I think, here.  Be careful who you get into
bed with.

These same people who profess such a love for human life have worked so
diligently to keep me from getting health insurance.  These are the
same individuals who advocate torture for terror suspects - despite
ample evidence of its ineffectiveness.

Disliking, even denouncing, abortion may be appealing for Christians,
but drawing on the law to prohibit it during an ambiguous period of
human development is impractical.  I don't know if Percy would have
ever turned his own tools of irony detection on abortion but I learned
from his writings, I follow the science and I keep an eye out for such

Last year, a Republican Federal District Court appointee ruled that
federal financing of embryonic stem cell research violated the ban on
using federal money for abortion.  For those interested, I've appended
one of the comments I posted on the web at the time that decision came
out.  It points to ample ironies in the judge's flawed reasoning.

    You've had some comments on the legal nature of the judge's decision
equating embryonic stem cell research with "embryo destruction."  I'd
like to comment on the science.  Judicial findings of fact are supposed
to be rooted in science but this entire area has been so highly
politicized, basic biological reality has become unrecognizable - but
then, that's the point.

    The judge basically declared that maintaining an embryonic stem cell
line - i.e., *not* killing it - is tantamount to abortion under federal
law.  This simply isn't the case.  In fact, as a consequence of the
ruling many researchers who depend upon federal funding may well stop
maintaining these lines and let them die.  This insanity stems from an
ironic misapprehension of fact.

    When an egg is fertilized, it begins dividing into a ball of
undifferentiated embryonic stem cells called a blastocyst.  These cells
are called undifferentiated because they have the capacity to turn into
every tissue type in the body.  After a few divisions, these cells lose
their embryonic stemness and begin to differentiate to form the various
tissues of the embryo.

    Embryonic stem cells come from undifferentiated blastocysts and NOT
embryos.  Embryonic stem cells are the cells that create embryos and
then disappear.  There aren't actually any embryonic stem cells left in
an embryo worth harvesting.  The judge's reasoning is like saying hairs
are the same thing as hair follicles.  They aren't, and no amount of
political ideology can make it so.  Hair follicles may create hairs but
they aren't actually the hair itself.

    If the judge understood this, he would know how patently absurd it is
to refer to the creation of embryonic stem cell lines as "embryo
destruction."  Culturing a blastocyst like this does just the opposite.
Theoretically one fertilized egg can be coaxed into a line of a
million cells which can then be turned into a million babies.  You can
stick a blastocyst on a slide and chop it up with a razor and get
twins, triplets-however many clones you would like.  We've been doing
this sort of cloning with cattle for almost three decades now.  On the
other hand, if you slice up an actual embryo, it dies.  It's
differentiated tissue; E.S.C.'s are not.  That's why they are so
valuable.  They can turn into so many different tissues.  If the cell
lines involved actual embryos - as the judge alleges - their special
qualities of stemness would be lost.

    There does not appear to be anyone left in science journalism either
able to understand or courageous enough to state these basic facts.

    It's outrageous the way in which the popular press has been coopted by
these uneducated radicals who deny basic elements of cosmology,
evolution and climatology so they can live in their own little corner
of darkness.  Scripture tells us to light a candle instead of cursing
the darkness.  Instead the press seems as delighted about banging our
shins in the dark as the rest of the willfully ignorant.

    As someone who is severely autoimmune, I really resent the fact that
science policy is being determined by guys who flunked high school
biology while all the biotech and I.T. jobs flee to China and India.  I
also resent the fact that members of the Supreme Court have decided
major cases about pager and cell phone technology while needing an
embarrassingly rudimentary primer on electronics in open court.

    Consider the following policy absurdities that come from equating
fertilized eggs with embryos.

    Half of all fertilized eggs don't make it to term for natural reasons.
We don't understand why.  That's just the messy way nature designed
the process.  That would equate to more than three million "embryos"
lost every year in America.  Has the right wing ever understood enough
science to have the infant mortality rates adjusted to reflect this
loss of "life?"  Why does the Catholic Church claim it protects
fertilized eggs but then blocks research into basic fertility that
might prevent this implantation failure?

    I take a blastocyst, cut it in half, put half in the mother and use
the other half to create an embryonic stem cell line/tissue bank for
the baby.  The baby gets born and there's a stem cell line.  Where's
the dead embryo?

    I take a hair out of my arm, take the stem cells out of the fleshy
bulb at the end, add the right chemicals to make them revert to an
earlier embryonic stem cell state - and, voila, suddenly I got pregnant
and gave myself an abortion.  (This might turn out to be quite easy.
To turn hair follicle stem cells into pluripotent stem cells, you just
have to activate the genes Oct4 and KLF4 <<>.)

    In vanished twin syndrome, one blastocyst absorbs another in the womb
giving rise to a hybrid individual with two distinctly different sets
of genes (technical term: chimera).  Do you plan on declaring an
accidental homicide and charging the survivor?

    When a blastocyst splits to make identical twins or triplets, will
these individuals be considered a single person under the law?  I don't
know of any people you can hack in two to make clones - but you can do
it with blastocysts *because they aren't embryos yet*.

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