A regular spot to share some ideas about what’s good and what’s not on the interwebthingy. But, you know, it’s your life, so feel free to agree, disagree or ignore what follows.
What caught my attention last week
What Is Freedom
Terry Eagleton reviews Julian Baggini’s book Freedom Regained. (He liked it.)
The truth is that without an enormous amount of dependency – on our parents, culture, language, nature and so on – we could never achieve the mildest degree of independence. Freedom is not a question of being released from the forces that shape us, but a matter of what we make of them. The world, however, is now divided down the middle between off-the-wall libertarians who deny the reality of such forces, and full-blooded determinists such as the US convict Stephen Mobley, who 20 years ago tried to avoid execution for the murder of a pizza store manager by claiming that it was the result of a mutation in his monoamine oxidase A gene. It wasn’t the smartest way to appeal to a jury.
The Sad Sad Story of Carrie Buck
Way back in 1984 Stephen Jay Gould wrote about Carrie Buck, the first woman compulsorily sterilised under Virginia’s 1924 law to “prevent the procreation of persons socially inadequate from defective inheritance”.
The law was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1927, with the great liberal justice Oliver Wendell Holmes losing the plot in writing:
We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the state for these lesser sacrifices. . . . It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.
Of course, Miss Buck was not an “imbecile” (whatever that means), and nor was her mother or daughter (the “three generations”). In fact, Miss Buck was raped and made pregnant by someone of her foster family at the age of 17, and then institutionalised as an embarrassment.
The Virginia law was based on a 1922 “model law” written by Henry Laughlin, the head of the self-appointed Eugenics Records Office. In 1936 Mr Laughlin was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Heidelberg in recognition of his influence in establishing the compulsory sterilisation laws of the Third Reich.
Sad, sad and chilling.
Rob Doyle reviews Eric Chaline’s Temple of Perfection: A History of the Gym, which argues that:
the gym functions as a “quasi-religious space” where devotees gather together to “wear special clothes, eat special food and take part in shared rituals that are performed with complete absorption and dedication”.
Perhaps that’s why I always felt such a heretic in the gym in my shabby t-shirt covering a flabby tummy but not quite covering my grumpy demeanour.
A Chicago factory that makes fire extinguishers burned to the ground because there was not enough water for firefighters to battle the blaze.
No injuries were reported.
What I’m Trying To Ignore Next Week
Aussie sledging stories. Let them figure out that the reason to behave well comes from the inside not the outside.