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Allegiant: A Critique

  • Posted on September 19, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Veronica Roth wrote Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant. I watched the movie and then got the books and I blew through the first two, becoming far more immersed in the stories than I should have been considering that I had a business to run and course work to do, not to mention a family to nurture.

Then, very early in Allegiant, what I read felt like a punch in the gut. If you want to read the book and haven’t yet and don’t want any spoilers, then stop reading; if, however, you also have adverse reactions to “triggers,” then you might want to consider reading anyway. I promise I won’t give away the ending.

There comes a point when the main characters learn what “this” has all been about:

A few centuries ago, the government of this country became interested in enforcing certain desirable behaviors in its citizens. There had been studies that indicated that violent tendencies could be partially traced to a person’s genes—a gene called “the murder gene” was the first of these, but there were quite a few more, genetic predispositions toward cowardice, dishonesty, low intelligence—all the qualities, in other words, that ultimately contribute to a broken society.

…despite the peace and prosperity that had reigned in this country for nearly a century, it seemed advantageous to our ancestors to reduce the risk of these undesirable qualities showing up in our population by correcting them. In other words, by editing humanity.

Allegiant by Veronica Roth, pg. 121- 122, emphasis added

I literally became sick to my stomach when I read that. The feeling persisted until the end of the book. And I was disappointed, because nobody in the book realized that the problems they were facing were an inevitable product of the original decision to mess around with humanity’s genes.

See, my problem with all of this, with the whole big mess, is that NONE of the characters react to what has been done in a way that it deserves. They react to what these scientists are doing in their own present in a variety of ways, which I sympathize with because these behaviors also deserve a strong reaction. The story’s present is the primary concern, after all. I understand all that and think Roth does a fairly good job presenting the variety of reactions.

But at no point does anyone even stop to wonder if they had the right to do what they did or whether the proposed goal is worthy or good or justified. We’re talking about eugenics! And, despite the disastrous consequences, nobody steps up to say, “You know, maybe you shouldn’t have been messing with humanity’s genetics in the first place and should stop messing with them now for that reason, if for no other.”

I have to wonder if it occurred to Roth. Did she realize that she was writing about eugenics, the same pseudo-science that the Nazis used to “excuse” the Holocaust? Did she realize that there would be a revolt before the country engaged in any mass eugenics project? Did she know what she was talking about at all?

A Look Forward

  • Posted on July 18, 2014 at 10:00 AM

As the boys grow older, there are some things that are hard to ignore. Their bodies are maturing and we need to help them understand that. They’re heading for major life transitions and we need to develop a plan for what their lives will look like after school. There are choices to make, services to acquire, and things to set in motion.

These things are difficult in the sense that they consume time and energy. They need to be planned and those plans need to be led, not by Mark or me, but by our children who will be living those plans—for better or worse. These things are easy in the sense that there are choices, paths, and opportunities. We can do something about these things.

Sometimes thoughts sneak up on me that I did not expect. Earlier this week, as I was talking with our friend about her young children, it occurred to me that we might someday have a similar discussion about our children’s children. If scientists are to be believed, the human race—like every other species on earth—has a natural impetus to reproduce. The mating process encourages survival of the fittest. If all that is true, then there seems to be a lot of unanswered questions, like how “fitness” is decided and why social structures perpetuate qualities that do not seem to be in the best interest of the species.

Personally, I believe man-made science seeks to explain what God already understands, because God created a system that truly works. I know, despite our best efforts, we’ll never completely understand how the universe works, because we have finite minds and a system like the universe works on levels far beyond what we can grasp. As an example, what are the full implications of light that can act as both a particle and a wave? Why must light be both a particle and a wave to serve its purpose?

Whether or not my children have children of their own isn’t going to be determined by science or who is fittest, but by the choices they make and what God wills for them. That’s what I believe. Yet I think there’s something to that natural impetus. I’m too young for grandchildren, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want my children to be able to have children of their own. I think that should be between them and whoever they might conceive the child with. It’s not up to me, nor should it be. It’s not up to the government, nor should it be. It’s not up to society or any self-entitled group or person.

Unfortunately, human society has produced numerous people and groups that believe they should have the power to make those kinds of decisions. This results in dramatic, world-changing affairs like the Holocaust and the other genocides that have been committed in the name of various forms of purity—as if any kind of purity could be acquired by drenching the earth in human blood. This also results in less dramatic, but equally evil affairs like forced sterilization and denial of reproductive rights.

I can influence many things about my children’s future. I can fight with every ounce of my being that eugenics does not prevail. Yet I know that this silent, hidden enemy is alive and well and plays a very current, if less dramatic role, in contemporary society. I don’t want to look into the future and see this possibility, but denial doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Lingering Eugenics

  • Posted on June 21, 2011 at 2:17 AM

Often, when I try to inform people about our unsavory history—particularly the eugenics programs practiced here in the United States of America and their similarity to those practiced by Nazi Germany—I’m met with skepticism. I’m told it couldn’t happen here.

But it did.

In this news article, Renee Elder and Tom Breen report on North Carolina’s efforts to “make amends to thousands of people who cannot have children because of eugenics-inspired theories about social improvement.”

The leading paragraph states: “Next week, victims and their relatives will tell their stories to a state task force considering compensation to victims of sterilizations that continued into 1974.”

Not only did I want to post this to show those who might doubt that there is factual evidence—publicly recognized, even if not well known—that proves that the United States did practice eugenics and did inflict harm on real people in their pursuit of some kind of social ideal, I also wanted to highlight the lingering effects of this ideology.

Particularly, there are some choice quotes from Paul Lombardo, a professor at Georgia State University's College of Law, which highlights how these programs are still being justified.

He starts off saying, “The argument was, anybody who generates social costs shouldn’t be allowed to have children.”

Of course, this statement ignores the fact that we all generate social costs. The schools we attend, the roads we use, the courts we use to pursue justice or to change our legal status—these services all come with social costs. The assumption, therefore, is that some of us generate social costs and contribute to paying those costs by paying taxes, whereas others don’t. And this makes the lives of some more valuable than those of others. Those who fail to generate sufficient income for the government to fund the services they use are subject to penalties. One of the penalties the government used to inflict on people was sterilization.

Further along in the article, Lombardo says, “This wasn’t just a bunch of evil people running around. Many of these people really wanted to alleviate suffering.”

I can’t be the only one to see the arrogance in this statement. We “alleviate suffering” by denying the reproductive rights of individuals whom we’ve already devalued? How does this “alleviate suffering?” How does the government assuming the power to control reproduction “alleviate suffering?”

Besides which, evil is not merely a factor of our intentions—as the cliché goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions—but a product of what we do. When we do evil things and justify these things to ourselves by devaluing those we do these things to—well, that’s evil. It just is.

But, of course, Lombardo is not alone in his willingness to continue justifying these abhorrent practices. Mary Kilburn, a retired psychologist who worked for the North Carolina’s Social Services Department from 1969 to 1980, said she and her co-workers believed “we were doing a really helpful thing.” She doesn’t seem to understand that her belief doesn’t make it so. According to this article, “She said it has been a shock to see their work vilified because so many families welcomed the procedure at the time.”

Families are often convinced by doctors they trust to do things they shouldn’t. We can’t all be experts on everything that could be medically significant in our lives. We have to rely on those who are experts for sound advice. But sometimes those people are wrong. Sometimes the doctors are wrong, sometimes the parents are wrong, and sometimes the state is wrong.

“I looked at it not as something being done to them, but something being done for them,” Kilburn said.

And that’s how we justify the evil we do. We turn people into “them,” and the “us” knows what’s good for “them,” so we do it to “them” whether they want it or not. This, unfortunately, has not changed.

Testing: Then and Now

  • Posted on February 28, 2011 at 10:30 AM

A recent article by Mike Stobbe “uncovers” the little known history of human experimentation in the United States.

Shocking as it may seem, U.S. government doctors once thought it was fine to experiment on disabled people and prison inmates.

Ethics is somewhat progressive.  What once seemed acceptable now seems abominable.  Yet, sometimes I have to wonder how some acts were ever justified.  Then again, there are throwbacks who still can justify their behavior, though it’s clearly unethical by contemporary standards.  Now, we apologize for past mistakes:

Much of this horrific history is 40 to 80 years old, but it is the backdrop for a meeting in Washington this week by a presidential bioethics commission. The meeting was triggered by the government’s apology last fall for federal doctors infecting prisoners and mental patients in Guatemala with syphilis 65 years ago.

U.S. officials also acknowledged there had been dozens of similar experiments in the United States -- studies that often involved making healthy people sick.

This ugly history of unethical human experimentation is not news to me.  American doctors conducted many studies using eugenically defined “undesirables”—convicts, disabled people, and the mentally ill—to test their scientific theories.  The AP article cited some horrific examples, which I’ll let you check out at your leisure.

Strikingly, though it was never considered particularly outrageous, once it was considered eccentric:

Prisoners have long been victimized for the sake of science. In 1915, the U.S. government’s Dr. Joseph Goldberger - today remembered as a public health hero - recruited Mississippi inmates to go on special rations to prove his theory that the painful illness pellagra was caused by a dietary deficiency. (The men were offered pardons for their participation.)

But studies using prisoners were uncommon in the first few decades of the 20th century, and usually performed by researchers considered eccentric even by the standards of the day. One was Dr. L.L. Stanley, resident physician at San Quentin prison in California, who around 1920 attempted to treat older, “devitalized men” by implanting in them testicles from livestock and from recently executed convicts.

Newspapers wrote about Stanley’s experiments, but the lack of outrage is striking.

I suspect eugenics theories made it more socially acceptable here, just as it did in Germany.  However, there’s a chance that it is NOT over—perhaps these unethical activities have simply been moved off shore to target different vulnerable populations:

Last year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ inspector general reported that between 40 and 65 percent of clinical studies of federally regulated medical products were done in other countries in 2008, and that proportion probably has grown. The report also noted that U.S. regulators inspected fewer than 1 percent of foreign clinical trial sites.

Monitoring research is complicated, and rules that are too rigid could slow new drug development. But it’s often hard to get information on international trials, sometimes because of missing records and a paucity of audits, said Dr. Kevin Schulman, a Duke University professor of medicine who has written on the ethics of international studies.

So now President Obama has ordered an investigation.  Has research ethics really progressed?  Or is it just that society has progressed enough to express the outrage that’s due?

Offending Autism Speaks

  • Posted on October 26, 2010 at 2:16 AM

Okay, so I didn’t intend to take a break from my bullying series until I’d finished with it.  But, I think this is worth it.

For those who don’t know, I am a professional writer—a professional writer at the beginning of my career, but a professional writer nonetheless.  I write full-time.  I make money.  I have been professionally published.  I’m writing two novels and a non-fiction book, along with many other shorter projects.  I market my skills to local businesses (and sometimes not-so-local businesses) and I get paid well for my work.

My point is that I have many interests.  One of the interests I’m resurrecting, after years of studying business, is my fiction.  I’ve neglected my fiction sorely over the last decade of child-bearing, autism-diagnosing, and degree-getting.  Now it’s time for that passion to be re-born.

While I make some effort to keep my variety of interests separate, there is some overlap.  The main character of one of my novels is rather Aspie-ish.  (Though, I’m not going to call her an Aspie—if, for no other reason, then because she’s a fairy.)  My other novel, which is being co-written by a friend of mine, has strong “outsider” themes.  My non-fiction book melds my interests in autism and business and confronts one point where those interests overlap.

Then, there are other, less pleasant, intersections.

I receive many newsletters for writers, including Writing World.  I scan the articles and choose which ones I’ll read in detail.  One I chose to read in detail was about dark fiction markets, written by C. M. Saunders.  This article recommended The Dark Fiction Spotlight as a token-paying market that publishes dark fiction.  So, I checked it out.  As I was scanning pages on the website I found a sub-tab called “Anthology for Autism.” 

Hmm, I thought.  Now, that could be cool!  I have an idea of for a short story that is both dark, science fiction and involving an autistic main character.  The story isn’t written; it’s one of many projects that has been postponed due to time-constraints.  But, I figured if there’s actually a market for it…

So, I started reading about this anthology, and it starts with:

About Autism Speaks:

Autism Speaks was founded in February 2005 by Bob and Suzanne Wright, grandparents of a child with autism. Since then, Autism Speaks has grown into the nation’s largest autism science and advocacy organization, dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. We are proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish and look forward to continued successes in the years ahead.

Oh, dear.  It didn’t look quite so promising any more.  But, I kept reading.  Maybe they’re open-minded.  But, then…

I repeat:

Anything that will offend Autism Speaks will offend me and will not be considered.

Honestly, my story would definitely offend Autism Speaks.  And, frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I remember trying to interview someone at Autism Speaks once.  It didn’t go well.  It wasn’t even an advocacy piece, but that didn’t matter.  Even a piece designed to inform parents of their information options offended the Autism Speaks representative I spoke with.  They were only willing to participate if they had full control over what I wrote, which is an ethical no-no in the journalism world.

So, I took a break from my bullying series to warn my fellow speculative fiction writers and autism advocates that The Dark Fiction Spotlight or Lady Luck Publishing might not be publishers you want to patronize or write for.  As much as I hate to write off potential markets, I won’t be pursuing any opportunities with them.

* * *

For those who read this blog and don’t already know, this last part provides reasons why such an affiliation with Autism Speaks requires me to boycott this company and it’s zines.

In a sense, all of this is about bullying. 

Autism Speaks claims they exist to advocate for families with autism, but only 4% of the donations goes to those families.  They fund research, and one of their major projects seeks a way to diagnose autism in utero, which is a form of eugenics.

That is why I disagree with Autism Speaks’ agenda.  But that, in and of itself, does not warrant boycotting (though it is why I would not donate to their organization).

Autism Speaks goes even further than this.  Autism Speaks is an organization that intentionally spreads fear and despair.  They use advertisements that amount to hate speech against autistics.  They encourage parents to fantasize on camera about killing their autistic children, and use this as a reason why autistics should be eliminated from society.

They use “Autism Speaks” as their name to claim that they speak for autistics; they don’t.  Autistics can and do speak for themselves, like these protesters.  On the site for the anthology, there’s this branding slogan: “Autism Speaks. It’s time to listen.”  Autistics, in return, says: “Autism Speaks needs to listen.”  Instead, Autism Speaks actively tries to silence those not in agreement with their eugenics agenda.

If this wasn’t bad enough, they engage in unethical business practices.  They mislead donors as they raise funds for their research.  They try to control media elements, as they did when I tried to interview one of their representatives.  And they bully their way through politics and the social landscape.  Their message is clear:  If you don’t feel bad (or even homicidal) about having an autistic child, then there’s something wrong with you, because autism has stolen your child’s soul.  (Yes, the soul-stealing is paraphrased, but with their very words one of their representatives has used.)

As an organization, Autism Speaks is a bully—a well-funded, politically powerful bully that believes that eugenics is the solution to autism.  And that offends me.  They use their size and their wealth to attempt to stomp out disagreement.

And they create anthologies where one point of view is all that can be expressed, because they don’t want their audience to become aware of differing points of view.

That offends me.  Autism Speaks offends me.  As a business person who believes in ethical business practices and as a parent of three children with diagnoses of autism, Autism Speaks offends me.  And I cannot write honestly and not offend them in turn.

I wouldn’t change that even if I could.