Towards the end of 2012, several developments took place involving women I am acquainted with or know of because they are in the public domain.
On Dec 6, 2012, Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge announced that the Duchess was pregnant. This was not all the good news that day. The BBC also announced that “Her first child will be third in line to the throne, and will become monarch, whether a boy or a girl.”
The other developments involved women within my small circle of acquaintances. Several had also recently pronounced themselves pregnant. What I found striking is that all of these pregnancies were characterized as achievements by the women – presumably with the help of significant others, although not much was made of this.
The idea that something had been accomplished was not restricted to just these women. It was also held by those receiving the good news. Congratulations were immediate and profuse – in much the way persons are congratulated when finishing a degree or winning a competition.
However there is surely an important difference. Pregnant women become aware of their achievement by observing the calendar or performing some sort of test. As far as I am aware, people winning competitions or completing university degrees do not urinate on litmus paper to ascertain whether they are in the running, much less to discover how things turned out.
Even so, this distinction would probably have not have occurred to me had the BBC not reminded us that the royal couple's child could eventually ascend to the British throne.
Now there's a difference that matters! What this means is that pregnancies among commoners result in infants born into a world infested with Kings, Queens and the multifaceted hubris of the wealthy and powerful. In Canada we have Lord Conrad Black of Crossharbour; Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Bev Oda, the Mayor of the Municipality of Castor Oil …. In North Korea, only Kim-Jong un makes the list.
This is worth thinking about. Pregnancies among the high and mighty may be cause for celebration, but the more reason they have to rejoice, the less pregnancies among the chattering classes warrant congratulations. There is onlyso much wealth and power. The portion presently going to Prince William, the Duchess of Cambridge and their peers is large indeed; so large that only a few crumbs remain for the progeny of the proudly pregnant women I recently became aware of.
So if not congratulations, what would an appropriate response look like? I would have enjoyed a sense of determination, a steely glint in the eyes of these expectant mothers, and in those wishing them well. Any resolve to take no more abuse from important people – if not for their own sake, then on behalf of the soon-to-be-born – would have been excellent.
None of this is happening. Instead we have congratulations, cards, visits, events referred to as baby showers – although baby trickles would be more apropos.
Not to worry, I have a solution in mind. What I propose is not for the faint of heart however! We must (1) cut through congratulatory claptrap and (2) recognize that there is no justification for a world rife with institutionalized advantages and disadvantages.
We must also recognize that a long history of facile congratulatory talk is an important reason most human beings find themselves in dire straits. Indifference to what is going on outside of small circles of family and friends is why Prince William, the Duchess of Cambridge, Lord Black … are able to congratulate themselves on how well their lives are going.
In other words, the idea that pregnancy warrants congratulations is a dangerous and premature conceit. Mothers-to-be can be neither blamed nor praised because pregnancies are not conscious achievements. You might object that consciousness was probably involved in some of the events surrounding conception. This is not the issue. Conceptions occur outside of consciousness. Cell division, the implanting of the zygote in the uterus … certainly occur outside of consciousness.
This non consciousness means bringing children into a world corrupted by meritocracies is indefensible. The reason is that meritocracies' justification – if any is possible – must must involve the fairness of conscious events sorting populations into winners and losers. Familiar meritocracies include the royalty, the caste system, multinationals, globalization, free trade agreements .... These institutions are morally dubious in the context of adult human beings. In the context of pregnancies, they are unmistakeably and irretrievably corrupt. They place unconscious, innocent newborns in hierarchical relationships – a few rich and powerful, the rest destitute and wretched.
This is the toxic state of affairs we have been accepting with our facile congratulations – and never more odiously than when newly pregnant women are preening on the stage.
Still not convinced? I hoped it would not come to this, but you have forced my hand.
A mother-to-be in the first or second month of her experience will have to perform some sort of diagnosis to ascertain whether it is really true. A comparable investigation would have to be performed upon an individual in the early stages of constipation.
Would a positive result in the second instance be an occasion for congratulations? Of course not! The idea is absurd. But what differences can be drawn between these proceedings? Both occur outside of consciousness. Both proceed at their own pace and deliver themselves when ready – one by automatically-occurring uterine contractions, one by peristalsis.
How can we justify placing either of these results in a higher place than the other? How can we countenance a world where such placements occur under the guise of business as usual?
Moreover, if our track record is any indication, we promote the wrong issue more often than not.
Fixing this confusion, not congratulating one another about how well our lives are going, is how we should be responding to the news I have been hearing.