St. Thomas Aquinas once remarked that it was a great benefit in his research to restrict his studies to two sources that could not lie – Scripture and nature. The secular world, having doubted the authority of Scripture, is now politicizing nature so that it, too, is no longer a reliable voice of truth. Two examples amply illustrated the point.
The New York Times carried the story of Jean Morgan of Hauppauge, Long Island, who was rescued from the trunk of her car where two thugs had locked her in six hours earlier. She was five months pregnant at the time. The Times quoted her as saying, “Thank God I’m alive and my baby is healthy.” On the same morning, the anchor on New York One, a local news show, ended her report of the incident by saying, “Both mother and baby are well.” At that moment a look of consternation swept across her face, followed by this correction: “I mean the fetus, of course.”
The term “baby” was the mother’s word and that is the ordinary way in which mothers refer to the child they are expecting. But if Morgan was not expecting a baby, could she still claim title to being a “mother”? If the news anchor had more time to think about it, might she have referred to “both woman and fetus”? And yet, can the somewhat dehumanized “fetus” really be “healthy” and doing “well”? Perhaps she should have capped her report by saying, “The woman is doing well and the fetus is still there.” To refer to a “healthy baby” is politically taboo.
“Humankind can endure very little reality,” T. S. Eliot said. Political correctness is a socially conditioned and culturally acceptable shield against too much reality. The nervous anchor, no doubt, was thinking more about keeping her job in a world that trades in unreality than in reporting the story realistically.
Pro-abortionists, if they were consistent with their ideology, could have argued that Morgan, herself, was not fully human since she could not survive for very long as an inhabitant of the trunk of an automobile (an ersatz womb). She had lost her autonomy as an independent person and her continued survival depended entirely on others.
The second example shows how the process of politicization can take a different direction. It can move just as easily from upgrading the non-human as it does from downgrading the human. Political correctness has unlimited plasticity.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a group that one must not take lightly, has launched a marketing campaign to re-name fish as “sea kittens.” By making this name change, the organization hopes to discourage fishing as well as the human consumption of these denizens of the sea. According to “sea kitten” campaign co-ordinator Ashley Byrne, “A lot of people don’t realize that fish are capable of feeling fear and pain, that they develop relationships with each other and even show affection by gently rubbing against one another.” It is not part of the campaign to point out that the biggest fish eaters in the world are themselves fish. If PETA could somehow put a halt to big fish eating little fish, it would deprive the world of far more fish than are lost through any human activity. But science must sometimes take a backseat to politics.
Over the years, Walt Disney studios have endowed fish with humanlike qualities, from the ultra-feminine “Cleo” in Pinocchio to the ultra-cute “Nemo” in Finding Nemo. But most people understand that the Disney creations are far from being biologically precise. PETA is trying to convince the world that cartoons are more real than nature. It may have a hard time, however, selling the idea of “sea kittens” to Maritimers. PETA enthusiasts may wonder why bathers in Jaws I and Jaws II were so terrified of sea kittens. Will a certain California hockey team comply with PETA dictates and change its name from the Sharks to the San Jose Sea Kittens?
PETA, nonetheless, is confident that it can get young people to refrain from eating fish. “Knowing that fish sticks (even those that the kindly ‘Mrs. Paul’ prepares) are really made of tortured sea kittens,” Byrne explains, “makes most kids want to lose their lunch.”
Her use of the word “really” is interesting, as well as her presumed understanding of “most kids.” Will she advise, “Let them eat kelp!” Or will she come to her senses and notice that there is something “fishy” about her entire campaign?
St. Thomas had the luxury of being able to restrict his studies, for the most part, to Scripture and nature. In today’s world, where 85 per cent of information is transmitted through a highly politicized and, therefore, highly unreliable media, what is urgently needed is the cultivated ability to distinguish between what is real and what is nonsense. Rather than parroting the new PETA slogan, “Save the sea kittens,” we should be chanting, “Save our sanity.”
The words of Confucius are worth reiterating: “If language is incorrect, then what is said is not meant. If what is said is not meant, then what ought to be done remains undone.”
Donald DeMarco is a professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University and adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary.