Donald DeMarco, Commentary:
Herbert Marshall McLuhan (July 21, 1911-Dec. 31, 1980), as most Canadians may know, was a cornerstone to the study of the media. He was, in many ways, ahead of his field. Therefore, he was both widely misunderstood and widely praised.
He was an enigma. He was dubbed the “guru of the electric age” and yet his basic philosophical vision was rooted in a 13th century thinker, Saint Thomas Aquinas. He captured the imagination of students at that bastion of liberalism, the University of California at Berkeley and yet was a devout Roman Catholic.
It was not a surprise to anyone who knew him personally or understood his thought, however, that he was a staunch defender of the right-to-life of the unborn. In a personal communication dated, August, 1972, one year before the infamous Roe v. Wade decision, he outlined his thought concerning abortion. “(The) arguments in favor of abortion,” he wrote, “apply with equal validity to the status of all other living beings. The same assumptions of more or less convenience, or inconvenience, must apply to the decisions about continuing or suppressing the existence of any members or groups of all human populations or non-human population.”
McLuhan understood only too well that abortion could not be static. It had a life of its own and would inevitably spread to infect other areas. If inconvenience is a justification for killing, there are many people living outside the womb who are equally inconvenient.
McLuhan’s most notable aphorism is “the medium is the message.” By that he meant that the medium through which messages are transmitted have a powerful, though largely unrecognized, effect on our understanding of things. But most people are asleep to the effect the media has on us. As McLuhan goes on to say, “When the mechanization of death occurs on a vast scale, the minds of civilized people are numbed. Decent and well-meaning people (are) acting as if in corporate somnambulism . . . One precedent begets another by echo of remorseless logic and quantified statistical reasoning.”
Culture itself serves as an all-embracing medium. People tend to conform to culture rather than to reality. A reasonable statement may be rejected simply because it does not square with cultural values. This unhappy situation creates a rift between pro-life and pro-abortion people. It also creates a division within the self, between one’s own reality as a human being and the artificial values he lives by. McLuhan points out the “many people are unable to perceive why they feel so unhappy about abortions while at the same time thinking that it is a plausible and enlightened program for the relief of man’s congested estate.”
McLuhan makes a valuable contribution to society by explaining that people can make choices contrary to their own good because they are mesmerized by culture which acts as an all-embracing medium. In many cases, abortion is the medium, but death is the message.