The Woman Herself (2015Oct10)


Saturday, October 10, 2015                                              8:36 AM

I’ve never been good at music—I don’t have rhythm—I can’t keep a beat—not the way a musician can. That’s why I always say I play the piano—I never ‘perform’. Performances are for people who are sharing their talent—I play piano for my own satisfaction, but I know that I’m not good enough to entertain an audience. Don’t get me wrong—I would love to be a musician—but I was born with a gift for drawing—and people are rarely blessed with multiple talents (even if they prefer music to art).

Nowadays, the rule of thumb is: Rhythm is everything—if you can’t dance to it, it ain’t gonna fly. Exceptions include extended pauses, rubato, and caesurae—these are times when music sacrifices rhythm for theatricality, for dramatic or emotional effect. Nonetheless, there is no music without rhythm—I can’t disagree—but we weren’t always so enlightened. In early medieval times, plainchant was the music of the church—it was ponderously slow and entirely monophonic. Plainchant, even Gregorian chant, was meant to be solemn and reverent—it was a tool of the service, not an entertainment. If you wanted entertaining music, you had to go to a tavern, a wedding party, or a country dance—where one could hear jigs, hornpipes, and reels—the folk music that sprang from work songs, lullabies, and marching tunes.

With the advent of polyphony, especially counter-point, church music began to acquire texture, depth—and tempo. People loved it, but conservative types put it down as ‘rough’ music—that’s what Baroque means—Rough. When Vivaldi toured the continent with his Four Seasons, performed by his all-girl orchestra (he was a music teacher at a home for daughters of unwed mothers) it combined youth with rough music—kind of like medieval rock-and-roll—and they caused a sensation everywhere. People went mad for the new music. The young Bach, as a boy, was fascinated with Vivaldi’s music—and Bach was lucky not to have been born decades earlier, when his style of sacred compositions would have been considered sacrilegious.

The disapproving oldsters that deemed early baroque music ‘rough’ were concerned with maintaining the dignity of the church service—good music was not their lookout. But baroque music was good—it was downright irresistible—and we saw a split between those who wanted music confined to the reverence of plainchant and those who liked to listen to good music. Bach split the difference, believing that his compositions were offerings to God—prayers, if you will. This was in keeping with German Protestant views, moving away from merely worshipping God on their knees—and towards glorifying God with their good works.

Detractors of early baroque had the same success as detractors of early Elvis or early Beatles—history tells us that good music always wins the argument. Those old naysayers weren’t speaking out of concern for the music, they were simply trying to enforce a dogmatic conservatism that saw change as something to be feared—something wrong, even evil.

I see similar blindness in the behavior of so-called Pro-Life activists. Abortion used to be illegal because it was birth control—nobody in the pre-modern era gave a damn about fetuses—or new-born babies, or children in general for that matter. In the times before modern medicine, miscarriages and infant mortality were all too common—mothers of a large brood were lucky to see half their children survive to adulthood. Birth control was forbidden by religious dogma—and still is, for Catholics and many others—whether it took the form of abortion, a condom, or even the unreliable ‘rhythm method’.

The modern concern over ‘the rights of the unborn’ is a modern adaption—conservatives lost the fight over the legality of birth control in general, but they weren’t going to give up on abortion without a fight. Hence Pro-Lifers have a new dogma to push back against the struggle for women’s right to control their reproductive systems.

Let me add here that even progressives like myself don’t approve of late-term abortions—if a woman knows she’s pregnant, and doesn’t want to be—fine—but if she can’t make up her mind after a month or two—well, that’s just irresponsible. In the progress from fertilized egg, to fetus, to infant, it’s hard to say where the line is, since premature births are not uncommon—so putting it off will bring one to a time when it’s hard to say whether you’re performing an abortion or infanticide. Medical professionals use the term ‘viable’ to divide a fetus from a preemie—but in terms of conscience, it’s best not to let it even reach that question.

That question aside, abortions don’t appear to have any significant difference from the countless manipulations of nature that modern medical oversight of our lives entails. Doesn’t a vasectomy, or a tubal ligation, prevent numerous potential lives? Don’t incubators and other advances save more wanted babies than are lost to unwanted fertilized eggs and early fetuses of abortion patients? Pro-Lifers can be very insistent in their protests but they are very capricious in the reasoning behind it. Their furious insistence that a woman complete any and every pregnancy is never combined with an offer to foster the unwanted children.

Plus there’s the very important point that no woman is eager to have an abortion—they simply want to avoid becoming a mother when they are not prepared to do it properly. How nice it would be if anti-feminists were mobilized against neglectful parenting, instead of attacking those who see it coming and try to avoid it.

Conservatives insist that an abortion is the same as killing a baby—very picturesque, very dramatic—but hypocritically simplistic. Their own preachers will tell them that the body is nothing—the soul is everything. Being an atheist, I prefer the term conscience, or consciousness, but it’s all the same thing in different terms. The body is just equipment—the mind is the person. You can’t ‘murder’ something that lacks awareness—you can’t be guilty for ending something that is only potential, not yet extant.

Of course, arguments can be made on both sides, ad infinitum. Since it is such a fine point, I believe the question should be decided by the person most intimately involved—the woman herself. If anyone else has an opinion, let them back it up with an offer of involvement in the raising of the child, or mind their own damn business.

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