Strangers Drowning by Larissa MacFarquhar has received notable reviews. I was planning to read it carefully, but alas another person has it on reserve at the library so I decided to give it a fast look and decide if I wanted to put my own second reserve on it.
The subtitle : Grappling with Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help is what really caught my attention. Many of the things that most make me horrified and crazy are things that, upon examination, refuse to fit my ideals. I cannot even read of the death of a cat in a book without weeping and feeling the loss for days, I love my own cat(s) so much. (Still not really accepting one of my two died last year after I did everything I could to save her.)
So I was curious about this book’s approach and as it happens, it is too full of sorrowful circumstances that in my ideal world should not be but that are actually sometimes realistic facts and the facts require inevitable acceptance of bad and sad things.
I am not good at accepting things I cannot change. I get really really depressed and angry that I am powerless to solve the smallest problems sometimes. Like after my cat died, I decided that my remaining cat who is very territorial would not appreciate any newcomers, foster, kitten, or otherwise. I had also made myself a promise not to take on full responsibility for any more cats other than on a temporary basis because I have multiple sclerosis and it is harder and harder to do things and I don’t want to tie and have a beloved cat be left homeless. I have made provision for her in my will, but still, when I do my usual catastrophizing (no pun intended), I have these horrible thoughts that what if the new people taking care of her don’t know how she likes to play “hide my toy” or that she hates being forced to do anything, especially being made to sit on a lap but she loves to cuddle my shoulder, or sit adjacent to me curled in my arm. So they might think her cold. And she knows her name, not kitty kitty, so that would engender no response. What if she fails to respond to the new circumstances and they yell at her and smack her. She will not understand and will be hurt and bemused. And this kind of shit happens to animals every single day.
The idiot who speaks to his dog in full sentences “I told you I do not want you to bring mud in the house.” like a dog is really able to grasp the concept. So the owner punishes the dog for not understanding something the human is stupid to expect.
Anyway, this book turns out to be too painful for me to read because it discusses very sad things that happen all over the world. I can barely stand the fact that the chicken I eat suffered all it’s life and death. I would be a vegetarian if I could, but just can’t manage it. Then I feel guilty that I care so much but do nothing to stop the chicken I eat from suffering. But what can I do? Join protests, give donations to others who are fighting the fight. Despair the unnecessary packaging of the things I buy, but recycle what I can but wish I didn’t have to contribute to the great Pacific gyre in any way.
One woman I could relate to constantly assessed spending money on a treat for herself when contrasting it to the option of donating the money to a worthy cause [especially hard when there is so little regulation and so many that are merely shams to take religious believers money or soft hearts like mine and end up buying mansions and paying CEOs millions with a fraction going to actually help they profess they are helping.]. I do not go quite that far, foregoing my ice cream to help pay for $4 worth of cat food for the shelter, but I probably should but then I would be sad to know so many were unwanted and more were euthanized because there is not enough money and shelter for them. For which I blame “no pets” rules that hurt responsible pet owners, but I can imagine the pee and poop all over the floors of careless owners. Or even loving owners that don’t bother to change the litter box until there is more poop than litter.
I think about other people in tough situations a lot. It is overwhelming. Therefore I have decided only systemic change will make a difference, and am therefore supporting Bernie Sanders for President. But even here my ideals get driven to the edge of madness. A freaking coin toss? And votes means nothing? How is something so stupid even still a thing. How can people NOT caucus and vote? Are they all suffering from learned helplessness? Serious problem then.
Back to the book, page 169
Anyone who acknowledges the force of morality at all feels bound to do something.
On the previous page however, the question is posed: “So is helping a pernicious disease or not?” This right after declaring:
Trying to help is at best useless and at worst damaging; but to stop trying to help is to give up on humanity. Humanitarians are condescending hypocrites, but they are the best of us.
Which leads me back to wherever I saw the story about a doctor saving the life of an old man who had been bitten on the head by a bear and lived but was blind so could no longer hunt (not sure which country, but impoverished for sure). Slowly the family gave him less and less to eat until he starved to death 2 years later. That’s a harsh life. But it makes sense in context. He could not contribute and others needed the portion he was taking. This is the slippery slope all who oppose the right to die with dignity are worried about. Of course, for us in the USA, sometimes the opposite occurs where medical science is geared at all cost to save lives even if it means a week or month more with terminal cancer.
I’ve seen an elegant meme on this point, but cannot recall it in it’s succinctness now. Essentially, death with dignity does not kill the person because they are already dead by terminal illness. Death with dignity means you don’t have to suffer unbearable pain for months until your body or mind is so shattered the life signal goes out.
Before I gave up on the book by this spot reading, I came across the description of a baby whose head was stuck sideways and could not be gotten out (primitive conditions location again) and it was too late for Cesarean, so the doctor did what had been done before under these conditions, he killed the baby and cut it up to get all the parts out to save the life of the mother. The story goes on : Seeing how upset he was, one of the older women of the tribe said, we lose many before their first year from disease and many other things. This one just died earlier. [I am not going to go back and find the exact quote. Too horrible.]
The biggest surprise my random reading of the book came across was that one of the givers (whose wife was obsessed) was going to use a portion of his giving to the Republican party. I cannot reconcile a person who has general instincts to do good in the world could contribute to the party that wants to eliminate social security and every other program devised to the people who are suffering the most. This book is copyright 2015 so probably written some time before the latest madness of the field of Republican candidates were announced for commentary, but no one could ever say the Republican party is moral despite proclaiming their Christianity as if it was a competition, or idealistic (other than yearning for the authoritarian theocracy that will enable them to force others to do what they deem ideal).
They are so fervently forced birth that I am sure that given the choice between cutting up the baby to save the mother, they would kill the mother to save the child even if it were to be statistically likely to starve and die within the year having no mother to care for it. If every forced birth protester (a) adopted a child with special needs or orphaned, (b) payed college tuition for a kid who deserves it but can’t afford it, (c) paid for a week of nutritious meals for poorly funded schools, (d) provided on call child care emergency for free to needy families, they might be less hypocritical. Shouting at people going into Planned Parenthood helps absolutely no one. So they are the most immoral and unchristian of all the zealots out there.