Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Infanticide in the B.C. era

Infanticide is so strange, so foreign to us, that it's hard for us to accept the reality of it. So let me try to explain why the ancients would kill their babies. For starters, there was no birth control in ancient societies. There was no pill, there was no condom, there was no I.U.D. I read somewhere that Cleopatra would spread crococile dung on her privates. That would work. I wouldn't have sex with Cleopatra if you paid me money. That's how desperate the ancients were for birth control. "Let's spread some crocodile dung on my privates and see if I get pregnant."

In the B.C. era, if you wanted to avoid having a baby, you could be celibate, you could masturbate, you could have sodomy. A man could pull out before he ejaculated, or a woman could pay attention to her menstruation cycle. But birth control as we know it did not exist. And if you have sex without birth control, you're likely to have a baby. If you are living in a society with orgies, that's a lot of babies to abandon.

Let's go further. There was no court-ordered child support. Forget about suing Roman gladiator #3 for your child support. There was no paternity test. There was no equality, no Title VII lawsuit. How would you be a single mom? A woman could not work in ancient Greece or Rome. Unless she wanted to be a prostitute. Which is not really a solution, because there's no birth control, and you're going to have another baby and another one. And you can't afford another baby. You can't afford the last baby, or the next baby. You can barely feed your own mouth. You could maybe avoid having sex, unless you were a slave. Or you were raped, which was common. It kind of sucked to be a woman in ancient Greece or Rome. It was so bad to be a woman that baby girls were killed far more often than boys.

You could try to stop your pregnancy. Abortion was an option. Although you didn't really want to have surgery because there was no anesthesia. Thus it was kind of painful when somebody cut into you with a knife. The people who cut your hair would often do your surgery, because they had experience with sharp objects. So instead of having an abortion by surgery, what a pregnant woman would sometimes try is swallowing a poison called a pessary. And this poison would kill your baby. And you could go back to being a slave or a prostitute or whatever you were doing. Except you probably couldn't because the poison would often kill you, too. So abortion was a bad option. Most people would simply have a baby and abandon her.

So what do you do as a society? Do you prosecute these women for crimes? And Plato and Aristotle said no. Baby is weak. Baby is helpless. Baby is not a citizen. And it's not a homicide, anyway. All you're doing is walking away. Walking is not a crime. You didn't stab the baby or suffocate the baby. You're just a walker. Also, what about the baby's responsibilities? Maybe the baby should feed himself. Maybe the baby should find his own shelter. That baby is pathetic. He's helpless, he's sub-human. All mom did was walk away. So that's no crime. Am I my daughter's keeper?

Plato and Aristotle had a theoretical basis for their opinion, which is pretty much the theorically basis for slavery, and pagan society as a whole. Respect the strong, the smart, the brave, and disdain the weak, the outnumbered, and the helpless. Since a baby is by definition weak and helpless, Plato and Aristotle were not worried about her. In ancient Greece, men come first. Women are second class. Children are third, and crying babies don't even rate.

A small tribe of people, the Jews, never practiced infanticide, because they considered it bad. They did not try to impose their views on other people. Christians are more obnoxious than Jews. We'll try to convert you. But even obnoxious people are right from time to time.

It was Christians who abolished infanticide as a legal practice. Christians hate infanticide. We hate it, hate it, hate it. We hate it so much that other people pretend they hate it too. But I don't think other people hate infanticide as much as Christians and Jews do. And Christians are obnoxious about it. We will go to war over baby-killing.

It is the foundation of Christianity, actually, that we are all children of God, and loved equally. And a baby, secularly speaking, is the weakest of all human beings. If we are going to have a class of sub-humans, or non-human humans, the baby would seem to be a prime candidate. This argument, the Plato and Aristotle argument, that the baby is in fact weaker and thus should be given a sub-status, makes the Christian about as angry as he can get.

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