I can’t imagine what it is like to be a woman in the United States of America today. If I feel the blow of Samuel Alito’s draft opinion pm Roe v Wade in the pit of my stomach – and I do – I can only try to imagine how it must feel to have one’s own body assaulted, occupied, and colonized in this way.
Many people are repeating the line used by then-Sen. Kamala Harris in Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court. "Can you think of any laws that give the government the power to make decisions about the male body?" she asked. "I'm not thinking of any right now, Senator," Kavanaugh replied.
But there is such a law, and it’s worth mentioning. The Selective Service requires all men of a certain age to register for military conscription. The draft hasn’t been used in many years — it affects men, who have more power — but it allows the government to take possession of men’s’ bodies and use them as instruments of war. My generation of men faced a high probability of being drafted and were ordered to submit to the requisite training and be sent off to Vietnam if we were chosen.
That was the old order. Men fought for the state, and when they returned home (if they returned home) they worked for wages to support the economic system. Women bred for the state, then raised the children that they produced. You played your role or you paid the price.
Now, they’re bringing the old order back. They call themselves “pro-life,” even as they clamor for war, for poverty, to deprive people of medical care and a livable involvement. You can’t be pro-life and call down death.
We are once again ruled by a priesthood that preaches the right to life from the moment of conception until the moment you’re born Muslim. Or dark-skinned. Or poor. Or female.
The men who are shrugging off this development better think twice. Unless you’re privileged, they’ll devalue your life too. You can’t be anti-woman and pro-human. Some men will experience the pyrrhic pleasure of mistreating women, but at what cost? Watch out, men. They’ll make a barbarian of you soon. It may sound good to you now, but you’ll be a foot soldier in the mud and not a general in the great tent.
But I apologize. This is me, a man, trying to understand how it feels to be a woman today. But the draft wasn’t the same, was it? Sure, we could die. We, too, could be physically violated and be helpless to prevent it. But the intimacy of women’s subjugation, its linkage to the physical human core … that, I can’t picture. I can only empathize. And support. And fight.
The Greek poet CP Cavafy’s best-known work is “Waiting for the Barbarians,” which describes a nation-state paralyzed into inaction by the anticipation of an invading horde. That, to me, describes the mainstream politicians who have watched the rise in Republican barbarity, their wholesale attack on democratic process and their hijacking of the judiciary, and done nothing about it.
Why isn’t anything happening in the senate?
Why do the senators sit there without legislating?
Because the barbarians are coming today.
What laws can the senators make now?
Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.
Lofty sentences about political norms and senatorial decorum are the hollow talk of hollow figures in marble hallways, living statues waiting for the barbarians. They don’t act because they have chosen to become symbols, not living actors in a flesh-and-blood drama. And they don’t act, perhaps, because they can’t believe it’s really happening. Like the protagonist in another Cavafy poem, they paid no attention as walls were built to enclose and entomb them.
With no consideration, no pity, no shame,
they have built walls around me, thick and high …
I had so much to do outside.
The draft system was much easier to escape if you were rich or middle class, if you were white. There were doctors to certify you unfit. If that form of exemption became more difficult, your parents could always send you to Canada. People of color and the poor got the worst of it. They get the worst of it now. They’re far more likely to serve in the military, often because they have no other economic alternatives. There they must contend with danger, senior-level incompetence, suicide epidemics, and the abuse of their addicted comrades.
People of color and the poor will get the worst of this New Old Order, too, as disadvantaged women find themselves unable to afford the interstate travel that bodily autonomy will soon require. That will displease the Big Tech branch of the ruling elite, which has long been concerned with the problem of excess population. As I once wrote of Tyler Cowen, a favored economist of that set:
Cowen promotes his idea of the “hyper-meritocracy” in "Average Is Over." The brilliant and self-motivated (as he sees them) will become wealthier and more powerful than ever, while the rest of society (which Cowen pegs at 85 percent of the population) becomes a permanent underclass, dwelling in shantytowns and struggling to survive.
With Roe v Wade gone, make that 95 percent. The tech tycoons may moan, but they’ll go along with it in the end. Barbarians use social media, too.
One of the most striking things about the Alito draft is its rage. These judicial moles have watched, and waited, and bided their time, pretending to be sober jurists until their moment came around. Now, the fury is unleashed. Chief Justice Roberts may tone down the language, but the lurking creature has growled deep down in its throat.
When they were building the walls, how could I not have noticed!
But I never heard the builders, not a sound.
The Democrats in Washington – somebody – should be demanding that the courts be taken back from the antidemocratic minority. This is the battle we should be fighting. This is the line that should be drawn. Too many of them, however, seem to have another plan in mind. It’s the same one they’ve been following for years, and it goes like this: Why legislate? Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.
Night has fallen. The walls have been built. They’re here.