Wombs and attendant legal issues being in the news, and, being male since birth, I asked my dear wife about the prepartum process. She’d been a progenitor of one human being many decades ago. Her first recollection of another being being inside her happened, suddenly, on Aberdeen Avenue in Toronto. She was walking past an empty lot and in a flash the rote fact of being about four months pregnant transformed itself, in her heart and mind, into an awareness of a being separate from herself existing within her. The quickening had arrived and now she was aware of the dyadic nature of her new reality. To be aware of those other than ourselves is surely the stuff of good empathy skills, yet this sense of an inner presence is corporeal and unique. Maybe that was when my daughters spirit entered her tiny body, mused my wife. Whatever happened, it definitely was a turning point of consciousness for her. A hitherto biological process became manifestly a manifestly personal one.
From such powerful private moments there’s surely no doubt, as the minority view of the recent Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade notes, that “everyone, including women, owns their own bodies” (21). The woman’s body is where the magic happens and, at some point, a new life is created and not without risk. “That women happily undergo those burdens and hazards of their own accord does not lessen how far a State impinges on a woman’s body when it compels her to bring a pregnancy to term” (22). So, between the joys and jubilation of having a child and the feelings associated with terminating a pregnancy there is a lot going on. My wife kept her baby, but, for instance, in 2020, 930 000 Americans chose not to, reports the Associated Press (online). Happily, at AU we know that our studies are not life and death, and so, in these turbulent cultural times, we can at least put our scholastic struggles in perspective. Maybe others will question why we spend so many hours winnowing our minds over our textbooks but, like an Atwoodian heroine, we need not justify our feelings on the subject to others.
As adult students who can pride ourselves on our capacity to think objectively about cultural realities, rather than wade into the murk of perpetual argumentation, we might note that while the consequences of the court ruling are complex the possibilities of potential life are, in the best of ways, also academic. Learning is surely in great part about discovering new and beautiful voices inchoate within our being. It’s a big step to learn to express our finest inner potential, though.
Henry Miller summarized: “Every day we slaughter our finest impulses. That is why we get a heartache when we read those lines written by the hand of a master and recognize them as our own, as the tender shoots which we stifled because we lacked the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth and beauty. Every man, when he gets quiet, when he becomes desperately honest with himself, is capable of uttering profound truths. We all derive from the same source. There is no mystery about the origin of things. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, only to discover what is already there” (123) Academically, our Athabasca career is all about giving pause to our normal lives such that we find within us the creative impulses, the quickenings, that lead us to give birth to new and wonderful labours of love. Our essays and our exams are the product of all the potential life within us, drawn out as it were by our studies.
From Cro-Magnon to Highly Educated
It’s also worth noting that our best academic impulses can remain aloof from cultural snafus if we retain a sense of the long evolutionary realities at play. Virtue signalling, where, since the earliest days of our species it was advantageous to draw audience attention to “one’s own virtuous attributes by pointing out non-virtuous attributes in others”, comes naturally but not inevitably (Geher, online).
Displaying moral superiority may work in the emotional hothouse of social media but if we are to be objective as students, we can take into account a larger audience who actually wishes to learn and not just argue.
Unlike cave people we need not worry, academically, so much about being cast out of the tribe for airing unpopular views. At least, we ought to not. We realize that at the evolutionary level we’re programmed to be people-pleasers in a narrow sense; whereas in modern culture there will always be others who agree or disagree with anything we say, think, or believe. Anyone can pick their tribe and retroactively discount their participation in prior groupings. To reconsider our past is part of growing up. Stare decisis, following precedent, may bring consistency to our self image but it might also limit our intellectual growth. Likewise, whatever our view about abortion, we can at least take solace in the fact that no one can ever take away our essential right to think and create as students. We’re the sole judges of whether to restrict those best impulses of ours and the rest of culture will go on or without our displays of outrage and emotionality.