Friday, January 21, 2011

The meaning of life

I hate getting up early in the morning for class.  If there’s a reason for an early arrival to awake-dom, then I’m all for it. I’ll get up at 430 in the morning and operate on 4 hours of sleep to get to the airport.  I’ll get up at 330 to begin an 8 hour car ride for vacation. But I hate, absolute abhor, getting up at 630 or beyond to go to [shudders] class.

At least I did. Then I bought a TV for my bedroom, and suddenly the world made sense again at 630 in the morning. 

It’s something of a ritual of mine to roll over, beat my alarm senseless, flick on the light and immediately turn on the news. It gets me all riled up in the morning and makes me feel…well…alive. This morning, for instance, I watched a story on CNN about former Senator Rick Santorum.  They discussed a report in which the former senator stated that in the face of his views of civil rights, President Obama’s stance on abortion was “remarkable for a black man.” Hmm…Didn’t I just talk about this in my Dr. MLK blog post? I believe I did.

The former senator then goes on to say that he does not believe that “you’ll find a biologist in the world who will say that is not a human life,” in reference to a fetus.  Now, I’m a biologist. I spend my working days with biologists. And I can say for a fact that I’ve heard it a time or two where a fellow biologist has indicated that a fetus is not a person.  Now, the former senator has done something quite interesting here – which is why I both love and hate politicians. They are like the Fae in how they tell a lie.  

How do we define life? As an undergraduate, I encountered professors both young and old that had no set definition for “life," and it was actually the topic of debate in class one spring day.  I would say that we encounter “life” when we encounter a living cell, but that is my definition.   A fetus is comprised of living cells and, as a result of my current definition, a fetus constitutes life because it is a comprised of living cells.  But what is life to someone that is not a scientist? For those people of the world that haven't chosen to pursue scienece, life is often synonymous with “personhood” so to speak. So, for former senator Santorum to come forward and say that he wouldn’t “find a biologist in the world who will say that is not a human life” is not necessarily a lie, but it’s so far from the truth it might as well be. Asking someone to define life is like asking a person to define love.

BUT, the point of this post is not to debate what constitutes life, what makes a person a person, or even whether or not abortion is right or wrong.  The point of this post is to discuss the use of the “[insert adjective here] for a [insert race here] person” formula. The point of this post is to discuss, yet again, why the use of such language – while fully endorsed by our first amendment rights – is just flat out wrong.  I would hope that a former senator of the friggin United States of America would understand that, but sadly he apparently does not. (Watch out kids! He’s slated to run for president in 2012.)   

Why isn’t it enough that the President fights for civil rights? Why couldn’t Santorum have stated that President Obama’s stance on abortion was “remarkable given that he advocates for the civil rights of all people?” Why does the fact that he’s a black man have anything to do with it? I say this, because a statement such as the one uttered by Santorum makes it seem as if black people are the only ones that should care about civil rights. Would he have said President Hu’s stance on abortion (whatever it may be) was “remarkable for a Chinese man?” I don’t know. 

Maybe the problem is me. Maybe I’m just supposed to accept the use of the insert adjective/insert race formula and turn a blind eye to it.  Maybe I’m just making a “big deal” out of it.  Ha! As if I ever would!
This wouldn’t bother me so much if it was a small isolated incident, but we hear it everywhere we turn.  Remember “Barack, The Magic Negro?” Remember Senator Harry Reid’s comments about the world being ready for a “light skinned” black President with no “Negro dialect?” Remember Vice President Biden’s comments about the president being the “first mainstream African American that was articulate and bright and clean?” Naturally Vice President Biden said those words were taken out of context. And Senator Harry Reid apologized. And the esteemed leaders of our nation expressed the appropriate disapproval of that magical song. 

How about you just not do/say/engage in this offensive shit in the first place?  How many times are we supposed to sit back and accept it when people say "it's just a joke," or "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it?"

And since you care so much about civil rights former senator Santorum – are you also going to begin advocating for gay marriage? A right that, in my opinion, is a right that belongs to anyone that lays claim to it.

I also looked up the definition of life for my own edification. This is what I and my good friend Merriam found.


  1. Hi! I'm a law student, considering making the switch to Neuroscience. Is it possible for me to ask you a few questions?

  2. How serendipitous! I'm a science geek who has oft considered law! I'll tell you up front that my experience with neuroscience specifically is very basic, and is based solely on the experiences of my first semester at Purdue. If you have questions about biology and/or research science generally I'm happy to help in any way that I can.

  3. Hmm. Well strange. I've got a bunch of questions, but I'll introduce myself quickly - I did my undergrad in law, and now am looking at neuroscience/biology because of my interest in it.
    Don't worry about lack of experience - you're talking to a complete noob.
    Can we swap email addresses, or do we do this over comments?

  4. You can e-mail me at reynol20(at)Purdue(dot)edu. I'll respond to your questions as soon as I can!