A Slice of Life
In 1991, at a visit to Walt Disney World in Florida, I ate at the Coral Reef Restaurant in the EPCOT theme park. It’s a wonderful restaurant, with tasty food, great service, and a highly unique view into a huge aquarium where you can watch a fascinating variety of fish, rays, and turtles swim by as you eat. I’ve eaten there a number of times.
On the occasion I’m thinking of, they still had a practice that has since gone away: Butter was served to the table in in the shape of a certain well-known mouse. I mention this because it created quite an emotional complication for us: When we wanted to butter our bread, it was necessary to cut into this adorable figure.
It was just a block of butter shaped in a clever way, but the gut feeling that it was something more than that was quite strong—enough so that I complained to Disney about it by letter after I returned home.
I bet I wasn’t alone in my dismay. Butter comes in ordinary rectangular pats nowadays.
Emotions on Autopilot
My daughter recently dragged me to the TV to see something on Home Shopping Network. They were selling a pool cleaning robot from iRobot. But what had caught her attention was that they had the sample robot “trapped” in a small tank. She explained that it had seemed happy in the larger tank, which seemed to her more like its “natural habitat,” but looked distressed in this little tank. I’ve included a YouTube video of it here; just watch the first 30 seconds or so and you’ll get the point. She couldn’t help but see this cute little device a helpless, trapped animal.
It isn’t a trapped animal, of course. But it’s easy to see why she felt that way.
Sometimes it works in a way that is sort of the reverse of that, where we see what we want to see. This may happen by processes as disparate as imprinting, which helps a child detect a parent, or wishful thinking, which helps lonely people on farms and citydwellers with a passion for aluminimum headgear to detect UFOs. In both of these cases, rather than our brains seeing something that looks like a thing and telling us it therefore must be that thing, our brain can, instead, when properly primed, decide it’s seeing a thing merely because it expects to see that thing.
Hitting Below the Belt
So it should hardly be any surprise that when a woman undergoes an ultrasound device while she’s pregnant, she would readily identify what she sees as a baby. There’s a reason we sometimes refer to women who are pregnant as “expecting.” Hormones in her body is preparing her for the notion that a baby will at some point appear. And whether she is eager or simply apprehensive, it’s the obvious association to make. But that doesn’t mean it’s already the baby she is expecting to one day arrive.
A woman who is expecting may be anxious to see the end result. But that result cannot be hurried.
The truth is that the process of birth is a process of building scaffolding and doing piecewise substitution. The framework of a child is there long before the actual child is. Each of the pieces presuppose the existence of each of the other, so you can’t build it from toe to head. You have to put an approximate framework in place first, and then come back for the detail work.
So it’s little surprise that the pro-Life movement is pushing for legislation that compels women to view an ultrasound of their fetus before being allowed to have an abortion. There’s a great deal of emotional vulnerability just then, and if it gains tactical political advantage, why not exploit it? An example of just such legislation was recently signed into law by Governor Rick Perry in Texas. The idea is that if they can’t make abortion illegal, they should do anything they can to slow the matter or make it more emotionally complicated.
They’re counting on a visceral reaction even from women who have thought this through carefully as a logical matter. Warm emotion knows better than cold knowledge, or so the cold logic of research into warm emotion tells us. Ah, the delicious irony. Well, modern politics is full of it. I guess we should just get used to it.
It did give me an idea, though.
It’s been really bugging me that companies in the United States seem to think it’s okay to make a profit by laying off US employees and hiring abroad for cheaper. It may save a few dollars for that company but bit-by-bit it compromises the integrity of the entire US workforce, threatening to drag down standards of living. As I wrote about in my article To Serve Our Citizens, it’s as if the plan to bring jobs back to the US is to first drive wages, working conditions, and health care to the very lowest level so that it’s competitive with most exploited countries abroad and then magically jobs will pour back into the US. Great.
A layoff is a little like an abortion. A corporation is just a great big person and it has people who live inside it just like a pregnant mother. But corporations don’t feel the same sense of responsibility for the care and feeding of those people they carry around inside them that an expectant mother would for any baby or babies she might be hosting. Disposing of unwanted employees who’ve become a drag on the mother ship is almost a lifestyle choice for some corporations.
From the corporate point of view, the employees don’t really matter at all because it only matters that the mother corporation itself survive, not the individual employees. The peers of corporations are other corporations, not people; people are too small to matter. Corporations may be people, but people are not corporations. People are just little parasites to be occasionally flicked aside. Corporate fetuses, if you will. Potential corporations, but not actual corporations. And, as such, they are easily replaced—easily aborted. Too easily.
So what’s to be done?
Well, what if we borrowed a page from the pro-Life playbook and required a bit of ultrasounding at the corporate level before we let them abort all those employees? What if we made a law that said that before a corporation could lay off a person, someone with sufficient budgetary authority that they could actually cancel the layoff if they wanted to had to sit down and chat with each affected employee for, say, an hour. One at a time. A kind of corporate ultrasound. They’d have to get to know the employee as a person before they’d be allowed to abort them. They’d have to hear how the planned procedure would affect the employee in a personal way. Maybe they’d even learn something about how having that person leave would impact the corporation itself. In sum, they’d have to put faces on those affected by this otherwise-sterile procedure. And maybe in so doing they could find a way to avoid the procedure.
Oh, and waiting periods—did I mention waiting periods? I think it’d be great to have a healthy waiting period after having had this little chat. A chance to reflect. Yeah, I know, after a while the waiting period might cause irreparable harm to the company. But I’m sure the pro-Life movement has an excuse for why that’s okay, too. We’ll borrow from that as well.
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Originally published July 7, 2011 at Open Salon, where I wrote under my own name, Kent Pitman.
Tags (from Open Salon): politics, visceral, emotion, emotional, abortion, mickey mouse, disney world, coral reef restaurant, aquarium, irobot, wishful thinking, layoffs, outsourcing, waiting period, forced to watch, required, ultrasound, sounding out, listening, hearing, seeing, sensing, gut reaction, gut feeling, fetus, baby, life, effect, affect, affected, impact, law, manipulated, manipulation, potential life, potential corporation, scaffolding, Verro 500, pool cleaning, robot, hsn, home shopping, home shopping network