Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Different

Back in the day, every village ...
  • had its idiot, imbecile, or moron,
  • had a man (or several) maimed or crippled from a recent war,
  • could boast someone with a disfiguring tumour or skin ailment,
  • etc.
Perhaps this day to which I refer is a largely fictionalized one, and, to be honest, I would rather make a point here than look up 17th or 18th century statistics. The point is that up until fairly recently, every town and village had to get used to a certain degree of difference within people - they had to adjust to a wide spectrum of humanity. In some towns derision might replace the hoped-for kindness and respect, but learning to deal with Others, for better or for worse, was a major part of former times.

Modernity and its technological marvels have allowed us to cure many diseases once incurable, to give the maimed and the crippled the chance at a normalized lifestyle, to hospitalize those who cannot care for themselves. And it is not a bad thing that we can help so many that were otherwise doomed.

However, there are consequences. Firstly, the spectrum of difference has narrowed - what is different is not quite as different. We do not learn to see that God has made man with infinite variety, and so instead we become prescriptive like the inhabitants of Waknuk in The Chrysalids. The minute differences between the normal and the other normal become everything, and magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Elle tell us how we are to look.

Secondly, as the wrinkles of difference are ironed out by the flatiron of technology wizardry, and as the remaining abnormalities are shut up into homes or aborted before they have a chance to live, we lose. We lose on an opportunity for ascesis, for humility, for learning to serve the alien and the stranger in our midst.

- V.

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