Another Modest Proposal

BY VICTOR ’01

Those in the Western Hemisphere may not be aware of a shocking travesty of liberty being perpetuated upon men in the East, one that has somehow survived virtually 5,000 years of East Asian history. Borne originally of China, this unjust practice quickly and insidiously infected such neighboring countries as Korea and Japan, traversing time and space through a pervasive philosophy known as Confucianism. I am referring, of course, to the socially-enforced practice in Asia of sons caring for their aged parents.

What once was simply an unpretentious, straightforward concept within one school of thought has disturbingly evolved from ideal to social norm, and now even to law. The original recommendation, though containing much potential for mischief to the trained libertarian eye, seemed harmless enough, and even natural: that individuals, particularly men, be encouraged, when their parents had reached some level of infirmity due to sickness or old age, to sacrifice a degree of their own time and resources to care for them.

Why, the curious Westerner may ask, did the design only target men? Were women considered incapable of nursing the elderly? The answer lies in a particularly ironic cultural perception, one that originally meant to favor men: namely, the traditional notion that daughters marry out of the family, and, once married, share no part of the inheritance but concomitantly are freed from the yoke of aged parents. As such, the burden fell exclusively on the son, who, alas, was considered to remain in the family – attached to his parents irrespective of his will, much as a pregnant mother is attached to the baby in her womb.

This suggestion in its original form was innocuous, of course, only so long as the man retained full and unabridged choice in the matter. Unfortunately, however, the pressures of a normative order quickly adulterated the Confucian concept. Disguised under the euphemism of filial piety, adult men in these societies were soon expected by these societies to care for parents who had grown old and frail. Fanciful morals, before long, had become onerous obligations, and men who were perceived to have failed to exercise appropriate levels of care for their parents were subject to social harassment, derision and the ultimately ostracizing label of being “unfilial.”

This encroachment upon individual freedom and autonomy has failed to recede in recent generations; on the contrary, it has reached new heights of brazenness. Lovers of individual liberty will be shocked and righteously indignant to learn that Singapore recently passed a law mandating that sons care for their aged parents and subjecting violators to fines and even lashes of the cane. This last development – the codification of an oppressive social practice into law – is, or at least should be, I submit, the final straw for all in the Western world who have any regard whatsoever for individual liberty, human freedom and the dignity of men everywhere.

In this postmodern era, whatever whimsical notions of morality, respect, tradition or “duty” that may underlie this fantastic system must be recognized in the final analysis as castles in the cloud, illusions which should sooner or later give way to a rational weighing of the costs and benefits of this practice to society at large. Of course, any such analysis would reveal the absurdity of the practice, and it behooves the enlightened to lead the way in suggesting viable alternatives. For why, when the world is approaching “the end of history,” should Asian men still suffer the indignities of these traditional restrictions, these fetters upon their resources, these gender inequalities perpetuated by outdated notions of family?

As such, I humbly submit the following proposal, one that will turn the whole system of Asian-male enslavement on its head and do much to eliminate existing inequities. The idea is quite straightforward and is surprising only in the fact that it has not been put forward previously. For the solution has in fact been staring us in the face all this time: Asian men must have the freedom to terminate dependent parents.

While this proposal may sound revolutionary, I submit that the foundations for its acceptance are already well in place in many parts of the world. Indeed, the practice will undoubtedly resonate with those who are supportive of a similar system for eliminating burdensome dependents, one currently operative in all parts of the civilized world.

For once a rigorous inquiry is conducted, the honest observer must concede that the Asian practice of imposing a duty upon men to care for their aged parents is at least analogous to, if not more onerous than, requiring Western women to bring their infants to term, and that furthermore, elderly parents, particularly the more senile ones, bear a striking resemblance to unborn fetuses in most of the salient characteristics. In fact, under progressive definitions of humanity as to include only those capable of existing with some semblance of independence or autonomy, dependent Asian parents hardly even qualify as human.

In addition, consider the following important policy arguments: (1) aged parents who demand care from their sons are clearly impotent to generate or deliver any useful societal good; (2) such parents, in their reliance upon their sons for not only material but emotional support, siphon away time, energy, and resources that could be profitably devoted toward any number of other socially useful enterprises; (3) the elimination of the sickly and unemployed elderly will undoubtedly save Asian states billions of dollars in social security and medical costs; (4) the regime, both social and now legal, has imposed an inequitable and unduly harsh burden upon men alone, a burden which has effectively destroyed their autonomy; allowing these men the freedom to control their livelihoods without the unwelcome, sapping, nagging influence of dependent parents will both affirm their freedom of choice and simultaneously go far in restoring gender equality (not to mention domestic harmony) in Asia; (5) allowing the abortion of unwanted dependents will add tens of thousands of available – albeit old – hearts, lungs, livers, kidneys and other organs to patients in need of transplants each year and will further enliven the important human tissue market that sustains scientific advances, a market largely supplied these days only by aborted fetuses.

These considerations should win over the support of any Western libertarians who may at first hesitate to endorse what appears, to the die-hard moralist, to be the eradication of inconvenient but innocent lives. After all, they reflect the underpinnings of the other well-established and quite popular practice, as aforementioned. And indeed, the rationale here appears even more compelling, for if in the other case a pregnancy term is akin to being strapped to a violinist for nine months, here the man is tied down by no less than a full string quartet for a decade.

Comments