Monday, November 9, 2009

"I also think most that read Harper’s are too educated for their own good and can look down on everyone on both sides of an issue at the same time"

Usually with the stuff in Harper's Readings section, I know what I'm supposed to think. Usually, as I've noted before, it's something like, "The banality of human suffering: How droll" (e.g., the confessions of some warlord or a Frederick Seidel poem). But in the Nov. issue there's a bit that I don't really know what I'm supposed to think about. (Don't tell me it's an open text and I'm not supposed to think anything! Kool-Aid drinker.)

It's an excerpt from a transcript in which a member of the Followers of Christ church (Worthington) is tried for manslaughter after he neglects to take his baby daughter to the doctor for pneumonia and an infection "that could have been cured with antibiotics." (That's the first hint that I'm supposed to think something.) I assume we're supposed to point and laugh at the religious nut, but the thing is, he kind of makes more sense than the prosecutor (Horner):
WORTHINGTON: I would probably never use modern medicine myself. I've never felt that I've needed it. It wasn't because somebody forced this on me. It's because I've seen for myself, as I was growing up. When I was anointed, I felt better, so that trained me to have faith in it.
HORNER: Has your position changed as a result of what happened to your daughter?
WORTHINGTON: No, it's still the same.
HORNER: So the fact that you did not get your daughter to a hospital Saturday night, and she died a day later, has not changed your position on modern medicine?
WORTHINGTON: Well, it hasn't changed the way I feel. I've seen nothing here that's proved to me that it would have been any different had we taken her in. When a doctor can't do nothing for you, you usually put it in God's hands anyways, so that's where I'd had it the whole time. [Emphases mine]
HORNER: Even in retrospect, even knowing the outcome, you wouldn't change how you handled her medical condition?
He continues to basically berate the guy (which, I realize, is what prosecutors do), incredulously asking for clarification, when the guy's position is clear. I hate when people act confused to make a point. I mean, I'm an atheist, and I think religions that reject any and all medical intervention are stupid, of course, but the guy's position is remarkably consistent and lucid, compared to most nutjob Christians.

I think the part above in boldface is rather brilliant. Worthington essentially calls bullshit on Horner's hindsight fallacy (i.e., since you know the outcome now, obviously you should have acted differently) and simultaneously points out the hypocrisy of most pseudo-Christians who rely on doctors first and then only pray to God as a last resort. (I think he even implies that "anoint[ing] someone with olive oil" and a fair amount of "modern medicine" work on the same principle: faith, AKA the placebo effect.)

My question is, do the Harper's editors see this? Do most of their readers? Or are they mostly just snickering and shaking their heads at the backwoods dude who killed his baby?

P.S. I in no way advocate withholding antibiotics from infected babies. Also, I knock Harper's, but it is pretty much my favorite magazine. After Lucky. The other night I said to John, "I love reading Lucky. It's a pure experience." Meaning that I do it purely for pleasure, not because I feel like I should (which is true for at least half of what I read). And he nodded and said, "Yes, unsullied by crass commercialism." Ha ha! Lucky comes with little sticker tabs so you can mark all the shit you want to buy. AWESOME.

P.P.S. Someday I'm going to count up all the incidences of the word "wildly" in an issue of Lucky (as in, "wildly sensuous" or "wildly affordable"). It will be staggering.


  1. The thing about Lucky: it's unsullied by any pretense at being anything other than crass commercialism. Not so for Harper's, it seems, at least in this instance, which is for those of us who like our crass commercialism mixed with a healthy dose of social superiority and thoroughly sprinkled with condescension. Make mine a latte and to go; I still need to check in with my broker.

    But I'm just having fun here...

  2. There was an interesting ad in this issue: a full-page spread that said "WARNING! Harper's is 100% content-free" and goes on to explain why other sources give you "content" but Harper's delivers literature and photojournalism and "truth-telling" etc. "Content" is a webby word so I assume Harper's is positioning itself in opposition to websites and blogs that are claiming greater shares of its audience ... I don't really like ads that make comparisons to competitors rather than simply highlighting the value proposition. It seems panicky and reminds me of late-in-the-race political ads. Makes me think Harper's is in trouble.