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Illustration: Joel Bentley


Mirah Foxe: Misinvestments from Unit 4B
Illustration: Joel Bentley



Is intervention ethical? Can it be avoided?  It's an old political question and one I thought I had finally made my decision on.  I decided that “intervention” cannot be avoided, that just by our regular day-to-day being we are constantly intervening in other people's lives.  I forget my mug and use a paper mug instead, meaning more trees are used up and somebody, somewhere gets less oxygen, nevermind a higher price on their 8.5” x 11”.  There are no actions we engage in that are not in some way intervening in another's lives.  As Aristotle says, we are all by nature political creatures, engaged in the collective construction of our community whether we are intentional about it or not. 

I even wrote my MA project supporting this thesis, and now discover myself to be in the exact scenario my thesis outlined – and duly wishing I had not wrote a thesis that seemed to condone “intervention” against someone's will.  For the second time this year I find myself on a pscyh ward as an involuntary patient – someone committed to the ward under the Mental Health Act because they fit the criteria of being diagnosed with a mental illness and also constituting risk of harm to self or others.  I'm medicated against my will, and my resistance is treated as delinquency.  Note, the latter criteria by which I am incarcerated – harm – is a particular stickler given my above understanding of politics.  Is it possible to live at all without doing something that is regarded as harm to some other person, somewhere?  We are caught interminably in webs of affect wherein “harm” is simply a matter of self-protective opinion.

According to the medical community, I primarily constitute harm to self.  I mentioned a phrase that was read as suicidal (I had previously in the year had suicidal thoughts, though that doesn't land everybody in hospital), and out of concern due to a previous diagnosis of bipolar (which grew to a schizophrenia diagnosis when I hopped a plane to restart my life), my husband initiated a conversation with my psychiatrist which ended with a ride in the back of a police car and deposition at the Archie Carnegie emergency psych unit.  Somehow the harm to my husband or family of absconding from my life was overlooked.  And that's besides the fact that in all my communications with psychiatrists (and before that, a personal counselor) my prior concern was the harm to the relationship between myself and significant others.

I now live out daily – as I fight to play the good girl just so I can have the “privilege” of wearing jeans and not hospital pajamas – the reality that harm is subjective, a matter of differing perspectives of what issue ought be most highly prioritized.  I believe it's the relationship between my husband and I; the doctors think it's my resistance to medication.  The two different prioritizations would, given our limited time-space resources, entail different plans of action.  We can't all have our way.  The question of intervention is a matter of whose “order of things,” as Foucault would say, ought to win the day?  Because somebody's will win.  Intervention is unavoidable – the question is simply who intervenes on whom?

I've been dogged most of my life by the question of “if Christ is so great, just what are the political implications of Christ's death and resurrection?”  (The guy who claims to be God and whose claim is vindicated by his resurrection). Does Christ just guarantee a second life, or is their some inherent connection between his life and the quality of our present world?”  “Not my will, but yours,” he said before his death. I wrote for intervention in my thesis because I believe that biological life is a “good” to be preserved, and that this is a fact which withstands the moments in which we doubt that God created the world good.  My Christian Reformed roots run deep.

If we're to be Christ-like in this world, ought I not to also lay down my prioritization schema for the willed prioritization schema of another?  Do not all ethical questions miss the point of Christ which was to relieve ourselves of the fear that God's awesomeness might punish us, overpowering our hope that we can have our cake and eat it too? That we might get paradise in spite of our sin?  Because Christ grants us our heart's content are we not free to tell another, “Have no fear, I will not enforce my will upon you; you can have your heart's content”?  When we take up our cross, is that not to take up the collective wills of all those who appear to oppose us, as Christ was opposed and perhaps in a manner much like Socrates taking the hyssop for the sake of the community?

I've been reading about Calvin lately and was nearly shocked to discover that Calvin insisted on absolute obedience to the stubborn powers that be (except in a very cryptic comment in Civil Government to the effect that one might be able to challenge a magistrate in the name of another magistrate if a lesser “ephor” disagreed). No wonder he's not popular today. But in the context of the religious wars, he's got a strong point.  Communities disintegrate when wills aren't laid down.

There are few of us so Christ-like.  Let it be noted that Calvin was a lawyer oriented to belief in an absolute “right order of things,” and not an oiko/eco-nomist who knows that the only order that is, is one that is willed by humans.  The economist might point out the flip side of the coin of every “laying down of a will” under conditions of differing prioritization schemas.  Even were I to lay down my will and willingly take the daily doses of Olanzapine and Risperidone to medicate me into submission to a life situation  that takes insufficient substantive recognition of my complaints – or so I believe – I cannot please everyone.  I offend all those who would like to see my complaints and version of societal life together recognized – the one in which my husband would remind me to bring my mug and where we'd make a point of adopting kids, and where I might also get a sunny kitchen too.  But this would not please all those who would like to see a different version of event, a different outcome – who imagine or desire my life to go differently because they would prefer a different pattern of life to be normative.  Perhaps one where it’s normative to watch hockey together at supper time over steak and potatoes as opposed to a skimpy Cobb salad.  In a world without endless resources we cannot perfectly enact the self-abnegating Christ.  (Although the economist would say: “At least not without borrowing against the future.”) 

So, I've come to believe we strive for balance and even distribution instead.  If we know in fact that there is no need to fear, there's no reason why we need to be so concerned about self-harm in context of a possibly developing case of schizophrenia such that we err consistently on the side of medicating prior to a confident diagnosis.  Would it be so bad if we spent less time medicating possible schizophrenia and more time sorting the roots of strong families?  If the $1,700 a day my hospital bed costs went instead into realizing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights right to the protection of the family, attempting to publicly discuss, hammer out, and really realize what a society that believed and understood that right substantively looked like? If we thought through the public possibility of a mutually submissive society as best emblematized in specifically (by that virtue of submission) Christian relationships?

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