Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Call the Midwife!

I should have been grading today, but I put it off to watch all six episodes of the first season of the BBC adaption of Jennifer Worth's memoir "Call the Midwife." Set in London's East End in the late fifties, the series is a sort of valentine to the Welfare State, documenting the convulsive emergence of the National Health Service, public housing and assistance amidst the wreckage of postwar bombing and in the traumatic living memory of workhouses, untended veterans, and unspeakably callous class stratification. I found the whole series wonderfully moving, beautifully written and acted and filmed, heartfelt and funny, and in the exhaustion of the end of term its moments of sentimentality were welcome too. Sure, I recommend it. But the reason I wanted to blog about it a little was because contemplating the efforts of these heroic women, with so little support or life experience, under shocking conditions, bicycling alone through the dark to deliver babies in filthy bedrooms (at best), caring for people at the very beginning but at the end of life, too, all that bravery, all that brilliance, all that effort to help, to buttress, to build a bit of the road together toward a more equitable and diverse working civilization, it made me think of what I spend so much of my time writing about, and especially, I suppose, writing against.

You know, if the life expectancy of human beings is rising in some places, it is almost entirely through the effort of such people, midwives, nurses, social workers, educators, labor organizers doing their best without much in the way of support or recognition or compensation. And it seems to me that the twin villainies against which I rail here so often at Amor Mundi consist on the one hand of reactionary plutocratic Movement Republicans who would denigrate the struggle and heroism of these midwifes and the progressive vision they represent as "Big Government" "handouts" to "The Takers" and on the other hand of reactionary techno-transcendental Robot Cultists who would dismiss these same efforts the better to pine after nanobotic cornucopiae and immortal info-angels in holodeck heavens -- and derange public deliberation about the stakes of science and struggles over real-world technodevelopmental change into the same disasterbatory and wish-fulfillment fantasizing.

Progress toward a sustainable, equitable, diverse, democratic civilization is a matter of education, agitation, organization, mutual aid, social administration, patient experiment, and heartbreakingly slow compromised discovery and reform. The real work of progress toward equity-in-diversity is never enough and it is never done, but those who would denigrate it for their small selfishness or who would dismiss it for their daydream distractions are the enemies of any progress worth the name. Some of them must be marginalized into harmlessness, but I have to remember that some of them surely will come around in time to help out. After all, I did. Civilization, too, needs midwives.


Athena Andreadis said...


Anonymous said...

Loved this. Gets to the heart of the meaning of the drama. We are nothing without each other. Loved your final comment most of all. Civilization really does need nurture. It's the great conservative fallacy. When you have so degraded society to enrich yourself, then what is there left to conserve?

jollyspaniard said...

I watched the first episode recently and I'm hooked, it's a brilliant show. I particularly like the older, batty nun who frequently hits the nail on the head.

Dale Carrico said...

Oh, yes! The wonderful Sister Monica Joan so forcefully reminds me of Madeleine L'Engle's Mrs. Who in her rich habit (no pun intended) of apt and provocative quotation that Judy Parfitt's face has now replaced the imaginary portrait I composed in endless readings of A Wrinkle in Time.