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Who Will Buy This Beautiful Baby?

...in areas Faulkner ignored, the past ain't past and Lionel Bart might be updated........

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, February 28, 2007.

There are many past behaviors of our species that are hoped found only in the past, and it’s discomforting, to say no more, when this proves to be untrue.

The Holocaust – a state designed and implemented genocide of Jews, gypsies, and other, mostly Slavic, peoples – is the most publicized embarrassing horror, a status that has engendered resentment and envy. But blood lust and tribal affections rise to the surface easy enough, and whether Darfur, Yugoslavia, Thailand, or the neighborhoods of Baghdad, the impetus and fact are still with us, to our shame.

Slavery, as exemplified by those who ship Asians and Hispanics and Russian women into the United States to work for putrid or no income as cheap manufacturing machines or sex workers or outright criminals, is actually on the upswing. And its genetically related procedure of indentured servitude has never really gone away. What is, in fact, the basis behind credit card companies trying to pointlessly indebt the young by sending them free and baselessly warranted credit to purchase things they don’t need? Yes, still a step or two from the ravenous Coyotes who courageously drain a person’s life savings to ship them to America in a container ship that they might be wage slaves or comfort women to crime syndicates, but not such a great distance, after all.

And today, in Colorado, a mother is on trial for selling her own child to a couple who willingly paid for the kid. This, so she could buy a car, or rather, make a down payment on a car for which she is clearly unable to make payments. How different is this from the same mother sharing the take with an adoption agency, so called, or in renting her womb, or selling her eggs, and this so she could get a down payment on the same car? The media and the public has gone into autopilot with wrists stapled to the forehead and lots of feigned outrage, made easier by the woman’s darker skin and Mexican heritage. It's as if the Lady's Auxiliary just discovered that Lionel Bart had altered his song in Oliver to: Who Will Buy This Beautiful Baby?

You may, these days, have to be a Thomas Hardy fan to recall the future Mayor of Casterbridge selling his wife and infant daughter to the highest bidder after an argument when he was drunk. But there are about 400 documented cases of wives literally and legally being sold by their husbands in England, and it was considered legal if the wife was put in a halter, led through a turnpike gate at a market, and sold before witnesses between the 17th and early 20th centuries. Sometimes the seller allowed children to be thrown into the deal. Sometimes the parents cared, sometimes not.

This sounds, to the innocent, a ridiculous canard of a civilized and Christian society, but bear in mind that the vast majority of marriages in Europe and the Americas were by common law and local custom until the Council of Trent, which ended in 1563. After that, a marriage was only legal in Roman Catholic countries if it were witnessed by a priest of the Roman Catholic Church. Primarily because it annoyed the Catholic Church, this was not accepted by the Protestants or Eastern Orthodox. Eventually, though, all Protestant and Orthodox countries tried to abolish "marriage by habit and repute," with – ahem - Scotland being the last to do so, and this in the distant past of 2006. Last year, and only to help its independence aspirations, not its group morality.

The reason they couldn’t get around to it sooner was the shortage of clerics. At the least, a huge plurality and perhaps a majority of people in Christian lands never got to see a priest in their lives because of their remote access. So, not only were most marriages not written in gold at the side of God, but marriage was viewed as a business deal and not an emotional melding of souls. As such, men could sell off what they owned, and they owned their wives and children. Oh, and that’s another concept slow to die.

Since women could have, and likely did have, several common law relationships with confusing parentage of the children – anathema to patriarchs – they too were allowed to sell off their broods for either cash or remuneration of their souls. Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens sashayed around the topic, but leaving babies at convents and churches was a big business back in the day, and perhaps the church, for a donation, gave away some to various navies or to the household staff of wealthy benefactors. Of course, unwanted children to this day are killed at leisure since the convents are dying and the orphanages closed.

It is true that most of this horror was by the hand of men, not women, and we know this because while there are no signs of much guilt from men through the centuries, there was a specific type of ghost who haunted mothers in northern Europe. They were the utbergs, the souls of the infants left to die in sea or rocks or fed to the crows because village elders thought the population too full or the child too weak. So much better than an abortion......

When it comes to our most horrible impulses and traditional coping devices of violence, we’re a long way from successfully drowning them in the tub. So to speak.