“Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”
This well-known quote summed up the ruling of the Supreme Court of the US in the infamous case Buck v. Bell (1927), as written by Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.
In the case of my family, I would say three generations of MSbP are too much. Yet, as I write this in early July 2016, it has now become apparent this is exactly what we face.
Rights and Wrongs
In Buck v. Bell, sterilization was authorized in the name of genetic (race) purity, against those the state deemed “unfit” to reproduce. Holmes, a respected jurist, and his colleagues concluded that Carrie Buck and her mother and grandmother were all risks to the gene pool.
I think of this case as I write because of that “three generations” quote, and the way the court concluded the behavior was genetic in origin. In seeking explanations for what they disapproved, the justices, like state and society, seized upon a “reason” that kept it simple, and allowed them to wash their hands of the debate over the causes behind expressed behaviors.
A reason is not a cause. A dog barks when it is scared, making fear the reason for the bark, but the bark itself is caused by anatomical structures reacting to physiological stimuli. A dog barks from fear, but barks because it has the proper equipment to do so. Causation and rationale for an action are not identical. The dog is genetically made to bark (causation); why it barks will vary (rationale).
One of my cousins has used the cause of her pain—a mother with MSbP—as a rationale for harming a child.
A Sickness of Generations
I open e-mails from my paternal family with trepidation. This morning, I opened one to find that the MSbP behavior demonstrated by my grandmother and her younger daughter continues. That younger daughter (my aunt) herself is a mother of two, a son from whom she is estranged, and a daughter.
That daughter, my cousin, is approximately twenty years younger than I am. She lives with a man, whose child’s mother died when the child was a few months old. To copy from the e-mail, (Cousin) has had the baby for a couple of years now.
This was news to both myself and the e-mail sender, as we are “outside” the family, and generally learn about them from the news or from old friends in our home community. In this case, the e-mail sender discovered the details because of an old friend’s connection to the father of the child.
The e-mail sender, whose anonymity I respect, forwarded me the original from her old friend. I quote, with names redacted for obvious reasons:
I didn’t know (cousin) is your family or I would have told you sooner about (the baby). We’re all afraid (the baby) could die. She is always sick but nothing is ever wrong when she is at the doctor.
I read through a few lines of gossipy speculations and observations about my cousin, and encountered the section the e-mail sender found more disturbing than the above. Frankly, I was and am quite upset enough without reading:
I thought (cousin)’s mother was out of the picture but she babysits.
A Chill In The Blood
The problem I face, and we all face, is stopping this. We have no forensic evidence. We have only anecdote, prejudice, and reputation: the same three factors that led to eugenics laws being enacted in the United States. Can we decide my cousin is an MSbP perpetrator based on hearsay, her unpleasant persona, and a toddler’s vague ailments? Do we assign MSbP as the cause? Do we decide this is a third-generation perpetrator, without more reason or cause than a gossipy e-mail from a small town? Or is my cousin guilty of no more than having an MSbP parent?
As it stands today, the state social workers have been called in, and the child removed from the home, and my cousin arrested on misdemeanor endangerment. Her defense to her partner (the child’s father) made its way into the forwarded e-mail, which I again quote here:
She said to his face she couldn’t help it because her mama’s such a (expletive deleted) to her all her life. Well, it’s true her mama’s a (expletive deleted), but that doesn’t make it okay.
Do we take that as an admission? Or is it a third-hand account, mangled by dislike of my paternal family in their community? Is my cousin’s rationale (a rotten mother) sufficient to declare it a cause, and be used in a court of law in her defense?
Does it matter?
I have no idea beyond this: Three generations of MSbP are too much.
What stories haunt your family? Share below!
Images courtesy brandifly117, allysonmiller1969, and AJEL, via Pixabay