About A. G. Harmon

A.G. Harmon teaches Shakespeare, Law and Literature, Jurisprudence, and Writing at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. His novel, A House All Stilled, won the 2001 Peter Taylor Prize for the Novel.

The Case For Charlie Gard

charlie gard photo by PA Press Association on the Sun (uk)Charlie Gard, the English child you see here, will likely die—indeed, by the time this is published, he may have already died. Charlie has Mitochondrial DNA Depletion Syndrome, which in short means that through some catastrophic chain of rare events, his bodily functions are failing him. No cure has been found for this disease.

Still, Charlie’s parents want to expend every effort on their infant son. They and others have raised millions to do so through various fundraising sites. There are hospitals that have offered to take him on—a one in a million chance at a treatment in America—and the Pope and the U.S. President have offered to aid the parents’ efforts. All know that Charlie has little chance, but want to try anyhow.

But to the world’s amazement, it seems the parents are not going to be given that chance. Through some Dickensian brew of law and situational ethics, an English Hospital, Great Ormond Street, as well as judges—someone named “Mr. Justice Francis” of the “European High Court”—and politicians—London Mayor Boris Johnson, among others, get to say whether it’s time to give up on Charlie’s treatment. And they, not Charlie’s mother and father, have decreed not only that Charlie must be let die, but also that they have the authority to say so.

Somehow, it doesn’t matter how much his parents are willing to do, or how much others are willing to “waste” on a hopeless case. If it’s hopeless, resources are better spent elsewhere, the masters opine—albeit with brows knitted in distress, with grim smiles of understanding at how heartbreaking their decision is “for all concerned.” They assure us their hearts are heavy.

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New Names for Old Gods

The philosopher William James was one of the turn of the century’s greatest examiners of the religious experience, noting its varieties and studying its phenomena, albeit with the kind of distanced, unheated air characteristic of an academician of that era. But the psychologist Carl Jung was the thinker who intellectually legitimized the religious impulse as a constituent part of the human species.

Jung said that a fundamental part of life is an intense desire to know the divine, a yearning to experience that which is larger than the self. For modern man, a loss of the religious center resulted in all kinds of maladies—elevated concerns to realize ambitions, inordinate delight over material possessions, anxiety over the retention of passing beauty, strength, grace, etc. Caretaking of the soul was a remedy for these things, though for modern man an acceptance of that fact proved difficult. Hence, neurosis.

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A Book Without a Spine

The picture you see to the left is of a bookshelf in a local Starbucks. This is no regular Starbucks, but the fancy kind you find in big cities, where they have long bars at which people can sit upon artisan-crafted stools and have artisan-made coffee served to them in pottery out of Bunsen and beaker-type contraptions, likely forged by artisans.

When did that word become such a big thing anyway? “Artisan”? It seems meant as one of those virtue-signaling terms that implies that the maker and the purchaser enjoy better quality stuff than the everyday Styrofoam slob who doesn’t care about free-ranging and fair-trading. Even McDonald’s now makes sandwiches on “artisan” bread—and they’re pretty darn good sandwiches too (McDonald’s doesn’t really look like itself anymore, which has thrown me for a loop, I’m here to tell you. But I’ll leave that for another day).

Just in case it’s not clear, all the books on this shelf are facing backwards. The spines have been turned to the wall as though the volumes were a bunch of bad children that had to be punished. It’s not possible to go up and pull one of them down to see if it’s a real book or not, as I want to do. The shelves are against a wall lined with artisan-wrought tables at which people sit, drinking their artisanal drinks, their own faces made up in the backlight of one type of screen or another as they telecommute and Snapchat. [Read more…]

The Madding Crowd

Why is it that we so often gain courage or cowardice to do bad from other members of a group, but seldom the courage to do good? Why is it that the herd instinct kicks in mostly when the object is to tear something to shreds, like beasts? Or when we’re put in fear by a despot and cannot dare to be different from the rest of the craven lot who cower in the shadows, too terrified to stare him down? But when it comes to doing good, it is rarely the case that such a thing is done by cooperative effort.

Only mass catastrophes seem to prove the exception, and even then it is not so much the altruism of the crowd that proves influential as the jarring circumstances that jolt us into a selfless mode. More often than not, the good person must stand alone; the bad always has company.

Sadly, it is not particularly shocking that the American university campus, in increasingly numerous instances, has perverted one of its essential purposes—to provide a free exchange of thought and a civil place for debate. Instead of honoring the constitutive American right of free speech, however unsavory that speech may be in its particular iteration, we now have barbarous crowds who rampage over anything with which they disagree. The “heckler’s veto” has ended all discussion, as those who scream the loudest and shout the hardest foreclose any chance of civil discourse. [Read more…]

Praying for a Hurricane on an Ordinary Wednesday Afternoon

painting in mostly light pink cream muted tones of a paddel0steamer in a storm on the water. the water is rimmed with blue paint, the clouds are bluish gray and purple. “It is easier to survive a category five hurricane than it is to get through an ordinary Wednesday afternoon.”

That paraphrase of Walker Percy (from his essay, “Diagnosing the Modern Malaise”) was suggested to me by my friend Caroline Langston Jarboe. I was wondering out loud why I would give anything to have back a very difficult, but purpose-filled, time of my life in exchange for the quotidian restlessness of the exile that followed it.

Percy’s point, which I found so insightful, was that while in the midst of an onslaught that takes all of our wits and energy to survive, we are freed from the unrest, aimlessness, and fretful questioning that plagues us during most of our existence. A typical day can be careworn and sometimes unendurable because we are unsure of our direction. [Read more…]