Merriam Webster defines Sovereignty as:
“1a: supreme power especially over a body politic b: freedom from external control : AUTONOMY c: controlling influence 2: one that is sovereign especially: an autonomous state 3 obsolete : supreme excellence or an example of it”
Simply looking at the above definitions of sovereignty one can see that its definition is, at its essence, both complex and subjective. On one extreme, sovereignty defines power and dominance over others, whereas on the opposite side of its spectrum, it reveals the individual’s right to “freedom from external control.”
Hmm, it makes one pause and reflect, does it not?
Sovereignty has become a popular word these days, used to define individual and group rights, as well as the sovereignty of animals, plants, and other life forms. I have been thinking a lot about sovereignty since I responded to a meme on FB yesterday that claimed that pro-choice or “anti-life” groups do not care about life. In essence, the meme was defining sovereignty in terms of the first definition, “supreme power over a body,” while also defining the importance of the said body as such: the woman’s body is less important than a fetus’s. A domineering political/religious body has the sovereign right to delineate this said value.
As someone who defines herself as both pro”life” and pro”choice,” I found offense to this definition of sovereignty. When we try to define and impose restrictions on the sovereignty of another being, we impose the will of the ego’s striving for control and power. We also place limitations and restrictions on the very complex nature of life itself.
If one takes the view, which I strive to, that all life is sacred, one must dance with the complexity of how to define life and where to impose the individual’s will (or group’s will) over another life. The individual who posted the meme happens to define life at conception, when a sperm fertilizes the egg, yet she also limits herself in this definition, excluding, one can say, the rights of the sperm itself and the life-force potential of the eggs that will never get fertilized by the billions of sperm that will never exercise their rights to that fertilization. Then, there is the ego’s imposed definition of when that said “life” really begins. Science disagrees that it is at conception. And so do many branches of spirituality that say the soul does not enter the body until around 3 months after fertilization. Who has the right to define this life?
This individual’s belief (defined by her religion), in its inherent assumptions, is also limited to human life. She represents a section of humanity who abides by a specific religious indoctrination that defines sovereignty by one specific set of edicts. This sovereignty is also imposed on the populous that does not adhere to these edicts, sending their children out with their holy books in the attempts to sway others to their definitions of sovereignty. Which, again, limits humans to being holy beings and not other other life forms, ranking through a patriarchal hierarchy of the holiness of life that excludes animals, plants, the living planet, etc.
Again, this begs us to question, if we do value the sovereign rights of one “life” over another, why that is so? Who has endowed us this sovereign power and right?
The very definition of life, when reduced to the simplest of its complex form, reveals to us that life is cyclical and never ending. That life, in essence, is both the potential and the active. It cannot repeat and continue itself without sacrifice of other life. Therefore it becomes a question of how we define what is holy. Is the potential more holy than the active? Is the unformed more holy than the formed? And, is one life more valuable, holy, or sovereign than another?
In the meme that spurred this musing, there was an implication that the life of a fetus is more holy than that of an immigrant child.
It also implies that the mother carrying that developing life is less holy than the fetus her body may or may not be able to support. This post is not intended to dive into the complexity of carrying an unwanted or planned pregnancy, but it is worth spending a moment (or more) contemplating the complexity of what this means in terms of sovereignty. Considering, as one does, the will and sovereignty of the rapist, along with the sovereignty of those who strip away the sovereign rights of mothers while refusing to support them after their children are born into poverty, incest, abuse, etc.
If we are going to be emphatic about imposing limitations on sovereignty, should we not also explore the origins of our beliefs? Should we not question whether our definition is really about power, or whether it is about freedom? Should we not question whether we truly have the right to say that one life is more sovereign than another and what this sovereignty really means to Life with a big L?