The Corner

Catching Up on the Week (1)

Way late here catching up on the week. Whose fool idea was this 24-hours-per-day business?

Tuesday I passed comment on the Russian adoptee who was returned to sender when the adopters found him uncontrollable. Several readers had things to say.

Reader A: [Picking up on my remark that these adoptions are “kind of insulting. The message is: Oh, your country is so hopeless, you can’t even raise your own children.”]

Well, yes, but that’s at least part of the point, isn’t it? . . . I have friends working with orphanages in Kazakhstan. Let’s just say that Charles Dickens would have recognized these places. I’m sorry but some countries are so hopeless that they can’t even raise their own children. At least not those with any defect — and in China, just being a girl is too often considered a defect.

[Me] To be fair to the Chinese, there is now a big public-information campaign under way over there to raise awareness of the sex imbalance. The policy is already causing a lot of social problems, e.g. in districts with a severe shortage of female children, you can contract with criminals to kidnap an infant girl so you can raise her as a committed bride for your son. How much effect are these information campaigns having on the problem? The couple of Chinese friends I asked both gave the same reply: “Ha!” Which translates as “Ha!”

Reader B:

When we were looking at an international adoption, we studied up some on the programs in the different countries that allow this. One of the things I remember about the Russian adoption program is that Russia only allows foreigners to adopt babies if they have a documented medical condition that makes them unlikely to be adopted in Russia. So, all children adopted from Russian apparently have a diagnosis of some medical problem in their medical records. But there is a bit of a bureaucratic game going on there, and not all of the children really have that serious a medical condition. According to our agency, what you need is a doctor who understands what the different diagnoses really mean so you will learn whether the potential child really has a serious medical condition. I assume that some of the adoption agencies paint a fairly rosy picture about how many wonderful children are adopted from Russia despite having documented medical conditions.

[Me] My Russian Children’s Welfare Society informant tells me that considerable money changes hands between the various Russian middlemen. Caveat emptor.

Speaking of that society:

Reader C:

Per your discussion about the prejudice Russian and Chinese have against out-of-country adoptions, the RCWS’s own website states that there are an estimated 700,000 orphans in Russia. To put a point on it, orphans would comprise the 18th-largest city in Russia. In a country with a lower per capita GDP than Libya and a life expectancy that has declined since 1970 (while the world’s has increased 16 percent), their bias against outside assistance of the kind that will help all parties involved is madness.

[Me] No it isn’t. The RCWS strives to make sure that orphanages are well run, and that the children are properly cared for and have the same opportunities as other kids in Russia — including the opportunity to be adopted into loving Russian families. I don’t see anything mad about that. I can’t see what “lower per capita GDP” has to do with anything, unless you think that a child is happier in a rich country than in a poor one (I doubt it) and that these disparities are fixed in stone (which I really doubt: who knows? — when the child is middle-aged, Russia’s GDP per capita may surpass America’s: In my own lifetime, Ireland’s has surpassed Britain’s, a thing nobody in my parents’ generation would have thought possible).

In any case, among Russia’s many problems is a collapsing demography. To ask Russian patriots to assist in the exporting of Russian children seems to me to be asking too much. I think I know how I’d feel about it if I were Russian, anyway.

Reader D:

Every week the local [Philadelphia] news channel has a piece called Wednesday’s Child — the local paper has a similar feature. The foster-care system has a continuing need for caretakers. This leads me to believe that their are many children right here available for adoption.

However . . . many of these children are older, have “special needs,” or are black. In recent years white parents have been discouraged from adopting black children and adoptive parents want if not perfect children at least children who are average. (Although the Haitian adoptions spotlighted after the earthquake seem to be an exception to the rule.)

[Me] A perennial problem with adoption is the mismatches — age, race, health — between what’s wanted and what’s available. This is a topic everyone’s uncomfortable about, because it makes these poor kids seem like some kind of consumer item. These crude market forces don’t totally dominate the adoption business; plenty of big-hearted people are willing to take kids with health problems, for instance. The market disciplines are strong enough to leave a lot of American kids unadopted, though, and help to drive the preference for foreign adoption.

There’s another aspect working against domestic adoptions, too:

Reader E:

Derb — I was adopted from South Korea as an infant and have a couple of friends who are now attempting to adopt from Sudan.

It’s not that domestic supply doesn’t correspond to demand . . . Fewer couples enter into the American system of adoption as prospective recipients, not because they don’t want to, but because of the many rights and privileges that America grants birth parents.

My friend who has been in the system for months waiting for a child or two, and for INS to prepare the paperwork said to me, “God bless America for giving birth parents so many rights. God damn them for it, too.” She said that after her child came home, if the mother suddenly changed her mind, they would have to pry her baby from her cold, dead, hands . . . Don’t get me started on couples who choose to be foster parents whose hopes of adopting are dashed by the seemingly arbitrary whims of a family court judge in favor of a birth mother with a history of violating court orders.

The risk is infinitesimal that your adopted child will be a psychopath and you’d want to “return to sender,” but if you adopt in the U.S.A., the possibility is greater that the mother will force a return. To prospective parents, this is a far more frightening possibility.

[Me] The point is well taken. I’m not sure how things work with a full formal adoption, but certainly I have read or seen scores of heartbreaking news stories about foster parents forced to give up a child they have loved and cared for for years, at the whim of the biological mother, supported by what seem to me unjust laws.

Reader F:

I hate to raise even a tiny midge of a quibble with you, dear Derb, but a psychopath is someone who doesn’t feel normal human emotions. They may act cruelly because they lack empathy, or they may not, and many of them come to a bad end. A sociopath has the emotions and actively enjoys the unhappiness/ pain/confusion of others precisely because he is able to feel those emotions. I suspect most serial killers are sociopaths, along with a high percentage of other violent criminals.

People use the two terms interchangeably, and they shouldn’t. Even psychiatrists and psychologists do it. My own beloved is a certified psychopath (by the Army, no less) and for the 3 decades I have known him and the 1 decade I’ve been married to him, has treated me with all the care and courtesy I could wish for. His opinion is that many abused children, especially males, grow up to fall in the two categories, but the difference is whether the abuse breaks them. If it does, they spend the rest of their lives in a futile effort to regain what was lost by controlling others as they were controlled, and substituting their victims’ suffering for their own.

It probably helped that my beloved realized at a very early age that he was different, and proceeded to teach himself to read so he could find out why. He has also made a lifelong study of watching people and can easily blend in with any crowd in any setting. He sums up the difference thusly: A psychopath may kill you, but will experience neither pleasure nor regret. A sociopath will enjoy killing you, and while your death may serve an additional purpose for him, the pleasure he experiences is primary.

[Me] I appreciate the instruction. It sounds like psychopathy is more innate, sociopathy more learned or conditioned. Gross sadism has historically been rather common in all sorts of cultures — the grisly public executions of pre-modern Europe, the torture parties of Plains Indians. It doesn’t seem too hard to get people enjoying another’s suffering. To be missing basic emotions, though, has got to be a wiring problem.

I’ll be doing follow-ups on last week’s Diary when I get a chance.

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