The Personhood Dodge

by John Holbo on October 1, 2014

Crooked Timber seems to be suffering from a deficit of posts. I blame excess of virtue on my part. I was going to post about that Kevin Williamson piece that has set everyone off. I noticed it before it was a thing! And now it’s gone viral. And he’s followed up with a Twitter thing about hanging women who get abortions. Lovely.

Here’s the thing. 1) He’s trolling. 2) On or about Monday afternoon I realized this specific style of trolling bothers me a bit less than it did a couple years back.

Possible explanations:

1) I’ve grown old and cold and my youthful idealism for truth and justice has dried up.

2) I don’t wear my old “I refute Jonah Goldberg posts that haven’t even been written yet” t-shirt much anymore – because, seriously. Life’s too short to be always trying to live on the bleeding edge of NR nonsense. “Tastes are composed of a thousand distastes” (Paul Valery) and all that. Still.

3) I just don’t see this sort of rhetorical performance being a culture war winner for conservatives any time soon. If Williamson is just going to prove Dunham’s point, give or take – well, why the hell not? If he thinks the solution to the problem of getting down with his bad self is ‘keep digging!’, who am I to say no?

But life is always better with greater intellectual clarity, if it can be achieved, so let me conclude this post by explaining something about Williamson’s Tweets, which are baffling, and have actually been Boing Boing’ed.

What, you may ask, is ‘the personhood dodge’? That is, why does Williamson think that his views are strictly scientific (not religious) and that the only way to be pro-choice is by indulging in some sort of mystic mumbo-jumbo?

The answer is provided here.

There are many religious people in the pro-life camp, but it is not a religious question. It is a question about the legal status of an entity that is under any biological interpretation a 1) distinct, 2) living, 3) human 4) organism at the early stages of development. Consider those four characteristics in order: There is no scientific dispute about whether an embryo is genetically distinct from the body in which it resides, about whether the tissue in question is living or not living, about whether the tissue in question is human or non-human, or whether it is an organism as opposed to a part of another organism, like an appendix or a fingernail.

The pro-abortion response to this reality is to retreat into mysticism, in this case the mysterious condition of “personhood.” The irony of this is that the self-professedly secularist pro-abortion movement places itself in roughly the same position as that of the medieval Christians who argued about such metaphysical questions as “ensoulment.” If we use the biological standard, the embryo is exactly what pro-lifers say it is: a distinct human organism at the early stages of development. If we instead decide to pursue the mystical standard of “personhood,” we may as well be debating about angels dancing on the head of a pin.

This is at least the sort of argument that is interesting to discuss (probably not with Williamson, who is obviously way too busy not caring about Lena Dunham having sex. But maybe he can take a break from all that.) The argument stands in a long line of similar arguments that try to finesse the is/ought distinction, by finding some scientific is to substitute for some-or-other puzzling ought. It’s a classic positivist gambit to say that anything that isn’t strictly scientific is therefore mystical (even though it’s actually kind of implausible that this opposition is exhaustive.)

It’s easy to see that Williamson’s argument generates odd implications. Thus, it can only be swallowed simultaneously with some extreme moral revisionism of ordinary attitudes and notions.

Suppose we encounter a race of non-human aliens that are, like us, sentient. They feel pain and pleasure. They have beliefs and desires, they laugh and cry and fall in love. They make life plans. Can we torture and kill them with impunity? After all, they lack human DNA? Obviously no one is going to say it’s just obvious that we can.

Suppose that for some strange reason a women is pregnant with a genetic clone of herself, so that the thing growing inside her is not genetically distinct from her, as an organism? Does it seem more ok to abort a clone, merely because it lacks a unique DNA signature? I think not. For that matter, would it be ok to murder an adult human clone – or one of two genetically identical twins, so long as you spared the other?

Suppose you want to defend the permissibility of factory farming against Peter Singer-style arguments? Would you simply repeat, over and over, that these animals have been tested and found to contain no human DNA?

Last but perhaps not least: human knowledge about basic truths of genetics is fairly recent. But human ethics is ancient. It is full of strictures against murdering, robbing, unfair treatment. It stipulates duties of care, on and on. If all this is really about genetic facts (not persons) then it seems to follow that all of human ethics is one giant Gettier problem. Quite literally, no human knew a thing about right and wrong before we basically knew how DNA works. Would it make sense to say that humans have moral knowledge of right and wrong, but that no humans did before 1953? Also, real knowledge about genetics is even today a fairly scarce commodity. (I confess to large gaps in my own knowledge.) Would it make sense to say that most of us take it on scientific faith that murder is wrong? That is, we usually have to trust the CSI boys and girls not just about the forensic details of a given murder scene, but about the victim being a genuinely qualified genetic candidate for the moral status of being murdered?

The basic formula for all such silly counter-examples is simple: it is a contingent fact that all known and accredited subjects entitled to the highest level of moral care do have unique human DNA signatures (with the exception of twins). So imagine a world in which that contingency doesn’t hold. What will our moral judgments track, in that world? Not the DNA signature (or lack thereof). That is, the reason we extend moral respect to some things, not others, is not that we value DNA. Rather, we judge some things, not others, to be persons.

If it turns out that personhood is a scientifically disreputable category, what follows is that the content of human morality is scientifically disreputable, for better or worse. If it turns out that our sense of personhood is vague, or conflicted in some cases, yet our moral sense demands an answer, then certain sorts of cases are just never going to be morally comfortable. We will have doubts and a nagging sense that there is something arbitrary, or absurd, about our ethical outlook. We will feel we’ve gone wrong somewhere. The pieces don’t fit.

But probably that isn’t such a surprising result. You can say that this is a proof that all humans are mystics. They go around all day believing in stuff that has no scientific basis, that doesn’t even really make sense, if you really push it. But, since we associate the term ‘mysticism’ with more specific forms of belief and behavior, perhaps this is not the best way to talk about it.

So Williamson is basically committing an old-style is/ought scientistic conflation, or positivistic fallacy, like I said. But maybe there’s a more general term for this fallacy? It goes like this. You notice that some subject, X, is a mess. But there is some subject, Y, in the vicinity, that can be handled neatly. You infer that X must be Y. Because what are the odds that the universe isn’t neat and tidy? Maybe this is just Occam’s Broom?

[UPDATE: thinking about it a bit more, after reading a comment by Brad DeLong, who takes Williamson to be reducing personhood to DNA, I think actually he is reducing moral truth to biological truth, while simultaneously being an eliminativist about personhood. It’s wrong to murder. That’s biology. But there’s no such thing as a person. That’s also biology. Curious combination.]

{ 540 comments }

1

John Holbo 10.01.14 at 3:29 am

It occurs to me someone is going to complain that I’m not allowing for the possibility that we don’t need to fly to some sf planet to find non-humans with enough of the morally relevant features that they are entitled to moral protection. We’ve got chimps and elephants and dolphins right here – cows, too. I’m sympathetic to that view, but I take it there is not a consensus that any non-human species has equal moral standing with humans. If someone’s view implies that chimp lives are worth less than human ones, people are likely to think that sounds right, not obviously absurd. I’m trying to confine myself to the totally absurd implications of Williamson’s view. I don’t mean to suggest, thereby, that it doesn’t also have subtler difficulties we could follow up on as well.

It occurs to me that there is another way to put the case against the DNA argument. Namely, biology doesn’t think there is something exceptional about human DNA, qua DNA, such that it is set off in a class by itself, over and against the DNA of all other species. It’s unique and special, but not uniquely different in its specialness, as unique, special kinds of DNA goes. Every species is unique. Every individual (of most species) is unique. Genetically uniqueness and specialness is just par for the DNA course. Birds do it. Bees do it. Even the monkeys in trees do it. Why should our specific, human brand of special uniqueness be especially, uniquely, specially unique?

2

Brad DeLong 10.01.14 at 3:40 am

I think the most interesting way to view Kevin Williamson’s four-part test–(1) genetically distinct, (2) living, (3) human, (4) not part of a larger organism–is that it immediately gets us into Monty Python “Every Sperm Is Sacred” territory. Every sperm inside a woman’s body is (1) genetically distinct, (2) living, (3) human, (4) not part of a larger organism. Therefore Williamson would say that personhood applies to every sperm–it must be allowed to pursue its destiny unhindered by any means of contraception, and there is probably a moral duty to require the woman to ovulate multiply as many times as possible, because anything else would infringe on the personhood rights of the spermatozoa…

3

Moz in Oz 10.01.14 at 3:43 am

One other issue is that it’s perfectly possible to agree with Williamson’s argument above and still support abortion on demand. But since I also dislike slavery, I say at any time the mother may elect to remove the “distinct living human organism” from her body and let it go about its business being distinct and all the rest.

The question for anti-abortionists to answer is: what gives the fetal person the right to enslave another? We allow an awful lot of people to die every year when the only alternative is to enslave others (via denying transplants and blood transfusions, for example), why not unborn persons? The answer “we hate women/ sex/ pleasure” is perfectly acceptable and likely accurate, it’s just morally ineffectual.

4

Matt 10.01.14 at 3:46 am

I thought the National Review was perfectly all right with killing people as long as it was in defense of property rights.

Hmm.

A woman’s body is her castle. She has the right to use deadly force to expel genetically distinct invaders and no duty to retreat.

5

John Holbo 10.01.14 at 3:46 am

I thought about the ‘every sperm is sacred’ thing – how not! But they are all genetically identical, so it reduces to the question of how Williamson is going to back up the stricture against murdering one twin, and leaving the other alive.

“Williamson would say that personhood applies to every sperm”. No, no! It’s crazier. Williamson is going for the strong ‘personhood doesn’t matter’ line. He isn’t arguing that everything with the right DNA is a person. He’s arguing that all that matters morally is the right DNA. Personhood is not a morally relevant category of assessment, since it isn’t scientific.

6

Plume 10.01.14 at 3:48 am

@2,

Also, to further the absurdity, if this is true for sperm inside the womb, why not inside the male? This was probably Yahweh’s thinking when he obliterated Onan. In other words, if women should be hanged for having an abortion, what should be done to men who, well, miss on purpose, thus “killing” the unborn, or practice some form of mono y mono (obviously) non-procreative sex?

7

Rich Puchalsky 10.01.14 at 3:51 am

“But they are all genetically identical”

No they aren’t. Try here for a quick explanation.

8

John Holbo 10.01.14 at 3:58 am

I didn’t know that, Rich. Color me corrected. I distinctly remember my biology teacher telling me otherwise!

9

David 10.01.14 at 4:00 am

Kevin Williamson is a very edgy seventeen year old.

10

Moz in Oz 10.01.14 at 4:13 am

If you’re goling to go down that path, few people and no mothers are all genetically identical human cells. Mitocondria vary genetically within the body, making even the cell an odd place to draw the line. Plus obviously no-one consists entirely of genetically identical cells (their gut bacteria alone are an enormous collection of distinct organisms). I’m not sure if that’s a problem for Williamson but it’s definitely an issue for anyone concerned about genetic purity.

The problem for Williamson would presumably be that each human cell that’s distinct has separate personhood. Even the cancer cells.

11

Rich Puchalsky 10.01.14 at 4:15 am

I’m glad to have increased human understanding in this small way.

Brad DeLong doesn’t quote Williamson’s four-part test correctly. The 4th part is not “not part of a larger organism”. It’s “organism at the early stages of development”. Sperm isn’t going to develop into anything unless it merges with another organism. However, I have a high degree of confidence that if I take the time to look back over Kevin Williamson’s “position” to make sure it’s being represented well, no human understanding will have been increased.

12

John Holbo 10.01.14 at 4:24 am

“The 4th part is not “not part of a larger organism”. It’s “organism at the early stages of development”. Sperm isn’t going to develop into anything unless it merges with another organism.”

This creates a separate sort of problem. Go back to my hypothetical standard-issue sf senient species that shares with us pain/pleasure, belief/desire, life plans, love, the lot. But it turns out that their reproductive/development cycle is different from ours. At a late stage of development each of these individuals merges with a different one, metamorphosing into a new organism that is quite different. (Don’t ask me how it works. I don’t know.) Learning this fact about them would not cause us to think it is more permissible to kill the initial stage. That is, meeting a sentient caterpillar, and knowing it’s going to turn into a sentient butterfly, doesn’t make us think it’s presumptively ok to kill the caterpillar. Even if it turns out that two caterpillars are needed to make one of these butterflies, we’d still think the caterpillars were people – if they had enough of the relevant characteristics.

13

Alan White 10.01.14 at 4:25 am

Robert Veatch has the right take on this: all hand waving on DNA and “facts” and such is not the issue: it’s a value judgment on what constitutes full moral standing that includes some reference to facts. No fact about anything biological can yield a stark objective judgment on what constitutes a moral claim about e.g. murder. The Harvard ad hoc committee in the late 60s first declared that whole brain-death is sufficient to first declare death, then turn off respirators, which on value-laden cardiac grounds would have been previously an act of murder. Murder avoided by value fiat! No facts were changed–just recommendations of a value-nature about interpretations and use of those facts.

At the other end of life, what gets me is that biology of the zygote does not entail resultant individuality of potential moral status: it can twin, recombine from twinning to produce all sorts of results from minor conjunction to two-headed but laterally distinct single bodies, to combined zygotes to produce individual heterozygotes of mixed gender and blood types, to. . . Individual full moral status cannot be read off biology so easily as to say that the zygote qualifies by having some complement of DNA.

14

Palindrome 10.01.14 at 4:31 am

@6: My understanding of the Old Testament story of Onan is that God smote him not for wasting sperm per se, but because he disregarded the terms of his marriage to his deceased brother’s widow. That is, Tamar was married to Onan with the express purpose of creating a child, who would then be legally considered the son or daughter of the brother, Er. If no child resulted, Onan would be Er’s legal next of kin, and hence inherit his estate. As a result, Onan’s coitus interruptus was a kind of property theft, not a sexual sin.

This whole idea that masturbation is against God’s will is, in this view, a later interpretation grafted onto the story by humorless jerks who dislike anyone else having a good time.

15

R.Porrofatto 10.01.14 at 4:35 am

Williamson wants to see the legal status of a number of distinct, living, human organisms — and their doctors — changed to “executed by the state.” Nothing mystical about that.

16

Cory Hoffman 10.01.14 at 4:45 am

I’ve been a long time reader but I’ve never commented before. I thought I would chime because I think the greatest weakness in Mr. Williamson’s position, that abortion should be treated like intentional homicide, can be reduced to absurdity.

If the intentional “killing” of a human embryo deserves all the punishments of intentional murder, why should we not punish other morally and criminally culpable states of mind i.e. recklessness, gross negligence.

The police state that coherence would require to punish those who proximately cause the deaths of 8 day old humans after fertilization and what not would be incompatible with a free society.

Do we want crime labs examining the waste baskets of sorority houses? Do we want homicide detectives interviewing women who suffer miscarriages? Do we want to consider women who have trouble getting pregnant and try and try only to fail at the expense of a multitude of human embryos as morally repugnant as serial killers?

To me, it’s not really about personhood. It’s about when it makes sense to extend equal protection of the law to the unborn child in a way that is compatible with a free and reasonable society. We cannot do so if we treat a human diploid cell with the same moral consideration as fully sentient human beings.

I rambled out a post on the matter at my blog if anybody is interested.

http://overlappingconsensus.com/2014/09/30/homicide-myopia/

Sorry for the Mankiw-style lack of comment space if anybody were to be interested but I don’t have time to reply and I can’t resist from replying if people ever do comment.

17

Plume 10.01.14 at 4:52 am

@14,

One can’t really blame later interpreters for putting a humorless spin on things. Yahweh definitely didn’t have much of a sense of humor and was always going off half . . . . well. He committed genocide at the drop of a hat, probably before hats were invented. After all, he killed Lot’s wife just for looking back on one of his earliest genocidal fits.

Now, of course, while Yahweh had zero humor, a lot of things he did and said were so (unintentionally) funny, he supplied comedy troops with material for thousands of years. His strange (Woody Allenish) hatred of shellfish, for instance, and all of the bizarre death sentences he calls for in Deuteronomy and Leviticus. For someone who supposedly is all-knowing and all-powerful, he sure seemed to screw up a lot and later came to hate his own creations.

Anyway, that is, if one believes in all of this literally. Which, thank goddess I don’t.

18

geo 10.01.14 at 5:00 am

Brad and Moz: Williamson does include “organism” as an essential element of his argument. Is “every sperm” or “each human cell” an organism? I don’t know, but if not, then his argument is unaffected.

I’d say the weak link in his argument is “human.” If it simply means that some organism has human DNA (leaving aside the fact that the vast majority of human genes are common to other animals), then why is it wrong to kill a human? It’s not wrong to kill someone who’s permanently brain dead, assuming her family agrees. Why would it be? What’s wrong, — as the great Bentham first put it, I think — is to cause needless suffering/injury/deprivation, the more the worse, with killing the worst. (Not because it hurts most but because it’s the end of experience, and experiences are what we value.)

For legal purposes, we separate inflicting pain or death on humans from inflicting it on other species, and (for the most part) only punish the former. Why? We say it’s because humans are persons, meaning that we believe the human organism is far more complexly organized — above all neurologically — and capable of vastly greater suffering than other species. Let’s accept that assumption for the moment. Then if a human organism is incapable of suffering, or indeed of any experience at all, why is it wrong to kill him/her/it, especially to avoid the suffering of another?

Does a fetus have experiences? Extremely minimal ones, at best — just tropisms, really. It may react to stimuli, as isolated tissues sometimes do, but it can’t suffer or have any experience; it simply doesn’t have the wiring yet. To pretend that it can, and that its suffering can be meaningfully weighed in the balance against the pain of having an unwanted pregnancy and birth forced on you, is grotesque.

If embryologists discover someday that fetuses have experiences — i.e., that they have vastly more complicated brains and nervous systems than we thought, or that experience has less to do with the brain and nervous system than we thought — then the anti-abortion side will at least have an argument. Until then, they don’t.

19

geo 10.01.14 at 5:04 am

Alan White @13 seems to have beaten me to the punch.

20

Brett 10.01.14 at 5:06 am

@Rich Puchalsky

Brad DeLong doesn’t quote Williamson’s four-part test correctly. The 4th part is not “not part of a larger organism”. It’s “organism at the early stages of development”. Sperm isn’t going to develop into anything unless it merges with another organism.

Technically that would mean that cancerous tumors in Stages I and II are eligible for protection from removal and destruction. After all, they are genetically distinct, human tissue, alive, and in the early stages of development. They are dependent on the host, but so are fetuses until late in uterus.

I tend to side with the “slavery” argument. Forcing a woman to bear a child against her will is enslavement of her body and freedom, and doubly so when a woman is forced to carry a pregnancy conceived from rape. Her right to freedom of bodily autonomy vastly outweighs any right to continued sustenance and dependency that a brainless embryo might have (although it opens up a potential dilemma once the fetus can survive outside the womb – does it then have a right to live provided it is safely removed from the mother’s body?).

If, heaven forbid, Roe was overturned and we ended up with abortion bans in conservative states, I’d love to see someone challenge them on 13th Amendment grounds. Can you imagine the sheer amount of sputtering and anger from anti-choice conservatives?

21

The Raven 10.01.14 at 5:13 am

“It is a question about the legal status of an entity that is under any biological interpretation a 1) distinct, 2) living, 3) human 4) organism at the early stages of development.”

So far as I can see, Williamson’s reasoning would make treatment of cancerous tumors a form of murder, since cancers are genetically distinct (a mutation makes the cells cancerous), living, and have human genetics. One could make a case for tumors as organisms; they are not viable without a host, but neither is a fetus before 26 weeks or so.

Do not assume that Williamson is trolling. Under the law in places where abortion is outlawed, long jail terms for women who have abortions is not uncommon. Execution is not beyond belief.

22

Jim Harrison 10.01.14 at 5:52 am

I guess DNA is supposed to be a proxy for the old notion of a separable soul. If so, treating it as the soul of a genuinely human being with citizen’s rights has the serious disadvantage of making every zygote, if not every sperm sacred. Beyond that inconvenience, there’s another problem: DNA is not the essence of an animal, not the blueprint for a person, not a chemical homunculus. As the biologists will cheerful inform you, it’s perfectly inert stuff by itself; and, even if it could somehow read itself, which of course it can’t, it doesn’t contain remotely enough information to specify an animal or a human being. If nothing else, the DNA version of the personhood dodge is a category mistake.

The obvious facts of human development are very embarrassing to many people. It’s hard to conceptualize a process that begins with a single cell and winds up with a baby. I think of it as the scandal of epigenesis. For better or worse, however, we become persons gradually just as we often depart the scene gradually. Science is simply not going to be able to identify some time t when non person becomes person, and not because of some limitation of science but because the process is intrinsically incremental. It falls to us to make a prudent decision as to where we will draw the legal line since nature is not going to do it for us. Seems to me Roe vs Wade was actually a pretty reasonable way to do just that.

23

Sebastian H 10.01.14 at 7:19 am

However you try to work out personhood, the “thought experiments” aren’t helping. A sufficiently motivated philosopher can attack our moral intuitions on anything if they get to invent SF creatures out of whole cloth.

As we develop, we become more like persons. Historically progressives tended to want to draw the line for personhood rights expansively and give the benefit of the doubt toward personhood. (Non citizens are persons, women are full persons, slaves are full persons, mentally challenged people are full persons, convicts shouldn’t have their right stripped from them after they are released, etc.). The progressive involvement with eugenics in he early 1900s complicates that picture, but that is well in the repudiated past so I stand by it as a general statement.

One of the main problems with the abortion argument in the US is that the arguments on both sides act as if their most extreme counterparts are what counts. But in reality, a huge percentage of “pro-choice” people don’t defend elective abortions in the third trimester (or even most of the second). And a huge percentage of “pro-lifers” don’t beleive in restricting abortions much if at all in the first trimester. Really.

I’d Google it for you, but I’m typing from my phone.

It’s a continuum. As the fetus becomes more like a baby, more people think you shouldn’t be allowed to choose to kill it.

24

John Holbo 10.01.14 at 7:32 am

“However you try to work out personhood, the “thought experiments” aren’t helping. A sufficiently motivated philosopher can attack our moral intuitions on anything if they get to invent SF creatures out of whole cloth. “

Really? you don’t even think you can use thought-experiments in the way I did: namely, to illustrate the implications of Williamson’s views?

I defy you to tell me an sf story, invented whole cloth, about aliens who are completely person-like, except their DNA is not human – a story that strongly pumps our intuition that we should definitely be able to kill and torture such beings with impunity.

As to the rest, about the continuum. I quite agree. I would only add that people see the continuum, but we also think of personhood as being an all or nothing thing. It’s confusing. It’s ok if a heap of sand is a vague category. We can deal with that. But we don’t like it to be vague whether someone is a person. It seems very binary. At least to me, and many others. But I don’t see how it can be, in fact, so binary.

25

Ze Kraggash 10.01.14 at 9:21 am

@18 “It’s not wrong to kill someone who’s permanently brain dead, assuming her family agrees. Why would it be? What’s wrong, — as the great Bentham first put it, I think — is to cause needless suffering/injury/deprivation, the more the worse, with killing the worst. (Not because it hurts most but because it’s the end of experience, and experiences are what we value.) “

But the fetus is not permanently brain dead, it’s only temporarily brain dead. So, couldn’t one argue that killing it will result in deprivation of future experiences?

26

John Holbo 10.01.14 at 9:55 am

“It’s not wrong to kill someone who’s permanently brain dead, assuming her family agrees. Why would it be?”

I agree with this but I didn’t use it as an example because a lot of people think there IS something wrong with this. They also think there would be something wrong with growing human in vats for organ harvesting – just making sure their brains never develop so there’s no possibility of them suffering or any of that. People experience a strong sense of disgust at such possibilities, at the very least, so I didn’t cite them as especially clear cases. I think that Williamson probably actually does think that it’s wrong to kill the brain-dead, even if the parent’s agree. It’s murder. (I don’t know. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he bites that bullet.)

“But the fetus is not permanently brain dead, it’s only temporarily brain dead. So, couldn’t one argue that killing it will result in deprivation of future experiences?”

This is reasonable but of course you can keep going on the slippery slope all the way to ‘every sperm is sacred’. So this can cut both ways.

27

Z 10.01.14 at 9:58 am

Im with Jim Harrison @22: genes have rather weirdly come to take the traditional role of blood or perhaps the soul in popular culture. This is plainly seen in Williamson’s third steps, as the explicit definition of human is “being made of human tissue” and the implicit definition of human tissue is “containing human DNA.” This conceptualization is plain wrong from a biological point of view for the reasons Jim Harrison mentions (and because of the fact that most of our genes are junk, and most of what is not junk is common with closely and often not closely related living organisms) and it is bizarrely and threateningly dehumanizing from an ethical point of view.

One common and particularly perverse expression is the statement that children born out of assisted procreation are not real children of their parents (and sometimes not real human at all “play mobile-children” in the words of one of my representatives) because they lack the “correct” DNA match-up (of course, and surely purely coincidentally, this argument is used especially often when the parents happen to be of the same sex).

28

infovore 10.01.14 at 10:08 am

Regarding Williamson’s argument “It is a question about the legal status of an entity that is under any biological interpretation a 1) distinct, 2) living, 3) human 4) organism at the early stages of development. There is no scientific dispute about whether an embryo is genetically distinct from the body in which it resides…”

Note how this moves from “distinct” to “genetically distinct”, as if that is not contestable. In real-world genetics, consider mosaicism and chimerism, which really play havoc with many arguments that rest on the assumption that the cells in a human body are genetically uniform. And arguably between implantation and birth/abortion the developing embryo/fetus is not a biologically distinct organism, being much more similar to an internal organ.

@12 “Go back to my hypothetical standard-issue sf senient species that shares with us pain/pleasure, belief/desire, life plans, love, the lot. But it turns out that their reproductive/development cycle is different from ours. At a late stage of development each of these individuals merges with a different one, metamorphosing into a new organism that is quite different.”

Isaac Asimov describes such a species in The Gods Themselves.

@16 “Do we want crime labs examining the waste baskets of sorority houses? Do we want homicide detectives interviewing women who suffer miscarriages? Do we want to consider women who have trouble getting pregnant and try and try only to fail at the expense of a multitude of human embryos as morally repugnant as serial killers?”

Based on what happens in countries where abortion is illegal, the respective answers are No, Yes, and Yes.

29

Brett Bellmore 10.01.14 at 10:46 am

“Ought vs Is” is insoluble, that’s all there is to the story. But we must have morality anyway, so we soldier on.

“This is reasonable but of course you can keep going on the slippery slope all the way to ‘every sperm is sacred’. So this can cut both ways.”

Exactly! Both sides are trying to impose a binary solution on an analog process. The continuous development from fertilized egg to college student goes from something it is not reasonable to ascribe rights to, to something that must be ascribed rights if anybody is to have them. And, in this development, birth is just a change of location, it does not mark some enormous alteration in the nature of the organism. The capacity to survive outside the womb develops prior to birth, after all, or else we’d all die right after being delivered. While the nervous system is functioning well before birth, and isn’t finished until some time in your 20’s.

One side wants to draw a line as close to one end of the progression as it can get away with, the other as close to the other end as it can get away with. You’ve got people who’d ban birth control that can prevent implantation as abortion, you’ve got people who’d permit infanticide. Both sides’ organizations garner resources from people in the middle, and then use them to promote extreme positions most of their supporters don’t hold.

The key insight is that they’re both irrational, in the same way. And ANY line you draw isn’t going to be rationally defensible, because there aren’t any step transitions to anchor the line to. So you have to stop saying the other guy is irrational for doing the same thing you’re trying to do.

Personally, I think that, as policy, (Rather than law.) the Court’s trimester test wasn’t half bad. The only problem with it is that they promulgated it in the morning with Roe, and then gave directions on how to circumvent it that evening with Doe. A bit of bad faith there, I think.

30

Ze Kraggash 10.01.14 at 10:50 am

“but of course you can keep going on the slippery slope all the way to ‘every sperm is sacred’”

It’s not slippery: the taboo is on destroying the actually existing organisms; sperm is not an organism.

31

Alex 10.01.14 at 11:08 am

It’s a classic positivist gambit to say that anything that isn’t strictly scientific is therefore mystical

with the weird implication that the distinction between science and mysticism is therefore a question of instrumentation error, and presumably to be revised when technology improves. That is of course true in a sense – better instrumentation has frequently caused scientific revolution – but it seems strange to make a philosophical principle of industrial quality control.

32

Brett Bellmore 10.01.14 at 11:21 am

“better instrumentation has frequently caused scientific revolution “

In the case of ultra-sound, it had a pretty big impact on the abortion debate; Nobody realized how much the pro-choice movement was benefiting from the womb being a black box, until it suddenly became ‘transparent’.

33

John Holbo 10.01.14 at 11:44 am

“It’s not slippery: the taboo is on destroying the actually existing organisms; sperm is not an organism.”

The taboo is not based on a scientific distinction.

In any case, it’s really not clear that a sperm is not an organism. It’s a carbon-based life-form. It swims. What more do you want?

34

Ze Kraggash 10.01.14 at 12:07 pm

Ha-ha, funny. In any case, if indeed this is a slippery slope, it’s a strike against Geo’s angle that the taboo is based on the harm caused by deprivation of experiences.

Suppose someone’s in a coma, there is a good chance he’ll come out of it, and a 100% certainty that he’ll have full amnesia. Meanwhile, the society is enslaved by him, having to spend resources to prolong his existence. Would it be okay to destroy this organism?

35

John Holbo 10.01.14 at 12:10 pm

Taboos can be based on real stuff. There can be a lot of practical wisdom behind taboos. But they never encode scientific distinctions, I would guess.

36

bianca steele 10.01.14 at 12:28 pm

It’s a classic positivist gambit to say that anything that isn’t strictly scientific is therefore mystical

But when someone at the NR uses it, I tend to assume it’s a rhetoric substitute for “you say you’re purely scientific but you’re using a religious concept without acknowledging where you got it from.” That would somewhat explain

It’s wrong to murder. That’s biology. But there’s no such thing as a person. That’s also biology.

You “mystically” realize the truth even though he didn’t say that (as if thinking were mystical and inexplicable, and religion had a monopoly on thinking rationally): you realize biology is irrelevant and the light dawns on you.

37

Barry 10.01.14 at 12:40 pm

Matt 10.01.14 at 3:46 am
“I thought the National Review was perfectly all right with killing people as long as it was in defense of property rights.

Hmm.

A woman’s body is her castle. She has the right to use deadly force to expel genetically distinct invaders and no duty to retreat.”

Do you really think that deep down, they don’t think of women more as being property? At least in the extent that men have/should have property rights over them?

38

Anders Widebrant 10.01.14 at 12:51 pm

I think the time aspect is very interesting here. Clearly, for a Christian, the appearance of a new person, with an immortal soul, must be a significant event. So when does this happen? Starting from KW’s definition, we’re drawn towards saying that it would be at some exact point of time during the period in which the first string of newly unique DNA is zipped together and installed in a functional cell.

Putting the point of conception earlier than that would mean discarding one or more of KW’s criteria (or so he’d say, but the point about sperm cells is well taken). Putting it later – or worse, being indistinct about the “when” – would require the kind of “personhood” conditions he would like to avoid.

Do we have a solid enough theological basis to put God on a stop watch like this? It seems implausible to me, especially considering the imprecisions of the biological evidence and the above-mentioned short amount of time theologians have had to consider them. Also, some Christians’ objections against the use of contraceptives seem to smudge at least one of the edges of conception, under the claim that events preceding the creation of new DNA are also part of God’s plan for creating new life.

KW might object that this is all beside the point and that he’s just after a clear and unambiguous way to determine the “legal status” of an embryo, free from all sorts of philosophical “mysticism” like this. But that’s no help at all, since we can easily add an age requirement (such as 26 weeks) to his four criteria without making it any harder to determine the legal status of an embryo. All we need to do is treat the age requirement as self-evidently applicable, like KW does with his other four criteria.

39

Niall McAuley 10.01.14 at 1:16 pm

If an embryo is ensouled at fertilization, this explains a long-standing mystery: whenever you have identical twins, why is one of them always evil?

40

David 10.01.14 at 1:17 pm

I don’t claim to be familiar with the individual or the publication, and I share the misgivings of many others about the particular terms of the argument here. I also agree that in practice very few people take extreme positions: most regard abortion as an unfortunate necessity.
But what worries me is that people who self-identify as progressives or liberals simply refuse to engage with this kind of argument, even if it is better expressed, and essentially pretend it does not exist. (I really don’t think thought experiments about aliens are helpful.) Their preferred vocabulary is the classic liberal one of property rights (in this case over one’s own body) which opponents of abortion likewise refuse to engage with. There is no chance of a genuine dialogue therefore, since the two sides each think the problem is about something different.
On the other hand, it can be argued that the issue is actually quite simple, and that those of liberal views should just be asked: at what point does a foetus become a human being, subject to the protection of the law? Everyone presumably agrees that a child that is actually born is entitled to this protection. Almost everybody believes that sperm, or a non-viable foetus is not. So at what point is the dividing line crossed, and is this a moral or a scientific distinction? (You can bring God in if you must but it’s not compulsory). And what are the consequences?
And the answer is ….

41

John Holbo 10.01.14 at 1:46 pm

“But what worries me is that people who self-identify as progressives or liberals simply refuse to engage with this kind of argument”

Which kind of argument are you talking about here?

42

MPAVictoria 10.01.14 at 1:50 pm

“most regard abortion as an unfortunate necessity.”

Many of us do not.

43

MPAVictoria 10.01.14 at 1:52 pm

“There is no chance of a genuine dialogue”

Well of course there isn’t because the forced bithers don’t consider women to be actual people. How can you have a conversation with someone who views you as a baby incubator? And why should you?

44

rea 10.01.14 at 1:56 pm

Williamson is committing a category error here–“At what point in the development of a fetus do we recognize it as entitled to all the rights and protections accorded to a human being” is a legal question, not a biological one. And law is a human artifact–we construct it to suit our needs; we do not deduce it from the nature of the universe–it is not a “brooding omnipresence in the sky”

45

Not40David 10.01.14 at 1:57 pm

I think most of us gave up on Conservatives arguing in good faith and began to acknowledge that the entire right wing rhetorical edifice is a dominance thing. This particular Kevin Williamson fiasco has nothing to do with actually converting people to a right wing mindset. It is 100% about him satisfying his personal ego and establishing a narrative wherein Progressives are irrational low information voters.

46

David 10.01.14 at 2:01 pm

“Which kind of argument are you talking about here?”
For simplicity, arguments which, whether convincing or not, and even whether honestly intended or not,assert that the issue is about the rights and welfare of the unborn child, rather than the rights of the mother. Such arguments, in my experience, are not seriously engaged with, since liberals etc generally couch the argument in terms of the rights of the mother, reproductive health and similar factors. As I said, the two sides talk past each other. I see there’s a big demonstration planned in Paris this Sunday (the Manif pour Tous), which is partly about opposition to abortion, on the basis that unborn children should have rights as well. Whatever you think of this argument, I would be more comfortable if I felt that liberals had a convincing reply to it, in the terms in which it was posed.

47

David 10.01.14 at 2:02 pm

“most regard abortion as an unfortunate necessity.”

Many of us do not.

Do you mean it’s not unfortunate or it’s not necessary?

48

Anarcissie 10.01.14 at 2:03 pm

It seems to me the argument in #3 is conclusive and the personhood of the zygote-embryo-fetus is irrelevant (as a legal or political issue), unless of course one believes slavery is all right.

49

Brett Bellmore 10.01.14 at 2:12 pm

““There is no chance of a genuine dialogue”

Well of course there isn’t because the forced bithers don’t consider women to be actual people. “

And, that would be an example of refusing to engage: Just attribute to people who disagree with you insanely odious beliefs they don’t actually hold, and you don’t have to have a dialogue with them anymore.

50

jake the antisoshul soshulist 10.01.14 at 2:25 pm

# Plume # 16
Anyone who has read the Old Testament and taken it literally (or not) should be highly skeptical of Yahweh’s good intentions. I am always reminded of Samuel Clemens description of Yahweh as , “a malignant thug”. My person view is more of “the most capricious and arbitrary tyrant in human history”.
# Palindrome #14. That is an expansion of what I understood of the “sin of Onan”.
What I had read was the the tradition of marrying the brother’s widow and fathering
children was based on the idea that those children would provide security in her old age. It had not completely made sense to me why Onan would intentionally violate that unless he had personal animosity toward his sister in law. I had not thought about the inheritance part.

51

geo 10.01.14 at 2:25 pm

Ze Kraggash @25: But the fetus is not permanently brain dead, it’s only temporarily brain dead. So, couldn’t one argue that killing it will result in deprivation of future experiences?

But the fetus is not brain-alive, so it can’t value experiences, present or future. Killing it is not depriving it of anything — you need to be able to experience/anticipate/expect/hope for something to be deprived of it. And who’s afraid of a slippery slope? If “anything” really meant “anything much” — ie, if a fetus had a tiny, microscopic,near-infinitesimal speck of capacity for experience — why would its right to live outweigh the anguish of a woman forced to grow it?

52

Rich Puchalsky 10.01.14 at 2:30 pm

“But what worries me is that people who self-identify as progressives or liberals simply refuse to engage with this kind of argument”

Wasn’t the original written in a U.S. context? Within the U.S., it’s not really an argument or a dispute. Both sides pursue their goals through their traditional means in the U.S.: from the technocratic left, unaccountable legal judgements, from the right, terrorism.

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geo 10.01.14 at 2:31 pm

Second sentence @48 should probably have read: “Killing it is not inflicting suffering, since you need to be able to experience/anticipate/expect/hope for something in order to suffer by being deprived of it.” You can, as JH said, deprive a sperm of its organismic future (as contraception does, for that matter), but that doesn’t inflict any suffering on it.

54

bianca steele 10.01.14 at 2:33 pm

In the case of ultra-sound,

Don’t forget home pregnancy tests. In the old days, the ob/gyn didn’t want to see you for a pregnancy test until you’d missed at least one period by at least, I think, 10-14 days. Now you can know if you’re pregnant (keeping in mind the number of miscarriages that occur between 10 and 40 days) only a few days after conception, well before your first missed period. The problem with @3 is that it assumes a basically viable fetus, where we’re certainty of pregnancy way back before anyone would have done in the past. (I don’t think “My period isn’t due for a week but I can just tell I’m pregnant” would carry a lot of weight, nor should it.) Taken seriously, @3 asks women to agree that there’s a second human life present when (biologically) there isn’t much difference between it and an ovum.

55

jake the antisoshul soshulist 10.01.14 at 2:40 pm

On the other hand, it can be argued that the issue is actually quite simple, and that those of liberal views should just be asked: at what point does a foetus become a human being, subject to the protection of the law? Everyone presumably agrees that a child that is actually born is entitled to this protection. Almost everybody believes that sperm, or a non-viable foetus is not. So at what point is the dividing line crossed, and is this a moral or a scientific distinction? (You can bring God in if you must but it’s not compulsory). And what are the consequences?
And the answer is ….

At this point I would say viability, which is unfortunately indeterminate. So we use
and estimated, but arbitrary time. I suppose that some day neurobiologists and embriologists would be able to determine when a foetus might become self aware, but we are not at that point yet. (perhaps never).

56

Anarcissie 10.01.14 at 2:56 pm

‘@3 asks women to agree that there’s a second human life present when (biologically) there isn’t much difference between it and an ovum.

@3 and @4 are independent of the status of the ovum-zygote-embryo-fetus. Arguments about the personhood of the fetus, while they may be interesting speculations, are politically an attempt to skip over the personhood of the person carrying the fetus.

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Glenn Alan Mercer 10.01.14 at 3:03 pm

I wish I were more up on my rhetorical devices list, but what is the argument flaw when one party sets the terms of the argument, and then wins the argument based on just those terms? Because any argument won according to the 4 criteria is I think incomplete. There is not general agreement on those 4. I would add, myself, “consciousness” and someone else could add “ability to feel pain.” Then the argument’s outcome might be different.

(Sorry to make this blindingly obvious point, because I know this blog has very intelligent followers!)

58

MPAVictoria 10.01.14 at 3:05 pm

“Just attribute to people who disagree with you insanely odious beliefs they don’t actually hold, and you don’t have to have a dialogue with them anymore.”

Oh please. You think that someone who thinks women should be HANGED for getting an abortion doesn’t think they should be forced to give birth?

59

infovore 10.01.14 at 3:05 pm

geo @18: Williamson does include “organism” as an essential element of his argument. Is “every sperm” or “each human cell” an organism? I don’t know, but if not, then his argument is unaffected.

Well, you can describe humans as a species with alternating generations of haploid and diploid organisms, with the diploid generations the result of the fusion of two of the haploid organisms. This may be more reasonable for fungi than for humans, but it is worth considering whether that judgement follows from naked biological fact or something else. Biology is extremely messy and just doesn’t allow for these kinds of conclusions.

Personally, I think rea @44 has it right: this is a legal (and ideological) argument, which might be informed by biology, but is not decided by biology. I do suspect that Williamson is looking to use biology as a conversation stopper, or failing that at least as a rhetorical club against his opponents.

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Glenn Alan Mercer 10.01.14 at 3:05 pm

Oops one more thing. “Viability” is indeed a tricky criterion, because one can argue that a newborn is not “viable,” in that if left on its own it will die.

(I wonder if we added up all the energy expended in the abortion debate over time could we power the USA for a few years? I am not saying it is a worthy topic of debate, just wondering if anyone ever tried to calculate the person-years tied up in thinking and arguing about this. Especially given I think the entire debate has probably not moved more than 2-4% of the population one way or the other.)

61

Bruce Baugh 10.01.14 at 3:06 pm

I see no reason to believe Williamson is trolling at all. The right wing thrives on bullshit in the “On Bullshit” sense of talking without caring whether what you’re saying is true or false; CT’s resident winger commenters demonstrate that all the time. But within the sea of bullshit there are some genuine points. One of them is genuine covetousness, a sense that they must have more and others must have less. Another is cruel rage, a desire to see others hurting, suffering, and dying for the offense of being the wrong sort of person. The movement as a whole rewards sociopathic presentation.

When it comes to the nature of human creation, it’s pretty much about male power. Life begins when there’s ejaculation in circumstances where the man reasonably expects to create progeny. At least that’s how life begins honestly, in the winger view. There are also dishonorable/dishonest ways for life to begin, from women sabotaging birth control to trap men with babies to lesbians using insemination. All of those are wrong, fundamentally, because they undercut the male power to make life on the man’s chosen terms.

Within this framework, the crime that people like Williamson want to savagely punish is the destruction of male power in action. Abortion is an offense against the man who made the baby, which the woman’s duty is to bear and raise or surrender to superior surrogate rearers. And that’s something they’re very sincere and serious about.

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bianca steele 10.01.14 at 3:07 pm

I disagree. @3 explicitly states that pregnancy is slavery to the fetus. That means the fetus–or embryo, or even zygote–is a person. That means the woman who’s five weeks pregnant and is considering an abortion has to “admit to herself” that the embryo is a person–when it’s not–and reason from there. @3 accepts the right-wing framing of the issue and (if taken as seriously as you’re taking it) says, “yeah, it’s a person, yeah you’re committing murder, but you have a right to, and if you think you don’t, if you’re even bothering me with this ‘not a person’ nonsense which is perfectly irrelevant, you hate women even if you are one.”

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Ze Kraggash 10.01.14 at 3:09 pm

@50 “Killing it is not inflicting suffering, since you need to be able to experience/anticipate/expect/hope for something in order to suffer by being deprived of it.”

A human being can be killed instantly while in a deep sleep. No sufferings, no hopes, no nothing; he goes to sleep and he never wakes up, and he will never get to be upset about it (let’s leave aside the possibility that other still alive people may get upset). And since this method of killing still isn’t allowed, then, it seems, this isn’t just about your present experiences, hopes, and anticipations, but about the future ones as well. Where am I wrong?

64

Adam 10.01.14 at 3:13 pm

So many people seem to want a legal bright line – on one side of the line a group of cells (e.g. sperm and eggs, or a fetus that can’t live independently) has no legal rights, on the other side even the rights of the woman can be superseded. All of the most committed combatants on either side of the war have developed some sharp, binary distinction.

I see no such line in the relevant moral question. Surely there is an accretion of moral respect that a clump of cells gains along with the characteristics of a fully formed adult human. Even after we accord full protection against mistreatment we feel no compunction against restricting the “inalienable rights” of people who do not have adult capacity, and we believe it is the right of the parents to “parent” against the wishes of the child. This is the last phase of a moral-worth slope that begins at zero – at meiosis – and rises monotonically (but not linearly!).

The reason that we fight about where to draw the abortion bright line is that there is no moral basis to have one at all.

65

Consumatopia 10.01.14 at 3:18 pm

I think the slippery slope actually leads to “every ovulated egg is sacred” rather than sperm.

They want to look at biology rather than examining whether fetuses have experiences because they want to be able to use their fetuses future experience as a reason not to kill them. Of course, taking future experience seriously leads you to Parfit’s repugnant conclusion, so they need a dividing line: you have to take the future experience of a developing organism into account, but not those of potential organisms–once the organism exists and the natural course of that organisms development is to eventually start having experiences, you cannot harm it, but this doesn’t mean that you have to go and create new organisms.

Stated like this, sentient aliens, or organisms that will eventually become sentient aliens, are protected. I don’t think sperm are protected–it doesn’t make sense to say that the natural course of a sperm is to develop into an entity with future experiences because only a minuscule fraction of them succeed in doing that, and it’s not even physically possible to save the rest of them because there aren’t enough eggs to go around. The sperm even has less than half of the eventual organism’s genetic make up (half the chromosomes, none of the mitochondrial.)

The eggs, though, are a different story. (Disclaimer: here is where I cross the line into reductio ad absurdum.) Not all of the eggs in the ovary, but once an egg is ovulated, if you’re going to talk about the “natural course” of anything you might as well say that the natural course of the ovulated egg is to be fertilized by sperm. And there is more than enough sperm for every egg.

You could deny that ovulated eggs develop naturally into experience-havers: they still need sperm. But zygotes also need lots of things to continue developing into people with experience-havers–they need a uterus to implant in and resources and care from the owner of that uterus. Sperm is just another resources that the ovulated egg needs to continue its development into an entity with future experiences.

You could also argue that the sperm changes the nature of the egg–we can’t talk about the egg as an organism that will have future experiences because those experiences will depend on which sperm its fertilized with. But a zygote’s future experiences will also depend on things that happen later to it as develops in the womb–it may even become multiple, distinct people! And if you try to further double down on this point (e.g. “eggs are haploid, not diploid!”) I think they become vulnerable again to all John’s points about sentient aliens, or how we could have moral knowledge depending on DNA.

I do agree that none of this relevant to the political question of legalized abortion, but bad arguments on personhood (or the inviolability of independent organisms with homo sapiens DNA) aren’t just trying to change the law, they’re trying to influence how women think about their own pregnancies.

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infovore 10.01.14 at 3:27 pm

David @40 “On the other hand, it can be argued that the issue is actually quite simple, and that those of liberal views should just be asked: at what point does a foetus become a human being, subject to the protection of the law?”

Birth.

(Simple question, simple answer.)

The long answer is that as a practical matter, when a woman wants to abort a pregnancy for non-medical reasons, she wants to do it as early as possible. Waiting periods, driving up the cost of the procedure, and so on, mostly result in abortions being done later in the pregnancy, as opposed to them not happening at all. By the third trimester, abortions for non-medical reasons are rare enough that having the law second-guess the women and doctors involved will not make much of a difference, and is more likely to result in harm than benefit anyone involved. Personhood or lack of it for the zygote/embryo/fetus is a red herring in this.

67

Rich Puchalsky 10.01.14 at 3:30 pm

Bruce Baugh @58: “I see no reason to believe Williamson is trolling at all.”

I think that Bruce has some very good points in the rest of his comment. I just wanted to mention for this particular point that I think the use of “trolling” as John Holbo originally used it is unhelpful. I’d guess that I’ve been banned from more blogs than the more civil half of the commenters here all put together, so I have some experience in this area, and I think that “trolling” shouldn’t really be used to mean “making sincere statements of belief that the local audience strongly disagrees with”. I doubt that KW is just writing things to get hits, or for the pleasure of making people react, or whatever other reasons are generally attributed to trolls. Absent evidence of something like that, people should respect his beliefs as sincerely evil.

68

Consumatopia 10.01.14 at 3:39 pm

And since this method of killing still isn’t allowed, then, it seems, this isn’t just about your present experiences, hopes, and anticipations, but about the future ones as well. Where am I wrong?

Right at “anticipations”. The sleeping person may not be anticipating anything, but they did, in the past, anticipate and hope for future experiences. Zygotes not only do not anticipate anything, they have not ever anticipated anything. Note that even the past experiences and anticipations of the deceased are morally relevant, thus people can write documents expressing how they and their property are to be disposed of after death, and those documents may be legally enforceable.

I can think of some other cases that actually are problematic under this framework (infants?) but sleeping persons are in the clear.

69

Ronan(rf) 10.01.14 at 3:45 pm

I don’t know if Williamson is trolling, and would accept for the purpose of generosity that he isnt particularly evil. Instead he’s the product of the specific eco system he festers in, which appears to run by a type of Darwinian selection process in reverse, where only the most inept survive.
Why someone who appears to so greatly value his self described ‘urbane sophistication and pretensious intellectualism’ would be willing to accept the position of resident rent a gob for the coterie of morons that are the National Review, is beyond me.

70

Anarcissie 10.01.14 at 3:45 pm

bianca steele 10.01.14 at 3:07 pm @ 59:
‘I disagree. @3 explicitly states that pregnancy is slavery to the fetus. That means the fetus–or embryo, or even zygote–is a person. …’

The actual enslaver is the state, which can and does invest even non-existent beings with personhood. In the case of opposing abortion, it then acts coercively on their supposed behalf, privileging the supposed personhood of the zygote etc. over the personhood of the person carrying it. This corresponds to the rightist view of women as subordinate to their role as baby producers, which in turn goes back to their primary use under conditions of slavery.

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Rich Puchalsky 10.01.14 at 3:50 pm

“would accept for the purpose of generosity that he isnt particularly evil”

He wants people to be killed for doing something that currently isn’t a crime. I don’t know what your definition of evil is, but that’s sufficient for mine.

72

bianca steele 10.01.14 at 3:56 pm

Anarcissie @ 67: The actual enslaver is the state

Okay. I don’t get that from @3, though.

I still think finding a reasonable dividing line is important. IVF, for instance. I don’t ever want to read another novel where a well-meaning, liberal woman hates herself for the rest of her life because she went mountain climbing and took audacious risks when she was, without knowing it, three weeks pregnant, or some such. Or an SF novel where a woman realizes that her first-trimester abortion is morally equivalent to the headless-clone organ harvesting she’s just discovered (much less that her feminism, since it’s pro-choice, is morally equivalent to that). And saying the state shouldn’t criminalize abortion, of course, isn’t quite going so far as telling women they shouldn’t consider themselves awful people if they consider it.

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mud man 10.01.14 at 3:57 pm

It’s all just retrospective logic-chopping, since there are many undeniable humans that many would assert have no particular right to life, such as “terrorists” and their neighbors, criminals following appropriate judicial activity, anyone at all during “jus in bello”, and in a statistical way people who work in a variety of less-than-safe industries. We’re fine with killing people.

The thing about abortion is that it’s a flavor of trolley problem: the gestate’s life really is in conflict with the getator’s. The pro-abortion position (I agree) is that the only way to handle this unfortunate aspect of human reproduction is to give all discretion to the mother (since she is the sentient one), and no other ethical policy can be consistent.

74

mud man 10.01.14 at 4:04 pm

Palindrome #14 Onan’s coitus interruptus was a kind of property theft, not a sexual sin.

Not so much the property per se, it’s about the lineage; Onan caused Er to be cut off like Esau and Ismael. A sin against Yahweh’s plan for the Chosen People. Recall the promise to Abraham was that his progeny would be numberless as the stars of heaven.

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Ze Kraggash 10.01.14 at 4:09 pm

@68 “The sleeping person may not be anticipating anything, but they did, in the past, anticipate and hope for future experiences.”

They hoped and anticipated, lucky bastards, and good for them. When they disappear – suddenly and without any suffering – like I said, they are not going to be looking down from heaven feeling disappointed.

“Zygotes not only do not anticipate anything, they have not ever anticipated anything.”

One could argue (I think?) that basic fairness dictates that they should be given a chance. Let them hope and anticipate too, then kill them, if that’s necessary. Why those who already experienced and hoped plenty should be protected, while others never given a chance at all.

76

Trader Joe 10.01.14 at 4:11 pm

I’m always a bit amused by the spectrum argument that looks at when the baby might be viable and sees that as the primary spectrum that must be addressed in making the abortion no abortion decision.

There’s also a spectrum the woman undergoes in evaluating their own reaction to the fact that they are carrying a life/potential life. There’s considerable support for abortion from nearly all but the farthest right when conception has happened against the womans’s will or when its known that carrying a child would seriously harm the mother. If there was clear moral rigidity about the formation of life as per Williamson, even these exclusions would make no sense, so as most here seem to agree, Williamson makes no sense.

Beyond that point, there’s a tendency to turn the woman’s decision and right to make it into a game of 20 questions. Was it unprotected sex? Does she know the father? Was this the first time? When did she find out? Why did she wait? The list goes on…

While any of these answers might illuminate the views and attitudes of the woman and as such have prurient interest to those that might wish to deny the right to choose, they really have no bearing on the morality or legality of the right to choose itself.

Interestingly the anti-choice crowd only focuses on the instances where the “choice” results in abortion. Children are born all the time where the mother has “chosen” to give birth either to keep the child under potentially challenging circumstances or offer for adoption. Why is “choice” only denigrated when the choice is to terminate? (I know the answer, don’t bother).

In my view Roe has balanced all of these considerations pretty well. It doesn’t mean there won’t be cases either direction where I sort of shake my head and think I wouldn’t have made the same choice…but that’s the way choices are, we have a right to disagree with the choice another has made, but we don’t have a right to make the choice instead of them.

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bianca steele 10.01.14 at 4:12 pm

Really, though, I don’t want to read novels or see movies where women (always women) recognize that their moral development is dependent on their slavery or near-slavery (almost always to a man), either. At least not if I have to wonder if they’re “really” about abortion.

78

Brett Bellmore 10.01.14 at 4:13 pm

“Oh please. You think that someone who thinks women should be HANGED for getting an abortion doesn’t think they should be forced to give birth?”

This is the statement I was responding to:

“Well of course there isn’t because the forced bithers don’t consider women to be actual people. “

May I presume you’re opposed to the castle doctrine, believe in a duty to retreat? I guess that means you don’t consider homeowners to be actual people.

79

MPAVictoria 10.01.14 at 4:15 pm

“May I presume you’re opposed to the castle doctrine, believe in a duty to retreat? I guess that means you don’t consider homeowners to be actual people.”

Off topic and non responsive. Typical.

80

Brett Bellmore 10.01.14 at 4:18 pm

“In my view Roe has balanced all of these considerations pretty well. “

As I said above, I agree that Roe was probably reasonable policy, even if it was lousy constitutional law. A pity they pulled that bait and switch, by perpetrating Doe v Bolton later that day.

81

Anarcissie 10.01.14 at 4:22 pm

bianca steele 10.01.14 at 3:56 pm @ 72 — I was considering only the political and legal aspects of abortion and anti-abortionism. Obviously, once state force is removed from the situation, a unwillingly pregnant woman might want to consider the status of the zygote etc. as a practical, emotional, moral, or aesthetic question. But whatever conclusion she came to would be her own, not something imposed on her by force, a fundamentally different situation than that proposed by anti-abortionists.

82

Brett Bellmore 10.01.14 at 4:28 pm

Perfectly on topic: You don’t have to think somebody isn’t an actual person, to believe they have a legal obligation not to kill somebody else.

If I invited you into my home, and then decided I didn’t want you there, I couldn’t use the Castle doctrine as an excuse to shoot you dead. I’d have to give you a reasonable opportunity to leave first. I wouldn’t be permitted to cut you into pieces so I could toss you out the mail slot instead of opening the door. Does that mean that I’m not an actual person? Of course not.

In a normal pregnancy, the fetus will leave at about 9 months, and can be safely kicked out somewhat earlier. And people learn they are pregnant well inside the first trimester most of the time. Is it a denial that women are people, to suggest that they make up their mind about aborting reasonably promptly, or wait out the pregnancy?

You’re just resorting to hyperbolic language to make the people who disagree with you seem more offensive in their views, so that you’ve got an excuse for not engaging with them.

83

David Coombs 10.01.14 at 4:34 pm

I look forward to Kevin Williamson’s upcoming piece decrying the Supreme Court’s granting rights to corporations as persons under the law.

84

Lynne 10.01.14 at 4:41 pm

David Coombs: +1

85

Consumatopia 10.01.14 at 4:43 pm

They hoped and anticipated, lucky bastards, and good for them. When they disappear – suddenly and without any suffering – like I said, they are not going to be looking down from heaven feeling disappointed.

You can take that absurd position if you want to, but as a reductio ad absurdum it fails–society clearly has decided that it has an interest in respecting people’s past decisions even when they’re asleep or sometimes even dead, and nothing @50 is inconsistent with that respect.

One could argue (I think?) that basic fairness dictates that they should be given a chance.

And what of all the hypothetical persons who could have become zygotes, the eggs and sperm that go unjoined? Or all the missed opportunities for multiple births who missed their chance at life because we didn’t make fertility treatments mandatory? The argument isn’t that they don’t deserve a chance, the argument is that they don’t even want a chance, nor did they ever. And there isn’t even a “they” around for us to talk about wanting or not wanting anything.

86

Lynne 10.01.14 at 4:54 pm

“Is it a denial that women are people, to suggest that they make up their mind about aborting reasonably promptly, or wait out the pregnancy?”

I doubt many women need such a suggestion, at least in an educated population.

The passive phrase “wait out the pregnancy” could not, I think, be used by a woman who had given birth. What’s missing from most of this discussion is the real-world awareness of the nature of pregnancy. Belle said once in another thread something about “feeling the movement you did not make.” Breath-taking.

If the state extends its reach to take the choice whether to carry a pregnancy to term from the pregnant woman in order to prevent abortion, it could also use its power force abortion. The state does not belong in these decisions.

87

Consumatopia 10.01.14 at 5:00 pm

If I invited you into my home, and then decided I didn’t want you there, I couldn’t use the Castle doctrine as an excuse to shoot you dead. I’d have to give you a reasonable opportunity to leave first. I wouldn’t be permitted to cut you into pieces so I could toss you out the mail slot instead of opening the door.

Note that in this comparison, the pregnant woman plays two roles. She is equivalent to you, the homeowner. But she is also equivalent to your home, the piece of property that you own. Even leaving the parenthood argument aside, this assumes that occupying someone else’s body is equivalent to occupying someone else’s property. This is a dehumanizing equivalence. I understand that it’s a perfectly natural equivalence to make if you think that human autonomy is justified by ownership of the self. This is a reason why self-ownership is the wrong justification for human autonomy.

88

Ze Kraggash 10.01.14 at 5:01 pm

@85 “society clearly has decided”

I know that. I’m testing Geo’s explanation/justification for this decision. I don’t think it flies. Unless I’m missing something.

“And what of all the hypothetical persons who could have become zygotes, the eggs and sperm that go unjoined?”

The usual distinction between action and inaction. People starve to death while you keep an equivalent of dozens of dinners on your bank account: that’s acceptable. To lock someone in the basement and starve them do death is not.

89

Plume 10.01.14 at 5:03 pm

All birth is forced. No one who is born ever got the chance to say, one way or another, if they wanted to be born or not.

The conservative side, primarily due to religious indoctrination, takes the automatic stand that of COURSE all zygotes want to be born into this world — regardless of circumstances. Of course. And in America, why would they not want to be born under the Red White and Blue, with all of our freedums, thanks be and glory be to Yahweh, who wrote the Constitution Himself.

Of course, once the babe is born, then those same conservatives will do everything in their power to make sure they receive zero help, unless they’re rich and can take advantage of tax breaks and deregulation. But, if they’re poor or working class — most of us are — then any attempt to help them is seen as a different kind of Red, and then they become pariahs and part of the 47%.

It’s one of the shortest honeymoons you’ll ever see. The conservative love affair with that substance in the womb, followed by an almost immediate divorce what the babe is out.

“The babe is out!! The babe is out!! Quick, it’s time to go to Vegas!”

90

JimV 10.01.14 at 5:05 pm

I think this is a great post, largely because so far every comment I have read has something interesting to say, including those about whom I don’t usually say that. Well, it had to end somewhere:

“I distinctly remember my biology teacher telling me otherwise!” (Where otherwise = all sperm are genetically identical.) That sounds like a very bad biology teacher. If we then assume sauce for the goose is the same as sauce for the gander (female eggs also genetically identical) then siblings should all look like identical twins; and all be female.

91

geo 10.01.14 at 5:05 pm

Ze @75: basic fairness dictates that they should be given a chance

A chance to become something that can have experiences, at the cost of forcing a woman (often enough, a girl) to undergo unwanted pregnancy, birth, and parenthood? Doesn’t seem quite fair to me.

92

MPAVictoria 10.01.14 at 5:06 pm

Brett the language you are using proves my point.

The pro “life” movement is entirely about controlling women’s sexuality and forcing them to give birth. If they believed that women were people, actual people with agency, they wouldn’t be part of the pro “life” movement.

93

Alan White 10.01.14 at 5:07 pm

It’s probably awash somewhere upthread, but given that the failure of zygotes/embryos to implant is the abortive death of something with full moral status, available data indicates that the largest abortion provider is nature and/or any author behind nature, since failure to implant and miscarriage are much more common than intentional acts of abortion. It’s nature and/or any author behind nature that’s really the major source of depriving these of any chance of future experiences. I’m unaware of any satisfactory theological/theodicy accounts of why this should be so given these assumptions.

Considerations like these lend some credence to attributing full moral status to the fetus only at some reasonable point post-implantation.

94

MPAVictoria 10.01.14 at 5:09 pm

“The usual distinction between action and inaction. People starve to death while you keep an equivalent of dozens of dinners on your bank account: that’s acceptable. To lock someone in the basement and starve them do death is not.”

Well Ze Kraggash I hope that you have never masturbated (assuming you are male) as that is an action that resulted in the deaths of millions of potential lives. Truly you are histories greatest monster.

95

geo 10.01.14 at 5:10 pm

Ze @88: People starve to death while you keep an equivalent of dozens of dinners on your bank account: that’s acceptable.

The equivalent of dozens of dinners is not very much — only a few hundred dollars. The 0.1% have the equivalent of millions of dinners on their bank account, while people starve to death. That’s not acceptable. In fact, in a half-decent society, it might well be criminal.

96

Ralph Hitchens 10.01.14 at 5:11 pm

Seems like most people commenting above leaped right to the abortion question rather than what first struck me — Williamson pushing for a return to the conservative movement’s historic roots, i.e., restriction of the franchise.

97

Plume 10.01.14 at 5:22 pm

MPAV,

This is true. And perhaps the biggest form of proof for that? The same people who claim to be against abortion are also against some of the most effective ways to prevent abortion. They’re against birth control. They’re even rabidly against an entire organization which seeks to plan families. As in, pick and choose when to get pregnant in order to actually have babies.

If conservative “pro-life” types actually wanted to reduce or eliminate abortions, they would hand out contraception in their churches, demand it in every school, stand on the corners handing it our for free, and pour billions of dollars into supporting groups like Planned Parenthood.

That they don’t tells me it’s not about abortion. It’s about the control of a woman’s body, especially her sexuality. And, it extends beyond that as well. The main drive is to sever the link between sex and pleasure without offspring. They truly want sex to be procreative only, and only between married people.

The above, I think, is, at least subconsciously, a driving force behind their hatred of same-sex marriage. They see it as necessarily non-procreative. It just ruins their entire plan to take us back to the days of the Puritans.

98

Rich Puchalsky 10.01.14 at 5:22 pm

“the largest abortion provider is nature and/or any author behind nature […] Considerations like these lend some credence to attributing full moral status to the fetus only at some reasonable point post-implantation.”

Why? KW (as represented by Joh Holbo)’s contention that “It’s wrong to murder. That’s biology” is really quite strange. Biologically, creatures murder creatures of their own species quite often. I don’t want to represent humans as being independent of culture, but in most human cultures, it’s normal for there to be accepted methods for people to murder each other, unless you define murder as “killing outside of the laws of whatever culture you’re in” in which case it can’t have any strictly biological meaning.

“Nature, red in tooth and claw” etc. If you’re going to say that biology is what matters, then biology murders.

99

MPAVictoria 10.01.14 at 5:24 pm

Plume you said it better.

100

Trader Joe 10.01.14 at 5:24 pm

@82
“Is it a denial that women are people, to suggest that they make up their mind about aborting reasonably promptly, or wait out the pregnancy?”

Quick decisions are generally incompatible with good morality – see Trolley problems.

You make it sound like its an easy decision. Why not issue coins that can be flipped at the last minute for the indecisive.

If a million women wait until the 25th week to make a decision there will be approximately a million reasons why they couldn’t do so earlier….lack of attention to the fact that the clock was ticking won’t have been one of them in any instance.

101

phosphorious 10.01.14 at 5:33 pm

I would have thought that the “person = DNA” point is decisively undermined by the existence of chimeras:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chimera_(genetics)#Humans

A single individual might be composed of genetically distinct cells.

Also, in answer to Holbo’s question “Which fallacy is Willimason commitiing,” it’s less Is/ought (although that’s there) then that old conservative stand-by, Tu Quoque: Liberals are the REAL irrational, anti-science zealots.

102

TM 10.01.14 at 5:35 pm

Just to say, I find the OP and the discussion quite enlightening.

103

CaptFamous 10.01.14 at 5:43 pm

Doesn’t Williamson’s argument boil down to “My line is superior because I used a fine-tipped pen and a ruler”? Claiming that his definition of life is scientifically proven because he has based it on attributes that can be scientifically determined does not change the fact that it is has been constructed. Similarly, having a clear explanation for how he selected his criteria is not the same as having a compelling argument for why his selection process is superior.

104

Ze Kraggash 10.01.14 at 5:46 pm

@91 “A chance to become something that can have experiences, at the cost of forcing a woman (often enough, a girl) to undergo unwanted pregnancy, birth, and parenthood? Doesn’t seem quite fair to me.”

In that case, it sounds like this is the straight “violinist” thought experiment logic. Sufferings, experiences don’t matter, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a fetus or adult, or even a famous adult with extremely meaningful and valuable experiences.

105

Brett Bellmore 10.01.14 at 6:10 pm

“If they believed that women were people, actual people with agency,”

So… What you’re saying is that any time, any time at all, that the law doesn’t let a woman do what she wants, it is denying that she’s an actual person with agency? That there’s no status between, “Can do whatever he/she wants” and “unperson”?

Seriously, the law routinely compells me, so I must not be, legally, an actual person.

106

cs 10.01.14 at 6:18 pm

Regarding the original quote from Williamson, isn’t his #4 (fetus is a seperate organism, not part of the mother) kind of begging the question? Or, to put it another way, doesn’t it depend how you define “part of the mother”?

I would say that a fetus is like a fingernail or an appendix in some ways, and unlike a fingernail/appendix in some other ways, and which of those ways are most important to you probably depend on how you feel about the issue in the first place.

107

Consumatopia 10.01.14 at 6:20 pm

“The usual distinction between action and inaction. People starve to death while you keep an equivalent of dozens of dinners on your bank account: that’s acceptable. “

1. Birth control is action, not inaction. Even those who oppose BC generally don’t think it’s murder, unless they also believe it destroys zygotes.
2. While there is general agreement that spending more of your money on starving people would be good, whether or not it should be obligatory, there is no such agreement that creating a large number of additional people would be helping anyone–that hypothetical people have any interest in being made actual.
3. Carrying a fetus to term is action, not inaction. The mother’s body has to work to sustain the fetus. Yes, the mother must take action to stop that process. But I’m permitted to take lots of actions that would stop a process that might save someone else’s life. Say someone is draining your blood–or your bank account–without permission. We feel that it is permissible to take action to stop that. Or even if they’re doing it with your permission and you change your mind–if I show up at a blood drive and change my mind halfway through, that’s unfortunate, but they still have to stop. If I set up an automatic withdrawal from my account to some charity to feed the hungry, it is still permissible for me to take action to stop that automatic withdrawal–or, at least, it’s not different in a morally significant way that I can see from choosing not to donate in the first place.
4. The action/inaction distinction, in some cases, actually runs against the supposed interests of hypothetical persons in existing. Consider IVF treatments. You take action that results in some zygotes being destroyed, but a potential for new people to be created, new experiences/anticipations/etc to be had. If you don’t take the treatment, none of those experiences would happen. This is something I don’t think we spend enough time considering–there are people walking around today who only exist because their parents ignored the “culture of life”.

108

MPAVictoria 10.01.14 at 6:21 pm

“So… What you’re saying is that any time, any time at all, that the law doesn’t let a woman do what she wants, it is denying that she’s an actual person with agency? That there’s no status between, “Can do whatever he/she wants” and “unperson”?

Seriously, the law routinely compells me, so I must not be, legally, an actual person.”

Did I have a stroke or are you unable to stay on topic for more than two seconds? This is the classic troll shuffle. We are talking about abortion rights and you bring up guns and then stand your ground laws and now every law about anything ever.

I am saying that requiring a women to carry a fetus to term against her will is using her as a machine. It is not treating her as a person entitled to make decisions about what happens in her own body. Whats more is you KNOW that is what I mean but by darting around trying to change the topic you hope to confuse the issue.

You most know how transparent you are being. So why bother?

109

Plume 10.01.14 at 6:22 pm

Brett,

On this issue, it seems you have switched teams. I often read you talking about how the government forces you to do things you don’t want to do, that it coerces you, etc. When it comes to certain kinds of behavior, you want it out of your life, completely . . . and, unless I’m mistaken, you want it to leave the economy alone and let business do as it pleases.

But when it comes to women, you’re suddenly all for government control again.

Bakers should have agency, right, when it comes to whom they bake their cakes for. The law shouldn’t compel them to bake for whomever pays for their services. But, a women can be compelled to accept the state’s decrees regarding her own body.

In other words, you’re cherry-picking when and where to be a law and order guy.

110

The Temporary Name 10.01.14 at 6:26 pm

So… What you’re saying is that any time, any time at all, that the law doesn’t let a woman do what she wants, it is denying that she’s an actual person with agency?

That’s not what was written, and you don’t know what you’re talking about in any case. I mean, for starters, you write “want” as if it might be pleasurable whimsy to have an abortion. You’re denying women agency because you presume to know how they should make decisions.

111

Rich Puchalsky 10.01.14 at 6:43 pm

“You’re denying women agency because you presume to know how they should make decisions.”

For people who aren’t anarchists, this isn’t really an strong an argument as you think it is. The U.S. government routinely denies classes of people agency because we the people have decided that we know how they should make decisions. Everyone under a certain age has their decision-making limited in various ways. Every parent has their decisions that are perceived to impact their children limited. Every consumer of medical procedures finds that some are permitted and some not. People who consider suicide find that they are presumed to be incompetent to judge. Etc.

112

The Temporary Name 10.01.14 at 6:46 pm

For people who aren’t anarchists, this isn’t really an strong an argument as you think it is.

I was writing specifically about Brett, whose libertarian sentiment stretches the width of a dollar.

113

Plume 10.01.14 at 6:50 pm

The trick for conservatives, of course, is always to frame it as “pro-abortion.” Now, they may exist, but I don’t think most people who consider themselves “pro-choice” are “pro-abortion.” They’re not in favor of having abortions for the sake of having abortions . . . . though that is typically the way the right paints it. That it’s all just a lark, a picnic, another breezy, sunshiny day. No difference between ordering a drink at a bar and going to the clinic.

It’s far, far from that. It’s about personal autonomy, agency, control of one’s body and choice. It’s also about fighting Taliban-like forces that would, in the name of religion, impose medieval visions of a woman’s “duty” even in the 21st century. It’s both/and. Fighting reactionary forces and insisting on personal autonomy.

Conservatives are very good at turning night into day, however. We saw that recently with Hobby Lobby. They can make the powerful seem like “victims” and the powerless seem like oppressors all too easily. The left needs to wake up and fight back. We’ve already lost waaaay too much ground to the troglodytes.

114

geo 10.01.14 at 6:58 pm

Ze@104: Sufferings, experiences don’t matter

I don’t follow this. I’m saying that the actual suffering of a woman forced into unwanted pregnancy, birth, and parenthood outweighs the purely hypothetical suffering of a fetus, which almost certainly cannot suffer or experience anything at all and absolutely certainly cannot suffer or experience anything comparable.

115

Plume 10.01.14 at 7:02 pm

Rich,

Every parent has their decisions that are perceived to impact their children limited

Going a bit more off topic here:

This is true in some cases, but not in others. In other ways, parents have radical extensions of power over their children which would not be granted outside that familial dynamic. For instance, the case of Adrian Peterson and his whipping of his four-year-old son. All one has to do is to change the actors there. Joe Doe has no relationship to this child, and does the same exact thing. He would be immediately arrested and charged with assault — there wouldn’t be a long debate about the rights of parents, etc. etc. I’m not a lawyer or a criminologist, but I would assume the charges and the likely punishment would be severe. But as the boy’s father, Peterson is granted a lot more leeway. There is apparently a point along the spectrum wherein it is safe to beat one’s child — which, again, wouldn’t exist if a stranger did the same exact thing.

This also applies to husbands and wives. Domestic abuse. The dynamic of domestic relations alters what is considered punishable, though it shouldn’t. At all. The husband doesn’t own the wife. It shouldn’t matter if a husband or a total stranger commits the violent act. The same laws should apply for both. What is illegal for a stranger should be illegal for a husband — or aggressors in any case.

America has a long way to go in this realm. We still had laws on the books in 1981 saying it was legal for a husband to force himself on his wife, etc. etc.

116

Brett Bellmore 10.01.14 at 7:06 pm

“I am saying that requiring a women to carry a fetus to term against her will is using her as a machine. “

Then I guess juries are made up of machines. Soldiers are sent off to war by people who don’t think they’re actually human beings.

Here’s the point: Telling somebody they have to do something DNE deciding they’re not actually a person. It equals believing there are circumstances under which it is permissible to coerce actual people.

And you’re liberals, you believe there are lots of circumstances under which it’s permissible to coerce people. Are you telling me you don’t think those people are actually human beings?

No, of course you don’t.

What’s going on here is that, for a variety of reasons, liberals like thinking of the people who disagree with them as monsters. And you come up with BS reasoning to justify this belief. But you won’t let the tables be turned, won’t accept that the same sort of reasoning would make YOU monsters on some other subject.

117

MPAVictoria 10.01.14 at 7:12 pm

Again demonstrating your inability to stay on topic Brett. First castle doctrine, now jury duty and soldiers.

Simple yes or no question, is it monstrous to hang a woman for having an abortion? I think it is. Do you?

118

Adam Hammond 10.01.14 at 7:20 pm

We can all see the logical holes and false equivalencies. He is just intellectually masturbating. Don’t give him a hand job for free. Walk away!

119

Plume 10.01.14 at 7:20 pm

Brett,

What’s going on here is that, for a variety of reasons, liberals like thinking of the people who disagree with them as monsters. And you come up with BS reasoning to justify this belief. But you won’t let the tables be turned, won’t accept that the same sort of reasoning would make YOU monsters on some other subject.

I’m waaay to the left of liberal, but I grew up in a liberal home, have lots of liberal friends, blah blah blah. And I never recognize them in any description ever given by a conservative. Mostly, the description conservatives present of liberals sounds a lot more like conservatives. And in the case quoted, that just leaps off the page.

Conservatives get rich demonizing liberals and the left in general. They get very, very rich, doing nothing all day long but categorize liberals as monsters and responsible for every ill in our society. Talk Radio, which is roughly 91% conservative, would disappear overnight if conservatives couldn’t demonize liberals. This, of course, requires that conservatives invent a liberalism that never existed, or concentrate on a period long ago where liberals actually held some power in our society . . . which pretty much ended with the 1960s. It makes pretty much everything conservatives say about liberals belated at best, and always inaccurate. It also requires that they turn small differences into massive gaps, because on all too many big ticket items, there isn’t that much room between liberals in 2014 and conservatives today.

In short, Brett, please look in the mirror.

120

Brett Bellmore 10.01.14 at 7:20 pm

Depends on how late in the pregnancy, would be my answer.

121

Brett Bellmore 10.01.14 at 7:21 pm

“And I never recognize them in any description ever given by a conservative.”

And now you know how conservatives feel when somebody like MPAV unloads.

122

Rich Puchalsky 10.01.14 at 7:24 pm

Basically, The Temporary Name, you’re letting Brett be correct in #116 when you really don’t have to let him be. Liberals do generally think that there are lots of circumstances in which it’s permissible for government to coerce whole classes of people. So saying “But you’re treating a whole class of people as if they can’t make their own decisions!” really has no force; our system does that all the time, and we generally celebrate the people who manage to turn their individual moral preferences into societal rules in this way. You can argue that the decision to coerce is wrong in this case because of the particulars involved, but it’s really a bad argument to say that the right-wingers of the world are doing something unusual when they do this. Brett is happy to be self-contradictory all he likes, but other people should be better than that.

123

MPAVictoria 10.01.14 at 7:26 pm

“Depends on how late in the pregnancy, would be my answer.”

Then I would say that you are a monster. The number of people who have late pregnancy abortions for anything other then health reasons is so small as to be irrelevant.

Thank you for the honest answer. It is always good to know who the monsters are.

124

MPAVictoria 10.01.14 at 7:28 pm

“And now you know how conservatives feel when somebody like MPAV unloads.”

I am posting at a left wing website Brett. It is not like I am hanging out at Red State.

125

MPAVictoria 10.01.14 at 7:28 pm

“Liberals do generally think that there are lots of circumstances in which it’s permissible for government to coerce whole classes of people.”

Sure, and forced birth isn’t one of them. I fail to see the gotcha.

126

Rich Puchalsky 10.01.14 at 7:39 pm

If a woman decides to have a late-term abortion, she will indeed be forced to give birth under existing law if the government isn’t satisfied with her reasons, in the U.S. ever since Roe v. Wade. In the U.S., it has never been a decision that is strictly up to her.

And if John Holbo can bring up aliens who need to fuse to create other life stages of aliens, then Brett can bring up the military. The government can draft people and order them to kill people and to go into situations in which they have a very high likelihood of death. Taking critical life decisions away from people is something that our system does all the time.

127

MPAVictoria 10.01.14 at 7:43 pm

“And if John Holbo can bring up aliens who need to fuse to create other life stages of aliens, then Brett can bring up the military. The government can draft people and order them to kill people and to go into situations in which they have a very high likelihood of death. Taking critical life decisions away from people is something that our system does all the time.”

Brett can bring up whatever he likes. That doesn’t mean we are required to engage with him.

128

Rich Puchalsky 10.01.14 at 7:54 pm

I don’t really care about Brett. I’m addressing you (well, really I was addressing The Temporary Name initially), not him. I’m saying that the “you’re taking the decision away from a class of people, as if they can’t make decisions for themselves” thing is a bad argument. The reply is “But we do that in cases X,Y,Z.” Then the answer is either “But I oppose that in cases X,Y,Z” (i.e. “I am an anarchist”) or “This case is different from cases X,Y,Z.” If this case is different, then just say why this case is different. Don’t rely on saying that the whole idea is unthinkable or even particularly right-wing, because it isn’t.

129

Plume 10.01.14 at 7:55 pm

To me, it’s a rather silly debate to set up some kind of for or against “coercion” dichotomy. Neither of our two A to B tribes really seeks the absence of coercion. Far from it. Neither is, on balance, in favor of less coercion. It’s really a matter of where and when, not if. Who applies it. In which cases. Who is the recipient, etc. Not that it happens.

I recently had an argument with a self-described anarchist, and I have left-anarchist leanings meself. But he was instantly loaded for bear when I suggested the need for a central authority in an alternative set up, even though I had described the overall alternative as fully democratic, radically so, with the means of production literally held in common by all, not through proxies . . . and, that central authority being chosen by lottery and rotational, not fixed, via a new constitution. In other words, I actually incorporated a ton of left-anarchist ideas regarding local control, participatory democracy, no established class system, no ruling class, but even the mention of a central authority to help hold this all together was a bridge too far. My thought was (and is) that without that central authority, bound by the Constitution and working in harmony with local and regional councils, there was a good chance that the local anarchist communities could soon be overrrun, toppled, replaced by some form of fascism, theocracy, perhaps a new Jim Crow.

But the theoretical absence of “coercion” trumped all of that for this particular anarchist. Trouble is, even at the local level, it’s going to exist, whether the discussant realizes it or not. Or the anarchist experiment will last a few days at best.

130

The Temporary Name 10.01.14 at 7:59 pm

Basically, The Temporary Name, you’re letting Brett be correct in #116 when you really don’t have to let him be.

It’s just fun to see Brett twirl from libertarian to authoritarian in an instant. He’s happy to decide for others one minute and then curse CT for closed-mindedness in another.

Yes, I am plenty happy with laws that discriminate against the rich class of people, or tell kids to go to school, while less happy with laws that discriminate on the basis of genitalia and skin colour. What a woman can do with her body seems to me to fall under the latter set of laws. Tweaking Brett about his attitudes towards coercion is what he asks for over and over, and sometimes I’m weak enough to indulge him. If he thinks he’s scored a point because HA, LIBERALS DO THIS! then he can be king of the sandbox if he likes.

131

Plume 10.01.14 at 8:03 pm

Oh, and another big consideration for me:

I despise the idea of separate but unequal. If we have a nation, I don’t want one in which theocracy is the rule of thumb in one place, Jim Crow in another, creationism is taught in another, secular humanism over there, the wonders of the free market here, Marxism there, rotten schools and medical care here, decent there, awesome over there, etc. etc.

I want diversity, of course, but under the umbrella of equalized human and civil rights across the board. People shouldn’t receive rotten educations anywhere, because that’s what “freedom” means. They shouldn’t be condemned to horrible medical care, simply because that’s what “freedom” means. There should be certain standards of human and civil rights, access to excellence, access to opportunity, which know no boundaries. Take care of that, and then we can talk divergence.

132

MPAVictoria 10.01.14 at 8:10 pm

““you’re taking the decision away from a class of people, as if they can’t make decisions for themselves” thing is a bad argument.”

No it isn’t. I support people making their own choices in some matters (bodily autonomy) while oppose it in others (speed limits, fire codes and so on).

133

Ze Kraggash 10.01.14 at 8:17 pm

107 “there is no such agreement that creating a large number of additional people would be helping anyone”

Now, this I certainly agree with, and I believe this is the real reason why abortion is presently acceptable. And, in China, often a moral and civic duty. With all due respect, all that talk about suffering-balancing sounds to me like sophistry.

134

Consumatopia 10.01.14 at 8:24 pm

If this case is different, then just say why this case is different. Don’t rely on saying that the whole idea is unthinkable or even particularly right-wing, because it isn’t.

It’s legitimate to ask why coercion X is compatible with human dignity while coercion Y isn’t. It’s an especially good question if X is incarcerating people for deserting combat.

OTOH, it is definitely very right-wing to claim that all forms of coercion are equivalent, if any kind of coercion is compatible with human dignity then all kinds must be. It’s a propertarian notion of freedom–all coercion is equivalent to tresspass–and while I’m sure some left anarchists believe it, that belief is a mistake.

135

David 10.01.14 at 8:25 pm

I wonder sometimes whether non-Americans should leave Americans to have these debates by themselves, because there seem to be only two positions in the US, neither of them very coherent. One is the position of religious nut cases who aren’t sure whether they want to live in the nineteenth century or the seventeenth, and the other is of full-on libertarian AynRandians, for whom nothing matters except the absolute freedom of people to make choices and for whom an unborn child is effectively property. But most of the world doesn’t think like that, and these aren’t actually good ways to approach the problem. I wonder how many of today’s posters actually think (as I do) that there are actually quite important moral and political issues to discuss here, and that they merit teasing out at some length. If they do, then they would agree, I think, that YOU WANT TO KILL BABIES and YOU JUST HATE WOMEN are not satisfactory intellectual positions to camp on. Or am I expecting too much of the American system?

136

Lynne 10.01.14 at 8:26 pm

Plume,

“I want diversity, of course, but under the umbrella of equalized human and civil rights across the board. People shouldn’t receive rotten educations anywhere, because that’s what “freedom” means. They shouldn’t be condemned to horrible medical care, simply because that’s what “freedom” means. There should be certain standards of human and civil rights, access to excellence, access to opportunity, which know no boundaries. Take care of that, and then we can talk divergence.”

Yup! Someone said a society is judged by its worst-off citizens and this seems like truth to me.

137

Ze Kraggash 10.01.14 at 8:26 pm

What if, a 100 years from now, we have a scanning machine that detects the potentials of the fetus. This one is definitely going to be a Leonardo, an Einstein, one in a millennium kind of genius. But the woman wants an abortion. Can she be forced to carry to term (as a public interest exception), or is it out of the question?

138

Lynne 10.01.14 at 8:27 pm

“We” have a scanning machine? So the state is going to be monitoring ultrasounds? No, she can’t be forced. Period.

139

Rich Puchalsky 10.01.14 at 8:31 pm

“I support people making their own choices in some matters (bodily autonomy) while oppose it in others (speed limits, fire codes and so on).”

I think this is an example of saying why “This case is different from cases X,Y,Z.” KW or whoever is then free to say that bodily autonomy is just as mythical as he thinks that personhood is, but at least it’s not an argument about coercion broadly any more.

140

Main Street Muse 10.01.14 at 8:32 pm

Williamson’s definition of abortion as being about: “the legal status of an entity that is under any biological interpretation a 1) distinct, 2) living, 3) human 4) organism at the early stages of development.”

Williamson states his opinion as if it was fact. But his assertions are opinions, not fact. IS a fetus a living thing? Clearly this is debatable. It cannot live outside of the womb. It has no name. We do not know its gender when it is in the womb. And in our legal system (for the time being), the fetus is defined by law as something that is not yet alive for many weeks into the pregnancy.

In our culture, life is defined with a name, a birth certificate. When we die, there is a death certificate. With abortion, where is the body? How can murder happen to cells with no name, no birth certificate, no death certificate?

When abortion became law, most Christian organizations did not care. It was a “Catholic” issue. Why/when did it become such a noisy issue? WHY? Why do women seek out abortions? Because bringing a baby to adulthood is incredibly challenging – too many women are left without proper support, without a partner, without a good way to make an income. Why don’t the lives of women matter in this debate?

What happened before abortion was legal? Women sought it out anyway, many dying in the attempt. “Leona’s Sister Gerri” is a FANTASTIC documentary about this issue: http://www.pbs.org/pov/leonassistergerri/

What I hate most about the sanctimonious dribble of people like Williamson – their concern for the person in the womb ends when that child draws his/her first breath. My God, the man wants to hang a girl who has an abortion after being impregnated from rape or incest!

141

MPAVictoria 10.01.14 at 8:35 pm

“KW or whoever is then free to say that bodily autonomy is just as mythical as he thinks that personhood is, but at least it’s not an argument about coercion broadly any more.”

Sure he could! But KW thinks that we should hang women who have abortions so why give a shit?

142

Main Street Muse 10.01.14 at 8:35 pm

Please tell me Kevin Williamson is child-free. Here’s to hoping he’s not passing on that gene pool to the next generation.

143

geo 10.01.14 at 8:38 pm

Ze@133: With all due respect, all that talk about suffering-balancing sounds to me like sophistry

To quote me @114: “the actual suffering of a woman forced into unwanted pregnancy, birth, and parenthood outweighs the purely hypothetical suffering of a fetus, which almost certainly cannot suffer or experience anything at all and absolutely certainly cannot suffer or experience anything comparable.” With all due respect, what’s sophistical about that?

144

TM 10.01.14 at 9:14 pm

Rich 128, your argument is logically flawless although it does overlook a bit of context (namely, everybody understood that MPAV was specifically referring to bodily autonomy and not to just doing as one pleases). What I would like to point out though is that the illogic you are identifying is politically extremely potent. You hear that all the time, more often from right-wingers, that X is bad “because it forces me to do something against my will” or “the government takes a decision away from me”. That this in fact happens all the time, that for better or worse our societal order is based on authorities taking certain decisions away from individuals, and moreover that the very same people who decry the alleged loss of freedom are in practice totally ok with many other instances where other people’s freedoms are in some way taken away, all of this is just overlooked and doesn’t in the least diminish the political appeal of the (illogical) argument.

The whole Tea party, the whole anti-Obamacare hysteria, and so on, rest on that illogical argument. Now the question would be why it works so well.

P.S. One of the strangest examples is the hysteria over the plan to regulate soft drink sizes in New York restaurants. As far as regulations go, that one is rather mild – it wouldn’t prevent anybody from drinking as much of the sweet stuff as they wish, all it would do is prevent suppliers from offering oversized packages. Many instances of product regulation (including but not limited to alcohol regulations) that are far more restrictive than that one yet we don’t hear much complaint about those. I also find Cass Sunstein’s “Nudge” argument perplexing – it is based on the obviously false assumption that “normally”, the government doesn’t tell people what to do.

145

Plume 10.01.14 at 9:17 pm

Lynne @135,

It’s not too far afield from Jesus’s maxim of the least among us. How we treat them.

We establish basic equal, human and civil rights and go from there. Under a constitution. People shouldn’t have to relocate within one country to escape rotten education or health care, or theocracy or reactionary rule. We should decide as a nation basic standards of decency and then apply those equally, evenly across the nation. From there, if one place likes a ton of spice, and another a ton of mayo, cool. Reggae here, Country there. Soccer here, NASCAR there. Regional, cultural differences are awesome. The more the merrier. But we shouldn’t have to sacrifice health, safety, education, the environment or personal autonomy to maintain that difference.

146

Ze Kraggash 10.01.14 at 9:45 pm

“what’s sophistical about that”

Well, maybe not sophistry, but a rather polemical articulation of a personal judgement. Which is fine, as far it goes, but it doesn’t explain much. Again, someone on the other side could (also polemically) describe abortion as a very serious matter of deprivation of 80-or-so years of human experiences (hopes, dreams, etc.). How would you respond?

147

Brett Bellmore 10.01.14 at 9:46 pm

“The number of people who have late pregnancy abortions for anything other then health reasons is so small as to be irrelevant.”

You could say the same of people who rape and murder, but we don’t just blow off rape and murder, say, “Normal people don’t do that!”, we have laws against them, and enforce them. And Kermit Gosnell hardly lacked for customers, even though that was his specialty.

Now, the number of people who have late pregnancy abortions and officially admit that they aren’t for health reasons is vanishingly small, but that’s why I referenced Doe v. Bolton: Because that morning in Roe v. Wade, the Supreme court said that states could ban late term abortion for anything but health of the mother reasons, and that afternoon in Doe v. Bolton, said that doctors could lie about it.

148

Abbe Faria 10.01.14 at 10:00 pm

Do feminists actually believe in bodily autonomy? I ask because it gets brought up all the time regarding abortion, but that’s it. They’re either indifferent to other applications (drugs, euthanasia) or mildly opposed (FGM, cosmetic surgery, forced blood testing). I know it’s shitty to suggest insincerity, but the concept doesn’t seem widely or consistently applied.

I read a bunch of early women’s lib material recently and it was really refreshing to see abortion discussed without any of the usual bullshit of personhood or self defence or bodily autonomy justifications. The argument was literally women are oppressed by their reproductive capacities and abortion is needed to free them.

149

Val 10.01.14 at 10:05 pm

This is extraordinary.

Kevin Williamson says “There is no scientific dispute about whether an embryo is genetically distinct from the body in which it resides, “!

(Quite a lot of comments here from (apparently) men, sort of making fun of this, but mainly talking about genes and sperm etc – not really registering that women are completely objectified in this statement?)

KW suggests that if “the body in which it resides” decides to abort the foetus (which seems roughly like suggesting the planet on which KW resides might decide to shrug him off ) then the “body in which it resides” should be hanged.

(Capital punishment still exists in the country in which this conversation is happening.)

Which does raise the question, if people like KW represent a significant proportion of people in America (and are not simply condemned by everyone as monsters, which, pace Brett Bellmore, is EXACTLY what should happen), why is America bombing ISIS? On the face of it you would think that they and KW types were soul mates. I know that’s not a real ‘reason’ why it couldn’t happen, but as a non-American in a country that is being dragged by its stupid politicians into this war, it does intrigue me.

Just I suppose like there were a lot of fascists or would be fascists in the allied countries when they went to war with the Nazis, maybe? Or is it more complex?

150

The Temporary Name 10.01.14 at 10:08 pm

Do feminists actually believe in bodily autonomy? I ask because it gets brought up all the time regarding abortion, but that’s it. They’re either indifferent to other

Which feminist are you pointing at?

151

Abbe Faria 10.01.14 at 10:21 pm

Any feminist? Just one would be nice. I not aware of any who’s said, say, that bodily integrity is a fundamental part of feminism and because of that being feminist commits you to being pro-drugs, as opposed to just dredging it up as an easy way of talking people round on abortion. They just seem indifferent on non-abortion applications. Of course, any of you can talk me round by pointing to one counter example.

152

The Temporary Name 10.01.14 at 10:23 pm

No really. Which feminist are you pointing at? Who’s the indifferent one?

153

Val 10.01.14 at 10:45 pm

Plume, I also want to add, it’s another reason for looking at patriarchy as well as capitalism (as per discussion on previous thread). And the nexus of course. I wonder if ISIS have a clear economic ideology (I’m pretty ignorant on this but I’m sure there are people here who would know)?

154

Moz in Oz 10.01.14 at 10:54 pm

Anarcissie @ 67: The actual enslaver is the state
“Okay. I don’t get that from @3, though.”

I appreciate that I tried to cover a lot of points in a tiny post, but yes, what I was getting at was that even if someone agrees with the most extreme fetal personhood argument, the argument against slavery still applies. It doesn’t matter who or what is refusing to allow that choice, the point is that the denial of abortion exists. In the USA it’s usually the state either enforcing the enslavement directly, or passively allowing terrorists to enforce it. So I agree that that is the government enslaving women.

Personally, I would be all for abortion at any time for any reason even if women gave birth to fully dressed college educated white men. It’s not about the thing that’s being born, it’s about the agency and personhood of the pregnant woman.

The argument from nature is just as bad. Saying “but that’s requiring medical intervention”… yes, and so what? If I must, I’m willing to agree that someone living beyond the reach of modern technology and government, in a cave somewhere in a national park, next door to the unibomber or whatever, has no right to an abortion. Or free speech. Or any other of the new-fangled “rights” you naked apes witter on about. You want nature, I’m happy to beat you to death with a rock while you bravely defend my right to do so.

155

Val 10.01.14 at 10:56 pm

Temporary name @150
Given that what AF is saying doesn’t appear to make sense, I don’t suppose he could point to any feminist who is either for or against it.

156

Moz in Oz 10.01.14 at 11:11 pm

Do feminists actually believe in bodily autonomy? … indifferent to other applications (drugs, euthanasia) or mildly opposed (FGM, cosmetic surgery, forced blood testing).

I suspect you’re seeing specialisation in action. When we’re arguing about whether women should be forced to give birth, that’s typically a feminist argument. So you see a lot of “as a feminist I…” discussion.

But when we talk about drugs, that’s much more general, so you see both liberal/libertarian groups acting on it and also arguments that go “I love freedom, so…” Saying “I’m a feminist…” in that context would be derailing, and also tend to alienate some supporters so it’s something that actual supporters of drug liberalisation are unlikely to do.

You see the same thing in the abortion debate. There are very few people arguing for abortion on demand by saying “as an NRA member I want the right to choose” or “I vote Republican and I want the government out of abortion law”. Even those who genuinely are in those groups know that saying it is just going to start a fight, both with other NRA/Repub members who are appalled at their beliefs, and with fellow pro-choice people who are used to those being false flag arguments.

But if you actually look at the groups fighting for the other stuff, you’ll see a lot of feminists on board. Starhawk, for example, is active in prison reform and scathing about the “War on Drugs”. Like this:

The prison industrial complex has become a profit-making industry, a new form of slavery. Instead of rehabilitating and reintegrating offenders, it creates a permanent underclass. Draconian sentencing laws, the ‘War on Drugs’ which is really a war on poor people who use drugs, especially people of color, the whole punitive orientation of our society means we in the U.S. imprison more people than any other country in the world. (from http://starhawksblog.org/?p=472)

157

TM 10.02.14 at 12:02 am

AF, just another derailment attempt.

158

John Holbo 10.02.14 at 12:04 am

“One is the position of religious nut cases who aren’t sure whether they want to live in the nineteenth century or the seventeenth, and the other is of full-on libertarian AynRandians, for whom nothing matters except the absolute freedom of people to make choices and for whom an unborn child is effectively property.”

All due respect, David, what I get from this is that you have no sense for how the debate actually goes in the US. Pro-choicers aren’t Ayn Randians. That’s completely off. You’ve constructed the debate as an intra-party right-wing squabble.

As to your point that the question ought to concern the rights of the child: liberals obviously do have a response. Namely, before a certain point, the fetus is not considered a person, ergo not a bearer of the rights that persons enjoy.

159

Thornton Hall 10.02.14 at 12:10 am

@13 Alan White:
I feel for you. I’m honestly a little confused about what people think there is to talk about other that your point. It’s obviously correct. Seriously, what do the other people think they are talking about?

160

Plume 10.02.14 at 12:22 am

@158,

This is true. Ironically, despite Rand’s famous atheism, many of her fans seem very sympathetic to the religious right, if not being an outright part of it. Dominionists and the libertarian right are kissing cousins on several fronts, as this article from Julie Ingersoll shows.

161

mdc 10.02.14 at 12:32 am

the mystical standard of “personhood”

Williamson himself invokes the notion “person” many times a day, I’m certain. He has never reflected on what he means when he does so. As I always like to remind students: ‘person’ means ‘mask.’

162

MPAVictoria 10.02.14 at 12:52 am

“You could say the same of people who rape and murder”

Oh Brett. I truly, truly wish rapist were as rare as people who choose late pregnancy abortions for kicks and giggles. You are so male, middle class and white, you have no idea of your privilege.

163

MPAVictoria 10.02.14 at 12:58 am

It is important to remember the world that right wingers want us to live in:

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/commentary/el-salvador-hidden-war-women-rights

/Hat tip to LGM

164

geo 10.02.14 at 1:34 am

Ze @146: someone on the other side could … describe abortion as a very serious matter of deprivation of 80-or-so years of human experiences (hopes, dreams, etc.). How would you respond?

I guess I’d say who is being deprived and how do they feel about it? Assuming they can feel.

165

Not40David 10.02.14 at 1:51 am

”That’s completely off. You’ve constructed the debate as an intra-party right-wing squabble. ”

Sounds like American politics to me.

166

John Holbo 10.02.14 at 1:53 am

“Sounds like American politics to me.”

All the more reason not to construct American politics as an intra-party right-wing squabble, even just in American politics terms!

167

Alan White 10.02.14 at 2:55 am

Thanks Thornton Hall. Teaching Veatch on morally-informed concepts of life and death has awakened me to how many crucial issues–including more remote ones like free will–centrally involve value commitments that constitute the real nucleus around which the epistemically indeterminatic cloud of so-called facts revolve. One may like KW in the original post simply declare “fact” differences–that may not be so factual after all–that are supposed to settle and stabilize a morally-infused concept like full moral status at the beginning or ending of its applied use in determining murder versus something else. (I’d note that moral symmetry here doesn’t favor proclaiming moral-status death by the destruction of DNA; that would favor clear cases of death only by something like cremation.)

But more reasonably full moral status of an entity at either the beginning or end of its moral life is a function of assessing a large corpus of facts that collectively favor some value-laden criterion(-a) that (i) equally applies to both ends of that moral spectrum by conceptual symmetry (there intuitively cannot be non-overlapping criteria of the start and stop of one thing), (ii) recognizes potential asymmetries of application of the criterion(-a) because of the possibly distinct essential nature of the origins and destruction of anything as contextually determined, (iii) recognizes that we must make determinations about specific instances of full moral status throughout an entity’s existence (the individuality of full moral status by which we may say that an entity dies, is killed, or murdered at any point in a morally important way), and (iv) involves as much relevant data about the nature of the entity as we can gather.

If KW thinks his view satisfies all of these, he is sorely mistaken. I would say his account satisfies none. The so-called claimed value-laden DNA uniqueness of the zygote is incompetent for (i) and (iii) and is thus conceptually inadequate for establishing anything about early full moral standing zygote/embryo death by (ii) if it fails by (iii) to say what the specific beginning of full moral standing is because of the real possibility of post-zygote twinning, fraternal heterozygotes, etc. by what we know by (iv).

Our collective public policy values must be based on and mirror a reflective equilibrium (I know–I have no better term) of the evaluation of (i)-(iv). What I do know is that ultraconservative views that focus on moral claims of murder prior to implantation are thus arbitrary or matters of faith, and as such have no place in rational public policy as a matter of establishing the full moral standing of fetuses.

168

absurdbeats 10.02.14 at 3:28 am

Just a guess, but I doubt Williamson would take much account of the embryo as hostile invader of the woman’s body in his biology=morality equation. Or that most fertilized eggs do not result in a live birth. Or that, prior to ~12 days post-fertilization, the “genetically unique” embryo is capable of cleaving into multiple genetically identical embryos.

There is no intention or calculation involved in any of this—it just happens (or not). And outside of tech-assisted reproduction, there is neither intention nor calculation in the joining of the sperm and the egg: the best a couple can do is try to make it more likely that their gametes will meet, but they cannot will fertilization or implantation. And while the woman certainly can influence the development of the embryo/fetus thru her willed behavior, if it’s going to miscarry, even the most perfect behavior (whatever that would be) won’t stop it.

So, yeah, the only way to get from all of these (and other) biological is’s to one single ought is to collapse the distinction between the two. Which, come to think of it, might lead to some verrrry interesting moralities. . . .

169

Val 10.02.14 at 3:42 am

John Holbo @ 166
I don’t actually agree with David’s (@ 135) earlier characterisation of the debate, but I must admit I did have a slightly similar ‘only in America’ reaction – without wishing to be rude. Partly because I was trying to work out what would happen here (Australia) if someone said women who have abortions should be hanged, and I couldn’t really because you couldn’t actually say that, as we don’t have the death penalty.

But also I got the sense from the OP that there hasn’t been any big reaction – the guy hasn’t lost his job or been made to publicly apologise or faced public outrage that forced advertisers to withdraw from the publication, or any of those things? Because those are the sort of things I think would happen here, and if they haven’t happened there, then I think that’s rather gob-smacking. Maybe they have and you didn’t mention it?

And yeah as others have said I think using the term “trolling” to describe this is – well again I don’t really understand this. So maybe these things can be clarified?

170

Plume 10.02.14 at 4:13 am

The right has built in its own kind of “get out of jail free card,” for many reasons. One of the biggest, I think, is low standards. Very, very low standards. We’re so used to reading or hearing righties say the most disgusting, vile, despicable or ridiculous things, it seems like just another day at the office. And because they pump the airwaves with this garbage 24/7, the ability to be outraged is more and more difficult with each passing day. From Limbaugh to Coulter and to umpteen religious nutcases, to the politicians who pander to them, to the neocons and their chickenhawkery, to the Cliven Bundies et al, no one is really surprised by rightwing idiots, racists, homophobes, xenophobes, etc. etc. It’s what’s for breakfast.

So they don’t lose their jobs. They actually get more job offers, go on book tours, or find their way to Reality TV. It’s almost impossible to say something or do something, if you’re a righty, that gets you finally and irrevocably blacklisted.

This has never been the case for folks on the left, who are frequently purged from public life for so much as a sneeze. The Dixie Chicks being a great example. They said they were embarrassed to be from the same state as Bush and they received death threats and were blackballed from the music industry for years.

America, in so many ways, is one twisted nation.

171

John Holbo 10.02.14 at 4:49 am

“I must admit I did have a slightly similar ‘only in America’ reaction”

Oh that’s fine! No rudeness there, just anthropological correctness.

“And yeah as others have said I think using the term “trolling” to describe this is – well again I don’t really understand this.”

Well, I would say this. Williamson is not, so far as I know, stalking Lena Dunham or trying to release nude pics of her on the internet or any of that. If he were doing that, I’d be more upset. He’s just trying to lather up the base.

My reason for being less bothered by this particular, NR-brand of trolling is that I think it’s likely to backfire. For every conservative man whom Williamson inspires to vote, to send Washington a clear message that Lena Dunham is fat, he probably convinces two women – correctly – that Dunham is right. There are voters out there who are kind of nuts in this way.

It’s like Nixon saying he’s going to break the country in two, because he’ll get the bigger half. Only Williamson is going for the smaller half. As I think he might actually admit.

Also, writers like Williamson are not going to get conservatives and Republicans their ‘we’re the party of ideas’ mojo back any time soon. This sort of thing will only convince more and more people, who might be inclined to say, ‘but surely there are conservative intellectuals, too,’ that, at present they are bitter dead-enders, philosophically as well as culturally.

172

Val 10.02.14 at 6:12 am

It wasn’t so much the article on Lena Dunham I had in mind but the series of tweets that included these
“I have hanging more in mind”
“Yes, I believe that the law should treat abortion like any other homicide.”
etc

However in being cautious about being ‘anti-American’ I’m not just being polite or “anthropologically correct” (I don’t even know what that is!), I’m also worried about hubris. After all we recently elected a dinosaur as Prime Minister!

Plume @ 170 – our politics in general have also shifted to the right in many ways over the last 20 years or so also. Plus I am being a bit Melbourne centric – we don’t get so much right wing garbage here, but it does happen more in other parts of the country.

One thing that has happened here is the right doesn’t debate the left any more – left ideas are either too “juvenile” (that seems to have replaced crazy, and also I notice KW uses it a lot about Dunham) to debate, or – if widely accepted – they are “Nanny State”. (I haven’t yet seen “juvenile Nanny State ideas” as a meme, too illogical even for the right I guess).

173

Val 10.02.14 at 6:25 am

and also very briefly – I know I’m at risk of too many comments – I just wanted to second what Bruce Baugh said @ 61

Bruce says “male power” where I’d say “patriarchy”, but either way it seems to me that many people, even on the left, are reluctant to name this. Why is this?

174

Ze Kraggash 10.02.14 at 8:12 am

Geo, 164 “I guess I’d say who is being deprived and how do they feel about it? Assuming they can feel.”

The fetus, that’s who. I already tried to address the aspect of temporary unconsciousness, up the thread, but you ignored it (unless I missed a comment).

…been thinking about it some more, and I guess it’s just that I feel annoyed when rationalistic calculations are applied, wham-bam, to organic social phenomena. Which, I guess, is the point of the OP. But there’s no pushback against your rationalistic calculations (alas, Roy isn’t here).

175

David 10.02.14 at 9:02 am

I do think that debates on these kinds of issues in the US are very, let’s say, special, and often a source of incomprehension in other parts of the world. In Europe, such a debate would not be possible in these terms, and probably has not been since the 1940s
But it’s also true that the pro-abortion lobby in the US constructs its arguments (essentially, I insist, based on the liberal ideal of absolute autonomy of the self without regard to others) in ways which most Europeans would be very uncomfortable with. Or at least, this is what I read in the liberal US media and blogosphere, I’m willing to be convinced that it’s more nuanced than that.
In Europe, the primary source of anti-abortion arguments is the Catholic Church, whose position is simply that life begins at conception, and that therefore abortion is a crime. Interestingly, a very large number of the leaders of anti-abortion campaigns are women: I’m not sure how far this is true in the US.

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Brett Bellmore 10.02.14 at 10:27 am

Very true, much to the annoyance of pro-choicers, who argue as though this weren’t the case. The right to life movement being a ‘patriarchal conspiracy’ being run almost entirely by women seems to be a contradiction they find easier to ignore than explain.

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Rich Puchalsky 10.02.14 at 1:29 pm

JH: “Well, I would say this. Williamson is not, so far as I know, stalking Lena Dunham or trying to release nude pics of her on the internet or any of that. If he were doing that, I’d be more upset. He’s just trying to lather up the base.”

Let’s review this post and thread.

1. First people start out with careless misrepresentations of what KW wrote, getting them wrong either through inability to quote or lack of understanding of biology. No, sperm aren’t organisms at the early stages of development, yes, they are (mostly) genetically distinct, no, cancer tumors aren’t organisms, etc. So to start he’s chosen his words more carefully than the people answering him, and could look over this and say that people got it all wrong on his terms.

2. Second, whenever people bring up that KW has advocated for people to be killed — he said in his tweets, quite seriously and repeatedly, that women getting abortions and doctors providing them should be hanged — this is dismissed as trolling. While of course, in America, anti-abortion terrorists routinely shoot doctors, motivated by opinion leaders just like KW.

3. So what is the value of all this? We apparently can’t take KW seriously as an evil person, propounding evil views. We can’t address seriously why he’s wrong on his terms. We can’t gin up pushback, just like what happened to Salaita with his tweets, or much more ludicrously EL and his metaphorical wish to see a head on a stick. We can point out the positivist fallacy, within a society in which science is taken quite seriously as informing moral values, and for an issue in which science and technology (in terms of defining viability) are really quite important in how people think about the subject.

I both annoy myself and other people repeating myself over and over. But if you start with the writings of an evil clown, you’re not going to get something insightful in response. Find someone who actually thinks coherently to start with, or take the evil seriously. As I’ve said so many times, annoyingly, the basic problem for what you want to do is that no one on the right in America writes anything worthy of serious critique. So you really should figure out what you’re going to do about that with regard to your blogging modus operandi.

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Anarcissie 10.02.14 at 1:45 pm

Brett Bellmore 10.02.14 at 10:27 am @ 176:
‘Very true, much to the annoyance of pro-choicers, who argue as though this weren’t the case. The right to life movement being a ‘patriarchal conspiracy’ being run almost entirely by women seems to be a contradiction they find easier to ignore than explain.’

It’s hardly contradictory if one believe that the source of anti-abortionism is patriarchy or male supremacy.

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Lynne 10.02.14 at 1:48 pm

“the pro-abortion lobby”

I don’t know anyone who is pro-abortion.

“The right to life movement being a ‘patriarchal conspiracy’ being run almost entirely by women seems to be a contradiction they find easier to ignore than explain.”

No contradiction there. Pro-life women have decided that pregnancies should be carried to term, not just their own but everyone’s. Pure patriarchy, deciding for someone else what they should do. Their opponents—many of their opponents—might never have an abortion themselves but would insist the decision belonged to them, that each pregnant woman gets to decide that herself.

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jake the antisoshul soshulist 10.02.14 at 1:59 pm

@Plume #89
Barney Frank made that same point more more succinctly.
“To the conservative, life begins at conception and ends at birth.”

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temp 10.02.14 at 2:00 pm

“Organism” is not a well-defined concept in science. I think any reasonable person would agree that Henrietta Lacks is dead, and has been for over six decades, but cells from her tumor live on in thousands of labs across the world. I don’t see what features could possibly distinguish these cells from “organisms.” So, if you agree that HeLa cells are now a distinct organism from Henrietta Lacks, but think they were not at some point after the birth of the tumor, at what point did this transition occur? A natural choice would be when the cells were isolated from her body. But that is exactly the point of transition that KW wants to deny in the case of the fetus.

I think there is an entirely defensible definition of “organism” which would include both fetuses and tumors, and one that would exclude both, but I am not sure there is a sensible definition that would include one but not the other.

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Brett Bellmore 10.02.14 at 2:03 pm

“Pure patriarchy, deciding for someone else what they should do.”

I think this requires a definition of “patriarchy” too disconnected with the origins of the term. You should be using some more general term for women bossing other women around, than a term that explicity refers to men ruling.

“Patriarchy” isn’t a content free epithet, it has a meaning.

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Lynne 10.02.14 at 2:34 pm

Patriarchy is what we’ve got that men developed, a way of some people ruling over other people, of humans ruling over the environment. It is a lack of deciding together, or working with nature. It is not the way men have to behave, it’s just what we’ve got. Men are not the enemy, patriarchy is. I’m sketching this, but it certainly is not an epithet, it has a whole history and our society is imbued with it. What has value, who has value, how our hospitals work, its effects are far-reaching.

I just searched for a definition of patriarchy and got this:

noun: patriarchy

a system of society or government in which the father or eldest male is head of the family and descent is traced through the male line.
a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it.
a society or community organized on patriarchal lines.

Definitions 2 and 3 are relevant.

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John Holbo 10.02.14 at 2:55 pm

“As I’ve said so many times, annoyingly, the basic problem for what you want to do is that no one on the right in America writes anything worthy of serious critique.”

I thought it was reasonably clear that I was trying to say 1) that Williamson isn’t worth engaging with, personally, but 2) it’s kind of interesting to take apart one especially oddball anti-abortion argument he makes. If you have an objection to either 1 or 2, feel free to make it, Rich.

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Sebastian H 10.02.14 at 3:09 pm

Trying to box abortion views into “patriarchy” seems more to rhetorically silence the women who disagree with you than it sheds light on the actual abortion views. Polling has very consistently shown women and men in the US having approximately the same views on abortion. It isn’t a highly gendered political topic.

Polling has also shown that the current state of the law in the US is far more ‘pro-choice’ than a substantial majority of US men and women are comfortable with: the number of people who think abortions in the third trimester should generally be illegal always hovers in the 80+% zone and the number who think it should generally be illegal in the second trimester is in the high 60+% zone. See Gallup.

(BTW I suspect that polling is a bit unnuanced in the second trimester. If asked I strongly suspect that people are feeling hemmed in by Roe’s artificial trimester system, and that quite a few more people who want to make months 5 and 6 illegal than month 4).

It also isn’t super clear that ‘patriarchy’ cuts against abortion in the US. Having additional tools to maintain sexual access without having to worry about children is highly prized among a subset of powerful males.

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infovore 10.02.14 at 3:50 pm

David @175: “Interestingly, a very large number of the leaders of anti-abortion campaigns are women…”

This does not appear to be the case in my neck of the European woods.

In another part of Europe there has also been an interesting development: a conservative government is voted in to fix the economy, and proceeds to do so by banning abortion. This turns out to be so immensely unpopular that the government withdraws the proposed legislation and one of the ministers resigns. But of course a catholic country like Spain may not be the best indicator of the strength of anti-abortion sentiment in Europe.

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Rich Puchalsky 10.02.14 at 3:53 pm

“I thought it was reasonably clear that I was trying to say 1) that Williamson isn’t worth engaging with, personally, but 2) it’s kind of interesting to take apart one especially oddball anti-abortion argument he makes. If you have an objection to either 1 or 2, feel free to make it, Rich.”

You didn’t take it apart well. It’s both too little and too much: too little, because if you’re going to go into why his sciency bits don’t mean what he says they do, you have to get the science right; too much, because if you’re just going to object to positivism then it doesn’t really matter what sciency things he says. And just objecting to positivism doesn’t have much force within an issue in which both morality and legality are highly affected by the science of when a fetus is considered viable.

And you can say that he’s not worth engaging with, but really, here you are quoting and analyzing and linking and engaging with him, and giving a description of his statements of his desire to have people killed as “trolling”. That’s an implicit moral judgement of its own, and a deeply unserious and trivializing one.

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Plume 10.02.14 at 4:10 pm

As Lynne mentions, no one is “pro-abortion.” Well, to clarify. There are exceptions to the “no one.” But rare. Very, very rare. Rare to the point of being almost non-existent. So anyone starting off using that term is suspect. It’s not that much different from calling X policy “anti-American” right off the bat. It kind of loads the dice for a certain kind of bet.

And the term “pro-life” is pretty silly, misleading and ultimately meaningless. On one level, it’s like saying you’re “pro-breathing.” But when used by the people who generally use it, it really means “pro-zygote” or “pro-fetus.” It almost never means “I will support policies which help improve the quality of life for American citizens throughout their journey on this planet.”

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Brett Bellmore 10.02.14 at 4:17 pm

“Definitions 2 and 3 are relevant.”

Yes, absolutely relevant: Per that definition, no organization run by women can be patriarchal, any more than an organization run by men could be “matriarchal”. The word refers to rule by men, and if women are in control, (As with the pro-life movement in America.) it’s not applicable.

Seriously, you’re misusing the word. Not everything you dislike is “patriarchal”.

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Plume 10.02.14 at 4:24 pm

Brett @182,

In pretty much all systems of oppression, you’ll often get the oppressed working for their masters, doing their masters’ bidding, playing their own role in subjugating their fellows. You find that in slavery, in prisons, in capitalism.

There is no reason to find a different word to explain the situation of women bossing around women, as you put it. They’re a part of the system, too, socialized just like men to play a certain role. Some break free. Some men, too. But many do not, and they end up aiding and abetting. Conservative women, especially (with exceptions), seem more likely than those on the left to be willing cogs in the machine.

Changes in society have impacted even conservatives, of course, though it almost always happens later for them. But if they also happen to hold religious fundamentalist views, then their entrance into the 21st century is tougher, because they all too often buy into the idea that their “place” is to be submissive to man, that the bible tells them so.

It’s never really a surprise to see women of the religious right work against their own best interests. They’re indoctrinated, just like the men, to do this. It’s a tragedy, but it’s not surprising.

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Plume 10.02.14 at 4:28 pm

Brett @189,

If an organization, “run by men,” works to further societal rule by women, it is “matriarchal.”

You’re missing the old forest for the trees.

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Brett Bellmore 10.02.14 at 4:34 pm

I suppose I’m an idiot, trying to argue to someone on the left that a word actually has a meaning. You guys have been Humpty Dumpty with a no limit credit card for at least a generation.

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Brett Bellmore 10.02.14 at 4:38 pm

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bianca steele 10.02.14 at 4:48 pm

You didn’t take it apart well.

Wow, I really disagree with you, Rich. I think this is one of John’s best posts. I don’t understand how you’re thinking at all.

What’s fascinating about this (I mean the bits quoted in the OP here, I haven’t clicked through and haven’t thought about the other stuff he wrote recently, which may well be wrong, and in fact I didn’t remember this was the “too dumb to vote” guy) is that if this is positivism, it’s a really weird kind. You make a distinction between “positivism” and being “sciency,” but I would say that what’s wrong with positivism is that it’s sciency, and scienciness is a little like truthiness. On the other hand, you’re saying that positivism is a very weak moral accusation, and it’s always seemed to me to be used as a quite strong moral accusation (I may have to dig out my master’s thesis on this: does positivism lead straight to Hitler?, to put it a little bluntly). But what’s fascinating is that you can’t put both of those facts together.

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TM 10.02.14 at 4:59 pm

Rich 177, I agree with a big part of this although I do think the OP does a pretty good job of taking apart KW. What I agree with is that “no one on the right in America writes anything worthy of serious critique” and I have said many times that Crooked Timber wastes way too much space critiquing right-wing BS not worthy of critique. I also keep being amazed at the extent to which the manifest evil on the right is not being taken seriously by American liberals, on this blog and elsewhere. Somebody calling for people being hanged for doing something he finds morally objectionable (but is perfectly legal) is just shrugged off? What we do need to think more about is, how can the sane half of America be so incredibly desensitized to shrug off a genuinely fascist political movement gaining increasing power in this country, and why are we so impotent to react to this outrage when we all know that any lefty public personality coming anywhere close to calling for the hanging of right-wingers would be immediately removed from public life, ruined and disgraced?

We must take this seriously indeed.

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Rich Puchalsky 10.02.14 at 5:02 pm

“On the other hand, you’re saying that positivism is a very weak moral accusation”

I didn’t mean that. I think it’s a very weak philosophical or argumentative accusation when applied to a subject that science has so much to say about. “Trolling” was what I characterized as a very weak moral accusation when applied to the serious desire to see people hanged.

Basically, this could have been a post that really digs into why KW chose the 4 words or phrases that he chose, and why, scientifically, they don’t imply what he thinks that they imply. But that would require a knowledge of science that John doesn’t have. Or it could have been a post that just goes back over why is isn’t ought, and positivism. But that doesn’t even do justice to KW’s argument, such as it is. KW says that our ideas about what’s permissible have changed as the science / technology behind when we can treat a fetus as viable has changed. Sure, a post that says positivism = Hitler (and there’s Godwin) could be made, but it doesn’t really say anything about why people start talking in sciency phrases on this topic.

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mds 10.02.14 at 5:02 pm

and if women are in control, (As with the pro-life movement in America.)

Wow, the American Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, Focus on the Family, the American Family Association, the Family Research Council, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Operation Save America née Rescue, and most individual fundamentalist Protestant churches have obviously undergone some amazing leadership changes since I was young fifteen minutes ago.

Woman-run antichoice organizations exist, but they do not even remotely comprise “the pro-life movement.”

Still, regardless whether that particular assertion is true , the general form finally settles the question over whether women’s groups that opposed granting women the right to vote were supporting patriarchy. The answer is no, obviously not, because they were run by women.

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Plume 10.02.14 at 5:03 pm

Brett @192,

Yes, words have meaning, and context. Always context. Look up “myopia,” for instance.

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Consumatopia 10.02.14 at 5:07 pm

One could imagine a society in which only men could vote but anyone can run for office. Sometimes the men vote for a woman to serve a term of office as their chief executive.

This society would obviously still be a patriarchy, under the quoted definition above, during those times. This hypothetical system would serve the collective interests of men, even if it uses a woman as a vehicle to accomplish the goals of men.

Personhood-begins-at-conception is like opposition to gay marriage or intelligent design. There are many well-meaning men and and women holding those views, through a combination of tradition, prejudice, religious doctrine or institutional authority. But despite the presence of all those well-meaning people, there isn’t any rational argument to back up their position. There are decent human beings on both sides of all those arguments. But that doesn’t mean that there are decent arguments on both sides.

There are many pro-life women who sincerely care about women. If we weren’t living in the shadow of thousands of years of patriarchy, there would not be quite so many of them who think the state should have intimate control of their bodies. This does not mean that these women or that state is necessarily patriarchal, but it does mean that they have been influenced by patriarchy, as have we all.

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geo 10.02.14 at 5:18 pm

Ze @174: The fetus, that’s who

My point was, the fetus is not a who. It has no experiences and no consciousness and never has had any. It is not part of any relationships (except with its mother), so no one else has any feelings about it either. It is not a person, moral subject, or whatever you like. The idea that someone is not a person, moral subject, etc. while sleeping seemed so daffy that I was (am) flummoxed and didn’t (don’t) know exactly what to say. If you really want an answer to the “argument” from temporary unconsciousness, I suppose one could say that sleep is only partial unconsciousness; dreams are a form of consciousness, and there is plenty of brain activity short of dreaming during sleep. And then there are all the people involved, the people who have feelings about the sleeping person, whereas (again) there are no people except the mother who have (personal, not ideological) feelings about the fetus.

I feel annoyed when rationalistic calculations are applied, wham-bam, to organic social phenomena

Now I’m annoyed, in turn. What’s “rationalistic” about saying that killing a fetus, a clump of cells that no one except its mother has any reason to have any feelings about, and who fears her life may capsize if she continues the pregnancy, is prima facie more justifiable than killing a full-grown person, full of feelings and the focus of other people’s feelings? It seems to me that I’m asking: “Really, what can justify imposing all that suffering on an already conflicted woman?” while you’re trying to answer that question with far-fetched analogies between the fetus and temporarily unconscious adults. Are you sure you’re not the one who’s being rationalistic?

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geo 10.02.14 at 5:24 pm

Brett @192: I suppose I’m an idiot, trying to argue to someone on the left that a word actually has a meaning. You guys have been Humpty Dumpty with a no limit credit card for at least a generation.

After the brazen and persistent dishonesty of the right over the last generation, someone who can say the above is either too ignorant to be worth arguing with or too dishonest to be worth arguing with.

And yet we do … why?

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Rich Puchalsky 10.02.14 at 5:28 pm

temp: ““Organism” is not a well-defined concept in science. I think any reasonable person would agree that Henrietta Lacks is dead, and has been for over six decades, but cells from her tumor live on in thousands of labs across the world.”

The ability to keep cells alive in a lab doesn’t change a cell into an organism. And in any case (unless the science has changed since I looked at this) a cancer tumor isn’t a multicellular organism: it’s a collection of cells, all with the same DNA but possible differences in expression.

I agree that “organism” is not a well-defined concept, which is why KW chose it. One counterargument is to just point that out, complete with examples of why the biological world doesn’t separate out into neatly identifiable organisms. (And there are some weird cases out there, if you go to nonhuman organisms). But you can’t both do that *and* say that none of this matters because of positivism. Or, you can, but both arguments make the other weaker because they are simultaneous.

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The Temporary Name 10.02.14 at 5:30 pm

And yet we do … why?

People who are elected say the stupid things Brett and KW say so there’s modest relief in it. Also idle hands.

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bianca steele 10.02.14 at 5:47 pm

Rich, first:

“Trolling” was what I characterized as a very weak moral accusation when applied to the serious desire to see people hanged.

Like I said, I didn’t read the worst of it, so I wasn’t aware (and still am not certain) of the fact that there was stuff in there that was too bad to permit the linked post to be engaged with. I would call that exactly trolling, though: terrible stuff, combined with something that would engage serious people across the spectrum, who would then give extra prominence to the terrible stuff that was probably the real point.

But also: I think it’s a very weak philosophical or argumentative accusation when applied to a subject that science has so much to say about.

I think the point (and the accusation of positivism) is that science, in particular biology (and I assume this is some evo-devo stuff the guy has in mind), doesn’t actually say anything, actually, about personhood or the immorality of murder. The objection is that “personhood can’t be reduced to physical science” doesn’t mean “when you start talking about personhood, you’re talking about religious mysticism.” It doesn’t mean biologists can say something about personhood while using only biological concepts, or that non-biologists can discover “scientific” truth about personhood by picking and choosing sentences out of biology texts. Again, though, KW doesn’t seem like the kind of person who would say this–and there are some on the left who say something similar–which suggests he is “trolling,” though maybe he’s not.

I’m really not seeing why you’re suggesting John should instead have written a post explaining a basic concept like “is/ought.”

KW says that our ideas about what’s permissible have changed as the science / technology behind when we can treat a fetus as viable has changed.

I don’t see this (though I haven’t clicked through and don’t want to). As far as I can tell, he’s treating words like “organism” as things anyone can understand no matter when (or whether) they learned biology. That’s part of the problem.

positivism = Hitler (and there’s Godwin)

I think you should be the first comment on Corey Robin’s next Arendt post and write “Godwin!” Seriously, outside a philosophical context (where the definition of positivism is a bit different, it seems to me), to me (others’ mileage may vary, if they’ve been reading different things) someone using the word “positivism” always suggests a certain critique of science, especially social science, as racist, eliminationist, and so on. I didn’t think that was quite what John had in mind, but in comments it seems to be pulled more and more to a different context.

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Rich Puchalsky 10.02.14 at 5:56 pm

Bianca: “stuff in there that was too bad to permit the linked post to be engaged with”

There’s three different KW sources that John links to: two different articles (the five reasons why you’re dumb one and the Texas after abortion one), and a set of his Tweets.

“I would call that exactly trolling, though: terrible stuff, combined with something that would engage serious people across the spectrum, who would then give extra prominence to the terrible stuff that was probably the real point.”

According to wiki, there have been 8 murders, 17 attempted murders, 41 bombings, 173 arsons, and even more numerous lesser crimes committed in the U.S. and Canada since 1977 against abortion providers. Kevin Williamson is inciting terrorism. Don’t call it “trolling” just because we don’t read it seriously: another audience does.

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William Timberman 10.02.14 at 5:58 pm

geo @ 201

Leaving aside the possibility that BB is a) paid for his trouble, or b) a sadomasochist with too much time on his hands, he’s interesting insofar as he appears willing to defend the indefensible with something other than a club. I’ve wondered myself why, given how consistently he’s tried the patience of the CT posters, he hasn’t manage to get himself banned by one or more of them.

I admit I still have no explanation for our hosts’ tolerance — they can speak for themselves in any event — but it may be that they find, as I do, that the spectacle of someone sorely afflicted with the libertarian mysticism of the individual, and willing to pursue it indefatigably wherever it leads, is useful as an object lesson. Here’s how tangled up you can get if you take this nonsense seriously may be enough justification to allow him the freedom of the stage, even if he never quite drops the ostrich feather fans until well after the lights have gone out.

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MPAVictoria 10.02.14 at 5:58 pm

Just want to remind everyone here that Brett favours hanging women who have late term abortions. That is the problem with the right wing today. When you try and tell people what their actual policies are no one believes you because they are so monstrous.

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GiT 10.02.14 at 6:02 pm

Why the hemming-and-hawing about not being “pro-abortion,” how no one is “pro-abortion?”

The status of a fetus is irrelevant and the power to control when and how one has children is an amazing thing. I don’t see any reason to shy away from being “pro-abortion.” The world would be a clearly more horrible place, and was clearly a more horrible place, when women had little control over pregnancy. When has an increased ability to control one’s own reproductive process been bad, ever?

I for one am not going to buy into the bullshit that reproductive control is something that one should first of all be ashamed and regretful about.

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MPAVictoria 10.02.14 at 6:03 pm

“I for one am not going to buy into the bullshit that reproductive control is something that one should first of all be ashamed and regretful about.”

Seconded!

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Plume 10.02.14 at 6:21 pm

GiT,

It’s not hemming and hawing. It’s framing. In politics, framing is (unfortunately) everything. Framing it as “pro-abortion” gives the right a serious edge in the discussion, and we know this from countless surveys. When people are asked if they are for a woman’s right to choose, or for a woman’s personal autonomy, or for a woman’s control over her reproductive system, they support that at a much, much higher rate than if asked about abortion specifically.

Fair or not, this is a battle for hearts and minds. Yes, there are principles well beyond that. But in a diverse nation, especially one where the right is granted so many advantages, politically, by the Establishment (which is itself conservative) . . . . . it’s smart to use the best frame.

For many Americans, the idea of an abortion is still very problematic. If you allow the right to determine the context, that won’t change.

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Plume 10.02.14 at 6:30 pm

Think Limbaugh’s disgusting attack on Sandra Fluke. He used the “pro-abortion” context, even though it has absolutely nothing to do with anything she said, and she never even discussed her sex life.

They want to portray women as cavalier, indifferent in their “after sex” decisions, and they want to portray them as having sex all the time. It would be funny, their assertions and rationales, if not for the devastating real world repercussions.

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MPAVictoria 10.02.14 at 7:06 pm

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Brett Bellmore 10.02.14 at 7:13 pm

“Just want to remind everyone here that Brett favours hanging women who have late term abortions. “

Unless genuinely medically necessary, sure. I also favor hanging women who beat their children to death. Essentially I’m pretty darned opposed to infanticide, and willing to see capital punishment carried out against people who commit it.

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MPAVictoria 10.02.14 at 7:16 pm

“Unless genuinely medically necessary, sure. I also favor hanging women who beat their children to death.”

Again, the number of women who have late term abortions for reasons other then medical necessity is so small as to be irrelevant.

/Of course you apparently think that rape rarely happens….

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MPAVictoria 10.02.14 at 7:18 pm

“Since 2007, a program in St. Louis has offered teenagers free access to all types of birth control. They can choose pills, intra-uterine devices or any other FDA-approved contraceptive.

These St. Louis teens have had markedly lower pregnancy, abortion and birth rates than the rest of the country, new research published in the New England Journal of Medicine show”

If right wingers actually gave a damn about abortion they would demand that this program be extended across the entire country. Since what they are actually worried about is women having unapproved of sex without being punished for it that will never happen.

http://www.vox.com/2014/10/2/6891337/st-louis-gave-teens-free-birth-control-and-they-now-have-very-low

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Plume 10.02.14 at 7:36 pm

Brett,

A zygote isn’t an infant.

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Brett Bellmore 10.02.14 at 7:46 pm

“Again, the number of women who have late term abortions for reasons other then medical necessity is so small as to be irrelevant.

/Of course you apparently think that rape rarely happens….”

What I think is that the frequency of a heinous crime has no bearing on whether you should punish it when it DOES happen.

And I think you are fooling yourself about the frequency of elective late term abortion. As I said earlier, Kermit Gosnell did not lack for customers, and that was his specialty. Neither did he lack for people at more circumspect abortion clinics willing to refer to him women who wanted elective late term abortions, or people in authority willing to sheild him from discovery, even as he left a trail of dead women. Because, presumably, it was really important that late term elective abortions remain available.

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Brett Bellmore 10.02.14 at 7:48 pm

Plume, a ‘zygote’ is a cell resulting from the fusion of an egg and a sperm. The developing fetus is only a zygote for hours. Calling an infant capable of survival if delivered a “zygote” is just a way of depersonalizing a person, so you can justify their death.

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Jeff R. 10.02.14 at 7:49 pm

Plume: It’s difficult to imagine a difference in the moral standing of an 8-month baby in a NICU ward and and equally developed fetus still in the womb. The idea that the topological difference is morally significant to that aspect of the argument* is beyond absurd. And the conclusion that neither should have any consideration is so monstrously evil as to only be held by 2-dimensional straw-man caricatures (a category which, yes, includes Singer.)

and MVAV: Unless that number is ‘zero’, it is significant. (And if your position is that it is zero; that any abortion desired by any woman is by definition medically necessary, then it was dishonest to not take that position immediately, no?)

*: Obviously it’s the very core of the issue once you’ve gotten down to how to balance the conflicting interests of the two entities with moral standing, but it’s of no help whatsoever in attempting to deny that standing to one of them.

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MPAVictoria 10.02.14 at 7:54 pm

“Unless that number is ‘zero’, it is significant.”

It isn’t to me. At least not in terms of setting public policy. What is monstrous is the idea of hanging desperate women.

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temp 10.02.14 at 7:56 pm

The ability to keep cells alive in a lab doesn’t change a cell into an organism.

Why not? I can’t think of any understanding of the concept of organism by which a free-living, eating, reproducing cell would not qualify. There are strains of mice and bacteria which only live in lab conditions and no one would deny that those are organisms.

And in any case (unless the science has changed since I looked at this) a cancer tumor isn’t a multicellular organism: it’s a collection of cells, all with the same DNA but possible differences in expression.

“A collection of cells, all with the same DNA but possible differences in expression” is a correct description of a fetus, too.

But you can’t both do that *and* say that none of this matters because of positivism. Or, you can, but both arguments make the other weaker because they are simultaneous.

Maybe so. I think both arguments are correct, though.

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GiT 10.02.14 at 7:59 pm

“It’s not hemming and hawing. It’s framing”

Yes, and you’re buying in to regressive, right wing framing by talking about how regretful and unfortunate abortion is.

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Rich Puchalsky 10.02.14 at 9:30 pm

MPAV: “What is monstrous is the idea of hanging desperate women.”

Note that in the U.S. since 1976 there have been 1,386 executions, of which 3 were hangings. When Williamson was questioned about why hanging instead of “a more humane method of execution” and that this revealed serious animus on his part, he replied “Very serious animus. Abortion is an act of great cruelty.”

So you could put this into the column of conservative caring more about fetuses than actual children — when woman kill actual children, they aren’t generally hanged. But people are missing the essential part of the communication going on here. When someone like Kevin Williamson stresses how much he wants to see people killed in this grisly way, he distinctly increases the chance that one of his readers will actually decide to kill people. The anti-abortion right is, as I mentioned above, actually shooting, bombing and burning real people. The more that opinion leaders read by the right wing stress how necessary and just it is to kill, the more their followers will decide that they had actually better get out there and kill people.

It’s not a joke. It’s not a “troll”. He’s not trying to “lather up the base” as John wrote. It’s the presence of actual evil, like a Jihadist talking about how he’d like to see a jet crashed into a skyscraper.

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Jim Harrison 10.02.14 at 9:35 pm

While looking through the New Oxford Book of Eighteenth Century Verse, I came upon an anonymous poem of 1740, “Epitaph on a Child Killed by Procured Abortion.” I quote the first several lines because they reflect the uncanny ontological status of an embryo that I wrote about above:

O thou, whose eyes were closed in death’s pale night,
Ere fate revealed thee to my aching sight,
Ambiguous something, by no standard fixed,
Frail span, of naught and of existence mixed,
Embryo, imperfect as my tort’ring though,
Sad outcast of existence and of nought…

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Main Street Muse 10.02.14 at 9:42 pm

“It’s not a “troll”. He’s not trying to “lather up the base” as John wrote. It’s the presence of actual evil, like a Jihadist talking about how he’d like to see a jet crashed into a skyscraper.”

Is it evil? It’s actually just taking the GOP position on abortion to its logical conclusion. Though it is legal (thus far) in the US, abortion is murder in the minds of the GOP; and in many states, murder is punished with the death penalty.

Let’s imagine if Williamson’s goal were implemented. Imagine a teenage girl who has been raped and impregnated – by a boy, by her father, by an uncle, by someone. Her desire to terminate her pregnancy leads to her arrest. Do they wait for the baby to arrive before hanging her? Do they wean the baby first before hanging her? Do they hang her and her fetus? In the end, what we have is a party devoted to the control of a woman’s uterus. Her one role in this world is to reproduce. The practical details of Williamson’s policy solution to abortion are even more disturbing.

(This is the party that gave us a commercial that equates voting for a candidate with purchasing a wedding dress.) Women are expendable in the GOP universe; it’s their wombs and what comes out of them that matters… until that baby draws its first breath.

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Plume 10.02.14 at 9:52 pm

GiT @222,

No. I’m not buying into their framing. I’m trying to counter it. It’s playing right into their hands to suggest it’s not a serious matter. The association then becomes “These women don’t take life seriously. They don’t care about life.” And as Rich suggests @223, this can lead to an eye for an eye scenario. There are dangerous kooks out there, whipped up into a frenzy by comments like KW’s, who will think, “She doesn’t care about the life inside her, so why should we care about hers?”

It’s not a good strategy.

IMO, the better strategy is to promote family planning and the prevention of unwanted pregnancies, along with personal autonomy for women. Choice. The “safe, legal and rare” idea, basically.

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Rich Puchalsky 10.02.14 at 10:11 pm

“Is it evil? It’s actually just taking the GOP position on abortion to its logical conclusion. Though it is legal (thus far) in the US, abortion is murder in the minds of the GOP; and in many states, murder is punished with the death penalty.”

No crime is legally punishable by a vigilante getting a sniper rifle and gunning someone down without trial. That’s what Kevin Williamson is making more likely — not judicial punishment. The right knows that they aren’t going to be able to get an absurd, anachronistic punishment like hanging judicially instated for abortion. But why are abortion providers so rare in many places? Because people are, with good reason, afraid of being shot.

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Brett Bellmore 10.02.14 at 10:17 pm

“What is monstrous is the idea of hanging desperate women.”

Desperate murderers. Women can be as desperate as they like, and if it doesn’t lead them to commit murder, I would not suggest executing them.

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David 10.02.14 at 10:22 pm

”It’s not a joke. It’s not a “troll”. He’s not trying to “lather up the base” as John wrote. It’s the presence of actual evil, like a Jihadist talking about how he’d like to see a jet crashed into a skyscraper.”

Honestly, what is the response? If the right in America is legitimately Manichean black and white evil, then the Left is morally lax for tolerating their freedom of political action. What makes the American right’s existence tolerable is two facts: 1. they have consistently lost on national social issues for going on 60 years now (making commentary of the sort that this article focuses on nothing but empty posturing), and 2. they aren’t a viable nation-wide party anymore.

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GiT 10.02.14 at 10:27 pm

” I’m trying to counter it.”

Saying, ‘no one is pro-abortion’ doesn’t counter, it reaffirms. Women’s autonomy is a serious matter, and how children and pregnancy affect and either affirm or constrain a woman’s autonomy are serious matters. Fertilized eggs not coming to fruition because a woman would prefer it didn’t, in contrast, is pretty trivial.

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MPAVictoria 10.02.14 at 10:28 pm

“Fertilized eggs not coming to fruition because a woman would prefer it didn’t, in contrast, is pretty trivial.”

I want to sign on to this .

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Rich Puchalsky 10.02.14 at 10:46 pm

“If the right in America is legitimately Manichean black and white evil, then the Left is morally lax for tolerating their freedom of political action.”

Yes, I’ve been saying from the beginning that dismissing these statements is morally lax. It’s not lax to “tolerat[e] their freedom of political action” — I value our freedoms, and I don’t support throwing them away just because terrorists exist. But the last person who these terrorists shot was Dr. George Tiller, as he was serving as an usher at his church in 2009. By going on about how women who get abortions should be hanged in front of an audience of extreme right-wingers, Williamson is making the next assassination more likely. Yet people here just can’t seem to believe that he’d actually, seriously, do such a thing and treat his statements with moral seriousness.

“I wish all Israeli settlers would go missing” from a person with no power to inspire that this might actually happen -> fire that professor. “Women who get abortions should be hanged” in front of an audience that includes demonstrated killers -> oh he must be trolling. I should really just stop commenting on CT again.

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bianca steele 10.02.14 at 10:59 pm

Rich, this is playing devil’s advocate a bit, but isn’t it possible that someone who might agree with KW just a little bit, about the non-violent bit, might see what he’s doing and be appalled and decide to help clean up his own movement’s act?

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Moz in Oz 10.02.14 at 11:07 pm

There’s three comments that I think are linked, so I’m going to do that:

Brett Bellmore 10.02.14 at 7:48 pm: The developing fetus is only a zygote for hours. Calling an infant capable of survival if delivered…

Jeff R. 10.02.14 at 7:49 pm: It’s difficult to imagine a difference in the moral standing of an 8-month baby in a NICU ward and and equally developed fetus still in the womb.

But also this:

Rich Puchalsky 10.02.14 at 5:28 pm: The ability to keep cells alive in a lab doesn’t change a cell into an organism.

I get the feeling that these are fairly consistent views across the anti-abortion crowd. Rich makes a reasonable point in response, that just because a fetus *can* survive in the lab, doesn’t mean that it should be considered morally equivalent to a person. I realise I’m mis-characteristing an anti-abortion point to say that, but I find it hard not to see it that way. The fetus can survive, if the mother doesn’t want it let the anti-abortion people take care of it.

The problem with “it can survive outside the womb, therefore it’s a person” is that it invites the pro-abortion crowd to say “yes, exactly, make it so!”, and support removal of the unborn person from the womb when the womb-owner wishes. And the anti-abortion people know that, so they try to avoid the argument and instead switch from “8 month fetus” to “zygote” abruptly in the middle of the discussion.

FWIW, I am absolutely pro-abortion. Happily, joyously so. Abortion has repeatedly proved to be one of the key factors that liberates people from slavery, so I think it’s a great thing. Ideally it would be one of those transition technologies that’s only really useful for a couple of decades until contraception and sex education bring the unwanted pregancy rate down, but if that’s the contraception favoured by a significant portion of society let them keep using it. And lets not pretend that denying sex education and contraception to young people is anything other than a pro-abortion or pro-slavery stance. You can’t have young people acting freely but without effective access to contraception and not end up with a lot of pregnant young people. Extreme repression, forced pregnancy or sex education… you have to choose one. And even in the USA, the level of repression required to keep young people from having sex isn’t available.

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bianca steele 10.02.14 at 11:20 pm

@233 to be clear that’s a defense of John Holbo, not of KW

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John Holbo 10.02.14 at 11:22 pm

“You didn’t take it apart well. It’s both too little and too much: too little, because if you’re going to go into why his sciency bits don’t mean what he says they do, you have to get the science right; too much, because if you’re just going to object to positivism then it doesn’t really matter what sciency things he says.”

Ah! I thought the fact that I got something a little wrong, then got corrected, made it good rather than bad. There’s no harm in learning, I say. Not necessarily.

Also, I think it’s a mistake to think we can only do one thing: either discuss science or object to positivism, but not both. Why not both?

Also, I didn’t actually make a scientific error in the post, just maybe slightly in comments? (And, honestly, I still think a sperm might be an organism. It’s just not a well-defined term, so there’s no clear reason to deny it.)

I think you have some particular ideas about what I should be writing about – which is fine – but you are projecting them onto what I’m writing, with a kind of double-image result. And then you are blaming me for that effect. That doesn’t make sense.

“By going on about how women who get abortions should be hanged in front of an audience of extreme right-wingers, Williamson is making the next assassination more likely. Yet people here just can’t seem to believe that he’d actually, seriously, do such a thing and treat his statements with moral seriousness.”

I agree that it’s noxious but it’s also what anti-choicers ought to believe. If you believe abortion is murder, you ought to believe abortion should be punished as murder. I don’t fault the logic of that step, per se.

On the one hand, you are right: in an environment where abortion providers are killed, this is inflammatory. But calling for changes to the law is well within free speech limits. As to whether he’s ‘serious’? I suppose yes and no. I don’t suppose even he himself really knows, so I doubt you know, Rich. A lot of trolls are sort of ‘serious’, in their crazy way.

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Jeff R. 10.02.14 at 11:46 pm

@235: “The problem with “it can survive outside the womb, therefore it’s a person” is that it invites the pro-abortion crowd to say “yes, exactly, make it so!”, and support removal of the unborn person from the womb when the womb-owner wishes.”

Would any representatives of said crowd actually support that, though? As a required alternative to abortion post-viability, that is? I mean, for the first thing, we are talking about a more invasive procedure in most if not all scenarios.

And for the second, do you view the right to abortion as merely the right to an empty womb, or is there a component of a right to demand the non-existence of the particular genetic combination in question in there as well? (Let’s agree to accept that the awful absurdity of granting such a right to the male parent does not necessarily mean that this right cannot exist for the female one.)

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Plume 10.02.14 at 11:51 pm

GiT @230,

Believe what you want. Just don’t accuse me of falling for right wing anything. I despise the right too much on moral, ethical, philosophical and every which way grounds for that.

The thing is, you and I are saying the same thing, at least with your second sentence. But the last sentence strikes me as being closely linked to the second, and I don’t see much of a contrast between the two — and definitely not enough to go from “serious” to “trivial.” In short, I’m not seeing that you’ve supported your premise. I think you’re supporting mine.

239

GiT 10.02.14 at 11:55 pm

Please explain how I’ve supported your premise that “no one is pro-abortion.”

240

Rich Puchalsky 10.02.14 at 11:56 pm

All right, one more:

“Also, I think it’s a mistake to think we can only do one thing: either discuss science or object to positivism, but not both. Why not both?”

Right-wingers often argue that we should not do anything about global warming because it doesn’t exist, and because it’s harmless or even beneficial, and because it’s harmful but it would be too costly to do anything about it. You don’t think that arguing all three of these at once makes the reader think that these arguments must not be individually well founded? If positivism invalidates the argument, there’s no need to get into whether he’s treating “organism” correctly. Doing so just makes it clear that you don’t really think the positivism bit is convincing. And vice versa.

I’m not going to get into the science in detail, and I’m not trying to “gotcha” for a mistake. But you aren’t (for example) PZ Myers, and he would be capable of writing a kind of post that you aren’t.

“On the one hand, you are right: in an environment where abortion providers are killed, this is inflammatory. But calling for changes to the law is well within free speech limits. As to whether he’s ‘serious’? I suppose yes and no. I don’t suppose even he himself really knows, so I doubt you know, Rich. A lot of trolls are sort of ‘serious’, in their crazy way.”

He’s not a troll! This is the bait-and-switch that annoys me the most. He’s a named writer for a well-known political publication, with every expectation of being read — an expectation that you have helped to make true, in a small way. If he was librulssuck461, you wouldn’t write a post about it. I’m not calling for his free speech to be infringed on. His internal mental state, whether he is “serious” or not, is unknowable and kind of beside the point. His speech, because of content and audience, should be condemned, and part of that is presuming that he’s serious about what he claims to be serious about.

241

Consumatopia 10.03.14 at 1:00 am

You don’t think that arguing all three of these at once makes the reader think that these arguments must not be individually well founded?

When they’re stated so that they contradict each other like that, perhaps, but that’s unnecessary–you could say this: global warming isn’t happening, but would be good even if it were happening, but even if it isn’t good it’s too expensive to stop.

We would of course prefer them to pick their favorite argument and stick with it, but not only won’t they do that, that’s not even a rational way to make decision. It’s very frequent that an action is right, or wrong, for multiple reasons.

Consider torture. I remember opponents arguing with each other over which was the “best” argument against it. Then they’d spend time working to tear down the arguments of their allies. It was stupid. Torture is intrinsically wrong, dangerous for the rule of law, and a shitty way of gathering reliable information. There is no reason to pick one of these as the “real” reason torture is bad policy.

When there are multiple, independent arguments, the side on the receiving end will probably complain that the opponents are just throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks. However, the people making the multiple arguments can counter that the reason so much stuff is sticking is that the original proposal was made in bad faith and therefore we shouldn’t be surprised that it’s a bad idea for multiple reasons.

Also, given that the world we live in is not always a zero-sum game, we should expect to find multiple reasons to support or oppose a given policy.

242

Consumatopia 10.03.14 at 1:02 am

I should say I think that you’re right on the not-a-troll thing, I was just contesting that one point I quoted, not your entire post.

243

Sebastian H 10.03.14 at 1:30 am

Plume:

“Again, the number of women who have late term abortions for reasons other then medical necessity is so small as to be irrelevant.”

That’s an interesting claim. After years of looking I’ve found that getting good statistics in the US on reasons for late term abortions is almost impossible. It starts from the fact that most of the statistics come from the CDC which doesn’t track reasons for abortion (interesting omission) and is further problematized by the fact that an estimated 1/5 of abortions take place in California where they don’t even report to the CDC.

Frankly the only study I’ve seen on US reasons for abortion from non-pro-life sources that even hints about it is this from the Guttmacher Institute (a VERY pro-choice organization). See Table 6, which says 21% cite fetal health and 10% cite maternal health for 13+ weeks. Which is frankly unsatisfying, since really we are talking about probably 20+ weeks–a whole different story.

The Gosnell case strongly suggests the existence of at least dozens and potentially hundreds of women in the Philadelphia area seeking late term abortions for reasons other than medical necessity (He was convicted of only three infanticides, but that was a combination of burden of proof issues and incredibly short statutes of limitations–the grand jury report cited evidence of at least a hundred abortions of fully viable fetuses). So it at the very least isn’t as unthinkable as you’re making it sound.

I’d love to know where you got your statistics.

244

Plume 10.03.14 at 1:35 am

Sebastion H. @243,

You misquoted me. I didn’t say that. Not in any way, shape or form. Please be more careful next time with your attributions.

245

Plume 10.03.14 at 1:38 am

GiT,

The premise is that a woman’s autonomy is a serious matter, as you stated. This, rather than being “pro-abortion” should be the focus.

246

Layman 10.03.14 at 1:41 am

” Torture is intrinsically wrong, dangerous for the rule of law, and a shitty way of gathering reliable information. “

Note that this isn’t analogous to the climate change argument triad because these reasons aren’t contradictory, while the GW arguments are.

You can believe that torture is wrong, that it erodes the rule of law, and that it’s ineffective, because all three could be true. But you can’t reasonably believe climate change isn’t happening, while you believe that it is happening but it’s harmless, while you believe it is happening and it’s harmful but it can’t be stopped.

If you use those three arguments interchangeably when they suit you, you’re not serious or you’re unhinged or you’re dishonest. Not serious seems the kindest assumption.

247

John Holbo 10.03.14 at 1:47 am

“If positivism invalidates the argument, there’s no need to get into whether he’s treating “organism” correctly. Doing so just makes it clear that you don’t really think the positivism bit is convincing. And vice versa.”

First of all, there’s nothing about ‘organism’ in the post. If you are arguing that the post is invalid on the grounds that it spawned a series of comments that is not of consistently sterling, intellectually unimpeachable quality, then your argument isn’t with my post, it’s with the existence of comments boxes. They are (you must have noticed this) typically intellectually patchy affairs.

Second, I really don’t get the problem with saying there are multiple arguments against X. If someone tells me X is wrong because Y and also Z, I don’t immediately assume that Y must be weak, otherwise why would he also bring in Z? Do you?

“He’s not a troll! This is the bait-and-switch that annoys me the most. He’s a named writer for a well-known political publication, with every expectation of being read — an expectation that you have helped to make true, in a small way.”

Why can’t he be both a troll and also a named writer for a well-known political publication. All that follows, if both are true, is that the well-known political publication is publishing trolls. Which I take to be, basically, the case in this case. It sort of depends what you mean by ‘troll’, of course. I take a troll to be someone who publishes patently poor quality stuff, who is probably (but not necessarily) aware that they aren’t bothering to write or argue at all well, with the main intent of angering the other side and riling up their own side. The goal (conscious or unconscious) is enjoyment of malicious glee. And the product could not produce anything better than that. Something like that.

“His speech, because of content and audience, should be condemned, and part of that is presuming that he’s serious about what he claims to be serious about.”

Why can’t I condemn unserious speech of various sorts, when it is objectionable?

“His internal mental state, whether he is “serious” or not, is unknowable and kind of beside the point. His speech, because of content and audience, should be condemned, and part of that is presuming that he’s serious about what he claims to be serious about.”

If whether he is serious is beside the point, then why do I need to presume he is serious – possibly falsely, since who the hell knows? – to make the point?

I realize you want to be pragmatic about this, Rich. But I don’t see that you have a better pragmatic approach than I do. He says this awful stuff, thereby perhaps encouraging people to do awful things. There is nothing I can do to make it not have been the case that he said that. (As Aristotle says, even the gods do not have the power to make the past not have been) I can ignore him. But that is not likely to stop him dead, or his effects. I can treat him as serious, even though I doubt he really is. I’m not sure why that would be especially helpful. It might have the wrong effect of making people think he is a serious person, whose arguments should be treated with respect and seriousness. When they really aren’t. I could say ‘he can be against abortion but he shouldn’t say that if abortion is murder, it should be punished as a homicide’. He will then say I am failing to see the simple logic of his view. Which would be true, actually. I think if you are against abortion, consistently you ought to maintain that abortion should be punished as homicide. I don’t think any intermediate positions make any sense really. I could call for him to be fired, or for speech codes to be instituted, making this sort of thing unsayable, but, if anything, that would just make him feel more persecuted, hence self-righteous. It would make him less, not more, likely to realize he is being a troll. It might, perversely, encourage more violence against abortion providers because abortion opponents would feel they are being wronged on the speech front. The more aggrieved they feel – the more they can superficially wave some banner of ‘I’m a victim of p.c.!’ – the more righteous they feel. The more likely they are to do something wrong, out of this wrong feeling of righteousness.

As it stands, I don’t see that there is obviously some better way to engage – or fail to engage – this stuff, other than saying it is ridiculous (which I say) and then showing it is ridiculous (which I do).

“I’m not going to get into the science in detail, and I’m not trying to “gotcha” for a mistake. But you aren’t (for example) PZ Myers, and he would be capable of writing a kind of post that you aren’t.”

If no one ever wrote any posts that touch on any X, if there exists any person Y, such that Y could write a better post about X, potentially, then no posts would ever be written. After all, there is probably someone out there who isn’t even a blogger, who could write better blog posts about the things PZ writes about than PZ does. Does it follow that PZ should quit, since logically this person probably exists? I don’t see the sense in that.

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John Holbo 10.03.14 at 1:48 am

Just to be clear, the word ‘organism’ appears in the post, but I don’t make a big deal about how we understand its scientific meaning, in the post, even though that came up in comments, upthread.

249

Consumatopia 10.03.14 at 2:30 am

“But you can’t reasonably believe climate change isn’t happening, while you believe that it is happening but it’s harmless, while you believe it is happening and it’s harmful but it can’t be stopped.”

Obviously these aren’t my opinions in this world, but in some hypothetical world it’s entirely possible that global warming might not be happening,that it’s unfortunate that global warming is not happening, and that people depend so strongly on a particular energy source that switching to a different one is infeasible.

I mean, suppose someone tells me “The Fed is gonna raise the inflation target to 4%! We’ve gotta stop them!” I’m gonna respond that I don’t think that would happen, but I wish it were, but even if you convinced me that it’s bad, there isn’t really much I can do to stop it. Is that unreasonable?

250

Layman 10.03.14 at 2:37 am

“Obviously these aren’t my opinions in this world, but in some hypothetical world it’s entirely possible that global warming might not be happening,that it’s unfortunate that global warming is not happening, and that people depend so strongly on a particular energy source that switching to a different one is infeasible.”

It’s possible, but irrelevant. If you argue both that it isn’t happening, and that it is happening but it’s good, then at least one of your arguments is a sham. You can’t believe both of them because they are directly contradictory. Mustering a list of arguments that contradict each other is not the same as mustering a list of arguments which are consistent.

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Consumatopia 10.03.14 at 3:05 am

I guess I didn’t take contradiction between the arguments to be the point because, although those three arguments contradict each other, they can be altered slightly to be reconciled with each other. And because I don’t see how talking about science contradicts complaints about positivism.

252

Alan White 10.03.14 at 3:33 am

One last time: what are the cogent arguments for full moral standing for the preimplantation zygote/embryo as an individual–as opposed to a sperm-like pretender to moral individuality–that can be murdered? I’ve tried to say that is the issue for the ultraconservative, and given that there are no final objective biological facts that underlie claims for moral posit of that standing given the biological vicissitudes of what can happen (twinning, fused twinning that can result in one or conjoined individuals, heterozygotes) post-fertilization until at least the point of implantation, then there is no point of assigning full moral status to anything prior to what can develop after implantation on the uterine wall. There can be no one fact of the matter of what constitutes the morally significant individual in all cases prior to implantation. To claim otherwise as ultraconservatives do is irrational and in defiance of those facts.

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Layman 10.03.14 at 3:38 am

I’m not responding to the positivism thing – just pointing out that your comparison with arguments against torture isn’t valid, because the torture arguments complement rather than contradict each other. Playing with the words doesn’t help.

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John Holbo 10.03.14 at 3:53 am

Alan, I think the only cogent argument is the ‘err on the side of safety argument’. Since killing people is really bad, and there is a gray area here, we should raw the line well back from the gray area. Better to treat some non-persons as persons than to treat some persons as non-persons, potentially. Of course, this implies strong protections for non-human animals as well, which pro-lifers don’t usually like.

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Plume 10.03.14 at 4:37 am

John @254,

I agree. Animals (non-human animals) should be in the mix. It’s a “gray” area for me to eat them, and I do, and I feel guilty as hell about it. I can sometimes convince myself that since I do my best to choose “humane” treatment, from cage free to organic and back again, that it makes it less gray, a better shade of gray. But that often doesn’t do the trick. In my clearer moments, I know I’m just fooling myself.

To me, whatever one wants to call the not yet viable thing inside the womb, it is at least potentially human. That’s not really open to debate. I find it very sad that an abortion ever happens. I’d prefer it if they never did. Not one. Not ever — except under certain circumstances. But I also think there is a serious conflict when it comes to a woman’s control over her own body, and I think it’s actually worse to force her to give birth against her will. Her body, her choice, ultimately. No “good” or “positive” choices there, as far as I’m concerned. But forcing the woman against her will is worse. And in the cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother, it’s not really a difficult choice, from my point of view. It’s always the woman’s decision and it’s not the abortion we should regret, but the acts or conditions that made it necessary.

I really don’t think one can make a moral argument for abortion as a good thing, or a positive thing, and it would be better if the unwanted pregnancy were prevented in the first place (by the male and female in question, working together), and that, I think, should be the aim. Keep abortion fully legal, make access to it safe and universal (and totally free from harassment), but strive to make it unnecessary — or as unnecessary as can be made.

Again, safe, legal and rare.

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Rich Puchalsky 10.03.14 at 4:42 am

Here’s why I think these arguments conflict with each other in particular: the positivism one is categorical, while the science one is not. If you want to tell someone that morality can not be derived from science — that is does not imply ought, however you’d like to put it — then whether they’ve gotten a particular item of science right or not doesn’t matter. If you’re arguing about the science, then of course it does matter whether it’s correct. So to do both, you’re either saying “Your science is wrong, and by the way that doesn’t matter” or in the reverse order “The science doesn’t matter, and by the way yours is wrong.”

Maybe the real point is the positivism and the science notes in the original (e.g. pointing out that twins have the same DNA, saying that it’s at least theoretically possible to gestate a clone of oneself which would not be genetically distinct) are just sort of there. I don’t think this is convincing. The moral conflicts around in vitro fertilization, “snowflake children”, and viability (i.e. what happens when a woman does not want to bear a child, but the fetus is viable if an operation is done to remove it from the woman’s body) are not determined by, but are highly informed by, getting the science right. The idea that no one can write about this unless they’re the most knowledgeable person on the planet is, of course, wrong, but there’s a basic standard of knowledgeability required so write about it in a useful way that I think applies.

With regard to whether KW is a troll — from your description, you clearly have a theory about why he writes what he does. (“I take a troll to be someone who publishes patently poor quality stuff, who is probably (but not necessarily) aware that they aren’t bothering to write or argue at all well, with the main intent of angering the other side and riling up their own side. The goal (conscious or unconscious) is enjoyment of malicious glee.”) It’s a theory that to a large extent excuses him from any serious moral responsibility for what he writes — he’s doing it largely for personal enjoyment, doesn’t really know what he’s doing, intends only to make people feel various emotions, etc.

At the same time, the right wing in America keeps on having political successes of a sort. They have a strategy to make abortions harder to get by making them geographically unavailable in many places. And the campaign of terrorism that I described upthread assisted dramatically in this. How sure are you that your explanation is correct? I’m not positing a conspiracy theory in which some political operative told KW what to say. But KW doesn’t care if his words are inflammatory, and may indeed positively welcome that. KW is saying “Women who get abortions should be killed, and I really mean that seriously”, which presumably means that he has to take responsibility for all the consequences of his words. But you’re saying that he doesn’t really mean it, doesn’t really know what he’s doing. Who do we believe, him or you?

Well — given that we can’t know what’s in his heart, etc — *why* should we believe you rather than him? I suggest that the real reason is that it’s too upsetting to think that there’s a writer for a well-known political publication who really wants to see millions of women killed. So even though he says it’s true, it can’t be true.

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Alan White 10.03.14 at 4:52 am

Thank you John. But my point was that murder is only applicable to discernible and individual victims. That’s why onanism is absurd as a rational moral position of blame or criticism as it relates to murdering real individuals that might have a future. Likewise there is no one biologically competent narrative of conception-to-implantation that yields an incorrigible account of what it is to be an individual biological entity given that we start with a zygote. Therefore no zygote inherently possesses individual full moral status, even if accorded partial moral status (as might individual spermatozoa). I argue that the epistemic and ontological indeterminacy of individual moral standing prior to implantation trumps any claim that it merely might be so assigned and attributed by fiat. Steady public policy grounded assignment of values must rest on stable empirical grounds, and at least prior to implantation, those grounds are potentially shifting in each case of pregnancy from conception forward.

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Sebastian H 10.03.14 at 6:31 am

Sorry plume, it appears it was MPA Who said that. I’d like to know her sources.

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Plume 10.03.14 at 6:49 am

Sebastion H,

No problem. I just reread it and noticed I had misread it terribly the first time through, concentrating only on the fact that those weren’t my words. It actually seems likely, on closer examination, though I haven’t looked into it specifically. Btw, Guttmacher is an excellent resource. One of the best in the country on this topic in general.

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John Holbo 10.03.14 at 6:57 am

“Here’s why I think these arguments conflict with each other in particular: the positivism one is categorical, while the science one is not.”

Why does this generate a conflict? You seem to be making some sort of ‘well OBVIOUSLY we can’t chew gum and walk at the same time’ argument. But why can’t we?

“It’s a theory that to a large extent excuses him from any serious moral responsibility for what he writes — he’s doing it largely for personal enjoyment, doesn’t really know what he’s doing, intends only to make people feel various emotions, etc.”

How does this excuse him from responsibility? Acting irresponsibly doesn’t excuse you from responsibility.

“At the same time, the right wing in America keeps on having political successes of a sort.”

Sorry, despite the fact that I write my posts, the right wing keeps having some success? This is evidence that there must be something wrong with my posts?

“How sure are you that your explanation is correct?”

Given that I’m not sure my explanation is correct (I’ve been clear enough about that, I take it) how can I be sure my explanation is correct? Are you asking how a contradiction can be true? If so, the answer is that it can’t. If you are asking what sorts of investigations I could do to remedy my lack of knowledge, the answer is: I could research KW’s biography, learn more about him. But since neither you nor I think this is needed, I take it, why are you pushing for this?

“KW is saying “Women who get abortions should be killed, and I really mean that seriously”, which presumably means that he has to take responsibility for all the consequences of his words.”

He’s not actually saying they should be extra-judicially murdered. He is saying they should be judicially executed. So if someone extra-judicially murders them, they aren’t don’t what KW says. So, while I agree he is creating a climate in which more criminal violence might happen, he isn’t even explicitly advocating that criminality. Also, people don’t take ALL the consequences when someone else does as they advise (let alone going beyond and somewhat against what they advise). The people who actually do it are also people, and bear the consequences themselves. That’s part of the logic of free speech, too.

I’m really really not getting where you are coming from on all this, Rich.

Alan writes: “But my point was that murder is only applicable to discernible and individual victims.”

I don’t really think that’s so clear. Suppose you were pretty sure that someone had killed a bunch of people – you don’t know who they were, or even more than roughly how many they were. Would that tend to exculpate the crime? Not really. There really isn’t a conceptual problem with holding someone guilty of the murder of maybe/maybe-not not-sure-who-it-was person. Legally, you could hold them responsible. Morally, the logic would be clear. We are playing it safe. It’s a bit odd, but not incoherent.

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Plume 10.03.14 at 7:06 am

@260,

I have a comment in mod and see no reason for that. Can you advise on the criteria used when you blog? I’m not getting the rationale. Thanks in advance.

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Ze Kraggash 10.03.14 at 7:44 am

@200 “Are you sure you’re not the one who’s being rationalistic?”

I was merely trying to demonstrate that your approach could easily lead to the opposite conclusion; sorry if it wasn’t clear. Anyway, my concern is that this sort of rationalizations runs into the usual trouble with things like eugenics and euthanasia (or worse). It gets creepy. We could, instead, approach it as a subject of cultural anthropology or sociology; look for explanations, rather than rationalizations. All I’m saying.

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John Holbo 10.03.14 at 7:48 am

Sorry your comment was stuck in moderation for a while, Plume. Not sure why that happened.

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Brett Bellmore 10.03.14 at 10:33 am

“At the same time, the right wing in America keeps on having political successes of a sort.”

That’s to be expected in a democracy where the public consensus is well to the pro-life side of the judicially imposed status quo. I think the pro-choice movement’s members sometimes forget, in light of their victories in court, how badly they do in the court of public opinion. (Two thirds in favor of outlawing abortion in the second trimester, 80+% in the third.)

Which is not to say that the pro-life movement would not, if given all it wants, impose rules far to the other side of public opinion. (Less than a third think it should be illegal in that first trimester.) Both movements are run by extremists, and fueled by people who are not nearly so extreme as their leaders.

But the simple fact is that, by virtue of having the judiciary on your side, the pro-choice movement HAS managed to push public police far out of disconnect with popular opinion on the subject. Which is a political advantage for your foes, even if the courts limit the consequences of that advantage.

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Val 10.03.14 at 12:16 pm

Plume @155
Become a vegetarian. It’s not hard. You’ll feel better.

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Rich Puchalsky 10.03.14 at 1:33 pm

“You seem to be making some sort of ‘well OBVIOUSLY we can’t chew gum and walk at the same time’ argument. But why can’t we?”

I can only repeat: “So to do both, you’re either saying “Your science is wrong, and by the way that doesn’t matter” or in the reverse order “The science doesn’t matter, and by the way yours is wrong.”” It’s like saying “It’s impossible for you to fly in your proposed heavier-than-air aircraft because if God had meant people to fly, he would have given us wings, and you won’t be able to fly in your proposed aircraft because you’ve gotten the wing curvature wrong but if you’d gotten it right it might work.” If you don’t get this, you don’t get it and we should move on.

“Acting irresponsibly doesn’t excuse you from responsibility.”

Of course it does, to some extent. Manslaughter is not murder. Carelessly having your brakes fail in your car because you didn’t maintain them and hitting someone is not the same as setting out to run them over. Trolling is not the same as using dog-whistle politics to try to get people killed because (as you say) someone who believes that abortion is murder should want it to be punished like homicide, and the state isn’t doing that.

To recap the known facts in the case: there’s a terrorist campaign in the U.S. to restrict abortion through acts of violence. Thousands of violent acts (murders, attempted murders, bombings, arson) have been committed. Everyone agrees that when an ideologue tells their right-wing audience that certain people should be killed, it increases the chance that another such act will be committed.

So you’re telling us that KW doesn’t know what he’s doing. Because of your personal incredulity, as far as I can make out.

I don’t know whether he knows what he’s doing either. This is called “plausible deniability”. The point is, he should be treated as if he does, since we’re not in a court of law and he claims to be a serious writer who has thought this through. At minimum, you agree that “he is creating a climate in which more criminal violence might happen”.

I’d say that using your position in the mass media to create a climate in which more criminal violence might happen is an evil act. It’s not “trolling” by any definition of trolling that I’ve seen. If you can’t confront this evil when you write about it, then I really do think it’s better for you to be silent about it and pretend it didn’t happen, because National Review is only mass media because people talk about it. You don’t go to Stormfront, find something, and post here “Wow, this skinhead who says that the state should execute all black people is really trolling.”

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Collin Street 10.03.14 at 1:44 pm

He’s not actually saying they should be extra-judicially murdered. He is saying they should be judicially executed.

Enh. You’re dealing with the intellectual heirs of the southern lynch-mobs; that’s not a distinction I’d be comfortable presuming they’re making.

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John Holbo 10.03.14 at 1:53 pm

“If you don’t get this, you don’t get it and we should move on.”

I didn’t get it, moved on and didn’t really get any of your other points either.

“The point is, he should be treated as if he does, since we’re not in a court of law and he claims to be a serious writer who has thought this through.”

I guess I think this is assuming something doubtful for the sake of putting yourself at a tactical disadvantage, rhetorically.

“that’s not a distinction I’d be comfortable presuming they’re making.”

Well, he’s making it. Whether he means it is another question.

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Brett Bellmore 10.03.14 at 2:09 pm

“Become a vegetarian. It’s not hard. You’ll feel better.”

Well, until his liver runs out of stored B-2, and he irreversibly declines over a period of a few weeks. Humans did not evolve to be vegetarians. As the sharp teeth in the front of our mouths might have clued you into.

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Anarcissie 10.03.14 at 2:22 pm

‘… the public consensus is well to the pro-life side….’

A casual scan of my memory and Google suggest that when abortion bans are the subjects of referendums, they are generally defeated, sometimes in surprisingly conservative jurisdictions (South Dakota, Mississippi). Anti-abortionism seems to have better luck with polls which have no legal consequences.

To proceed anecdotally, I recall being at a dinner party several years ago populated mostly by persons of Italian descent, Roman Catholic faith, and a fair spread of ideological coloration. One woman delivered a brief harangue about the evil of abortion. One of her daughters then asked, ‘How many abortions have you had, Ma? Was it three, or four?’ The party passed thankfully on to other subjects. I gather from instances like this that there are many people who think that abortions are not nice and people should not get themselves into a situation where they have to have them. These people will answer opinion polls one way and vote another, at least if they think their votes may have any practical effect on their lives.

To some extent the Supreme Court has relieved the public of any responsibility to discuss and make decisions about the issue seriously. One can rant freely about banning abortions knowing well that such a ban is very unlikely to take place. This does allow a sort of ‘politics’ to froth up, especially along right-wing channels, as a form of entertainment and exploitation. The non-Left Left (Democrats) get their turn in this game at national election time when they can run abject servants of the money and war machines for high office, declaring that failure to vote for their monster will let the other side win and take reproductive freedom away.

In fact, I doubt if the ruling class wants an overt, effective ban on abortion to be instituted, other than in backwoods locales, because it might lead to political agitation, radicalism. and massive organized disobedience, especially among the now mostly quiet young. Better to sneak up on them with other chains.

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MPAVictoria 10.03.14 at 2:25 pm

“Well, until his liver runs out of stored B-2, and he irreversibly declines over a period of a few weeks.”

Which is why we see Vegetarians dropping like flies! Carrot Juice is Murder! Coleslaw is a Facist Regime!!!!!

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Layman 10.03.14 at 2:45 pm

“That’s to be expected in a democracy where the public consensus is well to the pro-life side of the judicially imposed status quo. I think the pro-choice movement’s members sometimes forget, in light of their victories in court, how badly they do in the court of public opinion. (Two thirds in favor of outlawing abortion in the second trimester, 80+% in the third.)”

The poll data you cite show a strong majority opposed to any reversal of “the judicially imposed status quo”. Did you notice that?

It also shows very strong opposition to a total ban on abortions. Given that a total ban is the stated objective of the anti-abortion industry, and of the Republican Party, I don’t think you can characterize it as showing support for that movement or party on this issue.

That aside, it highlights that many people see this as a morally murky area. A majority of people say abortions are immoral, while a majority also say they should be legal. Given the numbers, a very large portion of those in the former group are also in the latter group.

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Luke 10.03.14 at 2:57 pm

I for one plan on returning to a riverine existance, where my subcutaneous fat and dilute urine will allow me to live an idyllic life besude the crocodile and the hippopotamus, snapping at fish with my predator teeth.

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Anarcissie 10.03.14 at 3:13 pm

‘Sources of riboflavin [vitamin B2] are milk, cheese, leaf vegetables, liver, kidneys, legumes, yeast, mushrooms, and almonds.’ (Wikipedia) B2 is unlikely to be a vegetarian problem.

Maybe B12 was meant. Although B12 is produced by bacteria, it usually gets to humans via animal-derived foods (meat and dairy products) and can therefore be a problem for vegans.

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Alan White 10.03.14 at 3:30 pm

Thank you again John. I think your example still presupposes real individual victim-hood within a purely epistemic form of the indeterminacy of who that is. In any case ultraconservatives seem to think that it is an individual pre-implantation entity with full moral standing that may be murdered or sacrificed (by natural means), and they should be aggressively challenged on that. I just think the vicissitudes of early stages of reproduction count heavily against such a morally serious value assignment. But again thanks for listening and making me think more deeply about all this.

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The Temporary Name 10.03.14 at 3:53 pm

The laws of nature require me to think about Brett’s tasty tasty flesh.

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Plume 10.03.14 at 4:00 pm

I’ve tossed around the idea of being a vegetarian, and incorporate aspects of that now and then. It is untrue that they lack for certain essential nutrients. You can find all you need without resort to meat, though going full on vegan presents further challenges.

I do think it’s safe to say the planet would be better off if we did make the switch, and Buttercup the cow would certainly appreciate it. Methane gas emissions would plummet, too, which is among the worst of Green House gases.

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MPAVictoria 10.03.14 at 5:26 pm

279

Plume 10.03.14 at 5:40 pm

MPAV,

This death by a thousand cuts method has worked incredibly well for the right. Even though it’s legal in America to have an abortion, they’ve basically made it illegal to have a clinic in America. And then you have the cowards who gun down staff, harass the women going to the clinics, and the Supreme Court which rules those women can’t be protected.

As with so many other issues, the right seems to win somehow even when they’ve lost.

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Matt 10.03.14 at 7:02 pm

In Washington state we legalized abortion in 1970 by popular referendum. In 1991 the voters reaffirmed access, and rejected a late term abortion ban in 1998. Low income women have access to state funded abortions. This means that even though I live in a pretty conservative eastern county, there is a nearby clinic and a number of hospitals that will handle abortion, and the poor are not left behind.

We also legalized cannabis, gay marriage, and assisted suicide for the terminally ill by popular referendum. The states actually do differ in significant ways. The socially conservative wing isn’t winning-while-losing everywhere. Some places they are just plain losing. And I’d be willing to bet that in a generation the rest of the nation has shifted closer to present day Washington than present day Texas on social issues.

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Rich Puchalsky 10.03.14 at 7:59 pm

I think that Amanda Marcotte wrote about this in a good way. 1) This person is calling for “a bloodbath unparalleled in U.S. history”, 2) This person is being serious and consistent about what anti-abortionists really believe. He’s “telling the truth”. Not trolling.

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bianca steele 10.03.14 at 8:39 pm

Eh. IMPO, I’d say he trolled Marcotte pretty good. She ended up, maybe because of the forum, treating him as basically proposing a policy, and associated him by proximity with more reasonable anti-abortion activists, who “only” want to “protect women’s health.”

By comparison, Holbo only associated his scholarship with Jonah Goldberg’s.

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MPAVictoria 10.03.14 at 8:51 pm

282: This is how we beat the right wing, by making them own the comments of their most extreme compatriots. That is how we beat them on gay rights and that is how we will beat them on abortion rights. The average person is not comfortable with hanging a 16 year old girl because she had an abortion. So lets make sure that they know that right wingers want to do exactly that.

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Anarcissie 10.03.14 at 9:23 pm

I agree that Mr. Williamson is not trolling (stirring up trouble for the sake of stirring up trouble). He may be, but my experience with committed, dedicated anti-abortionists is that they regard abortion as the moral equivalent of the Holocaust (and they use that language). Acts of terrorism, threats of mass executions, other forms of violence, all are justified forms of opposition. All these involved arguments about the personhood of the zygote-embryo-fetus are irrelevant to them, because they already have the one true truth and they know it. Involved, complex, nuanced arguments are for liberals. The only thing that keeps anti-abortionists in check at the moment is force — at present mostly the force of the law, along with their inability to achieve political power. Mr. Williamson is simply being honest and consistent.

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Val 10.03.14 at 10:50 pm

Brett Bellmore @ 262
” [me] “Become a vegetarian. It’s not hard. You’ll feel better.”

[you] Well, until his liver runs out of stored B-2, and he irreversibly declines over a period of a few weeks. Humans did not evolve to be vegetarians. As the sharp teeth in the front of our mouths might have clued you into. “

Wow Brett, I’ve been a vego for over 10 years! A living miracle! Five per cent of the Australian population! Living miracles all!

Your comment is ignorant, but in fairness I will say – I have three kids, two of whom became vego in their late teens/early twenties (if my memory serves), which is one of the things that eventually persuaded me to as well. My youngest did try being vegetarian, but did have problems with B12 (not B2) levels, and now eats meat. I’m not a nutritionist, but I think the reasons for this difference are probably quite complex, but nothing to do with our sharp or blunt teeth.

There is this thing called “evidence” and if you’re going to express strong opinions, it’s a good idea to find out a bit about it.

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Val 10.03.14 at 10:56 pm

Brett @ 262
To save you the trouble of looking for the elusive evidence, I did a quick google
http://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/R-D/Vegetarians-have-significantly-lower-mortality-rates-reveals-new-study

I apologise to author for going off topic and will now stop posting about this here, though happy to proselytise for vegetarian/ low meat lifestyles on any suitable occasion.

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Sebastian H 10.04.14 at 12:22 am

“That’s to be expected in a democracy where the public consensus is well to the pro-life side of the judicially imposed status quo. I think the pro-choice movement’s members sometimes forget, in light of their victories in court, how badly they do in the court of public opinion. (Two thirds in favor of outlawing abortion in the second trimester, 80+% in the third.)”

The poll data you cite show a strong majority opposed to any reversal of “the judicially imposed status quo”. Did you notice that?

It also shows very strong opposition to a total ban on abortions. Given that a total ban is the stated objective of the anti-abortion industry, and of the Republican Party, I don’t think you can characterize it as showing support for that movement or party on this issue.

Most people aren’t lawyers and don’t know what the ‘judicially imposed status quo’ is in each state. It would be like if you asked people who believed that vaccines caused autism “Do you believe in science?” and then wanted to use an 80% “yes” rate to prove that they didn’t believe vaccines caused autism. The problem is that the judicially imposed status quo is much more pro-choice than about 65-75% of the US public. This allows extreme pro-lifers to gain more traction than they normally would. A large majority of US citizens seem to want something more like what is available in France or Germany or Sweden–abortions easily available early in pregnancy, and very sharply limited to reviewable and provable medical complications starting somewhere toward the middle of the second trimester.

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Collin Street 10.04.14 at 12:38 am

A large majority of US citizens seem to want something more like what is available in France or Germany or Sweden–abortions easily available early in pregnancy, and very sharply limited to reviewable and provable medical complications starting somewhere toward the middle of the second trimester.

But you can’t do this. Laws which require weighing-of-factors to determine the appropriate outcome don’t work in the US, because huge swathes of your population think “judgement” means “carte blanche to insert your prejudices and preferences”

Same reason you’ve got your stupid first amendment rather than any sort of sane free-speech policy, say.

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Thornton Hall 10.04.14 at 1:07 am

@Holbo

I don’t really think that’s so clear. Suppose you were pretty sure that someone had killed a bunch of people – you don’t know who they were, or even more than roughly how many they were.

Not only are you mixing semantic and epistemic indeterminacy, this is also more than odd. It’s impossible. If you don’t know who they were but you know they were killed then you are either an eyewitness to a crime w/ no body or you have an unidentifide dead body.

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Rich Puchalsky 10.04.14 at 1:11 am

“Eh. IMPO, I’d say he trolled Marcotte pretty good. She ended up, maybe because of the forum, treating him as basically proposing a policy, and associated him by proximity with more reasonable anti-abortion activists, who “only” want to “protect women’s health.””

What?

John Holbo and I were debating rhetorical strategies, basically. He wrote that assuming that KW was serious would be “assuming something doubtful for the sake of putting yourself at a tactical disadvantage, rhetorically.” And… no, I don’t think so. Instead, what her article points what he think, and then associates every supposedly more reasonable anti-abortion advocate with him, because he is only bringing what they say to its logical conclusion — the judicial execution of millions of people. He didn’t troll Amanda Marcotte. She used his evil statements to make people think about this for the upcoming election, in an article in USA Today.

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Rich Puchalsky 10.04.14 at 1:13 am

Should have been “Instead, what her article points out is what he thinks,” …

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bianca steele 10.04.14 at 1:39 am

Rich,

I’m not surprised we disagree about her article. But there’s a whole section in there, three or four paragraphs, that consists almost entirely of saying nice things about those she calls “mainstream anti-abortion” people. Literally, there are about five words that would have to be removed to fit it into a PR peace about the anti-abortion movement. That’s too long to expect readers to remember the point. From one of the most vociferous defenders of abortion rights in the US, I expect more. Maybe USA Today couldn’t handle that.

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Rich Puchalsky 10.04.14 at 1:47 am

“that consists almost entirely of saying nice things about those she calls “mainstream anti-abortion” people.”

I just re-read the article. I don’t see it. Would you quote the part you mean?

I have seen variously edited versions of Marcotte’s piece in Google hits in different places, edited to varying lengths. Some of the edits chop out enough so that it could be difficult to see what she’s saying. But not the USA Today piece that I linked to.

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Layman 10.04.14 at 1:52 am

@ 287

“Most people aren’t lawyers and don’t know what the ‘judicially imposed status quo’ is in each state. It would be like if you asked people who believed that vaccines caused autism “Do you believe in science?” and then wanted to use an 80% “yes” rate to prove that they didn’t believe vaccines caused autism. The problem is that the judicially imposed status quo is much more pro-choice than about 65-75% of the US public. “

Perhaps, but isn’t it a problem to first note that the public, when polled, generally supports existing law; then say the public is ignorant of existing law; and then say existing law should be changed to better suit the desires of the public? If public opinion is relevant, why ignore and denigrate it? If the public is an ass, why change the law to confirm with their views.

(Setting aside, of course, the problem of understanding what the public wants, once you’ve decided polls don’t accurately reflect it. You’ll be left inventing statistics.)

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John Holbo 10.04.14 at 2:02 am

“Not only are you mixing semantic and epistemic indeterminacy, this is also more than odd. It’s impossible.”

Oh, I know what I’m mixing. All that seems fine to me, although it would be enough to keep 1000 philosophers busy for a 1000 years, trying to say just what it was. There are lots of things we all do every day that would keep 1000 philosophers busy for a 1000 years, trying to say just what it was. And it has! I’m not recommending this as a good legal code just noting that if we found someone somewhere who had some such legal code, we could 1) perfectly well understand the motive and 2) we could imagine ‘following the rule’.

“Instead, what her article points what he think, and then associates every supposedly more reasonable anti-abortion advocate with him, because he is only bringing what they say to its logical conclusion — the judicial execution of millions of people … he used his evil statements to make people think about this for the upcoming election, in an article in USA Today.”

Well, if the complaint is that Amanda Marcotte has a perch on Time Magazine, hence a bit more influence than little old me, I plead guilty as charged. If the complaint is that she pointed out that what he said is perfectly logical – if you think it’s murder, it should be punished as homicide – then I plead guilty of concurrence, in the first degree, to that degree, per comments upthread. If the complaint is that therefore I should have written (something like) her article about his tweet, rather than my post about his bizarre argument about the personhood dodge, I plead bafflement, to the nth degree. Even if her article is alright – which I think it mostly is – why does it follow that there is anything wrong with my post?

This seems to be part and parcel with Rich’s sense, which I don’t understand, that if someone else might have discussed something in my post better – or if a post about a different thing might have been good instead – then I shouldn’t have written the post. I just don’t understand the logic of this stricture.

Let me try to find something interesting here: all abortion opponents should, logically, believe that all women who have abortions should be put to death (if these opponents believe in the death penalty). True. Does it follow that all abortion opponents (who believe in the death penalty) DO tend to believe all women who have abortions should be put to death? False. Marcotte herself comes around to this view, even though it undermines the point that KW shows where they really come from:

“Why, then, all the disingenuous lip-flapping about wanting to “protect” women? It seems to be an effort to punt accusations from feminists that the anti-abortion movement has nothing to do with protecting “life” but is instead an anti-sex movement that wants to punish women for having non-procreative sex.”

I think that’s exactly right, but it’s only right because its FALSE that anti-abortionists seriously want to hang all these women for murder. (If it were true that it was all about murder, then it would be true that it is about protecting life – for some, at least.)

What they really want is to shame all these women (and others, who haven’t had abortions) for having sex. And one form of that shaming is saying they are so bad they should be hanged.

Now back to KW’s bad argument. Logically speaking, KW is strongly committed to the non-existence of persons. His anti-abortion argument is central to his moral view, and his anti-abortion view is almost the centerpiece of his moral conservatism. Does he actually disbelieve in persons? Of course not. He just hasn’t thought about his own argument. So if I wrung my hands about how he has thought his argument through to this nihilistic, person-denying conclusion, I would be being disingenuous. What he wants to do is tell Lena Dunham she is a fat slut (and, by extension, all women who admire her). He sends her that message by means of an argument that implies there are no such things as persons; which, if sound, would imply that women who get abortions are murders, hence should be punished for murder. I call that ‘trolling’.

So, to pull the thread together: Amanda Marcotte and John Holbo agree, against Rich Puchalsky, that the bottom line here is “an anti-sex movement that wants to punish women for having non-procreative sex.” It’s not an anti-murder movement, for better or worse. It’s a movement to regulate sexual norms. Now, some people will say: why then are so many women involved on the pro-life side? I think the answer is: there is no contradiction in the fact that many women want coercively to regulate sexual norms.

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bianca steele 10.04.14 at 2:21 am

Rich, do you mean in Google+ or something? I’m not getting any results on this piece appearing elsewhere?

Here is the part of the piece that discusses the “mainstream”:

The recent rash of anti-abortion laws has been justified mostly as attempts to protect women’s health. In justifying the signing of a bill designed to shut down nearly all abortion clinics in Texas, Gov. Rick Perry said his intention was to “support the health of Texas women.”

Testifying in favor of laws that hold abortion clinics to much stiffer regulatory protocols than similar health clinics, Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn. said she had women’s best interests at heart, claiming falsely that abortion “imposes many serious medical risks to the mother,” and that “we must do everything in our power to protect any woman who decides to have an abortion.” Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., agrees.

That’s a lot of concern for people who, from the anti-abortion point of view, are child murderers. After all, it’s not as if abortion happens by accident.

(Quote ends here, if blockquote doesn’t work.)

Here’s the central point of her own argument: “It seems to be an effort to punt accusations from feminists that the anti-abortion movement has nothing to do with protecting “life” but is instead an anti-sex movement that wants to punish women for having non-procreative sex.” (“Punt” is the nastiest word she uses about the anti-abortion movement in the whole piece.) So you’re right that she says KW shows up the anti-abortion movement as what abortion rights activists have been claiming about them all along. But this part of her argument is squashed in at the end, and undermined by the rhetoric of the rest. She’s asking a lot of readers who disagree with her to untangle it all, ignore the rhetoric that matches their current preferences, and pick up on a claim you and I already believe.

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Rich Puchalsky 10.04.14 at 2:30 am

“I think that’s exactly right, but it’s only right because its FALSE that anti-abortionists seriously want to hang all these women for murder. “

Why do you think that this is false?

Seriously. They’ve said that they think women should be hanged. You agree that it’s a logical consequence of thinking that abortion is murder that they should want women who have abortions to be hanged. If they somehow maximally succeeded, judicially, then they would indeed implement the death penalty for abortions.

So what is it? That they just can’t be that evil? Of course it’s an anti-sex movement that wants to punish women for having non-procreative sex. But you have no reason to believe that this punishment would stop at shaming them. This punishment would extend to killing them, if they could do it. They say so, and the most extreme elements of their movement act accordingly even without judicial sanction. Other countries in which women are punished for sex certainly do not stop at merely shaming them. You have no reason, other than personal incredulity, to believe that this is false.

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Alan White 10.04.14 at 2:45 am

John, politically overall I think your take on this is near impeccable. But (ultra)conservatives do play the abortion-is-murder card on placards outside clinics, and the Rick Perry “women’s health” card in keeping with the language of Roe itself on later-term regulation when it comes to actual legislation. One side of the mouth touts Roe, the other the Vatican or the Southern Baptist Convention, and in due proportion to getting the job done. Awful and awfully effective.

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John Holbo 10.04.14 at 2:58 am

““I think that’s exactly right, but it’s only right because its FALSE that anti-abortionists seriously want to hang all these women for murder. “

Why do you think that this is false?”

Because I think Amanda Marcotte is right. At bottom, it’s about sex, not murder.

“But you have no reason to believe that this punishment would stop at shaming them.”

Yes, I do have a reason: most people in the US who think women should be punished for lack of chastity think that shaming is the appropriate punishment for this sort of perceived violation of proper sexual norms.

“This punishment would extend to killing them, if they could do it.”

It’s true that there are people in the world who think that women should be stoned to death for adultery. I don’t believe that many people living in the US believe this. But they do think that slut-shaming – and forced parenthood – is a highly appropriate punishment for various sorts of violations.

“and the most extreme elements of their movement act accordingly even without judicial sanction.”

From the fact that extreme elements believe something it doesn’t follow that non-extreme elements also believe it. KW likes to argue that there’s this one guy on Gawker who said something against free speech, ergo mainstream liberalism is against free speech. It’s a highly problematic form of inference. Why shouldn’t it be the case that the extreme elements are just extreme, relative to the non-extreme elements? What is your evidence that they are all extremists, just some openly, some not?

You say that I’m downplaying the risks of extremism. I just don’t think the way to assess the risk of extremism is to play them up, in rhetorically knee-jerk fashion. It’s true that it may be rhetorically effective to make all these people say ‘no, I’m not an extremist’. But it’s not effective as a style of fighting extremism, it’s effective as a style of fighting probable non-extremists you disagree with. Compare: making all liberals say ‘no, I am not a Stalinist.’ This is not a technique for fighting Stalinist extremism. It’s a technique for wrong-footing liberals.

Let me qualify one thing I said, above.

I don’t think many people seriously think first trimester abortions are murder. So people who oppose them are really trying to legislate against liberated ladysex, in effect.

I do think many people – most, probably – think third trimester abortions are, or at least could be, murder. Even at this stage, I think very few people would equate this with infanticide, in moral seriousness. But I don’t think people who oppose third trimester abortions are just engaging in slut-shaming by proxy. They are sincerely concerned about protecting a life that is so person-like that they either believe it’s a person, or think it is close enough to personhood that it deserves protection.

Second trimester cases are harder to say. I’m skeptical that people who oppose it seriously think it’s murder, for the most part. But some of them probably really do think it’s murder. And I am honestly not able to refute them, although I find that perspective very strained.

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Rich Puchalsky 10.04.14 at 3:04 am

“If the complaint is that therefore I should have written (something like) her article about his tweet, rather than my post about his bizarre argument about the personhood dodge, I plead bafflement, to the nth degree. Even if her article is alright – which I think it mostly is – why does it follow that there is anything wrong with my post?”

It’s morally lax. If someone says “I really think lots of people should be hanged” and you say “He doesn’t mean it, he’s just trolling, don’t take it seriously” then what are you doing, really?

And what’s the point of doing things like analyzing his bizarre argument about the personhood dodge if it’s all a troll? Trolls write anything that gets a reaction, and logical analysis of what they write is valueless. If that’s really what it is, then don’t feed the trolls.

I have no doubt that you could write something interesting if you started with something interesting. But even assuming that this guy is just trolling, and that you were just having fun applying the tools of philosophy to his argument, I don’t think you did a good job. I’m actually kind of surprised that you didn’t get (if only to refute) my point about how a categorical argument and a contingent argument are mutually contradictory: the contingent argument (“your argument doesn’t work because your science is wrong”) implies that his argument could work if his science was right, while the categorical argument (“your argument doesn’t work because is doesn’t imply ought”) says that any concern with the science is misdirected. Basically, I think that reading these people is making you more careless, because there’s no serious pushback possible from them, intellectually.

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John Holbo 10.04.14 at 3:10 am

“John, politically overall I think your take on this is near impeccable. But (ultra)conservatives do play the abortion-is-murder card on placards outside clinics, and the Rick Perry “women’s health” card in keeping with the language of Roe itself on later-term regulation when it comes to actual legislation.”

This is fair. I think it’s good that Amanda Marcotte points out – as I pointed out upthread – that if you really think this stuff is murder, you should agree with KW. How not? So I don’t mind wrong-footing pro-lifers with this: you think innocent women, who have done nothing more than take a morning-after pill, should be killed. Yes, they really ought to think this. Nothing else makes sense But, mostly, they don’t think it. It’s important to see both halves of that.

What I object to, you might say, is Rich objecting to my post on the grounds that I didn’t say something that is psychologically implausible but potentially rhetorically effective. I think the rhetoric of my post is fine, as it stands, and I did it without saying anything psychologically implausible. If other people do it different, that’s fine, too. I don’t mind it if, rhetorically, they wrong-foot people who probably aren’t extremists, by associating them more closely with extremists than they probably really are. It’s kind of a dirty way to argue, but it’s not like the other side is fighting clean. And there is a real intellectual point to this approach. If, logically, your position has extreme consequences – even if probably you don’t accept them – you can be held to account. Ideas have consequences, as conservatives like to say. They also have implications.

What I object to, which I see Rich as advocating, is the notion that the only right way to argue is in what I take to be a psychologically implausible way, because that is the only rhetorically effective way. I don’t think it IS the only effective way. And I don’t like the idea of psychological plausibility (as I see it) being ruled out of bounds, on pragmatic grounds.

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John Holbo 10.04.14 at 3:24 am

“It’s morally lax. If someone says “I really think lots of people should be hanged” and you say “He doesn’t mean it, he’s just trolling, don’t take it seriously” then what are you doing, really?”

Well, obviously we can’t know, just from that. You are missing that whether I’m being morally lax depends on a bunch of other things like 1) does he mean it; 2) do I have reason to think he means it; 3) do I think he means it, but 4) I just don’t want to say he means it. I’m not being lax unless all of 1-4 are true. Do you think they are? If so, why?

“And what’s the point of doing things like analyzing his bizarre argument about the personhood dodge if it’s all a troll?”

I’ll just quote from the post:

“This is at least the sort of argument that is interesting to discuss (probably not with Williamson, who is obviously way too busy not caring about Lena Dunham having sex. But maybe he can take a break from all that.) The argument stands in a long line of similar arguments that try to finesse the is/ought distinction, by finding some scientific is to substitute for some-or-other puzzling ought. It’s a classic positivist gambit to say that anything that isn’t strictly scientific is therefore mystical (even though it’s actually kind of implausible that this opposition is exhaustive.)”

If you just think this stuff is boring, obviously you will find it boring. But from the fact that you are bored by it, I don’t think it follows that it is somehow morally lax for anyone else NOT to be bored by it.

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Rich Puchalsky 10.04.14 at 3:26 am

“From the fact that extreme elements believe something it doesn’t follow that non-extreme elements also believe it. KW likes to argue that there’s this one guy on Gawker who said something against free speech, ergo mainstream liberalism is against free speech. It’s a highly problematic form of inference. Why shouldn’t it be the case that the extreme elements are just extreme, relative to the non-extreme elements? What is your evidence that they are all extremists, just some openly, some not?”

Sorry to double comment, but I missed this first time around. Does “one guy on Gawker” equate to 8 murders, 17 attempted murders, 41 bombings, 173 arsons, and hundreds more attempted bomb threats? What kind of equivalence am I being asked to accept in which actual evidence doesn’t count, and all that matters is the form of the argument? Their extremists are widespread and have movement support.

My evidence is that they are all extremists is that, when asked, they all say that abortion is murder. They claim to believe the same thing that the extremists do. If you asked mainstream liberals whether they agreed with that guy on Gawker, a large majority would say no.

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Alan White 10.04.14 at 3:33 am

John, I have a very small statistical window on my town, Manitowoc, WI, on this issue of early-term abortions, because I have conducted anonymous surveys of my ethics/bioethics classes on cases of abortion since the later 1980s (collectively about 50 classes; around 1000+ students collectively). Here’s one basic scenario I pose (of 4), where I ask if the outcome is morally acceptable (the question has not changed since I introduced it):

a. A young single teenage woman aborts her pregnancy at eight weeks in part because it interferes with college and career plans.
YES NO ??

Please note the phraseology. The “in part” allows students to mentally fill in assumptions about why she is pregnant; they may assume nonchalant “choice” or date-rape or whatever. Few of course ever think of more insidious scenarios and accompanying comments (I require that) are telling.

What I can tell you is this. In the 80s into the early 90s the YES answers (assumptions nevertheless) were about 2:1 over the others. Through the 90s they began to balance. By the early 2000s till now they trended in the reverse direction and the YES response is now about 1:2.

My conclusion is that so-called pro-life forces have won over the under-informed opinion of my students (especially given the chance that the question allows background assumptions about “choice” to operate).

This is one small data point. But one I suspect has been replicated across the good-old-US of A. FWIW.

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John Holbo 10.04.14 at 3:47 am

“My evidence is that they are all extremists is that, when asked, they all say that abortion is murder. They claim to believe the same thing that the extremists do.”

I think if all pro-lifers believed abortion is literally murder, and should be punished as such, we would be seeing a lot more anti-abortion violence than we are. There would be a revolution.

“What kind of equivalence am I being asked to accept in which actual evidence doesn’t count, and all that matters is the form of the argument?”

From the fact that I don’t give one piece of actual evidence infinite weight, it doesn’t follow I give it no weight. That people say something that implies something extreme matters, but it is not the only thing that matters.

Also, you have the point about the form of the argument upside down and backwards. YOU are the one – not me – who is saying all that matters is the form of the argument. From the fact that some people affirm an argument that implies X, they must believe X, despite all the psychological and sociological evidence to the contrary. You are fetishizing the form of the argument, and mistaking its rhetorical function.

But, after all this fuss, I think we have managed to find what we disagree about. You think that all (or nearly all) US abortion opponents are, in principle, in favor killing all women who have abortions. Only some of them admit it and some of them don’t (not because they don’t think it, but because they are biding their time, waiting for the time to be ripe for effective action.) I think very few abortion opponents actually think like this, despite the fact that it really ought to follow from their basic premise. I think they are disgusted by Lena Dunham, and free ladysex, and they are casting about for some awful accusation that comes close to expressing the depth of their ‘ick’ response, their moral contempt, and serve as an appropriate socio-cultural dominance display – and what they’ve got is ‘abortion is murder’. Which they don’t actually believe, mostly.

You object: but why would people bomb abortion clinics, if they really are just having an ‘ick’ response to sexual freedom? I think the answer is: sadly, for the same sorts of reasons that some husbands beat their wives. Not because they think their wives are murderers, that is.

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Robert Waldmann 10.04.14 at 4:04 am

I am thinking about cloning, but for a different reason — it isn’t because a human clone would be genetically identical to the human from whom he or she was cloned. The very special thing about zygotes (and biologists now know a few generations of daughter cells of zygotes) is that in the right conditions (AKA a womb) their daughter cells will be around for decades and definitely become human beings. So (II understand C) Williamson concludes they are human beings already.

But in cloning some other human cell is taken, the nucleous removed and put in an enucliated zygote. under the right conditions, the nucleous has descendents forever and some collections of them (with cytoplasm) are human beings. Why is allowing the white blood cells in a drop of blood to die not murder ? We can save them with a zygote cytoplasm transplant and the assistance of a womb. By Williamson’s logic, it appears that human cloning is not only morally acceptable but morally required rescue of every drop of blood.

The (very limited) logic of the Roe v Wade viability standard is that we as a society can’t force people to sacrifice parts of their bodies for others — we can’t requisition and transplant kidneys and we can’t requisition and invade with a placenta and tear uteruses. If the aborted embryo or fetus can make it on its own, then it is a he or a she a human being just like a naturally born child. So why is cloning white blood cells not as mandatory as not-aborting embryos ?

1) cloning isn’t natural. How can this matter morally ? It is something we can do for the poor nucleous at risk of imminent death.

2) the clone is a mixture of cells — some of the cloned organism will come from the donor of the cytoplasm not of the nucleous. Does this mean that people who have had organ transplants aren’t human and can be killed ?

3) cloning is a very heroic measure. Bearing a child is nothing much. We can demand that people bear a zygote to embryo to fetus to child, but it is unreasonable to demand the huge effort of cloning to save an nucleous to zygote to embryo to fetus to child. This is crazy — people are not forced to donate life saving bone marrow (really there is a precedent) and that is nothing nothing compared to pregnancy (I have personally never donated marrow or been pregnant I am relying on an source who I won’t name).

This is too long, but there is another kind of cloning taking a morula or blastocyst and making identical twins by cutting it in two. (a morula is a stage even before blastocyst).

So the argument is
1) if there are twins we aren’t allowed to kill one (as noted in the post)
2) if embryos are people then once a very early embryo splits in two (becoming identical twins) we can’t selectively abort one of them.
Both of the two clumps of cells are individual human beings as soon as they physically seperate in the not observed but inferred process by which identical twins are formed.
3) when do they become two people not one ? It presumably has something to do with some cells moving further from others so they aren’t stuck together anymore. How can this be the difference between murder and the (unethical but not murderous) experiment of removing some cells from a morulla not killing it and implanting the still viable embryo ? Or if removing some cells without killing is morally unacceptable then how do we morally take blood etc.

Finally, If physical separation is key is it OK to kill one of two siamese twins ?

It is undeniably true that biologists can take one viable extremely early stage embryo and make it into two viable extremely early stage embryos (by separating the cells into two clumps). This has been done with mammals. In any case, for ethical reasoning, we could and should imagine the possibility even if it doesn’t work with animals on earth (it”s done all the time with plants as in “cuttings”).

If refraining from doing this like killing one of two identical twins ?

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Layman 10.04.14 at 4:22 am

“You think that all (or nearly all) US abortion opponents are, in principle, in favor killing all women who have abortions.”

It’s not hard to approach that conclusion. The anti-abortion movement seeks to outlaw all abortions, which means all women who have abortions will be criminals. Surely outlawing abortion will include some legal sanction meant to suit the crime, e.g. incarceration at the least. Thus abortion opponents propose to use the threat of violence to prevent abortions, and actual violence to punish those who have them.

I suppose you could believe that punishment will be reserved for those who perform abortions, rather than those who seek them. But that seems unlikely considering the rhetoric employed – that one party to a murder automatically escapes punishment. And what of pharmaceutical abortion, where the person getting the abortion is also the one performing it?

No, violence against women who get abortions seems to me to be the desired end game. And it isn’t a long leap from imprisonment to harsher penalties, especially for repeat offenders.

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Rich Puchalsky 10.04.14 at 4:47 am

I wanted to reply to bianca steele, who went to the trouble of quoting part of the Marcotte article: I don’t think that the rhetoric involved is as mis-executed as you do. In particular, there’s a “falsely” there in the middle and a “That a lot of concern for people who, from the anti-abortion point of view, are child murderers”. It’s not perfect writing, but I think it works well enough as an example of rhetoric that takes what KW wrote seriously.

For the rest, I agree with Layman above. The anti-abortionists have three things: a desired policy outcome, a moral / logical justification, and a psychological disgust at “ladysex”. I don’t see these three things as contradictory: they support each other. In particular, if they get their policy outcome, then the machinery of the state goes into play and starts to punish people. Are they really going to say “Oh, wait — I guess that I was really just disgusted at sex, I didn’t mean for people to be really executed”. No. They’re authoritarians. They’re not going to have a revolution because they really care about moral concerns: that’s a leftist thing. They will, though, happily participate in killing the people who they are disgusted by.

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John Holbo 10.04.14 at 6:21 am

“In particular, if they get their policy outcome, then the machinery of the state goes into play and starts to punish people.”

I thought this was the line I was defending against you, Rich. Obviously the anti-abortion forces want to make abortion illegal, and that would have restrictive legal consequences. What is less clear is that they will be pushing, successfully, to execute women and medical professionals en masse; and what is still less clear is that there will – or is likely to be – a wave of extra-judicial vigilante murders. Obviously we now have quite a bit of violence. But if you are right that pro-lifers are mostly willing to do murder for their beliefs, there should be a lot more. If half the country are pro-lifers, and if ‘scratch a pro-lifer, find a would-be murderer’ is true, half the country is poised to murder (or execute) a substantial subset of the other half (for having, or helping facilitate, abortion). I doubt that is true. That is, I think there are some more-likely-than-I-like futures in which abortion is made substantially illegal in the US. But I don’t think there is a likely future in which abortion is made illegal and thousands of women are hanged (or sent to the chair, or even imprisoned for life) for the crime of abortion. Abortion would be made a lesser crime than that. (Which makes no sense. It should only be criminalized if it is actually homicide, in which case it should be punished as such. But who says it is likely to make sense?)

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Layman 10.04.14 at 6:43 am

“If half the country are pro-lifers, and if ‘scratch a pro-lifer, find a would-be murderer’ is true, half the country is poised to murder (or execute) a substantial subset of the other half (for having, or helping facilitate, abortion). I doubt that is true. “

I think you’re ignoring the fact that most people who would do violence are deterred by consequences. A person who isn’t ready to kill an abortion recipient today might well be willing to have the state do it for them tomorrow. Doesn’t history clearly demonstrate that?

It would be helpful if you described the regulatory regime you think they seek, if they could have all they want. Are all abortions illegal? Are all parties liable? What are the consequences of violation? Is the law preventative – that is, will we physically prevent acts of abortion, by securing those who seek them?

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John Holbo 10.04.14 at 7:00 am

“I think you’re ignoring the fact that most people who would do violence are deterred by consequences.”

I don’t think I’m ignoring that. I think I’m emphasizing it. If you think the only thing keeping half the population from going on an anti-abortion murder-spree tomorrow is a fear of the cops (rather than a lack of desire to go on an anti-abortion murder-spree, since that would be awful) then we disagree about people’s typical motivations.

“It would be helpful if you described the regulatory regime you think they seek, if they could have all they want.”

I think there is a wide range. I don’t believe there is a substantially number at the murder-spree end, as Rich (and you?) believe. Or even at the ‘execute them all’ end. I don’t think most pro-lifers really know what they want, legislatively. I think they want to shame ladysex havers. Towards that end, they like to say they want more, legislatively, than they actually do. If you spun them round by telling them: fine, take what you want! I think they would go round and round and where they would stop I don’t know. But I’ll bet it would be short of mass murder, or even mass-execution.

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Peter T 10.04.14 at 7:15 am

John

I think Rich has a point. The KWs of this world want to stuff the genie of female equality back into the bottle, an inherently more difficult and violent process than just letting it stay there. They can’t return to a world where abortion is not mentioned, happens under the table and is occasionally prosecuted, because that world is gone, along with the world where sex (and birth) out of wedlock were commonplace, but not socially sanctioned and therefore unevenly persecuted. Once the full power of the state comes into play, then meeting resistance with greater and greater force in the holy cause of reaction becomes practically obligatory. KW’s rhetoric is an instance of this.

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Ze Kraggash 10.04.14 at 9:28 am

“Now, some people will say: why then are so many women involved on the pro-life side? I think the answer is: there is no contradiction in the fact that many women want coercively to regulate sexual norms.”

They do, they do, definitely. Or at least they did, in the past; maybe it’s different now, who knows. Back in the day when I was young and irresponsible, every time (3 times, I think?) one of my girlfriends was pregnant it was I who insistent on abortion, and it was they who would prefer to get married, have a baby and start a family. The norm allowing abortion as a form of contraception was consistent with my (perceived) interests and inconsistent with theirs. Of course this isn’t the only scenario, but at that time and in that environment it was a typical one. The idea that the anti-abortion side is anti-woman is, perhaps, characteristically upper middle class.

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Bruce Baugh 10.04.14 at 10:06 am

John, re 311: I think one of the things that Williamson’s kind of posturing aims to do is to normalize talking about killing Doers Of Bad Deeds. Just as right-wing Protestant Christianity in the US includes enough Catholic elements to horrify any psychic evangelical from the ’70s, so the Dominionist strain seems to keep wiggling around.

I would bet that by the end of Obama’s term, we’ll see both of these:

* Young men like Michael Brown routinely described as suicide bombers just like those crazy Muslims, out to discredit America’s fine white police officers.

* A new, very public wave of Christian militias, building on open-carry successes, carefully not talking about anyone unpleasant like McVeigh, probably lionizing decent Christian martyrs like the Weavers and the Koresh group.

Williamson helps to make that a comfortable reassuring thought for the constituency.

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Barry 10.04.14 at 12:40 pm

John Holbo: “I think if all pro-lifers believed abortion is literally murder, and should be punished as such, we would be seeing a lot more anti-abortion violence than we are. There would be a revolution.”

I’m sorry, but I must have missed those long line outside recruiting stations on September 12, 2001.

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Barry 10.04.14 at 12:43 pm

BTW, a blogger a Orcinus (?) coined the term ‘transmission beLt’ for the phenomenon of mainstreaming extreme views.

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Rich Puchalsky 10.04.14 at 1:41 pm

“a blogger Orcinus (?) coined the term ‘transmission belt’’”

David Niewert. He also wrote a book: “The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right”.

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Layman 10.04.14 at 1:45 pm

JH: “I think there is a wide range. “

Does that wide range include or exclude incarceration of women who have or want abortions? If so, then the machinery of state violence is engaged.

I’ll certainly grant that not every abortion opponent is someone who would hang women for it, but some of them are, and a good many more (perhaps most) would jail them. That’s a prospect I think we should take seriously. It already leads to violence even when that violence is illegal, so I don’t think it’s wise to bet that it won’t lead to more violence when that violence carries the sanction of law. As an analogy, consider how draconian the anti-drug regime has become. In my misspent youth, in the 70’s, I don’t think many people imagined the level of state coercion and sanctioned violence that would result from the public desire to do something about casual drug use. I will not bet that ant-abortion extremists are only kidding.

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jake the antisoshul shoshulist 10.04.14 at 1:55 pm

@ The Temporary Name #112
I am not one who views the internet as an ongoing competition, but this deserves accolade

<blockquote cite="I was writing specifically about Brett, whose libertarian sentiment stretches the width of a dollar."

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Rich Puchalsky 10.04.14 at 2:07 pm

“What is less clear is that they will be pushing, successfully, to execute women and medical professionals en masse; and what is still less clear is that there will – or is likely to be – a wave of extra-judicial vigilante murders.”

Wait, the “successfully” makes this more of a consequentialist argument than I think it should be. I think that the chances of them achieving their maximal goals are very small. If a right-winger says that he’d seriously like to see millions killed, do I have to estimate his chances of actually being able to do that before saying that’s evil?

Obviously there’s some kind of consequentialism involved here. If he was librulssuck461, no one would bother condemning him, and “he’s trolling” dismissive as it is would look pretty adequate. But I think it’s bad enough that he’s encouraging the extremists that do exist without also having to come up with some kind of estimation of probabilities that the U.S. will turn into The Handmaid’s Tale.

You keep coming back to “But is that really what they want?” I think it’s highly suggestive that KW insisted on hanging. (As did good old Brett here too.) As I mentioned upthread, there have only been 3 judicial executions by hanging in the 1000+ since the 70s in America. Hangings are, on the other hand, traditionally how lynch mobs in America killed people who they were disgusted by, as a means of social control. I don’t think that they have a plan to form lynch mobs tomorrow and start stringing people up, but would they like to? Sure.

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Ze Kraggash 10.04.14 at 2:34 pm

All this talk about hanging… What if they settled for some measure of social ostracism; would it satisfy anyone on the pro-choice side? I don’t think so.

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jake the antisoshul shoshulist 10.04.14 at 2:46 pm

I have come to realize that I view capitalists and capitalism the way that many (most?) conservatives view women’s sexuality. ie., that it is basically corrupt and corrupting, should be closely regulated and variance from established norms be punished.

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Layman 10.04.14 at 2:56 pm

“All this talk about hanging… What if they settled for some measure of social ostracism; would it satisfy anyone on the pro-choice side? I don’t think so.”

Isn’t that more or less the status quo?

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John Holbo 10.04.14 at 3:22 pm

“Wait, the “successfully” makes this more of a consequentialist argument than I think it should be.”

Let me revise that. I think it is clear they will not be pushing to execute people en masse. The push will not come.

I do agree that KW can be described as mainstreaming extremist views. Part of the problem here is that I think that he is mainstreaming extremist views by trolling, whereas you think it follows from the fact that he is mainstreaming extremist views that he can’t be trolling. It sort of depends what you mean by ‘trolling’.

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J Thomas 10.04.14 at 3:26 pm

All this talk about hanging… What if they settled for some measure of social ostracism; would it satisfy anyone on the pro-choice side? I don’t think so.

You mean, literally the scarlet letter?

Ahhhhh…..

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J Thomas 10.04.14 at 3:27 pm

All this talk about hanging… What if they settled for some measure of social ostracism; would it satisfy anyone on the pro-choice side? I don’t think so.

You mean, literally the skarlet letter?

Ah. Disturbing.

I think I hit an unexpected keyword moderation.

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Ze Kraggash 10.04.14 at 3:32 pm

“Isn’t that more or less the status quo?”

Only around the clinics, but there is no shunning rituals in the wider society. You are not required to wear a scarlet letter, or have a special ‘baby-killer’ stamp on your driver’s license.

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Ze Kraggash 10.04.14 at 3:39 pm

“Ah. Disturbing”

More disturbing than hanging or less? I’m not sure myself, which is why all that talk about hanging and terrorism seems missing the point.

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J Thomas 10.04.14 at 3:44 pm

Back in the day when I was young and irresponsible, every time (3 times, I think?) one of my girlfriends was pregnant it was I who insistent on abortion, and it was they who would prefer to get married, have a baby and start a family.

TMI! Yuck.

The idea that the anti-abortion side is anti-woman is, perhaps, characteristically upper middle class.

So, would you prefer that a woman who wants to marry should have available the tactic of botching the contraception (that her careless boyfriend did not handle independently), requiring him to marry her or face DNA paternity tests, lawyers, expense, and ignominy?

What if he is a cad who only wanted to have sex with her with no responsibilities, who would make a terrible abusive father and improvident abusive husband?

Each time a girlfriend told me she was pregnant (roughly once per girlfriend) I offered to do what she wanted — I would pay for abortion or marry her and raise the child, whichever she was OK with. Each time it turned out to be a false alarm, and I attributed it to them wanting to know how I felt about the topic.

But then my wife accidentally got pregnant while we were having difficulties, and the marriage counselor in private consultation with her made all the arrangements for an abortion. I was offended that I never got a chance to argue for not having one, though I could not have made a particularly effective argument. It bothered me that my instincts were to protect children, but I couldn’t protect it from its own mother, and that may have had something to do with our divorce. I still feel guilty, because while it seemed there was no reasonable chance of success, and it would have been a very hard situation if she agreed, still I could have tried harder.

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Ze Kraggash 10.04.14 at 4:41 pm

“Each time a girlfriend told me she was pregnant (roughly once per girlfriend) I offered to do what she wanted — I would pay for abortion or marry her and raise the child, whichever she was OK with.”

But that’s exactly the same thing: ‘if you refuse to have an abortion, then OK, I’ll marry you’. A way of saying: ‘I don’t want to marry you, please go have an abortion’. And your girlfriend may have wanted to get married, but not after this kind of proposal: ‘if you choose to blackmail me, I’ll do it’. And if abortion wasn’t an option, the first time your girlfriend told you she was pregnant, you’d go to buy the rings, end of story.

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Main Street Muse 10.04.14 at 5:03 pm

“My reason for being less bothered by this particular, NR-brand of trolling is that I think it’s likely to backfire. For every conservative man whom Williamson inspires to vote, to send Washington a clear message that Lena Dunham is fat, he probably convinces two women – correctly – that Dunham is right. There are voters out there who are kind of nuts in this way.”

And…

“He’s not actually saying they should be extra-judicially murdered. He is saying they should be judicially executed.”

John Holbo – perhaps abortion is readily available where you live. Where I live, abortion rights have been shrinking steadily for years. In my state (NC), the governor elected on a pro-choice platform just signed a bill that forces most abortion clinics to shut down.

People are opposed to abortion BECAUSE they believe it is murder. Williamson’s discussion of hanging women/girls who abort their fetus is simply a logical extension of the argument. He’s not “trolling” – he’s elaborating on the theme antiabortion activists have been chanting for decades. That’s what is so disturbing about the NR post – we are now talking about whether or not women should be executed for abortion. Williamson’s shifted the line in ways that are disturbing and powerful and insane.

That anti-choice men persuade women to have abortions, then run on an anti-choice platform (see Scott DesJarlais) is just one of the loopy narratives that result from this insanity. George Tiller, the abortion provider in Kansas, was murdered in his church by a “pro-lifer” intent on stopping abortion. There is no logic to these people or to their argument, but to belittle it as “trolling” is terribly wrong. They have worked very hard for many years to roll back reproductive rights for women. And it’s working. And they’ve got the men in black over at SCOTUS to support them.

Keep ’em pregnant, it’s the Palin/Duggar/GOP way of womanhood. And it’s quite popular in many parts of America.

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Harold 10.04.14 at 5:11 pm

Good Lord, J. Thomas, haven’t you ever heard of birth control?

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Plume 10.04.14 at 5:37 pm

People are opposed to abortion BECAUSE they believe it is murder. Williamson’s discussion of hanging women/girls who abort their fetus is simply a logical extension of the argument.

But is it? If someone is opposed to murder, is it logical for them to be in favor of state sanctioned murder?

It’s a little like a school administration that comes out with a new policy on bullying. They say they must send a clear message that bullying is wrong, always wrong, in all cases, at all times, so they instruct their students to repeatedly punch, kick, push the previous offenders down stairs, knock their books and lunches out of their hands, and otherwise torment them for the rest of the year.

All this does is turn the entire school into bullies.

While it’s true that many people agree with the sense of poetic justice, or turning the tables being “fair,” or even an eye for an eye . . . . is it necessarily logical? Or is it more likely a low-level emotional response, nearly devoid of logic? There are far better ways to “teach a lesson” if that is the goal.

In the case of abortion, the “logical” thing for opponents to do is to try their damnedest to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place — free and easily available contraception being the most “logical” remedy there.

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Harold 10.04.14 at 5:42 pm

Both partners have an equal responsibility for using birth control, needless to say. Men who do not are unbelievably feckless. Not to say ignorant. Boasting about it takes the cake.

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Brett Bellmore 10.04.14 at 5:43 pm

Makes perfect sense if they actually understand that the word “murder” doesn’t mean “killing”, it means wrongful killing.

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Plume 10.04.14 at 5:52 pm

Brett,

So, to you, death is a matter of semantics? That, of course, is a double-edged (s)word, which can be used against your “side” as well.

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Rich Puchalsky 10.04.14 at 6:26 pm

“That anti-choice men persuade women to have abortions, then run on an anti-choice platform (see Scott DesJarlais) is just one of the loopy narratives that result from this insanity.”

Remember the only moral abortion is my abortion? It’s a classic.

“Recently, we had a patient who had given a history of being a ‘pro-life’ activist, but who had decided to have an abortion. She was pleasant to me and our initial discussion was mutually respectful. Later, she told someone on my staff that she thought abortion is murder, that she is a murderer, and that she is murdering her baby. So before doing her procedure, I asked her if she thought abortion is murder — the answer was yes. I asked her if she thought I am a murderer, and if she thought I would be murdering her baby, and she said yes. But murder is a crime, and murderers are executed. Is this a crime? Well, it should be, she said. At that point, she became angry and hostile, and the summary of the conversation was that she regarded me as an abortion-dispensing machine, and how dare I ask her what she thinks. After explaining to her that I do not perform abortions for people who think I am a murderer or people who are angry at me, I declined to provide her with medical care. I do not know whether she found someone else to do her abortion.” (Physician, Colorado)

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Brett Bellmore 10.04.14 at 6:42 pm

“So, to you, death is a matter of semantics? “

For me, language is a matter of semantics. It is a tool for communication, and we cannot communicate if words don’t have fairly fixed meanings.

The meaning of “murder” is not the same as “kill”.

You are engaging in the fallacy of equivocation. You want the outrage of “murder” and the generality of “kill”, and you want to achieve this without having to defend the notion that all killing should cause outrage, so you pretend that “murder” already means just “kill”, and not a specific subset of that word’s meaning.

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Plume 10.04.14 at 6:54 pm

Brett,

No. I make a distinction between a zygote or a fetus and a human being. You, apparently don’t. And even when I do my best to walk in the tyrannical footsteps of the anti-choice movement, I can’t find any logic in their desire to murder a woman who they believe has murdered a zygote or fetus. I can’t find any logic in their belief that killing a living, breathing woman is okay, while choosing not to give birth is “murder.”

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Brett Bellmore 10.04.14 at 7:02 pm

And there you are again, pretending that the words “murder” and “kill” have the same meaning.

Here’s the logic: It isn’t alright to kill the innocent, it can be alright to kill the guilty, provided they are guilty of something sufficiently bad. And killing the innocent can be sufficiently bad.

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Rich Puchalsky 10.04.14 at 7:13 pm

Brett is talking about what KW refers to in the linked second post as a “consistently pro-life ethic”. What that means is that if you can get the state to do your punishments for you, carrying out your moral beliefs about how women should be killed, then you yourself are innocent of murder by definition — only individuals can murder, the state can not. This doctrine is also called the “stainless garment”, referring to the hypocrites in Dante’s Divine Comedy whose outer garments appeared to be made out of gold.

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Plume 10.04.14 at 7:19 pm

Guilty of what? Choosing whether or not to give birth? It’s up to the woman. It’s her body. People who seek to force her to give birth against her will are the guilty ones. And they are guilty of something “sufficiently bad.” Using your logic, the forced birth crowd should be hung.

And that zygote/fetus? It didn’t ask to be born, either. It’s being forced into the world against its will, too. All just-borns demonstrate this quite clearly with their wails upon leaving the womb . . . and after that time, they scream and cry for months on end. Some babies do so for years. They had no say in the matter. To assume that forcing them to come into this world is an automatic good, and that anyone who chooses not to go through this process should be hung . . . . there are no moral supports for those beliefs. Nor logical ones.

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Plume 10.04.14 at 7:27 pm

Rich,

But this isn’t consistent with the right’s oft-stated view that the government is made up of jack-booted thugs when it comes to taxation, or, say, the EPA. So when it does things the right doesn’t like, the State suddenly becomes a bunch of murderers, and in certain cases, like when they tried to get Cliven Bundy to pay his taxes and fees, it’s apparently okay for citizens to kill government workers doing their job. Which also leads into that part of the right which believes the 2nd amendment was put in place so they could rise up and kill government employees if they see them as “tyrannical.” Judge, jury and executioner all in one.

The right is consistently inconsistent, basically.

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Rich Puchalsky 10.04.14 at 7:39 pm

“But this isn’t consistent with the right’s oft-stated view “

Brett is the librulssuck461 that I keep referring to as the person who really can be dismissed, and I don’t recommend actually engaging with him. I just wanted to write a stainless garment / seamless garment joke.

But yes, KW in the second linked post above writes some stuff about Gandhi. That Gandhi, he would have been able to really set you straight about the difference between murder and judicial execution. If I remember rightly, he would often scream “I am the law!” before gunning someone down. Or maybe that was Judge Dredd.

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Barry 10.04.14 at 7:49 pm

John Holbo: “Part of the problem here is that I think that he is mainstreaming extremist views by trolling, …”

John, he’s a writer for The National Review. He gets more views than you likely ever will.

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Emma in Sydney 10.04.14 at 7:59 pm

Anecdote time: this time from the woman’s side. My two abortions took place , like most abortions, when I already had children. Three under three, actually. Two different forms of birth control failed me and my partner, there was no question of proceeding with the pregnancies — we were already stretched beyond capacity, mentally, physically and financially, and our existing kids’ welfare was the major motivation. I was lucky to live in a country with civilised laws, but the memory of the desperation I felt looking at those test sticks has never left me. I would have risked a lot. I was, and should have been my decision, as a woman and a mother. No one else’s.

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MPAVictoria 10.04.14 at 8:03 pm

Moving comment Emma. Thank you.

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Emma in Sydney 10.04.14 at 8:03 pm

*It was my decision.

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Layman 10.04.14 at 8:19 pm

“Only around the clinics, but there is no shunning rituals in the wider society. “

Somehow I doubt the anti-abortion crowd are friendly with people who have abortions, when they meet them somewhere besides abortion clinics.

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Harold 10.04.14 at 8:24 pm

If someone truly had an “instinct to protect children” – they make contraception a part of their lovemaking.

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Harold 10.04.14 at 8:25 pm

“would make”, I mean.

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Emma in Sydney 10.04.14 at 8:30 pm

Harold, it doesn’t always work. For some more than others. Of my 8 pregnancies, 3 happened while conscientiously using contraception. One on the pill ( with the help of gastro) one through a diaphragm, one through a condom which broke. Two of these ended in abortion, one in miscarriage. Contraception is never going to be the whole answer to reproductive freedom .

I am having trouble remaining civil on this topic so will step away.

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Lynne 10.04.14 at 8:42 pm

Emma, I remember you telling us that story before, and my heart went out to you. You are so right that no contraception is failsafe.

“It was, and should have been my decision, as a woman and a mother. No one else’s.”

Yes.

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Rich Puchalsky 10.04.14 at 9:44 pm

The CDC defines failure rates of contraceptives as the percentage of women who will experience an unintended pregnancy within a year of typical use. The failure rate is 0.05% for an implant, 0.2% for the LNG IUD, and 0.8% for a normal IUD. The other methods have extremely high failure rates. “The pill”: 9%, diaphragm: 12%, condoms: 18%.

There are 43 million women in the U.S. who are at risk of unintended pregnancy: i.e. they are sexually active, in their childbearing years, and do not want to become pregnant. (And, I guess, have sex with men — the source I used didn’t specify.) If they all used condoms, then every year there would be 7.7 million unintended pregnancies. So, Harold, telling people about the wonders of contraceptive use is not going to make this go away.

If only the most effective contraceptive methods were used, and everyone did everything “exactly right”, the number of unintended pregnancies would drop to the tens of thousands. So KW and his friends would still be mass murderers, excuse me, advocates of a legal justice system that punishes crimes against the unborn with hanging.

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Main Street Muse 10.04.14 at 10:03 pm

To Plume @333 “But is it? If someone is opposed to murder, is it logical for them to be in favor of state sanctioned murder?”

Last I checked, the death penalty is on the books in 32 states in the US. For a person who believes abortion is murder, it is logical to think they would agree with the state-sanctioned penalty for murder, which can be state-sanctioned murder. And pro-life people have resorted to murder to stop the “murder.”

Again, National Review writers like Williamson write specifically to push the line of sanity further outside the limits of sanity. In this thread, we are not talking about a women’s right to choose; we are talking about whether or not a woman who so chooses abortion is a murderer who deserves to be hung. Williamson has been paid (likely quite handsomely) for this bit of polemics. And he’s shifting the conversation into a sphere that is insane:

“Is murder the same as kill?”

“He’s not actually saying they should be extra-judicially murdered. He is saying they should be judicially executed.”

All this at a time when abortion rights are becoming increasingly limited to most women. Who cares if a woman dies from a back-alley abortion? They should be hung for trying…

When it comes down to it, the act of raising babies into adulthood is incredibly difficult. Too many pregnant women are left with no support – financial or emotional – for this hugely important task. Or they are consumed with taking care of a growing family already. The idea that we all have to be the Duggars – and pop a baby out pretty much every time one has sex – is beyond dreadful.

I agree with Emma in Sydney:

“I was lucky to live in a country with civilised laws, but the memory of the desperation I felt looking at those test sticks has never left me. I would have risked a lot. It was my decision, and should have been my decision, as a woman and a mother. No one else’s.”

Screw Williamson. I hope he never, ever becomes a parent. If he’s a parent already, God have mercy on his children. His little black-and-white world cannot handle the gray complexities that come with those demanding little lives.

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Rich Puchalsky 10.04.14 at 10:17 pm

“In this thread, we are not talking about a women’s right to choose; we are talking about whether or not a woman who so chooses abortion is a murderer who deserves to be hung.”

Williamson also specified in other tweets that doctors and other medical staff who do abortions procedures should be hanged, as should politicians who vote in favor of legalized abortion. So it’s a seamless garment, really.

That last one might need a little bit of extra commentary. The right wing in America is doing its best to legitimize misogyny, but hanging politicians who vote in ways that you don’t like? Are you really sure that he’s dutifully respecting the distinction between legal execution and extralegal killing? Because he seems to have some difficulty with the basics going on.

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Thornton Hall 10.04.14 at 11:10 pm

@Robert Waldman
No need to bring up cloning. God himself sees fit to let most zygotes pass thru without implantation. That’s why pregnancy is not simply fertilization. If doctors considered that pregnancy, the rate of miscarriage would go up 100 fold.

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Plume 10.04.14 at 11:14 pm

It’s not logical to oppose “murder” but murder as a response to it. On a different level, obviously, it’s like saying you are against punching someone in the nose as you punch someone in the nose.

Or, it’s like sending Americans overseas to die because you say don’t want Americans to die here. A la one of the ever changing rationales for the invasion of Iraq. Or blowing up people there because you find it outrageous that someone blew up people here. Blowing up people being the supposed object of one’s moral outrage.

The old “two wrongs don’t make a right” is woefully inadequate in the above cases, but it does apply. It’s just not logical to engage in the very act one condemns, and the more fervent the condemnation, the more bizarre it becomes.

Self-defense brings in another variable. But there is no issue of self-defense in the issue discussed in the OP. Nor was there with regard to Iraq, etc.

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Harold 10.04.14 at 11:17 pm

I am not telling people of the wonders of contraception. I support a woman’s right to an abortion. What I am saying is that contraception is not the sole responsibility of the female partner but of both the male and female partner. After the woman gets pregnant is too late to have discussions about it. People should not omit to discuss contraception because of its failure rate, whether high or low. That is all the more reason to discuss it before hand. It works best and fails less often when used as directed.

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Plume 10.04.14 at 11:42 pm

While I don’t for a second connect Emma with this . . . . it is true that the right loves to exaggerate the failure rate of contraception in order to peddle “abstinence” programs. It’s a scare tactic for them, and yet one more way to push for sex within the confines of marriage, only. And, for some, even within those confines, for procreation only.

They don’t want anyone, especially young people, to think of contraception as potentially liberating, or even as a method of preventing STDs. Europe has a much more advanced way of looking at this, and its much lower rates for unwanted pregnancies and STDs reflect that advanced perspective.

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Ze Kraggash 10.05.14 at 12:09 am

“It’s not logical to oppose “murder” but murder as a response to it.”

It’s perfectly logical in the utilitarian sense, similar to Geo’s suggestion early in this thread. Murdering 1 to save 10 (by deterrence) reduces the amount of suffering in the world; the logic is sound.

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bianca steele 10.05.14 at 12:18 am

Each time it turned out to be a false alarm, and I attributed it to them wanting to know how I felt about the topic.

Right.

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Harold 10.05.14 at 1:58 am

http://www.webmd.com/sex/birth-control/news/20121004/abortion-rates-fall-birth-control-free

What I am against is not abortion but unwanted or emotionally neglected children whose parents never discussed having them — or where one partner wanted kids and the other didn’t. Children deserve to be loved and wanted by both parents and this is more likely where the couple love each other feel ready to talk about starting a family and to talk about what they plan to do if they don’t want to.

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John Holbo 10.05.14 at 4:44 am

“John, he’s a writer for The National Review. He gets more views than you likely ever will.”

Several people in the thread seem to take it as self-evident that trolls cannot have real influence. Ergo, if someone has influence, he can’t be a troll. For me ‘troll’ is more or less a style term. It denotes the manner in which someone engages, intellectually, specifically on the web. There is no contradiction in the notion that a writer for NR engages intellectual issues in a trollish manner.

One reason I’m hesitant to take KW seriously, even though he is a writer for NR, is that if I take him seriously – well, then, I have to take him seriously. It’s no good saying you are going to take someone seriously and then offer transparently sloppy arguments. Then you will just lose the silly argument. What I see at the tail end of this thread are some ill-effects of taking KW sort of half-seriously, in this way.

Brett Bellmore – who, as a rule, divides his time between unhelpful attacks, and wildly unconvincing ‘poor poor pitiful me I’m being attacked’ roleplay – makes a perfectly valid point. Killing and murder is not the same. There is no contradiction whatsoever between thinking that abortion is murder and that murderers, ergo abortion-havers and providers, should be executed.

Rich, who understandably doesn’t want to bother with Brett, but has unwisely committed to taking KW’s trollish argument seriously proceeds to slip, like so:

“What that means is that if you can get the state to do your punishments for you, carrying out your moral beliefs about how women should be killed, then you yourself are innocent of murder by definition — only individuals can murder, the state can not. This doctrine is also called the “stainless garment”, referring to the hypocrites in Dante’s Divine Comedy whose outer garments appeared to be made out of gold.”

No. Brett clearly isn’t saying the state can do no wrong, so you can launder any sins through the state – or other institution. (That was Dante’s complaint.) He is saying there are two major moral distinctions that are getting obscured. One, the distinction between innocence and guilt. It makes sense for the law to punish the guilty, but to spare the innocent. Two, the distinction between legal police/judicial actions and vigilantism. The point is not that the state is always right (or that vigilantism is always wrong). Merely that ‘was the action done lawfully?’ is, plausibly, an important moral consideration, in its own right. Not necessarily the most important consideration, be it noted. Of course we know there is such a thing as unjust laws. But a thing we need to weigh in, in judging action.

So if you take KW seriously, you have to take Brett seriously. Don’t dismiss him. In for a penny, in for a pound.

You have to seriously decide whether KW is willing to go full John Brown, just plain killing lots of women and medical professionals, or whether he is merely advocating changing the laws, to bring about mass executions of women and medical professionals. It makes a big moral difference which crazy thing you think he is saying, so justify your answer!

For my part, I’m outa here. Thank goodness my policy of regarding KW as trollish means I can disregard Brett’s valid points, since they don’t bear on my thesis about what KW is really up to here. Namely, sending out-of-touch Washington a message that Lena Dunham is fat and gross, hence we shouldn’t think about her! (And he is in favor of strict legal restrictions on abortion. But I doubt he is thinking too hard about what exactly he really wants, so it’s kind of a mug’s came trying to determine what that probably non-existent thing is. He’s too busy not thinking about Lena Dunham to decide whether he’s got what it takes to go full John Brown.)

And again, I admit that he is mainstreaming extremist ideas. But he is doing that without really having settled enough extremist ideas, himself, that one can usefully critique his extremist ideas, at the level of ideas, while plausibly attributing them to him. This was really the point of my critique of his positivist argument. There isn’t the slightest chance that he actually disbelieves in the existence of persons, per se. Even though his argument clearly implies that.

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Collin Street 10.05.14 at 10:57 am

> So if you take KW seriously, you have to take Brett seriously.

I do take Brett seriously.

Which is why I want him gone from this website. I think Emma-from-sydney’s been remarkably restrained in the face of someone literally calling for her death.

[social dynamics on the internet don’t work the way they do in meatspace: a person has a larger/more expansive presence because they can post in multiple venues — being in one place on the internet doesn’t preclude you from being in other places like it does in physical reality — so one of the best tools for avoiding social problems [leaving the presence of those who are problematic to you] doesn’t actually mechanically work. Among other problems: a face-to-face conversation can move with the particpants, but relocating a discussion on the internet is close to impossible. All this places a much larger burden on site administrators if they want their site used for reasonable discussion instead of as a dinner-table-cum-toilet.]

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Brett Bellmore 10.05.14 at 11:59 am

I take gun controllers seriously, myself. The government has literally burnt people alive in this cause, it treats paperwork violations as though they were violent felonies, and enforces the laws with the usual level of violence one has come to expect of such felonies. Typos can land you in prison.

So, to advocate gun control is to advocate killing. Clearly. But I don’t want gun controllers gone from the internet. Perhaps this is because I have more confidence in the ability of truth to win out over falsehood in a free and open debate, than you do.

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Layman 10.05.14 at 12:25 pm

“So if you take KW seriously, you have to take Brett seriously. “

I do take him seriously; not in the sense that he’s capable of enough reflection that you can reach him with reason, but in the sense that he’s dangerous. You should, too.

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Brett Bellmore 10.05.14 at 12:49 pm

I’m not particularly dangerous, unless maybe you’re planning on breaking into my home. I don’t tackle hecklers, (Like a US Senator I can think of.) or attack protesters because I don’t like their signs, like some college professors. I just disagree with you.

All the danger from that comes from the possibility that I might persuade people to agree with me. Isn’t being more persuasive yourselves the appropriate response to such danger?

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J Thomas 10.05.14 at 12:51 pm

#330

“Each time a girlfriend told me she was pregnant (roughly once per girlfriend) I offered to do what she wanted — I would pay for abortion or marry her and raise the child, whichever she was OK with.”

But that’s exactly the same thing: ‘if you refuse to have an abortion, then OK, I’ll marry you’. A way of saying: ‘I don’t want to marry you, please go have an abortion’.

I can see how it would look like the same thing to you. It didn’t feel that way to me, and I don’t think I presented it like that.

There is a game where men try to get sex while providing nothing in return except sex, while women try to get tenderness, admiration, and the possibility of support in raising a family in exchange for sex now. We don’t have to play that game. Unless we want to.

If a woman finds her contraception has failed, that can result in a whole lot of uncertainty. Will she choose to get an abortion, marry, give birth and put her baby up for adoption, be a single parent, or what? My personal belief is that she’s likely to notice what she wants easier if she doesn’t have some guy telling her she has to get an abortion or she has to marry him etc.

And it was easier for her to do a trial run and find out what she’d face from somebody she was in a relationship with, back in the days when she could say she thought she was pregnant on a Friday night and not have any way to find out until Monday morning at the earliest. Technology has lost us something that was worth having.

370

Layman 10.05.14 at 12:58 pm

“Isn’t being more persuasive yourselves the appropriate response to such danger?”

To be clear, I’m not calling for you to be banned.

371

Rich Puchalsky 10.05.14 at 1:51 pm

“Rich, who understandably doesn’t want to bother with Brett, but has unwisely committed to taking KW’s trollish argument seriously proceeds to slip, like so:”

First of all, this was a joke, which I labelled as such within a couple of comments. American Catholics have an ideology of the “seamless garment” which “holds that issues such as abortion, capital punishment, militarism, euthanasia, social injustice, and economic injustice all demand a consistent application of moral principles that value the sacredness of human life” (to quote wiki). KW described this, and Gandhi, as a strong influence on him shortly before he tweeted that the “entire criminal enterprise” of people involved in abortion (women, doctors, politicians) should all be hanged. Since this is really a laughable level of hypocrisy, I thought that describing it as the “stainless garment” a la Dante’s damned souls who wear lead robes that look like gold was appropriate.

But mockery of religious hypocrites aside, I was making a serious point too. A “consistent pre-life ethic” (which is what people describe it as when they’re Protestant) *always* is concerned with violence by the state. People who adhere to it non-hypocritically reject the idea that “was the action done lawfully” is an important moral consideration. That is why they oppose capital punishment in all cases. They have already considered this potentially important distinction and rejected it. That doesn’t mean that others need to, but the “seamless garment” is a way of claiming moral force, and if it is revealed to just be a smokescreen for anti-sex activism it loses that force.

Lastly, “So if you take KW seriously, you have to take Brett seriously” is logically incorrect. KW has a platform; Brett does not.

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bianca steele 10.05.14 at 2:26 pm

J Thomas @ 369

So on the one hand, above in the thread, someone says women should be prompter to take action than he thinks they too often are. On the other hand, we’ve got you suggesting that a woman who’s late (and may feel pregnant) on Friday should wait until Monday before she starts worrying about it.

You prefer the old days. In those days, you went to the doctor for the first time at three or four weeks (a week or two late). You got a urine test, which sometimes gets false negatives. A month later, you could get another urine test. A month after that, you could get a blood test if necessary. At that point you would be twelve weeks pregnant. (For all I know this is how it still works.)

It’s entirely possible that a woman could be pregnant and miscarry in the third or fourth week and not know she’d been pregnant. It’s entirely possible she could miscarry in the ninth week and never know. She might just consider it a “false alarm.”

But it’s also possible, now, she could get a positive result from a home pregnancy test at two and a half weeks or so (last I checked, the box said “as early as five days before your period’s due). And still miscarry in the fourth week.

My only miscarriage, that I know about, happened while I was in fertility treatment and having blood tests every couple of days. I would have otherwise just assumed I skipped a period. If I’d taken a urine test at the wrong point in that time, it might even have come back negative. (It was obvious from about the fifth day that something was wrong, but no visual confirmation for a few weeks, and not until weeks after that that “medically” I was considered not pregnant.)

But I’ll add to my list of movies I don’t want to see, movies about men who really care about women, so want them to become more rational (or more traditional, or whatever). Though I might never watch movies anymore in that case.

373

bianca steele 10.05.14 at 2:36 pm

Incidentally, I disagree that it’s only logical that people who think abortion is killing a human have to agree about the death penalty. For one thing, lots of people don’t believe in the death penalty, and as MSM points out, it’s not done in 28 of the fifty states. For another, not every kind of killing is considered first-degree murder, and not every murder is even considered for the death penalty. (As Brett inadvertently points out.)

Rich @ 371: The thing is, though, it’s also possible, from a religious point of view, to feel really, really bad about what a terrible thing a woman who has an abortion feels she had to do, while at the same time being really serious about feeling charitable about it. It’s not hypocrisy, exactly. It’s just acting on one set of principles when you’re thinking about things in general, and different ideas when dealing with individual people. Unfortunately, in this case, it’s also going all out to try to implement the one set of principles as strenuously as you can, and refusing to allow those individual cases to seem relevant, except as “those poor women” might by chance happen to meet someone who’s not currently in “principle mode.”

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John Holbo 10.05.14 at 2:52 pm

I knew you were joking, Rich, but I don’t think it was a good joke because I agree with Bianca Steele that there really is no sense in which people who are against abortion but pro-death penalty are hypocrites. I also don’t think there is any sense to your suggestion that people who really care about the value of life can’t also take obeying the law to be morally important.

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John Holbo 10.05.14 at 3:03 pm

“Lastly, “So if you take KW seriously, you have to take Brett seriously” is logically incorrect. KW has a platform; Brett does not.”

I don’t see it. You have been taking me to task for doubting KW’s seriousness. But only in the sense that you think I shouldn’t say he is personally unserious, i.e. a troll or a joker. You can’t now say all you meant all along is that he has a platform, i.e. has serious influence, whether he is personally serious or not. That’s a different issue. I have never denied that he has a platform.

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Rich Puchalsky 10.05.14 at 3:14 pm

“there really is no sense in which people who are against abortion but pro-death penalty are hypocrites. I also don’t think there is any sense to your suggestion that people who really care about the value of life can’t also take obeying the law to be morally important.”

I should do a series like yours, in which I make up new names for new variants of argumentative fallacies. This one is the fallacy of Too Generous Abstraction, or perhaps “Aliens Have Two Heads So Decapitation Isn’t Always Murder”.

In the second article that you linked to, KW’s “Abortion After Texas”, he writes:

There are many who understand the movement against abortion as part of a broader nonviolence movement, and that has some merit. It has substantive merit in that answering the fundamental question about abortion must to some extent inform our views about other kinds of killing. And it certainly has rhetorical value: In a meme culture, it is good to be on the same side of an issue as Mohandas Gandhi and Susan B. Anthony.

You can not be “on the same side of an issue as Mohandas Gandhi” and also not be a hypocrite for saying that lots of people should be judicially hanged. “Gandhi” is not an empty signifier. The “consistent pro-life ethic” is supposedly consistent in exactly the way that makes Williamson a hypocrite. Sure, abstractly, it is possible that there can be people who are against abortion and pro death-penalty and are not hypocrites. But they can not describe themselves as influenced by “consistently pro-life ethics” or by Gandhi and avoid being hypocrites. KW wants the name Gandhi to be a meme, with no binding moral force beyond that, and you’re cooperating with him.

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Rich Puchalsky 10.05.14 at 3:30 pm

I think that Brett holds just as evil views as KW does, but he has no platform so he’s probably harmless. I can’t tell you that you should seriously criticize every Brett because there are so many of them. It’s a pragmatic difference. Strictly, I don’t think “he’s just trolling” is a moral excuse for Brett either.

378

Plume 10.05.14 at 3:30 pm

The “lots of people believe” isn’t an argument for or against logic. Lots of people can be logical or illogical. It’s not a basis for proof one way or another. Gallup recently did a survey, for instance in which 42% of Americans said they believe in the Creationist view of human origins. That’s “lots of people” believing in myths and fairy tales. Nor is the establishment of certain laws in most states. Prior to 1980, most states had laws on the books granting a husband the right to have his way with his wife, regardless of her consent.

And, we shouldn’t have to mention the laws on the books regarding slavery, the return of slaves, etc. etc. dominating the American landscape. Read The Fiery Trial, by the always excellent Eric Foner, to get a snapshot on American beliefs/laws regarding blacks, slavery, where the emancipated slaves should go, etc. etc. even among the supposedly enlightened in the mid-19th century.

It’s not a good argument.

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John Holbo 10.05.14 at 3:37 pm

“Sure, abstractly, it is possible that there can be people who are against abortion and pro death-penalty and are not hypocrites.”

Yes, abstractly, but also quite easily in practice. That’s the key here. There really isn’t much inherent tension between the two positions, honestly. The idea that the innocent should be treated differently than the guilty is very morally basic.

“KW wants the name Gandhi to be a meme, with no binding moral force beyond that, and you’re cooperating with him.”

How so? I mean: how am I cooperating with him? (Just out of curiosity. We’ve come this far.)

380

John Holbo 10.05.14 at 3:45 pm

Plume, I think you are really saying that you think anyone who is against abortion but for the death penalty is probably a jerk. I agree they are off to a bad start. But that’s not the same as hypocrisy or incoherence or anything like that. Saying that the fetus is an innocent person – indeed, a perfectly innocent, helplessly person – hence strongly protected against harm from others; and that a murderer is a guilty person – hence subject to the strongest legal sanctions; is apparently perfectly coherent. I don’t happen to believe that fetuses, before a certain point, should be regarded as persons. But I understand why some people think they are, perhaps for religious reasons. I also understand why some people think the death penalty is permissible. I do, although I don’t think it should be allowed in the US at the present time. It really isn’t very hard to conjoin these attitudes in a coherent, non-hypocritical way.

381

Plume 10.05.14 at 3:49 pm

John,

I see a ton of tension there. The taking of a life is the taking of a life. And one would think that the taking of a living, breathing woman, whom one can see fully formed, would be more of a shock to one’s moral compass than the taking of a zygote or fetus, which they can’t see, and is far from “human” in form, etc.

To me, it’s not just “tension.” It explodes into hypocrisy. And I see this with those who are against abortion but for the torture of prisoners in the endless GWOT. Gallup and other survey orgs found a correlation between the two. The religious right generally surveyed as stridently against abortion but in favor of “24” style torture.

382

Plume 10.05.14 at 3:54 pm

John,

I can see the connection, too. Because it’s been that way for so long. What I’m saying is that if we could step back, remove ourselves to some “god’s eye view” for a moment, take away our current political realities . . . . yes, it’s hypocritical.

PoMods would say, of course, this can’t be done. We can never fully escape our circumstances, etc. etc. But if we do a mind-meld with objective alien life, perhaps from Vulcan . . . . I think we could safely say the position is illogical and hypocritical. That is far, far from saying it isn’t widely held, or doesn’t have strong backing, or isn’t a part of the furniture of our lives.

I can see I’m pretty much alone on this one, and that’s kewl with me, as the young folks used to say. Thanks for the response.

383

Harold 10.05.14 at 3:59 pm

J Thomas @369 “*her* birth control has failed”? Not “our birthcontrol”?

I don’t see why men who don’t want children don’t just get vasectomies instead of just playing elaborate games. It would save everyone a lot of money and trouble.

Then there is the question of why why some men feel a need to “play games” in order to have sex. Don’t women enjoy sex just as much as men — when they find their partner appealing?

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bianca steele 10.05.14 at 4:04 pm

because I agree with Bianca Steele that there really is no sense in which people who are against abortion but pro-death penalty are hypocrites

Did I say that? If so, I was unclear. I agree that people who are against abortion and pro death penalty, because they’re claiming to want to “protect life” in all cases, are hypocrites. But people who are against abortion and pro death penalty, for other reasons, maybe because they think both positions help maintain public order, aren’t necessarily hypocrites. Just wrong. (People who have the second position but claim the first? I’m not sure that’s exactly hypocrisy.)

I also would prefer not to be lumped with BB, because I think innocent/guilty is unhelpful in this case, and worse, at the moment would raise questions about Eichmann’s claim that he was innocent because his actions fit into a social structure in a certain way, which it really shouldn’t raise. (And if we’re bringing religious considerations in, then why aren’t persons in the form of ten-week embryos subject to original sin? Can we discuss innocent/guilty without bringing religious considerations in?)

385

John Holbo 10.05.14 at 4:06 pm

Plume, you have an argument, but it’s not for the conclusion you are drawing. You are arguing that it makes sense to think that a life is a life. Taking any life is wrong. That’s obviously a view with a lot of coherence and appeal. But what you need is an argument that it makes no sense to think any other way, e.g. by using the difference between guilt and innocence as a line, justifying different treatment for different people. Why should it be necessarily hypocritical to treat the guilty and the innocent differently?

To put it another way, you are basically just telling me that you think right-wingers are assholes and hypocrites. That’s fine. But it doesn’t prove your point.

[Edit: I wrote this comment before seeing Plume’s second comment, above. I was just addressing the first.]

386

John Holbo 10.05.14 at 4:10 pm

“because they’re claiming to want to “protect life” in all cases, are hypocrites. “

Yes, but if you are going to judge people just by the stuff that goes on their protest posters, then everyone’s philosophies are idiotically overgeneralized. Just poster stuff. If you ask them why it is alright to execute murderers but not kill fetuses, they will – at least some of them, after putting their posters down – tell you it is because the murderers are being punished. But the fetuses are innocent.

387

John Holbo 10.05.14 at 4:11 pm

” think innocent/guilty is unhelpful in this case, and worse, at the moment would raise questions about Eichmann’s claim that he was innocent because his actions fit into a social structure in a certain way, which it really shouldn’t raise.”

How so?

388

Plume 10.05.14 at 4:17 pm

Bianca,

You raise all kinds of good questions.

What, exactly does “innocent” mean, outside the context of a certain country’s laws of the moment? Which can and do change over time. Which have always changed.

And, to me, the sense of morality, guilt or innocence as depicted in the bible is no guide for the sane, for a host of reasons. The book is filled with contradictions, and filled with odious ideas of “morality” from on high. Boiled down, “morality” or “immorality” means obedience or disobedience to Yahweh at any given moment in time, subject to wild fits and changes.

He condemns all humanity, except for Noah and his family, for instance, and slaughters them. For what? It’s all very vague. He condemns women to eternal pain and misery when giving birth because Eve eats an apple. Think about it. Those poor saps had no parents, Yahweh pretty much never talks to them, they grow up without teachers, moral guidance, previous examples of “proper” conduct, but are expected to know right from wrong. It’s all quite absurd.

And the folks in Jericho? What were they “guilty” of? The failure to worship Yahweh. So he had Joshua butcher them, too. That’s one very insecure god, perhaps the most Woody Allenish of all father-gods in the world.

To me, it’s no wonder that the religious right has this completely irrational idea of right and wrong, innocence and guilt. Their main source is beyond absurd on the subject. Morality and immorality by executive fiat, always subject to sudden change — and never truly, carefully, rationally thought out.

389

Ze Kraggash 10.05.14 at 4:19 pm

Plume: “It explodes into hypocrisy.”

I don’t see any hypocrisy there. This is the type with a strong dualistic worldview, making a strong distinction between ‘innocent’ and ‘sinful’, ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’, ‘good’ and ‘evil’ in general. Good is to be protected, and Evil eradicated, by any and all means. It’s very common. The fetuses are innocent babies, the terrorists are evil, where’s the hypocrisy?

390

Plume 10.05.14 at 4:22 pm

John,

I can see what you’re saying. And I may be waaay off on this one. Wouldn’t be the first time, admittedly. But can’t they be assholes and hypocrites at the same time?

391

John Holbo 10.05.14 at 4:24 pm

I think there’s another slip here, Plume – and maybe Bianca is doing the same? You think right-wingers have insane ideas about guilt and innocence. That’s fine. (I agree, most days.) But it doesn’t follow that there is no such thing as non-insane ideas about guilt and innocence.

392

Plume 10.05.14 at 4:25 pm

Ze,

But you don’t derive “hypocrisy” through accepting their form of “logic”. That’s the entire point. You seem to be ceding that to them. That you understand why they put 2 and 2 together to equal 4 in their system of belief, even though outside that system it equals 5.

It makes no sense to judge one’s “hypocrisy” based on their own system of logic. One would never be able to call anyone a hypocrite in that case. There would always be the tautology that they believe what they believe, so that’s perfectly alright and logical.

Hypocrisy and logic don’t work that way.

393

bianca steele 10.05.14 at 4:35 pm

John @ 386,

I think they really believe that, it’s not just what’s on protest posters. They’re hypocrites, in the etymologically correct sense: they haven’t thought about their beliefs enough to realize they’re not acting on them.

If you push them, and they’re willing to be socratically questioned, I’d guess some of them would move toward opposition to the death penalty, or at least to how it’s currently implemented (which is possible for them without leaving their religion), or toward something like a belief that public order trumps personal moral preferences.

P.S. I read your comment again, and maybe you’re saying that when they’re pushed, you think, they abandon “protect life” and go for “innocent/guilty.” But are they really abandoning that, I wonder? Maybe they think they’re doing something like giving reasons for “protect life.” If they’re pushed further, they sometimes start adding qualifications to the argument, changing the definition of “life” (say, to something non-materialistic), and so on.

394

Plume 10.05.14 at 4:35 pm

John,

Very true. And I don’t believe that is the case. There are definitely non-insane ideas about guilt and innocence. But wouldn’t you admit that the bible isn’t the place to find them? There is much too much insanity depicted there, and waaay too much Do as I say, not as I do.

Yahweh commits genocide against the City on the Plain, basically, because the rather vague story says that two angels may have been “compromised.” But prior to that, Lot tries to offer up his own daughters to the angels for sex, and Yahweh apparently has no problem with that. Then Lot and his wife escape, but because she looks back on the horror of the genocide, Yahweh kills her. For looking back.

(The Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice seems to make more sense along those lines. If memory serves, he’s warned not to look back lest Eurydice won’t be able to leave Hades. He can’t help himself, and she fades back into the depths).

I don’t know. I’m just not seeing much in the way of logical standards anywhere in play. Not in much of our laws and certainly not in the bible. It’s actually quite depressing, IMO.

395

John Holbo 10.05.14 at 4:36 pm

“But can’t they be assholes and hypocrites at the same time?”

Assuredly, yes. (I think so.) Here’s the thing. When you hear pro-life plus pro-death penalty, you think: US conservative Republican-type. But that’s just because you are in a culture in which those attitudes are very strong markers of tribal identity. Someone tells you that’s what they think, they are telling you who they ARE, what their tribe is. They are asking whether you are one of US or one of THEM. You are, as it so happens, one of THEM. (Good for you!) Step back from that. Quite apart from the logical ease of conjoining these typically US Republican-conservative attitudes non-hypocritically (innocence different from guilt!) it’s easy to imagine cultures which hold fetuses profoundly sacred, and punish some crimes with death, that don’t look much like contemporary Republicans. This is not – as Rich may try to tell me again – some very abstract point. It’s an important anthropological consideration. If Republicans are assholes and hypocrites, it is not because there is no way they could hold this pair of attitudes without being that.

396

John Holbo 10.05.14 at 4:38 pm

Again, my comment crossed Plume’s. I’m off to bed. Non-participation by me for several hours not to be construed as a gesture of disdain.

397

Harold 10.05.14 at 4:39 pm

As I understand it, abortion after the first trimester was not condemned by the Catholic Church until the 19th century. The role of the sperm and the egg was not understood until almost the twentieth century (the male sperm was considered the main agent in conception with the woman’s blood just contributing raw material for it to work on; the fact that females contributed eggs was unknown). On the other hand, all sects and religions have condemned contraception, as leading to promiscuity, until the twentieth.

398

Ze Kraggash 10.05.14 at 4:41 pm

“accepting their form of “logic”.”

It’s present in everyone’s logic. It’s a human thing. I think dualism probably precedes religion, and it’s not left or right.

399

Plume 10.05.14 at 4:52 pm

But dualism isn’t the issue. It’s the opposites you choose that matter. It’s one’s conception of black and white, not that people sometimes see things that way.

If you just accept their pairings, why bother being critical of anything, or using our faculty of judgment at all?

Again, in that case, we should just shut up and say, well, “That’s what they believe. So be it. I can’t argue against that, because that’s the way they see it.”

The obvious objections then kick in (throughout history) and I’ll just bring up one. Slavery. “That’s what they believe. So be it.” Etc.

400

bianca steele 10.05.14 at 4:56 pm

John @ 387: How so?

Because if you start granting people “innocence” because they’re only doing what everyone else does–given that their way of life is basically moral–it’s then more moral to oppose abortion and contraception strenuously, but have abortions yourself (because you didn’t use contraception but also didn’t push hard against nature and male power and so on), than to defend abortion rights. And it’s more moral to engage in physical assault, because you just got really angry, and they weren’t innocent anyway, as long as you do it for “morally correct” reasons.

And that denies their ability to govern themselves and gives them the “gift” of irresponsibility at the price of having to live around violent people who don’t exercise foresight.

And the reverse side of accepting that is believing there are some people who have the responsibility to live differently from everybody else, because public order. But then they consider themselves innocent (like Eichmann) because they’re only doing what the system requires of them.

401

John Holbo 10.05.14 at 5:01 pm

OK, I lied. I’m not gone yet. I asked what the problem with the guilty/innocence opposition was supposed to be. And Bianca said it was the Eichman case. and I said how so and she answers:

“Because if you start granting people “innocence” because they’re only doing what everyone else does”

So now let me restate my question. How does the bare employment of the opposition between guilt and innocence drive us to this sort of Eichman defense position? You seem to be arguing that because you can think of a bad theory of innocence, therefore we should abandon the very notions of guilt and innocence. But wouldn’t that not just be illogical, but in practice encourage precisely what horrifies you in this specific case. If there’s no sense to either the notion of guilt or innocent, then Eichman is off the hook, right? There is no hook. There’s just what people do. Not good. Not bad.

402

John Holbo 10.05.14 at 5:01 pm

Now, to bed.

403

Plume 10.05.14 at 5:11 pm

John,

For tomorrow, when you get up.

I may be misreading you and Bianca, but I don’t think she’s saying there can’t be actual innocence and guilt in this equation. I think she’s protesting against the description of what is considered guilty or innocent in this case, and that some current notions of both aren’t supported by any meaningful standards, logic, etc.

That’s how I see it, too. It’s sort of the “whose morality” question. Who decides. How did they get there. What is the basis for their designation. Upon whose authority, etc. etc.

This, of course, can spin out of control, too. Especially for those of us who don’t believe in any “higher power.” I just want a much broader set of inputs in play. That may be weak tea, but to me it’s the best we can do. As fully “democratic” a notion of morality and immorality as possible, including all the people excluded from the discussion through time. To me, it’s always been a tragedy to limit that to certain religious authorities or any ruling class. Actual, living, breathing democratic, holistic, widespread participation is needed in matters of guilt and innocence.

We have really never had that.

404

bianca steele 10.05.14 at 5:15 pm

How does the bare employment of the opposition between guilt and innocence drive us to this sort of Eichman defense position? You seem to be arguing that because you can think of a bad theory of innocence, therefore we should abandon the very notions of guilt and innocence.

I think that, in fact, when the question of guilt and innocence is raised in abortion debates, a significant number of the people on the anti-abortion side think in those terms. Especially when issues like “protecting the health of women,” who are supposedly endangered by doing this unacceptable and terrible-to-contemplate thing, also get raised. Or in situations like the one Rich cited @337 (which bothered me a little because I’ve had friends who would have found it difficult not to start babbling about believing they were murderers at that point).

So I think when someone like BB starts accusing opponents of pretending not to understand that we treat the innocent and the guilty differently, we should wonder if he’s raising this idea of innocence/guilt.

And believing guilt is possible doesn’t mean anything like that it’s okay to kill guilty people but innocent people are sacred and should be protected at all costs. In fact, I don’t see what relevance innocent/guilty has outside a person’s being judged in a courtroom for a specific crime. You can’t just say all who’ve never committed crimes (or sins) are Innocent, and all who’ve committed at least one crime (or sin) is Guilty, and now they’re two different kinds of person. (And how is KW getting off with any kind of idea like this, or BB with attributing it to him, anyway, on sheerly biological grounds?)

So (without going back and editing the above), I don’t think a concept of “Guilty Person” or “Innocent Person” is meaningful. We can say a shoplifter is “guilty,” meaning “guilty of shoplifting,” without having to decide whether she is essentially Guilty or essentially Innocent. (To use my understanding of Jewish belief, incidentally, we have to start from the idea that every person has both a good impulse and an evil impulse, which shifts things a little.)

405

bianca steele 10.05.14 at 5:30 pm

Plume @ 403,

Not to be rude, but I don’t understand what you’re trying to say. Feel free to explain it to me, instead of trying to explain me to John.

406

William Timberman 10.05.14 at 5:33 pm

Guilt and innocence. The debate so far seems perfectly reasonable, if a bit dull. And yet….

I’m reminded of the tumult in previous CT threads over deontological and consequentialist theories of how one determines what’s right and wrong, what’s just and unjust. Here, it seems to me, is the perfect ground zero for such conflicts. As troll/not troll Brett Bellmore observes, if we truly grasp what abortion requires in all except the very earliest interventions, we can’t avoid some serious reflection vis $agrave; vis the consistency of our judgments about the sacredness/fundamental inviolability of human life.

It’s tempting to take the Roman view — which is to say a cold-bloodedly pragmatic one: if forbidding abortion confirms a temptation to treat women as chattel, we ought to be wary of it. However desperately society-in-general wishes to counsel a pregnant woman about what’s really at issue in terminating her pregnancy, it should not, in the end, forbid her anything. Otherwise, the rest of us — male as well as female — might find that our own lives are even less ours to dispose of as we see fit than we’d imagined. In this view, which I admit I generally share, laws which favor one person’s squeamishness over another’s necessity are a corrupting influence on the law itself, and ought to be avoided wherever possible.

407

Luke 10.05.14 at 5:55 pm

@366
At the risk of further derailing the thread with the picking of obvious nits: Brett, do you realise you just made the argument that private property is murder?

408

Rich Puchalsky 10.05.14 at 6:07 pm

“How so? I mean: how am I cooperating with him? (Just out of curiosity. We’ve come this far.)”

Don’t you have a degree in analytic philosophy, or something like that? Why do you write in this style if you can’t decode it yourself when other people write that way?

KW claimed that he was influenced by Gandhi and by a consistently pro-life ethic. He didn’t have to do that. He could have just wrote that people guilty of murder should suffer the death penalty. *If* he had just wrote that people guilty of murder should suffer the death penalty, and that abortion is murder, then he isn’t a hypocrite.

But that’s not what he wrote. He wanted to get the moral cachet of being associated with Gandhi and with a “consistently pro-life ethic”. Well, that ethic demands that he oppose the death penalty, or he is a hypocrite. He can’t say that he is “on the same side of the issue as Gandhi” and also that people who get abortions are murderers and should hang.

And you’re helping him to confuse the issue by persistently failing to understand an obvious point, and therefore saying he’s not a hypocrite. Did you actually read the article that you linked to?

You say that you don’t want to really analyze what he’s saying because he’s trolling: you just want to pick out this one amusing bit of argumentative fallacy in the middle. And that’s a mistake. As I’ve said X times, you should either treat this seriously or ignore it.

409

jake the antisoshul shoshulist 10.05.14 at 6:17 pm

Wouldn’t Augustine of Hippo would say that none of us are innocent. Original sin and all that.
Which would make even a zygote guilty, or at least not innocent of the original sin.

There are three figures in Western Thought, that I find particularly morally loathesome: Plato, arguably the least bad: Saul of Tarsus and Augustine of Hippo.

410

mattski 10.05.14 at 6:21 pm

A nine month pregnancy which begins with a zygote and ends with a newborn is the quintessential “gray area.” It’s an area where black-and-white rules are difficult to apply. And acceptance of a degree of ambiguity, I think, tends to make us better people. Granted, many folks aren’t big fans of ambiguity.

I find the Dalai Lama’s words helpful:

Of course,
abortion, from a Buddhist viewpoint, is an act of killing and is negative,
generally speaking. But it depends on the circumstances. If the unborn child
will be retarded or if the birth will create serious problems for the
parent, these are cases where there can be an exception. I think abortion
should be approved or disapproved according to each circumstance.

Source.

411

J Thomas 10.05.14 at 6:22 pm

#372

On the other hand, we’ve got you suggesting that a woman who’s late (and may feel pregnant) on Friday should wait until Monday before she starts worrying about it.

No, I’m saying that there was once a time when it was perhaps useful to women to have a certain Shroedinger’s-cat time. She might be pregnant, and her boyfriend(‘)s reaction are (is) not faked — it feels real to everybody. We’ve lost that when he can say “Get tested right away and then we’ll know for sure”.

Reasonably-reliable, quick tests that were not available at home or on weekends. That’s lost us something though of course we’ve gained other valuable things.

#383

J Thomas @369 “*her* birth control has failed”? Not “our birthcontrol”?

One of the things we’ve gained is reliable paternity testing. A man can be held legally liable for his own children even if he doesn’t want to. Before we had that, the more of a cad he was the more it was her problem. Given that some men lied to women, she didn’t find out how bad a problem she had until the situation arose.

I don’t see why men who don’t want children don’t just get vasectomies instead of just playing elaborate games. It would save everyone a lot of money and trouble.

I have known several men who did that, usually after they were faced with a scare that they might be held responsible for child support. Whether they won or lost in court, they tended to get interested in vasectomy after they seriously faced the possibility once. I expect this is an even more appealing prospect with the belief in vasectomies that are usually reversible. There was a time when people thought most vasectomies were not reversible, and later that there was some chance to get them reversed but not reliably.

Then there is the question of why why some men feel a need to “play games” in order to have sex. Don’t women enjoy sex just as much as men — when they find their partner appealing?

It was definitely a social thing. Try a sociobiological view of that game. A man who married and gave his paychecks to his wife, might have two or three children, probably not more. But a man who showed a good time to a series of women might “win” by getting six or ten of them pregnant, leaving them each to raise his children on their own. He might bring in less money than the good provider and yet have more children, plus he could brag about having sex with a lot of women. Obviously he was better off in that sense if abortion was not allowed. If the women wanted to stay out of utter poverty they needed to stop at one, so their own reproductive success was threatened, but it was a win for him.

Nowadays it’s somewhat different. Relaxed divorce laws let men leave their wives with children to raise. Child support laws are somewhat effective at forcing the men to provide money, but the last time I checked, the men could with-hold payment and the legal fees took as much as a third of the payments that were extracted late. Women face a deep necessity to be employable and employed, and single mothers with children put up with working conditions that would get anyone less desperate to quit. Legal abortion keeps those women on the job at times when a requirement that they carry pregnancies to term would temporarily remove them from the workforce.

To me it looks like two steps forward and one step back.

You prefer the old days. In those days, you went to the doctor for the first time at three or four weeks (a week or two late). You got a urine test, which sometimes gets false negatives. ….

That’s farther back than I preferred. Anyway, I don’t say those times were better. I say we’ve lost some things along with the gains.

412

ZM 10.05.14 at 6:32 pm

I have not seen anyone try to integrate the idea that we do not have obligations to a foetus in utero with the idea we must have obligations to the young and to as yet physically unconceived future generations with regard to climate change and sustainability.

Are the two reconcilable ?

I can not think of an abstract moral way of reconciling them in terms of principles and logic relationships.

But, if you move away from abstract moral principles and logical deductions – since we have such extensive medical knowledge and healthcare now , and because also contraception fails – then if abortions were outlawed and everyone followed this law we would look at even higher human population growth than we have now – which is not very sustainable. This is a very messy sort of reasoning (maybe if you were inclined to be categorical you could invoke notions of hierarchies of morals?) – and I am fairly sure it is not very good on abstract moral principles , but I guess that is what happens when you upset the normal equilibrium of births and deaths to such an extent by developing advanced healthcare. I have read even Amish people often use healthcare now – and their populations have grown so they cannot just work in Amish communities but have to go and work with the English in non-Amish occupations where they have to go against their Amish morals by using technology invented after zips , or else they are fired.

413

Plume 10.05.14 at 6:59 pm

Bianca,

I was agreeing with you, or at least what I thought you had said. And I thought that John might be misreading you, so I added my interpretation. Apologies if that bothered you.

414

Plume 10.05.14 at 7:02 pm

Mattski,

Thanks for the Dalai Lama quote. I respect and admire the guy greatly. A Buddhist Marxist. To me, that’s a wonderful combination.

I need to return to my Zen practice after letting it lapse for way too long. In so many ways, I diverge from the Eightfold Path when I post online . . .

415

Rich Puchalsky 10.05.14 at 7:23 pm

“Thanks for the Dalai Lama quote. I respect and admire the guy greatly. “

So you’re not pro-choice, Plume? Geez, slap some religious babble on “I think abortion
should be approved or disapproved according to each circumstance” and all of a sudden you’re agreeing that “If the unborn child will be retarded or if the birth will create serious problems for the parent, these are cases where there can be an exception” but presumably otherwise not.

416

William Berry 10.05.14 at 7:48 pm

ZM @412

“I have not seen anyone try to integrate the idea that we do not have obligations to a foetus in utero with the idea we must have obligations to the young and to as yet physically unconceived future generations with regard to climate change and sustainability.

Are the two reconcilable ?”

Yes.

The presumed aborted will not be born.

Future children who are not aborted will, presumably, actually be born, and will, therefore, have actual lives in an actual world.

Actual children in an actual future are what we call “posterity”.

417

William Berry 10.05.14 at 7:50 pm

I definitely closed the italics after “reconcilable”. WTF?

418

JanieM 10.05.14 at 7:54 pm

I definitely closed the italics after “reconcilable”. WTF?

On CT you have to use a pair of open and close tags for each paragraph.

419

J Thomas 10.05.14 at 8:09 pm

#412

I have not seen anyone try to integrate the idea that we do not have obligations to a foetus in utero with the idea we must have obligations to the young and to as yet physically unconceived future generations with regard to climate change and sustainability.

Are the two reconcilable ?

Sure. I want humanity to continue. To the extent possible, I want humanity to have expanding choices, and not be stuck in small populations that lose a little more technology each generation.

Sharing responsibility that humanity continue, is different from being responsible to every individual fetus.

It’s like the difference between wanting baseball to continue to be played, versus being responsible for every individual baseball fan who gets mugged in the parking lot. if there’s too much of that then fans will stay away, and gate receipts will be down, and that’s kind of bad for the game. But it isn’t your responsibility to make sure it never happens.

420

Lynne 10.05.14 at 8:15 pm

JanieM, I got excited seeing you had commented on this thread but alas, it turned out, about italics only.

421

Brett Bellmore 10.05.14 at 8:20 pm

“The taking of a life is the taking of a life.”

And a bank transaction is a bank transaction, but we still distinguish between bank robbers or embezzlers, and depositors making a routine withdrawal.

422

Plume 10.05.14 at 8:23 pm

Brett,

Please put your cards on the table. All of them. Do you think that the state should kill a woman who elects to have an abortion? Or the doctor who performs it?

And:

Do you think a private citizen is justified in killing a woman who elects to have an abortion, or the doctor who performs it?

Please avoid hedging.

423

ZM 10.05.14 at 8:43 pm

William Berry,

“The presumed aborted will not be born.

Future children who are not aborted will, presumably, actually be born, and will, therefore, have actual lives in an actual world.”

But – You have put your actuals around in the wrong way I notice. The foetus is actually alive – whereas the future generations are only in our minds as we conceive of them in thought and do not actually exist.

As I follow it the main argument seems to go – since the conceived foetus is not yet at a biological state to survive outside the mother’s womb we are not obligated to have any moral consideration for it .

But – future generations are not yet even conceived at all – their very conception is dependent on the parents conceiving them, so then even if they will be conceived there still would – logically-consistently – not be any obligations to them until they are further developed than the foetuses above.

So – I do not think yours is a very logical argument –

1. The early term foetus is very dependent
2. We do not have obligations to very dependent things
3. The future generations are not yet conceived
4. We are obligated to the future generations because they could conceivably one day be alive
4b. The foetus is already alive – and so it is more actually alive than the envisioned future generations
5. We are more obligated to the envisioned future generations than we are to the actual foetus
5b. But this seems illogical – if we are not obligated to the actual foetus how can we be obligated to the envisioned future generations?
6. Because : This is called posterity and applies only to envisioned future generations and not to actual foetuses
6b. This seems very arbitrary sort of moral logic – I will check the meaning of ‘posterity’ since your argument seems to rest on it (without any logical steps and newly introduced moral premises)

‘Posterity ‘ – the earliest example is by John of Trevisa who translated Higden’s Polychronicon which is an early English history book – so it enters English in the 14thC and means the descendants of a person ” Þe monk asked of þe posterite of Edward and of þe successours of reignynge.” in the 16th C it gets an additional meaning in mass noun “He gert..All þe art of musik write, Sua þat it mycht haldin be Vnfaillȝeand in posterite.” And in count. noun (I don’t know what count. means) ” His name shal remayne vnder the sonne amonge the posterites, which shal be blessed thorow him.”

6c. I do not think posterity does the work you want it to do in your logical arguement after my brief look – if we have an obligation to posterity then I can’t see a reason why the foetus is not entitled to it the obligation to posterity as much as the not yet conceived but envisioned future generations.
6d. But the population would grow too much if abortions were outlawed – so then it is back to messy reasoning without moral principals and logic – due to the invention and use of advanced healthcare before contraception is reliable and people understand that too big a human population is unsustainable.

424

JanieM 10.05.14 at 8:48 pm

Lynne, thanks for the kind words and also for your efforts in this conversation.

For me, it’s hard to say only a little (esp. on a thread like this), and I don’t have time, nor probably energy, to say more than a little.

425

Brett Bellmore 10.05.14 at 8:59 pm

“Do you think that the state should kill a woman who elects to have an abortion? Or the doctor who performs it?”

No, or yes, depending on the circumstances and state of development. I realize that this won’t satisfy you, but there you are: If the infant is already viable, abortion isn’t a decision to stop being pregnant, it’s a decision to kill a baby.

And infanticide is among the worst of crimes.

426

Rich Puchalsky 10.05.14 at 9:01 pm

bianca steele: “Rich @ 371: The thing is, though, it’s also possible, from a religious point of view, to feel really, really bad about what a terrible thing a woman who has an abortion feels she had to do, while at the same time being really serious about feeling charitable about it. It’s not hypocrisy, exactly.””

Yes, but… Let me go all the way back to KW’s claim that he’s on the same side of this issue as Gandhi, since I think people may be more familiar with Gandhi than with the “seamless garment” concept. Gandhi was against abortions, and KW is against abortions. Does that mean that they are “on the same side of this issue”? No, not in any meaningful way. Because Gandhi was against all kinds of acts that he saw as violence, he opposed abortion as one of them. Needless to say, KW does not categorically oppose violence in this way, because he’s fine with acts of violence such as hanging murderers. They arguably come out in favor of the same narrowly drawn policy prescription (“no abortions”), but Gandhi would be just as opposed to execution for abortion as he would be to abortion itself. (Perhaps more so, I’m not sure. I remember that Gandhi’s sons opposed the execution of the man who killed Gandhi because they said that Gandhi would not have wanted him to be executed). Since part of KW’s policy prescription is “no abortions, or we execute you” then no, he and Gandhi are not on the same side.

This really doesn’t have much to do with the hypocrisy of ordinary people, or whether it’s prevalent to hold a moral view that the guilty should be punished. It has to do with what agreeing with Gandhi means. It doesn’t matter if lots of people believe that legality makes violence more acceptable, or that the guilty should be punished, or have conflicting feelings about disliking sins and being charitable about forgiving sinners. If you want to say that you agree with Gandhi or Gandhi agrees with you, your next sentence can not be “String up women who have abortions”.

427

Lynne 10.05.14 at 9:02 pm

JanieM, sadly, my efforts here were more than usually inarticulate, but thank you. Understood, about the time and especially energy full involvement in this thread would take.

428

William Berry 10.05.14 at 9:13 pm

ZM @423

A lot of words. Didn’t bother to read the whole thing, as I am not interested in getting into a debate with a logorrheic “logician”.

Anyway, I see what you’re doing.

It’s called begging the question. Or, perhaps taking KW’s premise at face value. Either way, I’m not interested.

BTW, the English spelling is “fetus”.

429

Val 10.05.14 at 9:17 pm

ZM @423
There is a problem with whom you imagine to be doing the thinking. It is fine for us, collectively (your “we”) to think about an imagined future and imagined future generations. However when it comes to abortion, it is an individual woman whose body and life are being affected. That is why it is up to her to make the decision. The decision is not up to “us” to make. You can’t apply the same reasoning to the two situations.

Of course we, collectively, can do a lot about the kind of society in which she makes those decisions. Personally, I support the views that Rich Puchalsky (and others) have expressed here. I believe that if we want to make a decent society for women to live in, it is important to condemn the views of people like Kevin Williamson and to be very clear about it. I think analysing his arguments, without clearly condemning his statement that women who have abortions should be hanged, is morally very murky. The statement that women who have abortions should be hanged is not a minor point, it is the key point that needs to be addressed. The rest of his stuff is rationalisation.

430

ZM 10.05.14 at 9:46 pm

William Berry,

I said already I could not think of a logical moral principles way to reconcile the two conclusions – just unfortunate messy reasoning due to advances in healthcare meaning the population keeps growing , and is projected to still keep growing despite our inaction on climate change and other sustainability issues – which shows not many people care all that much about posterity these days – so as well as not being logical your posterity argument is moot as far as popular morality goes at the moment as well.

Val,
Of course I think it contemptible that he states women who have abortions should be hanged and Brett Bellmore should be thoroughly ashamed of himself as well, and I would not argue that abortion should be outlawed. But I think more for the messy health advances and population growth reasons than a woman’s body and life reasons. And I think it does present a difficulty in the moral principles area particularly with regard to future generations. As you would know it is very prominent in public discourse that we should not have to make undesired changes to our lifestyles – such as changing over energy infrastructure, or giving up animal product eating or air travel or too much motoring or extravagant consumption or artificial fertilisers, etc for the sake of unborn future generations. I think this is very similar to arguments why couples should not have to follow through with a pregnancy if it will have unwanted effects on their lifestyles or desired future path. I doubt that the similarity is a coincidence – it seems to me quite difficult to argue moral obligations to future generations if the individual’s body and life argument is the chosen morality. William Berry’s argument of moral obligations to posterity (descendants/future generations) is not at the forefront of our culture’s teachings to the young or to anyone else.

431

Layman 10.05.14 at 9:47 pm

“And a bank transaction is a bank transaction, but we still distinguish between bank robbers or embezzlers, and depositors making a routine withdrawal.”

Probably because robbing a bank isn’t a bank transaction. Pfui!

432

Plume 10.05.14 at 9:54 pm

Williamson is an idiot. What he calls for is disgusting. I don’t think we have to dance around that. It’s okay to just come out and say it. He did. Fight fire with fire.

Next: Women get to choose. That should be the underlying foundation for all of this. It’s their body, their choice. All the way through the pregnancy. Forcing them to continue their pregnancy, or to give birth, is barbaric. Flat out. It’s barbaric.

And I say that while believing that we should do everything we can to reduce or eliminate abortions to the extent possible. Preventing unwanted pregnancies in the first place is the best way to reduce abortions, and anyone who is against abortions should hop on the old contraception train.

The state shouldn’t have a role in this. It’s between the woman and her doctor. And guys should be equal partners in the business of preventing unwanted pregnancies. The onus shouldn’t be on the woman.

In general, America is ab0ut a century behind on this topic, and I think that’s because far too many Americans are in the thrall of a barbaric interpretation of a potentially barbaric religion. If taken literally, the texts from 2000 years and more ago are barbaric in so many ways. If we leave them unfiltered and believe in them literally, there is no escape from barbarism. The antidote is in not taking them literally, and not staying in their time or context. Too many Americans won’t take the antidote.

433

Lynne 10.05.14 at 10:03 pm

ZM, you seem to be slipping back and forth between what should be legal and what you consider moral (which reasons are good enough for a woman to have an abortion.) As far as I’m concerned, people are entitled to their opinions, but they are not important: what is important is that abortion should be legal and the decision should be the woman’s own. Unless you propose to legislate your opinions?

It often happens when abortion is discussed that these two things are not kept distinct, the ethical and the legal, but to merge them is not helpful, it just ends up sounding like everyone should get a vote when a woman is considering abortion.

434

Val 10.05.14 at 10:04 pm

Actually my last was too brief a summary. There are several points in KW’s position: women should not be allowed to make the decision to have an abortion; if a woman has an abortion she should be punished; death penalty by hanging is an appropriate punishment.

This is the position that deserves condemnation.

(It is appropriate to note that this is being said in a country that is going to war on ISIS, but I don’t want to make that the main point.)

435

Lynne 10.05.14 at 10:04 pm

And it also ends up sounding as though women don’t consider the ethics when they make their decisions.

436

Lynne 10.05.14 at 10:06 pm

Val, I agree with you. Thanks for stepping in. The conversation was sounding quite weird at times, though there are some recurrent sane voices (Rich, Plume—Plume, I’m glad you stuck around this place.)

437

Val 10.05.14 at 11:36 pm

Thanks Lynne and everyone else. Special mention to Rich for sticking to the point.

I love John Holbo’s writing but this did seem weird when I first looked at the post with the early comments. Like watching a strange talk show where KW had just gone on a rant culminating with saying women should be hanged for having abortions, and John Holbo was saying let’s look at the point he made earlier about personhood, and half the audience were saying yes, let’s talk about personhood and DNA and sperm and stuff, and I’m thinking, what?

I can understand people in America getting tired of engaging with people like KW but I think someone (Rich?) suggested earlier in the thread, you either do or you don’t. Anyway enough said, I suppose, I’d better get on with my work.

438

Rich Puchalsky 10.05.14 at 11:59 pm

Thanks to you for writing that, Val, and Lynne as well.

There’s the competing dangers of desensitization (“Oh, 3rd time this week a right winger has called for mass deaths of women, yawn”) and unsustainable outrage (“3rd time this week a right winger called for mass deaths! That’s 3 interventions we need to do!”). The Overton Window moves by making us used to some set of statements as “normal”. But this isn’t “normal” trolling, not now, not from this source. It’s too outrageous and from someone too high-up in the media pyramid.

439

Harold 10.06.14 at 12:19 am

I am not sure infanticide (@425) is among the “worst of crimes”. I don’t believe historically, it has ever been treated as such. Usually, it has been regarded as more of a tragedy than a crime.

As for J Thomas, (441, etc.) I am far from clear as to what he thinks it is a shame to have lost — pregnancy scares as useful lie detectors for outing scoundrels? Or does he think the opportunity for the man to reflect on how he feels about his partner is so “valuable” as to outweigh the negatives involved in the extreme stress and anxiety and hormonal changes for the woman. It is not always so easy to get pregnant when one wants to, and every pregnancy loss is a cause for regret that circumstances were not different.

Incidentally, the only people I know who have had vasectomies have been married men with several children.

440

John Holbo 10.06.14 at 12:24 am

“But that’s not what he wrote. He wanted to get the moral cachet of being associated with Gandhi and with a “consistently pro-life ethic”. Well, that ethic demands that he oppose the death penalty, or he is a hypocrite.”

Oh, I understood that bit of what you were saying. What I don’t understand is how you think that, by dismissing him as I do, I am doomed to encourage people to take him seriously as a Gandhian.

Let’s just work through it.

Gandhi is genuinely admired by many people who are not themselves strict pacifists – including myself. Or Hindus. Or vegetarians. And there is no contradiction or hypocrisy in people who have great moral differences with Gandhi admiring him, and being somewhat inspired by him. Not necessarily anyway. If you pointed out to KW that Gandhi was against the death penalty, KW would just – boringly – say he disagrees with that bit. And also the Hinduism bit. And that is logically fine.

What makes KW’s stance obnoxious is not that he is a bit of a cafeteria cultist, when it comes to shopping for moral heroes – he takes this, leaves that on the shelf. Everyone is that, to a first approximation. What makes KW’s stand so obnoxious is that it is wrong and unserious, not that he is a moral revisionist about Gandhianism.

441

John Holbo 10.06.14 at 12:43 am

“I am not sure infanticide (@425) is among the “worst of crimes”. I don’t believe historically, it has ever been treated as such. Usually, it has been regarded as more of a tragedy than a crime. “

That’s right. More specifically, lots – most? – societies have at least turned a bit of a blind eye to it, as a population control/selection method. Aristotle says it’s distasteful but may need to be allowed. But another Greek orator – can’t remember which one, 3rd century – gives an impassioned argument that it is the most heinous crime. But Greek law never said so. That is, it seems pretty natural for others to have the same sort of mildly schizophrenic split that most of us do. We don’t think an early-stage fetus is a person, but a newborn is almost the most in-need-of-strict-protection person there is. Because it’s so pure and innocent and helpless.

442

ZM 10.06.14 at 1:00 am

Lynne,
“ZM, you seem to be slipping back and forth between what should be legal and what you consider moral (which reasons are good enough for a woman to have an abortion.) As far as I’m concerned, people are entitled to their opinions, but they are not important: what is important is that abortion should be legal and the decision should be the woman’s own. Unless you propose to legislate your opinions?
It often happens when abortion is discussed that these two things are not kept distinct, the ethical and the legal, but to merge them is not helpful, it just ends up sounding like everyone should get a vote when a woman is considering abortion.”

I stated already abortion should not be outlawed because there is already a great number of people and growing, and we are already ruining the climate and causing extinctions and toxicity and soil erosion etc etc through over consumption by many people even though others live in great poverty and are usually the one’s who suffer the greatest environmental burdens – especially with globalisation.

The idea of ethics and law being separate is quite immoral – law is supposed to be for justice which is an ethical idea/personification.

Until such advances in healthcare we did not have the moral problem of abortion because 1. it was very dangerous to have an abortion before advanced healthcare so probably it was quite rare ; and 2. the population only got to such high problematic levels with the event of advanced healthcare .

The issue I specifically raised – which you did not bother to engage with – was how to reconcile not having moral obligations to existing foetuses , with having positive moral obligations to future generations.

At the moment we seem to have reconciled these two things by having decided in practice we have neither obligations to foetuses nor obligations to future generations (despite some motherhood statements about how we so much value posterity (descendants/future generations)).

443

Rich Puchalsky 10.06.14 at 1:05 am

“What I don’t understand is how you think that, by dismissing him as I do, I am doomed to encourage people to take him seriously as a Gandhian.”

But that wasn’t my point. (You will never know what self control it took not to put an exclamation point at the end of that sentence.) Here’s what happened: Brett wrote something, and I inadvisedly made a joke about the “stainless garment” in response. This joke pointed out that KW was being a massive hypocrite about his Gandhiism, but that wasn’t the main point of my comments here. I never wrote or meant anything like “John, if you don’t analyze KW seriously, people will think he’s a Gandhian.” In response you wrote a lot about the moral distinctions between innocence and guilt, and between legal actions and vigilantiism. And I said, fine — but these distinctions would not have been important to Gandhi. So if they are important to someone, that person shouldn’t say they’re inspired by Gandhi, or they’re a hypocrite.

Now, being a hypocrite is not the worst thing in the world. If KW hadn’t called for hanging people, but had been a hypocrite about Gandhi, I would have shrugged. But now that we’ve taken it up, I think that you’re minimizing it the same way you minimized his original Tweets. It’s not that he’s a bit of a cafeteria cultist, or that he’s merely “wrong and unserious”, whatever that means: he’s making a propaganda statement and it’s just as fallacious as the one that you picked out for whatever reason in your original post.

He also said that he’s on the same side of the issue as Susan B. Anthony. Is she one of his moral heroes too? Perhaps he thought that she was right about the coming “epoch of single women”. Can he and Susan B. Anthony meaningfully be described as on the same side? Of course not. Even if she did oppose abortion (which there is significant doubt about) then if she did so, she did so for reasons completely different than his.

444

John Holbo 10.06.14 at 1:07 am

“Like watching a strange talk show where KW had just gone on a rant culminating with saying women should be hanged for having abortions, and John Holbo was saying let’s look at the point he made earlier about personhood, and half the audience were saying yes, let’s talk about personhood and DNA and sperm and stuff, and I’m thinking, what?”

There’s obviously a split here in our sense of what is an effective response. Since you bring up talk shows, let me flip it around. Do you have the same reaction to John Stewart and Stephen Colbert and John Oliver, when they make fun of people, like KW, who are really obnoxious? That is, does the often almost whimsical tone, which focuses on the sheer absurdity of what the crazy people have said, rather than on the human harm it might do, bother you? I tend to think this sort of comedic approach is quite effective. But I can see that it might seem like whistling past the graveyard.

Rich thinks I write like an analytic philosopher. I don’t know why. It doesn’t look that way to me at all. I always think of myself as more of an argumentative comedian at heart. It’s not really a choice. It’s just how I am. But I can see that comedy at a funeral can seem offensive. So is that it?

I think it’s funny to say that KW has made the world’s worst positivist argument, by way of sending a message to Washington NOT to think about Lena Dunham being fat and gross. Moreover, I think when you see that it’s funny because it’s true, you see something important about how politics goes. But maybe that joke seems in bad taste, in a world where women’s rights really are under threat. Is that really the bottom line right there?

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John Holbo 10.06.14 at 1:09 am

“I never wrote or meant anything like “John, if you don’t analyze KW seriously, people will think he’s a Gandhian.””

Oh, ok, I actually thought you meant that. I thought it was very strange.

446

Rich Puchalsky 10.06.14 at 1:31 am

“Oh, ok, I actually thought you meant that. I thought it was very strange.”

What I wrote was this:
“And you’re helping him to confuse the issue by persistently failing to understand an obvious point, and therefore saying he’s not a hypocrite.”

Which is to say that now that we’re discussing it, I expected you to write “Of course he’s a hypocrite about Gandhiism, no one can meaningfully say they’re influenced by Gandhi and then say that women who have abortions should be executed.” But you didn’t say that, and aren’t saying that — you seemed to be going into something about “there is no contradiction or hypocrisy in people who have great moral differences with Gandhi admiring him”. Really? They can say, without contradiction or hypocrisy, “I admire Gandhi — and I want millions of people to die”?

That seems to me to be muddling up the issue well enough so that you’d be inadvertently helping to excuse KW, yes, if anyone was actually reading this.

447

Val 10.06.14 at 2:02 am

John Holbo @ 444
“But maybe that joke seems in bad taste, in a world where women’s rights really are under threat. Is that really the bottom line right there?”

I think that is partly it, and the other part is the death threat (which you seem to not mention enough somehow), and also (for non-Americans) the double whammy of thinking, they really have the death penalty, so it’s not just rhetoric (which would be awful enough, but that makes it even more awful).

But also part of my bewilderment comes from a lack of cultural context. I know a bit about the American cultural context but I don’t regularly watch any of the shows you mention. I just did a quick google and found some commentary on Williamson, but none of the outrage that I imagine would happen here, with actual consequences for the man (eg being forced to apologise, advertisers withdrawing from the publication etc). (And of course it couldn’t really happen in the same way here because we don’t have the death penalty.)

In a way that lack of cultural context should perhaps lead to me not commenting, but in another way it makes me feel as if I should comment – similarly in your healthcare debates – to say ‘hey people this stuff isn’t normal you know’. Especially when I see left wingers in America trying to counter this kind of stuff. I don’t know in fact whether referring to what happens outside America would be helpful in countering far right rhetoric, it might be unhelpful, but it still can create the impulse to jump in I guess.

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John Holbo 10.06.14 at 2:05 am

Rich, if Hitler or Stalin said they greatly admired Gandhi, I would happily say that’s totally insane. It’s so crazy that it goes way beyond hypocrisy.

If Martin Luther King said he greatly admired Gandhi – which he did, I think – I wouldn’t say he’s a hypocrite, just because he’s not a Hindu. I think Martin Luther King ate meat, which Gandhi would have abhorred. But I don’t think that makes Martin Luther King a hypocrite.

If it makes you feel better, I put KW at the hypothetical Hitler-and-Stalin-as-Gandhians end of the line, in that it obviously makes no real moral sense for him to be identifying with Gandhi. But I don’t think that makes KW a hypocrite. When a kid is told he can’t stay out too late on the weekend and he says ‘I’m going to go on hunger strike, like Gandhi!’ the kid isn’t a hypocrite. Just kind of immature.

“That seems to me to be muddling up the issue well enough so that you’d be inadvertently helping to excuse KW”

Look, you are the one letting Brett Bellmore score a valid point in my thread, which I count as muddling up the issue. (I’d prefer him to be held scoreless in future, thanks much.) More seriously: I just don’t see how saying KW is using his NR platform to spout immature nonsense amounts to excusing him.

I think it really comes down to this: you think he’s totally 100% serious about this stuff. He really wants to turn John Brown, and he would tomorrow. I honestly don’t believe that. I think what he wants to do, mostly, is express cultural contempt for the likes of Lena Dunham.

So I’m not excusing him for turning John Brown. I just don’t actually believe he wants to do it. Even though, yes, he said it. Lots of mentally undisciplined, angry people say crazy stuff all the time. It’s important to distinguish, as best you can, between the ones who say stuff because they really mean exactly what they say, and the ones who say crazy stuff because actually they mean something totally different from what they say. I put KW in the latter camp.

And now you say: prove that he didn’t mean it! And I can’t. All I have on my side is common sense, which can lead one astray, I admit it. If people really meant this stuff, there would be way more violence in the street tomorrow – yesterday, even. But maybe tomorrow there will be mass murder of women in the streets. If so, I was terribly wrong to downplay the risk. What we really have is culture war, and a constant reaching for ways of expressing contempt for the other side. He does it. I do it, too. But I try to do it in an intellectually rigorous way. I try not to say I believe stuff that actually I obviously don’t, just to express my anger or frustration at the other side. I try not to say that other people believe stuff that obviously they don’t, just so I can paint them in dark colors, corresponding to the frustration I feel at their permanent obnoxiousness.

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Val 10.06.14 at 2:17 am

And I think on reflection it is probably Ok and not off topic to talk about the political implications a bit. We (Australia) are going to war with ISIS because we are an American ally, and also supposedly because ISIS are murderous patriarchal fascists (I mean they are, I accept that, but that’s not the real or main reason we are going to war with them).

And then when I see that in America, a patriarchal fascist like Kevin Williamson is allowed to call for the murder of women for having abortions (because in my cultural reference points it actually is calling for murder to call for women to be hanged), and nothing much seems to happen to him, it really gives me pause for thought. I’m opposed to the war anyway, and I already question the alliance (or the extent of it), but this really makes me question both even more.

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Val 10.06.14 at 2:20 am

John Holbo @ 448
sorry my last comment crossed with yours where you are saying you think KW doesn’t actually mean it when he calls for hanging – which would make a difference to my response but not probably a huge difference.

451

Rich Puchalsky 10.06.14 at 2:21 am

Val: “I just did a quick google and found some commentary on Williamson, but none of the outrage that I imagine would happen here, with actual consequences for the man (eg being forced to apologise, advertisers withdrawing from the publication etc). “

This part doesn’t surprise me, but it annoys me. Val, since you’ve been reading here you’ve probably seen the Salaita episode. People were offended by tweets, they took action and got a professor “unhired”. That was, I think, the wrong thing to do, and may well backfire on the institution that did it and the movement that caused it, but it represented political power. Why is nothing of the sort going to happen to Williamson?

It’s not because we’re principled, it’s because we don’t have the power to do it. Sure, people will say something stirring about free speech, but it’s as if the neo-Nazis were going to march through Skokie (to allude to another U.S. incident) and instead of saying “They’re horrible people, but we have to defend their right to march” we said “Oh, they’re trolling. They just want attention, and they aren’t serious, they just have a psychological distaste for modernity.” Which is all very well, but what it really means is that we have no idea of how we would even approach the police department and have the march stopped even if we wanted to.

There have been successful boycotts of advertisers for e.g. Rush Limbaugh. They work because he’s on a medium that actually needs advertisers. The National Review stays afloat from donations from rich people. And the right wing is too shameless to be ashamed by any of this.

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Helen 10.06.14 at 3:36 am

“You could say the same of people who rape and murder”

Oh Brett. I truly, truly wish rapists were as rare as people who choose late pregnancy abortions for kicks and giggles.

Uh, no. People who choose late pregnancy abortions “for kicks and giggles” are non-existent. Now there may be one person somewhere in the world who can be dragged forth as an example, but for all intents and purposes, frivolous late term abortions are not a thing.
That statement by Williamson that “we put one in five [foetuses] to death for such excellent reasons as the desire to fit nicely into a prom dress” is popular myth (try “finishing school”, “not becoming homeless”, “being able to work” and so on), and the idea that women would choose to have a third trimester abortion for such reasons is just infantile fantasy. If anyone here is tempted to believe this, just think it through. Your concern for your abs and Jimmy Choos is overriding, yet you wait until you are irretrievably stretched and puffy for… for what reason?
It just doesn’t happen and the popular myth is a slap in the face to anyone who requires a third trimester abortion, for which the reasons are never happy.

453

The Happy Warrior 10.06.14 at 3:40 am

I’ll bite.

I’m one of those rare creatures known as the “pro-life liberal”. I adhere to the strictest of pro-life views-namely that the fetus should be accorded at least some protections from the point of conception. At the same time, I do not necessarily think the fetus at conception is equally to a full person; instead I think the approach should be similar to the way we treat the higher beasts with regards to laws against animal cruelty. That said, it seems clear to me that past the start of brain wave activity and at the very least viability, abortion should be treated as equivalent to infanticide under criminal law. Unlike most of the conservative “pro-lifers” I’m all for any sort of measure that reduces the cause of abortions or makes it easier for mothers to support their children including expanding access to contraception, parental leave laws, free daycare, and so forth. Finally, I’d be fine with abortion laws resembling those of Germany which would restrict abortion to its early stages even if it means the public funding of these abortions.

Val@ 449:

Kevin D Williamson and ISIS are not morally equitable unless Mr. Williamson has been doing some beheadings the public has not been aware of. While his views are certainly highly objectionable to say the least, American civil liberty laws generally permit free speech to all. I’m all for stopping and punishing anti-abortion terrorists, just as I believe ISIS should be utterly annihilated.

454

Val 10.06.14 at 3:41 am

Oh thanks Rich, I didn’t realise that about Nation Review (lack cultural context again), that’s interesting – and depressing. Shows again how inequality can distort the polity.

Yes I have been following the Salaita affair and I’m sure it would have influenced my reaction in this case – disproportionate punishment to him followed by apparently nothing to Williamson.

455

Rich Puchalsky 10.06.14 at 4:35 am

“I think it really comes down to this: you think he’s totally 100% serious about this stuff. He really wants to turn John Brown, and he would tomorrow. I honestly don’t believe that.”

I think that’s really overstating what I think. I have no idea how serious he is. But there are well-documented causal paths between him making his statement and real harm coming to people:

1. Dave Niewert’s “transmission belt”: eliminationist statements go from the fringe to the mainstream and radicalize it. Williamson may not be serious, but the right as a whole certainly has many people who are serious about radical right politics.

2. At least 8 people have died from disturbed individuals listening to this kind of rhetoric and then actually carrying it out. Williamson need not be serious at all in order for this to happen.

3. These statements shift the Overton Window. What was previously unsayable becomes, yes, a policy proposal. This increases the chance that some kind of punitive regime will be put in place if something changes at the Supreme Court, especially in one of the states.

I don’t see why I have to settle on one of these possible chains of events. They all appear more or less plausible to me: none of them involve KW leading a lynch mob.

456

John Holbo 10.06.14 at 5:54 am

“I don’t see why I have to settle on one of these possible chains of events.”

Well, all of 1-3 are quite consistent with what I have been saying from the start, so take your pick.

“I have no idea how serious he is.”

I don’t see how ‘I have no idea how serious he is’ is anything but abandonment of the thing you have been bonking me over the head with: namely – and I quote – “people here just can’t seem to believe that he’d actually, seriously, do such a thing.” I inferred from that that you thought I should believe that he’s actually serious. If even you don’t believe he is, why are you so determined that I should believe it? Is it just that you think I should act as if he is, even though we have no way of knowing?

If so, I actually have a problem with that. A practical problem. I think that mockery and dismissal – my style – has a better chance of keeping the Overton Window from shifting. Your way seems to me more likely, perversely, to talk people into the more radical stuff. At first they were just shooting their mouths off, but if everyone is going to call them fascists just for shooting their mouths off – fine, why not be fascists?

But it’s very hard to know what rhetorical tactics work and don’t. They all work sometimes and don’t work sometimes. Given that, I like to stick with saying what I actually believe, rather than trying to work the bankshot.

457

Val 10.06.14 at 7:02 am

Happy warrior & John Holbo
Can I ask both of you why do you think that Williamson uses the language of violence, talks about hanging women? What do you think his purpose is?

458

Plume 10.06.14 at 7:14 am

Val,

I know you didn’t ask me. But my take is this. Hate sells really well on the right. It pays to hate. Some of these idiots really mean what they say, but others are just opportunists. They know the right wing base has an insatiable appetite for hate and they feed them as much as possible. Day after day after day. There is no equivalent for this on the left, at least not in America.

I haven’t yet decided whether or not KW is actually filled with hate, or just plays it up to make more money. Either way, what he said is despicable. And potentially dangerous.

459

John Holbo 10.06.14 at 7:35 am

“Can I ask both of you why do you think that Williamson uses the language of violence, talks about hanging women?”

Pretty much people use the language of violence to express anger, contempt. “I could smash their faces!” People say that even if they, in fact, couldn’t smash their faces – because it would be horrible. It’s the easiest amplifier.

It’s a dominance display.

460

John Holbo 10.06.14 at 7:36 am

Obviously I’m assuming that you are asking: given that he isn’t threatening actual violence, as I think he likely isn’t, why the rhetoric of violence?

461

Collin Street 10.06.14 at 8:17 am

I think that mockery and dismissal – my style – has a better chance of keeping the Overton Window from shifting.

True fact: the K in NKVD and KGB stands for кабаре.

462

Ze Kraggash 10.06.14 at 8:27 am

“why do you think that Williamson uses the language of violence”

I can’t read Mr. Williamson’s mind, but one REAL obvious explanation would be that it’s because he and others of the same persuasion feel that abortion itself as an egregious act of violence. I’m surprised this explanation didn’t immediately pop-up into your mind.

463

John Holbo 10.06.14 at 8:45 am

“I can’t read Mr. Williamson’s mind”

Nor my comments! (I infer from your comment.)

464

John Holbo 10.06.14 at 9:39 am

OK, I feel sorry for Ze, so I’ll try to help a bit more than that.

It’s obvious KW is angry. Hence my suggestion that probably you could explain his rhetoric, first, with reference to his anger. You want to know why I won’t even consider that he could be angry about violence! My reply is that anger about violence would tend to be a subset of the overall category of anger.

In fact my view is that it is not plausible that he is primarily angry at violence towards the unborn. I don’t think people who oppose the morning-after pill, for example, are really motivated by the ‘violence’ it does. Those who cast the net of prohibition so widely thereby show that they are responding to something else.

Nevertheless, as my comments upthread make clear I don’t find it unlikely or mysterious that people really do – completely sincerely – regard late-term abortion as murder, and other forms of abortion as disgusting. It’s complicated and it’s often hard to be sure which attitudes are driving which. (Do people become conservative because they hate abortion, or do they hate abortion because doing so is a mark of membership in the conservative tribe? Or both? And the same goes for liberals, in reverse, although I think it’s more common to be a pro-life liberal than a pro-choice conservative these days.)

I think if half of all Americans thought all abortions were murder – just plain murder – so America has had four or five Holocausts since Roe v. Wade (or whatever it is) they would rise up and make it stop. Since they don’t, I infer that they actually have a somewhat more nuanced view of what is going on. Whatever they say to the contrary.

Once you have ruled out that they really believe it is murder (since if they did, they would be acting differently) you have to figure out what they really do object to. Here again, it isn’t crazy to think they are objecting to violence, somewhat. But KW doesn’t seem super squeamish about violence (as others have repeatedly pointed out). Overall I think it’s most reasonable to infer it is a matter of attitudes towards purity and sacredness. An impulse of patriarchal control, and a desire to find reasons to feel contempt for certain classes of women. Also, tribalism.

465

Brett Bellmore 10.06.14 at 9:50 am

“People who choose late pregnancy abortions “for kicks and giggles” are non-existent.”

See, this is why I laugh when liberals start their blather about diversity. You don’t really believe in it. Not when it comes to the way people think, anyway. Non-existent? Really? There are people who split their tongues to look like snakes, but precisely zero people who’d have an abortion for yucks?

And who said anything about “kicks and giggles”? Roe laid out one excuse, and one excuse only, for abortion in the 3rd trimester: Medical necessity. There’s an awful lot of room for reasons less than medical necessity, and greater than “kicks and giggles”. Don’t want another kid, AND don’t want to put the kid up for adoption. Inconvenience. Don’t want somebody to find out they got pregnant. Had a vacation already scheduled, and want to get into bikini shape in time for it. Not every one of Kermit Gosnell’s patients had ectopic pregnancies, you know.

“I am not sure infanticide (@425) is among the “worst of crimes”. I don’t believe historically, it has ever been treated as such. Usually, it has been regarded as more of a tragedy than a crime.”

To coin a phrase, “This isn’t Sparta”. It isn’t ancient Greece, either. It’s modern America, and you’d be hard put to find a crime that pushes people’s buttons more than infanticide. Which is why more than 80% of the public wants abortion illegal in the third trimester. Because they think it’s infanticide by then.

“He really wants to turn John Brown, and he would tomorrow.”

There were a huge number of people, pre Civil war, who wanted slavery illegal, and that meant legal penalties, possibly up to and including execution for egregious cases. Did they all want to turn John Brown? Or did they want this as a legal matter, rather than aspiring to go about extra-judicially killing slave owners?

There are a lot of people on the left who want guns outlawed, and come right out and say that “from my cold dead hands” is alright with them, if that’s what it takes. Should I assume that they’re planning on burning a bunch of children alive, as at Waco, next week? Already have it penciled into their calender?

466

Brett Bellmore 10.06.14 at 10:09 am

“I think if half of all Americans thought all abortions were murder – just plain murder – so America has had four or five Holocausts since Roe v. Wade (or whatever it is) they would rise up and make it stop. Since they don’t, I infer that they actually have a somewhat more nuanced view of what is going on. Whatever they say to the contrary.”

Yes, “nuanced”. Few people think first term abortions are murder, about as few as think driving scissors into the brain of a baby in the birth canal isn’t murder. Both extremes are seriously minority opinions. Both extremes are also in control of the respective lobbies. But public opinion is very much in the middle.

And we’ve got the Roe v Wade rule, that seems to permit the state to prohibit elective late term abortion. Which reassures those who don’t understand that laws against elective late term abortion are, thanks to later court rulings, full of more holes than a piece of good Swiss cheese.

And, of course, we’ve got Roe v Wade, still, despite two generations of Americans voting for politicians who promise to fill the Court with justices who’d overturn it, only to find the politicians were lying. Making it clear that the political system won’t permit that ruling to be overturned short of maybe a revolution, so people who are outraged over abortion concentrate on plugging the holes mentioned above.

And even those who think John Brown was fully justified almost all know that ‘going John Brown’ might be personally satisfying, but is such a PR disaster that sets back the cause, that nobody who really hates abortion ought to do it.

So, yes, there’s nuance all over the place. On both sides. After all, Planned Parenthood might go out of it’s way to site clinics in minority neighborhoods, in keeping with it’s Eugenics movement origins, but they don’t “go John Brown”, either, do they? And Kermit Gosnell might have been fed customers from those clinics, but once exposed, he’s not defended.

But it’s fun pretending that people who oppose you are caricatures, and the left loves that particular vice.

467

John Holbo 10.06.14 at 10:10 am

“There were a huge number of people, pre Civil war, who wanted slavery illegal, and that meant legal penalties, possibly up to and including execution for egregious cases. Did they all want to turn John Brown?”

Brett, since my point was (obviously) to ask whether KW is deemed to be advocating extralegal action, like John Brown’s, or is only – like many abolitionists – advocating a radical legal solution (or – my choice! – mostly thinking about Lena Dunham!) I think I should be charitably credited with understanding that this distinction, which I repeatedly emphasize is a very important distinction, is a distinction.

468

John Holbo 10.06.14 at 10:13 am

“But it’s fun pretending that people who oppose you are caricatures, and the left loves that particular vice.”

Hmmmm. What devastating turn-the-tables maneuver is suggested by this particular set-up? Nah. Can’t think of a thing!

469

John Holbo 10.06.14 at 10:15 am

And on that note, I’m signing off for the night. Got other stuff to do. Behave yourselves!

470

Ze Kraggash 10.06.14 at 10:16 am

John, actually, I was replying to commenter Val. I have no doubt whatsoever that you did entertain the possibility that ‘pro-life’ violent rhetoric and actions are directly related to their attitude towards abortion (plain murder, or aggravated murder, or almost murder – whatever). That’s just too basic a thing to miss. But Val did miss it, apparently.

471

J Thomas 10.06.14 at 10:47 am

#439

As for J Thomas, (441, etc.)

Yours was #439 in my list. Have there been a lot of deleted posts recently?

I am far from clear as to what he thinks it is a shame to have lost — pregnancy scares as useful lie detectors for outing scoundrels?

Yes, and also to get people to notice where they stand, when they might prefer to let things slide. The opportunity for premature pregnancy scares too — that is, serious thought about the possibility when the actual evidence is weak or nonexistent. As opposed to “Let’s run out and get a test right this minute. Oh good, it’s negative. I’m glad we don’t have to worry about that right now. The timing is awkward.”

Or does he think the opportunity for the man to reflect on how he feels about his partner is so “valuable” as to outweigh the negatives involved in the extreme stress and anxiety and hormonal changes for the woman. It is not always so easy to get pregnant when one wants to, and every pregnancy loss is a cause for regret that circumstances were not different.

To the extent that actual contraception works better today, we’re probably better off. It’s probably not good for us when people who aren’t really ready to start families do so by accident. On the other hand in the USA the birthrate has about dropped in half since 1957 and some ethnic groups are below replacement. It might be bad for those ethnic groups that they depend on accidental pregnancies to maintain themselves. A lot of our population growth is through immigration, and immigrant women have a higher birth rate than native, though the rate for immigrant women is dropping fast also.

I don’t think it’s a good idea for us to make the new technology illegal just because some of us haven’t learned to make good choices. Better that we learn to choose well.

As a side issue, I wanted to point out the employment issue. US business needs employees, and with the near-total elimination of subsistence farming, almost everybody needs jobs. The changed laws and customs that made it easier for men to divorce their wives without public contempt and without alimony and with opportunities to skimp on child support, forced women into the marketplace just when feminism was getting publicized as an opportunity for women to sell their services in the marketplace. A third of births are to single mothers. A whole lot of women are being forced into economic peonage. I think it’s a bad thing and I don’t know what to do about it. One of the understated effects of making abortion more difficult is to make more women hostage to the economy, working hard at bad jobs to feed their families.

472

Val 10.06.14 at 11:03 am

Ze Kraggash
Thought you might mean me. As I’ve said a number of times, we don’t have the death penalty here. So the logic of people saying a woman should be hanged because they believe she murdered her foetus doesn’t seem as “basic” to me as it apparently does to you. I don’t actually think that’s why KW suggests it though. I think he wants to make the point that women ought to be punished for acting as if they have autonomy in this area.

If l may add – just on the point of someone ‘murdering’ her foetus – the foetus (or embryo) is not entirely distinct from one’s body until birth. It increasingly feels more distinct, especially as she/he begins to move, but is not entirely. The concept of murder, especially in the first trimester, doesn’t experientially make sense, although I am sure some women may see it that way because of religious belief that tells them that is what it is.

473

Ze Kraggash 10.06.14 at 11:16 am

Val, you asked about “the language of violence”, and I replied to that. And now you want me to defend the ‘pro-life’ doctrine against your doctrine? Obviously you have access to the internet; I’m sure you can find a counter-argument to every one of your arguments, and a counter-argument to every counter-argument, ad infinitum.

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J Thomas 10.06.14 at 11:32 am

#465

Don’t want another kid, AND don’t want to put the kid up for adoption. Inconvenience. Don’t want somebody to find out they got pregnant. Had a vacation already scheduled, and want to get into bikini shape in time for it.

I hate to respond to stupid posts just because they’re so incredibly stupid they leave giant openings. But — somebody who gets a third-trimester abortion because they don’t want somebody to find out they’re pregnant, has missed a clue. Similarly somebody who has had a vacation scheduled for more than 6 months and waits til the last minute to get into bikini shape.

There may be people like this. Eugenics has a bad name just now, but do you really want to force these people to have more children than they otherwise would? Couldn’t we just let them alone, and think of it as evolution in action?

475

Val 10.06.14 at 11:33 am

I didn’t actually ask you, though I didn’t mind you replying. As to the rest of your post, I don’t even know what you’re getting at. I was talking about the experience of being pregnant and how the idea of murdering a being that is part of you doesn’t existentially make a lot of sense. You can argue whatever you wish.

476

Val 10.06.14 at 11:34 am

That was for Ze Kraggash @473 obviously.

477

J Thomas 10.06.14 at 11:37 am

#473

Val, you asked about “the language of violence”, and I replied to that. And now you want me to defend the ‘pro-life’ doctrine against your doctrine?

I think that it’s admirable that you try to understand the ideas and explain them, whether or not you agree.

I think Val is inviting you to say what your own stand on the issue is. Do you have a personal stand? It’s good that you can explain Williamson. Do you agree, or partly agree, or do you think his feelings are understandable but wrong, or what?

478

J Thomas 10.06.14 at 11:40 am

#475

Oops, clearly I was wrong about what you intended with Ze Kraggash. Now it appears you only wanted to state your own position, and were not particularly inviting him to do anything.

I apologize for reading that in.

479

Ronan(rf) 10.06.14 at 11:42 am

Just to say one or two things:

(1) I’m really not getting this ‘causal mechanism’ by which Williamson saying something obnoxious and terrible in a twitter conversation translates into an uptick in pro life terrorism. I think it’s implausible in the extreme, and (as a liberal) an argument that leaves me cold. (hyperbolic speculation is used to shut down speech from the right consistently – ie criticising US FP aids the enemy, every radical Islamic preacher is a security threat etc)
Modern liberal democracies can tolerate hate speech (perhaps not sustained and deep indoctrination) and the best way to counter it is through making better arguments, IMO.
(2) Why would anyone on the left want to adopt the rights tactics vis a vis Salaita? This isnt a sign of the rights ‘power’, but their ineffectiveness, their pettiness, and their pure vindictiveness. IMO (again) attacking individuals (through boycotts etc) is at best politically useless, and more plausibly could be counterproductive. (obv depending on what your goals are)
(3) Afaict this boils down to an aesthetic preference, Holbo favours one type of engagement, Puchalsky another. I don’t see why one is right or wrong, good or bad etc particularly in the context of a blog post and comment section where the stakes arent exactly high.
(4) These conversations are also speaking to a third constituency, those undecided about the issue at hand. Personally I’m pretty ambivalent about certain aspects of the abortion debate(primaily out of ignorance, Id guess), and found some of the first half of the thread (and post) pretty interesting. This isn’t only a conversation between people who know the details and have firm convictions on both sides, but another group who are on the fence and pay less attention to the specifics but have certain, though not set in stone, priors.
I personally think Holbos argument style is better and more convincing than Williamsons, and better than the idea of comparing him to ISIS or trying to shut him down for hate speech. But more than that I really cant see how Holbo engaging him in the manner he has legitimises far right violence, and I’m surprised so many people have seemingly accepted that contention as logical.

Having said that, I do have my scepticisms about arguing endlessly with the disingenous fools of the US right, but thats John H’s business.

480

Brett Bellmore 10.06.14 at 12:36 pm

J, there you go: Doubt about the diversity of human motivation, AND support for abortion as a form of eugenics. Thanks for playing the straight man.

481

Ze Kraggash 10.06.14 at 12:55 pm

“Do you have a personal stand?”

Culturally, the idea of banning abortions (except in the third trimester, perhaps) seems absurd to me. Not as an ideological stand, though. I think I can understand the pro-life side, and their concept, albeit inflexible, seems perfectly rational, and more logical than that of their opponents. I mean, controlling one’s own body? Who, except for independently rich, control their bodies? No one. And why a radical libertarian argument, all of a sudden? The society dictates what we can and can’t do with our bodies; and fetuses lose. Their lobby isn’t powerful enough.

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bianca steele 10.06.14 at 1:06 pm

You have to seriously decide whether KW is willing to go full John Brown, just plain killing lots of women and medical professionals, or whether he is merely advocating changing the laws, to bring about mass executions of women and medical professionals.

The thread has moved on, but are you just replying to Rich, above, or are you connecting it to positivism? I could be persuaded that there’s some kind of connection, though I’m not sure. That is, is the positivism thing interesting because he’s more or less likely to “go John Brown” (kind of a repellent analogy, I think) because he claims to base his ideas on science? (That’s not what I thought you were saying, earlier, I thought you were suggesting it was interesting that, like Goldberg, he was shifting arguments historically found on the left, to the right, maybe indicating the success of the left of getting them into the mainstream?) Or, is it just that he’s less or more likely to “go John Brown” because he spends so much time tweeting hostile things about Lena Dunham?

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Anarcissie 10.06.14 at 1:30 pm

Ze Kraggash 10.06.14 at 12:55 pm @ 481 —
Probably, many people of varying ideologies and cultures besides ‘libertarians’ believe they have the right to control the interior of their bodies (insofar as they can practically). The larger concept is that of privacy, or one of limits on the power of the government or state. It seems like a fairly strong argument to me given the usual liberal axioms.

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Lynne 10.06.14 at 1:31 pm

ZM,

“The idea of ethics and law being separate is quite immoral – law is supposed to be for justice which is an ethical idea/personification.”

Ethics and law should not be entirely separate, of course. But we do not always legislate our ethics and this is one area where we should not beyond saying it is the woman’s decision to make. Which is an ethical stand. I’m sorry I missed that you said abortion should be legal—it’s a long thread now.

“The issue I specifically raised – which you did not bother to engage with – was how to reconcile not having moral obligations to existing foetuses , with having positive moral obligations to future generations.

At the moment we seem to have reconciled these two things by having decided in practice we have neither obligations to foetuses nor obligations to future generations (despite some motherhood statements about how we so much value posterity (descendants/future generations)).”

Yet I don’t understand this. It doesn’t require reconciliation for me. Of course “we” owe the future generations. This obligation fuels much of my dismay over my (Canadian) government inaction over the environment. But as for fetuses, unless they are mine, they are not my business.

I became more firmly pro-choice when I was pregnant with my husband’s and my first (wanted, planned) child.

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mattski 10.06.14 at 1:50 pm

Lots of mentally undisciplined, angry people say crazy stuff all the time. It’s important to distinguish, as best you can, between the ones who say stuff because they really mean exactly what they say, and the ones who say crazy stuff because actually they mean something totally different from what they say.

Wise words.

To which I would add, oftentimes the utterances of angry people don’t signify any settled ‘position’ or meaning, but rather, what they signify is merely an emotional state, i.e., anger, irritation, aversion…

486

Ze Kraggash 10.06.14 at 2:22 pm

@483, but every time you hear ‘I have the right to control my own [whatever], no matter what’, inevitably it’s some libertarian pronouncement (“should the world go to hell, or should I go without my tea? I say, let the world go to hell but I should always have my tea”), inevitably ridiculed by the same people who choose to employ it in this case. It’s remarkably anti-utilitarian.

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Rich Puchalsky 10.06.14 at 2:26 pm

“I don’t see how ‘I have no idea how serious he is’ is anything but abandonment of the thing you have been bonking me over the head with: namely – and I quote – “people here just can’t seem to believe that he’d actually, seriously, do such a thing.” I inferred from that that you thought I should believe that he’s actually serious. If even you don’t believe he is, why are you so determined that I should believe it? Is it just that you think I should act as if he is, even though we have no way of knowing?”

I’ll try another analogy (although my success rate at having you understand these is very poor, so probably I shouldn’t): let’s say that there was a bridge. And you kept saying “That bridge isn’t going to collapse” and I kept saying “We really don’t know whether that bridge is going to collapse”.

I offer as my evidentiary statement that the angry guy who built the bridge put a sign on it saying “This bridge is going to collapse, and I mean that seriously” and I write about past bridge collapses. You say “Oh he’s angry and trolling us, and if angry engineers were really serious about that kind of thing there would be bridges collapsing all over.”

Maybe you’re right and maybe I’m right, but just because you’re arguing”The bridge isn’t going to collapse, he’s trolling” doesn’t mean that I’m saying “I’m 100% sure that that bridge is going to collapse”. It means that I’m saying “Because of the people who’d die if the bridge collapsed, we should treat it as if it has a substantial chance of collapsing and as basically unsafe.”

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Lynne 10.06.14 at 3:20 pm

@486 “but every time you hear ‘I have the right to control my own [whatever]”

To control the interior of one’s own body is just not the same as other things you could insert in those square brackets. It is, as Anarcissie says, a matter of privacy, and of the limits of the state’s power.

That’s why so much of this conversation sounds futile.

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Anarcissie 10.06.14 at 3:54 pm

@486, @488 — Certainly one can start with different axioms about the relation between the community and the individual than those liberals, libertarians, anarchists, etc., are fond of. One can argue that human life occurs in communities, rather than among isolated individuals; instead, the community creates the individuals physically, psychically, and politically. Then if the community creates a state, the natural domain of that state is everything its constituents are, do, or have. (Cf. Mussolini’s ‘Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.’) Privacy would be an absurd concept, and the government could dispose of zygotes, embryos, fetuses, and their bearers as it saw fit. I don’t wish to live in such a social order, but it’s reasonable given its axioms.

The problem with utilitarianism, at least if it means ‘the greatest good or happiness for the greatest number’ is that it requires us to define and measure happiness or goodness, define those who enter into the ‘number’, and think of how to measure the relations between different goods and different receivers of these goods in order to compute an optimal outcome. It seems like an impossible problem.

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Rich Puchalsky 10.06.14 at 4:05 pm

Ronan(rf) @ 479: “Why would anyone on the left want to adopt the rights tactics vis a vis Salaita? This isnt a sign of the rights ‘power’,[…]”

Power doesn’t mean the ability to do only wise things. It means the ability to do things. They decided that a tenured professor who’d accepted a job at another school should be de-tenured on a technicality. That may show “their pettiness, and their pure vindictiveness”, but it also shows that they have the ability to do this if they want to. It’s not a sign of our moral superiority that we don’t have the power to do this, because moral choices are only meaningful when you actually have the ability to make a choice.

The default liberal position on any matter of practical politics is that we shouldn’t even try to do anything. I linked to a good John Emerson article on this a while back but the link from CT only resulted in somebody from here being kind of incoherent over there, so I’ve thought better of it.

John writes:
“There’s obviously a split here in our sense of what is an effective response. Since you bring up talk shows, let me flip it around. Do you have the same reaction to John Stewart and Stephen Colbert and John Oliver, when they make fun of people, like KW, who are really obnoxious? That is, does the often almost whimsical tone, which focuses on the sheer absurdity of what the crazy people have said, rather than on the human harm it might do, bother you? I tend to think this sort of comedic approach is quite effective. But I can see that it might seem like whistling past the graveyard.”

This was directed to Val, I think, but basically I think that this is an American Gen X syndrome. “You said that irony was the shackles of youth” to quote R.E.M. I’m a Gen X-er, and Jon Stewart is, and I think John Holbo is. I don’t think that the whimsical tone and the focus on absurdity is really a choice any more — there no longer is any real possibility of sincerely saying “That person said that women who get abortions should be hanged, and that’s outrageous.” People have rationalized it as a good rhetorical strategy because it’s the only rhetorical strategy that our culture will bear.

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Brett Bellmore 10.06.14 at 4:07 pm

Well, it is an impossible problem, which is why I call utilitarianism “a metaphor gone cancerous”.

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J Thomas 10.06.14 at 4:18 pm

#480 BB

Thanks for playing the straight man.

You’re welcome, your black comedy shtick clearly needs one.

You are attempting comedy, right? Usually you argue that random idiots should have guns in case they suddenly feel the need to shoot somebody. And if there is only one survivor and no reliable witnesses, we should take the survivor’s word what happened.

Now it sounds like you’re arguing that women don’t have the right to kill their own children. But at least for early abortions, why would you or anyone else have the right to know whether she’s pregnant or that she has had is will have an abortion at all? It takes government intervention to get past that privacy. All of a sudden you have been replaced by Bizarro-World Brett.

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Ze Kraggash 10.06.14 at 4:32 pm

“It seems like an impossible problem.”

I agree with that. I’m not saying anti-utilitarianism is bad, just that utilitarianism is the normal MO of those who are likely to employ anti-utilitarianism in this case. It sounds like a rhetorical trick.

“Cf. Mussolini”

Why Mussolini? Just a garden-variety western civilization. Try going to a clinic, asking them to amputate your healthy limb, or remove a healthy internal organ. I’m sure they’ll refer you to a psychiatrist. If you insist, citing your right to control your internals, you’ll probably end up in a straitjacket. They won’t even sell you antibiotics at a pharmacy, you need an authorization.

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Ronan(rf) 10.06.14 at 4:33 pm

Rich P – what was that link ? (if you don’t mind posting it again ..)

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Ze Kraggash 10.06.14 at 4:34 pm

“It seems like an impossible problem.”

I agree with that. I’m not saying anti-utilitarianism is bad, just that utilitarianism is the normal MO of those who are likely to employ anti-utilitarianism in this case. It sounds like a rhetorical trick.

“Cf. Mussolini”

Why Mussolini? Just a garden-variety western civilization. Try going to a clinic, asking them to amputate your healthy limb, or remove a healthy internal organ. I’m sure they’ll refer you to a psychiatrist. If you insist, citing your right to control your internals, you’ll probably end up in a straitjacket.

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Rich Puchalsky 10.06.14 at 4:38 pm

I’ve already had to apologize once for posting it. But, OK, here.

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J Thomas 10.06.14 at 4:40 pm

#490

I don’t think that the whimsical tone and the focus on absurdity is really a choice any more — there no longer is any real possibility of sincerely saying “That person said that women who get abortions should be hanged, and that’s outrageous.” People have rationalized it as a good rhetorical strategy because it’s the only rhetorical strategy that our culture will bear.

I’m a little slow today, I need to process that.

So I say, “That person said that women who get abortions should be hanged, and that’s outrageous. It’s hate speech. It is unacceptable.”

And then his friends say, “Look at that! Another PC idiot telling us what language we can’t use! Well we aren’t PC and we’ll say whatever we want to like real men! Kill the bad women! Kill the women! Kill the PCs! We’re going to kill YOU! WE’LL kill YOU! WE’LL KILL YOU! You stupid PC censors can’t stop our free speech.”

As this gradually gets clearer in my mind, it looks more serious. Do you intend to bet your life that they don’t mean it?

Whimsical tone and focus on absurdity is not going to save you, if they do mean it.

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Brett Bellmore 10.06.14 at 4:41 pm

“You are attempting comedy, right? Usually you argue that random idiots should have guns in case they suddenly feel the need to shoot somebody.”

And this is your own attempt at comedy? Or do you genuinely think I’ve ever argued that?

“But at least for early abortions, why would you or anyone else have the right to know whether she’s pregnant or that she has had is will have an abortion at all? “

And where have I argued for a law against early abortions?

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Plume 10.06.14 at 4:48 pm

Brett,

Are you then okay with those early abortions? How many months are you talking about?

I’m confused, now. I thought you said it was just murder. So, it’s not murder for the first few months, but it is after a certain point? Can you please clarify?

500

Harold 10.06.14 at 4:51 pm

471. I agree that having children is a good thing. Also, I hope you agree that abortion is an undesirable form of contraception (though it was routinely used as such, I understand, in the former Soviet Union and several other countries that might surprise you).

I think men and women would be more optimistic about having children if they thought they could look forward to steady jobs with some sort of financial security, defined benefits, and time off; not to mention affordable housing, child-care, education, and healthcare.

501

Rich Puchalsky 10.06.14 at 4:56 pm

Brett: “And where have I argued for a law against early abortions?”

Against my better judgement, I’ll reply: the thread is about KW, not about you. KW did not specify late-term abortions. Twitter does have character limits, but “late-term ” is only ten characters, so he could have fit it in if he’d wanted to. He also said that politicians who vote to make abortions legal should also be hanged.

Now, my even saying this only points up that our culture treats politicians as stereotypically important people, and women as stereotypically not. I’ve tried to avoid focussing on this part too much because of this and because “women who have abortions” is a much larger class of people. But that’s straight-up fascism, to hang people who haven’t killed anyone (even if you consider a fetus to be a person) but just voted in a way you don’t like. I’m sure that you’ll tell us that you don’t support hanging politicians either, not because you’re sincere, but because it makes you too obviously look like a bad guy who is fundamentally opposed to American democracy, as Kevin Williamson is. But your denial is meaningless, because this isn’t about you.

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Brett Bellmore 10.06.14 at 5:00 pm

“Can you please clarify?”

I said I thought Roe v Wade reasonable policy, even if it was terrible constitutional law. The early fetus lacks a functioning nervous system, and early in pregnancy it is genuinely impossible to terminate a pregnancy without killing the fetus. But the fetus develops a working nervous system well before birth, and well prior to natural birth becomes viable outside the womb, meaning that it is possible to terminate the pregnancy by delivering a live child, rather than just by killing it.

And this renders the choice to abort, at that point, entirely a decision to kill, not a decision about whether to remain pregnant.

Fetal development is a continuous process, why should getting rights be a binary one? It seems perfectly reasonable to me that early in pregnancy, abortion should be subject to no more than minor restrictions intended to ensure safety, and that as the fetus develops, restrictions should increase.

Kind of ironic that the same kind of people who are always urging the US to become more like Europe, and praising the way medicine is practiced and regulated there, avert their gaze from the fact that abortion is much more restricted in most of Europe than in the US. And this IS by judicial fiat, public opinion in the US would support a regulatory regime similar to Europe.

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Brett Bellmore 10.06.14 at 5:02 pm

“not because you’re sincere,”

Well, kind of hard to have a discussion with anyone who just assumes people who disagree with them are insincere fascists.

504

MPAVictoria 10.06.14 at 5:17 pm

“To control the interior of one’s own body is just not the same as other things you could insert in those square brackets.”

Bingo.

505

Plume 10.06.14 at 5:28 pm

Brett,

It’s not turning a blind eye. It’s a matter of using judgment, choosing the things we like and the things we don’t like about this or other systems. You disagree with certain American policies, while defending others, correct? Why would you expect “consistency” when it comes to agreement with Europe?

I’m not at all sure why you would think that necessary.

Btw, an interesting article on the topic you raised from the Atlantic.

506

Layman 10.06.14 at 5:30 pm

“But the fetus develops a working nervous system well before birth, and well prior to natural birth becomes viable outside the womb, meaning that it is possible to terminate the pregnancy by delivering a live child, rather than just by killing it.”

I understand this as an attempt to define some point beyond which elective, not-medically-necessary-abortions may not occur, but it leads to some hard questions. Consider that your so-called ‘viable’ infants sometimes require massive medical intervention, suffer health problems, and die at much higher rates than full-term infants.

At the point in question, can a woman opt for early birth rather than continue to term, knowing that a premature child has much greater health risks? Why or why not? After all, if the non-person has become a person, why can’t the women evict it from her body, and let medical technology take over? Or is a woman who does this guilty of some form of child abuse?

As medical capabilities advance, this ‘viability point’ will surely come earlier, perhaps even to the point where a just-fertilized egg is ‘viable’, i.e. can be transferred to medical devices and grown to term. Would you move the point of legal abortion back to accommodate this medical advancement? In other words, once you’re pregnant, your only choices are to carry the baby to term or turn it over to the machines?

507

Plume 10.06.14 at 5:38 pm

Layman,

And your points bring in another issue, and point back to the differences between our health care and Europe’s. Europe provides a ton of support for mothers, before, during and after pregnancy. At least relative to other parts of the globe, especially the USA. Brett’s suggestion might work in Europe because “the state” would do a great deal to support it, financially and otherwise. We wouldn’t. America doesn’t even give much assistance when it comes to “normal” births. Pregnancies, even with insurance, are extremely expensive here. That is not the case with most European countries.

It’s odd. But in a nation with a strident movement in favor of forced births, that same segment of society never pushes for greater financial support for mothers (or parents in general). It is all about forcing births and then moving on to the next forced birth, without so much as a “you’re on your own, now,” though this is more than implied.

508

Anarcissie 10.06.14 at 6:10 pm

Ze Kraggash 10.06.14 at 4:34 pm @ 494 — Mussolini, because his dictum has admirable clarity and economy. Most ordinary states seem to acknowledge some sort of private realm for their constituents, if only informally, so they don’t fulfill Mussolini’s ideal, but it is useful as a kind of polar absolute.

In regard to amputations, some people do pursue rather extreme body modifications (such as sex change operations), some wish to give away or sell parts of their bodies, and some get rid of or at least try to get rid of their entire bodies, and there is some debate as to whether some or any of them should be permitted to do what they want, if they seem to be in their right minds, and whether others should be allowed to assist them. It’s not at all a closed issue where I live, although one would think it would be, given the oft-professed strong belief in privacy and personal liberty.

I don’t know what you mean by anti-utilitarianism. Utilitarianism doesn’t make any sense to me, because its objects and operations are so poorly defined, but I’m not ‘against’ it.

509

Rich Puchalsky 10.06.14 at 7:01 pm

J Thomas @ 497: “And then his friends say, “Look at that! Another PC idiot telling us what language we can’t use! Well we aren’t PC and we’ll say whatever we want to like real men!”

I didn’t mean so much that people can’t be sincerely outraged because they fear reprisal. I meant that habits of mind formed in one’s youth carry over to adulthood. It wasn’t cool to appear to care too deeply about anything, and it seems as if an entire generation got permanently stuck into ironic mode. For instance, in some sense I’m sure that John Holbo condemns Williamson’s sentiments as strongly as Val might want him to, but the actual words he seemed to have to use were: “And he’s followed up with a Twitter thing about hanging women who get abortions. Lovely.”

If you’re really interested in this, I recommend study of R.E.M.’s “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth” as the key to all Gen X mythologies. And it seems relevant to this thread. The title is from an incident in which newsperson Dan Rather was attacked by someone saying “Kenneth, what is the frequency?” “It was the premier unsolved American surrealist act of the 20th century,” said singer Michael Stipe. “It’s a misunderstanding that was scarily random, media-hyped and just plain bizarre.” So he was clearly treating it as this kind of whimsical / absurdist event. Later on, Rather’s attacker was identified as a paranoid schizophrenic who attacked and killed a NBC stagehand in pursuit of the same delusions, and was convicted of murder.

510

Ronan(rf) 10.06.14 at 8:22 pm

Rich @496 – thanks

511

J Thomas 10.07.14 at 1:31 am

I didn’t mean so much that people can’t be sincerely outraged because they fear reprisal. I meant that habits of mind formed in one’s youth carry over to adulthood. It wasn’t cool to appear to care too deeply about anything, and it seems as if an entire generation got permanently stuck into ironic mode.

I say a lot of people who think they are your enemies are sincerely outraged. You need some kind of response to that. Getting sincerely outraged back might have bad consequences. Lots of actions or inactions are likely to have bad consequences. Choose something that looks workable because this shit could get real more suddenly than you’d expect.

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John Holbo 10.07.14 at 2:48 am

“So he was clearly treating it as this kind of whimsical / absurdist event.”

It would never have occurred to me to analogize KW’s tweet to “What’s the frequency, Kenneth”, Rich. So let’s emend ‘clearly’ to ‘clearly not’ – or at least to ‘not’, if it really wasn’t clear. I don’t think that KW is schizophrenic, or suffering from tourette’s syndrome or anything like that. The content of what he is saying is not just randomly disconnected from what he actually believes. Yet it probably isn’t an accurate expression of it. One of the central facts of American political life is how close the two major parties are, on a lot of things, yet how apocalyptic the rhetorical gulf is. I think the real gulf has been getting wider. I’m not getting all Broder about this or anything. Nevertheless, people have a tendency to get all apocalyptic, for entertainment purposes. (This has been going on for as long as there have been elections, so it’s hardly new.)

If you want a simple gloss, just go with this one: KW exaggerates what he thinks, for greater emotional impact, and for tribal reinforcement purposes. That’s very different from a schizophrenic babbling random phrases that seem teasingly meaningful, but really probably aren’t.

To put it another way: the paranoid style, in politics, really doesn’t have much to do with the typical dynamics of paranoid schizophrenia, as a clinical phenomenon.

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geo 10.07.14 at 4:34 am

ZM @412: I have not seen anyone try to integrate the idea that we do not have obligations to a foetus in utero with the idea we must have obligations to the young and to as yet physically unconceived future generations with regard to climate change and sustainability.

I’ll take a (belated) crack at it. Our obligations are not specifiable any more precisely than “to contribute to the best possible outcome” or “to prevent unnecessary suffering” or some such null statement. Of course we have rules — as Mill put it, sailors go to sea with reckonings already tabulated, and people live their lives with rules already distilled from the experience of ages. But all rules are correctable, and their application is never beyond argument.

We care about an ill or endangered fetus if it will be born and suffer and if its parents will suffer. We want to prevent that suffering. The fetus doesn’t have enough of a nervous system to suffer until very late in the pregnancy (if then), so if the parents want to abort it, and presumably try again, we don’t have any obligation to the fetus to prevent them.

Likewise, we should want to prevent the suffering of the tens of millions of people who will probably die from flooding and starvation, and the hundreds of millions who will be displaced, if global warming is not curtailed. If we can do this by keeping fossil fuels in the ground, and if that won’t mean comparable suffering for our contemporaries — and it certainly needn’t — then that’s the moral thing to do.

You’re definitely on to something when you say that abstract principles, formal logic, and talk of “rights” or “utility” all get us nowhere, morally speaking. Pay them no mind.

514

Ze Kraggash 10.07.14 at 8:05 am

Anarcissie 508, let me try to phrase it this way: my only point was that in a perfectly liberal-democratic society, due to its paternalistic nature generally supported by the ‘pro-choice’ side, there is no such thing as the right ‘to control your own body’. Yes, some uses/modifications of one’s body are allowed, but some require authorization, some are forbidden, and for some, wishing them is deemed a symptom of a mental illness. Asserting, in all seriousness, this absolute right would have huge consequences, well beyond the abortion controversy. And if this is not the absolute right, then the argument doesn’t fly: yes you can do things to your body, but only the things the society find acceptable.

515

J Thomas 10.07.14 at 9:38 am

#514

yes you can do things to your body, but only the things the society find acceptable.

Isn’t that the case with all of our rights? Yes. It’s that way about everything.

When people argue that we ought to have absolute rights, they are not talking about the reality that society is likely to interfere with anything society finds unacceptable.

They are instead saying that they *ought* to have absolute rights.

Brett Bellmore’s repeated argument that US citizens should be free of gun control despite the many citizens who find this unacceptable, does nothing to claim that there is no gun control of any sort anywhere in the USA. It says only that the gun control existing in the USA is wrong and should be abolished.

Maybe in fact everyone should have the legal right to suicide, the legal right to do brain surgery on themselves, etc. In practice they only get the rights they can get away with.

This fact says nothing about what rights society ought to honor, though.

516

Anarcissie 10.07.14 at 12:23 pm

Ze Kraggash 10.07.14 at 8:05 am @ 514 &
J Thomas 10.07.14 at 9:38 am @ 515 —
So rights talk is really wishful thinking. But it is a wish, which I think pushes the social order in a certain direction, just as respect for authority and obedience push it in another direction. I don’t see the a priori invalidity you seem to be suggesting.

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Ze Kraggash 10.07.14 at 12:30 pm

“This fact says nothing about what rights society ought to honor, though.”

I have no idea what society ought to honor, I was only trying address one ‘pro-life’ argument.

“I don’t see the a priori invalidity you seem to be suggesting.”

I’m only suggesting inconsistency with their other common views. Or hypocrisy, if you prefer, although I don’t believe it’s conscious.

518

Ze Kraggash 10.07.14 at 12:35 pm

not ‘pro-life’, ‘pro-choice’, clearly. Pro-this, pro-that, it’s confusing. It should be pro-something and anti-something.

519

Anarcissie 10.07.14 at 12:56 pm

The opposite of pro-choice is anti-choice. It’s pretty vague, but then ‘pro-life’ is even vaguer.

520

Brett Bellmore 10.07.14 at 1:19 pm

“Pro-choice” is kind of vague, too, when it’s with regards to people who only favor free choice in one incredibly narrow area of life.

521

J Thomas 10.07.14 at 1:25 pm

I don’t see the a priori invalidity you seem to be suggesting.

I personally don’t see that it has anything to do with validity.

I say that good governments respect your valid rights, and bad governments don’t. Sometimes they have the power to violate your rights and there’s nothing you can do about it. That doesn’t say anything about whether the rights are actually valid, it only points out that they can be violated.

So for example, there is a long tradition in US government that if the government carries you away they have to admit they’ve done it, and tell your family where they took you. You must be allowed some form of communication, you must be told what crime you are accused of, have access to a lawyer, etc. I say that governments which claim the right to disappear people are bad governments, while governments which do not claim that right are better governments.

But 13 years ago the US government declared it had the right to disappear people after all. The legislature approved it. The President agreed. The Supreme Court did not overrule it. The public grumbled and did nothing.

And 6 years ago we got a new President and a new Congress, and they did not improve the laws. The legislators did not vote for better laws, instead the voted to extend the old ones. The President kept using them. The Supreme Court did not overrule them. The public grumbled and did nothing, and mostly figured that now there was nothing they could do — both political parties had gone along and now it’s just the way things are.

Now the US government is one of the bad governments. They have officially claimed the right to disappear you. (Even if you are, say, an Australian citizen who lives in Australia, but also if you are a US citizen in the USA.) Probably they don’t do it much. Probably fewer than one in one hundred thousand Americans have been disappeared. Though the US government has no obligation to tell us how many, and if they do choose to say they have no obligation to tell the truth.

I say, if you have no right to not be disappeared, what other rights do you have that matter so much? Well, but you do have that right, you’ve had it for more than 200 years. Just, it turns out it’s an alienable right that you can’t actually depend on, that the US government dishonors itself by violating.

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Lynne 10.07.14 at 2:20 pm

J Thomas, I’m currently reading a new book that talks about how the Patriot Act came to be passed. Fascinating. It’s called The Anthrax Deception, by Graeme MacQueen. I had forgotten the timing of the events of September-October, 2001.

523

bianca steele 10.07.14 at 2:55 pm

To put it another way: the paranoid style, in politics, really doesn’t have much to do with the typical dynamics of paranoid schizophrenia, as a clinical phenomenon.

This is probably true, but I think Rich has a point. Engaging in paranoid politics might be a luxury that is perfectly safe to be engaged in by one group within society, but has harmful effects on other groups. (Of course, this is a sword that cuts two ways. The same could be said about many other things. Some we discourage, but some we don’t.)

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Anarcissie 10.07.14 at 4:31 pm

J Thomas 10.07.14 at 1:25 pm @ 521:
“I don’t see the a priori invalidity you seem to be suggesting.”
‘I personally don’t see that it has anything to do with validity.’

What I meant by ‘valid’ was ‘sort of reasonable even if you don’t agree with
it.’ I thought it was reasonable to desire that the social order of the community
in which one lives respect certain forms of privacy, like the interior of one’s
body, as well as other more external rights or freedoms.

But I agree there is a lot of contradiction going on. I was just reading yet
again about Dr. Milgram’s (in)famous experiments in Aeon (an online magazine). It seems many people feel submissive to authority and community in spite of all the talk about freedom, and desire that others act as if they feel the same way — or else. If the authorities command terror, torture, or killing, so be it. Maybe this is supposed to be a necessary feature of social life.

525

ZM 10.07.14 at 11:48 pm

John Holbo,
““So he was clearly treating it as this kind of whimsical / absurdist event.”

It would never have occurred to me to analogize KW’s tweet to “What’s the frequency, Kenneth”, Rich. So let’s emend ‘clearly’ to ‘clearly not’ – or at least to ‘not’, if it really wasn’t clear. I don’t think that KW is schizophrenic, or suffering from tourette’s syndrome or anything like that. The content of what he is saying is not just randomly disconnected from what he actually believes. “

I do not think Rich Puchalsky was suggesting this KW person had schizophrenia – he was rather suggesting that you yourself were like Michael Stipe in how you treat a potentially dangerous person*/event as an absurdity. Further he was saying this is a posture common to generation xers , as they perform an ironic detachment towards wrongs they code as ‘absurd’ – rather than being outraged or deeply concerned by the wrongs .

* although I mention this regularly and no one pays any mind, it is still not very good to use terms like tribal or crazy to talk about these despicable figures – you could call them lying immoral scoundrels or something more appropriate instead, which would not engage in being derogatory to these figures through likening them to groups already suffering disadvantage and oppression

526

Rich Puchalsky 10.08.14 at 12:20 am

“I do not think Rich Puchalsky was suggesting this KW person had schizophrenia – he was rather suggesting that you yourself were like Michael Stipe in how you treat a potentially dangerous person*/event as an absurdity.”

Yes, exactly.

“Further he was saying this is a posture common to generation xers , as they perform an ironic detachment towards wrongs they code as ‘absurd’ – rather than being outraged or deeply concerned by the wrongs .”

Well, I do think that they actually are outraged or deeply concerned, it can just never be expressed except as ironic detachment.

527

John Holbo 10.08.14 at 12:30 am

“you yourself were like Michael Stipe in how you treat a potentially dangerous person*/event as an absurdity.”

Yes, and my point was that I am unlike Michael Stipe, in that I am not treating KW as spouting absurdism.

528

Rich Puchalsky 10.08.14 at 1:47 am

You said he’s trolling, unserious, etc. That’s close enough.

From upthread:
“Since you bring up talk shows, let me flip it around. Do you have the same reaction to John Stewart and Stephen Colbert and John Oliver, when they make fun of people, like KW, who are really obnoxious? That is, does the often almost whimsical tone, which focuses on the sheer absurdity of what the crazy people have said, rather than on the human harm it might do, bother you? I tend to think this sort of comedic approach is quite effective. But I can see that it might seem like whistling past the graveyard.”

529

John Holbo 10.08.14 at 2:39 am

“You said he’s trolling, unserious, etc. That’s close enough.”

No, this is isn’t right at all. Trolls aren’t absurdists. If you annoy me and I say ‘I’m going to murder you’, without actually meaning to murder you, that isn’t dada, even though it also isn’t serious.

530

Rich Puchalsky 10.08.14 at 3:15 am

The original guy who Michael Stipe referred to wasn’t an absurdist. He beat Dan Rather up. Similarly the people who Jon Stewart, Stephan Colbert etc. make fun of generally aren’t trying to be absurd, they’re saying sincerely hateful things.

531

js. 10.08.14 at 4:25 am

500+ comments! Yowza! I haven’t read all the comments (obviously!), mostly just commenters I trust/like/respect (Lynne, Rich Puchalsky, a couple of others, and also John Holbo of course).

Anyway, just to highlight this by Val (circa a hundred comments ago), which I think is dead on. (And also to prove a minor, utterly irrelevant point about formatting, viz. that block-quoting works across paragraphs, even on CT! Tho watch it fail…)

However when it comes to abortion, it is an individual woman whose body and life are being affected. That is why it is up to her to make the decision. The decision is not up to “us” to make. You can’t apply the same reasoning to the two situations.

Of course we, collectively, can do a lot about the kind of society in which she makes those decisions. Personally, I support the views that Rich Puchalsky (and others) have expressed here. I believe that if we want to make a decent society for women to live in, it is important to condemn the views of people like Kevin Williamson and to be very clear about it. I think analysing his arguments, without clearly condemning his statement that women who have abortions should be hanged, is morally very murky.

532

John Holbo 10.08.14 at 4:28 am

“The original guy who Michael Stipe referred to wasn’t an absurdist.”

No, he was a schizophrenic. But schizophrenics say absurdist-sounding stuff. If you want to argue that KW is schizophrenic, therefore dangerous, make your clinical case. (But you have already said you don’t think that, so let’s just drop all this Stipe stuff. It’s not helpful. That’s my point.)

533

Val 10.08.14 at 11:06 am

Thanks js for vote of confidence. Still thinking about this thread, but kind of exhausted. I think it would be good to think a lot more about the asymmetry of reproduction, I mean think much more deeply about it what it means, how it shapes our lives – try to get away from who’s right, who’s wrong, and just think about it. Possibly even men like Kevin Williamson could come to have more understanding of why they want to control women’s bodies if they could stop pronouncing and ordering and commanding and judging, and just think humbly for a bit. If that were possible.

534

Lynne 10.08.14 at 12:11 pm

js, thanks for the kind words. I agree with highlighting that comment of Val’s.

I think what trips up even well-meaning people on this issue is that pregnancy is unique in human experiences. There really isn’t anything like it. Therefore there’s nothing men experience that is like it. Comparisons to things like limb removal and suicide are of very limited value.

535

Val 10.08.14 at 8:48 pm

I agree Lynne. I have in the past done some research myself on women’s experiences of maternity, and the way maternity has been understood in politics and popular culture, but I didn’t look at pregnancy much. I was aware of that, but decided there was enough to look at in birth and breastfeeding alone.

At the time it seemed to me there wasn’t enough research on pregnancy as experience, but it was too much for me to tackle. That was back in the 1990s, so it’s likely there has been more since then, I hope. It would be interesting if CT had a post on pregnancy as experience one day (which could include discussion of abortion and miscarriage as experience, which Emma from Sydney wrote very well about on this thread.)

536

J Thomas 10.08.14 at 11:15 pm

I think what trips up even well-meaning people on this issue is that pregnancy is unique in human experiences. There really isn’t anything like it. Therefore there’s nothing men experience that is like it.

As a male with a strong biology background I think you’re probably right, though I have no way to know for sure.

A man who carries some pounds of tapeworms with vomiting, intestinal distress, “eating for two”, etc and who then expels them suddenly and in an undignified manner might be slightly similar, but I expect a woman who has done both would say there isn’t much similarity.

A man who develops a fast-growing abdominal tumor and then gets it surgically removed at 20 pounds or so might be a little similar to a woman who gets a caesarian. But only a little.

I think you’re right. It’s an incommensurable experience.

537

js. 10.09.14 at 2:00 am

Having read a bit more of this thread, and having thought about it a bit more too, I’m not sure why it matters so much whether or not Williamson is a hypocrite. (My first reaction was that hypocrisy is the wrong category; Rich Puchalsky’s and bianca steele’s comments have convinced me that there’s at least something to the charge; but something of the first reaction still stays.)

But the point is: insofar as he’s calling for the murder of innocent people,* in particular innocent women, he’s clearly morally heinous. (I agree with others in finding JH’s characterization of him as “unserious”—really resisting the urge to say “merely ‘unserious'”, because I think JH would object, and probably rightly—anyway, the “unserious” characterization leaves something to be desired.) And there are ways of being morally heinous that don’t involve hypocrisy. And if, as at least seems possible, KW is not a hypocrite, he’s just morally heinous in one of these other ways. I just don’t think one loses much by losing the charge of hypocrisy.

*If I’ve understood the arguments correctly, JH actually wants to deny that KW is really is calling for murder. I find this utterly unconvincing. If someone says that women who have abortions should be hanged, they’re straightforwardly calling for the murder of innocent persons. I don’t have—in fact I refuse—to perform mental gymnastics to figure out what they really meant. And that they themselves might be horrified if what they called for came to pass shows nothing. Lots of people are horrified when what they called for comes true. Doesn’t mean they didn’t call for it.

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Lynne 10.09.14 at 10:52 am

J Thomas @ 536: Are you joking? I hope so, but I can’t tell.

539

J Thomas 10.09.14 at 11:02 am

Lynne, yes, I’m joking.

I’m also literally serious. Pregnancy and childbirth really is incommensurate with anything that men do, there’s nothing that’s similar enough to deserve calling “similar”. As near as I can tell.

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Rich Puchalsky 10.10.14 at 1:57 am

js.: “I’m not sure why it matters so much whether or not Williamson is a hypocrite.”

In my opinion, it doesn’t matter much whether or not he’s a hypocrite. I made a joke about it, JH thought that the joke contained a bad argument, I had to explain why I thought he was a hypocrite, and so on, so there ended up being a number of comments about it. But I don’t really care much that he’s a hypocrite: I care that he wrote that women who have abortions should be hanged.

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