Being Reasonable Doesn't Always Work

I’m sure everyone’s response to the title of this post is a variation, more or less, of “well, duh!”. But remember who it’s coming from: the guy who is always insisting on the importance of moderate rhetoric, reasonable discourse, etc.

I just want to be clear that I recognize that sometimes, it’s all for nought.

What’s the context? A short discussion I’ve gotten into over at Culture11 with a couple conservatives who support abortion rights. Try as I might, I cannot get (at least one of) them to acknowledge that according to embryology a human being comes to exist at conception (whatever one’s definition of personhood). While I’ve been a bit impatient at times, my general tone is fairly calm, I think, and yet we are getting almost nowhere.

As I said, it’s a helpful reminder for me that — try as you might — some people just cannot be persuaded, at least in the short term, of what seems obvious and self-evident to me.

Sigh.

29 Responses to Being Reasonable Doesn't Always Work

  • Arguing with folks like that is like trying to teach a pig to sing. All you do is waste your time and amuse the pig.

  • That is really funny…. I think I will use that.

  • Arguing with folks like that is like trying to teach a pig to sing. All you do is waste your time and amuse the pig.

    So…everyone who holds a principled, good-faith view that embryos aren’t as “human and alive” as you or I are pigs in search of amusement? You joke of course, but if that were Chris’s take then just ignore the rest of my post.

    To Chris’s point:

    I cannot get (at least one of) them to acknowledge that according to embryology a human being comes to exist at conception (whatever one’s definition of personhood).

    It’s obviously a necessary step, but you’re right that I do not classify embryos as “human beings”, any more than I classify monkey embryos as “monkeys”. I have what I think are good reasons for this, so I don’t figure sticking to this assessment makes me unreasonable.

    While I’ve been a bit impatient at times, my general tone is fairly calm, I think, and yet we are getting almost nowhere.

    And we aren’t likely to get anywhere in terms of changing each others minds about where life begins. I recognized this from the start. I’m not appalled at the prospect of reasonable disagreement. Are you?

    As I said, it’s a helpful reminder for me that — try as you might — some people just cannot be persuaded, at least in the short term, of what seems obvious and self-evident to me.

    I view it as a reminder that — try as you might — some people will continue to hold their beliefs so dearly that they think criminalizing the behavior of many people who reasonably disagree is the “core principle” of a properly secular conservatism.

    If the kind of conservatism you’re interested in is the Church’s — as seems to be the case with all these posts about Catholics for or against Obama and how genuinely pro-life Catholics would never cast such a vote — then you probably don’t care about the point I’m making. Keep on keepin’ on.

  • Gherald,

    Maybe you should put Lipstick on that Pig.

    I kid.. I kid… :)

    Except for the fact that Sarah Palin Rocks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • “some people will continue to hold their beliefs so dearly that they think criminalizing the behavior of many people who reasonably disagree is the “core principle” of a properly secular conservatism.”

    Well, if the point of disagreement is about whether human beings in early stages of development are to be granted the legal protection, it seems to me the debate is both secular and conservative. After all, it was Roe that overturned the laws of 46 states while introducing a sweeping new abortion regime. You can argue it was correct, but it certainly wasn’t conservative.

    As to determining when human life is eligible for legal protection, that is as ‘secular’ a question as any. Catholics don’t oppose abortion for ‘religious reasons’, they oppose abortion because it is a human rights issue.

    You may hold idiosyncratic beliefs about when a human life begins, but they certainly are not scientific, insofar as an embryo is a completely unique genetic entity, with its own gender, and capacity like all human life for growth and development under the proper conditions. You can refuse to acknowledge an embryo deserves legal protection or that it has personhood, but it certainly is human life.

  • You can argue it was correct, but it certainly wasn’t conservative

    Yes and no. I’m ambivalent about whether it was rightly decided, because too many legal scholars disagree. But I do think that criminalizing abortions isn’t a “core principle” of conservatism, and that’s the position I’m arguing for.

    My personal beliefs were just offered as an example. I certainly don’t expect many Catholics to agree with me.

    I do however think that a Catholic who believes in secular government can be pro-life while at the same time not wanting to criminalize abortion. Just like how, for instance, a Catholic should believe adultery is wrong yet still not want to criminalize it.

    Hate the sin, not the sinner. Tell people you believe abortion is wrong, but don’t advocate criminalizing the (possible) actions of the vast group of people who don’t share that belief.

    an embryo is a completely unique genetic entity, with its own gender, and capacity like all human life for growth and development under the proper conditions

    Embryos are not necessarily unique, there are only so many possible combinations of the chromosome pairs of two parents. Granted, there may be some tiny mutations within chromosomes, but that’s just adding another layer of diversity. Identical twins, for instance, aren’t unique genetically. They may certainly develop into independent individuals, of course, with their own life experience in all its wonder.

    You can refuse to acknowledge an embryo deserves legal protection or that it has personhood, but it certainly is human life.

    Ah, this is a matter of defining our terms. “human life” may be shorthand for more specific things….

    I’ll happily concede that embryos are human life, but only in the sense that they are “biological life that is human genetically”. The same way as if, for instance, I were to isolate a live skin cell from my body. That’s would also be “human life” defined as “biological life that is human genetically”. Note that with sophisticated enough medical technology it is perfectly feasible to grow that ordinary skin cell into a biological clone of mine, thus creating a new person.

    (Just watch Jurassic Park, tee-hee)

    What I would not concede is that embryos or early-term fetuses are “human beings” like you or I and thus worthy of “protection”. Mr. Wehner called their protection a “core principle” of conservatism, and this I disagree with.

    I don’t believe they’ve passed a meaningful threshold that would deserve treatment as a developed individual. I don’t think mere brain activity is sufficient either — I think it requires a somewhat more developed sapience or sentience — something abstract like that. But since “brain activity” is a prerequisite for those things, close enough in the development chronology, and much more easily testable, I refer to brain activity in the context of abortion.

    HTH

  • -Hate the sin, not the sinner. Tell people you believe abortion is wrong, but don’t advocate criminalizing the (possible) actions of the vast group of people who don’t share that belief.-

    In all honesty I ask you, why couldn’t this be applied to various crimes in order to rationalize their legalization?

    e.g Tell people you believe jaywalking is wrong but don’t advocate criminalizing….

    And yet we have to have traffic laws.

  • Gherald,

    Embryos are not necessarily unique, there are only so many possible combinations of the chromosome pairs of two parents. Granted, there may be some tiny mutations within chromosomes, but that’s just adding another layer of diversity. Identical twins, for instance, aren’t unique genetically. They may certainly develop into independent individuals, of course, with their own life experience in all its wonder.

    Well, no, actually. You’re scientifically wrong on this. A naturally conceived embryo is invariably genetically different from either of its parents. No child has DNA identical to either of its parents. Just doesn’t and can’t happen.

    On the question of identical twins: It’s true that identical twins have the same DNA, however there’s never a question as to whether there is in fact at least one unique living human organism in existence post conception. Further, the splitting of identical twins happens so early that it is invariably before a conception would be detected and an abortion procured, so by the time period that we’re looking at abortion as an option there is simply no question as to the number of unique human organisms involved.

    Now, it’s true that you can, should you so choose, get all philosophical and come up with your own definitions of what exactly a “human being” is by some definition other than “human organism”, but I’m unclear as to why you think this would be a good basis for a secular conservatism in that this would invariably rely on people sharing your beliefs about when a human organism is or is not a human being. (After all, some people are outliers on that question — take Peter Singer.)

    It seems to me that a secular order is best served by using those criteria which are most objectively verifiable, and in that regard there is no dividing line more clear than existence.

  • Anyone who describes himself as “ambivalent” about whether Roe v. Wade was rightly decided is not a “conservative” in any sense of the word with which I’m familiar. Libertarian maybe, but NOT conservative.

    Put aside the fact that the case was about abortion. Striking down the laws of 40+ states and territories and the federal government (and thereby removing the issue forever from the political process of the democratically elected branches of government) on the basis of some undefined “right” that “emanates from penumbras” that are supposedly inherent within the Bill of Rights, but which can only be discovered and defined by 9 unelected and life-tenured jurists, is NOT conservative.

  • Well, no, actually. You’re scientifically wrong on this. A naturally conceived embryo is invariably genetically different from either of its parents. No child has DNA identical to either of its parents. Just doesn’t and can’t happen.

    Uhm, I never suggested children would be identical to their parents, only that they could be identical to other possible children. I was just objecting to the “completely unique genetic entity”, which was overstated. A minor objection really, but I don’t like letting hyperbole slide.

    I’ll address secularism over at c11 in response to fus’s other post…

  • I’ll happily concede that embryos are human life, but only in the sense that they are “biological life that is human genetically”. The same way as if, for instance, I were to isolate a live skin cell from my body. That’s would also be “human life” defined as “biological life that is human genetically”. Note that with sophisticated enough medical technology it is perfectly feasible to grow that ordinary skin cell into a biological clone of mine, thus creating a new person.

    Gherald, that’s a red herring. A human skin cell will not of its own accord develop into an adult human being… the transformation required for it to do so changes it from a skin cell into — wait for it — an embryonic human being, for it is only the human embryo that will — again, of its own accord — develop into an adult human being. The embryonic human is self-actualizing itself towards adulthood, something no other human cell can do.

    I don’t believe they’ve passed a meaningful threshold that would deserve treatment as a developed individual. I don’t think mere brain activity is sufficient either — I think it requires a somewhat more developed sapience or sentience — something abstract like that. But since “brain activity” is a prerequisite for those things, close enough in the development chronology, and much more easily testable, I refer to brain activity in the context of abortion.

    Why is sapience or sentience morally relevant, Gherald? What is so important about these things that having them endows one with rights? My position is this: it isn’t being *actually* sentient or sapient that grants one rights (what would that say about those in a coma?), but rather it is the innate *capacity* to do those things that is relevant, and the embryonic homo sapiens has that innate capacity, as do the neonate, infantile, prepubescent, adolescent an adult homo sapiens.

    I’d invite you to read the the following linked (short) essay for a strictly secular exposition of the position I hold:
    http://www.bioethics.gov/reports/cloningreport/appendix.html#george

  • Perhaps I was mis-interpreting your phrase:

    there are only so many possible combinations of the chromosome pairs of two parents

    But I took you to mean that it was possible that an embryo might end up identical in genetic makeup to either a parent or sibling because there were “only so many possible combinations”. This isn’t so. Identical twins are genetically the same, but only because a single embryo splits. One never has identical twins who are identical by “chance”.

    The key, as I pointed out, is that one may tell from the genetic uniqueness that the embryo is distinct from its parent (unlike some other “bit of tissue”) and one may tell from identity that an embryo is distinct from its twin. There’s really not any question going on here other than an introduced philosophical one which is not objectively observable or verifiable.

  • Anyone who describes himself as “ambivalent” about whether Roe v. Wade was rightly decided is not a “conservative” in any sense of the word with which I’m familiar. Libertarian maybe, but NOT conservative.

    Put aside the fact that the case was about abortion. Striking down the laws of 40+ states and territories and the federal government (and thereby removing the issue forever from the political process of the democratically elected branches of government) on the basis of some undefined “right” that “emanates from penumbras” that are supposedly inherent within the Bill of Rights, but which can only be discovered and defined by 9 unelected and life-tenured jurists, is NOT conservative.

    If Roe v. Wade was rightly decided — which many people disagree on — then there’s no argument about whether it was “conservative”. In such a case it was simply the correct constitutional ruling.

    If Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided — which may well be the case — then of course it’s not “conservative”, but it’s also not many other things (such as “right”, or “crunchy”)

    I don’t claim to know whether it was right or wrong, so the conservative thing to do admit: I don’t know, rather than pick the choice I like best.

    But I can tell you that today (2008, not 1973) if Roe were repealed you would not see 46 states with abortion totally outlawed. It would be split closer to 50-50, maybe 60-40. It would be a somewhat messy to reintroduce it as a federal issue, and I (conservatively) would rather avoid a new mess, especially since so many people disagree about Roe to begin with.

  • Gherald, the obvious parallel is slavery in the South. How — based on your argument — could a conservative possibly have supported abolition?

  • “If Roe v. Wade was rightly decided — which many people disagree on …”

    Not really. I couldn’t name you a single “conservative” legal scholar or jurist who believe Roe was “rightly decided”. And there are plenty of liberal legal scholars who – when they’re being honest – will tell you the consitutional basis on which it was decided is shaky at best, despite their support for legalized abortion.

    The argument today is not over whether Roe was rightly decided but rather over stare decisis … whether a precedent once set and once relied upon should be overturned. You may find a lot of people supporting the outcome of Roe and wanting to keep it in place, but you won’t find many defending the decision as constitutionally sound or “rightly decided”.

  • “… but you won’t find many defending the decision as constitutionally sound or “rightly decided”.

    And when you DO find such people, they’re certainly NOT “conservative” under any definition of the word.

  • “Yes and no. I’m ambivalent about whether it was rightly decided, because too many legal scholars disagree.”

    Right, because interpreting the phrase “…nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,” a procedural safeguard, as containing a substantive right to abortion is abusing the language of the text beyond recognition.

    “But I do think that criminalizing abortions isn’t a “core principle” of conservatism, and that’s the position I’m arguing for.”

    Overturning Roe is certainly a central part of judicial conservatism; indeed it has been the fault line in legal academia for the better part of thirty-five years. You are absolutely free to advance an alternative vision of conservatism, a la David Brooks or David Frum, but I think it’s important to remember that it wasn’t the pro-life movement that brought conservatives to this point. A combination of national greatness conservatism (cough, cough…Iraq/Frum/Brooks), fiscal incontinence, and a systemic misunderstanding of the housing market were the primary drivers there.

    “I do however think that a Catholic who believes in secular government can be pro-life while at the same time not wanting to criminalize abortion.”

    Well, the analogy is important here. The question is whether abortion is more like adultery or like other types of homicide and/or child neglect/abuse. If abortion is the taking of a human life (a point on which we are in disagreement, but seems consonant with every sonogram I’ve ever seen), then it may be an issue of greater importance than adultery. If the analogy is changed to slavery, it is hard to sympathize with the position that those in the North should have refrained from imposing their religious beliefs about the equal dignity of persons on others. In any case, it is more in keeping with a traditional understanding of conservatism, both in a Burkean traditional sense as well as with the principle of subsidiarity, to permit the states to work that out as they had historically.

    “Identical twins, for instance, aren’t unique genetically.”

    They may not be that unique from each other, but they are quite distinct from their parents, which was the point being made. An embryo can be a different gender than it’s mother, which strongly suggests it is a distinct genetic entity, unless we are to consider the mother a hermaphrodite.

    “if, for instance, I were to isolate a live skin cell from my body. That’s would also be “human life” defined as “biological life that is human genetically”…it is perfectly feasible to grow that ordinary skin cell into a biological clone of mine, thus creating a new person.”

    This strikes me as obtuse. The clone comment highlights the fallacy in the analogy. The embryo grows in a self-directed manner with nutrients, and it is genetically distinct from it’s parent; not once has a skin cell of mine shown similar initiative or distinction. If your skin cells behave differently, do tell. At a minimum skin cells, are not human life ‘in the same way’ that a skin cell is.

    “What I would not concede is that embryos or early-term fetuses are “human beings” like you or I and thus worthy of “protection”.”

    Fair enough. This is the real impasse. But it is not a matter of ‘theocratic fundamentalism’ as I believe you described it, to hold an alternative view. You have established your individual criteria for what constitutes a ‘developed human being,’ but your criteria are not any more ‘secular’ than mine is ‘religious’. You have a hierarchy of goods which prizes some sort of achieved actualization as the defining characteristic of humanity. I think that such a view, less objective and open to all sorts of reductio ad absurdem arguments, is an arbitrary and impoverished approach to defining human rights. Perhaps, I am a bit over-sensitive to this, because earlier today I saw a 10-week sonogram of my child (with it’s heart beat, arms, and legs), and it is an image that is far more convincing to me than arguments based on ‘meaningful thresholds that…deserve treatment as a developed individual.’

  • But, look, while I was typing the discussion progressed apace. ;-). Ah well, note to self, brevity is the soul of wit. Good night all.

  • I probably won’t have time to respond thoroughly to some of the above posts until tomorrow, but would like to point out one misconception:

    your criteria are not any more ’secular’ than mine is ‘religious’.

    Eh, I’m not arguing that my criteria is “secular”, nor that it is necessarily “correct”. It’s just what I believe, for reasons I’ve tried to explain. It’s one example. Others have different beliefs, and they aren’t objectively wrong.

    “Secular” comes into play in deciding whose beliefs the government should enforce. And the answer is basically: no one’s when too many people disagree.

    It’s not at all like traffic laws, which most people can agree there’s a practical need for (even if they resent a few).

    Now if you’d like to live somewhere where enough people fall on the side of criminalizing abortion, look at this map. It’s pretty obvious that the places with enough public support to outlaw it tend to be more theocratic, undeveloped, or both: Central and Latin America, Africa, Middle East, Ireland…

    I understand your sensitivity fus01 and that’s a beautiful thing. I would probably feel the same way about a 10-week old (probably not so much about a 6-week old). But you have to understand: not everyone thinks the way we do, and indeed we disagree going further back than 10 weeks, and trying to force a vast number of people to act in accordance with your beliefs is a futile effort. Certainly not a core principle of conservatism.

    Just oppose abortion the same way you oppose adultery.

    I’ll address this and the “obtuse” red herring tomorrow, if you still care…

    g’night folks

  • Gherald said, “I do however think that a Catholic who believes in secular government can be pro-life while at the same time not wanting to criminalize abortion. Just like how, for instance, a Catholic should believe adultery is wrong yet still not want to criminalize it.”

    Would you agree with this statement, Gherald? “I do however think that a Catholic who believes in secular government can be pro-chastity while at the same time not wanting to criminalize pedophilia.”

    There are sound public policy reasons for criminalizing adultery. Even someone who prefers “secular government” must admit that (even if she is not persuaded by those reasons.) One need not appeal to any sort of “God said so” claims in order to recognize that some choices should have a sanction against them in the criminal law.

  • Two quick notes for the sake of clarity in discourse:

    Others have different beliefs, and they aren’t objectively wrong.

    You need to think about this one a little, I think. Objective is generally taken to mean: From an outside vantage point at which all facts are known. Thus, when you say that others who hold beliefs contrary to your own on the question of human personhood are not “objectively wrong” you either say that you are wrong, or that no one is right — that there is nothing which it is possible to know because personhood doesn’t exist. The entire basis of logic is that both A and Not A cannot be true at the same time. So unless you don’t believe in either reality or logic, all but one opinion with regard to the start of personhood is wrong.

    Perhaps you mean that the question of which beliefs are true is indiscernable, at least by what you consider objective discernment?

    “Secular” comes into play in deciding whose beliefs the government should enforce. And the answer is basically: no one’s when too many people disagree.

    This falls into a basic fallacy of holding that topic on which enough disagreement develops is a topic on which a secular government could not rule. In 1800, wife beating was such a topic. In 1840, slavery was such a topic. In 1920, lynching was such a topic. Do you really hold that it’s impossible for a secular government or political movement to take a principled stand on such issues until after a consensus had developed independently?

    If you do, I fear many people would ask themselves, “Than what good is secular government?” and overall I’d consider that a bad thing.

    It’s pretty obvious that the places with enough public support to outlaw it tend to be more theocratic, undeveloped, or both: Central and Latin America, Africa, Middle East, Ireland…

    You don’t know a lot about modern Ireland, do you? It’s arguably one of the most advanced and free market economies in Europe now. Poland isn’t in bad shape either.

  • Gherald,

    I appreciate your taking the time to respond, and I think it exonerates you from the charge of being unreasonable. There are three questions in play here, I think.

    1) At what stage of development should human life be legally protected?

    We have different answers to this question, but I think in rough outline our positions are clear.

    2) Whose position should be reflected in the laws?.

    Here, I think your position is unreasonable, not because you would like the laws to reflect your position, but because you argue that establishing regulations to protect unborn human life is an impermissible ‘imposition of beliefs’ on others. One problem with this argument is that nearly all laws are an ‘imposition of beliefs’ on others. A second is that it does not take the pro-life argument seriously. If abortion is the taking of a human life, then it is a serious violation of human rights, and a rather lethal ‘imposition of beliefs’ on a whole class of persons. To ignore this imposition, while highlighting the imposition on other persons, as Darwin Catholic pointed out above speaks either to a fundamental agnosticism (it’s unknowable), or a failure to consider the principle of non-contradiction. Finally, it is essentially a tie-goes-to-my-side position. People disagree about whether and when fetal life should be protected, but as Ronald Reagan argued, why should we err on the side of no protection?

    3) Which position should the conservative movement support?

    As I said, you are free to advance your vision of conservatism, but excluding pro-lifers a priori from the debate by arguing that pro-lifers should not advocate legal protections for the unborn because it’s an ‘imposition of beliefs’ is not a promising start.

  • There’s a lot more I could say here (explaining the red herring and why I’m not being obtuse and such). We could go on for weeks really.

    Unless there’s some surprising interest in my continuing, I’ll just address fus’s points in parting…

    2) The first problem isn’t a problem because there is much wider consensus behind most laws (I believe traffic laws were mentioned, but murder might be a better comparison).

    Uhm, I’m taking the anti-abortion argument seriously….to what DarwinCatholic said:

    So unless you don’t believe in either reality or logic, all but one opinion with regard to the start of personhood is wrong.

    Perhaps you mean that the question of which beliefs are true is indiscernable, at least by what you consider objective discernmentThis is quite ridiculous. One opinion is not right because no opinion is right. It’s a matter of definition, not fact. Not reality. Outside of theology, there is no objective, ethical reality of what constitutes a human being or a person. A definition must be chosen. Embryos == people is one such definition, which I find ridiculous. 8.5 month old fetus == still not a person is another such definition, which I also find ridiculous. But there are people who hold both those views, and they are both tenable positions were everyone else in society to agree with them. But everyone doesn’t. And Roe is as close as we’ve been able to come to a pragmatic consensus, and will in all likelyhood stay that way (impossible to predict the future, but for my purposes I have a 95% confidence level). So the conservative thing to do, from my perspective, is to accept the status quo and find a workable agenda, e.g. doing what we can to keep abortions safe, legal, and rare.

    In summary: no belief is “discernible”, because no belief is “true” unless you believe in some external source of truth like a God. (and obviously that holds no sway in secular government, hence my anti-theocratic ravings)

    3) Which position should the conservative movement support?

    As I said, you are free to advance your vision of conservatism, but excluding pro-lifers a priori from the debate by arguing that pro-lifers should not advocate legal protections for the unborn because it’s an ‘imposition of beliefs’ is not a promising start.

    I am not excluding anyone a priori. Mr. Wehner was excluding many secular conservatives like myself by asserting (with different words) that criminalizing abortion is a “core principle” of conservatism.
    The “pro-life imposition of beliefs” would be workable if there were enough support for it. It’s worked out in Ireland for instance. Minority pro-choice people don’t like it, but that’s…life. However that’s not the society we live in here in America, and it won’t be: we’re trending away from it. For various reasons America, the western world, and really the world as a whole is becoming more accepting of abortion with time. From what I’ve gathered anecdotaly and from a few polls, this trend is likely to continue.

    You’re welcome to fight it outside of government, but e.g. basing your presidential politics on it will accomplish virtually nothing. So find other ways to pursue a tenable pro-life agenda like private adoption agreements, leaving the state out of the abortion issue and maybe looking into some real pro-life good the state can do, such as avoiding unnecessary wars and treating prisoners humanely.

  • Oops, first quote should be formatted like this:

    […] Perhaps you mean that the question of which beliefs are true is indiscernable, at least by what you consider objective discernment

    This is quite ridiculous […]

    sorry

  • “Embryos == people is one such definition, which I find ridiculous. 8.5 month old fetus == still not a person is another such definition, which I also find ridiculous.”

    All right, gol ding it! Where would you draw the line, and why?

    “And Roe is as close as we’ve been able to come to a pragmatic consensus”

    Paired with Doe v. Bolton, with the right to abort through nine months of gestation limited only by one’s ability to find a practitioner willing to do the deed? That’s consensus?

    “no belief is “true” unless you believe in some external source of truth like a God.”

    The authors of the following articles do not believe in God, but they apparently believe that objective truths can be determined by applying science and logic:

    http://www.l4l.org/library/notparas.html
    http://www.l4l.org/library/congrecord.html

    “some real pro-life good the state can do, such as avoiding unnecessary wars and treating prisoners humanely.”

    Based on the figures I’ve seen, I suspect the number of externally viable babies aborted every year would make the number of prisoners of Gitmo and Abu Ghraib who can claim inhumane treatment look paltry.

  • Outside of theology, there is no objective, ethical reality of what constitutes a human being or a person.

    If by person you mean an entity that has inherent dignity and rights, I’d agree: ultimately, dignity and concomitant rights depend upon God. But with regard to what constitutes a human being, we *do* have biological anthropology which can tell us what makes a particular animal human as opposed to bovine, canine, feline, etc. Our position is that every human being (in the biological sense) is a person, and it seems that the onus is on your side to explain why some human beings (in the biological sense) do not have the same rights & dignity as others.

  • This is quite ridiculous. One opinion is not right because no opinion is right. It’s a matter of definition, not fact. Not reality. Outside of theology, there is no objective, ethical reality of what constitutes a human being or a person.

    Say that we take it for the sake of argument that there is no objective ethical reality of what constitutes a human person. Might it not be a good idea to, if we’re to pick an arbitrary theshold, to pick one that covers all human organisms, rather than one based on arbitrary characteristics which we happen to value? Otherwise, we have no real argument to make against someone who thinks that African Americans are not human persons, or Armenians are not human persons, or the disabled are not human persons, or the elderly are not human persons, or Jews are not human persons. In each case, someone picks which characteristics they value as “human” and reach a cultural consensus which excludes a lot of other human organisms — thus justifying treating those “others” very badly.

    That’s why it seems to me that even at a totally secular level we are better off treating human personhood as a matter of identity than of characteristic and degree.

    However that’s not the society we live in here in America, and it won’t be: we’re trending away from it. For various reasons America, the western world, and really the world as a whole is becoming more accepting of abortion with time. From what I’ve gathered anecdotaly and from a few polls, this trend is likely to continue.

    You’re welcome to fight it outside of government, but e.g. basing your presidential politics on it will accomplish virtually nothing.

    This is the argument that secular conservatives/libertarians have been making to the GOP since social conservatism started to rise to prominance in the ’76 primaries. However, I think at a fundamental, pragmatic level, it’s simply not going to get you anywhere. The fact of the matter is that serious social conservatives make up at least 20% of the GOP alliance, and you’re unlikely to pick up enough secular voters to replace those social conservatives if you shove them out of the tent. Indeed, imagine a situation in which the GOP is split into two parties an explicitly secular Libertarian/Conservative party and an explicitly socially conservative Traditionalist/Conservative party. Which one would get more votes?

  • I’ve numbered my responses, for ease of reading.

    1) “And Roe is as close as we’ve been able to come to a pragmatic consensus, and will in all likelyhood stay that way…So the conservative thing to do, from my perspective, is to accept the status quo and find a workable agenda, e.g. doing what we can to keep abortions safe, legal, and rare.”

    Well, I would disagree that Roe represents a consensus, insofar as most polling data indicates the public would support substantially more restrictions than the current Roe/Casey regime. Granted, there is a disconnect between what people say if you ask them if they support Roe and what they say if you ask more specific questions, but both the U.S. polling data and the practices of other (more ‘secular’) western countries such as the UK and Germany suggest that a majority of the U.S. would support many more restrictions on abortion if the legislative process were permitted to operate.

    Polling data aside, Roe is certainly not a ‘conservative’ decision. It was a judicial debacle, as most legal scholars will admit even if they support the result. Essentially, the raison d etre of a significant portion of conservative legal scholarship has been to oppose Roe and similar judicial usurpation of the democratic process. I suppose the longer Roe is on the books, it may become the status quo, and in that sense be a tradition to conserve in some quarters. Nevertheless, there is good reason to believe there will be four anti-Roe votes on the Court even after a two-term Obama presidency (Roberts 53, Alito 58, Thomas 60, Scalia 72), and it was nearly overturned in 1991.

    For most pro-lifers, particularly in the legal community, the advice to get over Roe looks like an invitation to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. But this is not a ‘victory’ for the sake of some sort of partisan point-scoring – the point is to save the lives of human beings, even if not everybody agrees when a human with a heartbeat, arms, legs, and distinct genetic features deserves legal protection. Even simply limiting abortions to the first trimester, would reduce abortions by about 8-10%, which would save hundreds of thousands of human lives (even if they are not ‘persons’ yet).

    2) “In summary: no belief is “discernible”, because no belief is “true” unless you believe in some external source of truth like a God. (and obviously that holds no sway in secular government, hence my anti-theocratic ravings)”

    I’m fascinated by this because law is often viewed as a moral enterprise – murder, theft, imbezzlement, prostitution, ensuring the public good through safety etc. Do you take a purely positivistic view of the law? I’m curious about your thoughts on infanticide, for instance, which has been widely practiced in some cultures or slavery, which was widely practiced in ours until recently, or even legalized racial discrimination, or the gay marriage debates. Is your view that the law has no relation to morality on the theory that morality is not secular?

    3) “we’re trending away from it. For various reasons America, the western world, and really the world as a whole is becoming more accepting of abortion with time. From what I’ve gathered anecdotaly and from a few polls, this trend is likely to continue.”

    I haven’t seen any evidence of this – do you have some poll numbers in mind? The data I have seen suggests support for abortion has either stayed the same or declined slightly over the past 20 years.

    4) “You’re welcome to fight it outside of government, but e.g. basing your presidential politics on it will accomplish virtually nothing.”

    Well, I think Darwin made a good point above about this line of argument; it’s not new, and I think the near-reversal of Roe in 1991 was a significant result, as are the appointments of Roberts and Alito. But aside from that, it seems like it would be a disaster to exclude the pro-lifers from the GOP’s base. As people like Ramesh Ponnuru have devoted reems of paper to demonstrating, the evidence suggests that the pro-life position of the GOP has been a significant benefit to the party. You may find pro-lifers to be personally distasteful (I might agree with you in many particular cases), but I think that you should examine the question empirically before suggesting that the Republican party become less friendly to the pro-life movement. Granted, being pro-life is not particularly popular in elite society, but it is very common in the rest of the country, particularly among the voters the GOP typically attracts.

    From your perspective, I understand that you wish the embarrassing theocrats would leave the party you support alone, or more accurately, provide votes without insisting on policies. But, keep in mind, parties are made up of diverse coalitions. Pro-lifers have provided a steady base of support for conservatism since 1980, and it seems to me that right now is not the time to alienate one of the most loyal conservative constituencies.

  • I saw a poll on the Confabulum recently that highlighted that 66%+ of the population would supports no change in Roe. I haven’t done recent research, it’s not a topic that interests me much.

    I’m mindful that single-issue pro-life voters have been a boon to the rightwardness of the GOP, and that this has kept our fiscal policies further to the right than such people would otherwise support if abortion were off the table. However, just because this would seem to benefit my economic ideology isn’t a reason for me to be happy about it….

    Democracy matters. I think the GOP would occupy a more center-right sphere without such single-issue votes, i.e. the whole party would move to the left for electoral purposes, and pick up the folks who are currently centrists. I think this would be a better party.

    I’m fascinated by this because law is often viewed as a moral enterprise – murder, theft, imbezzlement, prostitution, ensuring the public good through safety etc. Do you take a purely positivistic view of the law? I’m curious about your thoughts on infanticide, for instance, which has been widely practiced in some cultures or slavery, which was widely practiced in ours until recently, or even legalized racial discrimination, or the gay marriage debates. Is your view that the law has no relation to morality on the theory that morality is not secular?

    I’m not sure what you mean by “positivistic”. Secularism is amoral (as opposed to immoral). It’s only appropriate to “legislate morality” when a significant supermajority of people are for it. So e.g. 100 years ago the lack of gay marriage was appropriate, because the bulk of society rejected it. But today a significant portion of society has no problem with it, and the law should reflect that. (Even if, say, only 33% of the people in society supported gay marriage, that’d be enough because it’s a discrimination issue)

    I could say a lot more, but I’m not optimistic it’ll get us anywhere so I don’t want to spend too much time ranting in an oldish post : )

Follow TAC by Clicking on the Buttons Below
Bookmark and Share
Subscribe by eMail

Enter your email:

Recent Comments
Archives
Our Visitors. . .
Our Subscribers. . .