Friday, October 29, 2004

An exchange on pro-choice logic (Part 2)

Continued ... (from here)

I think I understand your position better now, and I don't disagree with what I see as the logic of it. Assuming it is true that, as you posit, abortion is a question of convenience, and not about the question of what constitutes federally protected life, then of course someone who thinks convenience has a higher moral value than right is ridiculous and fair game for parodists. (Is that a word? Parodiers?)
I appreciate what you're saying. And, as for "parodists," Heidegger loved creating neologisms, if that's one, so I don't see why you can't.
My point was not to take a position on the abortion issue but to question the rhetorical effectivenes of the parody. I was assuming that a parody is more rhetorically effective if it has the power to noplus those not already inclined to agree with the author of the parody on the issue in question. And I maintain that the parody is puerile because it makes no attempt to persuade anyone. The reason is that I don't believe those who identify as "pro-choice" of course do not believe that the abortion issue can be reduced to taking a position, for or against, on sexual freedom. I don't think they would share either your assumptions, as laid out in your most recent post (below), or those of the parodist.
The effectiveness of an argument (or parody) is, of course, very subjective. An argument may be perfectly valid and totally ineffective, such as "Either God exists, or Blosser is a ham sandwich; Blosser is not a ham sandwich, therefore God exists." Or it may be logically fallacious but perversely effective, as in the ad hominem genetic fallacy: "A belief based on a psychological need is untenable; theists believe in God because they have a psychological need for a heavenly father figure to give them security, therefore belief in God is untenable." But of course, even if that was why theists believed in God, this fact wouldn't have anything to do with whether God in facts exists. And an ad hominem genetic fallacy can be turned against the user: "Atheists disbelieve in God because they have a psychological need to believe they are not accountable to a higher authority, or else they might feel burdened with guilt," etc.

The parody in question, however, doesn't require adherence to any of the afore-discussed assumptions for against sexual freedom. It simply focuses on the "exception logic" of "I'm personally against abortion because of religious reasons, but wouldn't want to impose my views on others, so I'm willing to permit abortion as a matter of public policy." That's what it parodies, by saying: "I'm personally opposed to killing abortionists for religious reasons, but wouldn't want to impose my views on others, so I'm willing to permit killing abortionists as a matter of public policy."

So the question is: Is that effective? I think it does a pretty good job of exposing the insufficiency of such sloppy reasoning as a justification for allowing a public policy of killing anyone. Now whether it's effective in the sense of getting people to change their minds about abortion is another matter. I doubt it has much immediate success of doing that. It's more likely to provoke anger. In fact, one of my Catholic brethren told me, after hearing that I emailed that parody to some of my colleagues, that I must have the apostolate of "POP4Christ" (or, pissing off people for Christ). Is there any virtue in that, apart from the questions of my personal motives for doing this (which may or may not be charitable or puerile)? Well, short of taking up arms in defense of the unborn, since I'm not of the mind of John Brown who did so against the blight of slavery, I suppose I believe that provoking some anger among pro-abortionists may be one appropriate way of getting them to re-consider the idiocy of their "exception logic." Even if it got a few of them to abandon that "logic," I suppose that would be a coup.

However, I do agree with you that "effectiveness" is not a cut-and-dried matter. Logicians thus distinguish between validity, soundness, and cogency. An argument is sound if it is valid and also has true premises. But it is cogent only if it is sound and if the person to whom it is directed recognizes it to be sound. Which means, of course, that logical argument is unavoidably person-relative. Aristotle abandoned the attempt to argue with classical Skeptics, who refused to commit to any premises, seeing that they would undermine themselves by asserting the self-referentially contradictory proposition that "Nothing can be known."
Now I could be wrong. At issue, as I see it, is the question of what "pro-choice" people believe. If they do believe that their own convenience and their own sexual itch-scratching take prescendence and priority over moral law, then I stand corrected. But I don't think you'd find that most people who have had abortions or who support others' right to have them would think of things in those terms, and so arguments based on those assumptions will fail to persuade. A philosopher might want to say, well, even if people don't think they are making those assumptions, they really are, so therefore I am right in asserting (with some violence, which we have discussed before) that they are and in proceeding accordingly. Which may satisfy the philosopher, perhaps many philosophers. More interesting to me, though, and more rhetorically effective, would be a parody (or any other textual intervention) that addreses those it is designed to address in their own terms. I have suggested that texts that don't do that have the effect of most of the 527-type ads on the radio and television. They first of all persuade no one, second of all make no attempt to persuade anyone and could never persuade anyone not eager to be persuaded, third of all just participate in the tribal dumbing-down of society in general, and fourth of all polute intellectual air. It's an important and difficult point, I think. No number n of reasons (I like to put the n in there--it makes me sound so scientific) of reasons why I should move to the moon will pursuade me to do so unless they are accompanied by the necessary number of refutations of the reasons I have for not moving there. And people who make no effort to refute my own reasoning, as it actually is and not as they like to think it is, are not interested in teaching me but only in patting themselves on the back.
The above I take as a helpful gloss upon the topic of effective persuasion, and I accept it. I certainly believe you are right. If the opposition in any argument is to be effectively engaged, it has to strike home, like a good advertisement would. Most political ads are, as you suggest, abominably poor, a waste of money, and pollution of air time (which makes me happy we don't have a TV). The most effective political ad I've seen, a mailing, was a large thing that looked at first like an ad for a new Mexican restaurant. On closer inspection it was a political ad directed against Erskine Bowles, which pictured a Mexican, in sombrero and full get-up, THANKING Bowles for all the jobs he had sent to Mexico. That was actually funny, and perforce, somewhat effective.

As to abortion, you say that you don't think that those who procure abortions support others' right to have them because of convenience or sexual promiscuity. Maybe not. Usually, I'm convinced, they recognize that individuals find themselves in very difficult and often embarrassing circumstances with an unexpected and unwanted "pregnancy" (unborn child on the way to being born). I recognize that. And I'm hesitant to judge too harshly any individual involved, because the society as a whole has come to accept abortion in much the same way that Canaan came to accept the practice of child sacrifice to Moloch (pictured left).

But the historical data quite frankly disturb me. Whatever the evils of the 1950s, and there were many, they are a far cry from what we face today, as you'll agree. The Donna Reed Show, I Love Lucy, Father Knows Best, and The Spin and Marty Show may have been colossally banal, but they reflect a very different world from that of the Jerry Springer Show (which I saw for the first time two years ago), and whatever else they have on TV today. Some statistics: one-third of all American pregnancies are aborted today. One-third of a children are born to single mothers. Over one-half of marriages end in divorce. Three-quarters of all African-American children are raised without fathers. 60% of poverty in the USA is accounded for by single women with children. The statistics on child-abuse, wife-abuse, and general abuse of women are off the charts. Pornography is a multi-billion dollar industry. The statistics on sexual promiscuity among teens is nearly matched by those on adultery among married couples. Furthermore, all of this-- in terms of exponential skyrocketing statistics-- has happened since Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) struck down all civil laws against contraception and Roe v. Wade (1972) struck down the laws against abortion for any reason up to the third trimester (and Clinton allowed partial-birth abortion [pictured right]-- the killing of a partially born baby-- a.k.a. legalized infanticide). The pill was promoted as a means of improving marriages by taking the anxiety out of sex, reducing unwanted pregnancies, eliminating child abuse ("every child a wanted child"), improving the lot of women in life, etc. And abortion was supposed to serve as back-up contraception where the pill or condom (or whatever) failed. What the data suggests, however, is the opposite: contraception made promiscuous sex much easier, hence, divorce is skyrocketing, along with children born outside of marriage, child abuse, single mothers below the poverty line; and despite the "blessing" of back-up abortion (at 4000/day), the trend continues unabated, contributing also to teenage delinquency, drug use, violence, etc., etc., etc.

Of course, in principle, it's really very easy to avoid pregnancy if you just don't have sex. The majority of kids used to wait to have sex until marriage, though that may be hard for anyone born since the fifties to remember. Equally uncommon was divorce: I remember my mother, when I was a kid, once whispering to me in a restaurant that someone at another table had been divorced, as if it were something utterly unheard of. But of course, the whole society has changed, which is why we can no longer easily expect teens to abstain from sex and couples to remain faithful in marriage. Which is why, as I said earlier, I find it hard to fault individuals.

But I do find it ironic that women now take "pills," not because they're not sick, but to avoid pregnancy; and that when a couple get's pregnant, they often call it a "mistake." The whole thing seems turned on its head: when a couple performs the procreative act and get pregnant, it actually means that something has gone right. God gave us pleasure in doing things that are good for us: eating, sleeping, procreating. But that which, in Aristotelians categories, was once regarded as "accidental" (the pleasure) has not become the "essence" of sex, so that when that which was once regarded as the essential purpose of sex (pregnancy) results, it is called an "accident." Ironic, to say the least.

Also ironic, I think is just how popular traditional morality is among Americans as long as it doesn't have to do with sex. Sitcoms and soap operas and movies never glorify murder or rape or stealing or even lying. But in one way or another they do seem to glorify fornication, adultery, sodomy, abortion, and contraception. They tell you to control your drug addictions, your alcohol addictions, your violence addictions, your gun addictions, and even your smoking addictions-- everything except your sex addictions. Isn't this inconsistent? Isn't this a problem? Isn't this related in some way to the holocaust of abortion on our hands?
But as I say, I lack the fundamental information here because I don't know how "pro-choice" people actually think. I'm sure studies have been done on that--I just haven't read any of them. My own question you have not answered--not that you should, but I still wonder about it. Should one or should one not distinguish between the morality of killing one who is attached to and is resident with a human host and killing one who is not. It's easy to just say yes, or no, or whatever, but what I would hope for in someone who wanted to change my views is someone who could try answer that question to my satisfaction. (I haven't decided in advance what the answer is.) And I don't even know what such an answer would look like or how the argument would proceed, so I'm kind of at a loss myself.
I doubt you need to search some obscure sources to find how "pro-choice" people actually think. Just listen to John Kerry, or any representative of the National Organization for Women being interviewed on NPR, or, for that matter, just turn on your TV and listen to how people talk about it on sitcoms or soaps, or even how your students talk about it. Among the highest perceptage of the clientelle of The Pregnancy Care Center in Hickory come from Lenoir-Rhyne College. Ask Gail Bowman, the director. I know kids who have had abortions at LR, and those form whom they have borrowed the blood money to pay for them. "How 'pro-choice' people actually think" is not some dark, occult secret. It's how half the population of the country thinks, and most of the media outlets think.

You ask whether any distinction should be made between the morality of killing an unborn baby and a born (and presumably adult) human being. I would say that the more fundamental distinction is between human beings who are "innocent" and those who threaten our lives. I can conceive of the justifiability of killing an unborn baby who, through no fault of his own, threatens his mother's life as a result of an ectopic (tubal) pregnancy. These, of course, are highly uncommon. Likewise, I can conceive of the justifiability of a police SWAT team taking out a killer on a rampage, or a military intervening, as in the Gulf War, to rescue a country under attack by tyrannical foreign invader, which requires subduing (and in many cases killing) enemy forces. In such rescue operations, some innocent civilians almost always lose their lives, but presumably the rescuing force never intends this, whereas it does intend to rescue the innocent civilians being oppressed and killed by the foreign invader. I don't find any basis for distinguishing between the morality of killing in terms of whether the human being killed is pre- or post- partem.