The Supreme Court’s Mistake

The United States Supreme Court has made a horrifying mistake.  Some people have been given the freedom to deprive others of important rights and assistance, rights and assistance upon which those others rely, basic things that ought to be free to everyone!

But these folks, the ones who were given this freedom, succeeded at a daring ruse.  They wanted to act on a self-centered and destructive attitude, so they portrayed it as a fundamental right.  That is to say, they made it seem like their rights were in jeopardy when people were merely asking them to rise to the basest requirements of justice.

The court believed them, overlooking all the damage that decision would support.  Unlike those people above, other people’s actual rights were in jeopardy in fact, not just imagination.  Not made up distortions or exaggerations, but real and fundamental rights were in jeopardy.

I am of course talking about Roe v. Wade, which gave women the unilateral authority to kill other humans beings based on such weighty considerations as convenience and whimsy.  If you need to read the first paragraphs again, now that you understand I’m not talking about Hobby Lobby, go ahead.

Just to be clear, a fetus….  Actually, let’s back that up.   A zygote is both human and alive; that’s not in question.  Both sides have to agree to it because it happens to be a fairly indisputable set of scientific facts.  Abortion is an intentional act to end the life (kill) a living human.  The only question is whether that living human should have the right not to be intentionally killed.

Abortion advocates argue that unborn children shouldn’t really be counted as people (usually based on a completely nonsensical understanding of the importance of “brain waves”), that what’s at stake is women’s freedom and destiny, that defenders of “forced birth” are trying to hold women back and subjugate them.

It all sounds very evocative–it certainly stirs up tremendous emotion in abortion advocates–but it boils down to the claim that women shouldn’t be required to accept the rights of others when doing so involves any personal hardship.

Personally, I am sympathetic to the hardship involved–pregnancy and childbirth are hard–but human rights trump hardship.  Should we have let slave-owners deny the rights of their slaves because emancipation was going to be hard?

Actually, the slavery comparison is more appropriate than it might seem.  You know who else used “science” to deny basic rights to people they argued were not human enough?  You know who else felt like their destiny was imperiled by vicious restrictions on their obvious rights?  You know who else made up inflammatory and ridiculous terms to make their opponents seem like monsters?  You know who seems like the monsters in retrospect?

And the sad thing is that abortion is a miserable reality even for the mother.  It’s most often a dejected and desperate act of a woman who feels powerless, an act with serious, harmful, long-term emotional and medical consequences, in addition to the death of a child.  It isn’t some triumph of liberty and autonomy, through which women exercise their ability to determine their own destiny.  Women don’t choose it because they feel free to.  They choose it because they don’t feel free not to.

In short, we are killing those who need us and who cannot defend themselves, and who are so dependent on us through no fault of their own, and we are doing it in pursuit of our own degradation and harm, because we no longer have the moral courage either to endure hardship or to support those who endure it.  We certainly don’t have the moral courage to say to the clamoring throng who support abortion that what they defend is twisted, sick, and evil.


Choose Wisely (Last Thoughts)

According to the Olympic Charter, at least as proclaimed by Google, the “practice of sport” is a human right.  That is to say, I suspect, that if you have enough leisure time to be bored, and you would rather do something sportive instead, no one should stop you.  I don’t want to belittle the suffering of anyone, but I’m not sure I’m aware of any widespread sport prohibitions.  Maybe they exist, but are hidden away.  Hidden atrocities exist.

Like abortion, but we’ll come back to that.

At the very least we have two things.  First is the affirmation of a belief in Human Rights at all.  I’m always happy to know that people support human rights; especially as most of them do so irrationally.  No religion but Christianity can support them.  (Atheism certainly can’t, as is becoming increasingly apparent.)  Non-Christians are clinging to a vestige. Perhaps that vestige will pull them back.  At the very least, it’s a vestige I would prefer they keep, because my children have to grow up in this world.

Second we have the foundation of one of my favorite sorts of argument: the a fortiori.  (Doesn’t everyone have a favorite sort of logical argument?)  In very broad terms, a fortiori arguments work like this: if we are willing to grant one thing, we ought to be even more willing to grant some other more obvious thing.  Thus:  “You know it’s wrong to slap your brother, so you shouldn’t hit him with a chair!”

(We will for the moment pretend I have never had to say that.)

So, if human beings have the right to participate in things like the two man luge, clearly they have other more obvious rights, like the right to live even if they are unwanted, even if they are unhealthy, even if they are inconvenient, and even if someone else’s life is made more difficult by their living.

(And see, we’re back to abortion.)

Talking about abortion as a right “to choose” or a right to “have bodily autonomy” is flagrant misrepresentation.  I don’t have the right to choose to kill someone else.  My rights over my body don’t give me the right to kill someone else’s body.

Abortion advocates mostly know this though, so they try to portray the fetus as being somehow less than a “someone else.”  Human rights are intended precisely to protect people from that sort of move.  We don’t get to say that someone else doesn’t count, we don’t get to say that someone else doesn’t deserve rights, we don’t get to set standards about whom we protect and whom we abuse.  Those standards are set for us, and set more strictly than is comfortable, precisely because we are all too comfortable with evil.

The last few posts I’ve tried to be objective and rational.  Today I’m just angry.  I would delete this all and try again, but that would be against the rules.

Not least of all, I’m angry about the level of exploitive rhetoric used by abortion proponents.  They throw around deliberately inflammatory terms like “forced birth” and “a woman’s right to her body,” so that people react emotionally and don’t notice the treachery.  They deliberately cloud the issue so that people won’t think about it.  So that people won’t think about abandoning those who cannot defend themselves.  Suddenly it’s not death, it’s liberty.  They trick us into thinking that maybe the human beings we abandon don’t actually matter.

God help us.  God help the ones we won’t help.  God give them peace and a home with a Father that won’t reject them and leave them in the clutches of a monster.

We ought to be willing to die to save them.  What have we become?

Choosing Wisely (Part 3)

I was reading one neurobiologist’s discussion of the ethics of abortion, and he made the claim that the facts of developing consciousness are clear.  He suggested that such clarity ought to change the debate, since we know that embryos/fetuses aren’t “one of us” until after the 23rd gestational week.

(It might be helpful to distinguish my use of terms.  By “conscious” I don’t mean “awake,” so “consciousness” isn’t mere “wakefulness.”  I mean that rather more nebulous anthropological conglomeration of thinking, feeling, knowing, and willing.)

It all sounds clear and wonderful, except that it’s all entirely fiction.  Or, to be more generous, it’s all a constructed interpretation based upon a limited understanding of what’s involved, an interpretation which is questionable at best, and certainly not universal.

Most notably, he has to assume that consciousness is what makes the embryo/fetus “one of us,” as opposed to the far more obvious claims of genetics and biology. I talked about that particular style of valuation yesterday, and won’t repeat myself here.

It’s perhaps more interesting (although perhaps only to me) to discuss how his interpretation is based upon other assumptions which are not only hasty, but unlikely to be true.

The basic chronology goes like this.  Within hours of conception the embryo begins developing the material that will eventually become its brain.  Within days the final divisions in that material–hemispheres and lobes and such–begin to be recognizable.  Within weeks we can detect activity in that material, electrical impulses surging awkwardly through brain cells, albeit without much in the way of consistency.  The sort of consistency we see in adults isn’t achieved until around the 23rd week.

His argument goes like this.  The electrical impulses we see in the brains of conscious adults are regular and sustained, so consciousness seems to require regular and sustained electrical impulses in the brain.  An embryo/fetus has no such regular and sustained impulses before the 23rd week (in general), so the embryo/fetus doesn’t have consciousness before that point.

It seems like modus tollens, which is a valid form of argument:

1. If A then B.
2. Not B.
3. Therefore not A.


1. If it has consciousness then it has regular and sustained electrical impulses in its brain.
2. It does not have regular and sustained electrical impulses in its brain.
3. Therefore it does not have consciousness.

Unfortunately we have to equivocate to reach that form, that is to say that we have to use two subtly different terms, and pretend that they aren’t different.  Specifically, he determines qualities of “adult consciousness” then applies them to “consciousness.”  But this would be like replacing a specific term like “German Shepherds” with a broader term like “Dogs.”

(And it would not help to argue something like this:  “But infants show those same sorts of signs, so it isn’t only adult consciousness.”  However broad you make the adjective in front of the word consciousness, you can’t use that broadness as evidence that the resulting term isn’t exclusive.  Thus, talking about “Shepherding Dogs in General” may be broader than “German Shepherds,” but that broadness is not evidence that “Shepherding Dogs in General” doesn’t still exclude other types of things that can be appropriately called “Dogs.”)

Really all he’s shown is that the embryo/fetus doesn’t have signs of fully developed consciousness before the 23rd gestational week.  This shouldn’t surprise him.  Embryos, like babies, like children, like teenagers, like adults, develop slowly, not all at once.

When my infant son takes his first halting steps, I will tell everyone that he has started walking.  I will not wait until he walks like an adult.  If that were the case, I could still not tell people that my daughter is walking, even though she has been doing so for years, because she still walks like a child rather than how I walk.

When my son begins associating recognizable sound patterns with things, and makes those sounds to refer to those things, I will say that he has started talking, even if his “recognizable sounds” are very different from the words I eventually hope they will become.  For whatever reason, my daughter calls our “refrigerator” a “tackifator.”  She is not talking like an adult, but she is still talking.

Frankly, every other experience of human development ought to suggest to us that, if we were to find physical signs of consciousness, we should expect those physical signs to show the kind of fitful and awkward development we see in the physical signs of every other form of human development.

So questions emerge.  Why should we require this one area of development to reach a certain point of mastery before it counts, when we don’t treat other areas like that?  Who gets to determine how much consciousness is required to count as human?  What if we change our minds later?  Who else can we exclude?

That is to say, what seemed like the sort of indubitable quality I described yesterday, is actually a disputable quality.  And it’s one that’s fairly commonly disputed.  Peter Singer, for example, argues that consciousness doesn’t develop for years after birth, and an increasing number of people agree with him.  Consciousness, it seems, is not such a clear matter of fact as some assume.

(It’s also pretty clear upon investigation that we make these distinctions for questionable reasons.  We find reasons for delaying membership in humanity so that we don’t have to change how we treat those we exclude.  We resist including them because then we would have to change our behavior in inconvenient ways, not because we don’t have reason to include them.)

I’m out of time, but before I end again, I want to point out that the subject is about fifty times more complicated than I can effectively explore in so short a time.  For example, the relationship between consciousness and the electrical impulses in the brain is far from certain.  In fact, if it were certain it would probably render all human existence gibberish.  Consciousness is precisely the sort of thing about which almost every thinker agrees, regardless of how much they disagree about other things; they all agree that consciousness is a mystery.  If so many divergent voices agree that we don’t understand something, why would make important decisions as though we did understand it?

Choose Wisely (Part 2)

Abortion is a fundamental failure to uphold Human Rights.  If an embryo/fetus doesn’t have the right to life merely by virtue of being human, it’s difficult to say that anyone does.  Being human wouldn’t be enough.  There are some who would want to argue precisely that, but I’m not criticizing them specifically here because they don’t believe in Human Rights either.  If you do believe in Human Rights, abortion ought to trouble you.

An increasingly common way to try to get around the problem is to defend, by one means or another, the claim that the embryo/fetus is somehow less than human, and thus has less of a right to life than other humans would.  There are systemic problems with the approach in general, as well as specific problems with each of the standards raised to define the cutoff of full humanity.

Let me start with the systemic problem, and begin by making some distinctions.  There are two broad categories of qualities that a thing might have; for convenience I’m going to call them indubitable qualities and disputable qualities.

Indubitable qualities are those that are either self-evident in some respect, or factually evident, but at least not contested.  They’re what most everyone grants or agrees upon, independent of how they subsequently interpret them.  (They’re the facts that are interpreted, rather than the interpretation.)  They also tend to have clear Boolean values; they’re either true or false.  (Off or On, like a light switch.)

Disputable qualities are, as their name suggests, those subject to debate, interpretation, or mystery.  Some might grant them while others might not, and whether one grants them largely depends upon secondary concerns.  These also tend to function across a continuum; rather than being either true or false–On or Off, like a light switch–they have gradations of value.

Thus, pregnancy is an indubitable quality–one either is or one isn’t, and one’s view of the subject is not likely open to rigorous debate–while something like maturity is a disputable quality:  different people might be different levels of maturity, and might disagree about how those levels are measured.

All of this is relevant because we have to ask ourselves whether humanity is an indubitable quality or a disputable one.  If humanity is defined in terms of indubitable qualities, it is itself indubitable.  It we define it in terms of disputable qualities, it is itself disputable.

What I want to suggest is that talk of “human rights” is meaningful only if humanity is an indubitable quality.  I should grant rights to a person based upon what I cannot possibly contest, because what I cannot contest is sufficient to guarantee value.  Meanwhile, all claims that an embryo/fetus is somehow less than human largely depend upon humanity being a disputable quality.  We grant rights to a person only once a contestable threshold has been surmounted, and we might change that threshold.

It ought to be evident that the latter method tends toward abuse.  If contesting a quality appears advantageous to us, of course we will be inclined to contest it, to renegotiate it to our own benefit.  Human rights, contrariwise, are valuable only because they’re non-negotiable.  I don’t get to decide whether or not to abuse and harm my neighbor, because I don’t get to decide whether he counts as human.

Nor is suspicion of such abuse mere speculation, or grandstanding, or catastrophizing.  We have in recent history seen the disasters wrought by declaring some people less than human by a contestable standard, but perhaps we think we’re better than that nowadays.  Unfortunately, we are only more subtle.   The abuse is already in the newspapers and ethics journals.  Whereas before we began to think that it would be convenient to kill the unborn, and thus realized that we could declare the unborn un-human, now we’ve begun to think it might be advantageous to kill even the born babies when we discover that they have diseases, or conditions, or are merely unwanted.  Coincidentally, our disputable standard reveals to us that babies are not fully human until they’re a year or two old.

That is to say, we may not be Nazis, but we are only too willing to adjust our standards of humanity for our own convenience, once we believe that the standard is adjustable.  If we are willing to change who gets human rights to suit our own purposes though, it simply isn’t meaningful to say that we believe in human rights at all.  (In fact, at least one of the ethicists behind infanticide admits as much.)  We believe only in the rights of some.

I’m out of time again.  Let me end with the following for now.  One of the usual methods of those who would deny humanity to fetuses is to assert that their standard is not in fact disputable, that it’s obvious in an indubitable way.  They would thus argue that they are not subject to my critique above.  (In fact most are conscious of the weakness of disputable humanity, and thus take great pains to try to avoid being associated with it.)  What I will try to show next time is that the standards they deploy are not as indisputable as they think, that they are in fact both easily contestable and frequently contested.