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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Cultural Appropriation OUTRAGE is Thinly Veiled Xenophobia


Cultural appropriation ***OUTRAGE*** is, in most cases, total BS.

Upon closer inspection, I think you'll discover that this faux outrage regarding cultural appropriation also happens to be a form of thinly veiled xenophobia. I'll explain more about that down below.

Around a year ago, I remember that outrage over white people being allowed to try on kimonos at a cultural fair that went viral. It was all over the American newsfeed for about a week.

I could hardly believe it. A cultural fair, people! You're supposed to partake in other cultures at cultural fairs. That's what they're for. 

The same goes for festivals. It's a chance to try to understand the culture by becoming it and partaking in it. And even if it's just for a one-time experience, it will be a *culturally* enriching experience. That's the whole idea behind multiculturalism.

Multiculturalism is the co-existence, sharing, and mingling of a multitude of cultures, and the acceptance of all cultures hinges on trying to understand and even adopt the things about alternative cultures you don't yet fully understand. Whether it's a social custom, a fashion style, or a type of cuisine, there are many aspects to learning about cultures which allow you to become better acquainted with them in the journey of growing more multicultural.



If you cannot engage or partake in other cultures and customs, then I'm afraid this leads to xenophobia. Ultimately, if you end up being denied access to a culture, or part of it, you can never fully learn to understand it. Not enough to be comfortable accepting or integrating into your own cultural worldview that is. And that's the danger here. 



If you can only perceive the other culture as something you can't incorporate, or are forbidden to incorporate, into your own life or identity or cultural worldview, then mutual cultural understanding will hit a roadblock. You'll deny yourself understanding of another person's culture, because *reasons*, and they will view you as not caring about their culture enough because you've retracted from them in the name of non-appropriation.

Personally, I find cultural appropriation outrage and the desire for non-appropriation of cultures to be a bunch of hogwash.

Speaking of hogwash, now there's a big uproar about white people wearing dreads and braids.

In a Huffpost article Kearie Daniel writes a rant where she claims a white person wearing braids is the same as black-face. Here direct quote is:

"In many ways, it’s the same as wearing blackface or a dreadlock hat; it’s play acting with someone’s heritage, and it needs to stop." 

Um... no. No, it's not. And no it doesn't.

She also says the following:

"The problem with ... white people culturally appropriating black hair styles is simple: These are black historical styles, and they haven’t earned the right to wear them."

Give me a break. 

Because something is cultural doesn't mean that it is exclusive only to that culture. There is no such thing as a "dumpling soup right" because Scandinavians invented dumpling soup. Many cultures have invented dumpling soup. The Chinese have dumplings too. But to truly learn to appreciate the dumpling soups of various cultures, you must partake of each cultures dumpling soup.

Thinking that because you have dumpling soup nobody else should be allowed to make it is, well, quite frankly, stupid.

Such thinking denies cultural transmission, cultural fusion, or even cultural adaptation. It denies the posibility for the same, if not similar, culture ideas, cutsoms, fashions, and belief rising independently. It denies access to culture for unsound reasons that limit cultural understanding rather than sponsor the spread and growth of cultural understanding. In most cases, cultural appropriation is harmless. The only time it becomes damaging is when a majority group culturally appropriates a minority group with the goal of diminishing that group rather than learning to understand it better.

But that's not the type of thing most people are complaining about when they cry outrage at cultural appropriation. Most of the time it's simply xenophobia because it seeks to deny the fluidity and organic nature of most cultures and cultural transmission.

Let me cite an example.

It's summer time here in Japan, and it's fireworks season. I am a minority here. But I see it part of my duty, as a foreigner living in Japan, to honor and respect Japanese custom and tradition. As such, I continually go out of my way to culturally appropriate many aspects of Japanese culture and thinking. Not only does it make life easier, it gives me a better understanding of the people and their customs of the place I've lived for over a decade.

Now, if I choose to wear a Japanese yukata (a kind of lightweight cotton kimono for summertime) for going fireworks, for example, because I've culturally appropriated a part of Japanese custom (in this case festival going attire) that I happen to like doesn't mean I am "play acting." Any suggestion that I am play-acting fails to grasp what culture is and how cultural appropriation works. 

Simply put, I am adopting part of a culture I admire as a way of growing closer to that culture, and then incorporating it into my own identity and worldview. That's genuine cultural appropriation. And it's quite harmless. In fact, I think you'll find in most cases it's even necessary.



And just because I appropriate certain aspects of a culture and not others doesn't mean it somehow devalues the history or legacy of Japanese culture. It most certainly doesn't. And the same could be said of any other form of cultural appropriation, I think you'll find.

Japan, as you may well know, is the master of cultural appropriation. Just look at how Kogal fashion arose, and how it morphed into Gangaru which gave rise to Manba. That's cultural appropriation gone full circle. So you see, cultural appropriation works both ways, and is dynamic.

If a black person wants to dye their hair blonde, then be blonde! If a white person wants to wear braids, so be it! This cultural appropriation outrage is complete nonsense.

Those who cry about cultural appropriation only do so on the basis that they are secretly xenophobes and want to use cultural appropriation as a way to safeguard their own culture from being "contaminated" by -- other -- outside cultures.

Hyperbolic outrage about cultural appropriation is a way to prevent and stigmatize cultural fusion. It denies self-expression, and limit free expression to only what is considered "culturally acceptable" within your own culture. As I said, it's hogwosh. Cultural appropriation isn't something to fear. It's something to embrace.

We're one peoples, one world, and it's time to stop seeing things in terms of labels and divisions. 

Cultural appropriation outrage is veiled xenophobia, plain and simple. It's saying you're this race, or this culture, and there's a line that you've crossed because you've appropriated or borrowed something of my race or culture. But, no. No, there's no race or cultural boundaries as such. Race is a made up concept. We're all one race. The human race. And those lines you see... that's simply you squinting too hard. 

Instead of crying outrage over cultural appropriation, let's open our eyes. Stop complaining and putting up walls and, instead, learn to accept cultural appropriation for what it is -- a way to gain a better understanding of others and as a means to grow closer with our fellow human beings.


[NOTE: I am well aware there are real instances where cultural appropriation is used to further oppress a minority group. But those cases are usually quite well defined (i.e., blackface, using Native Americna religious dress for a halloween costume, etc.) and the appropriation being used, in this case to dilute or expunge a minority culture, has very measurable consequences. Such claims of harmful cultural appropriation must be argued carefully and have no room for outrage. Further, to claim that because people are borrowing aspects of your culture somehow is oppressive to you is a very specific claim and needs to be defended quite carefully, giving a full consideration to any valid objections to your argument as presented. Otherwise it's just xenophobic caterwauling and whitenoise and needs to be left out of the discourse.)


Monday, August 8, 2016

IS ABORTION MURDER? (A RATIONALIST’S TAKE) *REPOST*

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July 9th, 2016

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IS ABORTION MURDER? (A RATIONALIST’S TAKE)
By Tristan Vick
7/9/2016



INTRODUCTION

I’ve always been somewhat of a pedant when it comes to terminology. Personally, I just think it’s better to know what you’re talking about when you’re pontificating on some cultural or social subject rather than, say, not knowing anything but thinking you’re the bee’s knees simply for having an opinion.

Often in the pro-life vs. pro-choice abortion debate, the pro-life side will make the hyperbolic claim that “abortion is murder!”

They also like to imply if you support abortion that you are in support of murder. They don’t seem to realize that the pro-choice side isn’t pro-baby killing. We don’t want unnecessary abortions either. But when it comes to the abortion debate, we pro-choicers have understood the fine nuances of the pro-life proposition which they clearly have failed to properly consider.

That’s what I want to examine today.

All the nuances that the pro-life side has utterly, and completely, failed to properly consider let alone adequately address.

So without further ado, let’s get this show on the road.

PART 1: The LEGAL TROUBLE with the Pro-life Stance

Of course, the short answer is, no, abortion is not murder. In most cases it’s a legal medical procedure. A necessary one even.

In my experience, what the pro-life side is attempting to say, rather poorly, is that they think abortion should be classified as murder.

But this is where things get tricky. Because murder is a legal term with very specific meanings under very well defined contexts. In fact, the law distinguishes between 1st, 2nd, and 3rd degree murder, understanding there is a scale of culpability and consequences to consider. Where premeditated murder, manslaughter, and involuntary / accidental manslaughter differentiate is no trivial matter. The law recognizes, rightly so, that there are different forms of taking a human life, and not all of these forms are equal in terms of culpability or even in punishment.

This is common sense to us, since we all know that a drunk driver accidentally running over some school children crossing the street is different from honestly not seeing a child jump into the street chasing a ball before it’s too late which is still more different from raging out and mowing down a bunch of school children crossing the street in your car.

These are different forms of killing. With different factors at work which lend to each having different dynamics forcing the law to examine each and every one of the variables at play in order to be as objectively unbiased as possible. A law that doesn’t do this, well, wouldn’t be a very good law, I think you’ll find.

And that’s why I find it problematic when pro-life advocates claim that “abortion is murder.”

What kind of murder would you like it to be? Just murder isn’t a thing. Not in the eyes of the law anyway. So pro-life advocates have to be more specific.

Although they want abortion to be classified as a form of murder, I’ve never seen any logical, moral, or philosophical arguments given to make that case. It seems most of the time it is used as a shock-tactic. A bit of hyperbole. It fits with the right wing narrative that demonizes all abortion as evil and equates it with the most heinous crime imaginable, taking another human beings life against their will.

But then, here we have a new problem. If you want to provide legal protections to an unborn fetus, in the same way you provide legal protection to an autonomous adult, you’d have to show their free will has been violated, and then, as you can imagine, this implies you must first prove an unborn fetus has a free will to be violated in the first place. Not an easy task, I can assure you.

You see, those who claim abortion is murder seem to be conflating the legal rights of an autonomous individual with the rights of an unborn fetus, and are making the incorrect assumption that the fetus's rights deserve broader legal protections, even at the sake of the mother's rights being restricted or infringed upon.

However, this is problematic for several reasons.

First, in law there is no legal precedent for this strange usurping of an adult’s rights by an unborn fetus’s rights since children's rights are, and always have been, limited by the law until they become legal adults.

At most, a fetus could be granted the same rights as a child. Maybe. But not being an individual where free will is recognizable, not even being born for that matter, seems to set strict parameters on what kind of rights that unborn fetus could be allotted in a state of law. After all, in order to make a claim that their rights have been violated, the unborn fetus needs to face their accuser in a court of law, and this can’t happen. Which is why in pro-life policy driven states the trick is to grant the state the right to make the claim on behalf of the unborn fetus.

But this raises ethical concerns on the treatment of women, and by extension their unborn offspring.

For example, in El Salvador, women are frequently jailed for having miscarriages. Because, in their case, policy makers outside themselves control them through laws and regulations. These policy makers decide, on behalf of the fetus, what the mother – viewed a property of the state – should be dictated to do. In most cases, the mother is punished for legal crimes against an unborn fetus which may have the legal protection of governing bodies, but may not actually have any legal rights unto itself, strangely enough.


Saying that others, whether it be the state or the policy makers, should make legal claims on behalf of the unborn fetus opens a whole can of worms that have proved to dangerously restrict, even endanger, the wellbeing of women. In a free and civilized democracy like America, arguing for such restrictions is Draconian.

Yet since 2005, there have been more than 380 cases in the U.S. alone – the so called land of the free – where pregnant women have been jailed, arrested, and / or tried for crimes against their unborn fetuses.


Being charged for criminal conduct and jailed for a natural miscarriage is a lot like having your house knocked down in an earthquake and being arrested and imprisoned for the destruction of private property. It’s beyond the pale, goes against all reason and common sense, yet there are policies in place which carry out these absurd and inconceivable laws gleefully and without question.
        
What exactly a fetus's rights are has nowhere been clearly defined. But what we do know is that such Draconian policies always devolve into a legal mess, and the only people who suffer for it are the mothers – the women – whose rights are conveniently forgotten about the moment anti-abortion legislation enters the equation.

Even if you are pro-life, this should force you to give some serious pause and consideration.

And from a theory of law standpoint, this is a very slippery slope. A very slippery slope indeed.

Even though we can all probably agree that a lot more work needs to be done in this area, the fact of the matter is, you cannot expect a fetus's legal rights to outstrip the mother’s when those rights, in point of fact, have not been clearly or concisely defined yet. It’s like trying to have cake in your cake so you can have cake-in-cake and eat it too. It’s just weird and doesn’t make a lick of sense.

In fact, we probably shouldn't expect an unborn fetus's rights to even be comparable to a child's, but, perhaps, that is a debate is better left up to the legal experts.

My point in all this is essentially this: this legal problem of defining the unborn fetus’s legal standing within society has NEVER been fully or adequately addressed by the pro-life side.

The best they have come up with, tellingly enough, is to make the woman into property, give the state control over her body and reproductive choices, and punish the mother – because all she is, is chattel after all – when she fails to abide by the reproductive guidelines forced upon her and which do not consider her best interests as a mother or human being.

It’s draconian in the worst sense of the word, I think you’ll find. Yet this is essentially what pro-life proponents call for when they claim “abortion is murder.” It’s anti-woman because it blames the woman for what is, essentially, nobody’s business but her own and then says because she was doing her life wrong, according to their rules, they took legal actions to overrule her self-autonomy and thereby trample all over her civil rights. That’s what saying “abortion is murder” entails.

So, to make a long question short. Is abortion murder? Not in the legal sense. No. Thank goodness.

But this is only the first trouble area. There’s more to it. So please bear with me as I detail exactly why the pro-life position isn’t a valid position and why it’s maladroit as a social and political stance with regard to the abortion issue.


PART 2: The MORAL TROUBLE with Pro-Life Stance

The greater problem with the pro-life argument lies not on the legal side of things, but the moral and philosophical side of things.

You may have often heard it said that “abortion is evil.”

Whereas “abortion is murder” is a very specific legal claim, saying that “abortion is evil” is a very specific moral claim.

The way the pro-life side typically deals with this is to say that life begins at conception, with the added caveat that life is sacred – well, human life, that is.

Then there is the other problem of defining “life.”

Science says one thing. Pro-lifers say another.

Science says biological life has stages. Pro-lifers just say life is life. Whatever that means.

Science says it takes 2 weeks for fertilization.

This is where pro-lifers say conception begins – but the problem here is, the fertilized egg hasn’t even attached to the uterus yet. It is also where most spontaneous abortions occur. 20 out of 100 women in America alone will have a spontaneous abortion / miscarriage before the age of 40. Mother Nature doesn’t make a very good mother, apparently.


Think about that for a moment. Nearly a quarter of the female populace suffers one or more miscarriages through no fault of their own. This raises the peculiar question of whether or not defining life in this way would hold Mother Nature legally accountable for abortions where anti-abortion laws take effect.

Remember the cake-inside-the-cake thing we talked about that made no sense? Yeah, this makes even less sense. But it’s a real possibility given the way pro-life advocates seek to define “life.” One would start to think that if your definition gives rise to weird unintended consequences like this, you might not have the best possible definition. Just a thought.

On a related note, it also raises theological problems for believers who claim to use God as their moral guide. A guide by which they feel they can definitively say all life – but especially human life – is sacred. You see, if there is indeed an all-loving, all-powerful, Supreme Being – it stems to reason that since an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God would share culpability in NOT preventing the fertilized eggs abortion when they could have, God must, in accordance to his own nature, prevent spontaneous abortions / miscarriages. It would be like a doctor refusing to save a patient when they had all the power to do so. It’s inconceivable, and it suggests that God is either malevolent, i.e. completely evil, or else entirely impotent.

As to be expected though, the pro-life side chooses to ignore these unfavorable consequences and go straight for the throat of people’s moral consciences by claiming killing a hapless child is evil!
Well, take a deep breath folks. The truth is, it’s not even a potential child yet, since the not-even-born yet baby will likely self-abort anyway. And this scientific fact shows us that defining life as beginning at conception isn’t only problematic, but also quite ridiculous.

Why is it ridiculous? Because…

Science says it takes 3 weeks for implantation. Conception has happened, but the human embryo has not even developed yet. So we have only a potential for human life.

And so it doesn’t make any sense to say this fertilized egg which has the potential to become a human fetus is already a human fetus. It hasn’t gotten to that stage yet.

The pro-life claim ignores the science. Fetal development doesn’t mean a thing to them because they choose to ignore the biology and say that life begins at conception, and then something magical happens, and all the rights of a full grown human are imbued into something that hasn’t even grown into an embryo yet.

But if that wasn’t enough to convince you of why it’s a ridiculous and arbitrary definition of “life” we must also consider that

Science says it takes at least 4 weeks for the embryo to officially form.

Now the potential is maximized, since an embryo can turn into a fetus. But the problem is, just to come back to this issue, miscarriages. The majority of miscarriages occur within the first 20 weeks of embryonic development. So, even though we have an embryo, unlike Katniss from the Hunger Games, the chances are not in its favor. There is still the 20 in 100 chance that it will spontaneous self-destruct. That’s a strange sort of “life.”

If new cars driven off the dealer’s lot self-destructed 20 out of 100 times, would you feel safe driving a new car off the lot? Probably not. Would you feel right calling the self-destructed pile of rubble a “car”? Probably not. Then why call a self-destructed baby a “life”? Because that’s essentially what the pro-life side is trying to get away with when they deliberately ignore things like spontaneous abortion when formulating their definition of “life.” You see, their ideal version of “life” is sacred and never self-destructs. But this is wishful thinking, and it clearly shows they aren’t deriving their definition of “life” from reality.

Some pro-life sites, like Abort 73.com, although cataloging many useful abortion statistics, make suspicious claims like “Growth in the womb is a rapid process, all systems are in place by week 8.”


Although this notion that “all systems are in place by week 8” is not entirely accurate. In fact, it’s a half-truth slanted to make the pro-life position seem more scientific than it really is, and by extension more reasonable than it is too.

Thankfully, the science it quite clear on the matter.

By week 8 the human nervous system is only beginning to develop. The neural pathways haven’t even been developed yet, so there’s still no “feeling any pain” since the fetus isn’t well-developed enough to even process pain. This is about the time breathing tubes develop from the throat to the lungs, and the fetus is roughly the size of a kidney bean.





According to Guttmacher Institute, the primary source for all abortion research and policy analysis, it is reported that two-thirds of abortions occur at approximately eight weeks of pregnancy or earlier. This is long before the baby is an actual fully functioning organism. In fact, the tiny kidney bean doesn’t even feel any pain!

Which begs the question, why would anyone give a not yet developed, non-functioning, kidney bean the same legal rights as a well-developed, fully-functioning, form of the same organism?


Please, don’t mistake my question as being callous. Calling a fetus at 8 weeks a kidney bean is probably more accurate than calling it a human baby. We know that human babies breathe and feel pain. Human kidney beans do not, or in this case, embryo’s only 8 weeks into its fetal development.

And it’s not like we’ve stripped a kidney bean of its basic human rights. First of all, it’s not yet a living human. It’s one stage of development in human life – human life being the final product of all the stages of fetal development. Not before that.

And at 8 weeks it cannot feel. So there’s no pain. It cannot think. So there is no stress. For all intents and purposes, it is a collection of cells still undergoing development. That’s what the science says. That’s what any medical professional will tell you.

It’s a potential human being, but not yet anything constituting a full human being deserving the same rights as a full human being. What its rights might be aren’t exactly clear. Nobody has argued for what rights collections of living cells ought to have. They just said because they are human cells it must magically have human rights. But this is why discussion regarding bio-ethics are so important.

No less important is the fact that we are not talking about a handicapped individual here. We aren’t stripping something’s rights away which already had rights to begin with. Rather, we are talking about a stage of development. A stage of development where if the fetus doesn’t go beyond this particular stage it doesn’t become anything at all. It never gets to the point where the topic of rights would have any prevalence.

Re-read that last sentence again and let that sink in.

And that, basically, is what pro-life supporters want to give full legal rights to. A potential something, but not yet anything, maybe someday human lifeform. Shockingly enough, pro-life advocates want to allow this not yet anything, undeveloped lifeform to supersede the rights of its host mother. And mothers, as we all know, do have rights.

This kind of reasoning is so muddled, so convoluted, that the best we can do is to say, sorry, but your position is unreasonable and trespasses on the absurd.

But many pro-lifers have bought into the abortions is murder / abortion is evil propaganda hook, line, and sinker. They believe, for whatever reason, that those alarmist anti-abortion videos of doctors ripping out baby fetuses from bloody vaginas with metal tongs, then chopping them up on a silver platter and throwing them into dumpsters is, somehow, an accurate reflection of real life abortion.

It’s not.

It’s pure propaganda. A fiction meant to scare people into thinking abortion is a vile practice that only immoral barbarians would carry out rather than what it really is – a lifesaving medical procedure carried out by medical professionals in clinics and hospitals.

Besides this, in most cases, and abortion requires merely taking a pill before the end of the first trimester. No drama required.

As it turns out, those third trimester abortions you see in doctored videos are the rarest of the rare.

The Guttmacher Institute states that third trimester abortions are less than 1.3% of the entire populace and are reserved for extremely rare medical conditions where there will be serious complications to the mother, fetus, or both.


And if you don’t think there are valid medical reasons for late-term abortions, chances are you've never heard of anencephaly.

Yeah. Anencephaly. Look it up.

And still, it’s less than 1.3%. So the whole abortion is evil bit amounts to little more than brainless hysterics. Now, that’s not to devalue people’s empathy, who genuinely feel bad when an abortion happens. But it helps to know the reasons. Ignoring the reasons and calling it all evil is not helpful.

At the same time, the Guttmacher Institute reminds us that 91% of all abortions happen in the first trimester, before 11th week of pregnancy, more than 65% occurring before the 8th week of pregnancy. Remember, that’s the time where we have the unfeeling kidney bean embryo.

And let’s not forget that spontaneous abortions / miscarriages occur all the way through the 20th week of pregnancy regardless. And that’s the cold hard reality of it.

As for those alarmist videos, they are just that, alarmist propaganda. And that wouldn’t be so bad if such propaganda only duped fools into believing it, but as it happens it can dupe otherwise reasonable people into believing it as well. And that’s dangerous, I think you’ll agree. Dangerous for the very reason that it weaponizes our ignorance and then seeks to use it against us.

When all is said and done, the facts are the facts and are readily available for anybody who wants to educate themselves on the details of abortion and what it entails. And the fact remains, second and third trimester abortions are extremely rare. *Extremely* and *rare* being the key words here.

So setting an arbitrary definition for the definition of “life” – one which conveniently aligns precisely with their pre-selected worldview, but which seems to habitually butt heads with the science – is all the pro-life side has to offer us.

I think you’ll agree, that’s simply not good enough to convince anyone that abortion ought to be considered murder or that it’s inherently evil. This is a black and white, overly simplistic view that doesn’t understand the first thing about the complexities or nuances involved in addressing the major ethical concerns permeating this debate.

So we can take away two things so far.

1.      The pro-life side’s legal claim of unborn fetuses having rights is nowhere in evidence and needs to be developed into a viable argument before being put into law.

As it is, the pro-life side has offered a non-starter. It’s a poorly thought out position based on political biases and emotional prejudices. It hasn’t considered any of the relevant material, which is why it relies on emotional pleas and alarmist tactics while vilifying the other side’s position, offering only propaganda instead of facts, to try and persuade others of the worthiness of their cause. It’s an ill-informed opinion masquerading as fact. And it’s dangerous.

2.      The pro-life definition of “life” is deeply flawed if not completely nonsensical.

Furthermore, it conflicts with what the science shows to be fact. At the same time the definition being offered deliberately ignores competing definitions and attempts to overrule them by making moral platitudes designed to manipulate people’s emotions into giving up these other well-defined definitions for vague, an nebulous ones which only seek to sew further confusion rather than bring any clarity to the issues at hand.

These are not trivial concerns, mind you. These are serious objections to the pro-life position. Damning ones, you might even say.

The entire pro-life side of the debate must first overcome these major obstacles and objections in order to become a viable argument. Only once it has been formalized as a real argument can it be worthy of consideration and debate.

Right now, all they have is an opinion. And it is on this lofty opinion that so much anti-abortion legislature hangs. Which is quite frightening to anyone dealing with anti-abortion policies which have failed to take any of the relevant information into consideration. I don’t say this to be divisive. What it shows is that pro-life supporters simply haven’t thought through the issues, have no solutions for the problems, yet want their position to carry the same moral weight. It doesn’t.

On the other hand, the pro-choice side succinctly avoids these same pitfalls and therefore is the sturdier position. It does this because it is a contra-argument to what the pro-choice side offers, or in this case, fails to offer. The pro-choice side, by design, sides with reasonable and just policies based on our current scientific, legal, and moral understanding of all the factors involved. As such, it’s not pushing an agenda in the same way the pro-life side is clearly pushing an agenda. It’s a counter-offer to that agenda, which says that you cannot arbitrarily strip a woman of her civil liberties simply because you have arbitrarily selected and random definition of “life” which you wish to impose on everyone else regardless of the moral consequences. Hence the pro-choice stance can be viewed as a push-back against the inherent illogicality of the pro-life stance.


PART 3: The PHILOSOPHICAL TROUBLE with the Pro-Life Stance

The pro-life position is plagued with legal problems as well as moral problems. But it is riddled with practical philosophical problems as well. That’s just a fancy way of saying, if you were to give it a deeper consideration, the pro-life position is philosophically unsound.

There are two distinct philosophical failings of the pro-life side of the debate.

The first is how one gives autonomy to individual with no identity.

The second problem arises when you give the right to autonomy to two individuals inhabiting the same body and thereby placing their identities in opposition and creating conflict.

First, for the sake of argument, let’s concede to the pro-life claim that life begins at conception.

We can grant pro-life proponents this much, because even if this is the definition we are using, the bigger moral problems are yet to come. In fact, you might even say the pro-life side still has all their work ahead of them.

In order to explain the problem, I first have to make everyone aware of a philosophical riddle that has baffled philosophers for centuries.

It’s called The Ship of Theseus paradox.

Now, the paradox has been discussed by ancient philosophers such as Heraclitus and Plato, and more recently by heavy weight thinkers like Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. The paradox, according to the Greek historian Plutarch, is as such:

The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned from Crete had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalereus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their places, in so much that this ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question of things that grow; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same.
— Plutarch, Theseus


Essentially, the problem asks you to imagine Theseus’s ship. It is uncovered by modern archeologists on some Grecian beach. Unearthing it, they take the ship to a museum and, low and behold, discover some of the ship’s wood planks have rotted away. Subsequently, they replace those planks.

Now, here’s where the philosophical paradox comes into play. After a few years of sitting in the old museum, a few more of the ships planks rot away. Those too get replaced. Another few years crawls by, and another couple of planks get replaced. This continues on for many years until, finally, we come to the last original plank. It too has rotted away and is beyond repair, and therefore gets replaced.

The paradox asks us, at what instant did Theseus’s ship change from one thing to another?

Some would say that it stopped being Theseus’s ship after 50% of the planks were replaced. Others would say it was still Theseus’s ship right up till the last plank was replaced. After that, no longer. But others would argue that it was still Theseus’s original ship even after all the planks were replaced because some of those new planks had been a part of the original at one time and thus carried with them the essence of Theseus’s ship.

Now, there’s no need to wrack your brain. There’s no actual solution to the riddle.

What the paradox is designed to show us is that things have recognizable forms, but these forms often change. Because of this factor involving changing forms we recognize that, whether the original or a facsimile, a thing has a kind of identity unto itself whereby it can be one thing or the other but never both (unless you’re Schrodinger’s cat, that is. *Ba-dum-tshh*). As such, the ship is either Theseus’s ship or it’s not Theseus’s ship.

The reason this becomes important in the abortion debate is this. When you define life as beginning at conception, you still haven’t identified when the life is a person.

The essence of being a person is quite different than simply being a living thing such as a collection of cells, or an embryo, or a fetus in the first week of development, or a fetus in the eighth week of development, and so on and so forth.

We know a human embryo form a full grown child. And then, we know and fetus is not an embryo.

So the problem with defining life at conception is that you’re trying to define one thing as another thing. Or you’re trying to make recognizably different things all the same thing. Strictly speaking, however, this isn’t possible. It’s nonsense. A thing is a thing is a thing. And that thing cannot be some other thing… until… well, it is. And that’s the Theseus Ship paradox in a nutshell. Or should I say bottle?

Simply put, to say life begins at conception and then giving that embryo legal rights would mean ONLY that embryo has legal rights. Not the fetus. You would have to write a separate law to say that the fetus has legal rights, apart from the embryo, if that’s what you want to say. And, to compound matters, you’d have to write yet one more set of laws to distinguish the rights of a fully living child apart from both a fetus and an embryo.

And this is a basic philosophical consideration which one would need to be taken into account before writing laws since something as complex as biology, undeniably, involves changing forms.

Yet the pro-life side would rather not think about this in any detail. Again, probably because they aren’t offering a formal argument for their position. They aren’t offering reasons. They are offering mere opinions and then telling you, often times quite passionately with crocodile tears, how they feel about their own opinions.

Well, I hate to be the barer of bad news, but an opinion doesn’t make a valid argument. And although you’re entitled to your own opinions, you’re not entitled to your own facts.

Of course, you will recall I mentioned there were two parts to the identity problem.

The second part is more subtle, but also that much more damaging to the pro-life stance.

Even if we grant the pro-life definition of life, and even if we grant them that an unborn fetus is entitled to certain legal protections, what they seems to be forgetting in all of this is… the mother.

As an already fully actualized, autonomous, individual she has legal rights. Thus has legal standing in cases brought against her by her unborn fetus. Which is technically impossible, which, inevitably, explains why pro-lifers always argue for legal involvement in such cases when erecting anti-abortion policies. They need to control the mother’s body, they need to infringe upon her rights, because what they are doing, in this case, is putting the mother’s rights in opposition to the unborn fetus’s rights.

Naturally, this creates a huge moral problem. Because the only way to resolve this issue, in a court of law, is to demote a woman to the status of property. It is to revoke her civil liberties and take away her ability to make her own choices and actions regarding her own body.

In the case of abortion, what the pro-life side is seeking to do is say that the unborn fetus resides inside the host mothers, as a tenant resides inside an apartment building, and that the mother cannot unlawfully evict the fetus because the fetus has every right to live there – and has nowhere else to go.

The problem isn’t that a fetus cannot pay its rent, but that the mother has been made into property in order to imbue the unborn fetus with the same legal rights and standing as the mother.

I’m sure you can see how making a person into property is not only ill advised but, all things considered, completely amoral.

Yet, this is what has to happen when you place an unborn fetus’s legal standing on par with its autonomous mother’s. A conflict of identity which pits individuals against each other in both legal and moral terms – which is a huge philosophical problem.

And, no, saying “life begins at conception” does not solve this problem. It only exasperates it. It presupposes all life is sacred, but for mysterious reasons that aren’t justifiable and only seems to muck up the discussion with unnecessary metaphysical considerations that have no place in the debate in the first place.

Saying abortion equates to the same thing as murder simply isn’t true. It’s not even a logical consequence of “life beginning at conception” because the law does not automatically imbue all forms of life with equal rights, let alone state that preventing a thing from gaining a life is the same thing as taking it. Another reason saying that “abortion is murder” is simply incorrect.


And, finally, stating rather matter-of-fact like that “abortion is evil” is simply a failure of moral reasoning of the highest order. Quite frankly, it is the embarrassing admission that you’re not yet ready to have a sophisticated discussion on the finer, highly complex, aspects of human rights and ethics. It is the happy display of one’s failure to reason through the issues well – and it’s not deserving of any special kind of consideration – at least not until a better argument is made.  



CONCLUSION

The bottom line is this. Right out of the gate the pro-life stance is indefensible. Consequently, it fails to meet the challenge of justifying itself and making a valid case on numerous fronts, including the legal, moral, and the philosophical.

Worse than this stupendous failure, however, is that the pro-life position seeks to jeopardize a mother’s rights, threatening a breakdown of her civil rights, and places her at the mercy of policy makers who haven’t the first clue as how to address the complicated bio-ethical concerns something like human biology and abortion raise. Meanwhile, the pro-life side continues to defer all responsibility of a rigorous examination of the relevant information and continues to deride the pro-choice side as immoral for supporting a woman’s choice to have an abortion, offering only the wailing lamentation that “abortion is murder” and, in their mind, “abortion is evil” even though these claims are nowhere in evidence and are often found to be in opposition to the truth.

Needless to say, a lot of work needs to be done first developing their argument before the pro-life side can carry any relevant weight in civil rights discussion. As it is, it’s not even close to being a valid, let alone viable, argument. At most it’s an opinion which deliberately seeks to fortify itself behind the walls of ignorance. Then asks us to use this ignorance to lash ourselves senselessly with it – because feelings. I think you’ll agree with me that this simply isn’t good enough. Especially when it comes to import hot topic issues like women’s rights and abortion.

Meanwhile, the pro-choice stance doesn't suffer these same flaws and isn't in conflict with science or legal theory in the appalling way the pro-life stance clearly is. The pro-choice side honors the woman’s autonomy and doesn’t fall into the same trap of pitting her identity and rights as an individual against those of her unborn fetus. And it certainly doesn’t seek to make her into chattel or the property of the state by placing her at the mercy of the courts and ignorant politicians and policy makers who ask her to lash herself with the biting tendrils of their ignorance as well – because feelings.

As a rationalist, I can only see the pro-life position as a non-starter. Indeed, it appears that at this time, the pro-choice position is the only valid position in the whole abortion debate. And that says a lot about why this debate never seems to be able to be resolved. The side that needs to argue their case, the pro-life side, continually fails to do so. Yet relying on the strength of their propaganda alone they have convinced thousands to take their side – because feelings – and despite the fact that it defies all reason to do so. And that’s the sorry state of affairs as they are today, in 2016, I’m sorry to report.

I don’t expect what I say here will change very many minds. But it’s worth noting, that whenever an advocate for pro-life says that “abortion is murder” or that “abortion is evil” they clearly haven’t thought things through. People who understand the finer details and all the nuances of the problem would simply not resort to such na├»ve emotional appeals. They’d approach the problem more thoughtfully and with deep consideration.

At the end of the day, if it were up to me to decide, I would strongly urge pro-life supporters everywhere to stop making moral platitudes and proclamations based on their emotional knee-jerk reactions to some alarmist anti-abortion propaganda videos on the Internet and get to work making their case as solid as they can in order to win the uphill battle of tackling the scientific, legal, and moral problems of their unrefined, ill thought through, largely illogical, and frequently damaging position.

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Tristan Vick is a published author who writes both fiction and non-fiction. In 2014 he sold the rights to his zombie novel series BITTEN to Permuted Press and Winlock Press. In addition to this, he also has published the cult hit paranormal detective novel The Scarecrow & Lady Kingston: Rough Justice, also by Winlock Press. His next major novel will be the cyberpunk techno-thriller Robotica, published by Regolith Publications. In addition to his fiction work, Tristan Vick has published numerous books in the area of religious history and philosophy. He co-edited the critically acclaimed book Beyond an Absence of Faith with the philosopher Jonathan M.S. Pearce, which collected the de-conversion stories of religious apostates from a variety of religious faiths including Islam, Christianity, Hindu, and two cult survivors. More recently, Tristan Vick published a critical examination of the work of Christian apologist Randal Rauser and Christian apologetics in general in his book The Swedish Fish, edited by the religious scholar and historian Robert M. Price.

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Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist