Friday, January 2, 2009

On the funny way that liberals show how much they value 'freedom of speech'

In the finest traditions of liberalism, the Canadian blogger MgS has started to block completely (or almost completely--more on this in a minute) my comments, despite the fact that they contain nothing blasphemous, obscene, libelous or seditious. That's liberalism for you, folks: upholding 'freedom of conscience', as long as you think how they think (cf. new abortion laws coming in around the world, such as the recent Victorian Abortion Law Reform Bill), and upholding 'freedom of speech' as long as you say what they say. And blocking you out of discussion isn't censorship, of course (the Enlightened are incapable of that 'injustice'); I suppose it's just 'destroying the diversity in order to celebrate it'.

Now I say "almost completely" because MgS has done me the small favour of deigning to publish, in a blog post update, two questions that I have put to her regarding the right to life:

1. Does the unborn baby begin to enjoy the right to life at any point during his or her gestation?

2. If not, how long after his or her birth does he or she begin to enjoy the right to life?

She directs me and her readers to another blog post (which I will refute in a moment), and then offers a little summary of that post. She makes the incredible assertion that

In short, both of these questions fall firmly into the domain of the pregnant woman - it is her decision and hers alone to make.
So the expecting mother decides whether her unborn baby enjoys the right to life. Note carefully the choice of the word 'decide'--not discern, but decide, so the mother actually creates her child's right to life (cf. MgS's stunning earlier assertion that "Humanity creates morality, twit"). Now this is really quite dumbfounding, isn't it? The notion that one person confers the right to life on another, as if it were a gratuity to be bestowed, not a right to be owed.

If you think that's pretty incredible, wait till what MgS says one sentence later:

You can argue until you are blue in the face about "when life begins" ...
But this is the crux of the the whole matter; it cannot simply be dismissed. So MgS says the mother creates her child's right to life. Does MgS concede, though, that once the baby is out of his or her mother's body the right to life is to be recognised? Surely she must (I hope yes, but wouldn't be surprised if no). If yes, then to assert that the right to life is in the gift of the mother creates the absurd situation whereby a prematurely-born baby has the right to life, but not one of the same age (and hence same objective characteristics) who happens still to be in his or her mother's womb. So the notion of the right to life as the will of the mother is to be rejected on the basis of its inconsistency. If human life, and hence the right to life, does indeed begin at some objective (but, for the materialists, unknown) point then the will of the mother is totally irrelevant. Anyway, so far this is all pure assertion on MgS's part. She goes on to explain what she regards as its basis, though, by appeal to the "fundamental fact"

that bearing the child has a significant biological cost for the woman.
So? The mother continues to bear a significant biological cost afterwards, too--she still has to breastfeed him or her, and that's to say nothing of the other costs of clothing and sheltering him or her. If the cost of dependency is the deciding factor in the right to life then presumably no right to life can be recognised until the child is old enough to be independent.

She concludes by saying that

Paraphrasing the old adage "he who has the gold makes the rules", she who pays the price, makes the decisions. All the way up to birth.

Anything less presumes that a woman is incapable of making moral and ethical decisions of her own the moment she becomes pregnant.

Regarding the first sentence, if he or she who bears the costs makes the rule (what a sickeningly materialistic principle), then why just "All the way up to birth"? Why not all the way up to adolescence? And no, MgS, "Anything less" then your pure positivism is not to say "that a woman is incapable of making moral and ethical decisions of her own the moment she becomes pregnant". All it says is that her decisions could be wrong.
Now to refute her earlier blog post on this topic:
Now she begins by examining what she calls "the notion of "protecting life at all costs"". She says that "Okay, that's fine - to a point", which is interesting, since it is a variation on her more extreme views in the more recent post. What she seems to be implying here is that protecting unborn life is a legitimate norm, but that it is subordinate to the norm of one's control over one's body. The problem here, though, is that if protection of life itself is subordinate to protection of the body then we have the absurd implication that one can use lethal force licitly to repel an aggressor whose aggression is non-life-threatening. In any other situation but abortion MgS would agree, presumably, that that level of response would be disproportionate.

MgS, in her usual style, goes on to draw the following non sequiturs from the premise of "protecting life at all costs":

(1) Absolute prohibition on abortion effectively changes a woman's status when she becomes pregnant from social equal and participant in our society to that of "vessel of procreation".

(2) The second problem with such absolutes is that it presupposes that a woman who is pregnant is unable to make moral (or ethical) decisions for herself regarding her pregnancy, its progress and its conclusion.

(3) Biologically speaking, pregnancy is a very expensive process for the woman. It is also a very risky process that can, in some circumstances be quite dangerous as well. The question of protecting life in a case where a woman's life is endangered by being pregnant raises the question of just whose life are we to protect?

(4) There are circumstances where a woman may become pregnant through no fault of her own - rape comes to mind as one possible scenario. How many women would want to carry a child forced upon them by a man they would never choose to mate with?
Now (1) would only be unreasonable if there were a double standard with regard to the care of children owed by mothers (and, for that matter, fathers) before birth and another afterwards, when in fact there is not: if the mother is indeed, temporarily, a "vessel of procreation" for the term of the pregnancy, then she and the father remain afterwards vessels, as it were, of protection. So yes, the status of a pregnant women is different to the status of a non-pregnant woman, just as the status of a man with dependent children is different to that of a man without dependents.

As for (2), I have dealt with that already: no-one is saying that pregancy impairs a woman's conscience, only that the decisions of that conscience might be wrong.

I have also dealt with the first part of (3) (child-rearing is expensive for a newborn, too), and as for the second part, this is covered by the norm that one may never will evil, but one may will to permit evil in order to avert a greater evil.
As for (4), this is in fact an evasion if intended in the context of determining when the right to life begins, since, according to MgS, the right to life is the gift of the mother. But even taken in itself it is still irrelevant, since whenever the right to life does indeed begin, it has nothing to do with the circumstances in which conception occured.

But MgS is by no means done with her trademark non sequiturs; this beauty follows:

The view that women are primarily vessels for producing babies echoes throughout human history. This view has given rise to some pretty horrible behaviours - such as "rape as a right of conquest", seen most publicly in the aftermath of the conflict the region of Serbia in the 1990s.
What does misuse of one's reproductive faculties have to do with the right to life? Immediately afterwards she reiterates her grand overarching theme:

It seems to me that the absolutist view of 'abortion as evil' lands smack in the same space, as it disregards the status of woman as a moral, intelligent human being capable of understanding and making difficult decisions.
But no-one is denying that an expecting mother can still make difficult decisions; it's just that those decisions might be wrong. But as if suffering from some kind of verbal tic, she repeats the same error again:

Clearly, if we devolve woman to the status of "vessel" when pregnant, it is quite trivial to justify absolute proscriptions on topics like abortion, as we no longer recognize the validity of the woman as a discrete individual.

Can MgS cite a single anti-abortion individual who has said that the woman's capacity as child bearer is mutually exclusive of her capcity as a moral individual? I've certainly made no such assertion; this is just a big straw man.

Whither her argument leads next is interesting for a couple of reasons:

First, I would argue that a woman is unquestionably in full rights to control what is done with her body.
But one might argue that abortion involves someone else - the unborn. Few women do not take their ability to bear children seriously. (there may be some, but there are always exceptions) The notion of terminating a pregnancy is a deeply emotional decision, filled with implications both short term and long term. The reasons for terminating a pregnancy, and the point after which a woman will not end a pregnancy are going to differ, based on the experiences of that individual.
But as I have said before, control of one's body is a legitimate norm, but one that is subordinate to the right to life. That "abortion involves someone else" is undeniable, and MgS gives no sound reason for why the right to bodily control should trump the right to life. And I find it interesting for two reasons that MgS brings up the point that "terminating a pregnancy is a deeply emotional decision". Firstly: I thought this was a question of morality, not emotion. Secondly, we now have MgS herself elevating the woman's emotions over her reason!

Then she says that

Second, a woman has an implicit right to be in control of her ability to reproduce.
Again she brings this up. It is problematic for two reasons: firstly, because carrying the baby to term is not a matter of reproduction--the baby has, indisputably, already been produced, and is simply continuing along his or her course of development. Secondly, even if one were to assert a reproductive dimension for a baby who has ALREADY BEEN PRODUCED, it still does not overcome the fact that 'reproductive rights' are subordinate to the right to life itself.

Then she trots out the rape argument again:

How many are going to be thrilled with paying the biological price for bearing a child as a result of rape?
Few, I expect, but that has nothing to do with the right to life of the product of that rape. Next we have a bit more 'thoughtful hand-wringing', an invocation of the 'shades of grey' so beloved of the pro-abortion movement:

We entrust parents (and women in particular), to make subtle and complex decisions for their children on a daily basis.
Yes, of course; and when those parents fail in their respective duties the State intervenes. Why not for unborn children too? Then she brings in another straw man:

What on earth makes anyone believe that a woman who is carrying a child doesn't think about what it means for her and the fetus growing inside of her when she considers allowing the pregnancy to run its course or to end it?
Again (how many times will it take?), no-one is saying that an infanticidal mother reaches her decision lightly, just that she reaches her decision wrongly. And we must keep in mind also that this is not a matter of a process that is yet to produce its output--the child has already been produced; he or she is just waiting, so to speak, for the right time to be born.

Then, once again, she brings up the question of balancing the rights of mothers and babies:

The next problem with absolutism in the topic is the obvious clash between the interests of the mother and that of the fetus.
It's no problem at all: one may never will evil, but one may will to permit evil in order to avert a greater evil. All that needs to be done is to follow this simple norm; there is no need to try to determine whose life is more valuable. MgS might object to this for two reasons: for one, she might simply reject this norm--she might have no problem with willing evil. If so then we can only agree to disagree. The other reason would be the question (from MgS's point of view) of whether the baby has attained the right to life yet. But she rejects any objective (that is, pertaining to the pregnancy's object, the unborn child) criterion for determining the right to life, so presumably this whole question of balancing interests is, for her, totally irrelevant--it is, for her, not a question of weighing up which is the lesser evil, but of the mother simply positing whether the abortion is any evil at all.

Finally, she takes a superficial look at the theme of 'consequences':

The whole notion of "consequences" ripples through the puritanesque anti-abortion arguments. It fails to acknowledge that the only person who pays the "consequences" they are talking about is the woman. If you think in these terms, then the whole notion of "she was dressed provocatively" once again becomes a valid defense in rape cases - a very troubling notion that few would argue is a desirable outcome. (and those who would probably should be subject of further investigation themselves!)
Really? "It fails to acknowledge that the only person who pays the "consequences" they are talking about is the woman"? Presumably the mother didn't reproduce asexually; what about the father? And what a pathetically invalid comparison it is to bring up the consequences of 'provocative dressing'; naturally she fails to explain how this could be anything other than a pitiful category mistake.

So, in conclusion, I would summarise MgS's errors as follows:

1A. The right to life is subordinate to the right to bodily autonomy.
Disproof: to assert this is destroy any sense of proportion between the two norms; both of them are legitimate norms, but the true priority is reversed for MgS. Surely even a materialist like MgS would not deny that one's very continued earthly existence (which is, for MgS, one's entire existence) trumps another's right to protect his or her body from non-lethal harm.

2A. If bringing her unborn baby to term were certain to be fatal for the mother then it is legitimate for her to procure an abortion.
Disproof: one may never will evil, in this case, the death of the unborn baby, but one may will to permit an evil, in this case the death of the mother, in order to avert a greater evil, in this case, the evil of the baby's death plus the evil of procuring an abortion (at first glance this last bit might seem like double counting, but it is not: the evil of positively consenting to his or her death is something additional to the evil of the fact of that death).

3.1A The child's right to life is not a proper right but a gratuity to be bestowed at the will of the mother.
Disproof: to ignore the objective characteristics of the baby at point x after conception, granting the mother a veto to unborn children but no veto over born children, is to uphold the inconsistency of there being two objectively identical babies, A and B, but with baby A having a right to life at point x because of being born, prematurely, before point x, while baby B has no right at the same point simply because not yet born.

3.2A This power of life and death over her baby arises from the cost of dependency of the child of the mother and ceases at the point of birth.
Disproof: if cost of dependency confers power of life and death then there is no reason to uphold a right to life for anyone who is in a condition of dependency.

4A. To uphold the right to life of an unborn child is to reduce a pregnant woman to the status of an Axlotl tank (!)
Disproof: citation please! That is certainly not a principle of Catholic bioethics!

As far as I can tell, the only way to reason consistently about the right to life is from the following premises/axioms:

1B. The right to bodily autonomy is subordinate to the right to life.
2B. One may never will evil. (By 'evil' is meant something that offends reason, such as the denial of something that is owed to someone--life itself in this case.) One may, however, will to permit an evil in order to avert a greater evil.
3.1B The child's right to life is not a gratuity bestowed by the mother (or by any other individual, for that matter) but is properly a right owed by nature--that is, owed on the basis of an objective characteristic of the subject.
3.2B This right to life is unimpeded by any condition of dependency on the part of its subject.
4B. Pregnant women's consciences are not disabled by their pregancies, but like all parents pregnant women have certain duties towards their respective children, born or unborn.

If any readers can see any problems arising from these axioms then please let me know.

As for MgS, I am going to submit a comment to her on this but don't expect her to publish it, so readers might like to pay her a visit and stand up for babies' right to life. Her usual reaction to a confutation of her premises and their implications is, firstly, to bring in new premises (one thinks of that famous Marx Brothers line: 'those are my principles, and if you don't like them ... I have others'!), and then, when those new premises are shown only to compound the inconsistency, she'll protest that she has 'outgrown the need for certainty'--as though not being able to defend what one stands for (or even being sure of one one stands for!) were something to boast of!

Reginaldvs Cantvar
2.I.2009 A.D.


Anonymous said...

Your Emminence,

What MgS's stunning earlier assertion i.e., "Humanity creates morality, twit", really means is that 'man is the measure of all things'or more to the point, people with that ideology will play God.

Louise said...

Humanity creates morality, twit

Note the descent into personal abuse when she cannot argue her case convincingly.

The answers to her objections are simple enough:

If man creates morality then I can decide I can kill anyone I want to, including MgS.

+ Ioannes Episcopus Roffensis said...

....and it's not a sin, either, Louise...

It's like saying "Ultimately it's up to Der Fuhrer to decide when Jews in this country get the right to life..."

Perfectly reasonable as far as your average Nazi is concerned. Evil all the same.

Anonymous said...

All the philosohy of liberalism is a mechanism used by the enemies of the church to obtain social control. It was never meant to operate as a level playing field.

Oh, won't she be understanding when, after the consecration of Russia and the ensuing social change, we put her up against a wall to be shot (if we feel merciful), seing that we'll be the ones with all the gold...

+ Thomas Wolsey

Archieps. Eborac.

matthias said...

Interesting comment by annoymous ,who sounds nationalist russian orthodox to me. However what MgS shows is the philosophy of 'personal peace and affluence".Childless means no interruptions to one's lifestyle,and no need to worry about another,just maintain their own selfish existence.
And I agree Reggie,that liberals exercise their own censorship values which is really about being undemocratic when necessary.

Cardinal Pole said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone, and welcome to my blog, new commenters.

"All the philosohy of liberalism is a mechanism used by the enemies of the church to obtain social control. It was never meant to operate as a level playing field."

Exactly right, York. We are seeing with our own eyes that the whole thing was a sham, and the 'liberal Catholics' who went along with it now well and truly have egg on their faces. One thinks of Fr. Brennan being confronted with pro-abortion laws that specifically violate 'freedom of conscience'; will this make him wake up to the fact that the nineteenth-century Popes were right? Probably not, unfortunately.

Anonymous said...

The last two generations have made their consensus that in order not to be a 'fanatic' one must allow 'conscience' to trump 'oppressive' laws and hence the ongoing dismantling of laws derived from the objective moral order and their replacement with personal preference ( legal positivism). The latter is the basis for much that passes today as 'law reform'.