Monday, November 3, 2008

A Rebuttal from a Friend

I want to publish a rebuttal to one of my arguments that a good friend who goes by the blogger name Aristocles sent me. I publish it not because it has me convinced or because I think it is airtight; I publish it because it addresses head on some of the issues I have been raising. And I think it is important to air a disagreeing voice before election day. I respect Aristocles very much, and want to give his impassioned argument some space on my blog.

"I have now realized. I was mislead. In many of my replies and counter-rebuttals concerning the basic argument --if you're pro-life you oughtn't vote Obama-- I continually made a mistake.

What is it? I'll get to that, in a jiff.

When pro-lifers-for-Obama responded, they never failed to bring forward this question:
What will reduce abortions the most efficiently?

They all believe that Obama's planned-out strategy will reduce the number of abortions to a far greater extent than McCain's policies. This has led to the oft quipped: "Obama is more pro-life than McCain." The argument is, of course, based on a calculation concerning consequences. The consequences concern the very lives of human beings. McCain, it's granted, has a pro-life ideology on his platform. McCain has even voted many times in the past for pro-life laws. McCain will appoint judges that will likely be favorable to overturning the Roe v. Wade precedent.

Yes, yes, and yes. BUT, they, the pro-lifer Obama fans, will say: Obama will tackle the root causes of abortion. He's focussed and poised to address this typical shortfall in the history of the pro-life movement.

Thus, this reasoning concludes: only with an Obama not McCain presidency (the official pro-choice platform is not a big concern) WE the WISE voters can know with confidence that the bad consequences will likely be reduced. Only with Obama can we the conscientious pro-lifers be confident that the death toll will go down, the bloodshed lessened, the underlying causes finally addressed. After all, the reasoning continues, overturning Roe will barely, if at all, reduce abortions. After all, the reasoning continues, it will only go to the state legislatures, allowing a neighboring state to accomplish the abortion where one's homestate won't. After all, the reasoning continues, what will McCain do to address these causes? The case seems obvious. How, the table turns, can a pro-lifer who is truly in the know, vote for anyone BUT OBAMA?

I admit this has a definite ring of wisdom. And then my argument trots up to the plate. I suppose I was an underdog from the get go. The pro-life Obama friends take aim at my argument.

The fist volley: this argument assumes a dubious one issue voting mentality. The second: Republicans/conservatives have too long been duped by the simplistic adherence to a myopic strategy --Overturn Roe. The third volley: McCain isn't pro-life to the core anyway (he's even a flip-flopper on the matter). The fourth volley: and even if he is, he won't address these causes that motivate abortion in the first place; McCain's pro-life platform is window dressing as the death knell rings its frightful voice for more innocent unborn. The fifth volley: Christians and the Political Right have wrongly and too long been captive to naivete and emotive appeals, and, have too long paid not heed to the real guts of the matter. And the guts of the matter are nuanced and informed calculations of probabilities. Thus, the final volley, back to the unanswerable question: Under which candidate in the given political air of the future, the context of our crystal ball of 2008-2012, can we bet on abortion be more likely reduced than not?

And, supposing all the volleys are countered by the old school, underdog, like me, but that last one, number six, remains firm, tall, and undefeated. What can I possibly do? How can I resist the force of this tide of political wisdom? How can I at once distance myself from the myoptic, the naive, the old Republican war-hawks, corporation loving, oil motivated conservatives and yet at the same time advance an argument with a conclusion these devils would probably agree with? Thus, I embark upon, what to you pro-life Obama fans, seems an impossible journey. And, then, in attempting to respond I get caught up in the task of projecting future probabilities. I'll call it the fortune teller context. I have to now bear the burden of explaining how we can think, prior to the future term, that it is more likely that with McCain it is probable abortion will be reduced versus what will likely happen with Obama.

The opposition, you pro-life Obama fans will say. "Sure, sure, Obama will sign FOCA, but who cares if it doesn't go through congress? Sure, sure, a judge or two might get appointed, why think Roe will be challenged soon, and if it were, why care? Will it reduce abortion much? And if so, how long do we have to wait? Sure, states will get in the mix, but then we'll only contribute to the myopic trend of ignoring the guts of the issue, abortion reduction by addressing causes, like economic hardship and unwanted pregnancy conditions. It's overdue for a pro-life change of direction. And careful calculation in our fortune teller context gives us reason to bet on Obama's policies if we are really pro-life."

And you'd likely continue similarly as follows, "For we the really full-orbed pro-lifers aren't fixated on the legal issue, the pie in the sky. We are nuts and bolts, boots on the ground voters, fully equipped with an aresenal of weapons able to deliver armchair probability judgements. And these, we suppose will put Obama on the winning ticket. Any sophisticated pro-life voter would bet, bank on, predict with confidence, that abortions will be reduced in an Obama presidency."

And that's the context I go into in order to counter-rebut. I have to provide my own calculations for why I am betting on McCain (and whatever comes after 2012) rather than Obama. And thus, I'm caught in the fog of probability calculations from our fortune teller context. I have to enter the foray of forecasting the future. Thus, the whole discussion becomes more and more nuanced and difficult to manage. Even unbearable boring to the morally inscensed anti-Rupublican, anti-Bush, anti-Iraq, and anti-old school conservatism. (Ah, ah, don't jump to conclusions: I"m not supporting this litany of bad buys and bad ideas; I don't need to, it's not in the logical space of this pro-life argument this election.)

I would and do still, however, maintain in the face of all the buzz, that betting on Obama to reduce abortion is a bad bet. How will making abortions easier, more affordable, and more acceptable contribute to their reduction? How will using morning after pills reduce abortions? How will education allowing unwise and entirely unprepared almost-adults the permission to have sex -so long as its safe- contribute to preventing contexts where unwanted pregnancies occur? How does a sophisticated and wise air of agnosticism on whether the right to life does or doesn't apply to the unborn, the cloned embryos, or the botched abortion victims ... how does this agnosticism contribute to caution in having an abortion, or motivation to adopt? And I could go on. But, I think, this CONTEXT OF DEBATE is based on a serious MORAL BLUNDER.

And the mistake I made was not recognizing this blunder behind the scenes. Okay. Big deal. What gives?


The injustice of abortion, for a prolifer, is not exhausted by the numbers in the death toll.
There is a tale of two injustices to tell. And below I will tell it. First, I will comment on the first injustice of the two, namely, the number of abortions and their so-called reduction levels given an Obama or McCain presidency.

True enough, pro-lifers want to overturn RVW because it reduces abortions. No one attempts to argue that overturning it would increase abortions. But if reduction is the key, the question is what's the most efficient means? And then we get back to our fortune teller context where we have nothing to rely on but armchair probability judgments. We don't even have the good fortune of massively compiled and thoroughly researched statistics on Obama or McCain presidencies of 2008-2012; unfortunately, it's one thing Obama can't fund, even though he has enough dough to go around. So, we have gut instincts, nothing more, to help us determine the likelihood of conditions favoring reduction of the death toll, conditions that depend upon a thousand contingencies of the ever future future.

It is certainly, indubitably and INJUSTICE that innocents are killed. Appalling, disgusting, and morally repugnant, that the innocents are the most helpless, defenseless and most full of potential and promise of any class of humans on this good globe of God's and us, His stewards. And all efforts, so long as they don't employ evil, should be pursued to reduce the number of human beings destroyed for mostly frivolous reasons --like not wanting the child one didn't want to be pregnant with, or the protection of one's precious quality of life, remember, my pro-life friends, the number of abortion for the gut-wrenching reasons are few, very few and far between. (One easily accessible example of a means to reduce that is intrinsically evil is Obama's plan to use morning after pills as a means of reducing abortion).

Let me digress for one moment. I want to address a background issue. After this I'll return to the tale of two injustices.

Even on a McCain presidency it's not as if the efforts of millions of pro-lifers, pro-lifer organizations and Christian churches or other religious groups, will be prevented from addressing the very causes we are told Obama will address. His isn't the only means or instrument to addressing these causes. And be addressed they must. These things can be done and done well, Obama or no. But, and I risk digression, to rely on Obama and the government as the number one instrument to supply both the means and their execution is to presuppose a philosophy of government that is itself questionable. In fact, to presuppose this might be to presuppose a philosophy of government inimical to the fundamental rights our government was set up to protect.

Okay, end digression. I was talking about the tale of two injustices, the first being the death toll on innocent lives, embryos and fetuses, especially.

The injustice that gets lost in this fog of probability calculation is the IN JUSTICE OF TEH EXISTENCE of the Roe v. Wade precedent/de facto law. That law is NOT JUST just by its mere existence, regardless of the death toll (which is a horrendous evil and injustice of unbearable, intolerable degree). The existence of this de facto law is morally wrong IN AND OF ITSELF, that is, its existence is a moral blight. No calculation of the death toll is necessary. It's a different injustice.

In this light the slavery parallel shines clear. For a candidate that leaves the law of owning people yet fights with government programs and tax dollars to make conditions better for slaves while tirelessly addressing the root causes of the slave owner's desire to own human beings as property is a candidate that leaves unaddressed an intrinsic moral blight: the law that says human beings of this one type are ownable as property of another. Such a candidate is either morally incompetant or somehow morally distorted to look past the injustice in the very existence of the pro-slavery law.

But, the parallel here isn't exact, I'm sorry to inform you pro-life Obama fans. Let's make it parallel. This candidate not only leaves unaddressed the intrinsically evil law, but entrenches it deeper into the legal system, surrounding it with anti-missile defenses and an army of propagandists (the cronies defending his decision in the Illinois debacle come to mind, let alone the toady media talking heads) to direct attention away from it toward 'addressing the root causes of slavery', for the sake of reducing the number of owned human beings.

So, the pro-life Obama friends now must employ the moral scale. Only this time it's not future reductions given Obama vs. future reductions given McCain. No. Now there is a different set on the scale. Potential abortion reduction (far from established without a crystal ball and in light of my and others' arguments to the contrary) on one side of the scale. On the other side, the protection, entrenching, and outright promise to advance the sustained existence of an intrinsically evil law. Are you willing to pay the cost of entrenching an intrinsic injustice for the benefit of possibly reducing abortions through government means, which are by far not the only means, nor necessarily the most effective, nor necessarily those based on the best theory of government and its role in human affairs?

I have to raise this alarm because I myself was lost in the utilitarian calculation game of abortion reduction given this or that future scenario (Barack or John, with this or that balance of Dem/GOP in the House or Senate, with this or that bill in the offing, with this or that set of judges given this or that possible consideration of Roe or anything in the neighbor, etc., etc.)

But reduction chances going up, down, or remaining the same does NOT EXHAUST THE INJUSTICE of the abortion phenomenon in America (or mutatis mutandis in the world)

I challenge you, the pro-life Obama crew, to check up on your assumptions. Do you presuppose that the injustice of the abortion phenomenon is NOTHING BUT a function of how many innocent lives are lost? Does this cause you to look at overturning Roe as only valuable insofar as it reduces the abortion death toll? Is it your, perhaps unchecked assumption, the very one that bled into my responses, the BIG MISTAKE in many of my responses and replies? I unwittingly began to think that the only injustice in this sad state of affairs, in this grand land, was completely exhausted by the death toll numbers rather than the very nature of things: esp., of that intrinsically unjust de facto law.

Obama will not only fail to address this injustice, enshrined in our quasi legal supreme court precedent. He will attempt to buttress it, protect it, cherish it, and further its scope. He would happily add a CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT to make sure all women have rights that include abortion (which entails doctors, clinics, funding, etc., to make it happen).

And this brings us pro-lifers back to our roots. We need to address the causes of our misdirected defense of these innocent victims that are unquestionably fully included in our human community and come born with rights given by God.

That intrinsically wrong de facto law was, back then, and still is, based upon an absurd grounding. It was grounded in a woman's right to privacy. This is pure bosh. What then is it based on? What will pro-choicers be forced to say?

And when the discussion turns here, those that are not pro-life, who do not believe all human life has the fundamental rights of personhood, chiefly the right to live, will have to confront the false beliefs that ground the pro-choice agenda. Beliefs that neither rationally support nor logically entail unjust laws or the permission of intentional killing.

Like I've said rather sketchily before:IF TOMORROW EVERYONE BELIEVED that abortion (and I hasten to add embryo destruction) is horrendously evil, then REDUCTION WOULD OCCUR in massive quantity and the Roe v Wade would be overturned and states would outlaw abortion. Further, there would be many more motivated to address the causes of abortion, governmental assistance aside. Churches would not be full of pro-lifers that think its an unfortunate given, but ones motivated by the absolute horror of abortion (watching the videos make it unavoidably, painfully, obvious), and thus willing to take action, out of the only true and just motive for all good, love of others and of God.

Belief coupled with heart's desires is the surest motor of action. And ultimately, aside from who gets elected, pro-lifers must seek to change not just consequences, not just material causes of abortion, but ultimately the hearts of those that seek, endorse, and uphold the actions and right of abortion.

At the eleventh hour,
with a glimmer of hope,
if not for this election, for the days and weeks and years following,
for the lives of all victims of abortion and embryo research,
for the lives of all those suffering and forced into desperation towards abortion,
especially the mother's involved,
let us pray to the Lord.
Lord have Mercy."


G said...

Of course, I have to have my comments. I want to focus on this passage, which seems key to his overall train of thought:

"In this light the slavery parallel shines clear. For a candidate that leaves the law of owning people yet fights with government programs and tax dollars to make conditions better for slaves while tirelessly addressing the root causes of the slave owner's desire to own human beings as property is a candidate that leaves unaddressed an intrinsic moral blight: the law that says human beings of this one type are ownable as property of another. Such a candidate is either morally incompetant or somehow morally distorted to look past the injustice in the very existence of the pro-slavery law."

Now, here we have a problem. The Bible, in both testaments, seems to condone slavery. There were regulations in the Old Testament on how to treat slaves, it has a number of rules that seem to do what Aristocles says is morally inadequate: betters the lives of slaves while still permitting the ownership of humans (See Lev 25:44-46; Ex 21:20-21, and Eph 6:5-9 for some examples). Paul provides a household code for slaves and masters which would make the institution much more livable but does not provide emancipation.

I am not saying that the bible is problematic. Rather, I am saying that a bible-believing Christian has a defeater for Aristocles claim: that it is always immoral to look past the injustice of a law that permits something immoral. Otherwise, God is in the dock. Now, in order for 'Ocles to make his case, he needs to give independent reasons for thinking why his 'second injustice' is as important or more important than the 'first injustice' in this case.

Luke said...

I don't think he meant that the de facto law's injustice is as or more important than the number of deaths due to abortion. The main point is that it is an injustice and a mere consequentialist calculus focusing on deaths leaves something important out.
Here's the reply I sent to him when I received this e-mail:
I'd like to add two thoughts. First, I think it's a mistake to focus solely on abortion in this context. As Robert George (thanks for that link, btw) points out, Obama would also try to mandate the industrial creation and destruction of human embryos for stem cell and cloning research. So, even if Obama's policies reduced the number of abortions by, say, 300,000 per year (and I doubt very much that this will happen), he would increase the overall number of human pre-born deaths on an untold scale. Try to imagine how many people would be created solely to be killed by the industrial manufacture of human beings. It's like something out of a sci-fi horror film. The slavery analogue would be a candidate who not only wants to maintain "a white man's fundamental right to own other people," but also federally mandate that black people be bred in factories for the purposes of the slave market.
Second, from what I've read, Obama wants to eliminate conscience exemptions for medical personnel opposed to abortion. The slavery analogue would be to federally mandate that rich white people own slaves (If Obama's at all consistent, which I doubt, this would mean he can't use the mindless "Don't like abortion? Don't have one" mantra).
So, in addition to the grave injustices of abortion and having Roe v. Wade as de facto law, you can add two more grave injustices that would blight our country.

Aristocles said...

I really think you bring up a good point, but in the end it fails to do the rebuffing the pro-life for Obama group needs.

Here's some thoughts, which I can't develop, but give you, Sam, for your thought. And I really really thank God for people like you. For you actually do think about what is being argued, unlike so many who don't care enough to take more than 5 minutes of their time to read AND reflect.


1. Slavery is ambiguous. Chattel slavery is only one kind. I'm not sure OT/NT slavery was this disgusting chattel sort. Another kind of 'slavery' (and I'm relying on readers to prescind from the connotations of that word) is that which sees the labor from the person not the person himself as under the rights of the master. I'm not saying this is good, but I'm saying it is not clearly and intrinsically unjust, as the chattel variety. In fact, in this sort of version the person is given religious rights and the rights to marry and raise a family.

2. The Bible, seen as God's commandments, explicitly endorses caring for slaves/servants. That is not equivalent to a commandment prohibiting efforts to overturn the institution (of whatever sort of slavery, here).

3. I don't need to weigh in the balance which injustice is worse. For my claim is that the law is an injustice and must be addressed. This doesn't imply the other injustice must be left unaddressed in order to tend to the unjust law.

4. Further, the first injustice (death toll) is not unjust because of the number, which is what will be supposedly addressed by Obama (still a case entirely unwarranted by simply tending to the public record). And, to repeat, a vote against Obama doesn't entail that number will go up. In fact, it is probable it will go down.

Aristocles said...

I want to add this, which I put on my facebook. I also put your reply on my facebook.


This is all in the public record. You don't have to rely on my word.

Obama said he'll lift funding restrictions for abortion
Obama said he'll allow OUR TAX money to be used for abortions OUTSIDE our country
Obama said he's willing to take away parental involvement in a girl seeking abortion
Obama said he's fine taking away manatory pre-abortion ultra-sounds and counselling.
Obama said he'll remove some bans on partial birth abortion
Obama said he'll take away a health-care providers right to dissent from participating in abortion procedure.
Obama said abortion is (sic., should be) a constitutional right concerning women's equality
Obama said no to a supreme court decision to uphold a ban on partial birth abortion
Obama said no to a law, which didn't exist before, which was designed to protect pre-viable infacts born-alive from botched abortion

Ask yourself: Does this reduce abortion? Is this going to help the pro-life cause?