Monday, October 26, 2015

Finally a Little Consistency

Let me start by saying I am neither a supporter of Ben Carson's candidacy (I am actually pretty unimpressed with most candidates this time around, sadly), nor am I a traditional pro-lifer*.  However, I have to say that I admire Carson for one thing, he is the first presidential candidate I have heard who is logically consistent, at least on one point.

As I have written before**, the most common pro-life position strikes me as a political, and not a moral, position. By that I mean, it is a position which will win supporters, and avoid tough, emotional questions, but by the logic of the position, it argues for exceptions supporters should find unethical.

For the most part, the pro-life position is a simple one. A fetus is a living individual, and thus deserves the legal protections provided for those who have already been born. Thus, by the logic of this position, abortion should be criminal, as it kills a living being with rights.

There is one obvious exception, which is also logically supportable, that being the case where abortion is required to save the life of the mother. One could obviously argue that, in cases where a death may result, or even more clearly where only one of the two would survive, then the situation is not analogous to murder. Say, for example, a rescuer has two people hanging on ropes, and can hold only the weight of one. If he cuts one loose to save the other, I doubt he would be blamed, especially if both would die otherwise. So, I can see this single exception, and agree it fits with the pro-life logic.

Where I have problems with the vast majority of pro-lifers is in their other exception. Allowing abortion for children conceived by rape or incest does not fit with their logic. If you doubt this, ask yourself a simple question: Can you murder someone with impunity if they were conceived in these ways? If not, then by the logic of the pro-life movement, abortion should still be illegal. After all, children born due to rape and incest do not lose their right to life because of their means of conception, so, logically, if a fetus is nothing but an unborn person, then the fetus should have the same rights, and abortion because of the method of conception is clearly illegal.

Of course, saying so would be political suicide, as I am afraid Dr. Carson will soon discover. For every supporter gained for consistency, emotional appeals and "gotcha" questions such as "what if your daughter were raped?"*** will lose him hundreds or thousands. We don't like to think about rape victims or incest victims "being forced" to carry children. But, is that not contrary to the pro-life position as well? Is not the whole pro-life argument that it is not about the mother, but the rights of the child? The child did not commit any crime, is not to blame for the way it was conceived, and thus, to remove its rights because of the mother's experience would be not just inconsistent, but terribly unfair. Unfortunately, while reasonable, the argument is also a political loser, as the mother we see, she is here, we can hear her problems, see her suffering. The child is invisible. As always in politics, no matter the potential outcome, the visible, the present, the immediate wins out. And, in this case, the logical pro-life position is a political loser.

However, I am a bit of a maverick in this regard, valuing consistency over political viability, and so, even if I am alone, or in a very small minority, I want to applaud Dr. Carson for taking a consistent stand, even if it one that will prove unpopular. I may not agree with him, but I do admire consistency. And so, at this moment, he has my applause, even if he does not have my vote.


* I have personal aversion to abortion, but do not have not been able to reach a conclusion about what should be the correct legal position. Well, that is not entirely true. I believe the law certainly should protect an infant once born, even if "accidentally" born in the course of an abortion. I also have legal problem with aborting a fetus which could live unassisted outside of the womb. I am less clear on those who would require assistance to survive, but even then I am wary of allowing abortion, though improving medicine pushes that dividing line back earlier and earlier. Beyond that, I am undecided as to the position the law should take. If we ban, say, RU486, do we also ban IUDs which essentially do something very similar (destroying a fertilized egg)? And at what point does it shift from cells to baby? I can argue, reasonably, for anything from a right of abortion up to a set point, all the way to banning abortion, IUDs and RU486. The question remains, how much should be state and how much persuasion? And here it gets fuzzy, as, though a fetus is a living entity, it is not precisely identical to a born human being, and that does cloud the picture. As I said, I know where I personally stand, but not where I believe things go from "behavior of which I disapprove" to "crime". I can anchor one end, infanticide is certainly criminal, but the other is not clear cut to me, and may never be.

** See "Legal Schizophrenia", "A Few Questions on Abortion", "Infanticide" and "Special Cases". For a more general discussion see also "An Unnecessary Legal Concept" and "A Much More Simple Abortion Question".

*** These "gotcha" questions always struck me as hugely tasteless (see "The 'Gotcha' Question"), and many are also rather nonsensical (See "There Are Other Solutions".) But they do seem popular with modern journalists. "You want to cut medicare? What if your mother could not afford medicine?" and so on. It seems we have given up on a principled political debate, founded on ideas. Not once will you hear a politician respond to one of these "gotchas" about some family misfortune with the answer "it would be a tragedy, but that does not make it a government matter", and that is a tragedy as well.



Lest someone accuse me of inconsistency, I still stand by my argument in "Cigarettes, Sudan and Abortion", "Single Issue Voting", "Principled Voting or Suicide?", "Impractical Pragmatists" and elsewhere, pro-lifers are perfectly right to vote for those who hold less than fully pro-life positions if, in so doing, they advance their cause. That is, if the only way to put through a law they otherwise like is to include the rape and incest exclusion, then that makes political sense. My problem is not with compromise to achieve goals, but when one confuses practical compromises with compromising values. It is fine to include these exclusions in laws, but when they make them part of the platform, then they are embracing an illogical exception as part of their official ideology, and that troubles me. So, I am not being inconsistent, I believe compromise is needed in politics, and a perfectly acceptable practice, my objection is with those who then base their principles upon that compromise, accepting what is politically possible as, not just the best they can get today, but as the ideal.


Though I doubt it will benefit Dr. Carson much, I would point out that there are real world benefits to consistency. As I have pointed out repeatedly ("Inescapable Logic", "Recipe For Disaster", "The Endless Cycle of Intervention", "The Cycle of Compassion", "Justify Yourself, Defeat Yourself", "Denying Reality", "The Free Market Solution" and "The Rarity of 'Common Sense'", among others), inconsistency in one's position leaves the door open to opposing arguments. For example, in this case, the rape and incest exception is often used to justify other exceptions, such as exceptions for mentally disturbed women, which are then used to justify exceptions for women on all manner of emotional grounds, exceptions which inevitably open the door to unrestricted access. So, if pro-lifers take their position seriously, they should reconsider such exceptions, if for no other reason than they weaken their position needlessly.

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