Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Old Friend, New Tactic

An old buddy of mine from California sent me this, and I thought it was just too good to keep to myself. Enjoy!


First the background to this little tale: last weekend tragedy struck a friend. Samuel, the 16-year-old older brother of one of Hannah's classmates, died suddenly. Cause; brain swelling due to head injury. Samuel's head got hit, he seemed OK, two days later he died. Horror, grief and misery.

Sherri, upon hearing this, was badly upset, but has cried it out. Life goes on. We'll attend funeral, as no doubt will much of Hannah's school.

(note: Sherri is Nathaniel's wife; Hannah is their little daughter)

I maintained a more stable facade, but (how like a man) I needed to argue furiously with someone in order to feel better. I was pissed off at the world and I needed to win an argument.

Well what do you know, there in a walkway at the College of San Mateo were two anti-abortionists. An older man and an older woman, both white-haired, at a table full of pamphlets and obstetric models. No bloody fetus photos, fortunately. These were gentle folk; they're for life, don't you know.

Normally I'd have shrugged it off, but like I said, I needed to argue with someone. It had nothing to do with them, or their issue, but they voluntarily put themselves in the argument zone, so I availed myself of that service.

I met them several times, breaking for class and lunch, so the following is a condensation of several confrontations.

I asked them if they were against abortion in the case of rape or incest. They hemmed and hawed, they evaded and equivocated. I pressed the issue, she avoided my eyes, he met my eyes (his were blue) and he said yes, they're against abortion for incest or rape. I pressed further; should the government _forbid_ abortion for rape or incest? He, seeing that this was a pissing match, doubled down. Yes, the government should outlaw abortion in the case of incest or rape. "You are extremists", I said, and I pressed further. It turned out that they were for the use of tax-paid government coercion to compel a woman to bear her rapist's child, against her will. (I refrained from calling that 'the second rape'; a minor missed opportunity in an otherwise enjoyable rant.)

Oh, but you see it's all about life. Oh really? I asked if they were against the death penalty, or warfare, or self-defense. They were for self-defense; I replied, "then you're not pro-life." I explained that I objected to their tendentious abuse of language. If they called themselves anti-abortion, then that would be accurate; but they called themselves pro-life, when in fact on several key issues they aren't, and that's hypocrisy.

Ooo, they didn't like that! These quiet elderly gentlefolk didn't like what they saw in the mirror I held up to them. That they of all people should be hypocritical and callous; how could this be? That's totally inconsistent with their self-image! Normally I wouldn't bother to impose so violent a revelation upon such lambs, but like I said, they volunteered to lose an argument, and I needed to win one.

To his credit he gave as good as he got; he called me closed-minded. I retorted that I would love to hear his opinion, if only he would give it rather than evade. For instance, what about saving the life of the woman? Again they equivocated, again I close-mindedly insisted on a yes or no answer. At one point I ranted, "More evasion! If you were outright fascist then at least we could argue it, but this business of thinking one thing but not being able to say it - that's not respectable!"

Finally, holy moley, the man doubled down. Yes, if the doctors could save the baby then the woman must go through with it, whether she wants to or not. (At this point a young woman, who had been reading one of the pamphlets at the table, set it down and left.)

I called that a religious view, contradicted by other religious views, and as such not enforceable under the First Amendment. He said that the First Amendment is about no established churches, like C of E; I answered that it's also about not enforcing religious laws. He then said that some atheists came up to him and thanked him, and therefore this was not a religious issue, at all, it's about Life. Well, what about self-defense, war and the death penalty? Round and round we went!

Again I homed in. "Suppose a woman were raped; and she could not survive labor, Should the government use its full force of coercion to forbid the abortion, or not?" "That's a hypothetical question," he weaseled. I denied that flat out. I pressed on. "Suppose she has the abortion anyhow. What sanctions do you recommend? Fines?" They gave no answer. "Imprisonment?" They did not meet my eyes. "Oh, I know!" I crowed. "How about the death penalty? That way she dies either way!"

Four blue eyes stared at me. I smiled. I waited for an answer. None came. I waved my hand. "You're not serious," I said, and I left. It felt good.

I came back later for more, and it went the same. Again I pressed, they evaded, they objected to my vehemence, I quivered with excitement. And again I asked, what sanctions for the raped woman who aborts? Fines, imprisonment, death? And again, no answer.

And that, Leslie, is how to shut up "pro-lifers".



Anonymous said...

My learned friend, John Ross (of Unintended Consequences fame; you might like that book) tells about when he was running for the Missouri legislature, and had to talk with both pro- and anti-abortion activists. He tied knots in both groups, but the anti-abortionists shrank from the logical consequences of calling abortion "murder" when he pointed out that, according to one bio of her he'd read, Marilyn Monroe had had a dozen of them..."so you're saying you'd execute her for being a serial killer?"

The whole piece can be found at his "Ross in Range" site, among the older stuff.

Anonymous said...

i don't understand this. the guy seems proud of not just being annoying, but of being an idiot.

ALL laws are based on morality and religion. The only universal rule is "don't lie to people of your group".

If a mother kills her neonatal children, the government will punish and possibly kill her. why is it so shocking that the killing of prenatal children might be seen to merit the same punishment?

Anonymous said...

Well, as one of the nice-older-people contingent myself, and having suffered from the in-your-face dogmatism and self-righteousness of my immediate juniors, my first thought was to tell him "Go pick on someone your own size, sir."

Now, I'm not above giving anti-abortionists a smart-aleck answer. The one I'm proudest of is when one urged to to "pray to God and ask Him to enlighten me." I answered "I already have, and She assures me I'm doing the right thing."

But this guy apparently bombarded these people like the air force going after an Afghan village. Now, if he'd done this to the likes of Fred Phelps, I'd have been on the sidelines cheering him on.

Aya Katz said...

Well, I don't know what to say about this one. I'm really sorry to hear about the boy who died. I kept wondering about how he got the blow to the head in the first place, and why the brain swelling wasn't detected.

When we are grieving, it's sometimes a strange time for confrontations with others.

It's impossible for any person, even a Buddhist, to be completely "pro-life", because life feeds on other life, and at some point somebody has to be killed, so that somebody else may live.

My favorite argument is not about killing or not killing. It's about unwanted guests. I like to use the story about Thidwicke, the Big-Hearted Moose.

A mother gets to decide, because it's her womb. That's all. It's not a question of the right to life. It's a question of who owns the accommodations.

That said, I think most mothers, under most circumstances, would choose to let the child stay.

When we got rid of the stigma of illegitimacy, the reasons for abortion were greatly reduced, and more and more young women are choosing to keep their babies. I'm glad they have that choice, as well as the other one.

Nathaniel said...

Nathaniel here, I write to confess of my own free will that yes, I was being a jerk. Unreasonable, irascible, out to prove a point, motivated by personal pain irrelevant to the issue ostensibly at hand. I was indeed picking on two sweet oldsters unarmed for a battle of wits.

In short, I practiced Politics As Usual. I plead my own mere humanity. Also, those two did volunteer to be the targets of my verbal bombing run.

If he had allowed for abortion in the case of rape or incest, then I'd have backed off, with at most a snark about there being no such thing as a pro-lifer. As is, he doubled down and proclaimed outright extremism. Perhaps he thought that made for moral clarity; in this he was mistaken, as I was at pains to prove to him.

When he forbade abortion to save the life of the mother, that simplied my job of illuminating the cruel contradictions of his impossible philosophy.

You see, their problem is that they thought themselves pro-lifers, but there is no such thing as a pro-lifer. It sounds good, but everyone compromises. Right to bear arms, self-defense, the death penalty, warfare; all of these are generally accepted, none are pro-life. Life itself is not pro-life; for all life dies, and all life kills.

To put it in theological terms; if God exists, and created the world as it is, then manifestly God is not pro-life, for immortality does not exist, and God is manifestly pro-choice, as free will does exist. Therefore, if God exists, then pro-lifers are either conveniently inconsistent, or they are in defiance of God!

Which would you prefer; a world in which there is free will but no free lunch, or a world in which there is a free lunch, but no free will?


A comment, about the boy: it was a football accident, on Tuesday. No symptoms until Thursday. (It's a silent killer; the brain has no sensory neurons of its own.) Rushed to the hospital, died Saturday. Sam's family is devastated, my wife cried, I did a slow burn.

And as for my bullying behavior: Have any of you ever read the Robert Sheckley story, "Cordle to Carrot to Onion"? In it, Cordle, normally an 'onion' - i.e. meek and dominable - learns at first hand just why 'carrots' - i.e. jerks - are like that; namely, it feels sooo good! He also learns that he can be whatever vegetable he wants to be, for they all have a place in the Stew. This admittedly addled insight is nonetheless correct, as I can attest.

I now know why there are so many 'carrots' in politics. First, it feels good. (Too good.) Also, carrots win.

Nathaniel said...

Whoops, that should be "Cordle to Onion to Carrot".

To Doragoon: not all laws are based on morality or religion; some are based on pragmatic calculation. For instance, traffic laws. Also, lying to in-group members is often allowed. For instance, white lies, and lies-to-children.

I agree that birth is a somewhat arbitrary dividing line. Arbitrariness is inevitable, given the need for compromise. Roe v Wade codifies the necessary compromise by proceeding by trimesters.

Some people accept abortion, but abhor guns; for others it's the other way around. I think they are quarrelling over a detail of timing.

Aya Katz said...

Nathaniel, "a detail of timing"! I like that!

Leslie Fish said...

Ahahahahaha! Jolly controversy, indeed! Just to add to the fun, I'll post my own take on abortion and the morality/practicality thereof next. Enjoy!

--Leslie <;)))><

PS: Yes, I read "Unintended Consequences", and loved it.