Memo For File LXXIV

by Morgan Freeberg | September 19, 2008 7:40 pm

Quoting myself[1] over at Cassy’s place, as usual, nurturing my bad software-developer’s habit of leaving absolutely nothing unsaid. The subject is this weird article written up by some asshole by the name of Nicholas Provenzo, who is “troubled by…[Gov. Palin]’s decision to knowingly give birth to a child disabled with Down syndrome.”

I do not know how Mr. Provenzo feels about other issues we are debating hotly, nor do I very much care. For he is in some very impressive company on the “should’ve aborted Trig” platform, and that platform splices into some other platforms in a way that can no longer be denied by anyone honestly studying the polling and demographics. Elaborating further, I radiate my wisdom thusly…

It’s really damned peculiar when you start looking at other issues: The people who support these kinds of eugenics — that’s exactly what this guy is talking about — are the same ones who are constantly working at making people as expensive as possible, once they are here.

The minimum wage has to be automatically boosted. Everything’s gotta be a union shop. The “workers” deserve more vacation time, more medical benefits. Welfare benefits aren’t extended enough. You have the RIGHT…to family and medical leave, to sue your employer for looking at you funny, to sue him for not firing someone else who looked at you funny, to sue that guy who owns the house you were breaking into when you hurt yourself, to inspect the coins jingling around in your pocket and not see those horrible letters G, O, D.

Wouldn’t it be more logical if we were divided according to — make this enormous smorgasbord of rights available to every baby from the moment of conception…versus…people cost too much, so let’s cut these rights to the bone *and* institute a draconian code of eugenics. That kind of a divide would make a lot more sense. But instead, it’s flip-flopped. And these lefties are all twisty like a Mobeus strip; they say you have this enormous buffet of “rights” legislated in, a handful at a time, in response to random populist rage. But only if you make it across that vaginal finish line. Until then, you don’t get your vacation time, you don’t get annual bonuses, you don’t get the Bill of Rights, you don’t get to live and you aren’t even entitled to a humane demise…because you don’t exist.

It’s like they know. Their enormous accumulations of artificial “rights” are so expensive, that after awhile they can only be afforded if strict controls are put in place regarding who’s entitled to live in the precious utopia they’re trying to construct. Abortion is like the turnstyle to their precious little domed city.

It fascinates me endlessly that the same people who want the tree we call “humanity” to suck away at water and nutrients at an excessive rate through this exploding nanny-state, are the same people who want said vegetation…properly trimmed. Quality over quantity. There has to be something tying these oppositional motivations together. And they themselves cannot explain what it is, so it has to be something psychological.

Update: Provenzo himself replies, again, over at Cassy’s place. He says we’ve misstated his position — but then, every time he refers to the situation at hand, he’s careful to couch it in terms of a woman who would choose to abort the baby, and is perhaps about to be forced to carry it to term by some thuggish masculine martinet.

As a mother, Gov. Sarah Palin chose to carry Trig to term. This is not only the point Cassy was trying to make — although it is that — it renders Mr. Provenzo’s various summaries of the situation utterly invalid.

Provenzo clarifies himself in this follow-up:

In affirming a woman’s absolute right to abort an unwanted fetus[2], it seems I have triggered the wrath of the anti-abortion lynch mob if the recent death threats in my inbox are any indication. Such is life when confronting the morally ignorant with their irrationality, yet all their “pro-life” death threats aside, the fact remains: a woman has the unqualified moral right to abort a fetus she carries inside her in accordance with her own judgment.

What is the basis for this claim? What facts of reality demand that a woman enjoy the freedom to exercise her discretion in such a manner? At root, it is the simple fact that until the fetus is born and exists as a separate, physically independent human entity, the fetus is potential life and the actual life of the woman grants her interests and wishes primacy. As an acorn is not the same thing as an oak tree, a fetus is not the same thing as an independent human being. In the case of the fetus, its location matters: inside the woman and attached to her via the umbilical cord, its position in relation to the woman subordinates its status to her wishes; outside the woman, welcome to life in the human race.

But why is biological independence the defining factor of personhood in both morality and under the law? Why isn’t it the moment of conception, or the first instance of fetal heartbeat, or the first instance of fetal brain wave activity (just to name a few of the benchmarks often put forward by anti-abortion activists)? Again, it is the nature of the direct physical connection between the fetus and the mother. Physically attached to a woman in the manner a fetus is, the woman’s right to regulate the processes of her own body is controlling. Unattached and physically independent, the fetus is thus transformed; it is a person no different from anyone else and enjoys all the individual rights of personhood.

Needless, to say, this truth offends the sensibilities of some. They cannot fathom that something like the physical presence of the fetus inside a woman grants a woman power to control it as she controls the affairs of her own body. In a more just world, such people would simply choose not to have abortions, which is their every right. And leave it at that. Yet justice is not the aim of the anti-abortion mob. They simply seek to sacrifice unwilling women upon their altar of the unborn, reducing a woman to a mere birthing vessel the second a fetus exists in her body.

Here’s the flaw with Provenzo’s argument: It depends on the breezy conflation with moral sensibilities and facts. Now granted, perhaps he is so conflating so that he can stand atop the dais of intellectual superiority over his antagonists, as well as ethical superiority. It seems his ego gets a great charge when he does this. But it’s quite a simple truth that the two concepts he is so conflating, are quite different, so the conflation is a rather egregious abuse of logic and common sense.

Whatever you might make of the matter at hand — whether the mother’s right to choose supersedes the right of the “fetus” to live, or the right of the baby to live supersedes momma’s right to choose — this is a conclusion you have drawn, and it’s not a conclusion solely of logic. In using words like “truth” and “fact” Provenzo is essentially confessing to not sticking to the plane of reality and common sense, but rather departing from it. He’s arrived at his own moral code, and as icing on the cake has insisted, with no rational justification whatsoever, that whoever doesn’t agree with him is in possession of an inferior command of the facts.

Additionally, Provenzo has outlined his argument as the very definition of an invalid logical shortcut. It boils down to “babies are not babies until they have matured to the point they can exist outside of the mother; it is so, for I have decide that it is.” It’s fine fodder for those who already agree with Provenzo, who sympathize with him in the desire to feel superior to those who disagree! But it fails the most rudimentary test of a logical argument, for it isn’t even a compelling one. It has absolutely zero potential for winning reasoned converts.

There are a lot of people running around with this idea in their heads. I think what’s going on, is they’re just starting to understand why the Declaration of Independence was written the way it was; they’re just barely grasping the concept that rights can come from something, and of necessity, must come from something. They understand people can have “rights” that may offend those around them.

But they don’t know where to take that thought, because they won’t permit themselve to think of a Higher Power to whom the human race is accountable. That would interfere, you see, with this sacrosanct Right To Choose. I’ve hit on a favorite way to trip them up, and so far, not a single one of them has found a way out of the netting, in spite of their much self-professed intellectual horsepower.

It’s a simple question.

If a woman has an absolute right to abort a pregnancy at any instant in the term, and it’s non-negotiable, but some “mistaken” referendum pops up on my ballot in November that would criminalize abortions, do I have the “right” to vote yes on such a bill?

They don’t know how to answer that. About the most coherent answer I’ve ever gotten to that one is “yes, provided it doesn’t actually pass” or some such…yeah, you got it. At some point I have to stop challenging them, because I’m not sure their brains can think on this too long without melting down.

But the lesson here is, rights have to come from someplace. That’s how God does, after all, get involved in politics. If rights just come from people because there’s no God…then our rights are simply products of self-important snots like Nicholas Provenzo, jotting down words that say “this person has a right to do this, that person has a right to do that.” And this is the opinion of — whom, exactly? Provenzo? A majority? A minority that should be a majority? How long do we have these rights? Forever? Until next week? Until someone gets really, really grumpy and upset that these people have these rights? Until it costs someone some money?

It’s a fair question to ask. Because rights aren’t really rights, if you can only hang onto them so long as it makes someone happy that you’ve got ’em.

Perhaps, in the sitaution where a “fetus” continues living only in contravention to the wishes of the mother, what we are seeing is the very most emotionally jarring test possible of these things we call “rights,” and that attribute they have of enduring against the desires of others. And some of us have what it takes to continue a rational discussion past the point of realizing this, while some others do not.

Update: Cassy Fiano responds[3] to Nick.

Nick’s argument seems to be that all he was saying is that it’s a legitimate choice to abort a child with severe retardation. But poor Nick seems to forget that we can still access what he wrote. And that wasn’t his argument. His argument was never simply about whether or not a woman had the right to choose. Nick’s original argument was that it was morally wrong and selfish for a woman to carry a disabled child to term, not to mention sheer disgust and condescension towards people with disabilities. You can see him saying that here:

Given that Palin’s decision is being celebrated in some quarters, it is crucial to reaffirm the morality of aborting a fetus diagnosed with Down syndrome (or by extension, any unborn fetus)–a freedom that anti-abortion advocates seek to deny.

And there’s more. You should go read it all, really. I can’t do it justice.

Cassy lives in a somewhat different world from me. This “what the liberal meant to say” stuff requires empathy, something I don’t have. So when I say “nurturing my bad software-developer’s habit of leaving absolutely nothing unsaid,” I mean leaving nothing unsaid regarding the subject at hand, according to the text of what the offender (Nicholas) actually wrote. Being empathy-challenged I’m unable to engage in a discourse about what he meant to say, should he so challenge…and, obviously, that is his game. “I never meant that.” Having talent in this area that I lack, Cassy is ready, willing and able to nail his ass to the wall.

I live in a universe that is much more about cause and effect. Nicholas’ argument boils down to one of — as I’ve said — “this right exists because I have decided that it exists.” It is the ultimate weak argument, because it is the ultimate non-argument; it purports to prove exactly what it presumes.

Without being able to empathize with Mr. Provenzo, however, I do believe I can define exactly where he has confused himself. When he says “inside the woman and attached to her via the umbilical cord, its position in relation to the woman subordinates its status to her wishes,” he is not so much stating a fact or a conclusion of sound logic, as announcing a personal value system for the purpose of accumulating a fellowship. If you agree, he’s ready to be your friend, if not, then move on.

That’s not truth. That’s not fact. It’s a belief, nothing more and nothing less.

No, in my world when we debate “rights,” we discuss the ramifications from all sides. Once a right is proposed for a specific class, obviously there is an interest held by the membership of that class in having the right. If there is a debate about the right at all, there’s probably another class that has an interest in the right not being granted. Here’s a great example — freedom of speech. I can think of all kinds of speech I’d like to have suppressed. What speech Mr. Provenzo would like suppressed, should be obvious. But if society is to work that way, it has to be a society with regulated speech. We sit down and vote on who gets to decide what, and whoever is in the minority has to just lump it and shut up.

You have the right not to be beaten up, and not to be killed. This is uncontested (or mostly so). Does that mean it’s impossible to find someone who would have an interest in you not having this right? Ah, no. Normal people, every week if not every day, feel that irrational impulse to clock somebody now and then. But we respect the rights of people not to be abused, not because that is the law, but because intelligent people know that’s what is needed to have even the beginnings of a civilized society.

Here we come to the central handicap of Provenzo’s argument(s). Most rights are accorded after some deliberation regarding whose desires are going to be thwarted. Provenzo sidesteps this deliberation and debate with the prized tactic of the forensically weak: You identify whoever would have an interest in not-granting the right Provenzo wants granted, and you define them out of existence.

In the 1700’s, the “negro” didn’t count.

In the 1800’s, the “injuns” didn’t count.

Post-Roe-v.-Wade, the “fetus” doesn’t count. It’s not a person. It’s tissue. Just like the people with black and red skin in centuries past…they didn’t count.

Provenzo’s argument(s): It sounds good, to a significant number of people, to say this stuff. Therefore, it must be so.

We do not want rights decided this way. In my cause-and-effect universe, if that’s the way they are parceled out then none of us really have ’em.

Update 9/20/08: This radio interview[4] is a good one, by no means a softball session. Provenzo is confused, he says, about why he is being criticized. If he’s sincere in this, then he possesses a stunning apathy and ignorance about the concept of “choice,” such that I find it surprising he’d choose to write an article that’s supposed to be all about this.

The point of the opening line in the first essay, was to criticize a choice someone made. The opening line. Contextless. I really don’t see what else has to be deliberated about it, or why Provenzo finds it appealing to spin it the way he’s trying to.

Good interview. I recommend a listen or two…although it didn’t change my mind much.

Cross-posted at House of Eratosthenes[5].

  1. myself:
  2. affirming a woman’s absolute right to abort an unwanted fetus:
  3. responds:
  4. radio interview:
  5. House of Eratosthenes:

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