Monday, January 14, 2013

Three articles worth reading

There was no shortage of great pro-life articles last week.  Here are three that you should take the time to read in full.

In an excellent article at Public Discourse, Russell Nieli recounts a Princeton University debate and explains what pro-lifers can learn from Karl Marx: 
"Karl Marx," I said, "got most things wrong" (some cheers went up). "But he understood better than most thinkers before or after him how people's self-interest can warp their moral sense to the point that they are rendered incapable of discerning and acknowledging right from wrong."
Marx’s biggest concern, I explained, was that material interests can distort our moral compasses. Drawing on the slavery analogy, I posed some simple questions: "Why did the Scarlett O'Haras and Rhett Butlers of the old South approve of the institution of slavery? Why did they think Africans so inferior to whites that it was morally acceptable to enslave them?" 
The answer, I said, was simple: It was in their interest to believe these things. I went on: We human beings are very good at coming up with reasons and claims to justify what is in our interest to believe. So perverse is the human mind that we actually come to believe the sophistic arguments we tell ourselves when they reinforce our material or other vital interests. 
The abortion issue, I said, is similar to the controversy over the rights and wrongs of slavery, since in both cases intense personal interests often dull the conscience. There are many out there, I said, who want to have sex but don't want to have babies. They want to have sex because they find sex highly pleasurable. They don't want to have babies because babies are enormously burdensome to take care of. So, like the plantation owners in the old South, they try to convince themselves that what is really a monstrous evil is no evil at all. Killing babies in their mothers' wombs is no big deal. Human embryos are just globs of tissue without sentience or thought. Those who claim a human right to life for such entities just want to cause trouble.
Jill Stanek describes the conflict between young abortion supporters and older "legacy" leaders, contrasting that with the cross-generational cooperation seen in the pro-life movement.  Her explanation for the difference:
[T]he “legacy” pro-abortion movement . . . fought for the freedom to murder all these young up-and-comers before they were born . . . This fact must also bring some level of distrust on the part of young feminists, even if subconscious. (And youthful abortion pushers will run into the same problem if their movement survives long enough.) 
I’m not blind to the fact there are older leaders in the pro-life movement who have trouble passing the baton. But in general I see love, pride, and encouragement toward our young people. After all, they’re why we are here.  We covet their participation and leadership.
And finally, Life Dynamics has released a new website,, that documents the abortion deaths of Marla Cardamone and her unborn son.  (Warning: contains heartbreaking autopsy photos.)  LifeNews reports
When 18-year-old Marla Cardamone was killed having an abortion at a Pennsylvania hospital, her mother, Deborah, vowed that she would never let her daughter be forgotten.  Then, late last year, she approached the pro-life group Life Dynamics and asked the group’s president Mark Crutcher to help her show the public the risks women face when they submit to abortions.


Jameson Graber said...

I think we need to be much more careful with explanations that link support for abortion directly with selfishness. In fact, sometimes we oversimplify the issue of slavery in the process of trying to find an analogy intended to make the issue seem more pressing. One thing to note about slavery: it was defended by many people who had very little selfish interest in it. Most Southerners didn't own slaves. They defended the institution, however, because of common bonds with other Southerners, because of cultural pride, because of a sense that life in general depended on this privilege granted to a few.

I suspect that when one thinks in more general terms like this, one can arrive at a clearer picture of why cultural support for abortion is so widespread. Most people who are pro-choice would say they would not personally support having an abortion. But the institution continues to have support from average citizens, out of a general sense that the institution is linked to women's equality and progress, out of a belief that as awful as abortion may be it is sometimes necessary for women in tragic situations, out of a sense that trying to abolish it would necessitate an invasive use of government. None of these things are directly linked to selfish interests for the average person who accepts abortion. We need to stop knocking down straw men, else we lose the real world.

Kelsey Hazzard said...

Excellent point, Jameson. Thank you.

Kara Baylog said...

"They defended the institution, however, because of common bonds with other Southerners, because of cultural pride, because of a sense that life in general depended on this privilege granted to a few."

I don't really think that really negates the idea that support for something that might be objectively overriding the rights of some in favor of others, can come from self-interest. Those who were not slave owners, as you correctly identify, did still support slavery because they recognized that their lifestyle was still dependent on it. A baker with no slaves benefited from the cheaper wheat coming from a wheat plantation, made possible by slavery. Or, even more the point for slavery, a slave free society was scary to many poor whites because they knew the competition that would arise for land and employment, not to mention the pervading racist fears that emancipated blacks would become violent. I'm not sure that means a person is selfish per say. They see their world as being better due to the institution they support. But it is self interested, because whether they acknowledge it or not, it is a world they are doing passably well in (i.e. living in, or being free in), and it is a world that largely ignores the group of people whose rights are being trampled upon.

Keep in mind, there is a difference between self-interest, the term used in the article, and selfishness

The former puts a premium on beneficial outcomes to oneself, sometimes unconsciously, such that when doing a cost-benefit analysis of a decision node, one choice ends up being weighed more heavily due to the positive outcomes likely for the decision maker, as opposed to an objective maximum benefit to be achieved among all parties.

There is no cost-benefit analysis for all parties with a selfish person. There is the simple cost-benefit analysis for that person only, i.e. what is the maximum I can get for myself.

Take business person who can choose a strategy to lead the business for the next quarter with the following projected results. There is option A, which results in 20 employees getting an extra $20 in their paycheck, and an extra $50 for the business person, strategy B which gives nobody a raise except the business person an extra $60, or strategy C which gives everyone including the business person an extra $30.

If the business person chooses A, they are self-interested. It isn't that the person disregarded the desires of the other employees, it is that the extra $20 in that person's pocket was weighed more than the $200 in shared benefit that would be gained by option C. Choosing option B, on the other hand, would be selfish, as that person would simply be trying to maximize their own benefits, to the exclusion of all else.

What this means for the abortion debate is that people do skew the weight of various factors more or less depending on how connected those factors are to their life (including the indirect benefits to their lifestyles in, say, reduced taxes to fund WIC for women who bring their babies to term). It doesn't mean that they are selfish, they do consider the costs to other parties (the unborn), they just don't weigh those costs as highly (which often manifests in the whole - is a fetus human/ worthy of human rights - debate.)