Should black people feel solidarity with the oppressed everywhere?

What’s objectionable about Rick Santorum’s assertion that our black President ought to support equal rights for fertilized ova is that the fetal-rights claim is wrong, not the appeal to the solidarity of the oppressed.

Disagreeing with Ta-Nehisi Coates is generally a bad bet. So is agreeing with Rick Santorum, or, for different reasons, with Joe Klein. Still, against the odds, I’m going to risk it.

Santorum, a hard-line right-to-lifer, said that President Obama, as a black man, should support what Santorum thinks are the rights of fetuses. Again, wingnuttia is trading on the notion that abortion rights recognized in Roe v. Wade are like the rights of slaveholders recognized in Dred Scot: “rights” premised on the denial of full personhood to a class of human beings, and therefore morally insupportable. The argument seems to me too silly to deserve much attention; law and custom have always held that a person joins the civil community at birth and leaves it at death. (Just to choose an example at random, the original Census counted the born, but it did not count the unborn, any more than it counted the dead.)

But Ta-Nehisi’s objection isn’t so much to Santorum’s logic as to his assertion that Obama’s skin color ought to shape his beliefs. TNC writes: “I think it would be deeply wrong of me to say, ‘As a member of ethnic group that’s suffered bigotry, Rick Santorum should be for gay marriage’.”

Of course, all ethnicities are not the same, but as a (non-observant) Jew, I find the argument “You, as a member of a traditionally persecuted group, have a special obligation to stand up for the persecuted” quite cogent. (It’s also consistent with Jewish tradition.)

After all, you can’t expect full sympathy with the downtrodden from the traditionally powerful, and sympathy from the powerless does only so much good. So it is, I submit, A Good Thing if the memory of historical wrongs leads the descendants of those who suffered those wrongs to speak up on behalf of the currently oppressed. Even among those still fighting their own fights, a little bit of solidarity with the struggles of others would not come amiss.

So I, for one, don’t see any objection to telling the black preachers who oppose equal rights for gays that they’re acting like a bunch of Bilbos, or the Jewish Muslim-bashers that they sound like a bunch of Nazis. What’s objectionable about Santorum’s argument is its substance, not its form.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

53 thoughts on “Should black people feel solidarity with the oppressed everywhere?”

  1. Of course it's a good thing if the memory of historical wrongs leads the descendants of those who suffered those wrongs to speak up on behalf of the currently oppressed. But isn't it equally good if anyone, for any reason, or simply because he or she empathizes, speaks up on behalf of the currently oppressed? Does being a member of a group that suffered wrongs make one MORE obligated than others are to speak up on behalf of the currently oppressed?

  2. Ha, very funny because I see it exactly the oppposite. What's objectionable about Santorum's argument is its form, not its substance. You say that "law and custom have always held that a person joins the civil community at birth". I'm glad you have such faith in the absolute correctness of "law and custom". I do not. Further, you say that Dred Scott was "premised on the denial of full personhood to a class of human beings", but then say that law and custom holds that "a person joins the civil community at birth". Who said anything about civil community. We're talking about personhood, and your exact words suggest that a pre-birth baby is a "person", since that "person" joins the civil community upon birth.

  3. I’m glad you have such faith in the absolute correctness of “law and custom”. I do not.

    Does that lack of faith also embrace the 10 commandments?

    Or just laws and customs that irk you?

  4. (Mark): "wingnuttia is trading on the notion that abortion rights recognized in Roe v. Wade are like the rights of slaveholders recognized in Dred Scot: 'rights' premised on the denial of full personhood to a class of human beings, and therefore morally insupportable. The argument seems to me too silly to deserve much attention; law and custom have always held that a person joins the civil community at birth and leaves it at death. (Just to choose an example at random, the original Census counted the born, but it did not count the unborn, any more than it counted the dead.)"

    A decent argument, but mistaken and marred by gratuitous insults. The next homicidal rampage is on your account, Professor.

    It seems to me that opposition to abortion originates in the belief in a "soul", a divine spark that animates a lump of meat, and is related to a belief in a world beyond the visible material world we currently inhabit. Throughout time, many people have held these beliefs. Maybe these beliefs sound "silly" to devout materialists, but believers outnumber philosophical materialists.

    The issue is: to what fragments of the universe do decision-makers extend the status and legal protection of "human" that they claim for themselves. Slavery is a good analogy, as is the legal status of women throughout much of world history. As to "law and custom have always held that a person joins the civil community at birth and leaves it at death": no, at least if by "always" you mean everywhere and at all times.

  5. Fetus-equals-slave analogies are stupid. It's the pregnant woman that Santorum would subject to forced labor.

    –TP

  6. I think Coates' point is that we (people outside of a particular minority/oppressed group) often criticize said minority group not just on the substance of a comment, but add to it the charge of hypocrisy, a charge based in a misguided identity politics. I have no problem with solidarity – in fact, I think it's wonderful – and the reason solidarity within various oppressed groups appears is not based on an innate identity, but because many/most of the people in that class/ethnicity go through many of the same experiences, and they often have a unique view of the solutions to those problems precisely because their vantage point is from "below" rather than "above."

    But to say that someone who is identified with that group – blacks, Jews, Latinos, women, etc. – should feel a certain way because of that identity, and if they don't, they are a hypocrite, is incorrect. Someone might say to a black person, "Your policies will hurt black people, and thus you are additionally culpable for them." But that would be unacceptable 1) for the interlocutor, since it is easy to respond, "My concerns are not with any particular group identified as such, but simply with people in general," and 2) for the speaker, since from his/her viewpoint, the black person is already part of an oppressed group, and so it would seem to be absurd to blame them even more for their oppression while ignoring that the interlocutor would not be in his/her oppressed position if it weren't for both the overt racism/classism of whites and the legacy of systemic racism that persists to a greater extent within American culture.

  7. Tony, the analogy is not that a fetus is a slave, but that in each case a court or legislature gets to decide what is fully and legally human. That's the analogy.

    Mark, that courts have recognized unborn children as legally human is amply attested by homicide convictions when pregnant women get shot and lose their baby, or manslaughter convictions when a drunk driver terminates a pregnancy.

  8. Re: Malcolm

    Is it wrong of me to think that it's at least slightly sadistic for conservatives to argue that either a fetus is a life and thus under no circumstances should abortion be allowed, or a fetus isn't a life, and so if someone punches a pregnant woman in the stomach with the intention of killing her unborn child, that person should only be charged with a simple assault-and-battery charge and not a harsher punishment?

    It seems that in this either/or moral world of conservative rhetoric about the life of the fetus, women are punished no matter what. Hmm….

    But I digress, and hope the comments don't go off Mark's topic.

  9. White people should feel solidarity with oppressed people everywhere, why should black people be less sympathetic?

    "It seems to me that opposition to abortion originates in the belief in a “soul”, a divine spark that animates a lump of meat, and is related to a belief in a world beyond the visible material world we currently inhabit."

    It seems to me that the existence of no small number of atheistic pro-lifers, such as myself, would disabuse you of that notion. It seems to me that you're confusing "opposition to abortion" and opposition to late term abortion, which is more a matter of figuring, "Soul, smoul, the kid's got a brain now."

  10. Brett, could you hum a few more bars? I am interested in learning more about the basis of an atheistic pro-life position.

  11. It's not complex, Ebenezer: You just combine the standard atheistic arguments for human rights with the observation that birth doesn't represent a fundamental change in the nature of the organism, (Not a relevant fundamental change, anyway, I'm well acquainted with the heart re-plumbing and things like that.) and you arrive at the conclusion that viable infants deserve equal consideration regardless of where they happen to be located. A sentiment that Dr. Gosnell seems to have agreed with… Singer and his ilk, too.

    Fetal viability matters, because after fetal viability, the desire of the woman to cease being pregnant can be accomplished without the infant having to die. This makes the decision to have an abortion, rather than deliver, an decision to kill somebody, rather than a matter of bodily autonomy.

    As I have observed previously, pregnancy and fetal development are a continuous process, and treating it as some kind of binary event is wildly unrealistic, whether you locate that magic moment at conception OR birth. True, this makes the determination of fetal viability also a bit vague, but that's the real situation the universe has confronted us with, no fair using it as an excuse to kill infants you could easily deliver and adopt to somebody who'd love them, and raise them.

  12. Brett — Viability is where Roe v. Wade draws the line, too. So if I've understood you properly, your pro-life atheism sounds awfully pro-choice. (And we're happy to have you!)

  13. If you think there's any shortage of children out there waiting to be adopted by someone who'd raise them and love them, you're severely misinformed. What there is, is a shortage of adoptable white babies. Make of that what you will.

    I'd also wager a monumental sum of money (if I had it) that less than one-half of one percent of pro-lifers have ever adopted a child. Of those who have, I guarantee that even fewer than that have adopted a non-infant, and even fewer a child outside their own race. And I absolutely, positively, 100%-guaranteed-lock am certain that neither Bellmore nor Bux have adopted a child.

  14. Also, break out the ROFLcopter for "easily deliver." ALL deliveries are easy for the person without the uterus or vagina. And keep it idling for . . . birth doesn’t represent a fundamental change in the nature of the organism, (Not a relevant fundamental change, anyway . . .). That's some Doug Henning-level magic right there.

  15. Well, Phil, what do you suppose, that a mass of undifferentiated cells inside the skull reorganize themselves into a functioning brain during the trip down the birth canal? Who's the one supposing there's magic involved here?

  16. Had you ever been called a 'self-hating Jew', you might better understand the problem with presuming what people should think based on their genetic heritage.

    Not everyone thinks his ancestors more important than the rest of humanity, nor finds their travails to be more meaningful than others'. Some of us don't even think that tribalism is a Good Thing.

  17. It is almost always unwise to disagree with Mark Kleiman, but I call this one for TNC. I the the argument in the post is based on an equivocation — on the two meanings of "expect." "Expect" is a positive term related to probabilities, subjective probabilities and forecasts. It is also a normative term. "I expected better of you" is not a confession of poor forecasting ability. It would be unwise to predict that the advantaged have full sympathy for the disadvantaged, but we have the same moral obligation that those who have been educated by disadvantage do. I am a gentile, White male raised by upper middle class parents. It is not morally acceptable for me to excuse my actions and omissions by blaming society for coddling me.

    Similarly, people belonging to groups which have been victimized have no more moral obligation to opposed discrimination than anyone else, because there can be no more moral obligation than that.

    I think the problem here is deep respect for the Jewish tradition. Santorum speaks almost as if he has actually read the old testament. I'd guess he probably has (I believe he is a walk the walk Christianist who has read the Book). Of course Mark Kleiman has read it very closely (as reported here). I don't think it is logically consistent to reject some aspects of the law of Moses (for example the death penalty for gay sex) and also to consider appeals to other aspects of the law as contributions to reasoned debate.

  18. Bux rightly points to the issue of whether Santorum and Obama even share the same views. First, the two parties must agree on the principles.

    But even then, isn't the question really about one's personal sacrifice for a cause? What makes one person stand up and fight for something, and another sit quietly – even if they both feel the same? My guess is that they don't actually feel the same. True solidarity requires the imagination of compassion. If any of us were more mindful of the suffering in the world, and the direct impact we can have on that suffering, we would no doubt feel more solidarity and take more action.

    It seems the basic claim is that the traditionally oppressed *have more capacity* for empathy with the currently oppressed, as the "schema" already exist in them for the mental projection. And thus any inaction on their part must be explained as a sort of psychological disorder, or character flaw. For instance, one can be generally excused for not taking action against suffering in a foreign land, as the suffering is reasonably removed from schematic association. Yet, if one just returned from a trip to that land, and witnessed the suffering first-hand, a lack of action might need to be explained in terms of personal deficit.

    Yet simply being black is not the same as returning from a village in Darfur. And what is more, being black (as opposed to white) would, on average, imply a disadvantage in social and/or human capital, in the sense that a legacy of discrimination has created a racial disparity in the area of socio-cultural engagement in American civic life. It would be reasonable that the extent that each of us be held morally accountable for responding to oppression anywhere be tied directly to the proportion of social and human capital we have been privileged to receive. Thus, he who has received very little in life ought not be as accountable for active social remediation as he who has received a great deal; agency ought to be matched with agency.

    Yet a paradox develops in which the disadvantaged have the greatest facility for compassionate imagination – as they bore personal witness, while those most privileged have the least capacity, sheltered as they likely were from the manifestations of oppression. I think this is a serious structural problem in society that we must deal with. As one increases in privilege, the further one is removed from the consciousness of that privilege. Here I always think of that final scenes in the film Schindler's List in which Schindler realizes that, with just a ring on his finger, he could have saved one more – so powerfully was he exposed to the realities of suffering. Yet the crux of the story is how someone in his position *should not have had the ability* to express such sympathy, and yet in the course of the story he grew this capacity, and thus grew in moral character.

    As a liberal Democrat, this has been one of my greatest critiques of conservative Republicans: their worldview seems largely an expression of a privileged class, without the requisite schematics to properly empathize and express solidarity with the oppressed underclass. So when crucial yet abstract social service funding is cut, instead of marginally raising taxes, the suffering will likely happen beyond the purview of the voter and it will be up to the media to bring that reality to their attention. As someone who has worked in social services most of my life, I'm reminded of the saying, "there are no atheists in foxholes". Well, there are few conservatives at mental health facilities, teen pregnancy centers, poor schools, rehab clinics, etc.

    In the end, teasing out just who should and should not be able to express the proper quantity of solidarity is impossible. It seems reasonable that the case be simply *made* that the oppression must stop, and that all parties involved ought do their part. And to the extent that there are those who lack the schematics, the capacity for empathetic response, we do our part to share with them our moral imagination.

  19. The point that occurs to me is that we are all descended both from monarchs and from slaves and other oppressees. Does a justifiably prosperous Jewish-American professor, part of the world's elite by any plausible measure, have a kind of inherited oppressee status? Do I, as an comparably prosperous Irish-American professional, based on struggles with poverty in recent immigrant generations and with British oppression slightly further back? If so, then how many people don't? If not, what are the boundaries of this category under discussion?

  20. Brett, I'd like to challenge you a bit on your position of a continuous process rather than a binary process of fetal development. I think there's a bit of equivocation here. While certainly fetal development is a continuous process, I think it's illogical to believe that life is anything more than a binary- either you are living human being or you are not (all jokes aside about being half the man I use to be). So whether or not we can determine it or observe, it seems to me that there has to be a "magic moment" at which point a fetus is living versus non-living? Figuring that "magic moment" out, I agree, is difficult. So it sounds like you believe that life starts at the period of what you call "viability", correct? You also acknowledge that determining viabilit is tricky. So absent being able to determine for sure when a fetus is viable, wouldn't you rather err on the safe side, of protecting what could very well be human life, so as not to find out later that you were supporting murder if you picked the wrong point? At what demarkation of fetal development would that decision be safe? To me, I think the safest clear demarkation is conception.

    Then, I'd also challenge you on the basis by which humans have rights in an atheistic worldview. I'd like to hear more on what you call the "standard atheistic arguments for human rights".

  21. Bux, the "magic moment" to which you refer is a religious concept, so you can't persuade an atheist of its existence. To a religious person, it is the moment at which a "god" implants a "soul" into a body. Someone who believes that such a moment exists believes that the question of when it occurs is, in principle, an empirical question, even if, in practice, it is unanswerable. To a person who does not believe in a god or a soul, however, when abortion is moral is not an empirical question but a value judgment. A sperm, an egg, a zygote, an embryo, and a fetus, are all, in differing senses, "alive." There is no point at which any of these things changes from non-living to living, or from pre-human to human. We just have to decide at what point we think that abortion is moral. In doing so, we should take into account the fact that, at all points before birth (except with respect to sperm), we're talking about a part of a woman's body. Just as you would probably not want the government to tell a man that he may not spill his seed, you should hesitate before you allow it to tell when a woman what to do with her body.

  22. Ignore the "when" in the final phrase of the preceding comment; sorry for the sloppiness. I wish that this program allowed one to edit or retract one's comments.

  23. I wouldn't have characterized Santorum as "a hard-line right-to-lifer", since he has advocated for the death penalty and aggressive war.

    I think ontological ethics — seeking after absolute principles to guide law and ethics — problematic, even when it is not a mere rhetorical pretense. "Life begins at conception" appears to be a high-minded way of beginning an ethical analysis, but I fear that the immediate objective is usually to avoid and obscure the role of conflicts of interest and power in ethical relationships. Whenever someone tries to make ethics into a dilemma of abstract analysis, I fear that the reality of power, authority, conflict and oppression are being deliberately obscured.

    The topic is "oppression": a relationship in which the powerful exploit and make powerless others. Jim Crow segregation, and slavery before it, wasn't just bad manners, it was about economic exploitation and monopolizing resources.

    Santorum is an authoritarian, and has never been noted for his sympathy for the claims of the oppressed. I suppose that his concern for the cause of blastocyst-Americans may mark a turning point for him in his political outlook, but I doubt it.

    For a liberal, ethics is empathy in action. Liberals aspire to universal political equality, as a foundation for individual personal autonomy. I think MK and TNC are both coming from a liberal point of view. MK is speaking up for empathy and identifying with the cause of the oppressed; TNC is speaking up for the end goal of personal autonomy.

    Liberals often seem to think that everyone will, or should, agree with them. The appeal of universal rights is supposed to be, well, universal. Of course, lots of people are invested in the privileges afforded by existing social and economic structures; liberals, when they want to accomodate such, speak in terms of pragmatism and practical possibility.

    Conservatives, focused as they tend to be, on the preservation or creation of privilege, and the uses of authority in supporting privilege, can be just as uncomprehending of liberals, as liberals are of them. There's a certain revealing tone-deafness in Santorum's rhetoric, which tries to adopt the form and substance of liberal arguments, but does not quite get either right.

    I suspect the problem is that Santorum views the civil rights movement, through the prism of his own authoritarianism, as the campaign of racial partisans for equal privilege: "blacks wanted the same rights as whites" meant the same privileges accorded to whites on the basis of skin-tone and social class.

    The concept that people might wish for, and work for, a more just society — one with fewer privileges and oppressions — even against a degree of self-interest in being able to claim privilege — that concept is somewhat foreign to Santorum's way of thinking. He gets the rhetorical power of professed moral idealism, and, of course, he loves power as he loves authority, but he does not quite get the subtleties. For one thing, he thinks people, by dint of personal identity, ought to be partisans of their interest in their personal and group identities; that the liberal goal is autonomy and relief from privileged oppressions is lost on him.

    The actual issue of abortion rights is not an issue of ontological principle, but, like all real ethical issues, a matter of power amid conflicting interests and values. Santorum wants to destroy the autonomy and reproductive freedom of women; abstact professions are just a rhetorical club to be used for that purpose.

  24. Brett,

    Thanks. I understand your position; it's pretty clear and about as coherent as anybody's position on this matter can be. I don't differ by much. I'm completely agnostic on where human life begins, and think that any line-drawing exercise is pretty arbitrary. There are any number of reasons why conception is too early and birth too late. Viability is about right, for the reasons you set forth. (Of course, if you take Singer's line on this, you don't eat hamburger. As I said, line-drawing is pretty arbitrary.)

  25. Henry, your statements are full of "oughtness", with no moral reference point outside of human opinion for that "oughtness". When you use words like "should" and say that I should take x or y into consideration, this sounds very much like the biblical "thou shalt". But why should I consider a woman's body? Why should I do anything that you say I should? Because you said so? Because you and like-minded people said so? Because the majority of people say so? Is it a simple majority or a plurality? What about a majority of people from the past? Ultimately, you position is the humanist position, in which man is god. I find this position incredibly arogant, since you are not perfect and are no more capable of being perfect than the next human being. I understand if you want to reduce human life to practical worth, but not if you want to try and assess it as having some intrinsic worth that you readily admit in the grand scheme it does not have. If your position is that life simply has practical worth, then what if a large enough group of us band together and decide it's no longer practically worthwhile for atheists like you who disagree with us to be alive? If your position is that life has some kind of deeper worth, well that just seems to me like you want to have your cake and eat it too.

    And setting aside the shaky moral assessment of your position, how does your assertion no come dangerously close to violating the law of non-contradiction? You say that "there is no point at which any of these things changes from non-living to living". So are you saying that something can be both living and non-living at the same time? I suppose your come-back will be to remind me that the law of non-contradiction actually says that something can't be and not be at the same time AND in the same sense, and therefore a fetus for example is living in one sense but non-living in another sense. But then I would come back and ask you in what sense is it non-living? I find plenty of biological evidence that it is living, but the only evidence I think you can point me to that it is non-living is that you and those who agree with you have assessed it as being non-living. Now we're back to asking why your assessment should be believed unless you carry the authority of a god.

  26. Brett Bellmore demystified

    Genes rule. My success as a human being is a measure of how many children I have. Why else would my body create a gill of semen a month? Allowing woman the power to have abortions threatens my ability (and all males ability) to be fruitful and mulitply. How dare some bitch abort my offspring? We (my genes and I) are most definitely opposed to woman having the power to choose. It diminishes my patrimony. That's taboo. And therefor evil.

    But it is obviously best not to argue this way.

    Though true, it is too crude in polite and tamed society. So I'll create a bunch of learned mumbo-jumbo to defend my male gene's positions. And type it for the world to read and feel high and noble and mighty and breezy. But sotto voce, between us men: Woman is the nigger of the world. Even the liberal Lennon knew that. And really in an honest manly world, we men should have our harems back again. (And if you want, I'll type some high and noble words to prove that to you too.)

  27. Bux, my "should," as I said in another thread, comes from figuring out on the basis of facts and reason what conduct will best enable sentient beings to live fulfilling lives. Enabling sentient beings to live fulfilling lives is what I understand "morality" to mean. Obviously, then, majority or plurality votes do not enter into the matter. My position is not arrogant, because I do not claim that I or any other human can perfectly understand the facts or perfectly reason from them to determine with certainty what behavior is moral in particular situations. I do not think that you personally are arrogant, but to claim that one knows that the correct rules have been communicated to us by a supernatural being might be viewed as arrogant.

    Your second paragraph suggests that I failed to communicate my point adequately. My point was that the morality of abortion cannot be decided empirically by determining when a zygote, embryo, or fetus is living. I acknowledged that all are living in one sense or another. It is nevertheless moral for a woman to destroy one of them if it is living inside her body and she does not want it there. This is not to say that I think abortion is necessarily moral until a woman goes into labor. We can debate at what stage of development the fetus' increasing interests override the pregnant's woman's decreasing interests. It's a tough question.

  28. Henry, so your definition of morality as you stated it is that which enables "sentient beings to live fulfilling lives". And you figure this out based on "facts and reason". There seems to me to be a number of problems with this definition of morality. What happens when the fulfilling interests of one class of sentient beings conflicts with the fulfilling interests of another class of sentient being, as one could say is the case in the abortion argument? Further, what facts define a being as sentient, and what facts determine what enables a fulfilling life and for whom?

  29. Shorter koreyel:

    "Anybody who disagrees with me is evil. If what they actually have said doesn't make this evident, then I will simply replace whatever they did say with something else that does make this evident. That it might connote an entirely different meaning is irrelevant, since people who disagree with me are not entitled to honest treatment."

    At least, I think that's the gist of it. I've never been impressed with this "shorter" rhetorical tactic; It amounts to a candid admission that you have no response to what somebody actually did say, and should be considered by everyone as proving that you've lost the argument.

  30. "What happens when the fulfilling interests of one class of sentient beings conflicts with the fulfilling interests of another class of sentient being, as one could say is the case in the abortion argument?"

    Bux, that's exactly the right question, and many books have been written to try to answer it. One approach is John Rawls' veil of ignorance, in which we make rules by starting with the assumption that we know nothing about ourselves, such as whether we are male or female, pregnant with an unwanted child or not, and so forth. That way, we're impartial and will, we hope, choose the rules that are best for everyone. Another approach is utilitarianism, under which we attempt to objectively weigh the interests of all who are affected by particular conduct, such as, in the case of abortion, pregnant women and fetuses.

    It is generally clear when a being is sentient, and what enables him or her to live a fulfilling life. When it's not clear, we look at the evidence and do the best that we can.

  31. Henry, the problem with both of the approaches you offer to answering that question is that they assume that humans can do a good (or even decent) job of being "impartial" and "objective". Too much research on human decision-making has shown us otherwise, such as the research I know best on the advantages of actuarial over clinical decision-making in predicting criminal risk. We all hold deeply ingrained worldviews and beliefs (which, by the way, the atheist is no less immune to in my assessment) which make it VERY difficult for us to reach anything near true objectivity.

  32. Anybody who disagrees with me is evil.

    I don't think you are evil. Nor is the lion with his pride evil…

    Although I do think overcoming the urges of one's genes is the path towards sainthood.

    I just think the Brett Bellmores of the world aren't seeing what is in front of their noses.

    And so spend their times concocting ham-fisted arguments for what they inherently believe.

    The whole anti-abortion malarkey is fundamentally about men controlling their right to reproduce.

    And by tying it up with the Flying Spaghetti Monster they've managed to convince some woman too.

    All this blah blah blah about the sacredness of embryonic life is a bald-faced gene-serving lie.

    How else can you explain pro-life, anti-government naked apes, who believe in the STATE'S RIGHT to corporeal punishment?

    How do these creatures hold all those contradictions in their head at once?

    With bad reasons…

    And genes that say: My offspring can't be aborted and corporeal punishment reduces my competition.

    No, the Brett Bellmores of the world aren't evil. Or even atavistic…

    They're just not seeing what is in front of their snouts.

    And as Orwell reminds us, that's not easy to do…

  33. Bux, I'll assume that you're right. But all we can do is to gain enough self-knowledge to enable us to act in good faith to the greatest degree that we can. Taking instructions from an ancient book on the ground that it was written or dictated (how did it get here anyway?) by a supernatural being who can do wrong and never be mistaken (that's an allusion to the problem of theodicy) is not an option for me.

  34. Bux, I apologize for the sarcasm about believing in God. If it helps you, then I don't begrudge you your belief. Some atheists wish that they could believe; I am fortunate in being content without belief. I resent believers only when they tell me that there is something wrong with being an atheist — how can we be moral, or how can we find meaning in life, and that sort of thing.

  35. Thanks Henry, yes the problem of evil is a major issue the theist must wrestle with. I've wrestled with the theodicy problem myself and have come to some self-satisfying conclusions of my own that lead me to confirm my belief in God. And I certainly don't believe that atheists cannot be moral or find meaning in life (although I'd argue the finer point of whether an atheist can find meaning in any ultimate sense, since there is no "ultimate" sense but only this world). I hope I've been equally as congenial as you have been in explaining my position, and apologize where I have not. It's a stimulating debate. Some people don't find these discussions practical or meaningful. I find that these deeper epistemological and philosophical issues run underneath so much of the practical debates on issues that are had on sites like this, but go unacknowledged. Understanding the worldview is important.

  36. Bux, I don't think that the question of whether an atheist can find meaning in any ultimate sense is a "finer point." Obviously we atheists cannot; life has only the meaning that we give it. But, to an atheist, a believer is deluding himself to think that his life has more meaning than that. I sympathize, however, with the believer whom I see as having a need to delude himself; as I said, I am fortunate to be content with creating my own meaning.

  37. (Koreyel): "The whole anti-abortion malarkey is fundamentally about men controlling their right to reproduce."

    Either you have no anti-abortion friends or you don't listen to them. This is seriously mistaken, and quite rude to anti-abortion women. I'm more pro-abortion than anyone I know (legal to the end of the fifth trimester and compulsory after three kids is my recommendation), but I don't question the sincerity of abortion opponents. To them, abortion ends a human life.

  38. Malcolm, you and Koreyel might both be right. Abortion opponents might sincerely be concerned about fetuses, but that concern may, at some level, be motivated by a desire to keep women in their supposed place. None of us is fully in touch with his or her beliefs, desires, or prejudices — not even Freud.

  39. And abortion proponents might be sincerely concerned about the autonomy of women, but that concern may, at some level, be motivated by a desire to maximize the supply of consequence free sex. Neither side is guaranteed to have a lack of subconscious motivations, so I'm at a loss as to the point of addressing them, save as a way to avoid addressing those motivations and points people actually articulate in favor of attributing nasty motives to people who disagree with us.

  40. Brett, I agree that one should not cite the possible unconscious motivations of one's opponent as a weapon or an accusation. But what's the point in addressing the points people actually articulate if those points are stand-ins for what is really being fought over? If the two sides are, beneath the surface, really arguing over whether sexual freedom is a good thing (and you may have a valid point that this means sexual freedom for men as well as for women, although I think that it's mainly about women's place), then no minds will change if the argument is about stand-in subjects instead.

  41. "And abortion proponents might be sincerely concerned about the autonomy of women, but that concern may, at some level, be motivated by a desire to maximize the supply of consequence free sex."

    Or it can be, as I well know it, because fathers are concerned about the autonomy of their daughters, in the face of patriarchy defending, pathetically biologically ignorant, religious fundamentalist promulgators of laws that define women strictly in terms of their functioning as impersonal zygote support devices.

    Just to be clear, so there is no misunderstanding.

    I'd be more inclined to view the the "free sex maximizing" argument if the fundies had it in for the impregnator. Shared activity, shared consequences, right? But they don't, do they. Do they?

    No they don't. The male component of the situation has essentially no obligations under any of these laws that escalates over and above what pro-choice (that is *choice*) people believe right. Under these laws, the sole human being who bears the increased burden the laws impose is the *female*. Not the male.

    As the father of a daughter, I think this is not right.

  42. Russell, Brett claimed that pro-choice proponents may, at some level, be motivated by a desire to maximize the supply of consequence free sex. In theory, that could be true even if anti-abortion advocates are not consciously or unconsciously opposed to free sex. And, if some anti-abortion advocates are not opposed to free sex, then you can't fault them for not having it in for the impregnator. In theory, they could favor free sex and be anti-abortion. In practice, many of them oppose contraception and sex education, and you would be justified in faulting those anti-abortion advocates if they do not have it in for the impregnator.

  43. "In theory, they could favor free sex and be anti-abortion. In practice, many of them oppose contraception and sex education"

    But from a religious fundamentalist point of view, wouldn't increasing the supply of fetuses brought to term, irregardless of the origin of the corresponding zygotes, bring on a net increase in their (the religious fundamentalists) satisfaction? The Believer Ross Douthat argued that a big problem with abortion as an egalitarian option was not having enough of the right kind of newborns available for adoption by the right kind of people. This implies maximizing both the number of zygotes, and ensuring that the maximum number are brought to term, even by those women who would otherwise opt out of the religious fundamentalist's patriarchal social engineering experiments.

    So it seems to me the religious fundamentalists favor both free-sex-in-ignorance, and strict anti-abortion laws, as a way of satisfying these ah fundamental goals.

    And it does keep the women in their "place", historically. Get them pregnant in high school, and no further will they threaten the patriarchy.

    A father can't really stand for this sort of medieval crap. Yes Anthony Kennedy, I'm looking at you.

  44. "A father can’t really stand for this sort of medieval crap. Yes Anthony Kennedy, I’m looking at you."

    Clarification! I thought Justice Kennedy had at least one daughter, but I can't quickly verify that via the most public sources. Maybe he only has sons. I am negatively interested in further research. If so, that could explain some of the gender bias in his rulings, and I couldn't realistically expect him to understand the perspective of a father of a daughter.

  45. It's right and appropriate for a member of a (once or currently) oppressed group to express solidarity with members of other oppressed groups on the grounds of shared historical experience. It's not obligatory for them to do so, in terms of the obligations imposed by the public sphere of a liberal society. It may well be obligatory however within the sphere of the group itself. As a Jew, I would argue that it is obligatory for Jews to express solidarity with members of other oppressed groups, but I would only make this argument within the tent of my community, because the obligation is community-based and not society-based.

    It is wrong, and obnoxious, for a non-member of a (once or currently) oppressed group to call on a member of said group to express solidarity with other oppressed groups on the grounds of shared historical experience. In all cases.

    "As a" works only in the first person.

  46. "But what’s the point in addressing the points people actually articulate if those points are stand-ins for what is really being fought over?"

    Well, minds aren't guaranteed to change even if you do duke it out on the level of subconscious motivations, instead of articulated arguments. But responding to people's articulated arguments, rather than the subconscious motivations you assume they have, is a matter of common courtesy. It's insulting to put forth an argument, and have somebody psychoanalyze you instead of responding to your argument. Think you'd like it if other people did it to you?

    It's more than that. If I'm making arguments, and you're responding instead to what you suppose are my motivations, you're not being responsive to my arguments, and just how successful do you suppose THAT is going to make you in persuading me to change my mind? Why wouldn't I take it as an admission, (Like 'shorter'.) that you've got nothing, and have to attack me because you find my arguments unassailable? What else would I take it as? It's not like you're a shrink, and I'm paying to to do it to me.

    What sets us above the animals is that we CAN operate on a level above basic motivations, and engage in reason. Why deliberately toss that aside, and dispense with any possibility of reasoned discourse? Because that's what you do, when somebody attempts to reason with you, and you respond to, not even their actual motivations, but the motivations you suppose they must have. You end the discussion, so far as reason is concerned.

  47. Brett,

    I agree with what you said, on one condition–that the proffered arguments are made in good faith. This entire thread, IMO, has been conducted with remarkable good faith. So for purposes of this thread, I agree with you 100%.

  48. Brett, well said; I agree. But I can't say that you've changed my mind, because, despite what I wrote, I didn't really disagree before. My comment to which you respond was in part an attempt at cleverness (paralleling your prior comment), in part a wish that we could be more aware of our own and others' unconscious motivations and discuss them in a non-insulting way, and in part an expression of frustration that arguing about the points we articulate is usually fruitless because doing so does not address our underlying concerns.

    I don't understand "(Like 'shorter'.)"

Comments are closed.