Monday, July 28, 2008
Making the Case
So, there I was, minding my own business, watching scandalous television programmes on the net, when I got an awful fright. The black thing in the corner started making a dreadful noise. "Brring-Brring" it said. Then went on at some length, becoming more insistent: "Brring-Bring" "Brring-Brring"
Lordy, but I hate the phone.
To my great surprise, it was one of my readers. For some reason I generally go along thinking that I'm more or less just talking to myself here, and perhaps a few friends. I often forget that other people are eavesdropping too. It was nice to chat with someone without using my keyboard for a change. I'd almost forgotten about talking.
Anyway, the upshot of the conversation was that she was impressed with this whole Logical Principle of Non-Contradiction thing I'd been going on about. She wanted to know where she could learn that stuff.
I have to admit that I did not invent it.
It's Aristotle, but like much of his stuff, it's really just plain sense. He was just the first one to bother writing it down. I suspect that people were in A's time starting to say a lot of stupid and self-contradictory things and it was something like the reason the Church goes out of its way to declare certain dogmas. Not because she has made up something new, but because for the first time in history, people are starting to talk a lot of rubbish and what had been previously simply accepted by everyone as self-evident now has to be spelled out.
After Aristotle, it is nearly everyone until the modern philosophers and the current ongoing plunge into irrationality. But most notably, it is Thomas Aquinas.
From these, and from the many other great writers and thinkers it is quite simple to construct perfectly calm answers to the abortion slogans, as well as to the "arguments" of the secular humanists. After a while, pointing out the logical inconsistencies of the Newfangled People can be something like a sport and quite entertaining.
In a commbox some time ago, I was accused, by someone who claimed to be pro-life, of giving "clever answers" to the more common pro-abortion "arguments". They're not arguments, actually, they're slogans and claxons meant to make a pro-life person feel guilty and shut up. The person objected, I think, to how easily I dismissed the deeply felt feelings of the deeply feeling people who felt that women need abortion because otherwise their feelings would be hurt.
The person was objecting to my assertion that abortion slogans just fall to dust when they are examined with what I like to call the Laws of Rational Thought. They nearly all refute themselves right out of existence. Particularly the ones that are meant to embarrass us and make us hang our heads in shame at believing that we can't kill people to solve our problems.
These slogans work to shut us up because most pro-life people, like everyone else, got their intellectual training from Saturday Morning Cartoons. It is also quite astonishing how much anti-intellectualism can be found in the pro-life movement: "We don't need all that rational thought and reasoned argument. We've got our tiny feet pins and our feelings to guide us."
Yes, the "clever answers" make mincemeat of the abortion slogans and that is often very embarrassing to people, whether on their side or ours. It is felt that these are really good arguments against which we are essentially helpless. And people usually get angry when they are embarrassed. It's astounding how annoyed many "pro-lifers" will become in the course of discussion when you give them a simple clear answers to the usual slogans.
I have noted a trend in the pro-life movement that has grown from the great need to be liked, and to pretend that we are "not really in conflict". This has led to a habit of thought in which the pro-life person, who wants to be seen to be in sympathy with the poor poor women in "crisis pregnancies", adopting most of the abortion slogans with an eager air of agreement. "Gosh, yes, I see that you have suffered terribly, and of course, no one wants to impose a particular belief on you..." We get rather fed up, I suppose, with being called nasty names and want to go back to being seen to be nice, and kindly, and helpful and motherly. There there dear...
This leads to the idea that we mustn't ever make any sort of rational case against abortion based on principles. Principled people, you see, are evil bastards who hold these principles to be more important than a woman's feelings. And who needs that? The upshot is that you frequently hear the abortion arguments solemnly recited by pro-lifers eager to prove themselves as deeply feeling and sympathetic to the plight of woman as our opponents.
I've called this Pro-lifer Stockholm Syndrome. It leads, eventually, to the pro-lifer going over to the other side.
The conversation then usually goes something like this:
"Well, I'm pro-life, and I would never counsel anyone to have an abortion, but I knew a doctor who had a lot of women come to him in the emergency room who had been victimised by back-alley abortions, and he told me that the only way to stop that is to make it legal, so it can be regulated. SO where are all your clever answers in the face of women bleeding to death?"
"Well, I'm pro-life and I would never counsel anyone to have an abortion [this is the required disclaimer] but I've done a lot of counseling with women in need, and you just don't know the pain and agony of a woman faced with the decision to terminate a pregnancy. I think the only Christian thing to say is 'I'll support you whatever decision you make'".
or, as the disease progresses:
"Well, we don't agree that abortion should be made illegal. You see, we believe that a woman does have a right to choose and we see our work more as presenting her with options. We reject the idea that we have to be in conflict over this issue."
(All of these come from my own experience, and were said to me personally by people in the pro-life movement. The first in a commbox, the second by a Sister of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, and the third at a meeting of a diocesan pro-life organisation funded by the Archdiocese of Halifax.)
These, and others like the "what about the thirteen year old girl who is a victim of rape?" are normally presented with a sneer as if they are utterly unbreachable fortresses of logic and moral strength and that even to dare to answer them is tantamount to hating women... and this is from people, invariably, who present themselves as being pro-life.
Most people who are "pro-life", especially in this country I've observed, say they are pro-life because they have some vague sentiments about babies and a vestigial emotional reaction to abortion left over from their youth when there was still a societal taboo. But they have never heard the reasoned arguments. And they feel defeated when someone approaches them with one of the (five, yes, only five) abortion slogans. In our world, feelings trump reasons and facts, and principles are entirely forgotten.
I didn't know any of this either when I started out. I was also handicapped by not liking children, particularly not liking babies, and not really having all that much time for mothers either. I was a very unlikely pro-life activist. If it had been left up to my sentiments, I would certainly never have exercised myself over any of it.
What does bother me, however, and always has, is willful stupidity and ignorance, irrationality and blind acceptance of "what everyone knows". (Come to think of it, if it weren't for my natural fightyness, I would never have bothered even looking it up). When I started, it was because I became interested in the long slow shift in philosophy in the west from objectivism to subjectivism. From there I stumbled on subjectivism's greatest triumph: utilitarianism that produced the Nazi eugenics programme and thence the entire modern abortion culture.
At the time I started, I didn't know what to call any of this, but I got extraordinarily lucky. A group of American protestants had developed a systematic approach to Christian apologetics aimed directly at the new subjectivist ideas that have produced what we now, rather loosely, call "liberalism". The left has embraced sujectivism and have created the world against which we are now at war in the Culture Wars.
The trouble with Britain is that it is not in the Culture Wars. British people have lost the logical capacities and the apathy that has grown out of post-war material comforts has lulled them all to sleep. But these American Christian apologists, all of whom are great Chesterton fans, have developed an entire revolution in apologetics based on the classical rhetorical techniques that can all be boiled down to the Logical P. of Non-C.
After a while, some of them broke away from answering the anti-Christian left, and concentrated their efforts onto answering the pro-abortion left.
There is a nice young fellow, Scott Klusendorf, (see pic above) who has made a career out of flying around the country and teaching eager young American pro-life kids to do this work, and challenging them to get into the fight full time. Scott's work has led to a revolution in the pro-life world in the US where there are fewer and fewer little old ladies rattling their rosary beads and talking about how cute babies are, and more and more annoying thinky people making rational arguments in favour of not killing people to solve your problems. This was absolutely necessary because it is not going to be long before the generation that remembered a time before abortion and subjecivism are gone, and there will be no more vistigial abortion-taboo left in western society. We cannot continue to count on the sweet little old ladies to do the work.
I see that it has a ways to go before the revolution gets here, but I know that the scouts are already here scoping the place out. Some people from the Center for Bioethical Reform have been here and are talking to some young eager beavers about setting up the first training sessions.
Scott runs a website in which he gives people the tools they need to clear away the rotting undergrowth of irrationality and post-modern subjectivism and shine a bright clear light of reason on the life issues. I took his course a couple of times and, between him and Peter Kreeft, I credit them with creating the cold, unfeeling, Principles-oriented monster I am today.