Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Thoughtcrime of the Day: a woman doesn't have a "right to choose"

because there is no such thing.

Here's a new series.

Pro-Life 101: abortion slogans debunked.

"She had not a thought in her head that was not a slogan, and there was no imbecility, absolutely none, that she was not capable of swallowing if the Party handed it out to her."
Orwell, 1984.

For a brief time a few years ago, I gave talks to students in Catholic schools about the life issues. It was fun, sometimes. One of the things I did was to ask them to tell me what they heard in the media or wherever, about abortion. What is the first, the very first thing that pops into people's heads when they hear about abortion in the news or in movies or TV?

It was always interesting to see that, like everyone else, they had heard all the slogans and more or less accepted them, but never actually thought about what they meant. Very often, the kids would have their eyes opened after we had taken a closer look. I think it helped them think more clearly about other things too.

The first one they invariably came up with was the old "right to choose" chestnut, which while being the most pervasive, is probably the easiest one to knock down.

I used to explain this to students: it's simple grammar. You don't even have to get into discussing rights or medicine or law. The slogan itself doesn't make sense grammatically.

"Choose" is a transitive verb, which (...I then invariably had to explain...) means it requires an object. There are two kinds of verbs; transitive and intransitive.

You can't just "choose" in the same way you can just run, or work or cook. You have to choose a particular thing. There has to be an object. You choose a career. You choose a husband. You choose a colour for your bathroom. You choose things all the time. But you don't, and can't, just choose.

So whether you have a "right" to choose something, depends entirely upon what the thing, the missing object of the slogan, is.

The sloganeers were pretty clever with this one because it sounds good. Of course you have a right to choose which university to attend. You have a right to vote (unfortunately). You have all kinds of natural rights to choose things. What the Newspeakers have done with this slogan, by knocking the object off the sentence, is to imply that anyone who opposes them is trying to take all rights of choice away from women.

Gramatically, "A woman has a right to choose," means that she has a right to choose absolutely anything. It is a statement of total solipsistic license and as such, is more or less the operating principle of The New Society we, or I should say our parents and grandparents, launched in the 1960s.

This little manifesto of the New World came from the website of an artist and more or less sums up the whole package:
The “right to choose’ means women control our own bodies. We will decide to have a baby or not–even if we’re young, single, or poor! To really “choose” we need abortion services, health care, and child care! Many states have Parental Notification laws. They try to stop teens from having abortions by making us tell our parents first. What’s up with that? Teen sex is healthy and natural. We need birth control and safe sex information. We demand health care and child care for teen moms. Abortion must be safe, legal, and affordable for women of all ages. Fight to keep abortion legal! Not all women think abortion is cool for themselves, but all women have the right to make their own choice.

Do your own thing, man. Groovy.

And more to the point, shout down, bully, and silence anyone who tries to tell you different.

We have been so programmed in the last 50 years to think only of our rights and freedoms (licenses) that the idea of someone opposing the total liberty to do anything and everything one wants all the time is utterly anathema. In the all-or-nothing new world any restriction on any action is an affront. Anyone making a such a suggestion must simply be beyond the realm of rationality and can be instantly dismissed as either a crank with severe mental problems or as an evil megalomaniac bent on destroying everyone's fun.

I recommended to the kids that any time they heard anyone repeating this slogan they should ask "choose what?"

Orwell taught us that slogans work not by giving information but by taking it away. A slogan is not an expression of an idea but a noise meant, with a certain amount of training, to elicit a powerful emotional response either of outrage or shame. A response strong enough to overwhelm rational thought. A person who opposes the sloganeer is supposed to be cowed with shame at his opposition, as many people were who did not agree with the legalisation of abortion.

Believe it or not, I have heard a lot of pro-life people (or perhaps simply people who are generally afraid of rocking the boat in either direction,) say "How can we oppose women's rights?" This is the response of shame that prompts the weasel position, "I don't like abortion but I wouldn't impose my opinion on anyone else." (This, btw, leads directly to the Stockholm Syndrome Pro-lifer of which I have written extensively elsewhere. It turns you into a turncoat, but more on that later.)

An effective slogan is not meant to arouse discussion, but to squash it. It is not meant to be analysed or discussed. It is meant for one thing alone: to whip up a mob. And on abortion, (as well as so many other things) the mob won.


Anonymous said...

"Teen sex is healthy and natural..We need birth control and safe sex information. We demand health care and child care for teen moms. Abortion must be safe, legal, and affordable for women of all ages...."

And the implied right to make some one else pay for the consequences of your poor choices; ie free abortions or subsidized child care.


Anonymous said...

Excellent post. You are worth your weight in gold on pro-life issues, Hilary. I've already quoted this to one friend.