Thursday, December 29, 2005

Abortion at Redstate

When I should've been polishing up the draft of my first dissertation chapter, I instead went on Redstate and argued with some conservatives about abortion. Bad Neil! Anyway, it actually went a little better than I expected. Always good to start a discussion by saying "I think it's a wonderful thing to help a 10-year-old get an abortion" and end up with some conservatives thinking, "hey, this guy isn't crazy." Stylistically, forceful attacks on my views occasionally drive me into a sort of calm, detached Derek Parfit mode, and there are moments where that happened here.


Rousseau said...

Interesting. Maybe I'll comment.

Anyway, that article reminds me of an interesting twist on practical federalism. Yes, you have this problem that abortions are basically illicit in South Dakota because the populace doesn't want them (and thus is able to make it sufficiently inconvenient).

Similarly, banning and limiting abortions on a national level will have much LESS effect in New York than elsewhere. It may one day be a legal requirement to get parental consent, but just as the SD legislature doesn't support abortion doctors, the NY legislature doesn't have to support officials who would check.

DevP said...

Neil, though I appreciate it I'm afraid this is just reinforcing the idea that liberals are a bunch of bean-counting morally relatvistic utilitarian consequentialists. (At least we didn't slip in our offhand comment in favor of Sharia Law.)

But yeah, you held your own. Reminds me of what my friend Logan tried to do in this thread:

There was no chance to survive.

Neil Sinhababu said...

I was posting in the wee hours of the night, so it was kind of a shock to see the comment count easily break 100 this morning.

Whoa! Dev, I don't think any diary that size has a chance of being read. It's a reason why short-comment-based discussion goes better.

Anonymous said...

Just thought I'd drop you a line here -- response seems to be split between people who take you just seriously enough and people apalled that you "compare humans to animals" or something like that.

I'm desperately waiting for an abortion post where I can argue from the vagueness of the beginning of life. These people seem to think they can avoid vagueness at when (human) life begins by assuming that life begins at conception, but I recently heard this fascinating argument:

Twinning is possible for up to 2 days (I think) *after* conception. That means that the human life that is created at conception can split into two lives. Then, run a Parfit-style "but which twin is the original?" kinda argument, and see what happens...

Anyway! Back to grading go I!


dadahead said...

I'm afraid this is just reinforcing the idea that liberals are a bunch of bean-counting morally relatvistic utilitarian consequentialists.

I think Neil is a bean-counting utilitarian, though there's nothing morally relativistic about that.

Also, how on earth could anyone think it was a bad thing to help a 10 year old get an abortion? Anyone who would want a ten year old to carry to term is insane.

Anonymous said...

"You and Neil are clearly going in the Singer direction. You less so. Neil is some bizarre type of ueber-Singer and his arguments are so grotesque that I'm really not convinced he believes them, but I am so thankful that he's making the case for the callous disregard that pro-aborts have for human life because were I making the same arguments of behalf of the pro-aborts I'd be accused of exaggerating their position.

I'm not ducking the question. If aliens land where I live the watch words are "no season, no limit.""

Your turn, man...

- Doxasticpirate

Neil Sinhababu said...

dadahead -- my mom, who was raised on a small village in India and had an arranged marriage, agrees with you.

Yeah, that comment freaked me out too, pirate. I hope streiff is nowhere nearby when ET shows up. Thanks for helping out on the humanity point, by the way -- one werewolf can only do so much.

Dennis said...

It seems to me that you've run afoul of a few difficulties at various places (though, usefully, you've ignored the most virulent commenters). However, I think there's a few things I might recommend for future forays:

1) Let's dispense immediately with the idea that we're necessarily talking about abortion-as-murder; in this scope a lot of things change and the most a non-genius person can argue is about the inconsistencies inherent in one position on this or another. And, after all, most Americans don't agree with this position as their abortion positions are far from absolutist. You did a pretty good job dealing with it up-front, but you didn't cite the dealing part as consistently as might have helped.

2) You have positions on a lot of these issues that are very well-informed philosophically; unfortunately, many of your readers are not as informed as you are about maintaining intellectual consistency. You need to wax educational a little more often than you do if you're going to argue from facile-sounding premises (like the importance of pain in moral treatment of nonhuman animals).

3) More pertinently to the thread at hand, parental consent/notification is a tough needle to thread; for the we-own-women people there's obviously no problem (as Tony said, they'd like to ban abortions even if only for people whose names end in "d"). On the other hand, while you're completely correct about parental consent for any other medical procedure (asprin), your tattoo example fails to comport with the intuition (which even you don't argue) that abortion isn't morally neutral. Similarly, we let parents make many other decisions that could damage their kids: they don't have to feed them right (as long as they're not malnourished), they don't have to educate them well (as long as they're educated at all), and they don't have to allow them medical procedures as long as they're only in moderate trouble (think Christian Science). In this thread's substance, you need to be talking about the extent to which you really want to let parents make decisions that harm their kids in addition to the observation that the usual examples have the opposite intuition.

Anonymous said...


Who needs ET? Check it out.

Neil Sinhababu said...

ET had a mind, dude. First-trimester fetuses? Not so much.

Anonymous said...

Prove it.

Neil Sinhababu said...

According to the American Medical Association, the brain wiring isn't in place for them to even feel pain.

Anonymous said...

"Conclusions-Evidence regarding the capacity for fetal pain is limited but indicates that fetal perception of pain is unlikely"

Not only is this nowhere near conclusive proof, but JAMA is funded by the same Dr.'s who profit from abortion. Thus, there is a direct conflict of interest. What do you think the motivation is to prove that a fetus doesn't feel pain? Money? Justification?

On the other hand, basic eighth grade science proves that:

a fetus has 46 seperate and distinct human chromosomes

after 18 days, a fetus has a beating heart... therefore

it is a "being" and since it is made up of completely unique "human" chromosomes, it is a "human being," and abortion stops his or her heart and dismembers the body. In fact, it is the job of one of the nurses to re-assemble the body of the fetus to be sure they sucked out all the parts.

Also, "fetus" is latin for "little one."

So, why don't you just admit that it's okay to kill people? It would be much easier than trying to logically justify infanticide in the womb.

Neil Sinhababu said...

It's okay to kill people, in some cases.

Happy now?

Anonymous said...

Since you are so glib about the benefits of abortion and killing people, I have one last thing I’d like to mention. It is a quote from a book by Leon F. Whitney, copyright 1934. The book is “The Case For Sterilization.” Whitney was the president of the American Eugenics Society and the book is promoting the mandatory sterilization of certain “unfit” segments of society. Eugenicists in America worked closely with Nazis who were performing experiments in the death camps. American eugenicists were (and still are) determined to reduce the number of rural white people and inner-city minorities in order to promote “good genes.” Based on your photo, you would have been on their list. Though the book is very rare, you can find this book in some libraries. It has glowing, full-paragraph endorsements on the back by:
Prof. E.M. East, Harvard University
Dr. R. B. Von Kleinsmid, Pres. of University of Southern California
Prof. William McDougall, Duke University
Dr. A Franklin Shull, University of Michigan
Dr. Max Mason, Pres. of the Rockefeller Foundation
Prof. Francis B. Sumner, University of California
Hon. Gifford Pinchot, Governor of Pennsylvania
And… Margaret Sanger, founder of the American Birth Control League and Planned Parenthood. Sanger said, “The best book on the subject. It contains exactly the material that the average person interested in human welfare whishes to know. Mr. Whitney presents scientific facts in a practical fashion so that he who reads may understand.” The author, Leon Whitney received a letter from Hitler, thanking him for writing the book, saying that he carried it with him almost always. In the book there is a chapter I want to quote. It is revealing. When you read this, please remember that less than thirty years after this was written, a President was killed and these changes were ushered in. However, where sterilization appeared to be inadequate, abortion seems to have been the solution.


Today’s discussion of our need for “a planned society” usually emphasizes aspects of our economic structure. As yet, current talk has not touched on a far more important need of contemporary life, the foundation on which any new economic structure must be built if it is to stay firm. I mean a eugenic program.

There is no denying the fact that if we take account of the quality of a population as well as of its numbers, we strike at the root of the problem, for these two go hand in hand. Back of this question, again, stands that of ambition, of goal. Where are we heading? If we want to get somewhere, we first must ask ourselves where we are going and then take the most direct route. Where do we want to go? We have over us no dictator motivated by self-glorification; we are not being coerced into breeding a great army which he may use to acquire new territory. We do not need millions of men for national defense, since there is little likelihood of our being attacked by another nation. Perhaps we should do well to adopt as our ideal the desire to become a model nation, to live contentedly within our own boundaries, to forgo any plans of aggression, to produce as much as possible for the support of our own people, to be self-sufficing and yet have enough surplus to help other peoples when they need it.

A large proportion of our population is of innately fine stock. We still have seed-stock from which we might erect a nation such as has only been dreamed of. What else is there for us to do than just that – become an object lesson? But what kind of object lesson shall we become?

We need financial security. We are going to achieve it, with effort. It has been argued, I think convincingly, that we can get along very well indeed with a smaller population. But it must be made more and more a quality population. Perhaps we shall get that too. But if ever we are going to, our first and greatest necessity is the wide and immediate dissemination of birth-control information. Every one must do what he can in the direction of that legislative reform. We must make available to every couple at the time of marriage such information as will enable them to have as many or as few children as they want, and to space the children properly. Progressive upward evolution will inevitably set in. As I have said earlier, what if the minus social elements do have two children to satisfy their parental instinct? At that they will diminish at the rate of 50% each generation.

Give them the necessary information and instruction and let them decide for themselves whether to have few children or many. If we suppose their incomes to be reasonably stable, and if each year they must make their choice between a commodity and a baby, which do you think they will choose? Here is a nice shiny automobile; and here is a baby. Which will they take? Here is a television apparatus, the newest and best on the market. Will you choose that, Mr. Moron, or would you like another baby? There, Mrs. Moron, are the moving pictures, the public golf-course, there are nine months of freedom vs. nine months of staying home – which will you choose? Mr. Moron, here you see a squalling baby who will get you up nights, and here you see nice long evenings in the poolroom – which will you choose? A Sears – Roebuck catalogue offers a thousand choices between a baby and something else that looks pretty tempting. Which will the morons choose? If you think they will choose more than one or two babies, then you don’t know morons.

The first step in building a civilization, there-fore, is to place everybody on the same footing as that on which our intelligent classes find themselves today. This done, sterilization will come to the assistance of those who are too stupid to comprehend or to carry out the simple methods of contraception; to help those who are intelligent but resolved, because they know they bear dysgenic germ-plasm, that they will have no children at all; and finally the relatives and guardians of degenerates who want to protect themselves, their family, and the race against the trouble to which the pregnancy of a degenerate in their family might give rise. In the program for a controlled and planned society, sterilization will take the place of contraception for a host of persons. It will make contraception unnecessary in many cases and will liberate the mid of the person desiring an effective and permanent means of birth-control.

A planned society must imply the regulation of births. But its birth-control program must be threefold: birth-liberation for those best endowed by Nature; birth-maintenance for the great average; birth-reduction for the lowest social elements. Just one thing is essential: to make contraception and sterilization available. Superiority will of it-self be the deciding factor. Superior people will show their superiority in the test which is to come. That test is the survival of the fittest, but the question of who the fittest are will come to have a new meaning. No longer will we make the mistake of translating fitness as brute strength; we shall understand it to comprehend all that we hold dearest in life – beauty, love , idealism, good citizenship, honor, health, and the happiness that springs from being able to create our families by choice rather than by chance.

If I did not know that already within our ranks we are witnessing a demonstration that this condition can actually come about, I should not feel so hopeful. But all our population figures show that whereas the birth-rate dropped first in the upper classes (considering class on the basis of intelligence) the ability to control this has slowly crept downward until today it is almost possible for the border-line group to control their births. Tomorrow it will be possible for them. And that tomorrow can be brought closer by the efforts of all intelligent people.

Anonymous said...

His name was "Dr." Whitney. He was a very famous veterinarian of the era.