Sunday, August 26, 2018

Red-Teaming & Rhetoric (and Arguments Like that on Abortion)

Apropos of little — for a long time it was and apparently remains conventional for US forces in war-games, at least of the table-top varieties, to be the Blue Team and the opponents the Red Team. So there's the handy expression and concept, "red-teaming it": for working out strategies from the point of view of one's opponent(s). Sort of "walk a mile in his shoes," but maybe while heavily armed. 

We asked students to do something similar when writing argument papers in Rhet 101, when they got to the "Refutation" part of the argument and needed to respond to "obvious objections." Well, "obvious to whom?" and "how obvious?" (you don't want to raise objections that are just silly — or are pretty powerful, but easily overlooked).

More Americans need more experience "red-teaming" (also reading more literature and "mindful" game-playing) and working through the logic of situations, including logic using premises we don't share, even premises we abhor.

For one thing, we'd get fewer references to "senseless violence" when the mayhem is probably evil but is, if anything, too logical. The leadership of your rebel army wants peace talks with the Imperial government, and your subgroup doesn't? Some "naked infants spitted upon pikes" from a nursery for the kids of government officials will stop those talks. Fast. And invite reprisals that will keep the war going strong for months to come. You believe that human beings are essentially a human soul, that each soul is of infinite value, and that your job as an agent of the Inquisition of Holy Mother Church is to save souls by any means necessary? Then effective means up to an including the destruction of the world — mere  finite matter — can be justified, and the torture of a heretic arguably an act of love. 

We'd also get "logical" being used less as a kind of Vulcan compliment word and get it back to a neutral meaning. «All men are green; Socrates was a man; therefore Socrates was green» — is logical but you can safely bet untrue. 

Being able to "red-team" an argument is even more important when we're not talking about enemies but just opponents on some political issues who might be our allies on others. It's a way to learn (to use another old expression) "where they're coming from" and understand the logic of their arguments — even when they might not understand the logic because, like most of us, most of the time, they haven't worked through "where they're coming from" and how the hell they got to where they are, taking positions that look obvious to them and — in bad cases — just "senseless" to you.

So let's get to an argument where we need such thinking 'cause currently it keeps going around in circles, when it doesn't "spiral out of control." Abortion.

Consider some descendants of an Inquisitor and of a rebel willing to make good on a government terror threat — the line on spitted infants is from that " mirror of all Christian kings" (II.Cho.6), Shakespeare's Henry V — and how they might be arguing.

One, and it might be either, sees humans as essentially a soul, with a human soul entering matter at the moment a human child is conceived. So a human zygote — a fertilized human egg — is essentially a soul to be saved or damned, a soul of infinite value, and as yet unbaptized and unborn the first time, let alone "born again." (I'm conflating some belief systems here, but "'good enough' is good enough.") To kill intentionally that zygote, embryo, fetus, and, eventually, soon-to-be-born child is murder to start with plus, far worse, damning an innocent soul perhaps to limbo or, perhaps, "the easiest room in hell," as the estimable Rev. Mr. Michael Wigglesworth puts it in his "Day of Doom" (see lines 345-60, or don't; even if you agree with the theology, it's a really, really, really awful poem). 

The other can cite the doctrine of the sovereignty of free people over their bodies and the right of women not to have to go through a pregnancy they don't want. And go on to cite how enforced pregnancy has fit into the history of men keeping women unfree. 

Now the pro-choice person here can say s/he doesn't believe in souls, and the anti-abortion person can argue s/he accepts the history but that the emphatically finite Earthly rights of pregnant women are outweighed by the right to life — not just physical life, but a chance at "life eternal." 

And the figurative "game" — the argument — doesn't really even get started. In a minimum of two games, there are two winners in their own terms, and nothing has gotten settled.

"Red-teaming" the abortion argument is important to show both logical, hence "extreme," sides how serious and seriously dangerous the abortion argument is. 

Many pro-choice people might just say, and will say if pressed, "Well, we don't believe in souls and ensoulment and all that." Now red-team it. If humans are just meat, what then? If there's no problem killing a zygote or embryo or even a fetus, when does the problem enter in? It's a leap into the absurd to believe in a God and a God moreover who cares — in the midst of a massive universe — cares about human beings, period; but in that objective view of things it's just an assertion contrary to fact (as in, probably, "a lie") that the human species, as meat, has any significant value, let alone any individual human being. 

To which the pro-choice person can say, "Well, I believe in human value; I feel the value of the child in my arms; I sense it when I talk to people" and, with that confession of faith — that absurd leap of faith if you know humans and our history — there may be a reduction of contempt for one's opponent who starts with another leap of faith; and reductions of contempt are frequently useful.

And for the anti-abortion person to be "pro human life," with human value and dignity — that person must think through the situations of individual women forced to have babies they don't want, and the history of women kept in subjugation. 

And where do we go from there?

And then, I suggest, from there we think through what happens if that damn Red Team and our fine and pure Blue Team press our points to a philosophically pure, radically, essentially, totally-pure pure conclusion. What should be done with people who'd continue the millennia-long persecution of women — who'd enslave women to the making of babies? What should be done with murderers of infants and souls? 

Shall we, say, fight to the death? Or exhaustion of resources? 

There is precedent.

Let he who is without sin, she who is most rigorous, cast the first molotov cocktail.

There are lots of precedents.

My own suggestion is for backing off: agree that maybe literal fighting has never been such a great idea, and a really bad one given the current range and availability of weapons. My own suggestion is for pragmatic, messy, political thinking: sometimes in the manner of Machiavelli, sometimes in the manner of the compassionate, practical saint or holy fool. 

Eventually, we can get a "technological quick fix" for the abortion issue. Our fairly near descendants can declare a human embryo a person under the law from implantation on — and remove the embryo to storage and, in another "eventually," the womb of a woman who wants a baby. Or, eventually, an artificial womb. Such actions would be too expensive to be done frequently, so we should do what we should be doing anyway — the Church gets the nature part of "Natural Law" wrong here — and coming up with really effective contraception: i.e., implants or whatever so that women and girls, men and boys are sterile until they desire children. Until then: working full-tilt on a male contraceptive, on making contraception readily available, and, starting, say, ten years ago, inventive and shameless "Wrap that Willy!" campaigns to encourage condom use.

The logically and morally rigorous probably can't go along, but the rest of us can do fairly well seeing things from the points of view of others. And since we probably can't exterminate our opponents and damn well shouldn't try; since even as we wouldn't like to be silenced, we shouldn't even try to silence others ... Well, we can muddle through on our disagreements, and agree and cooperate where we can. 

As I said, it's messy, but necessary for that social life, civilization experiment thing.  

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