Wednesday, May 22, 2019

"No In-Between in Abortion Debate" — For a Very Dangerous Conflict

A long letter to the editor of, or submission for a short column in, The Ventura County Star, in a continuing debate on abortion:

Re: Noel D’Angelo’s May 22 letter (part of a "thread")

By recent definitions of life, a fertilized egg is alive with a specific individual life, as is the ball of cells that it forms and on through the stages of embryological development to a fetus and newborn. However don’t say, "All life is sacred" and we can’t destroy such life if you’re eating a bacon burger or a carrot or just used a hand-sanitizer.  Unless you’re a very strict Jain* or vegan, you routinely kill various forms of life or have them killed for you (and often eat them); and even the most life-respecting among us usually wants a robust immune response to invading bacteria, which will kill those bacteria.

If you want to go back to old ideas of life, one idea would be whether or not an embryo or fetus is nephesh for the Hebrew word or the Greek equivalents: So is a fetus a "living being" in a Biblical or more generally ancient sense? Well, one answer is that "living beings" have the breath of life — note Adam’s story in Genesis — and one interpretation there is that a fetus takes on that sort of life with the first breath.**

Necessarily if perhaps arrogantly, we humans usually declare human life is special, and the question with abortion on one side is when and if a human zygote, embryo, or fetus is or becomes human: a person under the law with rights that can be balanced against those of the fully-human mother.

A consistent, coherent, and logical argument can be made if you go from "life-breath" to soul and have humans special because we are "ensouled" and place the moment of ensoulment early in fetal development or perhaps at the moment of conception. Doing so, you have unborn babies in the womb and, to push the argument, unbaptized unborn babies, possibly damned to hell if not allowed to be born and baptized.*** Q.E.D.

A consistent, coherent, logical, historical, and powerful argument can also  be made on how abortion laws have become a fairly recent twist in the millennium-long patriarchal efforts to control and oppress women, and must be opposed if societies are to recognize the full humanity of women. Also Q.E.D.

And people can argue that the United States Constitution sets up a secular Republic and that serious efforts to inflict upon it the rules of a Christian nation is an attack upon that Republic, to be opposed by all who’ve sworn or affirmed to defend the Constitution and our Republic "against all enemies, foreign and domestic."

All of which is why abortion is a highly divisive and dangerous conflict. And it is why we need America to move into the mushy middle and continue to accept the Roe vs. Wade compromise. That position is not logically consistent and elegant and historically informed, but it is tolerable to most Americans.

First trimester of so: We don’t feel that there’s a person yet.

Approaching the time of birth: Not yet with the rights of a full human if weighed against the mother, but getting there, and not to be killed unless that death is really, really necessary.

In between: Some reasonable regulation, which respects the rights of that fully-human mother.

And meanwhile we need a major campaign for effective contraception so that abortion is legal, safe, and indeed rare.

We are dealing here with definitions of "human being" and the nature of our country. These are issues about which people feel very strongly and over which they have killed one another: killing fully-developed, obviously human, human people, and in large numbers (this is part of what World War II was about, and the US Civil War).

Roe v. Wade isn’t intellectually neat and pretty, but it has worked. Most Americans can support it, even against our more logically rigorous fellow citizens. It’s something we can live with.

** Ward, Roy Bowen. "The Use of the Bible in the Abortion Debate," Saint Louis University Public Law Review 13.1 (1993); 391-408, here III.A.1, "Person" in the Bible, "Nephesh and Breath."
*** — On those unbaptized babies:

The Day of Doom
By Michael Wigglesworth (1631–1705)
Then to the bar, all they drew near
  Who died in infancy,
And never had or good or bad        235
  Effected personally,
But from the womb unto the tomb
  Were straightway carried,
(Or at the last ere they transgress’d)
  Who thus began to plead:

[answered at length by "the judge most dread, ending"]
"A crime it is, therefore in bliss
  You may not hope to dwell
But unto you I shall allow        355
  The easiest room in hell.”

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Abortion: Long-Range Compromise plus High-Tech Quick Fix

It's now behind a paywall, but long ago — back when Roe vs. Wade was more clearly "settled law" — I had a guest column in The Cincinnati Enquirer suggesting a combination of long-term compromise and technological/sociological quick fix.
The technological parts were (1) the development of effective birth control for both men and women, where the ordinary condition would be sterility until one took active steps to become fertile; and (2) the ability to remove and store a living embryo or early fetus until an appropriate surrogate mother (perhaps a male, although that hadn't occurred to me) could be brought on line, so to speak, or the fetus brought to term "ex utero, in vitro" — artificial wombs as satirically handled in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, and a utopian possibility in Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time.
A fetus at X-months would be assigned personhood under the law, with a right to life but no right to development in the uterus of an unwilling woman.
Unwanted pregnancies would need to be rare and would be; and removal, storage, and transplantation of the embryo (ideally) or fetus would be paid for by the State unless the couple had refused contraception (or changed their minds), in which case they'd — both of the genetic parents — would pay for the procedures with community service (as a matter of equity for people without much money).
I freely admitted this was a desperate resolution, but noted that abortion involves definitions of "human being"/"person under the law," and of the nature of the United States, which some of us have sworn to defend as a secular Republic, others value as a Christian Nation, and most just accept the mushiness of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag (of all things) that throws together the US as a Republic and a Nation (lately "under God") and claims "liberty and justice for all" when it's obvious a guilty convicted criminal got justice but loses liberty. Clafifying such matters can kill off a lot of people.

I think you can find the Enquirer article here.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Politics and the American Language: Clarity and/vs. Squishiness

Part of what makes working political systems work is occasional squishy lack of clarity. In the US, one swears or affirms loyalty to the Constitution of the United States, but the far more frequent patriotic exercise is pledging allegiance to a flag that represents the Republic that is also a Nation and (lately) a Nation under God, claiming liberty and justice for all (even though people justly imprisoned are clearly without much liberty). And neither the Pledge nor our oaths or affirmations mention "the American State," with "statehood" usually applied to the various American states federated into a Union that may or may not be as indivisible as the purported Nation.

We are now engaged in a not-so-great, not-so-civil figurative war, much of which is getting down to what the US is.

Donald Trump and his core followers have claimed the emotionally-compelling romance of "the Nation"; his opponents often talk of "our democracy." I think opponents to Trump should concede that he and his followers have effectively seized the great Myth of the Nation and could attempt to claim a pure People's Democracy, with the Leader embodying and channeling the will of the People ("Folk," "masses"), by-passing the moribund and/or pernicious institutions of "the Deep State."

It's time for opponents of a potential Trumpian mass movement to claim "the Republic" and talk about "crucial democratic institutions in our Republic." That avoids the embarrassing fact that the US is obviously not a direct democracy and only intermittently a participatory democracy and has un- and anti-democratic elements we're still working on (and some of which — like an independent judiciary, some form of a Senate — are good ideas). The Republic can also be a potent idea: a social contract one chooses and re-chooses, not just gets born into; an ideal to strive for, a way of governing and way of life we need to preserve, protect, and defend — as many of us have sworn to do — against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Saving Our Nation's Democracy from Enemies of the People: An Exercise in "Red-Teaming"

The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice 
have each of them several different meanings which cannot be 
reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy,
 not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to 
make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally 
felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: 
consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, 
and fear that they might have to stop using that word 
if it were tied down to any one meaning. 
Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way.  —
George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language" (1946)

“Well, Doctor [Franklin], what have we got—
a Republic or a Monarchy?”
  “A Republic, if you can keep it.” — 
Exchange with Benjamin Franklin leaving  the
Constitutional Convention of 1787, as reported

There is one and only one official democratically elected by the American Nation: the U.S. President. And that President represents, embodies, and implements the spirit and will of our Nation. The purest democracy, therefore, consists in ensuring the People's will is fulfilled, allowing the majority — the true Nation bathed in the blood of patriots and rooted in native soil — to rule.
The Deep State of bloated bureaucracies and corrupted institutions must not be permitted to thwart the will of the People, the demos in "democracy." These enemies of the People are to be circumvented or pushed aside, and if the Congress or a political party or lying media consistently attack the People embodied in the President, these enemies are to be neutralized.
"Lock them up!" and let them be happy they are no longer taken out and guillotined or shot as a matter of Revolutionary Justice or Racial purification.
Perfect democracy is direct and spiritual: the Rule of the People — the real Nation, purged and purified — not that of law or moribund assemblies. 
And that, brothers and sisters, is why I for one repeat the line of 1950s conservative curmudgeons that the US is not a democracy but a republic, and not a nation in the sense that, say, Japan is a nation: pretty much one people with one religious tradition (in two main strains in Japan), one history, one Emperor, one language — which at least so far the US is not. This is why I recommend to the Blue Team stressing our Republic, the rule of law, and a tradition that includes an ideal of majority decision, not majority rule (where you ignore and/or screw minorities), within a "mixed constitution" that includes Federalism and divided governments with a law-making legislative branch, an executive, and a judiciary (in that order).

Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer — One Nation (or People), One Empire, One Leader — is Nazi German stuff; Orthodoxy, Autocracy, Nationality is Czarist Russian (now making a comeback). "We are the wretched refuse" as Bill Murray's character says in STRIPES, the mongrels of the Earth; and a good part of our good traditions is rule of law, and the institutions of the Republic.

If we can keep it.