Thursday, October 07, 2004

The Mistress

I think it was one of Chesterton's books - don't ask me which, he wrote lots - in which he employs this pithy conversation to make his point. One old gent says to another, "I've been having second thoughts about religion." To which the second man replies, "So you have a mistress. Why didn't you say so?" Chesterton's point, of course, is that even the deepest seeming and most complex rationalizations often have their roots in the mundane. Another of Chesterton's images involves an explanation for why the Catholic Church is so strict about some things - life issues, mostly. He asks us to imagine a playground high on a precipice, with walls around it to keep the children from falling over the cliffs on all four sides. Inside the walls there is as much freedom and fun as could be desired. The Church's strictest teachings, he suggests, are like the walls of that playground. If you take them down, you have not increased the fun or the freedom, and you have increased the danger dramatically. I bring up these two stories because I want to discuss abortion, and I want to try and show that objecting to it does not make me a theocratic threat to liberal democracy. I wrote here a while back about Sunday shopping and how, even though I think keeping one day a week aside for community and family is a good thing, I think it is ultimately a private matter. Abortion is not like that. Abortion is always a human issue, and not a private one. People who favour "choice" always proceed something like this: 1) They will describe a terrible problem of some kind, and then suggest that abortion is the solution. When objections are raised, they might admit that other solutions are possible, but they will not allow you to rule abortion out. 2) When they are asked how it is that abortion is not murder, they say that early stage babies are not really human. When asked at what point the unborn become human, the "choice" advocate says that no one really knows, but only if you really really press them. The implication is that because we don't know, it's ok to act with impunity. And they use the word know in a specific sense, and will fight like mad to deny that any other form of knowledge is possible. It is a fact that there are two methods of knowledge - deduction and induction. More on this later. Virtually all of the problems that abortion is supposed to solve have other solutions. I mean, think about it, humans have been on the earth for thousands of years without access to safe abortion. Overpopulation? Food crisis? No one knows how many people the earth can support. No one. It's a bit like global warming. "We have computer projections." To which the answer is, do you know what GIGO means? The poor in the wealthy parts of the world generally don't go hungry. We have food banks and welfare and lots of charities giving away food. The food is there. In poor parts of the world, the problem is violent political cultures that see nothing wrong with using food scarcity as a weapon to control populations. Sometimes the baby is unplanned or unwanted. In that case, there is always the option of adoption, which for some mysterious reason, always gets downgraded from the "choice" crowd. They never seem to like admitting that there are long waiting lists for babies to adopt. I have first hand experience here. The "choice" people will cry that before abortion was legalized, 10,000 women died every year from unsafe abortions. Never mind that 10,000 women is huge number, it boggles the mind that this could go on for years and no one noticed until a small group agitating for legal abortion started bandying that number about. The problem is that one of those doctors has recanted and said that no one knew at the time how many women were dying, but his group needed a number to galvanize support - so they made it up. The real reason that abortion is such a thorny issue that the ontological status of the fetus is so mysterious. There are many arguments for and against abortion, and too many of them are circular. They assume what they are trying to prove, namely that the unborn are or are not humans with a right to exist. I'll be honest here. There is no deductive proof that are the unborn are humans. I have more bad news. There is no proof that anyone other than ourself exists. There is a theory in philosophy called solipsism, which states that we cannot know conclusively that anyone else really exists. The Wikkipedia says of Solipsism, that it is: "logically coherent, but not falsifiable, so it cannot be established (or disproved) by current modes of the scientific method." So if you want to be a strict deductionist, you have to admit that being born or unborn has nothing to do with the issue. You could argue for the killing of anyone at any time. But there are more problems for the poor "choice" crowd. You see, if you allow only deductive proofs, you can't prove your case. You've put yourself in a position where logic itself is useless because it can't deductively "prove" its worth. So lets stop playing games and admit that there are two ways of knowing things. Induction is not as watertight as deduction but we can't get by without it. It means, simply, that since the sun rose every morning for the past X number of days, that it will probably rise this morning too. Now, it isn't a sure thing, but we do this kind of thing all the time and there is no way around it. How does this apply to the question of abortion? Well, we grant each other personhood despite not being able to prove it deductively. Why does being unborn somehow undo that? There is no point at which we can say- definitively - that the unborn are not human, are not worth consideration like anyone else. So what if they have no nervous system? There is no proof that these things make a person a person. The only sure thing in the abortion debate is that we do not know what we are dealing with. Now since that is the case, it is reckless in the extreme to say we can do whatever we like. No one with any sense rushes into an unknown situation, no matter what kind of life event you care to name. We don't do this in war, in police work, in medicine - in anything - not unless we can't possibly avoid it. And in the matter of abortion, it can be avoided most of the time. It is also not hard to see how one can make arguments against abortion from Darwinism, so I won't dwell on them here except to say that Darwin helps us to see that issues like abortion are never confined "to the bedroom." You can't put more unborn than were killed in most American wars into that box; they won't fit. Finally, I ask you to think about the stories of abortion survivors, to listen to how happy they are to be alive, and to realize that the procedure is not the sterile and clean cut thing it is made out to be. I started this post with two stories from Chesterton. I hope I have shown why the Catholic Church's tough stance on family issues is not one of doom and gloom, but based on an honest and true assessment. The real question is, who or what is this mistress that leads us to look away from answers other than abortion, and to insist that we know more than we do, or to insist that it is a small thing of no importance and affects no one but the mother. I suggest that the Mistress is nothing more than self love. It is the natural outcome of a solopsistic outlook; it is the Liberal Epicurean desire not to be inconvenienced by having to sacrifice anything at all. I'll finish with a bit from Frederica Mathewes-Green, who suggests a sensible way out of this negative loop:
When sexual relations take place in a relationship lacking emotional commitment, any unsought pregnancy is much more likely to be difficult. Abortion allows the Playboy-friendly status quo to continue, disposing of the ties that might bind. The problem is that women's sexuality is deeply tied to commitment and emotional stability, and in this bad bargain women lose. Abortion severs two relationships at once, the woman from her lover and from her child. No wonder pro-choice slogans ring with first-person-singulars: my right, my decision, my body, my choice. The flip side of autonomy is loneliness. Abortion promises to make a woman unfettered, empowered and free; instead she finds herself isolated, endangered and sad. ... Living without abortion means restoring... sexual balance-of-power, with respect for women's need for commitment and security--in short, abstinence before and fidelity within marriage. It also means supporting women who get pregnant nevertheless, with pregnancy care services and adoption counseling.

The restoration Mathews- Green speaks of takes place one person at a time, so let's get started. Do you respect women's sexuality, or the Maxim parody of it? This post has been edited since it first appeared.

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