Friday Flotsam: Pro-Life and Depression

1. Discovered that the March for Life is today. All things considered, I’m rather surprised they’re actually having it. You know, I’m thoroughly against abortion (whatever arguments can be brought in its favor, the answer is always “would that logic still apply if the child were born and we were talking about smothering it with a pillow?”), but I’ve never much liked the pro-life movement. If they succeed, then wonderful. I’m all in favor. But I don’t think they will, and they sure as heck won’t in the near future.

The trouble is that abortion is a cornerstone of the sexual revolution, which a large portion of our current culture is based upon. You are either going to keep abortion and with it the perspective on human sexuality and human nature that informs our economy and social structure, or you are going to lose abortion and with it many of the basic assumptions that underlay how we as a society do things. No more casual sex as a matter of course. No more women devoting themselves to a career unless they’re either married or willing to be celebate for a time. In fact, no more holding ‘gender equality’ as a societal goal, because we’ve got this huge, objective difference staring us in the face without being able to sweep it under the floorboards anymore.

Not to mention the fact that we would have a large number of the population having to come to terms with the fact that they’ve committed a terrible crime.

This is why even if you legally overturn it, it will come back in a few years as soon as the political winds shift, because it’s embedded in the worldview of a significant portion of the population.

You see, we are never going to end abortion until we have a seismic shift in worldview in the west.

Again, I wish the pro-life movement well in this. I hope they prove me wrong.

I also find it rather amusing to hear the March for Life described as ‘powerful’ when it hasn’t achieved anything substantive in half a century. By definition, that is the opposite of powerful.

2. Honestly, all that isn’t really the reason I dislike the pro-life label. Again, I hope they succeed, I just am pretty certain they won’t. The real reason I dislike it is that I think many people have a habit of prioritizing the ‘pro-life’ label over Christian teaching. “How can we create a truly pro-life society?” “Pro-life means anti-poverty” “A truly pro-life position prioritizes the dignity of the human person, meaning that it includes forcing ever increasing dependence upon giant corporate entities is anti-poverty.” Or, to take the most obvious example “You cannot be pro-life and support the death penalty.”

Meaning that you are claiming that a truly pro-life worldview is contrary to that of nearly every other Christian in history up until a generation or two ago. Oh, Thomas Aquinas, King Louis IX, all those other saints? Yeah, those guys just didn’t really understand human dignity like we moderns do.

This, of course, only reinforces and feeds into the modernist narrative that we are unique among the generations of man and thus can ignore any experience, arguments, or insights from the past. A ‘Reset’ mindset if you will.

And I find that ‘pro-life’ usually devolves into simply being a cudgel which some Christians use to beat others for not following their preferred socio-political views (“climate change is a life issue”). All too often, this results in the absurd spectacle of proudly ‘pro-life’ people supporting ardently pro-abortion candidates on the grounds that they somehow ‘foster a culture of life’.

If someone says “you aren’t really pro-life unless you accept such-and-such,” the answer is “then I guess I’m not pro-life. Who cares? I am not obligated to conform my views to the implications of a bumper sticker.”

3. Didn’t really mean for today’s flotsam to turn into a rant of everything I don’t like about the PLM, but such things happen.

I was originally considering writing about depression, if that is what I suffer from (on the subject of the PLM: we today get way too hung up on labels and slogans to the point where we miss the reality that the thing is supposed to be pointing to). It’s what most people seem to call it, so we’ll go with that.

I’ve mentioned it in a Catholic Match post from a while back, but depression, in my experience, isn’t so much feeling constantly down or continually sad. It’s more of experiencing continual emotional pain. Like having an open wound inside you that keeps getting prodded.

If you know someone with depression, odds are they’ll often seem to be losing their temper or flying off the handle at seemingly minor things (this kind of anger is often a symptom). Know that that’s the equivalent of a dog snapping at you if you poke at a sore spot. They’re not trying to be mean, they’re trying to send the message: “that hurts: don’t do that!”

Because when someone prods that big open sore inside of you, you can’t really just say “ow! Stop!” Because they don’t know what they did that hurt you, and you probably don’t either. And it probably wouldn’t be anything reasonable that you could explain in any case. “Don’t poke my broken hand!” is easy to understand and follow. “Don’t reinforce the deep-seated impression of powerlessness and personal inadequacy that I’m trying to convince myself is not a true perspective of reality”, not so much. It isn’t like you can give a lecture on your own psychology a la the end of Psychonauts (“As shown on page 41 of your handouts”) every time someone or something jabs at that open wound so that they’ll know how they hurt you and how to avoid doing it in the future.

The last thing they want to hear is you telling them ‘calm down!’ or being asked ‘why are you so angry?’ To their mind, that’s you saying “this shouldn’t hurt you, so I’m going to keep acting like it doesn’t” or “it’s your fault that you’re in pain and it’s up to you to act as if you weren’t.”

I haven’t come close to solving my depression issue, so I don’t have any real recommendations at the moment. This is more a set of observations. I know lots of people suffer depression these days (my therapist calls it ‘the common cold of psychology’), mostly, I think, because we’ve created a world that is thoroughly unsuited to human nature, so perhaps writing my own experiences will at least help any readers to get some clarity on it.

4. Well, this one has certainly turned into a downer, hasn’t it? Let’s end with a Dilbert:

Dilbert Has To Be Right  - Dilbert by Scott Adams

Anti-Gun is not Pro-Life

[Note: I wrote this piece for another site, but since it doesn’t seem to be being published there I’m putting it here. It’s intended as a bit of a companion piece to my most recent ‘Federalist’ article].

I’ve heard some people talking about the recent student march in Washington saying things like “it’s really a pro-life march” and “gun control is a pro-life position.”

Let’s put a stop to this nonsense right now, shall we? Whatever your ideas of gun control are, anti-gun is not pro-life; it is just anti-gun. To call it pro-life is a cheap rhetorical trick, akin to saying that those who opposed Obamacare opposed all healthcare reform, or that those who are against affirmative action just hate Black people. It’s what’s called the straw-man fallacy: purposefully misstating your opponent’s position in order to make it appear weaker than it is.

To be against abortion, or euthanasia, or other such things is to be against a clear, concrete practice. It amounts to a tautology: don’t kill people and those people won’t be killed. It is a matter of principle that it should not be legal to willingly take an innocent human life for any reason because it is wrong.

To be in favor of gun control, on the other hand, does not generally mean to be against weapons in principle (few people would advocate the overthrow of the military, police, and similar institutions). It means that we believe removing or limiting privately owned firearms would reduce violence. That is, it is the idea that enacting certain laws will result in certain effects.

Now, whether or not they actually will is not the present concern; the point is that we are talking about a means to achieve a goal, not about the goal itself. The end desired is less violence; the means being discussed is greater restrictions on firearms.

You see, having fewer guns available, or even outright banning private firearms (assuming such a thing could be done) is not the same thing as reducing violence. Again, don’t think I’m saying more than I am: for the purposes of the present discussion, it may have that effect, but my point is that it is not an obvious or indisputable connection. It is open for debate. If you make abortion illegal, then quite simply there are no legal abortions. There is an essential connection between what is enacted and what is achieved. That is objectively not the case with gun-control.

The key difference is that, when it comes to guns, the thing we desire to stop is already illegal and we are only discussing ways to further discourage it. When it comes to abortion, the thing itself is what we are trying to outlaw.

In other words, one is a matter of principle, the other of strategy. One is a debate over whether to permit certain practices that by definition involve killing people. The other is a debate over whether or not certain new laws would reduce violent crime and to what extent they would infringe on legitimate individual rights. This is not a matter for discussion: that is objectively what is at stake in each case.

The distinction is further complicated by the fact that guns are often purchased and used to protect lives. The justification pro-gun advocates use is precisely that they need guns to defend themselves, their families, and their rights, and it is simply an objective fact that guns are often used in this capacity. You can debate how great a need this is and how it compares to the potential for abuse, but you cannot argue that it does not exist. Furthermore, if you intend to argue that without guns those killed by them would be alive, then you have to accept the counter argument that without guns those who have used them defensively would be dead or at the very least assaulted. I don’t think either argument is very good, but the point is that can’t accept one without accepting the other.

As this indicates, you cannot simply claim that gun-control is ‘pro-life’ because it is an open question whether it will actually lead to less violent crime. You could just as well say that being pro-gun is pro-life because guns are used to protect life and deter crime. Again, I am not currently arguing one or the other; I’m saying that they are rhetorically equivalent and thus calling either one ‘pro-life’ – equating it with opposing the legal killing of innocent people – is disingenuous. It is claiming a one-to-one progression where none exists.

More importantly, it is dishonest. To say that being pro-gun control is to be pro-life is equivalent to saying that someone against gun control is anti-life: that is, that they want more violent crime, or at least think that violent crime is a matter of indifference. You see, it’s a disguised straw-man attack, obliquely misstating the opposing position to make it appear weaker than it actually is. It is the sort of thing a con-man or snake-oil salesman does: if you doubt the efficacy of his patent blindness cure, that means you think blind people don’t deserve to see.

Do you see the point? The objection is not to the intended goal, but to the proposed method of reaching it. You cannot describe a means to an end as being either pro-life or otherwise, because ‘life’ (here meaning the reduction of violent crime) is the end goal and the debate is over how best to achieve that. Whatever your views on the issue, please have the honesty to acknowledge what is being discussed.

On the Root Cause of Abortion

You know, I don’t usually talk about abortion. Not that I don’t think it’s a vital issue, but, well, it isn’t ‘my’ issue. That is, there are so many other voices speaking more forcefully on it that it seems to me that my rhetorical talents (such as they are) are better applied in other topics that seem to me under represented.

But I’m going to say something about abortion today. I’m not going to argue about how and why it’s wrong because, again, other people have done that better and, really, what does it say about the world we live in that “killing babies is wrong” is a major point of contention?

Rather, I’m going to talk about what certain people in the ‘pro-life’ movement call the “root causes.” But, the root causes aren’t what we’re told they are. They aren’t poverty and they aren’t welfare, and they certainly have nothing to do with capital punishment or any of that ‘culture of death’ stuff.

If you want to destroy the root causes of abortion, you have to destroy the sexual revolution, because there is no other. Our insane ideas about sex are at the root of abortion. Oh, yes; poverty can and does pressure individual women into seeking abortion out of fear or desperation. That has always been so. But we’re not talking about individuals; we’re talking about society, and obviously the establishment of infanticide as a sacred social institution which a large part of the country will fight tooth and nail to preserve and expand has nothing to do with poverty. Political parties, rich celebrities, and intellectual elites do not march in the streets to cheering crowds in order to defend an impoverished mother’s act of desperation Abortion as we know it is not the result of poverty; it is the logical outcome of our ideas of sex.

We have established a culture – a civilization, really – in which one of the key unalienable rights of mankind (indeed, perhaps the most important) is the right to use sexuality as one sees fit. That is, if you want to have children, you can, but if you don’t want to have children, there is no reason you should just because you want to enjoy the reproductive act. What it means and what it does is entirely up to you; it can be simple recreation, a part of a committed relationship, an expression of love between individuals of the same sex, or what have you. You decide what sex means to you; this is held to be the sacred and inviolable right of ‘sexual expression.’

Problem is, all this is completely insane.

When the First Amendment gave the right to free speech, all it had to do was restrain the authority of the government; if a man wants to say something unpopular, then all that is required is that no one stop him. The Bill of Rights declares that the government, at least, will not do so. That is pretty much the definition of a ‘right:’ something that you have the power to do, but may be prevented from doing by law. To have the right to bear arms, for instance, means that, if you choose to buy a gun, the law will not stop you; there being such things as guns, which are often sold and which a man of ordinary capabilities can possess and carry.

But our ‘right’ to sexual expression is not like that. Here we’re declaring that a biological system ought to be whatever the individual declares it to be. We’re trying to impose human law on nature, to force her by fiat to obey our wishes. It’s rather like if we made hurricanes illegal and then, like Xerxes, attempted to chastise the sea when they came anyway, or if we granted people the ‘right’ to fly and then sued the Empire State Building when they failed to fly off the observation deck.

Because no matter what the law says, sex does not change to suit our wishes. It’s a part of nature, and nature’s law trumps ours. So, you can say “Oh, it’s just a little fun between grown-ups and I’m not trying to have a child,” but, guess what? You just made another human life, because that’s what sex does and has done for about half-a-billion years, and your personal desires don’t change that.

At that point our two choices are either to recognize that sex is what it is no matter what we say (requiring us to tear down the whole structure of the sexual revolution and impose social and legal norms to recognize this fact), or we can work out some kind of loophole that allows us to keep up the pretense of a right to sexual expression. Since this right is very convenient for a lot of people, individuals usually and society always goes with the latter. Hence, abortion, contraception, and the rest of that sordid architecture.

A right to sexual expression can only exist it is if there is a way to get rid of children once conceived. If we can pretend that unborn life ‘doesn’t count,’ then we can continue to prop up the flimsy premise we’ve built our current culture upon.

As long as society as a whole accepts the premise of that ‘right,’ abortion will remain legal (and there are also a lot of other Very Bad consequences, but that’s too much to get into right now). The only way that we can destroy abortion as an institution is by destroying the sexual revolution and all its attendant ideas. That is what the pro-life movement should be directed towards.