Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Pro-Life Logic Snarl

A somewhat prominent youtube user named cdk007 ran a video recently where he posited an interesting argument that I want to address, going something along these lines:
Let's assume you are pro-life. Are you also anti-death penalty? Now, many will argue that the two are not equivalent, that abortion is death death of a perfectly innocent human being, while the death penalty is used only on adults who have committed terrible acts. However, statistics suggest that a certain number of the people on death row are acquitted each year as evidence of their innocence comes forward.
There's a lot here. First, the premise is clear: you cannot be pro-life and also pro-Death Penalty. that much, at least, is true, if not tautological. The reason he gets to make this argument is because of the incorrect use of the term "pro-life" and the political landscape of the United States, which I presume is his home. Opposition to abortion generally tends to be seen most strongly in socially conservative areas of the USA, which is the same with a pro-death penalty attitude. It creates an image of a paradox, to be sure. We must be clear to distinguish between being Con-Abortion and Pro-Life. The two terms do not mean the same thing and the difference should be clear to those with even a cursory understanding of the meanings of "pro" and "con".

There is a very real point to be made here. To those who are actually pro-life, the death penalty should be abhorrent. Humans are fallible, and that includes our judges and politicians - of that, nobody needs to be convinced. Further, just because the conditions for the death penalty may appear to be justifiable within one district, that is not always the case. In many majority-muslim states, it is the penalty for a range of sins, which are criminal under Sharia Law. Closer to home, however, and no less relevant, jurisdictions in the United States still execute the mentally handicapped. Is it fair to kill someone for being incapable of controlling their own actions? Too big of a question for me, to be sure, at least for the moment. If only we saw the same people who blockade abortion clinics blockade prison execution facilities.

The argument continues, however.
How about war? Surely, the argument can be made that wars can be fought in self defence. But how can you be pro-war if there can be no guarantee that no civilians are caught in the crossfire.
Firstly, I'm not sure anyone can be categorized as "pro-war". Let me recant that. I'm not sure any reasonable person can be. War is bad, for any of a number of reasons, and whether you base your decisions on compassion or on reason, war is simply, emphatically, wrong. But it will happen, it has always happened, and it will likely continue to happen, so long as there are people on earth who are not reasonable.

I suspect a certain amount of the reason for constructing this argument in this way had to do with the deeper question of moral absolutes. I'm not accusing CDK of any sort of intellectual dishonesty by saying that, but it is a point that needs addressing. Christianity is often associated with the idea of the moral absolute, of the absolute rules of "right and wrong" that generally align with what is found in scripture (though arguments often ensue about how a given scripture should be interpreted).  The question of moral absolutes has no definite answer, which is the first clue that it contains a logical fallacy: if there is such a thing as absolute right and absolute wrong, why can't we test that?

I am not a moral absolutist, because I believe that the needs of society often outweigh the needs of the individual. I believe that many of the things an absolutist would consider to be absolutely wrong are inherently wrong. Killing a person is wrong. Killing people from the other society that is trying to forcibly subjugate your own is self-defence. It's dark, undesirable, but necessary. Nobody likes it that way, but until society finds a way to keep the warring factions of the world from going at it, it will be necessary. That's where the phrase "necessary evil" comes from. It's wrong, yes. It's justified.

There can be no same justification for abortion. Abortion does not serve the interest of society in any way other than to limit the impacts of population growth upon our infrastructure, and there are other, better ways to tackle the problem of the ever-expanding human population than to start killing off our own.

I am reasonably assured that most of my readers will be at odds to or disturbed by the concept of justifiable wrong. It is disturbing. It is saying, in effect, that there are cases in which right and wrong no longer apply, and self-preservation becomes the only essential concern. But that is what we are made to do, on the smallest levels that can still be considered life. Our only biological goal is to survive long enough to reproduce.

Reason, Science, Morals, and Faith are our ways of reaching beyond our biology, of reaching the next step of evolution. The universe tends toward entropy, toward increasing complexity, and even as our increases in understanding bring order to the chaos, we find new places to reach, to achieve. It is time for humans, as a society, collectively and as a whole species, to reach ahead. To become the next level of intelligent life. In earlier times, we thought it was our tools that make us unique, but we no longer have the monopoly. We must become sentient in more than craft. We were the species that went from the first powered flight, to walking on the surface of the moon, in less than a century. Why can't we do it again? Why can't we go from morality for the sake of abstract concepts to morality for the sake of society? We all seem to agree, with very few exceptions, on how people ought to behave around each other, or at least we claim to all agree. Why can't we act like it?

[i]Ab intra, ad maiorem Dei gloriam.[/i]

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