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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Abortion: The Value of Life

Due to my anger, my last posting became somewhat derailed (and I would like to extend a word of thanks to the lady who scolded me sternly yesterday in a comment and drew my attention to my own rage-post... we do read, and greatly appreciate, comments), and so today I would like to take a step back and look at a larger issue which the murder of George Tiller has brought to mind.

The Value of a Human Life

I believe that the arguments being made against abortion are presently the wrong ones. They tend towards hypocrisy because they are framed in terms of the sacred nature of all human life. This is not the issue. The issue is whether a life is sacred to you.

Human groups tend to weigh the value of out-group members lower than the value of in-group members, but their definition of "in" and "out" can at times be extremely complex. Islam, for instance, breaks the world into (setting aside that "house of armistice" nonsense they added in as a practical measure somewhere along the way) two houses... the house of Islam (Dar al Islam) and the house of War (Dar al Hab). Within the house of Islam are the protected people of the book, who enjoy the protection of Islam so long as they pay extra taxes and live as second-class citizens. This group includes Jews and Christians.

Christians, conversely, have a much more ephemeral understanding of "us" and "them." The operative difference between Christianity and Islam in terms of "them" is not so much the objective (converting the whole world) but the methodology. Thematically Christianity prefers to convert through peaceful methods, offering something in return for a willing ear. Of course, this has not always been the way of things in practical application, but for this particular philosophical discussion I feel safe setting a few thousand years of history aside and looking only at intent.

In either case (Islam or Christianity), "us" is believers, and "them" is nonbelievers, and being in the non-believer category makes your life worth less than it would be if you were a believer. Their daughters will not marry you, their businesses will distrust you, and if you die they are ever so slightly less perturbed.

Setting aside those two major religions for a moment (and Judaism, because they have no conversion mandate), let us approach the subject from a slightly more grounded standpoint: The State.

States, like religions, define "us" and "them" and value the life of "them" less than the life of "us." It isn't evil, or wrong, necessarily, it's just the way things work. There's no point in forming a State if your objective is to look out for everyone. A state looks out, first and foremost, for its own.

Similarly families look out first for their own family members, friends for friends, schools for their own students.

Why is it that on a small scale we see this sort of classification as "okay" or even "as it should be," yet when applied to a larger world, we see only evil?

I believe that this contradiction is the root of the abortion debate. In our society we generally view all children as "us" and all adults as "them" to some extent. The innocent and helpless should be protected, and anything over the age of eighteen should be able to take care of itself. Even adults that we consider within the "us" group, we also expect to operate as "thems" under certain circumstances. When we give them money, we expect it returned. If they're not family or close friends we might even expect interest.

Where the abortion issue gets into the flames is basically where we start drawing lines in the sand, lines that say where "us" really begins. For Catholics, "us" happens when the sperm and egg meet. For some on the far-left (quite farther than I myself care to go), "us" happens at birth. I personally draw the line, and I think Tiro draws a similar one, roughly around the time the child's brain starts functioning. Some draw it around a specific trimester, others around a specific size. Some, I'm sure, even think masturbation is murder. It is around this classification stage that the greatest contention arises, and not because of a disagreement about when the child feels pain, or when the child becomes human.

It's a disagreement about when the child enters that transient phase where they are "us" until they are older.

Philosophically, then, I can understand why someone might be pro-war, pro-death penalty and a gigantic fan of Ayn Rand, and still be pro-life. War, starvation and the Death Penalty happen to "them," and abortion happens to "us."

I do feel as though something might be wrong with this... but I can't honestly say that I find it in any way inconsistent with normal human decision-making about life and death.


You may compare the preceding article to yesterday's kneejerk as a case-study in the difference between sleeping on a matter and rage-posting on a dime. Eventually, I'll get better at catching myself when I'm crafting the latter sort, but until then, they'll happen from time to time.

That said, if you're happy that George Tiller was shot to death in a church (a view I have seen expressed in many forums, blogs and other such anonymous locations), you're still a rat bastard. Also, all of the biases expressed in the former article are probably still somewhere in my head, waiting to pop out the next time I get really mad about something. It's just the way heads work, and I wrote the words, so I own them.

I'm probably going to leave the subject of abortion alone for awhile now, as I don't believe it is an issue that anyone's going to agree on, anytime soon. The futility of beating the dead horse every couple years rather frustrates me.

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