Monday, April 23, 2012

Is it really so hypothetical?

The following comment on facebook made by a pro-choicer was meant to challenge pro-lifers on their belief that the abortion really is murder:
What if there was a building in your town where they chucked two year olds into a furnace. Would you be able to go about your day in a normal fashion if you knew that was taking place? Would you shake your head and say "We need to start some grassroots organization to lobby congress to put an end to that". Would you go a period of a few days where the fact that kids were being tossed into a furnace wasn't the most pressing thought in your head? Would you solemnly condemn someone who violently attacked that establishment or the people who work there in order to stop the constant, unapologetic murder of babies that took place there every day?
My response: is it really so hypothetical? People have to live with these kinds of contradictions every day, actually. It's not like people three hundred years ago people had no idea how bad the slave trade was. It's not like Americans in the nineteenth century didn't know how awful the Trail of Tears was. It's not like Germans under the Nazi regime really thought it was okay to lock up millions of Jews in concentration camps. These things really happened, not because people were so different from you or me. They happened because normal people like you and me aren't so wonderful as we think we are. It's remarkably easy to justify evil. You'll even hear words like "freedom" used to justify these atrocities: Hitler thought Germans should "liberate" themselves from the Jews, as I'm sure American Southerners wanted to free themselves from the presence of the Cherokee Nation.


The simple answer to the commenter's question is, sadly, yes. Yes, I can go about my day in a "normal" way, knowing that thousands and thousands of my fellow human beings are being killed at the hands of people who probably feel justified. Yes, I do think that for now the political process and grassroots movements are probably the best means I know of for doing anything about this problem in our society. Yes, I will condemn acts of terrorism done in the name of the pro-life movement, partly because I think it's wrong to fight fire with fire (I'm not even sure the Civil War was justified for all the blood that it spilled), and partly because I think it's futile to act in this manner. If a pro-choicer really wants to understand how pro-lifers don't go insane under the mental strain of knowing what injustice is committed in the name of "freedom," well, maybe the answer is that it kind of does drive us insane. Maybe if you think about it long enough, you'll start to understand why the rhetoric gets so heated.

It's worth saying that the issue of abortion really does cross my mind every single day. Let me add that other issues also tend to drive me crazy, and I suppose the list can get awfully depressing: America's foolish and arrogant interventionist policy in foreign affairs, the death toll of both American soldiers and innocent civilians in the Middle East, the ever-increasing powers of the executive branch of government, the ability of the executive branch to now assassinate a U.S. citizen without trial, the ability of rich elites to come under the protection of the government at the expense of everyone else, the oppressive restrictions on immigrants seeking refuge in a land of bountiful resources--I could go on and on. And these are just the things that our nation is responsible for. Good Lord, if I continually reflected on the horrors committed by the many corrupt governments and criminal enterprises around the world, I don't know how I could live a single day of my life.

So why don't I go absolutely crazy and devote every minute of my life to ending abortion? Sometimes I'm not really sure, except that it's harder than you might think to stand up for justice. We like to tell ourselves we "would" stand up for justice if things "got that bad," all the while not recognizing that things are that bad. Considering how long it took the human race to get rid of slavery, and knowing that even now it still takes place (if only illegally), what makes you think we are so powerful to change things? I don't relinquish all hope, I just want to put these questions about justice in context.

When it comes to activism, I think despair is more powerful than fear. Sure, I guess you could say I would fear for my life if I truly began to express my outrage at the state of affairs in this country. But I think more so, I am held back from action simply by the despair I feel at seeing how few people really agree with me that something ought to change. Thus, I continue to work at my career like a good citizen, hoping that it will make the world a slightly better place, and knowing that if I can just block out the world's evils I really will enjoy it. I continue to enjoy my friends and family, and I continue to thank God that mankind isn't as bad as it could possibly be. We've made it this far, after all.

To sum up: don't kid yourself with such "hypothetical situations." In many ways, the world really is as bad as the worst hypothetical you can come up with. It's only because your brain can only handle so much stress at once that you choose to mostly ignore it. And I'm right there with you.


  1. Fantastic post. You should link it in response to the original comment.

  2. None of us have ultimate dedication to a cause. None of us let the stress and pain of the world's problems drive us to complete insanity-- how would that be productive?

    I know there's always more I can do that I'm just..not doing. Why? I suppose there is a line I have to draw somewhere in my life so I can dedicate time to other things, things in the big picture that could be considered selfish. But perhaps this is a long-term strategy that keeps me sane, so that my dedication to the cause will continue for many years past what it would if I let it drive me (more) crazy. Maybe it's actually a more effective way of chipping away at the problem. If I ignore my education, for example, I'll never earn a bachelors or masters or doctorates, and I'll never be in a more respected and influential position (career). I'll still just be a barista who really cares about the pro-life cause. That's nice, but not as effective imo.

    Basically, I think there are pros and cons to each level of dedication. And we have to choose the one that we think works best for everyone, including ourselves. I don't think caring about your well being in tandem with others' is selfish.

  3. Hi,

    I'm the "pro-choicer" who inspired this essay. I thought I would crosspost my response:

    So let me see if I have all the key players in this scenario you've outlined. Occupying the moral high ground only slightly below the abolitionists and those who opposed Hitler's holocaust, we have you. That's one. Next we have the millions of innocents slain by abortion who you also have taken under your protection. And finally in a brief appearance and in a capacity greatly diminished from your own, we have God.

    But who is missing from this seemingly black and white moral dilemma that you so bravely champion? Who gets not one mention in your entire passionate speech? Could it be the group who plays a rather integral role in this debate but whose own freedom and humanity is constantly ignored or stripped away? Can you guess? Its women. You make not one single reference to the women whose bodies you would apparently seize in your quest to free the oppressed. The ones whose humanity you would steal and transfer to the ones that grow in their wombs without thought, consideration or apparently even acknowledgment that the right to their own bodies ever existed in the first place.

    Although perhaps I've been too hasty. There was one other group mentioned in your speech. There were multiple references to an unnamed evil. We had you representing the forces of righteousness alongside those who opposed tyranny and slavery throughout history. We had Hitler and the perpetrators of the Trail of Tears representing evil, but who is the modern analogue to you in that equation? I think this sentence might give us a clue:

    It's remarkably easy to justify evil. You'll even hear words like "freedom" used to justify these atrocities: Hitler thought Germans should "liberate" themselves from the Jews, as I'm sure American Southerners wanted to free themselves from the presence of the Cherokee Nation.

    Ahh now I get it. Women are mentioned after all but only as a faceless and voiceless evil whose laughable claims of "freedom" and "liberation" are cynical covers for their true intention, to join history's greatest villains in justifying the slaughter of the innocent.

    I am truly honored that my hypothetical scenario prompted this passionate speech of yours. It has provided a wonderful window into your psyche and the psyche of many on the on "pro-life" side. Self-righteous, self-aggrandizing, and completely blind or willfully ignorant to the possibility that the opposing side might also have a legitimate point of view that simply differs from yours.

    1. I hardly think anything here is so black and white. Indeed, one thing all of these comparisons lead to is the chilling realization that someone else had a "point of view" that may have been quite defensible at one time, but seems so strange and foreign to us now as to seem revolting. Sometimes it's easy to see the attraction of nihilism.

      Perhaps I was wrong not to explicitly name the evil I see at work here, but it's not "women," as if all women were united to defend abortion, nor is it even those women who unfortunately choose abortion. Rather, I would suggest it is simply the abortionists themselves, who know very well what they are doing but do it anyway--and perhaps for very understandable reasons, which from a certain point of view would be commendable. I also blame the intellectuals who have pursued a justification of the practice of abortion, as well as the judicial branch of our government which has determined the legal fate of this issue to such an extent that no matter how many "pro-life laws" are passed, the situation remains fundamentally unchanged. I'm sure these men (indeed most of them were men, I remind you) had good intentions, but that doesn't mean that there wasn't evil done through them.

      Of course it is possible that I am wrong. Would not anyone have to admit that? But should I for that reason not feel any moral indignation at anything I see? Should I simply side with the status quo, because, after all, it could be right? If I were blindly self-righteous, why would I even talk to you at all? The accusation of self-righteousness could just as easily be leveled at you, who proudly boast of your support of women's rights without a trace of guilt or humility at the thought that abortion might just be killing people.

      I suppose I should not be surprised that you come at me with insults, but I do admit it is tiresome.


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