John Derbyshire once again admits of a subject he knows nothing about that he knows nothing about it--and then goes on to talk about it authoritatively. This is the man who reviewed Ben Stein's movie on Intelligent Design without actually seeing it--a feat that he apparently felt comfortable performing on the movie made by someone he claimed to know despite the fact that he had never met him.
This is an approach he also used on John Milton's birthday to discuss Paradise Lost, which he admitted he didn't actually read.
This time Derbyshire directs his lack of knowledge toward the abortion issue. "The whole 'right to life' business is over my head," he says today on his blog Secular Right. "I don't even know what it means," a judgment he then goes on to demonstrate in the rest of his post.
If I fall down the basement steps and break my neck tomorrow, what happened to my “right to life”? I do of course have the legal right to expect that, if somebody wilfully kills me, he will be punished (by the death penalty, if it’s up to me — no inconsistency here!) I’d extend the same privilege to a new-born baby. Back beyond that — five minutes, or five months before the baby is born — the mother is rather intimately involved (and the father somewhat less so), and you are in a different situation.The assumption, of course, is that the mother is not "rather intimately involved" after the baby is born--the point at which Derbyshire thinks it should be protected with the full force of the law, as opposed to "five minutes" before, at which point it's fair game. Exactly what is the difference other than geographical location? And why should that matter?
I have no patience with the angels-on-pin-heads logic-chopping about “when life begins.”Well, that's pretty obvious. In fact, Derbyshire seems not to understand the difference between the chopping of logic and the simple application of it--something else that seems to be over his head.
Without a moral metaphysic and a belief in ensoulment, neither of which I have, it’s all hot air.As one of the commenters on the post observed, if he doesn't believe in ensoulment, then why should he care about the life of a baby after it's born any more than he does before it is born?
The killing of embryos and fetuses is intrinsically disturbing and disgusting to normal people, including me. As with other such acts — the eating of corpses, for example — an organized society needs some consensus, embodied in law, about what may and may not be done; though also (I’d argue) an understanding that that consensus is founded on nothing but those widespread common emotions — disturbance and disgust. I’d guess that most people in today’s U.S.A. would settle for unconditional abortion up to 12 weeks, conditional abortion up to 20, severely conditional thereafter. Whatever the consensus is, let’s settle on it and enforce the laws.How can you view the killing of embryos and fetuses "intrinically" disturbing and disgusting to people, unless you have a "moral metaphysic"? And why, outside of some moral metaphysic, can you rationally prefer public consensus as the manner in which this issue should be resolved over any other resolution to the problem? Maybe if you have abandoned the application of reason to something, that's the only thing left.
Worthy and admirable civilizations can co-exist with all sorts of attitudes to fetuses, and even to newborns. The ancient Athenians exposed unwanted babies on the Acropolis. Were they not civilized? Abortion has been a human universal everywhere, among civilizations high and low, and also among primitives.So has slavery.
And what do the right-to-lifers want? A total nationwide ban on all abortions, at any time? Yes, that seems to be what they want. Do they really imagine that’s going to happen? What a waste of political energy!Yes, I'm sure the abolitionists could have been accused at some points of being in the same position.
...as an intellectual construct, [the right to life argument] loses most of its point once you drop ensoulment.Yup. And so does any acknowledgment of human rights.
I wish, though, that some of the time and energy that conservatives give to thinking about fetuses could be diverted to real problems of governance.And why are these "real problems of governance" any more amenable to rational treatment than the issue of abortion?
Yes, I know the arguments to the contrary. I never heard a non-believer make them, though.It's fairly evident that he doesn't know the arguments to the contrary, and what difference would it make if no non-believers make such arguments? And anyway, non-believers have made these arguments. Has he really never heard of Nat Hentoff?
Of course not--one of the many pieces of evidence that this issue is over Derbyshire's head.