There is no abortion debate.

Sometimes a good habit can become suffocating. The reason I don’t post more often is I feel a need to add lots of sources and backing to what I say. This is healthy- the world could use a bit more empiricism- but it also brushes the smaller topics and random thoughts under the rug. This is an attempt to overcome that. Let’s roll. 

It seems that media commentary and opinion could gain much by starting every piece with “Let us define our terms”. People, organizations, ideologies. When someone supports or attacks a liberal politician, what do you they mean? Liberal, and liberalism, have many disparate meanings. Collectivist, libertarian- promoting freedom or constraining it. Arguments often become heated because the sides are talking past one another. If there is no agreement on what the founding parts of an issue are, how can you talk about it? In some sense you can’t. Two people are facing each other and talking to an imaginary opponent.

In some cases, the issue ceases to have any discourse. With honesty, the abortion “debate” is not a debate. Definitions of debate state that it is an exchange between opposing views. Almost all of the time in regards to abortion there are no opposing views. There are two main views that are not logical opposites. The “pro-life” camp talks about the sanctity of life and whether it is murder. The “pro-choice” camp emphasizes the inherent right of women to decide if they want children. A clue should be that both commonly-accepted terms don’t oppose each other- one is talking about what life is, the other is talking about what choice is. There is some debate- pro-choice individuals often debate what a “person” really is- but the primary arguments don’t intersect. There is nothing to stop someone from acknowledging abortion as murder and still thinking women have a right to choose. It’s not a matter of the two being mutually exclusive, it’s just an order of priorities. No wonder the issue is just as contentious as it was in 1973. No progress has been made in discussing the merits or evils of abortion.

Other issues involve two sides that pit a civil rights argument versus an absolute moral or religious principle. Often they are not in direct dialogue. Perhaps that is why same-sex marriage, abortion, affirmative action etc. often have caricatures. Waxing philosophical, a caricature is not always used to exaggerate an opponent. It can in fact become a substitute for an opponent that doesn’t exist. Pro-choice people want to talk about civil rights. They create a side that is also talking about civil rights. Pro-life people want to talk about life, so they form an opponent who is talking about murdering babies. That’s their plank.

When an opinion column is published, one can become quite angry reading it. Some of that is that the person has defined their terms in a very different way. I read a vintage Limbaugh column a few months ago and found my irritation originated from his original point, which influenced all the consequences he described. I still know we’re not in agreement on the issue, but part of that is that the gulf begins early- before most of the substance. And you can’t tell a nationally-syndicated columnist all your reservations. They’re not right in front of you- there’s no luxury of response.

I’m not calling for a return to the “good old days” of discourse- any survey of history shows that such a period never existed- only that the nicer parts tend to stick around. Just that there seem to be very concrete issues. And it seems that the pointlessness of argument is in part rooted in this disagreement of terms and priorities. Of course there’s no way to change that person’s mind. None of what was said challenged what they find important about an issue.

It’s as if there were a war and both sides showed up on different continents. Lots of anger and destruction, but the confrontation is non-existent.

A deficit of questions

Image

Most pictures that end up in my Facebook news feed are pretty lame. It’s a jumble of half-baked memes, new age crankery, and shallow political content. Usually they fall through the cracks in my memory and are no more remembered than strangers on the sidewalk. This image, however, actually put me on an interesting train of thought.
This post’s title is what my first reaction to this was. The idea that our society has a deficit of questions. There are many things that go unquestioned. Many things that are questioned aren’t questioned thoroughly. American culture and people are considered boisterous and noisy, but in many aspects our culture is one of silence.

If I gave you five minutes, you could probably come up with several questions that are not asked due to a sort of gentleman’s agreement. National political discourse tends to exist on a shaky foundation- what public figures say and do is only justified when many things are off the table.

How do you win a war on terror? How do you prevent terrorism in the long run?

Why do we trade openly with Saudi Arabia, when a 2002 Council on Foreign Relations report (PDF) states that the Gulf States are the biggest financiers for terrorist organizations?

Why do we condemn countries for torture, cracking down on dissent, and election irregularities, when the same could be said of us?

How can we ignore that some of our institutions, like employer-based healthcare, don’t work?

As one of your teachers may have said, there are no bad questions. This isn’t always true, but it seems that for every issue that Americans are outspoken and passionate on, there is another that they ignore or take for granted.

Uncomfortable truths do not go away. If you confront them, they do become less scary and more approachable. Ignoring the truth is not a long-term solution.

Two neoconservatives loudly agreeing with one another

I’ve watched most of the debates in the three post-9/11 presidential races. As I’ve grown and met more people, read a wider range of news sources, and taken college-level social science courses, the foreign policy talk of the candidates has become more jarring and disturbing.

Aggressive, interventionist foreign policy is not just wrong in a theoretical way, or a moral way. Its history is one of corpses, strewn from Vietnam to Iran, from El Salvador to Iraq and Afghanistan. Not just soldiers, but women and children of every race, faith, and creed. The United States has undermined democracies in favor of despots who promise open markets for goods, and to be an ‘ally’ in the region. Our war with the Taliban is not just against hardline Islamic fundamentalists- many fighters are poor farmers making a few hundred dollars as a hired gun.

My issue is not that American politicians have used these methods in the past, but rather at every opportunity they champion them as a sort of ideal foreign policy.

Continue reading “Two neoconservatives loudly agreeing with one another”