By Butler Shaffer
I received an e-mail from Congresswoman Diane Russell (D-Maine) urging me to sign a petition opposing Republican efforts to cut government support for Planned Parenthood. “STOP the war on women and Planned Parenthood,” she intoned. “Don’t cut a dime in federal funding for Planned Parenthood.” This e-mail was followed by one from the “liberal” organization, MoveOn, asking me to contribute money to its efforts to resist the “anti-choice militants” who seek to take away this “vital women’s health resource.”
There are so many ways for intelligent minds to respond not only to the crude reasoning of these appeals, but to the posturing by which the debate over abortions is conducted by both sides. Characterizing opposition to abortions as a “war on women” can just as easily be turned around to label abortions as a “war on unborn children;” styles of discourse whose genesis can be traced back to school playgrounds. Nor can the bumper-sticker sloganeering that reduces the question to “pro-life” and “pro-choice” considerations be looked to for any substantive meaning. Most supposedly “pro-life” adherents tend to be eager supporters of wars and capital punishment, positions that can hardly be defended in terms of commitments to the value of life. Nor do the allegedly “pro-choice” advocates have any inclination to extend to taxpayers the “choice” of whether to have the government fund abortions, child day-care centers, or any other government programs that fit their ideological agenda.
It has been decades since philosophically-principled debates informed political issues. The reaction of the political system to Ron Paul’s efforts to bring moral principles, the lessons of history, economic analysis, and other inquiries that burden the intelligent mind into public discussion, illustrated the depth of our political bankruptcy. One sees the same deficiency of intelligent exploration on both sides of the abortion question.
Like everyone else, I bring my own biases to issues that affect how people are to live together in society. Perhaps the strongest of these predispositions is a sense of the sanctity of life. This goes beyond the realm of ideas and other intellectual beliefs. I remember, as a very small child, being troubled by seeing other children and adults stomping on bugs and ants, killing them for no apparent reason. This sentiment may well have been included in my genetic makeup, leading me to reject all forms of politics. By definition, all political systems enjoy a legal monopoly in the use of violence, and violence is inherently anti-life, whether in its most destructive form of killing, or its more subtle methods of forcing life to be what it does not choose to be.
My sense of the inviolability of life leads me to reject all forms of violence by some persons against others. In my view, no one is fit – whether morally, intellectually, or humanely – to rule others by force. This applies to all human beings, a standard that requires an understanding of when one becomes a “person.” The idea that the state can legislatively or judicially create this standard is particularly troubling, given the shabby history of how American political systems legally defined slaves and Indians out of existence. Nor ought feminists forget how married women were once legally deprived of the right to control their property, or to enter into contracts, such powers being transferred to their husbands.
If one is to avoid the inconstant fluctuations of fashion in designating who is/is not a “person,” the standard I have found to be less arbitrary than others is found in what gives each individual a sense of uniqueness: DNA. Once the sperm fertilizes the egg, a genetically distinct individual is in the process of development. The abortion defenders emphasize the “developmental” nature of what they label a “fetus,” a word chosen for its dehumanizing tendencies, so as to treat the being as little more than a form of protoplasm which, like the woman’s appendix, can be removed from her body by her will. I once had a feminist colleague try to convince me that a child did not acquire DNA until after it had been born!
Is the unborn child still in a stage of development? Of course: so is a two-week old, ten-year old, or thirty-year old adult. I have recently retired from my employment at a law school: I now look forward to how I might further “develop” in my ensuing years. “Life” is a continuing process of change; of movement toward a desired equilibrium that is necessary for stability, but never becoming stable until we reach that ultimate state of changeless equilibrium we call “death.” But life – whether expressed as an individual, or as those associations of individuals known as business organizations or entire cultures, either continues to develop, or dies. Who can observe ultrasound images of unborn children – even at their earliest weeks – and not see the energized development taking place?
For those who might be concerned that I would be willing to call upon the state to prevent a woman from getting an abortion – or to punish her for having had one – let me assure you to the contrary. As I stated earlier, being opposed to violence, I reject the system of formally structured violence we call the state. For the sake of consistency with my sense of the autonomous nature of life, I am not inclined to pick and choose the situations in which I would sanction the institutionalization of force.
Thus, a pregnant woman is entitled, as a self-owning person, to be free from the coercive intrusions of others, no matter how well-motivated the trespassers profess to be. “Liberty” is a condition that carries with it the responsibility for one’s actions, and I find it irreconcilable to insist that one is “responsible” for her actions when others enjoy the power to preempt her decision-making. Does this mean that, in a free society, men and women are “free” to harm others? Of course! We live in an increasingly unfree world, and yet violenceby some against others continues. The question remains: how is one to act so as to reduce injury to others?
That we are free to harm others does not imply that it is right or proper to do so. Whether mankind is to enjoy a free and peaceful order, or is to continue its entropic slide into the black hole of extinction, will depend on the foundations of your thinking. Are your judgments informed by transcendent moral principles from within your mind, or do you simply echo political fashions without regard to any standard other than public opinion polls?
There was much in the feminist movement in the 1960s that provided the basis for inquiries into self-liberation, including the abandonment of institutionally enforced expectations upon how we live. “Why have I allowed the state and other institutions to define and control who I am?” is the sort of question that soon gave way to efforts to politicize initial transformations in understanding. The abortion question is one example of the problems that arise from a failure to go into a depth of further questioning that provides hints of the unforeseen consequences of our behavior.
The practice of harvesting unborn children of their organs, and storing them in freezers described as “nurseries,” is an example of the failure to anticipate what is implicit in our actions. It would have been beneficial to humanity if those who helped to create the atomic bomb had been more aware of the limitations in our thinking. While we are unable to predict outcomes in complex systems, we need to learn to look beyond the boundaries of our past-driven experiences and become sensitive to what is implicit in our actions.
If unborn children can have their organs taken for the benefit of others, what about applying such a practice to adults? What if a member of the political establishment needed a heart transplant, and another person had a healthy heart that would be a suitable match for such a transplant? The 2005 U.S. Supreme Court case, Kelo v. City of New London, approved the practice of the state using its powers of eminent domain to transfer the ownership of real estate from its owner, to another private party desirous of owning that land. If eminent domain powers can be used to forcibly deprive an owner of his land, why not the ownership of his heart?
One might respond that such a practice would be so violative of even the most meager standard of human decency as to be rejected. But there was a time when carving up unborn children in order to harvest their organs for auction would have been considered morally reprehensible. Today, a leading presidential candidate condemns those who would cut off government funding for such practices as “terrorists.” How different are those who engage in the buying and selling of the body parts of ritually slain babies from the Nazi concentration camp managers who made lampshades out of the skins of their victims?
If mankind is to extricate itself from the political cesspool that produces not only the victimization of those too small to defend themselves, but of the wars, genocides, torture, police brutalities, prisons, refugee camps, and destruction of those peaceful and productive conditions that make human well being possible, we must make fundamental changes in our social thinking. We need to examine – and transcend – the dreary, dehumanized standards by which we judge the propriety of our dealings with other persons. Appeals to logic, narrowly applied cost-benefit analysis, efficiency, or organizational reforms, standing alone, will not suffice. These are some of the criteria by which our mechanistic experiences with life get played out in our institutionally-centered world.
Decades of pondering the “human condition,” and seeking ways of ending our destructive practices, have led me to conclude that our efforts will be fruitless unless they are centered on the kinds of inquiries our formal learning long ago conditioned us to ignore. As small children, we knew that the world had qualities of magic, mystery, and enchantment, and we were fascinated by their presence, and enjoyed playing with them. Such traits are likely means employed by our unconscious mind to communicate with our conscious mind, using emotion, intuition, spirituality, passion, and other inner voices as its language. Music, art, dance, dreams, and poetry are other forms by which our inner self seeks expression.
In our vertically-structured, institutionalized world, engineers have replaced poets. Those who help to design and maintain the machinery are more highly regarded than are those who question the presence of the machines. I have no opposition to technology per se, but only to what Jacques Ellul called “the technological imperative” (i.e., if something was possible to create [e.g., the atomic bomb] it was necessary to do so). When the machines dominate our lives, we become the machinery; the robots that function, mechanistically, to keep the structures functioning on terms that serve their purposes.
The human capacity to understand and to manipulate the environment for our material benefit has been what has made us such a wondrous species. Most of us no longer huddle in caves for shelter, or forage for wild berries or insects for nourishment. We have evolved into what Seamus Heaney called “hunters and gatherers of values.” But what values? In efforts to bring nature under our control, we have also undertaken to exploit and manipulate other persons, a habit that is contributing to our undoing as a species.
Is it possible – or even desirous – for us to abandon our treatment of fellow humans as resources to be converted to serve our interests? How would we go about doing so? Albert Einstein provided two observations that are apropos our inquiry: “our technology has exceeded our humanity,” and “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Can our present mindset provide us alternatives that do not depend on human sacrifice? If a higher price for the livers and kidneys of babies will help a body-parts manager pay for her desired Lamborghini, should such practices be applauded for entrepreneurship? It has been nearly four-hundred years since Jonathan Swift offered his satirical A Modest Proposal, wherein he suggested that poor people could sell their children to the rich as food. Has our well-organized madness led some to a literal application of Swift’s humor?
Is the reported Planned Parenthood program offered as satire? Ideologists – such as those who occupy the “politically correct” wing of the feminist movement – lack the requisite sense of humor for satirical works. Nor have I seen any awareness from within the feminist practitioners of realpolitik of just how fundamentally evil is this practice of harvesting unborn babies of their organs. My first thought, when this news story broke, was that this practice might prove detrimental to those feminists who embrace the sanctity of life, and who wish to continue exploring their inner voices. Or would feminist inquiries be confined to what is politically useful, namely being a base of operations for those who lust for power over others?
If our conscious minds are prepared to grant an audience to the inner voices that scream for our attention, we might rediscover what we long ago abandoned to those who insist upon ruling us: the passion for life and for those conditions that give life meaning. Life has an energy all its own that resists its manipulation or destruction. This energy can be measured by the amount of force that political systems must mobilize against its expression. That the state is necessarily and unavoidably at war with the life force should be enough to cause all decent people to walk away from it, and to withdraw their children from its evil grasp.
We need nothing so much in this extinction-driven age as to observe and listen – just observe and listen without engaging in impulsive reactions – to what we are doing to one another in our world, and to what our inner voices want us to know. As the mainstream media continues to entertain us with the mindless, unfocused babblings of those who seek nothing higher (or lower) than unrestrained power over the rest of us, our minds must be elsewhere. Perhaps we can begin with how we treat children, that stage in development that informs us whether mankind will thrive or join other extinct species in history’s dust-bin of failed experiments. We may discover that it is not in the lust for power, but the passion for life, that our well being depends.