Archive for the ‘Violence’ Category

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(Posting a school paper as is. No works cited page at the moment. This will be corrected.) Notable sources include Noah Feldman, Michael Walzer, and Jurgen Habermas. All geniuses.

 

The demand for justice after a terrorist attack on the scale of the 9/11 events may warrant the type of knee-jerk declaration of war (specifically, the War on Terror) that we have seen in the time that followed. The United States government has done a good job of justifying ad hoc its response to the threat of terrorism, with the general consent or indifference of the citizenry. That is, up until recently. Granting that the situations immediately after 9/11 required the United States to enter into a Supreme Emergency modus operandi, it appears the desire for constitutional law to remerge. Now a swell of dissatisfaction, always present but nary as lucid, has begun to make its humanitarian and ethical case against the continued War on Terror. The criticism isn’t so much about lack of necessity for there to be an anti-terrorism force, but that the means and motives by which it is carried out are increasingly malevolent. By reexamining the justifications of certain practices and policies it might be possible to help clarify what values we carry into an effective anti-terror strategy. This might also help to garner popular support for the operations that have become prima facie oppressive or even terrorist-like on behalf of the American agencies engaged in anti-terrorism. The question the US is facing now warrants an answer: Are the affects of anti-terrorism worse than the threat of terrorism?

            Even if we had established concrete definitions of war, crime, and terrorism, it would stand to reason that the urgency for an immediate response to 9/11 would force the US to hastily cobble together some kind of argument for going to war in the middle east while still riding high on the surge of retributive justice sought by the people. The state of affairs the United States found itself after the attack was unstable to say the least. Jurgen Habermas recalls, “the repeated and utterly vague announcements of possible new terror attacks and the senseless appeal to ‘be alert’ exacerbated the vague sense of dread and the indefinite state of alarm—in other words, precisely what the terrorists intended” (p4). Justice must also include elimination of the threat. Bringing these terrorists to justice was synonymous with killing them it seemed, and the US saw it fit to blend what ever justification it could find in order to take an action. Feldman writes, “To maximize flexibility, the US government would probably try to give itself the option of invoking either the crime paradigm or the war paradigm at any moment,” (p477).

At the early stages of the War on Terror, it didn’t matter which paradigm of justice the US chose, either treating terrorists like enemy combatants or as criminals though ultimately it adopted the language of war. The US used what ever methods reaped the most desirable goals including torture, indefinite detention without trial, drone strikes, etc. This is reason enough to invoke a philosophy of consequentialist considerations with regards to justifying how the US has acted in the past, and how it can defend decisions and actions going forward. While it is true, as Walzer critiques, that consequentialism can’t assign exact values to what aspects of anti-terrorism should be measured and how heavily, it does establish polar extremes from which to avoid or achieve. Without much valediction, reducing superfluous civilian killing, financial cost, and oppression and fear can be seen as morally sound principles. If there was a need for this excess in the past to bolster the might of a culture that won’t be bullied by terrorism, that time has apparently now passed. While apparently effective, as we have seen with the death of Osama bin Laden, and the lack of fulfilled terrorist attacks, it can be equally argued that the methods of effective anti-terrorism is police-like. The US can raise its level of legitimacy by reenacting the rules of law, and relinquishing the policies of emergency ethics.

            The arguments over whether a terrorist should be granted the rights of a criminal can tip the scales with regards to the legitimacy of the anti-terrorism movement. By subjectively assigning the identity of terrorists to the category of enemy combatants, the US burdens itself with a heap of moral risk. Firstly, it is not all together clear that terrorists are enemy combatants of war. Under Just War theory, there must be a cohesive body for which to wage war against and according to Noah Feldman, “The terrorist mastermind…is different with respect to provenance than a general who plans an attack that will be made on the U.S. by an army attacking from without,” (p469). In the case of a homegrown lone terrorist, it would seem strange to declare war on him/her. It is also unclear that a terrorist, in this case al Qaida, represents the ideologies of a legitimate state. Just war would necessitate that there would need to be a reachable peace and a political body to negotiate with, amongst other criteria, that rule out fundamentalist-based terrorism. This example rules out 2 out of 4 of Feldman’s criterions for determining whether a terrorist is an enemy combatant: provenance and identity. The remaining two of Feldman’s criterions that help to support the idea that they are indeed enemy combatants seem pyrrhic in their victories. The intentionality of a terrorist to discredit a state or not recognize it as legitimate is only nominally important in that there is no reason to take their intention seriously once terrorism is used—they have disqualified themselves by their sheer abhorrent and immoral nature. The scale quality says that the magnitude of a terrorist attack might push a regime over the threshold of criminal to enemy combatant, but the threshold seems morally arbitrary. Secondly, the policies of pursuit with regards to enemy combatants, “shoot first and ask questions later,” give rise to a host of human rights violations that serve to undermine favorability to the continuation of warring with terrorists. By a systematic gathering of intelligence, pursuit, and execution, there is an engine of assault without a check or balance to determine whether each strike is worth investing in. Now we are forced to look at the policy as a whole. Lastly; the unilateral practice of using torture, drones, and indefinite detention as tools of waging war raises the culpability for impeccable accuracy to a near implausible standard. Michael Walzer describes the ethics of anti-terrorism and puts it lightly when he writes, “The terrorists hold that there is no such thing as ‘collateral’…damage. All the damage for them is primary…The more deaths the more fear. So anti-terrorists have to distinguish themselves by insisting on the category of collateral damage, and by doing as little of it as possible” (p9).

In order to maintain legitimacy, it is absolutely crucial that the US does not act terroristic while combating terrorism in this way. In defending the potentiality for collateral damage for drone strikes, the US has painted all people associated with a potential terrorist, as potential terrorists. Whether terrorists are or aren’t enemy combatants, it must be said that the term “innocent” is not up for mitigation. Walzer writes, “[Innocents] are ‘innocent’ whatever their government and country are doing and whether or not they are in favor of what is being done,” (p1). It is in this way, that even consequentially speaking, it is damning for the US to continue the War on Terror and instead adopt a policing policy of anti-terrorism. If the methods of anti-terrorism as they are carried out now continue, then the western world serves to embolden the fundamentalist terrorist and public sympathies within their influence. Walzer continues on this theme in another work, “repression and retaliation [of terrorism] must no repeat the wrongs of terrorism, which is to say that repression and retaliation must be aimed systematically at the terrorists themselves, never at the people for whom the terrorists claim to be acting,” and later on, “The refusal to make ordinary people into targets, whatever their nationality or even their politics, is the only way to say no to terrorism. Every act of repression and retaliation has to be measured by this standard,” (p60-61). While being interviewed, Habermas makes the same point, “the state runs the risk of being discredited by the inappropriateness of the measures it deploys, whether internally by militarization of security that undermines the rule of law or externally by mobilizing a disproportionate and ineffective military and technological supremacy,” (p8). This language rises in the minds of anyone who travels the awful banality of the TSA. Without the moral high ground, anti-terrorism begins to look like oppression or terrorism in kind.

The War on Terror, while initiated on emergency standards of supposed necessity can be justified only through a consequentialist view. All things considered, the best course of action was to suspend the status quo of natural or constitutional law to achieve a certain goal. Ostensibly, the threat of utter catastrophe has subsided and now we must change gears as well. Consequentialism with the goal of establishing a world with the greatest amount of well being for all, offers the ability to evolve in light of new evidence and circumstances. As it has become blatantly evident that our practices directly related to our war-like approach to anti-terrorism has undermined our legitimate claim to just war, or justice in general, then it becomes increasingly necessary to adopt a criminal approach. With considerations to a more global society, it might be finally time to take a supranational justice system seriously. Globalization has rendered the inherent value of our borders worthless. The moral weight of killing citizens (read as innocents) in another country that happens to harbor terrorists is equally immoral as killing our own.

“It was all God’s plan.”

This is a horrific, insincere, and damaging statement. That there wasn’t a bigger outcry against this type of excuse is disappointing. He doesn’t even… I can’t believe… What the… Ah!

Setting aside the whole God-has-a-plan farce (for the moment), why isn’t it said that this is dissuading guilt and blame? If it was God’s plan, then Zimmerman can feel like he couldn’t have done otherwise. This reinforces his conviction that what he did wasn’t wrong or even tragic! He was doing what God had wanted him to do.

Instead he says, “I do wish that there was something…anything I could’ve done that wouldn’t have put me into the position where I had to take his life.”

This is a perfect example of vindication and blame. He is, tacitly saying that it was either Trayvon Martin’s fault, and that God willed it that way, but he wishes it could’ve been different. In what other instance does this line of thinking even get a serious platform?

It seems obvious to me that this would be part of his defense. That the situation and the series of events that unfolded put Zimmerman in a situation where he couldn’t have done otherwise is meant to undermine his culpability. This of course is false, as evidence is provided by police and investigators. And, in all of their analysis and scrutiny, those investigators have not turned up a shred of evidence showing that God had a guiding hand in the matter.

The God’s plan appeal is an attempt to manipulate the emotional favor of the stupid. I’m not saying that Believers are stupid, but that anyone who accepts this as a sincere response is quite staggeringly so. It is counterintuitive to both Christian and Secular morality. No one should be surprised that that venue chosen for this interview was Fox.

Ireland has endured much of the brunt of the religious offensive on civilized society. Having had to outlast the conflicts Catholicism has wrought and Ireland’s battles with the Englishmen’s church, much of the Irish citizenry, as of late, has lost its taste for the divine. The Roman Catholic Church has had much to answer for by way of child molestation and the concealment there of. We might reel at the stories and accounts of what happens here, stateside, but to be sure, Ireland has had it worse. We are talking in terms of thousands when it comes to abuse cases in Ireland, some of which include high ranking officials directly. America, while a very religious country, still managed to turn against the organization of Roman Catholicism, but imagine if we had discovered transgressions on the scale of thousands here in our own backyard!

So a member of the Irish legislative branch has concocted a law to be introduced that takes an indirect swipe at the Catholic Church. “Under the new law, every person in the state is obliged to report suspected sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults to police,” according to an article on IrishCentral.com. So naturally this raises the eyebrows of priests that hear confessions. Not only did their eyebrows rise, but a group of over 800 priests vowed to disobey this law. Apparently the inalienable rights Catholics have to confession trump the inalienable rights children have to not being sexually abused.

Let us, for a minute, not argue over the legitimacy of the legislation. The article I got this tirade from already addresses whether or not the law is practical and whether it is plausible to put into use in cases of anonymity in places like a confessional booth. I’d rather focus on the moral implications of the act of confession, and the duties good people have to reduce the suffering of children.

This is an argument for what the moral duties of a priest are, and as agents of benevolence, what they should be:

Evil must be encompassed by the mental, emotional, or physical suffering of any sentient beings. If what it means to be “good” means anything, then let us say that to be good means to actively eliminate evil whenever it is possible. So when superheroes do good, they are actively fighting evil so to speak, even if it is removing a cat from a tree, or helping a nervous elderly woman cross the street. When they are unaware, they cannot be to blame. If Spiderman was unaware of a murder about to take place, we could

I’m ignoring you, when I’m busy being Clark Kent

not hold him responsible. But if he were to swing by on a web, witness an altercation where a murder was underway, and he kept on swinging, then we might ask him why he didn’t do anything about it. We might be pretty pissed off at him. Superman can hear and be aware of all the events all over the world (and sometimes further) all at once. When Superman is busy being Clark Kent, and many people are suffering around the world, he is actively ignoring his duty to save the people whom he is aware of, that are suffering. He could be saving everyone all the time from the evils of life with his super awareness and super speed, but he doesn’t. Boy Scout, he is not. So morally speaking, we are saying that if someone is aware of suffering, or imminent suffering, then in order to be a good person one must reduce that suffering to the extent that one can. If you do not try to reduce this suffering, either by an act of will or omission, then you are not doing good, in fact you are contributing to the existence of evil.

I will, for the time being, grant the existence of souls, and an afterlife because I intend to show that priests, and indeed all Catholics by extension, violate morality even by the lights of their own faith.

When a priest hears a confession, thereby eliminating the sins of the penitent, let us say that they are eliminating the evil and suffering that the soul of the sinner will endure in hell. This, according to the church, is an act of inscrutable good. But, what about the suffering of the people that the sinner inflicts? If that sinner is a child molester, and the confession comes in the form of a blatant admittance of abuse of a minor, then should it not also be the duty of the priest to eliminate that suffering as well? Again, if evil means anything it means the needless mental, emotional, and physical suffering of a being—in this case a helpless one. It seems rather apparent that an agent of good, like a priest, must stop evil where ever it is present, so that to save a potential soul from the fiery pits of hell should not have to take primacy over an abused child. This is intuitively abhorrent, unless of course you believe the eternally suffering soul of a child molester is a greater suffering than the momentary suffering of a child here on Earth.

Here is where the issue of full goodness is lost. It seems like there is no reason why a priest shouldn’t make the attempt to reduce the possibility of future child molestations. If a Catholic child molester, who is willing to confess their sins, if not for their own psychological benefit, but for the sake of their souls, then presumably they would do so even if they knew this might mean incarceration. The priests would be dutifully helping the child molester, his soul, and the potentially molested children.

Unless, of course, the allure for the child molester is the ability to confess without having to fear Earthly retribution. When we take our focus away from the priest, and on to the child molester, we can see how this would be a dream come true. A sexual offender can save their souls, release their psychological guilt, and continue molesting children.

Let us also consider for a moment the dynamics of confession and absolution. It seems to me, that while we envision the most deviant of us to be emotionless and malevolent, it is probably true that those who commit crimes involving child abuse, sexual predation, and murder are probably remorseful to some degree. If it helps you to swallow this, at least imagine that some of these offenders might seek to ease their own guilt through means like confession. We can see that in prisons the vast majority of inmates are religious. And almost by definition through the Abrahamic faiths, religion entails a corollary between behavior now and punishment or reward in the afterlife. If for no other reason, this is enough motivation for some offenders, namely sexual offenders, to be concerned about their well being in some manner.

The inexorable question then arises: to what end does confession reduce overall suffering?

A thought experiment:

Smith molests a child. He feels a very secluded and private pain and guilt about having done it, though at times he feels as though he cannot control himself when he feels the urge to do it again. His impulses over come him. He cannot find consolation anyone else, for fear of his own well being. His guilt is not so strong as to subject himself to the horrors of the American (or Irish) penal system. He seeks out a means of catharsis through his faith. Smith attends mass and approaches the confessional booth. There he admits his sins to Father Jones who, having endured the agony of hearing this powerful confession, advises Smith to seek out help. It is important, says the priest, that Smith realizes he is committing a grave sin and the eyes of God always see him, and will be with him. Father Jones then says that the man has already taken the first step towards absolution by admitting his sin and realizing what he is doing is wrong. God looks kindly upon those who realize their faults. Jones assigns many prayers of repentance to Smith and dismisses him.

Are we then to rely on the remorseful conscience of a man who already can not control his deviancies, with the prospect of divine revelation? I should certainly hope not.

If Smith commits the crime again, even if it is only once, is Father Jones now complicit? Does his position as arbiter of moral matters demand that he be culpable of a crime? Is he an accomplice?

Time Magazine Photo of the War torn city of Homs

We get overwhelmed. Rightfully so. If we had only to focus on one international travesty, the rest of the world united behind us, solutions would be simple. Bad guys would be identified. Good guys would mete out punishment. Our emotions would be backed by concise opinions and it comes easy to imagine that the backlash for war crimes would be swift and justified. Unfortunately we live in a diffuse world, and the multitude (sometimes magnitude) of crimes against humanity can be demoralizing. Fraught with dissolution, we turn a blind eye to the mess. The far-off problems of other countries and cultures are not of our particular interest. Besides we have our own problems here, right? We are not morally obligated to help. We are not even morally obligated to care. Shit, all I do is write about it and I express a markedly higher level of concern than most people. So to what do we owe the millions of citizens across the world? How do we determine what the right reaction is? And forget about helping. That seems a far cry from what the majority of people are willing to do. But I do think we are obligated to know and open discussion about the affairs of other nations. During the uproar of the Kony2012 campaign, there was a tug-of-war between the compassionate and the skeptical. Neither side maintains an accurate account of virtue, but the fruits of that argument are what make the campaign worth while. It forces us to defend our opinions with knowledge. It follows from that knowledge that we take on the responsibility of correcting those who are false, or in turn reexamine our own platitudes. This is our moral obligation. We, as a populace without censorship, without oppression (in comparison), should take up the responsibility of the moral high ground. We should judge other nations and cultures for their indiscretions and we should be able to defend our opinions in doing so. When an authority violates the basic rights most of the world agrees that its citizens have, and they are unable to defend themselves, we become compelled to (at the very least!) chronicle the disaster. Let us argue over the worth of other lives.

For many of the lay people here in the States, of all generations, the Arab countries are the paradigm of turmoil, violence, sectarianism, and more recently terrorism and religious fanaticism. Between the rogue American Soldier murdering Afghan civilians, Koran burnings with subsequent riots, and the girl in Morocco that committed suicide to not suffer the indignity of marrying her rapist, it is easy to dismiss the prospects of a thriving, civilized Arab world—one, in which America takes place in the civilizing process. Let us not debate the accuracy of those descriptions and grant for now that it is a troubled chunk of the globe. Within the last year we have seen a turn for the better though! And with the advent of the “Arab Spring” we have seen major change in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. Protests against a culture of oppression have accumulated in Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, and Oman in relative peace (particularly in comparison with our own revolutionary war). While the results of these protests and revolutions remain to be seen, there is still hope that over the horizon there is an era of peace, prosperity, and justice—even if it is only marginally so. What is important is that these movements, similar to the Occupy or Tea Party crowds here, is that they are movements of the people. The powers that be are being challenged by the general consensus of citizens, not political factions (that comes later on). This is very important because it says something about the youth movement against traditional regimes, and about the power of quiet rumblings of dissatisfied civilians.

Speaking of regimes, the ruling faction in Syria is fighting the dream of liberalism to the best of its ability. While Egypt and Tunisia were stealing the spotlight for much of 2010 and ’11 Syria was quietly boiling over. What started as school-age mischief has turned into mass extermination. A quick and (overly)simplified introduction to how the Syrian rebellion began:

1)      The unrest started in the southern city of Deraa in March when locals gathered to demand the release of 14 school children who were arrested and reportedly tortured after writing on a wall the well-known slogan of the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt: “The people want the downfall of the regime.” The protesters also called for democracy and greater freedom, though not President Assad’s resignation. – As BBC reports.

2)      When the people marched for their release which was a minor protest, the government’s security forces opened fire on the crowds, which included suppressive sniper fire.

3)      The following day, mourners of those killed in the protests were fired upon during funeral processions by the police forces under orders from the government. It is an act of protest to mourn the loss of loved ones that were considered traitors, and apparently this act is punishable by death.

From there the rebellion spiraled out of control, as I’m sure you could imagine. Uprisings against local police forces in isolated cities prompted a military response using heavy artillery, including tanks. The cities of Deraa, Baniyas, Homs, Hama, Aleppo, and the capital of Damascus have been targets for leverage used by rebels and the government. Homs in particular has been the most heavily shelled city.

The death toll in the conflict is nearing 10,000 by some reports, though the exact number is hard to calculate because no one is offering a clear representation of the conflict.

Of course sympathizers to Syria’s ruling regime are the wealthy minority—minorities, both economically and religiously. This illuminates the driving force of the identities within the conflict though it doesn’t appear anyone has lit the fires of sectarianism. It remains just a near-civil war between the poorer youth and the reigning power of al-Assad. The battle for the government has been to paint the rebels as unsavory terrorists, the type of people no one wants to associate with. If the government is able to cut off popularity amongst the people, it will crush the uprising and come out looking like heroes.

Recently, a series of bombs targeting government buildings have sparked outrage in the capital city of Damascus. The people there, some ways off from the battles of other cities, thought they were safe from the uprising. As one of the most thriving areas in the nation of Syria, it’s easy to imagine where most of the sympathies lie within the Damascans. Local media sources there have tried to cite foreign forces as being responsible for the bombs which killed 27 and injured nearly a 100 more, though interestingly enough it is not being attributed to the Syrian National Council (SNC, the united group officially representing the rebels) or the Free Syrian Army (FSA, a group of defected military persons). This seems like it is obviously a move to sway national opinions in their favor, and preemptively cutting off the possibility of sympathetic countries like the U.S. and Turkey interfering. Aljazeera’s video here shows the complexities of the bombings in Damascus, and the reaction from the people:

The United Nations in their inception was not designed to meddle in the affairs of sovereign nations. Though, as Hillary Clinton has argued, when it comes to crimes against humanity, where better to mediate and interfere? Al-Assad is making all the noises of a war criminal, in which the U.N. would be able to interfere, but in order to facilitate a peaceful transition to a post-Assad government it becomes important to not label him as such, as it will also dissuade other despots from relinquishing power peacefully. China and Russia have voted against motions that were near unanimous in declaring Bashir al-Assad as a war criminal, therefore putting him in the scope of possible military action. As major players on the world stage this is a critical blow the suffrage of the oppressed people of Syria.

Kofi Annan, a major member of the U.N.’s security council has been trying to open talks with the Syrian government to reach a diplomatic solution to the war. However, his role has not been without controversy as he was voted against by Russia and China as the choice for the position. Many fear that the attitude towards Syria has been one that is already predetermined by western and Gulf forces as being similar to those of the Libyan example. Strong arming the ruling party could incite further violence and further destroy and already tarnished image of western foreign policies.

It has been tough for Obama to make a public stance on the matter because it is election season. He runs the risk of losing blocs of voters no matter how he responds. In a speech he had said that all options are still on the table for Syria, though military action is still premature. The declarations of war from the conservative campaign have shown the irrationality of shoot-first foreign policy, not to mention the irrationality of the party itself. It’s unfortunate, though perhaps circumstantial, that an international crisis becomes a risky topic to address to the public. It appears that the diplomatic actions taken by President Obama and Hillary Clinton within the parameters of the U.N. supports the willingness to coalesce an ideal world government. This is by and large a laudable course of action, though the crack downs by the Syrian government has made it hard to not intervene. At what point will it become completely necessary for military action either sanctions or unsanctioned by the U.N.? How many deaths? What kind of tactics? 25,000? 100,000?

What now for us? Well it seems that for the time being we are forced to maintain the discussion about countries like Syria in the same way the virility of the Kony2012 sparked discussion about the accuracy and intentions of the Invisible Children group and their goals. The yaw and pitch of opinions gives a direction that is ultimately desirable for all groups. While it seems that the social fervor for Joseph Kony and the nay-sayers that haughtily criticized the supporters of the campaign were taking pot shots on social media, they were really participating in a learning process! The lull in the post-viral stage of the campaign I think is due to the better understanding of who Invisible Children really are, and how successful, emergent countries like Uganda have dealt with issues like Joseph Kony. We can apply the same argument here with Syria. Let us argue the finer points of diplomacy and military action. Let us delve into how the Syrian people feel. We can debate the legitimacy of government crackdowns or social uprisings, as we did with Egypt. Raising the bar of social conscience is how we take part in the realm of things like foreign affairs and moral dilemmas. The more we argue the more refined and defensible our opinions become. By becoming responsible for our personal opinions we defend our own moral ground, which in turn advocates for the moral grounds of others. This is where our moral obligations lie. Everything else is compassion.

I’d like to jump right into this post without another long introduction. If you’re reading this, I suggest you read my previous post for a bit of a prologue on the topic of abortion as I mean to address it here. What I will say is that women’s reproductive rights are under a new wave of conservative attack. An all too common decorum held by many of our peers is to allow these cards to fall as they may, and let the hands of this game be played by the professionals. This is exactly why I remain motivated to write this blog. The professionals we allow to draw up the parameters of our law are, in principle, supposed to be representing our interests, not defining them for us. When we defer to authority, we are relinquishing our right to have opinions of our own. So when the state governments of Virginia, and Oklahoma, and Nebraska, get together to set a precedent in combating women’s suffrage, it is only up to general consensus to respond vehemently. The topic of abortion, at the very least, needs to be discussed on a philosophical level so that we know what we mean when we say women have the right to choose, or that it is murder. Those who have the most tenable argument are the ones that should resonate with us and have the most influence, not those who argue loudest or wield the most money and power.

I didn’t want to mention religion again. Really, I didn’t. However religious leaders are maintaining their perennial position on the autonomy of women’s bodies which is that they have the final say in their care and treatment. With regards to the new universal healthcare laws that Obama put into place, it is my understanding that he put religious organizations underneath the umbrella of its coverage. What this means is, that any organization, including religious ones, must offer coverage for contraception and birth control to their employees, regardless of whether or not that employee is religious or secular. If you’re a janitor in a Catholic School, or a Special Needs Teacher, your health insurance will not cover birth control. What is being expressed here is that only religious practices are allowed to change the laws as they see fit, and it is in this blogger’s opinion that they haven’t provided any grounds for which to deserve this extremely special privilege. This is the panel that made lobbied against the President’s directive:

All those women in the back just got to watch.

. Not a single woman testified against the motion. Surprised?

Lastly, I’d like to again reiterate the arguments presented here and in my previous post are not my own. They are retold, to the best of my ability, from an undergrad course in Bioethics. Most, if not all the credit is due to my awesome professor of philosophy, whose name is absent for the time being. My goal of presenting both the views of the previous post and this one is to open up the minds of people with regards to the discussion on abortion, beyond what we are told by our parents, religious leaders, and community.

*          *          *

Position 2:

The (Secular) Moral Impermissibility of Abortion – Marquis’ Argument from Potentiality

Most people tend to use the argument from potentiality without even knowing it. They think about what the baby could turn into. They think of it after it is born, relate it to how adorable (most) other babies tend to be, and start to feel all warm and squishy inside thinking about holding them and playing with them. There are many endearing and absolutely beautiful things about babies that when we think of abortion, we can see it as nothing more than the horrible act of robbing something from humanity. Is this true? Will this work in a philosophical argument?

Let us not fall into a trap here. I mentioned this in the last post: We are not supposing that a fetus could be the next Beethoven, or Picasso, or Albert Einstein. This is not a logical argument. Opponents could easily say that you’re aborting the next Charles Manson, Pol Pot, or Adolf Hitler. I think most people would justify the abortions of the latter three. A billboard in Harlem caused an uproar when it used this argument alluding to Obama.  Not only is this racist, in that it preyed on the hopes of minority parents for their children to become whatever they would want with limitless possibilities, but also it also doesn’t use a sound argument philosophically, which really just means it’s nothing more than obnoxious and insulting.

What Marquis (pronounced Mar-kwis) wants to do is give fetuses and adult human beings a symmetrical characteristic that is wrong to take away. In the last post we talked about moral standings and the right to life, which will carry over here.

What makes premature death a misfortune? We’re talking about adults for now. When a 19 year old girl dies, and when a 91 year old woman dies, what is the difference? Is there one? Marquis says what encompasses the sense of loss we all share for those who die is their loss of a future of value. When a person lives to old age, and then dies, we don’t consider it premature because they’ve lived a fuller extent of their potential than say a child in grade school. This doesn’t necessarily mean that a younger person would have done more with their lives, but that they had the potential to.

Smith, a grade school student at the Socrates School for a Better Tomorrow, values the goods his consciousness brings. He appreciates being able to think, and reason, and the ability to make moral decisions and consider a future in which he could contribute to the world by using these tools. Smith enjoys painting. Rainy days inspire him. He hopes to fall in love, and to continue to enjoy his friendships. Unfortunately, his life was cut short by a drunk driver. His death represents a loss to Smith, of the greatest magnitude. If he were only in a coma, he’d still have the potential to come out of it and enact all those goods of consciousness. He’d have the potential to paint again on a rainy day.

For Marquis, this trait of potentiality carries over to human fetuses. They have the potential to have a future like ours, with all the goods of consciousness we will have the potential of having when we become standard adult human beings. This potentiality grants the fetus a Moral Right to Life, on par with those of standard adult human beings. Even if that baby were slated to live the most horrible conditions, and suffer for the longest possible amount of time, it still has the potential to take advantage of all the goods of conscious both you and I enjoy. It is just as wrong, according to Marquis’ reasoning, to kill a human fetus as it is to kill a standard adult human being because you are robbing it of the greatest magnitude potentiality.

To restate it in philosophical terms:

P1: Standard adult human beings have the potential for goods of consciousness (i.e. the experiences of love, rationality, art, et al.).

P2: The worst possible moral crime is to take away the potential for the goods of consciousness (i.e. murder).

C1: It is wrong to kill standard adult human beings.

P3: Fetuses have the potential to become standard adult human beings, which experience the goods of consciousness.

P4: Abortion takes away the potential to experience the goods of consciousness.

C2: Abortion is the moral equivalent to murder.

There are objections of course to this argument. I’ll state only the two that make the most sense to me, and one of them is by Tooley and was one of the last things I mentioned in my last blog post.

Objection 1: The Contraception Objection

For me, this seems the most logical. We can simply ask, “At what point does something attain potentiality?” To which, Marquis presumably replies with conception. Though we have no reason to believe that only at conception, something is given the potentiality of having a future like ours and thusly a serious right to life. What about the ovum? What about each of the millions of sperm residing in the nether regions of some of my readers loins right now? If you are not both copulating, and reading this at the same time, you are committing at least one horrendous moral crime on par with murder! Every time a male masturbates, and robs the potentiality for those sperm to become standard adult human beings with goods of consciousness, he is committing genocide under Marquis’ reasoning. He might defend this point by saying that conjoined (egg/sperm) can be identified as a zygote, and thusly is something we can point at and say it has a right to life. He might also say that the set of [1,000,000 sperm cells + 1 egg] is not something you can point to ostensibly and identify as an entity with that potential. Well, if we just gave that set of [1,000,000 sperm cells + 1 egg] a name, like Snagglefritz, then it has overcome identity theory, and now has contained within its definition a potential for all the goods of consciousness.

Object 2: Tooley’s Principle of Moral Symmetry

While this argument doesn’t necessarily take something away from the argument of potentiality, it does offer the other side of reasoning to the difference between intentionality and actuality. Under the Moral Symmetry Principle, choosing not do something is equally moral a initiating it, and then stopping it before it reaches its end.

A thought experiment:

If you have a pet, dog or cat, which ever you prefer, and you have a strong bond with that animal, you might sometimes wonder what it is thinking and feeling. Imagine you could inject that animal with a special serum that would give it all the experiences, consciousness, and goods therein of being human. It would basically be a dog/cat with all the mental and emotional traits of being human. The serum takes 14 days to work. During those 14 days there is nothing noticeable happening to that cat. You inject it, and then on the 14th day, suddenly it’s for all our purposes, a human being. Once you inject it, (and arguably before hand) with the serum, that cat attains potentiality. It is then, under Marquis’ reasoning the moral equivalent of murdering a human being if you give that cat an anti-serum on the 13th day, or the 2nd day. There’s something to be said about that seeming out of touch with our ideals for morality. Tooley argues this for a fetus as well. If you remember from my last post, a fetus has not attained all the wherewithal to own a serious moral right to life, and therefore is still in the cat/dog’s 2 week period where it is still okay to reverse the process.

I have one last piece of logic to offer which strikes me as the ultimate challenge to anyone who maintains the belief that a human fetus “dying” and  a person dying are moral equivalents. Approximately 12,000 to 20,000 people die of HIV/AIDS here in the United States yearly. There is a significant effort put forth, involving man hours and dollar amounts, to combat this plague. The same goes for several other diseases and disorders which plague humanity. According to some statisticians, approximately 6,000,000 fetuses are spontaneously aborted, that is miscarried, every year. We do not see this as a great human plague. While I’m sure religious acolytes chalk this up to God’s will, what ever that means, that should still be seen as the greatest continuous loss of life and our greatest moral responsibility. If just the United States were to endure something that is equivalent to the holocaust every year, why don’t we react with greater fervor? So maybe, from the anti-abortion point of view, Mother Theresa didn’t seem so off base when she said that “the greatest destroyer of peace on Earth is abortion” in her acceptance of the Nobel Prize. However, when we consider the injustice being perpetrated on the undeserving, we think of oppressed people, starving people, impoverished people, suffering people, not fetuses. To place the esteem of full moral status on an unborn human fetus, morally requires you to become an extremist or suffer the fate of cognitive dissonance.

Well this concludes the abortion topic for the time being. There’s actually lots more to discuss of course, like Judith Jarvis Thomson’s argument that even if a baby has a serious moral right to life, it doesn’t mean we can’t abort it on other grounds. For now I think I’ve exhausted everyone’s focus on the single topic and might perhaps return to it at a later time. I hope everyone found this 2 part series to be insightful. Keep the comments coming, and I’ll respond to them as much as I can. Respond to each other too, but remember to stay respectful.

Thanks for participating in the poll. Please do so before reading the rest of the post! I will reveal results by next week, and for the follow up post, ask another related question.

Before we begin the arguments for and against the moral permissibility of abortion, I’d like to talk a little bit about why it’s important to discuss this philosophically. At the social level, when we have arguments about things as controversial as abortion, we rely on intuitions. Some things just feel intuitively wrong, and to let others do those things, feel just as wrong. It feels wrong to murder, and it feels wrong that other people commit murder. These intuitive mores stem from our traditional values taught to us by our guardians and communities. Allowing room for abortion in our society has opened a can of worms for a few decades, and I’d like to peer a little further into what we call intuitions so that we can actually defend our arguments beyond, “It’s just wrong!” or “Well, why not?” Recently, the political debate has shifted back to the culture wars of years past. Legislative action has been taken fore and against rights to birth control access, gay marriage, and abortion. In some states now, it is mandatory for a woman to see a sonogram before they choose abortion. This is purposefully done to elicit an emotional response. What we are going to talk about is the nature of that emotional response and whether or not it’s founded in reason; whether or not it’s rational for this deliberately provocative law to be enforced. However, this debate will take place pre-politics. In other words, things are not morally right or wrong based on what the law says, or what politicians or theologians say. For example, it is morally wrong to cheat on your spouse, but not illegal. It is also considered amoral to take drugs recreationally, but it is highly illegal. Legislation is based on the communal knowledge of moral topics, not the other way around, and so the more we understand about what it is we feel is right and wrong, the more accurate the legislation will be to our liking (let’s hope). The point is to motivate a deeper understanding of why we hold our own beliefs and moral standards. Why is abortion morally wrong? Why is murder wrong? Are they the same thing? What about in the cases of rape, incest, or mother’s at risk of dying due to the pregnancy?

Still a polarizing topic.

We will also be holding this discussion outside the realm of religion. While the anti-abortion position is most commonly held by religious conservatives, the actual religions themselves offer little insight into the arguments. At their core, what ever reasoning can be interpreted from the religious texts can be contained within the philosophical arguments anyway. Besides, pointing to a centuries old book which condones many things we now consider immoral (i.e. slavery, rape, polygamy, betrothal, torture. Just to name a few), and saying that it is an authority on abortion is a little asinine. It is clear to anyone who takes a moment to look that our morals do not arise from theodicy. Philosophically speaking, if there was a god that pronounced, “Abortion is immoral,” it doesn’t necessarily follow that we must agree with that particular god either. As many people in the world know, justice does not always come from the powerful. Souls too, are a dubious thing. There are too many questions we’d first have to answer about souls, which we are helpless to answer no matter what religious or new age book we’ve read (and no, they do not weigh 21 grams). Where beliefs are subject to questioning in terms of morality, religion often claims to hold the ultimate position, though its reasoning is as intellectually unsatisfactory as, “It just is,” or “Because I said so.”

There is one last thing before we get into the first of two (or more) opposing arguments I’ll present here. Most, if not all, the material presented here is as accurate as I can portray it from a textbook and class lessons in Bioethics. Many of these explanations are direct from a professor who deserves most of the credit for being informative and artfully nonpartisan. On top of sharing this topic with everyone, it will serve to be my own study guide and I only make this point to express that there are other versions of these arguments out there, and perhaps better ones to be made. These are not necessarily my own philosophical views on the moral permissibility of abortion. Again this is only an exercise in learning about how to analyze our own beliefs.

 

Position 1:

Tooley’s Argument for the Permissibility of Abortion

Most social conservatives would say that killing a human fetus (for the time being we will use the term fetus to umbrella all stages of the unborn, never mind zygote or embryo) is morally comparable to killing an adult person. It is murder. It might be possible that someone, out there in the conservative world, believes that aborting a fetus would be the same as killing a lizard and that it is still morally wrong, but I have yet to hear any one propose that argument. So for now we will assume that all anti-abortionists hold that killing a fetus is the moral equivalent to killing an adult person. Again, it is murder.

Michael Tooley, a philosopher, would describe this using the term Moral Status (or Moral Standing). Essentially anti-abortionists imbue a human fetus with the same moral status as a standard adult human being. Already some of you might be trying to figure out whether you feel this is true. Well, let us consider this: What moral status does a rock have? Presumably, none. Why not? For something to have moral status, it needs to be the type of thing toward which moral agents (you and I) have moral obligations. If we break a rock, or drop it into a lake, we do not hold a funeral or a candle light vigil for its loss. It’s just a rock, right? A rock is not something to which we have moral obligations. Well, what about a chicken? What about a chimpanzee or a dolphin? Somewhere in your mind there is a scale of things to which are ascribed with different levels of moral standing. An animal generally tends to have a higher moral status than a desk or chair, or even plants and insects. We tend to grant the highest level of moral status to standard adult human beings. When I say standard adult human beings I mean the kinds of beings that can think in terms of moral principles and regulate behavior accordingly. You may not be a standard adult human being if you are in a persistent vegetative state, like what people refer to as being brain dead or in a coma. This is not to say that a person in a persistent vegetative state has the moral status of a rock, but it does imply that generally speaking, and all other things being equal, that person does not have the same moral standing as a standard adult human being. To reinforce this concept: If you were in a burning building with the opportunity to save one person, a) someone who is in a state of brain death or b) the attractive model down the hall, you’d probably choose the latter.

What gives a standard adult human being moral status? Is it fingers and toes? or hair? and two eyes, a spine? Not really. These are mere physical attributes. Remember, when I said, “standard adult human beings [are] the kinds of beings that can think in terms of moral principles and regulate behavior accordingly.” This means that we must have a few mental properties in order to do these things. Properties of standard adult human beings insofar that they are moral agents are things like sentience, self awareness, the ability to suffer, etc. It also follows that because we are self aware; we understand what the self is. Some animals show signs of being able to understand themselves. Certain types of monkeys can recognize themselves in a mirror, and not try to grab the monkey behind it or throw shit at the copy-cat reflection. This is a sign of self awareness. Other animals express the desire to not die. This is crucial. While we do not think a lizard has a concept of self, we do notice when we threaten its life, it will resist death. This means it has some kind of concept of self, to which it wishes (to some degree) to continue being in existence. This grants it, at least a smidgen of moral status, beyond something like a blade of grass, which we mercilessly mow down and slice at.

Ok, so now that we have a cursory understanding about what moral status means, we can move onto what Tooley means when beings have a serious right to life. A human being can be many things. In a genetic sense, it is anything with the code we classify as Homo sapien. If we remove the brain from a person, but keep the body alive with machines, is it still living? Well, yes, perhaps in the same way a car with the engine on would be. Is it a human being? Only genetically. Is it a person? Tooley would say no. He would explain that if X is a person, then X has a serious moral right to life. A serious moral right to life is equivalent to having full moral standing. A serious right to life takes full moral standing a little further by saying, “if X is a subject of experiences and other mental states and X is capable of desiring continued existence, and if X desires to continue to exist as such an entity, then others (us) are under a prima facie obligation not to prevent it from doing so.” Sounds complicated, I know. Essentially what it means is that if something doesn’t want to die, and it is fully aware of itself and that it wants to keep it that way, we are generally obligated to not fuck with them. All else being equal, we are in a sort of moral contract to not kill X. In order to want to continue to exist, a being must have a sense of self, the capability to desire, and the understanding to some degree of existence and non-existence.

Tooley argues that a human fetus is not yet a person, though it is a human and a member of the Homo Sapien race. It does not have a serious moral right to life in the same way adults do because it is not self aware amongst other traits that determine high moral standing. One might think that this is up for debate, but it is generally accepted that humans do no attain self awareness even after birth. Fetuses are also incapable of desire in the way a standard adult human being is capable of desire. So to desire to continue to exist is completely out of the realm of what a fetus can do. This ultimately means that a fetus does not have full moral standing. Aborting a fetus, to Tooley in this way, is not the same as killing an adult human being.

Anyone well versed in the arts of argumentation will also be able anticipate the counter arguments used against them. Michael Tooley defends against 6 alternative points and we will do it in the form I copied from the blackboard.

“It is seriously wrong to kill and organism…”

1)      …that belongs to the species Homo sapiens.

  1. Tooley already defended this point regarding special cases in which certain Homo sapiens are not granted full moral status. But, what if being a member of the classification Homo sapiens means something special? Tooley would call this speciesism. In the same way that saying to be White is more virtuous than being Chinese is racist; to say that being human is more virtuous than being a whale is arbitrary and unfounded.

2)      …that belongs to the species Homo sapiens and has achieved human form.

  1. Again, permanently comatose humans or humans where the brain is  removed completely, still is a human but does not have a serious right to live in the same way a standard adult person would.

3)      …that belongs to the species Homo sapiens and is capable of spontaneous movement.

  1. Well what about sufferers from ALS (Lou Gherig’s disease), or other forms of paralyzation? Their mental faculties are unperturbed. They are still capable of full moral status.

4)      …that belongs to the species Homo sapiens and is capable of existence outside the womb.

  1. What about conjoined twins, where one is completely dependent on the other to live? Or in more extreme cases, where one is parasitic to the other, and one life must be sacrificed to save the other. Gruesome perhaps, though still a necessary side of the argument.

5)      …that belongs to the species Homo sapiens and is no longer in the womb.

  1. Uh, we’re talking about abortion still right?

6)      …that has the potential to become one of us.

  1. This is the most potent counter argument to Tooley. It is the argument from potentiality, of which we will discuss when we move onto the next philosopher. A common argument used by anti-abortionists is that you’re robbing the potential life of something that will eventually become a person. That is not to say that you’re killing the next Leonardo Da Vinci or as some anti-abortion bill boards claimed over a year ago, the next President, because it could also be said that you’re killing the next Adolf Hitler or Pol Pot or Charles Manson. This is called conjecture, and using slippery slope arguments are not permitted. Never the less, to deprive a potential person of personhood strikes many people as intuitively wrong. I think this lies at the core of many mainstream beliefs for anti-abortion position holders. Tooley responds to the people who argue for potentiality, which I’m going to hold off for now.

Up to this point we have read about a seemingly reasonable argument for the moral permissibility of abortion as supported by a one Michael Tooley. The response comes from another philosopher whose entire argument addresses the 6th objection listed above. Before I continue onward with the second part of this topic, I’d like to hear from you readers. Abortion is a polarizing topic. If you’re against the argument, sound off! If you think this sounds reasonable, explain why. Are fetuses people? If you think they are and have something not addressed by the above argument, then please contribute! If this philosopher changed the way you thought about abortion, be sure to include everything you can about that. If I get enough comments I’ll continue with this topic.

The Straw Man of Islam and the NYPD

The New York Times revealed that a video, called The Third Jihad, was shown by the NYPD within an anti-terrorism training facility to nearly 1,500 officers. The video cites Islam as the focal point for American born terrorist attacks. This claim extrapolates into a long running debate amongst politicians, theologians, and philosophers about whether or not Islam itself is an ignition source for violence, or whether terrorism is enacted for reasons outside of the religion. I’d like to sidestep this debate for the time being to expose the intentionality that fuels it to the point of eruption, spilling out into our communities and homes. It is one thing to discuss religious practices and the assimilation of cultures, but when we implement measures to discriminate within the halls of authority, we’ve overstepped the boundaries of a free and secular nation.

For the American public (hopefully not for you), it is easy to sell the idea that the bearded men in strange clothes are the harbingers of all our fears. I don’t think it needs to be spelled out why the targeting of an amorphous, villainous enemy to the blue collar workforce of New York’s Finest is a bad idea. This isn’t the first time we’ve envisioned our own Boogeymen. In the 1940’s it wasn’t bearded Middle Eastern men, it was the Japanese. We rounded them up and put them into camps much like Guantanamo Bay – a prison where any sense of rights and freedom are null and void. Internment camps were a security measure for our nation, of which we have offered little recompense to the victims. This is a danger I feel we may be stumbling back into. The straw man of Islam has become our picture of the entire 1.3 billion or so practicing Muslims. Those who have spoken out against the violence perpetrated by militant Muslims have called upon the moderates to speak out against the radicals. This is what our narrator claims to do.

The video itself has an interesting origin story. The Third Jihad was produced by the Clarion Fund, an organization that is directly linked with Israel. The dominos fall pretty in line beginning with the conservative directive of Israeli sovereignty over contested areas and military support. In 2008 the Clarion Fund directly supported the McCain campaign by distributing free copies of their other film Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West to voters in key swing states. This film draws visual correlations between Islam and Nazi fascism in order to sway sympathies in favor for the Jewish state and conservative voters during a volatile election season. Corruption abound, the Clarion Fund is labeled as a non-profit organization. They do not pay taxes and are forbidden to participate in the process of electoral politics. Their endorsement of McCain lead to a temporary shut down of their site during 2008. The Third Jihad was also financially backed by a major pro-Israel, casino and hotel mogul Sheldon Adelson. Mr. Adelson, is the 16th richest person in the world, and has poured millions of dollars into Newt Gingrich’s super PAC. It may not be just conjecture to suppose that promoting anti-Islamic sentiments are connected with the success of conservative ideals.

Some blurry lines are to be had in raising concern about The Third Jihad. There is a disputed 30 second clip featuring NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly in the documentary. He has since tried to distance himself from this level of endorsement claiming some level of vagary in its usage. However, any participation on his part with the Clarion Fund and their exploits shows where the money might flow within the police department. It also leads a large amount of credibility to the officers who witnessed his brief interview in the film, and then proceeded to conduct training for anti-terrorism. Also, the film’s makers have claimed to narrow their focus to solely the radical Muslims of which they speak, but then continue to paint the whole of the faith base as very radical. The original New York Times article quotes the video, ‘“Americans are being told that many of the mainstream Muslim groups are also moderate,” [the narrator] states. “When in fact if you look a little closer, you’ll see a very different reality. One of their primary tactics is deception.”’ Let’s also be very clear about something else. The threat of terrorism has been shown in a variety of surveys and statistics to be extremely low. The amount of money we pour into the cup of Homeland Security, even if used in the case of preventative measures has made it runeth over. An extremely small fraction of violence perpetrated in the United States is committed by “terrorists,” and an even smaller portion is committed by Muslims.

Even if you could argue that the claims the documentary makes are true, which are dubious to say the least, there is still a difference between arguing a point and providing what can only be labeled as propaganda to an order-taking police force. In the post 9/11 era, we’ve allowed a little space for Middle Eastern racism in our culture, particularly in New York, though to be fair it is much easier to imagine it being worse. Chris Rock had it right when he said this about “accepted racism” in patriotic America: I’m American Man. It’s rare to be able to trace a line of money and influence from one source to a population but I feel like the line goes directly from Israel, to millionaires, to filmmakers, to a NYPD Police Commissioner, to 1500 officers and then…