Posts Tagged ‘law’

Guns are not like other objects. They aren't even like each other.

Guns are not like other objects. They aren’t even like each other.

 

If you don’t occasionally check out THE STONE, you should. Who would’ve thought that a major newspaper would have a philosophy column online. At any rate, since the shooting at Newtown, Connecticut they have been posting lots of super interesting posts about the gun debate. Here is an awesome one which helps to clarify the rights versus goods argument I made in my previous post, and this by a real philosopher.

 

The Weapons Continuum

(Part 1: The Non-Evidential Discussion)

             I find myself writing a draft off this post every few months. Every time there is a horrific shooting, often worse than the one before, my mind races and my fingers search for a keyboard. If Facebook and Twitter are any indication, then most of you do the same. I usually soak in what ever I can of popular opinion and the arguments from social media to get a sense of where people are in the discussion. I check news sources too, (no, not TV news) to get a feel for the particular narrative that always seems to take on new characteristics and new language after each shooting. On every occasion I feverishly hash out a draft, and for some reason it never seems to make it to my wall. There are too many digressions. There are too many distractions. Every argument smashes into the rear end of the next without getting resolved. So now it is about a week since the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, and I wonder if I can flesh this out. Oh, and it isn’t too soon. There is no such thing.

Friendly Argument about Guns

Friendly Argument about Guns

             I decided the best way to tackle the issue of gun control is to split it up in parts. The first part will consist of the non-evidential arguments for gun control. Most people immediately refer to what ever statistics or anecdotes that they can muster when arguing for or against gun ownership, as they absolutely should! However, statistics, examples, and stories are easy to be skeptical about and often refute one another without legitimate sources and research involved. Keyboard crusaders are all but credible authorities, myself included. In the social-media arena, it is enough to post a quickmeme with an eye catching graphic or phrase for the tidal wave of comments ensue. My first post won’t do any of that. Instead I’d like to focus on what most people agree is an irreducible, irreconcilable, source for debate and conflict. That topic is Rights.

        There is a constant back drop of rights talk that requires a little elucidation. What does it mean to have the “right to bear arms?” What does it mean to have the right to anything? This is a word we use fairly loosely in conversation but it is never really brought to the forefront of an argument and explained. Can rights change? Are they strictly bound to a specific text or do documents like the Constitution just reflect some basic societal intuition? In talking about gun control, it seems like the most common deflection immediately goes into rights talk and what had started off as a wonky back-and-forth between friends peters off to a stalemate. Without delving into the historical context of the Constitution and talking about what the founding fathers meant/thought/believed about the 2nd amendment (that would be an evidential argument), let’s actually talk about rights.

2nd

        The idea of people having a certain right may have erupted around sometime in the early 1700s. It wasn’t until the old European monarchies started to crumble that people started to gain a real sense of individualism. Suddenly the majority of people weren’t just uneducated slaves. A great secular awakening and philosophical writings churned a feudal European serfdom into an era that would soon be called the Enlightenment. A reverence for science and knowledge grew and this was also reflected in the new science of political theory. Up until that point, with perhaps the exceptions of Aristotle and Thomas Hobbes, political concepts were not based on community or individuals. Instead, things like divine right theory and hereditary totalitarianism were the norm.

       It wasn’t until the late 17th century that John Locke developed social contract theory wherein the individual has a direct relationship with the state. This empowers the citizenry in a society to be able to participate and affect the governing body. While versions of democracy had made appearances in different forms up until this point, it wasn’t until Locke wrote his two treatises of government that individual’s rights started to make their appearances. At this point also, political pamphlets were readily available and literature was starting to become the 17th century equivalent of the internet. Literacy was at an all time high, especially in the United States which had the highest rate of literate citizens in the world. So when Locke wrote about individuals in a state of nature are entitled to “Life, Health, Liberty, and Property” (property has a different meaning here than it does today), it resonated with a population with a new sense of individualistic value. Nearly a hundred years later, our founding fathers and namely Thomas Jefferson included the phrase, “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” in the Declaration of Independence, which was directly influenced by John Locke. At this point in history, another major thinker that revolutionized the concept of inherent rights was emerging. Philosopher Immanuel Kant lays the groundwork for what would become the major moral dichotomy of our time.

        While rights were becoming a meme worthy of replication in a society like America, the going moral philosophy was utilitarianism. Jeremy Bentham and later on John Stewart Mill (another philosopher that influenced our Constitution) developed a view wherein moral acts were contingent on their utility to society. It is easy to see how this view would become popular in the nationalistic sense. Things were morally good if they benefited the greatest amount of people to the greatest extent that it could. This is as altruistic as anything could be. It is of course, not without its short comings. While intuitively beneficial, it does seem to demand a lot of people to be self sacrificing and unselfish to one degree or another. In a world where individualism was taking over, utilitarianism may ask people to do things for the greater good that seemed undesirable. A good example is the ol’ train track scenario in moral philosophy. So there was a need to leverage strict utilitarianism with whatever it is that leads us to ascribe special privilege to individuals.

        So when Immanuel Kant, produced his Critiques of Pure Reason he stood at odds with Utilitarianism with his own philosophy, Deontology. Kant’s arguments can get lengthy and convoluted but in the shortest terms possible Deontology says: 1) People have a duty to do good, 2) Good is only good if it is a good in and of itself, and that it can apply universally to all people, it cannot be related to a want or desire 3) People are an end in and of themselves. It’s because people are rational beings and they are able to distinguish between treating people with dignity and as a reason to do good and not merely as a means to a desirable end. So we have a duty to do good things, regardless of their benefit to people. For Kant, lying is never good because it treats people as a means to an end and serves to undermine their dignity—even if a lie were to save the planet from destruction!

        Instead of using these terms, we’ll use more accurate terms for the gun debate and call them it the Good (utilitarianism) vs. the Right (deontology). Almost every moral debate that I can think of is framed within these two ideological sides and documents like the Constitution itself carefully balances between them. When someone embraces one side, they are sacrificing the advantages of the other. When a right overlaps with what we consider to be a greater good, then we don’t really have any controversy. A good example could be something like voting rights for women, or equal education opportunities for people, or religious freedoms. These are by and large uncontroversial, whereas at one time in the past they may have needed some debate. To say that we have the right to be treated equally serves the benefit of the society and treats people as ends in themselves. Dignity is assigned to everyone equally in this instance.

        When we start approaching the right to own guns, things get a little hazy. Is the right to own guns a way to treat people as dignified ends? We in the Unites States take it for granted that any extension of freedom is a moral good. Freedoms in almost every other context seem to be uncontroversial and beneficial as opposed to a lack thereof. However once freedoms for individuals start to breach the well being of other individuals, we begin to see structures for which law must create a workable boundary. We are not free to murder. We are not free to drive drunk. We aren’t even free to plagiarize the ideas of others, or libel against them. So, why all the hoopla over guns?

        Once the gun debate is reduced to the idea of rights, the only response is to combat it with notions of the good. If you have ever participated in friendly arguments at bars or on social media, you may have already noticed. In order to establish a right, there must be a correlation with the good in order to justify it. Once you ask someone who believes in a right why they believe in that right, the response must come in the form of how it benefits society (unless you’re arguing with a philosopher and there’s a good chance it’ll happen anyway). If you ask someone why it is important that we have the right to bear arms, people will cite the 2nd amendment. We know that rights precede the Constitution, so we can ask why it was considered a right in the first place (by the way, the Bill of Rights was very nearly not even included in the Constitution). So the answer must come in the form of, “because it is better than to not have the right.” The response is, “why?” That’s where all the crazy answers start to come out because not enough critical thought it put into the answer. People start invoking Hitler’s gun policy on Jews, or that crime will increase, or that the right is God given, etc. All of which are evidential arguments that require data to support. Rarely, if ever, are arguments from these grounds substantial or coherent. Frustration ensues.

Right vs. Good

Right vs. Good

 

        That isn’t to entirely dismiss the claim that maybe we do have a morally defensible right to guns. We still have to wonder, at what cost? We know that roughly 10,000 to 30,000 deaths occur each year from shootings. Without going any further into the statistics, we can see that no other right affects the potential ending of human life so directly. There are of course evidential reasons (that I will get to in future posts) that can factor into why the number is what it is, but this will only distract from the fact that the prevalence of guns, lead to the existence of gun deaths. It could be argued, and indeed it has, that guns don’t cause guns deaths–people do. While on the face, this could be seen as true, but that doesn’t absolve the usage of guns altogether. Clearly guns are present at the scene of a crime where a shooting occurs. Even if it’s in a small degree, guns carry at least some responsibility for the deaths that occur from the bullets that were in them. Secondly, the argument that our culture in America has a special relationship with guns unlike any other country seems to be untrue even on its face. It is possible to delve into the historicity of firearms and combat in at least 100 countries that would negate this theory from “specialness.” Nevertheless, I’ll assume that this is true. It then seems funny that the immediate defense of many gun advocates, most notably the NRA, is that our culture of violence is to blame for gun deaths vis a vis video games, movies, the media and comics. It is blaringly evident that gun culture must carry its negative aspects into the definition along with what ever goods may be found in it. To blame gun culture for deaths but use it as a reason for the a right to have a gun, well it seems silly.

        The question must be asked: How many gun deaths is the right to own guns worth? The right for freedom of slaves (amongst other things) was worth a civil war with hundreds of thousands of deaths. Is the right to own guns worth 30,000 deaths? 100,000? 1,000,000 per year? Of course it is possible to hedge what the right to bare arms means and currently I’m not advocating banning guns altogether, but I am offering the question up hypothetically. What amount of deaths per year would make it considerable to pro-gun advocates to submit that maybe banning guns unilaterally is a necessary action? Let’s say the number is a mere 100,000. The follow up questions must inquire as to why that number is significant? If 99,999 deaths occur in one year, then it isn’t worth considering? The goal would be to find a common ground with some reason for there being a non-arbitrary number. For defenders of the right, the number is infinite. There may not be a sufficient correlation between guns and gun deaths, or the right supercedes any consequences, or libertarian freedom is the highest value, but sufficient reason must be given to defend these positions. As for defenders of the good: the number is 1. The right to own guns for these group is directly related to death and it represents a verifiable evil that must be suppressed. Extreme positions on either side are impractical. Seeing as how the law is based on normative intuitions; that the general feelings of the citizens are reflected in law then it seems likely that people in the frame work of this argument would most likely want to keep the number as low as possible while still maintaining the right.

        There are a number of prescriptions as to how to balance this argument. The point is that for the right, the only thing worth preserving is the right itself. For the good, it is people’s lives that are paramount and this reflects a more sensible attitude toward a very real state of affairs in relation to gun deaths. If the number of gun deaths per year fluctuated wildly, then the argument might take on a different tone. It would be possible to differentiate between bad years and good years and discovering the causal relationships between the two to work toward a compromise between the good and the right would be a matter of working toward the better years. The fact of the matter is that the number of gun deaths remains on a steady rise and so does the general consensus about stricter gun laws. In my opinion, by defending the right to own a gun we are obscuring what it means to treat people with dignity in the Kantian sense. Human dignity has been surpassed by ideology and a sort of religious belief in adherence to rights. We accept rights with the costs that come with it, but the 2nd amendment might straddle the fence as to how much we are actually willing to pay in a modern, peaceful society.

        If the right for one individual to protect themselves (a speculation at best), is worth the deaths of some 10,000 people nation wide, then how can we say that this does not exemplify our worship of the mere thought of security versus actual safety. The defense of this statement inexorably leads us into the evidential arguments which will be submitted in the coming weeks. I hope to receive some feedback for this post along with counter arguments. I have given a really basic account of rights and utilitarianism in order to keep it friendly to everyone so if the best a comment can do is critique my portrayal of Kant or the Constitution then save it unless you’re really trying to assert something worth talking about. Remember, the core argument is Right versus Good. It doesn’t matter which side that you tend to fall on, but there is a resolution that must be accepted between both. Imagine yourself as the single decider in the matter. The fate of the country rested on you. How would you decide the law of guns and why? How would you explain yourself to the people that went against you?

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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.

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?

For about a month now the culture wars have become the new epicenter for political controversy. The media for the time being have shied away from Jobs and Deficit talk to shit-kick social conservatism and the rights of religion, and briefly took time to mention things like gas prices to keep the public’s blood at a simmer for President Obama. There is nothing like election season for those who want to sound the alarms for social issues and this has been an Indian summer. With the Republican race drawing to a close, and the candidates, having exhausted what little they have to offer on economic policy, turned to topics of social conservatism in education. Rick Santorum has been calling Obama a snob for wanting everyone to be able to go to college or trade schools. This type of anti-intellectual sentiment is fuel for the conservative fire, and in particular the red states that have the lowest student competency rates. Reproductive rights have been making the headlines. The discussion on invasive trans-vaginal sonograms for women choosing abortion, have created uproar in the states implementing that policy into law. And now, the new topic is about contraception.

Most of us under the age of 35 have received some level of sex-ed in school. I can almost vaguely remember through the fog of teenage indifference, some elderly health teacher demonstrating how to put a condom on using props. And while perhaps the message itself may have been lost on the students in class, the conversation was there and it was not taboo for teens and pre-teens to discuss the parameters of sexual relationships. It was in this generation that adults stopped being willfully ignorant of teenage sexuality and started to address the problem with education and forwardness at home. Parents were being encouraged to have the talk with their teens and pre-teens regarding the responsibility that sex requires to be practiced safely. “I don’t care what you do, just use a condom,” my dad told me when I was 12 or 13, “If you need me to, I’ll buy them for you.”

So here is how the story goes: Under Obama’s healthcare reform employers are mandated to offer contraception to their employees. This includes religious organizations. I’m sure you can see the issue already if you haven’t heard about or read about it by now. Conservative organizations and companies that often employ secular workers, such as schools, have reserved the right to withhold the coverage for contraceptives in all their forms because it conflicts with their religious values. They also claim that not paying the insurance companies for contraceptive coverage lowers their premiums, ultimately saving them some pence on the pound. The evidence for this is inconclusive and speculative, and there are lots of conflicting reports as to whether or not this claim is accurate in the numbers. Regardless, the main defense for the conservatives was the economic basis for having to offer coverage for contraception, and by comparison, little was focused on the moral issue. Well there is a reason for that.

I think most people are familiar with what church doctrine has to say about contraception. While the bible doesn’t mention anything about latex condoms, some historians believe there were tonics and other rituals practiced as means to have sex without conceiving that predate the beginning of the Common Era. It wasn’t until 1968 when Pope Paul VI wrote the Encyclical Letter entitled Humanae Vitae where the magisterium of the church officially condemned the use of birth control. It says, “We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children.” So it follows that Catholics cannot use birth control as it goes against God’s law. Related to this is an interesting statistic that’s been making its rounds both in public discourse and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi used it on the senate floor: 98% of American Christian Women have used contraception. Some media outlets have taken the liberty of making the number 99% in the wake of that numbers new significance. The study that produced this number has come under some fire because it is so overwhelmingly one-sided making many people skeptical. The most accurate way to word the findings is, “Data shows that 98 percent of sexually experienced women of child-bearing age and who identify themselves as Catholic have used a method of contraception other than natural family planning at some point in their lives,” according to a spokesperson for the study itself. Regardless, even if the number was around 50%, that still is a substantial amount of women who have used contraception at least once, and that goes against the Catholic Church. This can mean one of two things. The first is that a super majority of women and presumably men think they know better about their belief system than the authorities on the topic, i.e. the Pope. Or, that the actual rules set by their faith are less important than the professions and image of upholding their belief system. Everyone becomes a type of apologist because they can rationalize their excuses for not being a slave to their faith and using practical means to ensure a safe and healthy lifestyle.

So senate republicans tried to repeal President Obama’s ruling on contraception coverage. After having held a hearing comprising of almost all religious men, they decided it was necessary to reverse the mandate on moral grounds, but argue it in terms of economics and the right to offer what ever coverage they saw necessary. Besides, if a secular person wants to work in a catholic school, shouldn’t the just accept the conditions? Well perhaps, but why shouldn’t the organizations just offer the coverage and leave the devices of contraception usage and sin up to the employee. The devout wouldn’t be using them anyway presumably. And then the argument went to its logical end when it was brought up that any form of payment could possibly lead to the purchasing of contraception, for which the religious organizations would be facilitating anyway. In the end, the real dispute became about allowing religious organizations to have more immunity (or amnesty) from the common laws of men. The repeal was defeated 51 to 48 in the senate with party lines intact. Only one republican voted against the reversal, the departing Olympia Snowe of Maine.

One woman was allowed to testify for the case to uphold the mandate. Her name is Sandra Fluke. The woman of whom Rush Limbaugh undeservedly stole 15 minutes of fame from by calling her a slut and a prostitute, referring to his fact that the taxpayers would be paying for her to have sex. Her testimony is attached here, it explains pretty thoroughly the importance of equal coverage for everyone with regards to contraceptives and why it has become a need.

I think we do have a right to casual sex now. Maybe it’s not so clean cut as that sounds, but we, in practice, exercise this freedom rather vigorously. This is independent of whether or not you repent for it afterwards. For the prudish organizations of our culture to claim the right of exemption on the premise of divinity has long outlasted its nuance. What is worse is when they seek immunity so they can limit the freedoms of their loyalists or at the very least, their workers. For the first time in this century, and the second time in American history, sexual freedom is a form of rebellion. This time, we reserve the right to be able to do it safely.

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.

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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.