Choice and Moral Agency

A prominent pro-choice Catholic responds to Pollitt and Saletan.

The dialogue between Katha Pollitt and William Saletan over morality in the abortion debate has been overwhelmingly well-received in the Fray and has generated some of the Fray’s finest posts in recent weeks. One such comment comes by way of Frances Kissling of Catholics for a Free Choice, who writes:

Having followed with great interest the dialogue between Katha and Will and the responses in the “fray,” many things surprise me. I think this discussion embodies the core tensions within prochoice circles at this time. The fact that not a single leader of the movement has entered the dialogue is disturbing. Consider this a plea to those who are providers of services and advocates for reproductive health to use the forum provided to let people know what our values are. Everywhere I go people are eager to know what we really believe, beyond sound bites and spin, about very complicated aspects of women’s rights and fetal value. There seems to be a prevailing liberal sensibility that letting people know what you believe is synonymous with being “judgmental” or imposing your views on others. Saying, for example, “I believe, or my organization believes” (as we do in Catholics for a Free Choice) “that valuing yourself means taking the greatest care not to create life you cannot bring to personhood or into the world is a moral and social good, is jumped on as anti-woman.

Again, my own experience in working with the “persuadables” as well as women who are considering abortion or have had abortions is that they are smart enough to distinguish between the expression of a personal or institutional value and the desire to coerce.

The major difficulty I see for those of us who are strong advocates of a framework for legal abortions that stresses near-absolutism for women as decision makers (a position I agree with) is that it rarely acknowledges or allows room for the public consequences of such a policy. Pregnancy and child birth are private acts with public consequences. The old way of looking at this was the population control impulse – we don’t want to let women decide to have as many children as they want because we as a society end up absorbing the consequences. A newer dimension is genuine public concern about the relationship between abortion and building a society in which many forms of life are valued – fetuses, animals, nature, This concern emerges from a fear that prochoice advocates, who constantly hammer away about the “who” of abortion, may be distancing themselves from the “what” of abortion in a way that devalues all human life.

While I think there is more work to be done on Will’s statement that “It is bad to kill a fetus”, he does a service by putting it out there so boldly. There are many problems with the word “bad” and how it is heard. A more nuanced way of saying this is that the act of abortion is not a moral good. Things that are not moral goods are not necessarily immoral or bad. And they may, as is the case with abortion, be often justifiable and almost always have positive outcomes.

Unfortunately, in the world of politics and in the face of an unrelenting and increasingly successful political effort to simply deny women the opportunity for moral reflection by making abortion illegal, thoughtful moral discourse in which ambiguity is honored is seen as impossible. I say that it is not impossible and it is, in fact, what most Americans are rightly struggling with in the abortion debate. As a prochoice advocate, I want my movement to help shape this struggle, which includes living with public discomfort, as we discuss how to balance women’s predominant right to make decisions about their lives and society’s right to be involved in questions of respect for human life, even for life that is not yet a person and properly is not accorded rights. We are great(?) and correct in demanding the conditions that would enable women to make non-coerced decisions about having children and having an abortion, but we must also be prepared to speak out for personal responsibility as well. I respect women too much to let them off the hook about preventing conception by complaining about how difficult it is to use contraception. Get over it. Women are competent capable moral agents. Being a moral agent means hearing from others what they think responsibility entails. Take it or leave it, but don’t expect not to hear it.
To reply to Kissling’s post, click here11:35 a.m.


Monday, January 30, 2005

Howie’s House of Leather: Michael Kinsley believes that Democrats are masochists, a party that loves nothing more than to engage in “endless self-flagellation about their values and beliefs.” Is that the case, or are Republicans just better at ignoring the self-insights that come with political loss? SmallVoice writes that

A contest between Rovean Republicanism and the Democrats is like a match between a gentleman who plays by the Marquis of Queensbury rules and a Manila street whore with a switchblade.
Demo-masochist Arlington2 maintains that
Democrats sit around and agonize over issues like prescription drug plans. Republicans take bold, decisive action. Sure, it’s always wrong, but it’s still bold and decisive.
And pointpetre1 saw the dynamic Kinsley describes in action on Saturday night, with Slate’s own Will Saletan as an accessory. JLF feels that the (D)s need to articulate something akin to the Contract With America—“saying precisely what they believed in and what they would do about it if put in control.” But Are They Good for the Joooooos?: No one can figure out whether Hamas’ vault to power in the territories is a good thing. The_Bell seems to think so:
Israel is trading an opponent with friendly rhetoric that could never make good on its promises for one with unfriendly rhetoric that has and could prove effective in meeting its own. Fatah is loosely organized and full of dissenting factions, whereas Hamas has a far tighter link between its political and paramilitary branches. That such a link even exists is disquieting but it may allow Hamas to get things done where Fatah never could.

Prior to the campaign, during it, and in the immediate aftermath of their victory, Hamas has shown an insight in dealing with others politically and the discipline to enforce what was required. Hamas has done more than any other armed faction to honor the truce that President Abbas brokered in February. It has not carried out a suicide bombing since August 2004…Yet there is more reason to be glad for Hamas’s victory than simply trying to make a good case for a bad outcome. The fact that Hamas is very separate from Fatah and not regarded nearly so favorably internationally could allow both Israel and the West to undo much of the wrongs they created when negotiating with Fatah. Yes, the chance of Palestinian independence is virtually dead at the moment and the Mideast Peace Process may be set back to square one but it also represents a second chance at that process which I, for one, never expected might happen.
DonaldWolberg takes an entirely different, hard-line stance:
One suspects that little or no damage was done to a peace process that never really existed, and it is either serendipitous or brilliance that Sharon figured all this would happen anyway, and it was far better to disengage, build a strong wall and leave the Palestinians to their own devices and corruption. Israel is now physically and politically separated from the current chaos and bloodletting between Fatah and Hamas.

As its enemies battle over their interpretation of “power,” Israel can regroup, hold its own elections and prepare for its real test, the emergence of an Iranian threat. It is not the chaos in Gaza or elsewhere in the Palestinian territories that threatens Middle Eastern and world peace, it is the madness from the other side of the Middle East, Iran.

…Hammas and Fatah will continue to rip at each other. The Palestinian people will wonder why still more destruction has befallen them. Either Hamas or Fatah will prevail; right now Fatah has more guns and bullets, or the United nations will attempt to intervene with a new mission and the cycle will begin once more.
What bothers ptcruiser most about the elections was “the repeated references to Hamas’ electoral victory as shocking.” For cruiser, this surprise embodies a tone-deafness in the West that goes to underscore why the region is such a mess. His post is here. Indie This!:Bryan Curtis blows the lid off the myth that art houses are more civilized than googleplexes in his most recent Middlebrow column. Splendid_IREny, art house frequenter, bristles at the notion that art house cinemas are caverns for the lonely:
Curtis is implying that going to a movie by oneself at the multiplex is inherently more social than doing the same at the art house? Having attended both by myself, at times, I haven’t gauged one being more or less fulfilling as a social setting. Moreover, if I really want to see the film in the theater, that’s what’s important to me. Not who is or isn’t in the theater at the same time.
… but S_I shares Curtis’ disdain for the social autism of the “Crinkler” and introduces a hi-tech descendent of the Crinkler. Click here for S_I’s ecology of the screening room. Keifus offers a defense of movie theater chatter here. Fray editor tends to fall somewhere between Curtis and Keifus. Sure, the call-and-response crowd at the Magic Johnson Theatres is pretty insufferable, but there’s nothing more annoying that the ironists who insist on chuckling through the funny scenes of ShoahKA1:30 p.m.


Monday, January 23, 2005

Political expression has been the raison d’être of the Fray since its advent, with proclamations ranging from the ad hominem attack to the introspective confession. When Fraysters want to mingle, they partake in a parlor game of political self-classification. But today, Fritz_Gerlich raises the ante for BOTFers with a more insightful exercise:

Can you state your political principles in 500 words or less?
Fritz tenders this stipulation to participants:
I don’t mean labels, clichés, jargon, or facetious epigrams. I mean a deliberate articulation of your guiding political principles, the ones that orient you to more specific issues, parties and personalities. Imagine you were running for office and were asked to submit such a statement. What would you write?
… And starts with his own. Here’s a sampling:
Human rights are the cornerstone of political legitimacy. While the concept of human rights can and does evolve, there is no doubt that at present they include: personal liberty, dignity, privacy, and bodily inviolability; due process of law administered by an independent judiciary; the right to own property; freedom of thought, belief, peaceable assembly, expression, and access to information; the right to participate in political and social decision-making on an equal basis with other citizens.

Aside from human rights, public goods take priority over private goods wherever the two are not consistent. Public goods include not only defense, civic order, justice and prosperity, but also the education, health and safety of all citizens and protection of the natural environment. Public goods are served both directly, through investment of public resources, and indirectly, through incentives for/against private investment or action. For both purposes, taxation is a necessary and beneficial exercise of public power.

Civil society and political government are distinct things. Each has its own nature and parameters, and each is essential to the maintenance of liberal democracy. In general, social order should evolve without political interference. There are occasions when such interference is unavoidable to prevent rapid deterioration of social harmony, but they are few, and the exercise of such interference is fraught with the danger of unforeseen consequences.
What say the civil libertarian?:
… each person has the right to do as he pleases, provided he does not harm others or unreasonably constrain their equal right to do as they please. In the economic realm, a man may compete with his rival in business, even up to the point of putting his rival out of business, but he may not steal his rival’s inventory or deface his advertisements. In the political and expressive realm, a person’s expressive freedom to make any argument or state any case—even dishonestly—is virtually unlimited, except insofar as justice and fairness demand he not conspire to deny any other person the right to rebuttal.

Justice and fairness do not in any way require equality of outcome, but they do require a maximal effort to ensure equality of opportunity, provided such efforts do not unnecessarily constrain the free exercise of personal liberty. It is therefore acceptable for a society to tax its citizens in order to provide for free and universal basic education and free and universal basic healthcare, just as it is acceptable to impose taxes in order to provide for police, courts, transportation infrastructure, and other fundamentals of life. But the economic burdens placed on individuals in order to affect more equal opportunity may not unreasonably constrain the right to self-determination…
… Or the objectivist?
There is no dignity in being a slave. It doesn’t provide for much privacy either. But who is a slave? Obviously, one who has no right to property and is entirely at his master’s mercy as to survival. It matters in the least how benevolent the master is. Thusly the right to own property is the fundamental one in respect to all other rights. Only capitalism provides for this right for everyone, regardless of race, religion and creed.

When the government infringes on peoples’ right to own property by confiscating some at its own discretion, it becomes a master and people become enslaved, because there is no such thing as a part-time slave. Either one is or one is not. That is what the Founders knew all too well and that is why there was no place for income tax in their vision of our Republic. Needless to say, the Republic achieved its present size, prosperity and international status without modifying this vision…
Or the postmodernist?
Politics is the struggle over the definition of reality. Ethics and morality are how we justify our own actions while attempting to limit those of others.
Here’s a follow-up for Fraysters: What is the most profound evolution in your political philosophy?  Get in on the game hereKA3:30 p.m.


Wednesday, January 18, 2005

Biting the Bullet: Canadian fraygrant Deej did it. FromtheEast thinks that the Tories could be headed for a majority in Ottawa though would prefer otherwise:

One of my colleagues was a DRO in a safe Tory riding for the advance polls. She reported that her advance poll actually ran out of ballots.

I think the majority/minority is going to turn on how the Conservative’s emerging strength in Quebec plays. They may take seats from the BQ (as a federalist anti-government vote) or from the Liberals. On the other hand they may set it up so that the BQ all but sweeps the province. In the first case, it looks like a Tory majority. In the second, a minority with a truly fragmented opposition. I hope that it’s the latter. The thought of Inky Mark in a position of real responsibility is almost too much to bear.
How is bacon voting?
Fuck them all. Jack Layton gets more weasely and dinkish with each passing day, Paul Martin appears to have completely lost touch with reality – every time I hear him talk I think of those madhouse scenes at the beginning and the end of Amadeus, I picture them wheeling him out of Parliament crying, “I absolve you, I absolve you all!” – and Stephen Harper is – well, still Stephen Harper, isn’t he?

Ugh. Fuck em. Gilles Duceppe for PM! Vive la difference!
And Vimy is going Green. How goes TQM and DawnCoyote? We’re waiting on ridings in Vancouver and … wherever the hell TQM lives. Plantation … All I Ever Wanted: Here’s The_Bell on Hillary Clinton’s slow descent into self-parody:
While I get what Clinton was trying to say, that has got to be one of the stupidest planned political sound bites I have heard in some time. A bit hyperbolic, perhaps? Sure, when I think of Eighteenth and Nineteenth Southern plantations, the systematic oppression of dissent is always the first thing that pops into my head. It is right up there with the way the crusades put such a kibosh on Holy Land tourism or how Nazism and the Third Reich gave such an undeservedly bad name to tattooing.SLAVE: Massah, I don’t want to pick cotton in the hot sun for twelve hours today.

[a whip crack is heard]

SLAVE: Oh, Lordy! I fear my First Amendment rights has done been trampled on yet agin.
Why would Clinton be compelled to use such a ridiculously out of place metaphor? Because her audience was black and it was easy? Well, that strikes me as rather pretentious and insulting, regardless of how well it was received. Worst of all, it completely overshadowing a far better and more meaningful point that Clinton made in the same speech, in which she offered an apology to a group of Hurricane Katrina survivors “on behalf of a government that left you behind, that turned its back on you.”
Wanda Why: In response to  Jody Rosen’s Music Box feature on Jamie Foxx’s new release, SpaceCadet writes:
To think we thought Foxx was making a joke on “Slow Jamz.” But he was serious, apparently, because you don’t make a silly song like that and follow it up with a song about a woman’s private parts being partly cloudy with a chance of showers without a wink or nod or a Weird Al Yankovic guest appearance. Even the album cover could have been a parody, but it’s a parody of a parody because it’s serious.

Bring Wanda back, Jamie!

When I was a Space Camper I read an interview in “Sassy” where Foxx basically made Christina Kelley (and even then she was a tough, take-no-prisoners type, for the ultra-cushy magazine world. She dared to call Keanu boring, after all!) feel uncomfortable asking about her bra size. Ewww. The man is sex-obsessed and, even at that tender age I could tell he didn’t know squat about how to be sexy.

The problem isn’t that Foxx doesn’t combine sin and sacrament like Marvin Gaye. Or that he can’t croon like Luther Vandross. Or even that he sounds like a more serious version of Smoove B. Foxx isn’t fit to wash their britches. The problem is he’s perpetuating crappy R&B, which we all thought he was against after SJamz and “Ray.”
Just like we thought Michael Jackson was over pyrotechnics after that Pepsi shoot … KA12:15 p.m.