A Philosopher's Blog

Anti-Abortion as a “Cheap” Moral Position

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on September 17, 2012
, member of the United States House of Represe...

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A moral position comes with a price, or more accurately, prices. After all, the cost of holding a position is one thing and the cost of actually acting upon that position can be quite another.  There is also the matter of the cost of professing a moral position—after all, one might hold a position that is kept secret or profess a position one does not actually hold.

This, of course, assumes that a person can hold a moral position while not acting upon it—something that seems not only intuitively plausible but actually likely in many cases. For example, a person might hold to the view that s/he should help others in need, yet drive past someone in need because it is, for example, raining a bit too hard. It might be objected that a person who does not act upon a moral position does not actually hold that position, but this seems analogous to laws: it is one thing to have a law on the books and quite another to actually enforce it.

The price of a moral position can also vary considerably from person to person depending on the specifics of their situation. For example, the cost of holding and acting on a moral position supporting free speech is very low in the United States and rather higher in China. While the general notion of costs could be discussed at great length, I must now turn to discussing the main concern, namely being anti-abortion as a “cheap” moral position, specifically in the United States.

Obviously enough, the cost of holding to and acting upon an anti-abortion moral position will vary from person to person. In some cases, the cost could be very high indeed. For example, imagine a young girl living in poverty who has been impregnated by rape and is also morally against abortion. For her, the cost of acting upon her position could be very high indeed. In other cases, the cost could be fairly low. For example, a wealthy man who has no children could almost certainly hold and act on the anti-abortion position with far less cost than the girl in the previous example. It is also worth noting that the cost of a moral position can also be a cost inflicted on others. For example, while the man in the second example might pay little personal cost for his position, if he were an influential politician and acted on his position to create laws, then the cost of his position might be high for others. For example, if he saw to it that abortion was outlawed in all cases, then the girls and women affected could pay very high prices indeed for his moral position.

In the United States, there is almost no difference between men and women in regards to their views on the issue of abortion (and most American favor the right to abortion). What is, however, rather interesting is that the politicians and pundits who most actively claim an anti-abortion position are men. For example, Paul Ryan and Todd Akin have gotten considerable attention for their professed views on abortion.  Naturally, it is worth noting that in the United States women are still in the minority when it comes to holding office or being a national pundit.

It is also interesting, but hardly surprising, that those who take the anti-abortion view tend to be social conservatives or religious (or both). For people in these categories, the cost of their position varies considerably.

For example, the Catholic Church takes a strong stance against abortion. However, the Catholic Church pays a price for this position in that Catholic charities provide aid and support to girls and women who seek help from them. As such, the church is clearly willing to bear at least some of the cost of holding and acting on the anti-abortion moral position. To be specific, they are unwilling to push the full cost of their moral position onto others by simply telling them “no abortions, but you and the child are on your own.” Rather they say “no abortions, but we will help you in your need.” Obviously enough, the Catholic Church can still be criticized for its position, but it would be wrong to fault them for their charity. Unfortunately, some people take the anti-abortion position but want to get it on the cheap.

As noted above, many of those who hold to the anti-abortion position are social conservatives. It is thus not surprising that they also tend to be fiscal conservatives and thus typically oppose social programs aimed at helping those in poverty or need. Republican VP pick Paul Ryan, for example, is well known for embracing Ayn Rand’s economic views regarding these sorts of altruistic (or “collectivist”) programs. He did, however, attempt to distance himself from Rand in some philosophical matters. After all, Rand was not known for her theism and was a clear supporter of abortion rights (which are consistent with her other views).

While many women are in the position to have children without undue hardship, there are also many women and girls who are not in such a position. For example, girls in the lower economic classes are generally ill able to bear the cost of pregnancy and raising a child. There is also the matter of the cost of an unwanted pregnancy in terms of a person’s life plans. For example, an unwanted pregnancy can put an end to hopes of an education or career. There is, of course, also the matter of pregnancy inflicted by rape and the potential costs to the victim.

As might be imagined, cutting or eliminating social programs in accord with the conservative ideology would mean that the women and girls in question would bear the costs of the anti-abortion position of those holding to the conservative position on abortion. As such, it would seem that the anti-abortion and anti-social support views of the conservatives would entail that the women and girls would bear the cost of these views rather than those holding to the views.

These views are, of course, generally cheap for the holders in question. After all, people like Ryan and Akin are unlikely to be in a situation in which someone close to them is experiencing an unwanted pregnancy and also lacking in financial support.  As such, they can hold to their view with little chance of having to pay a meaningful or significant price. It is, in effect, a free moral stance for them. However, for the women and girls who experience an unwanted pregnancy and lack adequate means of support, the cost would be rather high indeed if the anti-abortion and anti-social support views became the laws of the land.

One interesting (and ironic) way to characterize the approach of social and fiscal conservatives who are anti-abortion and anti-social support is as engaging in ethical parasitism. That is, they are holding to moral positions while expecting others to pay the cost of these views. A less harsh way to put it is that they are living on ethical subsidies: the costs of their moral views are subsidized by other people who would pay the actual cost, should those views be imposed upon the country. Since I am opposed to such free-loading, I am morally opposed to these moral welfare kings who are unwilling to pay for their own ethics.

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Two Conservatives

Posted in Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on April 23, 2012

Karl Marx 1882 (edited)

Back in my undergraduate days, one of my political science professors semi-jokingly explained the difference between our  (the United States) political system and the Soviet system: “they have one political part, we have one more than that.” While this was obviously a oversimplification, he did make a very good point. After all, while we do get a choice, it is a rather limited choice between the Republican or the Democrat.

Because we just have two truly viable parties, this tends to create a political compression in which people are often forced to pick a party that does not, in fact, reflect their full range of beliefs. While this is true of the Democrats, it has really stood out for the Republicans as that party has gone through the process of selecting their 2012 candidate. To be specific, this process has made it rather clear that there are at least two distinct types of conservatives.

The first type is the fiscal conservative. Being a fiscal conservative is generally taken to involve being conservative about taxation and  government spending. To be more specific, fiscal conservatives favor keeping both of these at a minimum.

While I typically get branded as a liberal, I am actually a fiscal conservative: I favor lowering taxes and government expenditures to a minimal level consistent with the government fulfilling its legal and moral duties (such as defense). I am also against wasteful spending, corruption, and pork. As might be imagined, the disputes tend to get started when it comes to the matter of defining the legal and moral duties of the state.

The second type is the social conservative. Being a social conservative is generally taken to involve the idea that one should conserve (or preserve) “the way things were” and thus avoid change in social areas.  The social areas include things such as religion, morals, race-relations, gender roles and so on. As might be imagined, there are degrees of conservatism in this area. Some folks tend to regard almost any change in the social areas as suspicious and would prefer to keep everything as it was. Others are considerably more flexible and focus on conserving what they regard as good, but are willing to accept certain changes. Of course, a “conservative” who is too willing to accept change (even good change) runs the obvious risk of becoming a liberal or even a progressive.

In a limited sense, I am a conservative: I am quite willing to conserve what is good and I am against changing things without justification. This is, of course, a reasonable position: to infer that past idea, morals and values are incorrect simply because they are old is just as fallacious as assuming that they are correct just because they are old. The age of such things, at least by itself, has no bearing on their goodness or badness. As might be imagined, being a conservative in this sense is not what people usually think of when they think of what it is to be a conservative. After all, someone who thinks that something should be conserved on the basis of rational arguments for its goodness just seems to be, well, rational. As such, a mere willingness to conserve what is both old and good does not seem to be enough to count as a social conservative. The question is, of course, what more is needed.

While some might take the easy path and try to define conservatives against a straw man version of the liberal, that would be rather unfair and not exactly reasonable. It would, of course, be equally unfair to present a straw man version of the conservative. That said, given that the political vocabulary is so limited in this regard, it might be rather hard to avoid creating straw men.

The easy and obvious approach is to regard social conservatives as  people who regard the way things have been in the social areas as being correct. Naturally, if they claim that such things are good because they are old or traditional, they are committing the classic fallacy of appeal to tradition. If they prefer such things because of their psychology, then this says why they believe what they do, but does nothing to support the correctness of said beliefs. After all, if they just like the old and dislike the new, this does nothing to show that the old is good and the new is bad. It just says something about their mental states. To use the obvious analogy, the fact that I have some preference for music from my college days does not entail that the music of today is inferior or bad. Likewise, the fact that some folks prefer the music of today to the music of that time does not prove that the music of the 1980s is inferior.

To avoid falling into fallacies, a conservative would need to argue that the traditional value are better than the liberal alternatives based on grounds other than mere tradition. That is, they need to show that the traditional values (as they see them) are good, rather than saying that they are good because they are traditional. Of course, this would make such people contingent conservatives. After all, their commitment would be to what is good rather than what is merely traditional and this would leave open the possibility that they could accept “liberal” values as good. Unless, of course, it is a matter of necessity that traditional values are always better than the liberal values. The challenge then, obviously enough, is to account for the initial goodness of today’s conservative values-after all, there are various much older values that they replaced.

It is, of course, somewhat tempting to take “liberal” and “conservative” as being marketing and rhetorical terms rather than having much value in categorizing political views. After all, people who identify as liberals take being a liberal to involve the virtues of tolerance, acceptance and so on while regarding conservatives as clinging to an unjust past out of fear of change. In response, those who identify as conservatives often see themselves as defending what is good and holy from the depravity of the godless liberals and their agenda.

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Republican Battle Circle

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on September 29, 2011
Ron Paul, member of the United States House of...

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The Republican presidential candidates face the standard double challenge of the out party. On the one hand, each of the candidates faces the challenge of overcoming his/her rivals and becoming the actual presidential candidate. On the other hand, the contenders need to (or should) be concerned about the nature of the in-party fighting. After all, each attack launched on a fellow candidate can provide the rival party with one more piece of ammunition to use in the actual election.  It can also cause strains within the party, making it harder to pull together for the election. Of course, if a candidate goes too easy or does not return fire when attacked by a fellow candidate, then they can be perceived as a weak candidate.

This challenge is somewhat like what a team faces while sorting out who will be varsity and who will be junior varsity. If they compete too hard among themselves, then they can end up injured and do poorly when it comes to actual competition with other teams. However, if they do not compete enough, then sorting out the division will be rather difficult.

While such infighting has occurred in the past, this year seems especially harsh. First, this is no doubt partially due to the fact that politics seems even more negative and contentious than in recent years and this has become a way of operating even within the party.

Second, there is also the fact that the pool of candidates is rather large, which might lead the candidates to compete even more fiercely to stand out and to stake out their own territory.

Third, there is faction factor. The Republican party contains the Tea Party and various other very active groups (such as the various social conservatives) and the candidates need to pander to these groups and their ideology in order to succeed. These groups seem to be often defined by what they do not like (taxes, gays, immigration, health care, and so on). Hence appealing to them typically involves taking a strong (or even extreme) position against what the groups in question do not like. However, specific candidates often need to hold positions contrary to one (or more) of these groups in order to do well (for example) in their current office. For example, Perry has taken shots regarding the matter of illegal aliens. Bashing another candidate on this matter is thus very appealing in that it appeals to the group in question, it can weaken the opponent, and it can enable the attacker to stand out. One obvious problem with this approach has been that the in-party bashing and pandering to the various factions has led the various factions to disagree with each other in regards to the candidates. This creates something of a problem for the Republican candidates since there is no candidate who has yet been able to gain the approval of the majority of the factions. This will, no doubt, be settled by the party insiders at the appropriate time. However, it would be interesting to see a candidate or two decide to strike out on their own after being rejected by the Republican party.

A final point of concern is that the more that a candidate tries to win over the more extreme factions, the worse the candidate will probably do in the general election. After all, the Republicans cannot win just be getting the Republican votes. They need the independents and perhaps even some Democrats.

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