En Tequila Es Verdad/progressive conservatism/post/2009/02/03/0701

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February 3, 2009 7:01 AM - Woozle

Woozle said...

Mike - I feel your pain ;-) We had power out for 3-4 days this past summer, and again this winter -- if not for the 3kw gasoline generator, things would have been a real mess. Wish we had a battery bank, and some solar panels... even just as a supplement to the generator.

No rush on the response; I've got this page's comment-feed in my RSS reader, so I'll see it whenever you respond.


Re Russ Douthat: I've heard that name before -- apparently he doesn't quite get the Celestial Teapot analogy, so his reasoning powers are already suspect... but let's see what he's got.

First, he quotes a chunk from Damon Linker which sets up the dichotomy between those who believe abortion to be an "act of lethal violence" versus those who favor the rights of the potential mother.

I was going to grant that setup and skip it, but on further reflection I do not think you can describe modern abortion as "violent". If you make it illegal, on the other hand, the data would seem to indicate that the same number of women will end up with coat-hangers in the back alley, which is arguably somewhat violent (especially to the fetus) or at least gruesome. So right there Linker is using emotional imagery to mislead people in a direction which would actually make the cited problem worse -- and Douthat is quoting this approvingly as an anti-abortion argument. Tsk.

Linker continues: "These are contrary and incompatible metaphysical assumptions about matters of life and death and human dignity."

"Metaphysical"? It's difficult to know what he means by that. Definitions of "metaphysics" include "philosophical enquiry of a non-empirical character into the nature of existence" and "1 a (1): a division of philosophy that is concerned with the fundamental nature of reality and being and that includes ontology, cosmology, and often epistemology (2): ontology 2 b: abstract philosophical studies : a study of what is outside objective experience"

Is he saying that abortion rights are an ontological matter? Or outside objective experience? I don't see how either of those are true.

I expect the claim he's trying to smuggle in here is that the question of "when personhood begins" is "outside objective experience" -- which begs two questions: (1) what do we mean by "personhood", and (2) how does its presence affect the circumstances under which abortion is appropriate.

It sounds like he's trying to conflate the philosophical idea of "personhood" (which is arguably "metaphysical", if not completely meaningless) with the legal personhood, i.e. when a fetus becomes a person whose life society is obliged to defend.

Legal personhood is hardly a metaphysical question; if the law says you're a person, then you're legally a person. You can make a lot of different arguments about what criteria legal personhood should be based on, but claiming it should rest on some kind of subjective, unmeasurable, and ill-defined (i.e. "metaphysical") concept can only lead to conflict, as we will all have different subjective ideas about it.

You can't argue the rights and wrongs of any issue on purely subjective grounds, because it gives opposing viewpoints no matters of factual disagreement to resolve by objective measurement and no areas of commonality to stand on in agreement.

What he wants us to do, of course, is swallow the "metaphysical" claim whole, and then have us believe that his idea of what metaphysics says about abortion (what does it say, anyway?) should hold sway -- not just be given equal credibility to rational argument, but should be considered more important because they address this fuzzy thing called "metaphysics" which he claims is the only way to address these issues.


Linker: "On that day, the Constitution ceased to be neutral on this matter of metaphysics."

The Supreme Court says "the question of the fetus's personhood and rights may be metaphysical, but the question of the mother's rights as a living independent human being are pretty clearly written in the Constitution."

In other words: if the Court has, in fact, become non-neutral with regard to metaphysics, the way in which it has done so is to determine that metaphysics should not trump objective reality.

Linker's second paragraph proceeds from his false conclusion about Roe v. Wade, so I'll skip it.

Douthat's essay then builds further on Linker's bogus point, adding an analogy between Roe v. Wade and Bush's many revocations of civil rights.

Again: we have arguments for why the revocations of civil rights were not only wrong but unnecessary; all the pro-life camp seems to have by way of argument is "metaphysics" about "when life I mean personhood begins"... and generally take a stance of being unwilling to examine that position.

Any stance whose adherents refuse to examine its reasoning is essentially a hostile intruder at the negotiating table -- a hustler in the marketplace of ideas -- and has not earned any respect, much less the respect of federal law.


Re resolving the question of "can a progressive be a conservative?" -- I'm not sure what the overlap is on what we've concluded. I would say that it's possible for someone to be both progressive and conservative, but in practice I don't see anyone who calls themselves a "conservative" actually being what can be reasonably called "progressive". I would further suggest that "rational conservatism" is a large part of what many people who call themselves "liberals" are doing these days.