Monday, March 06, 2006

On the helpless

I was going to let the South Dakota abortion story go (honestly). Until I read this quote:

"In the history of the world, the true test of a civilization is how well people treat the most vulnerable and most helpless in their society. The sponsors and supporters of this bill believe that abortion is wrong because unborn children are the most vulnerable and most helpless persons in our society. I agree with them."
-Governor Mike Rounds

This quote is ridiculous. Since when has the treatment of the most vulnerable and the most helpless been the measure of the morality of the civilization?

Furthermore, I find it convenient that Rounds' logic defines vulnerable and helpless in a manner perfectly consistent with the interests of his conservative constituents, and proponents of the legislation:

(1) In the history of the world, the true test of a civilization is how well people treat the most vulnerable and most helpless in their society.

(2) The sponsors and supporters of this bill believe that abortion is wrong because unborn children are the most vulnerable and most helpless persons in our society.

There are multiple problems here:

(1) Which civilization, and when? Certainly not a liberal regime, nor a totalitarian regime. The true test of a civilization in the history of the world appears to be connected to motives of power, and also, the longevity and sustenance of that regime. The most studied regimes in the history of the world are usually the most corrupt; but, it is the most morally corrupt empires that last longest because their dominance and coercion goes unmatched (some totalitarian regimes are exceptions to this rule; Stalinist, Fascist, and Maoist regimes will be studied for a very long time because of their relatively quick rises to power, and their terribly efficient methods of extinguishing humans).

(2) Okay, great, anti-abortion proponents believe that abortion is wrong because abortion kills unborn children; and unborn children are the most vulnerable and most helpless persons in our society:

(a) It is possible that others groups believe that other segments of the population are most vulnerable and most helpless. A list of these populations in American history might run: Native Americans, African Slaves, women, blacks, homeless people, the elderly, the poor, etc. You get the gist, right?

(b) Unborn children are only vulnerable and helpless persons if in fact one disconnects the requirement for moral action from the status of "personhood."

For instance, I am a person because I act morally: I make moral decisions and I act on them. Whether or not the outcome is right or wrong is not important here; rather, what is important is that I actually can bring those categories of right or wrong upon myself through actions.

Unborn infants can do no such things; they cannot act, nor can they act morally for that matter. Thus, it is not consistent with ethical action to place emotive categories such as "innocent" upon an entity that cannot act morally.

Unborn children are merely helpless because they do not have the capacity to act; abortion, of course, takes away the potentiality that unborn children might have to act. But, this type of action occurs all the time, at the hands of both liberal and totalitarian regimes: the death penalty, in this regard, executes defenseless persons (albeit, defenseless persons that purportedly committed morally wrong acts); genocide of both Native Americans and African slaves rendered many persons defenseless; this is a greater extent of "helplessness" than prisoners, because in many cases Natives or Africans were never actually given the opportunity to be judged on the terms of their unique cultural morality; these groups also failed to receive an opportunity to be equally involved in the realm of morality that was promoted by their dominant groups.

Homeless people provide an interesting example. Beneath a political association (liberalism) that is intended to protect private property, thus life, liberty, and estate, one is necessarily excluded from such an order if one has no estate. Thus, while it is possible for a homeless person to make a moral decision, it is nearly impossible for a homeless person to gain any significant position of protection within the prevalent political order while homeless. The same can be said of the poor, although to a lesser degree: the poor have some estate, just not enough to compete with the Joneses of the liberal political order.

"Helpless" is hardly a meaningful moral term in political issues; for, if we take what it means to be "defenseless" seriously, then it seems as though we have lots of unwanted consequences, and a lot more defenseless groups, than is desired...

(4) The most meaningful moral category we could grant to the unborn is either "ignorant" or "not-yet-moral." Whichever term one decides to use will obviously be of political preference, but the outcome is the same: the unborn are non-moral entities.

Of course, this is why the unborn need moral protection, right? Great. But, which other non-moral entities are we going to grant moral protection to?

Why is it that our politicans can so easily ignore some suffering, morally helpless populations, and yet exclusively cater to others?

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