Friday, December 4, 2009

The Pro-Life Advocates of Death

Only the philosophical, not biological, implications of life and man's nature are relevant for the problem of abortion. From the philosophical standpoint, the creation of a zygote is no more significant than having one's hair cut. The concept of murder is only relevant within the context of individual rights. Such rights are possessed only by rational beings because they are the basic requirement for the survival of those who have reason. Rational beings need to be left alone in order to survive and, therefore, to think. On the other hand, the concept of rights cannot be applied to non-rational animals or inanimate objects because freedom can be neither exercised nor understood by those devoid of reason. 

That is why the crucial watershed that defines man qua man is the moment when he becomes rational, i.e. an adult. As you can see, there is nothing arbitrary about this watershed because rationality is the essence of man's nature.

Meanwhile, children are potentially rational beings but not actually so. The concept of rights is applied to them only by extension and in a very limited form. Their rights are severely restricted because a lack of rational capacity would not allow them to enjoy individual rights. They cannot be murdered, of course, because they still enjoy a limited freedom required by their potentially rational nature. Moreover, children become "partially rational," as it were, from a very early age, and a child is a constant state of transition to rationality. It would be arbitrary to pinpoint any moment from birth onward and until adulthood and authorize their killing on account of their "irrationality."

Embryos are even farther removed from the realm of rationality. Unlike children, they have no rational features at all. They are potentially children but their potentiality as rational beings is too remote and insignificant to be even taken into account. To argue that this dubious potentiality entitles them to individual rights, including a right to life, is absurd because, based on that logic, sperm cells and egg cells are also potentially human, though their potentiality is even more remote. Moreover, since cloning technology allows egg cells to be fertilized even by ordinary cells, any cell in a human body is potentially a rational being. Come to think about it, a certain combination of nitrogen, oxygen, carbon, sulfur and other elements in a particular proportion is potentially a rational being - the only thing one needs to do is to link the atoms into molecules and molecules into an entire organism. Does that mean that these atoms should have individual rights? Thus, this ludicrous chain of potentiality can be stretched ad infinitum, ad nauseam and ad absurdum. 

The absurd claim that a bundle of cells inside your body possesses a right to life not only does little to promote liberty (which is applicable only to rational beings) but also provides boundless opportunities for invading and totally destroying the rights of the "host". Stretching the concept of rights so far into the realm of absurdity deprives this concept of its very meaning. It is indeed by creating bogus and non-existent rights - the rights of various non-rational beings and entities - that the enemies of liberty succeed in obliterating real rights. Consider "positive rights", "economic rights", "animal rights", the rights of nature, "ethnic rights", "national rights" and rights to a free lunch of all sorts and varieties.

The logic of some anti-abortionists is indeed akin to that of Marxists. Promoting hatred for a supposed "oppressor" - in this case the mother - and victimizing a certain group - in this case the "oppressed" pseudo-class of embryos - are key tools for ensuring that people blame others for their failures and engage in lynching, fear-mongering and enemy-bashing instead of living a prosperous and productive life. 

Entrenching "embryo rights" would potentially give a "pro-life" dictator virtually totalitarian control of the "oppressor". If an embryo has "rights", it would be legitimate for the government to protect it by not only banning abortion but also by prescribing a certain diet for the mother if necessary and by controlling the "host" in every possible way to avoid hurting the "parasite." A triumph of anti-abortionists would turn all women into nothing more than breeding sows doing their selfless service for the sake of the Fuehrer, Nation, Class or God. 

Another interesting aspect is that, if abortion is indeed murder, it should be subject to a capital punishment or a life sentence at least in some cases. But few, except the looniest fanatics, would actually advocate such cruelty. I suspect that this contradiction has to do something with the fact that pro-lifers subconsciously feel that their views clash with reality.

It is not a coincidence that abortion bans have been imposed by the most totalitarian and irrational tyrannies. Though abortion was initially legalized by the Bolsheviks as part of pre-communist period's liberal (in the good sense) inertia, it was eventually banned by Stalin, not exactly a champion of human rights. In Nazi Germany, abortion was punished with death. Most Muslim countries ban abortions, excluding early ones, while some of them prohibit all abortions without exception. An abortion ban was the first thing Ayatollah Khomeini did when he succeeded in establishing a theocratic dictatorship in Iran.  

It would be preposterous to argue that anti-abortion gangs promote their ideas out of "love" for embryos. Love is an extremely complex conceptual phenomenon that can only be applied to a rational (fully or partially) being. Love is inapplicable to irrational or inanimate beings. The actual motive driving "pro-lifers" is not love but hatred - hatred for the mothers who choose their "selfish" life instead of being selfless breeding swine. It is only when a baby is desired that maternal love can be truly felt. Consider what exactly pro-lifers condemn unwilling mothers and unwanted children to. It is a life of misery for both of them - procreation out of selfless duty. In the less prosperous societies it even means pushing society farther to the brink of starvation, with the burden of unwanted infants pushing it into the abyss (consider Africa). 

To sum up, in so far as abortion bans are a violation of individual rights and thus an impediment to human survival, the pro-life movement is, ironically, anti-life. On the most fundamental level, it is certainly pro-death.


Reasonsjester said...

Well, I don't claim to have all the answers. But my instinct is to side with Aristotle over Ayn Rand. I have read some more Aristotle and it confirms that he would hold that a human being is in the very essence of a human being. Not in the abstract form of a human being, which is rationality, but in the essence, which is the organism capable of becoming a human being (not an egg or sperm but a "zygote"). The analogy can be extended to an acorn - which has the "form" of an oak tree, to apply Aristotelian thinking. But I will make sure to read more of Rand's thinking and listen to more lectures. I don't claim to be able to solve this philosophical conundrum. (Is a fetus a part of the mother or an individual-in-becoming?)

Reaganx said...

Regardless of whether Aristotle's essence theory is correct (I believe it is incorrect, though some of its aspects are "premonitions" of Objectivism in a certain sense), it is not applicable to the problem of abortion. This problem is only relevant in the context of individual rights - the context that Aristotle was not aware of. It is purely Lockean in origin.