Trump said some stuff about abortion, and the whole world went nuts. Almost all of the nuts-going involves category errors.
Here, for instance, is a very interesting piece on the pro-life movement as just another facet of feminist identity politics. He’s spot on about the weird “victim” language the pro-lifers use:
If you look deeper, you see this phony victimhood feminism all over the Pro-Life Movement. They coined the term “abortionist” to demonize the performer of the abortion, but they didn’t coin a term for the pregnant woman who brings the true victim before the abortionist. They also throw around the term “baby-killer” for the doctor, yet they don’t refer to the pregnant woman as a “baby-killer supplier” or a “fetus pimp”. And they refer to the whole class of abortionists, their places of work, and their PR / lobbying groups, as “the abortion industry” — but not to the whole class of pregnant women who seek out their services as the “mommy before fetus brats,” etc.
I disagree that this is feminist identity politics, but the language IS weird, and most of us — myself certainly included — are so inundated with it that we don’t notice how strange it is.
The real problem is Postmodernism. Let’s all say it together: “You can’t legislate morality!!”
Which is baloney, and always has been. Reduce every law code ever written to its fundamentals, and you’ll find a version of the Ten Commandments — don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t commit adultery, don’t murder, etc. Conversely, you can boil down every known moral code to a few hard-and-fast, black-letter laws — you hardly need a PhD in philosophy, for instance, to see that Kant’s famous Categorical Imperative (“treat others as ends, never means”) entails don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t murder, &c &c.
But since we’ve all swallowed the idea that “you can’t legislate morality!” — itself a moral dictum, if you think about it — we’re forced to tweak our laws to encourage behavior without specifying what the desired behavior is.
In Ye Good Olde Days, when adults were in charge in the West, we generally avoided making black-letter laws — not because we lacked for talented jurists, or didn’t have a class of parasitic busybodies just dying to run other people’s lives for them, but because as adults, we understood that most people are lazy, and the ones that aren’t are jailhouse lawyers. Lazy people don’t like to think, so if you forbid A and only A, then lazy folks won’t do A…. but they’ll assume that B-Z, which are also pretty bad, are ok, since legal. The jailhouse lawyers, meanwhile, will immediately set to work nibbling around the edges, such that The Law Against A soon must spell out every jot and tittle (see subsection A.2.a.35(c3(lvii)).
Instead, adults focused on propping up culture. A healthy, vigorous culture knows that while murder is almost always totally wrong, manslaughter, negligent homicide, dueling, honor killing, revenge, &c are also pretty bad, and generally to be avoided…. within certain well-understood, but unwritten, limits.
Adults in a healthy culture are ok with the ideas of legal-yet-forbidden and illegal-but-tolerated. Victorian Britain’s Contagious Diseases Act, for instance, has been a feminist boogeyman from before the ink was dry, but it was a fairly successful attempt to solve a real problem without infringing on culture. One shouldn’t visit prostitutes, old chap… but if one does, one should be careful about it. Similarly, ladies, one shouldn’t exchange sexual favors for money… but if one does, one should be careful about it.
Wiki’s summary illustrates the modern phenomenon I’m talking about:
These measures were justified by medical and military officials as the most effective method to shield men from venereal disease. As military men were often unmarried and homosexuality was criminal, prostitution was considered a necessary evil. However, no provision was made for the examination of prostitutes’ clientele, which became one of the many points of contention in a campaign to repeal the Acts.
The Act itself didn’t provide for the examination of prostitutes’ clientele… but then, one wonders, how did the Act’s authors know it was a problem in the first place?
They didn’t need black-letter law for this, because prostitutes’ clients — unmarried (and, often, married) soldiers and sailors were vigorously inspected in the service, and vigorously punished:
soldiers who were hospitalised with VD found themselves penalised by an antiquated system of ‘hospital stoppages’. In the days before a National Health Service, any man admitted to hospital for reasons not connected with his military service was liable to have money stopped from his pay to help cover the cost of his treatment. Although ‘hospital stoppages’ were finally abolished in October 1917, a levy was retained in cases where a man was deemed to have been admitted ‘through his own fault’, VD patients and alcoholics being the principle targets (Hogge & Garside 1918: 325). ‘Hospital stoppages’ became, in effect, a fine.
British army pay being what it was, a few weeks’ pay stoppage was a significant punishment. Wiki’s proclamation on homosexuality is also cute — yep, it was “illegal” all right… but every British legislator who had been to a public school, which is to say pretty much every British legislator, had some experience in this area. It was illegal, but tolerated, just as going to prostitutes was legal, but forbidden.
So: how would a healthy culture handle abortion? Liberals don’t know the history of their own movement — ignorance of history is the flux capacitor which makes faith in socialism possible — but both contraceptives and abortion were pretty widely available in the Victorian era….
…for rich people. That was what got the goat of ladies like Marie Stopes and Margaret Sanger (well, that and inferior races being allowed to breed): Effective contraception and safe abortion were too expensive for working class girls. There wasn’t a comparable “gay rights” movement, but it was the same situation — Oscar Wilde wasn’t doing anything a fair share of the upper crust wasn’t doing; he just flaunted it a bit too much.
Alas, we live in The Age of Asperger’s. We’re all Postmodernists now, and since we know for a fact that there is no such thing as a fact, all laws are just expressions of the dominant coalition’s will to power. Only that which is specifically forbidden by black letter law is “wrong,” and it’s only “wrong” until the black-letter law is changed. We can’t articulate a principle, since there are no principles, and we can’t shape the the culture to buttress values, since there are no values (and “culture” is just the whim of a temporary majority). So we punish abortion providers, not suppliers, in the same way we bust pot suppliers, not users. If it’s not specifically forbidden, in language too unambiguous for even the cleverest editor of the Harvard Law Review, it’s ok.
UPDATE 4/4/2016: Stacy McCain informs us that “Adultism” is the new thoughtcrime.