Saturday, December 01, 2007

Dear Mike - your right to make a moral fist ends at the tip of my conscientious nose.

I support Ron Paul for the Republican nomination, and whatever the outcome of the nomination process , I will be voting for Ron Paul in November, 2008 unless some better choice comes along.

But having said that, I must say that Mike Huckabee is a surprisingly appealing candidate. He says many of the right things in an unassuming and safe-seeming way... But unfortunately he fails a major ethical smoke test. You see, he's running to be President for those who agree with him - with the explicit promise of imposing a price on those who do not.

I cannot support or abide any such thing. It's not due to him supporting an anti-choice constitutional amendment - though that is the superficial case. Rather, it's because he is in favor of making ANY particular moral choice over the objections of any individual without the willingness to compensate the individual for that lost of liberty or any costs that may be imposed.

Like Ron Paul, he believes in the sanctity of life and isn't hypocritical about it; after all, if abortion is bad, so is capital punishment and malnutrition. This isn't a position I disagree with. Further, I cannot and will not ever say that an abortion -taken in isolation - is ever a good choice.

However, by it's very nature, the choice to have an abortion is not and can never be taken in isolation, nor is it ever likely to be all that clearly a defined choice from an position other than the uncomplicated moral high ground of those who will pay no price for the choice made or imposed.

I genuinely appreciate and applaud his choice to stand for something, even if it's something that I must take issue with. It is, unfortunately, made utterly moot by the fact that he is standing for imposing a moral choice that he has no right to make, no matter how compelling the arguments he may make in favor of it.

I agree that human life is sacrosanct in my own way, but I do not happen to believe that life without choice is meaningful. That's not my politics, per se, that's a fundamental tenant of my own first-amendment ensured faith.

The problem with the issue of abortion has always been that it places the rights of one person in tension with another person without admitting that there is such a legitimate tension.

And in supporting a Constitutional "right to life" amendment, Mike is, unavoidably choosing on behalf of others which is more important - the innocent pre-born over the person who, in getting pregnant, "ought to have known better."

I imagine that in a large percentage of cases where abortion happens, that probably someone - possibly even the female - did know better. But having been wrong on one thing does not mean she's wrong on another thing - nor does the one thing either relieve her of the responsibility of dealing with her own situation, or permit anyone the right to dismiss her capacity to decide.

And that is the problem here. In supporting an amendment that forestalls such a choice, it presumes that consideration of one's own life, and one's current responsibilities to unambiguously living individuals is so immoral that it should be forbidden, but it does not carry with it any admission that the state, in forbidding that choice, takes on the responsibilities FOR that choice.

No tolerable government is in any position to ensure that all outcomes other than abortion are better, assuming we could agree what "better" was for every possible combination of individual and circumstance. Even if it were, I question whether those who most vehemently agree with Mike on this matter would be willing to tolerate the expenditures required to make this invasion of privacy and restriction of choice even arguable from a "balance of harm" perspective.

You see, Mike, this is my problem with all anti-choice activists, in all areas of life. It presumes that a group viewpoint, a blanket moral or cultural prescription is by definition better than the informed conscience of the actual individual in the actual circumstances.

Either of us could point to all kinds of testimonial examples to support the superficial case, pro and con, but all such all such arguments are moot. Of course some subset of individuals will make bad decisions. Some groups may well make better ones on average. The question is, does that give us the right to impose or forbid? I assert that it does not.

Further, I state and assert that some unpredictable number of individuals WILL make poor moral and ethical choices, they will suffer the direct moral, ethical and (arguably) spiritual consequences, even if there is no legal penalty or even publicly apparent costs.

On the other hand, should government decide, against all the very persuasive evidence to the contrary, that it can productively substitute it's judgment in a wholesale manner for that of every individual in a given situation without regard to individual circumstances? But wait, there's a greater fundamental issue here.

NO person can be held accountable for consequences - in either a legal, moral or ethical sense - when they have no ultimate choice.

We do not consider a person guilty of murder if they are forced to kill at gunpoint. We admire them if they choose to die rather than be killed, but we don't penalize them for choosing to live at the expense of another.

Well, in some irreducible and unpredictable number of cases, the individual in question will literally be in that situation. They must choose between their own survival, and that of another.

Furthermore, this is an absolutely subjective and situational judgment and as visceral as that of any cop trying to decide wither to risk the assumption that the object in someone's hand is a cell phone or a gun.

So, Mr. Huckabee, does you amendment come with the stipulation that society will absolutely and without question accept all the costs to the individual (and all future costs of that putative life) when society guesses wrong?

Because, well, it will. It is an inevitability - one I imagine will bear long and short term fruit on a very regular basis, and it is absolutely immoral to offload the costs of a moral choice on those who may or may not agree - or be able to pay the price for your preferred outcome.

Bluntly, sir, in choosing one side over the other, you are making a statistical choice that some sorts of persons are more worthy of life than others. No amount of emotion or reason can avoid that reality. This is why think of no better illustration of the precept that "the road to hell is paved with good intentions" than the whole 'right to life," debate.

And yet, sir, I see no evidence that you acknowledge this absolute moral and ethical obligation to pay for the consequences of your choices. THAT is why I support Ron Paul and not you.

I respect your beliefs, just as I respect Paul's - since they are the same. The difference is, Paul is NOT willing to force his equally strong beliefs on me, OR expect me to subsidize HIS personal faith with part of my personal freedom of choice.

Further, Mike, whatever you views (and I do not presume to know them fully) on the intricate, individual ethics of sexuality, morality, faith, belief and such, I do know that some fairly large percentage of people support your position because they see pregnancy as the just due for fornication - a social consequence that should be made as unbearable and insupportable as possible. So remember, in this you are actually gaining the support of people who in fact have less respect for the fetus than abortionists do - for they are perfectly willing to compel a person to live a short, brutal, horrifyingly scarred life in order to punish an act of fornication on the part of the parents.

I, personally, happen to think there ARE fates worse than death - and not just the one, either. When we expect people to not die or not kill as an alternative to facing them, we have the obligation to do whatever that individual sees as being a viable alternative to abortion, death or mayhem.

Now, Mr. Huckabee; draft for me any policy by a government that is superior to the judgments of those individuals in the situation acting to the best of their own moral and ethical understanding and I will be astonished and respectful of your wisdom.

But in fact, I strongly doubt that you can draft any policy that is superior to simply letting individuals choose as best as they can. So long as you are against individual choice, and against the principle of the right to make private decisions in this most ultimately personal decision, you are unfortunately and inarguably stating that your morality, your faith and your religion privileges you to intrude into the homes and private lives of others and make choices on behalf in order to satisfy YOUR moral vision. And that offends me viscerally, sir.

These are truths that you or I have no right to even know. Understand that even as I may object to the public portion of a moral choice - I must also allow the fact that personal and private considerations also affect individual moral choices, and the fact that I do not know them does not mean I'm owed an explanation if the choices do not involve me or mine.

Let us consider one moralistic exception to forbidding abortion (and in some cases emergency contraception); rape or incest. In making this grudging exception, we also demand that the person wronged elaborate for our edification why she should not be forced to endure a penalty for her moral failure - and the only reason acceptable is if it can be proven, in time, that there is a greater moral failure on behalf of the others. To many, a more politely stated version of that exception is considered a reasonable "compromise," but in some ways, the exception makes things worse.

How then is a fetus less deserving of life if it is the result of incest or rape? That's an absurd and appalling argument. But then, the converse is no better; How is a fetus MORE deserving of life if it is conceived under morally acceptable consequences?

The fact that these questions confound most pro-life activists shows that there are some rather ugly assumptions hovering in their hind brains, assumptions about the motives and morals of others that should obviously affect their ability to form a sound moral and ethical judgment.

To me, life IS choice. To the extent that you choose to preclude my choices to your economic benefit or spiritual comfort, you are saying that your life, your lifestyle, and your personal moral comfort is more important that mine.

And herein lies the inherent moral flaw to the Pro-life movement in practice - you cannot be "pro-life" when you are "anti-my-life."

To the extent that you arrogate unto yourself to make critical life-choices on my behalf (or unto others at my expense), you have chosen to take part of my life.

Now, I'm an ethicist, not a moralist and therefore I am in fact perfectly well aware that such compromises are part of life. But since I AM an ethicist, not a moralist, I do not pretend or excuse the cost. If you take something from me, or at least try to, you create an action that will cause a reaction. This is a fact, not a belief or an opinion; it is a matter of cause and effect.

And, Mr. Huckabee, you do not have the right (much less the practical ability) to ensure a particular outcome at my expense, nor the wisdom to claim the ability to predict blowback to the extent that you can honestly claim that the choice that you impose on all is less costly than that of permitting some "bad" outcomes.

I cannot and will never support a constitutional amendment that requires any donation of liberty without just compensation.

And sir, your position does not even recognize that there is, in fact, a large and perhaps even ultimate price being asked.

That is my moral and ethical argument against your "Right to Life" stance.

But I have a second string to my bow, one that should be ultimately even more persuasive for being pragmatic.

NO law and no order should ever be given by anyone in authority in the full and certain knowledge that it will be widely evaded and disobeyed.

Why? Because all such laws, no matter how well-intentioned, can only be imposed and consequences extracted when the breech is noticed.

This situation means that the moral and ethical authority of that authority is eroded in the name of some unattainable moral "good."

Those who are clever, those who are well prepared, those who can leave your jurisdiction for a critical period can evade having such goodnesses done unto them - meaning that, aside from any other consideration, it fails the "equal protection" test.

In point of fact, the fetus of a wealthy woman can never be as well protected by government as that of a poor woman, for the wealthy can always more easily evade restrictions on their choices. And yet, of course, a poor child is also never so well advantaged as that of the child of a rich parent - because poor people have fewer choices.

That, ultimately, is why I am pro-choice; if I wish you to make any particular choice, as a Libertarian, I feel that I should either PAY you to make the choice I wish you to make - or shut the hell up.

There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch - and there sure as HELL is no such thing as a free child. They cost a bunch to raise, and it costs about as much to do it badly as to do it well - admitting that the cost is often in different coin, of course.

Imposing parenthood upon those who might have considered another course bears a price - and that price will be extracted whether or not you willingly and officially recognize that obligation.

Even more fundamentally, I argue that the provision of more and better choices is a far better model for any government that wishes to maintain it's mandate than the restriction of individual choices.

No authority can be or should be expected to be wise enough to make profoundly personal value judgments on the behalf of millions of individuals.

Of course, we may and should have high expectations. I note that most people do actually live up to the expectations of those they respect, most of the time.

Therefore, it's unwise, unfair and unreasonable to presume that in cases when that does not happen, it's due to malicious, willful perversity. It's far more likely to be circumstantial incapacity - something that it far easier and far cheaper to address than willful contempt.

Government that chooses to support collective moral consensus over conscience has
have removed the need for the informed and deliberate conscience in many cases - leaving it unavailable in those cases where the collective judgment and the power of the state are either unavailable or unpersuasive. Aside from that, it's lost the right to complain when it's moral and ethical assumptions and excuses turns out to have unforeseen, practical consequences.

Allow me to illustrate with a bit of recent history.

One of the inarguable factors in 9/ll and indeed previous terrorist actions against us was in fact our government's choice to ignore (on our behalf) the moral and religious sensibilities of conservative Islam.

Now, I would not go so far (or even NEAR) the idiot presumption that we somehow 'deserved' 9/ll due to our 'cultural insensitivity."

I absolutely applaud many forms of "cultural insensitivity," and one of the best forms in my mind is unveiled and heavily armed women within a stone's throw of the K'aaba. It is Samuel Johnson's refutation of "Bishop" Berkley re- chambered in 7.62 NATO.

Any religion or culture that gets homicidal in the face of real people who persist in solving their social and ethical dilemmas in ways that seem better to them deserves a bad outcome - and I'd be the first to utter a horselaugh at the thought that Islam or any other religion has the right to demand concessions from society in order to make living within the confines of their own superstitions more bearable.

Nonetheless, life is rarely as black and white as all that, sometimes folks are offended by things that must nonetheless be done. In those cases, recognition that a cause for offense existed is a reasonable expectation.

But there's a huge difference between observing an obvious karmic debt and presuming the right to state that the debt has come due with explosives.

If you think it a good thing to impose the discipline of humility on another - you had best be aware that there will be a price to pay - and have arranged that payment in advance. And note that this paragraph can and should be taken to apply to Al-Queda, the Taliban AND the Bush Administration with equal force.

Let's say (for the sake of argument) that our armed reprisals upon Iraq and Afganastan should be taken by the medieval minded middle east that it's about time they grew the fuck up, developed as sense of humor and accepted that their women and children have the right to exist independently of their own manliness. Is teaching such a lesson worth the price?

In my personal opinion, it would have been a cheap lesson at twice the price. Had it been learned. And had it been a price my government had the right to pay.

Nether is in fact true.

This brings us back to you, Mike. Because these are NOT separate issues. They are in fact the exact same issue.

This is all about the individual right to life - and the individual right to choose. Without the second, the first is meaningless. And the only way to legitimately establish this point, as a government, a people, or even as a religious movement worthy of distant respect is to honor choice as a validation of life - even when you would choose otherwise.

We cannot "kill" wahabist idiocies as a moral, ethical and social choice when our own society is arguably no better, with no greater respect for individual liberty and choice.

Alas, liberty is a messy concept, and a decent and honorable respect for individual choice means that in many cases we will - both as individuals and as a society, be forced to witness various dramas and train-wrecks. Many will argue that a decent respect for a greater moral authority or fear of certain retribution would have obviously prevented such outcomes.

It is a compelling argument by virtue of being obviously true, in the short term. But it's only true because society has chosen to remove a choice and (whether or not it admits it) accepting the price of having removed that choice. Because, whether or not we admit the price or pretend otherwise, the price will always be paid.

That price is often far greater (for being both unadmitted and deferred) than simply accepting that free individuals must pay the price of their own choices.

You see, Mike, I can agree with you that, on balance, as a general statement, that life is better than death. I think that men and women of honor might also agree that any religion that, as a major tenant, places a greater cost upon one group of persons for the support of a particular of social order should practically and honorably understand that there is a debt owed there that if unadmitted will accrue nonetheless.

And if we can see the reality of this in the dusty desolation of our religious cousins, the Saudi Wahabist and Afgani Taliban in their choice to remove choice and clitoris from women in order to improve their virtue; if it is obvious to us that their justice is unjust and their assumptions about women false, immoral, insupportable and of arguably dubious moral and social virtue, how is it that we can in the same breath spout the same sort of pious bullshit catering to our own cultural and moralistic prejudices?

Any time that you decide that it's of overriding importance to impose an outcome on another, you have in fact chosen force over morality.

So, in the words of Jesus, from a spiritual standpoint "Behold, you have your reward."

Don't even presume to lecture me on "establishing a more Christian Nation" when you are engaging in the precise opposite of that. You have chosen the comfort of forcing a comfortable conformity over the promise of spiritual benefit your faith states would accrue to those who do the right thing, when they have the ability to choose otherwise.

I cannot and will never validate the confusion of social and cultural custom and preference with moral truth. It's lovely when they agree, and on occasion they do, but it is not to be taken for granted, and of course, from a spiritual and moral viewpoint, faith untested by circumstance and unsupported by personal reason and choice is either bigotry, conformity, or some measure of both.

Neither much impressed Jesus nor any prophet of any religion I'm aware of.

I think of all the bad reasons to follow any person, prophet, guru, movement, or philosophy, the single least excusable and most common is the fear that one will be noticed if one does not conform. And since it IS so common, it also leads me to treat those who bleat in herds about the moral failings of individuals with all the respect it deserves.

At the end, there can be no moral outcome and no moral profit unless it's possible to make a different choice with no worse outcome than that which might be naturally expected from the mistake itself.

Here is another choice-based example. "Illegal drugs are bad for you." Why? Well, most usual argument is that, since they are illegal and that you will be punished, it's bad. The circularity of this argument is perceptible to a mildly retarded five year old, to the point that the injustice overshadows any conceivable moral, ethical or reasonable argument that using drugs is probably a bad idea.

The second most common argument is nearly as bad: "Because they are illegal, you don't know what's in them."

True enough - so obviously true, in fact, that it leads directly to the obvious response: "Well, why not legalize and regulate them, so that we DO know?"

An excellent question - which of course also assumes that legalizing and regulating would in fact ensure we knew for sure what was in them and and what the effects are better than, say, the credibility of a dealer who'd like your business next weekend.

But that, of course, is a question our general social indoctrination teaches us to never ask - even when we really, really should insist on asking it a lot more and expecting far better answers than we are given.

Immoral, unethical behaviors have their own, inherent consequences, just as merely inadvisable and stupid choices. But in the case of drug laws, these become all but invisible compared to the arbitrary moralistic temper-tantrum that is "the war on drugs."

And here we come back to choices, Mike. A war, ultimately, means the moral decision to say "you are either for me or against me." It is a war that accepts no neutral party or permits rational examination of circumstances or cases. It's a war in which it's considered immoral to even consider the question of "if we win the war on drugs, WHO wins, and what do they win?" For a very, very graphic example of the misbehavior of the FDA in the war on drugs, consider the malicious prosecution of Dr. James Forsythe of Reno.

It's rather gutless, actually. You preclude discussion of the underlying individual choices - and therefore you pretty much abandon the ability to influence most people, even when fact, common sense and personal experience support your argument.

For instance, the use of marijuana among "our youth" has been rampant since I was a youth, and for sometime before that. But before The Demon Weed was ... demonized... ah, go look it up yourself. Some people used it as a recreational drug, but most preferred a good whiskey, and there was no cultural divide over what almost everyone would have considered a triviality.

Either way, If you drink too much, or smoke too much, you tend to do stupid things, and most people figure out pretty quickly what the cost-benefit ratio is for them. There are consequences to one's health to both to those who use heavily - consequences that are well known, easily avoidable if moderation is possible and medically treatable if not.

Nope. I am addicted to nicotine - but I can and have kicked that. (C affine would be a LOT harder) I am dependent on components in tobacco that are currently outside of socially-approved science, apparently so far outside that it's been frustrating for me in finding confirmation other than experiential evidence from people like me.

The people like me were "addicted" on the first puff. I put it more profoundly. Imagine taking a substance that magically and instantaneously reveals to you that you have been dangerously insane for your entire life up to that point.

That is literally my experience, and I don't exaggerate the drama of it. Nor is it entirely a subjective insight. for those who smoke for the reasons I apparently smoke, it seems to be true of most of us to one degree or another. Oh, and I've actually confirmed this by having quit successfully for two years, until I "slipped." One single puff and - I realized that I had been, quite literally, frighteningly insane - and without the slightest idea that I was, even though that insanity had cost me far more than I'm comfortable thinking about.

Now, imagine being told that most profound experience being dismissed as "the addiction talking" and that my choice is "antisocial."

Yeah, "fuck you" is pretty much the minimum level of contempt compatible with a decent sense of self-esteem when confronted with such poorly founded self-righteousness, even when you have reason to think that there is a distinct possibility that the self-righteous, authoritarian dismissal might just be their own unmedicated insanity talking.

And this brings us right back to your right to life amendment. Because, in imposing this choice you are in the same position of dismissing or demonizing all choices you disagree with as being the result of immorality, demon possession or other such excuses that, frankly, permit you to act against the interests of others without admitting to a debt.

How can you honorably advocate for human life when your entire position dehumanizes those you disagree with?

I'll answer for you. You can't. It's dishonorable. It's also unethical and wrong.

Worse than that, it sucks the life out of any efforts to achieve the end of reducing abortion to the absolute minimum possible by giving women more and better choices.

That's why I'm voting for Ron. He's not willing to charge me for his faith. And you are.

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