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In Don't Think of an Elephant, Lakoff discusses the apparent philosophical inconsistency of opposing war and capital punishment, on the one hand, and supporting abortion rights and euthanasia, on the other. He resolves the inconsistency by deriving the left and right positions on these issues from underlying metaphors of family structure. But there's a simpler, more persuasive element cutting across all these issues: Government intervention.

When there's a question of whether or not a particular person/fetus should live or die, the consistent liberal position is that the government shouldn't involve itself. Rather than (or in addition to) arguing the individual merits of capital punishment, abortion rights, euthanasia, etc., we should be pushing this point. (Ironically, it's an argument that ought to particularly appeal to small-government conservatives.)

Originally posted to Abou Ben Adhem on Wed May 11, 2005 at 05:38 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  So, if I decide to shoot you (none)
    The government shouldn't involve itself?

    That is exactly how the pro-life people view abortion and euthanasia -- one person murdering another. You and I may not agree that it is murder, but that doesn't make their conclusions illogical based on their premisis.

    •  it's not illogical . . . (none)
      but the point, in my opinion, isn't about whether the government should prevent one citizen from murdering another. THis is a non sequitor. The Religious Right are consistently and logically (in their self-referential reality) pro-PUNISHMENT. They are FOR punishing (killing) violent criminals who have murdered others in heinous crimes, and they are FOR punishing women who have committed a sexual crime (namely, having sex and possibly enjoying it and not feeling guilty about it) by forcing her to bear the evidence of her crime (the baby).

      I think what goes through their head is "she shouldn't be able to get away with it, without anybody knowing what she's done."

      getting an abortion would be like disposing of the evidence.

      I know this is a crass way to think about pregnancy, and I do not personally hold these views at all. But I have spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out what truly motivates these people to harrass women at clinics and occasionally violently murder abortion doctors.

      I call their position "Punitive Pregnancy". They get so angry when women are going into clinics for abortions because they see it as the woman escaping justice and punishment for her crimes.

      •  Why would you consider... (none)
        ...what motivates the violent fringe and then generalize from your assumptions as to what could motivate them to make assumptions on what motivates pro-life people generally?
        •  I didn't . . . (none)
          mean to say that all pro-lifers think that way at all. I'm sure they don't, just as many people are pro-choice for many different reasons and beliefs.

          I just think that this is an issue that arouses such passion, and that that strong emotion comes from some deeper place, like our modern species' obsession with female sexuality, and not the almost universal revulsion to human murder.

          sorry if i offended you.

          •  That's why I'm looking for... (none)
            an approach that cuts through the passions evoked by "life or death" issues. Just say, as a general principle, that when there's a difference of opinion on such issues, the government should err on the side of staying out of it.

            Those who cannot remember the future are condemned to repeat it.

            by Abou Ben Adhem on Wed May 11, 2005 at 08:01:41 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  So, for instance... (none)
              ...government shouldn't subsidize abortion services, because that wouldn't be "keeping out of it"? I don't think its workable. I think that on issues of life and death -- particularly where they are controversial because that generally means that some other issue is also involved (or that it is weighing life and death between two or more people) government cannot afford to stay uninvolved, and often there is no practical solution in which the government is truly "uninvolved".
              •  Hmmm. (none)
                I guess I could live without public funding for abortion, if it meant that government would otherwise stay out of abortion and the other issues I mentioned. (But I also think we should have affordable health care, and that we should be free to choose a provider who would cover abortion.)

                I see your point, though. There may be cases where I would want the government to get involved, even if there were a minority who didn't think it should. But I can't think of any cases offhand that I wouldn't be willing to compromise on...

                Those who cannot remember the future are condemned to repeat it.

                by Abou Ben Adhem on Wed May 11, 2005 at 08:29:23 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  What if...? (none)
                  I see your point, though. There may be cases where I would want the government to get involved, even if there were a minority who didn't think it should. But I can't think of any cases offhand that I wouldn't be willing to compromise on.

                  How about if a significant minority of the population supported extrajudicial killings of, say, blacks by gangs of whites for perceived offenses against the "white community"? I'd say that's a case where the government should clearly get involved in an issue of life and death even if there is public disagreement. And I don't think its an issue that admits of compromise.

                  •  OK, good example. (none)
                    I guess anti-choice activists would say your scenario is a parallel to how they see abortion.

                    Is there non-ideological way of resolving those two cases without arbitrarily saying "abortion OK; lynching bad"?

                    My original distinction is getting pretty murky, but maybe you could argue that there are other elements involved in your scenario that aren't directly related to killing, that would give the government cause to intercede. Like discrimination, or vigilanteism. But... I don't know.

                    Those who cannot remember the future are condemned to repeat it.

                    by Abou Ben Adhem on Thu May 12, 2005 at 11:45:37 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  Non-ideological way? No... (none)
                      ...I don't think so. I'm not sure why we should want one.

                      All ideas of right and wrong are ideological. Even saying the government should intervene in life and death decisions where there is disagreement is a statement of ideology.

                      •  All ideas of right and wrong are ideological (none)
                        ...and are therefore unresolvable.

                        And whichever way the government acts, it will be forcing the ideology of one side on the other.

                        'Even saying the government should [not] intervene ... is a statement of ideology.'

                        Yes, it's a statement taken from the other side's ideology. So they can't object on ideological grounds.

                        Those who cannot remember the future are condemned to repeat it.

                        by Abou Ben Adhem on Sun May 15, 2005 at 12:19:00 AM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

                        •  Its not taken... (none)
                          ...from the other sides ideology. While it may resemble the other sides sound bites, there ideology includes wide swathes of areas where government intervention is viewed as being right, including and especially the vast majority of the life or death issues discussed.
            •  I approach it this way... (none)
              ...when I talk about it on righty blogs. I try to avoid the emotion of the subject, which is very hard, and stick to the legality and practicality of it. This is what I wrote earlier:

              If three women, all pregnant, each have a "miscarriage". The only difference in the condition of the women is their health. One is super healthy. The second one 'fell' down the stairs. And the third was taking drugs and doing things that were detrimental to the baby. Would you charge any of these women with murder?

              Where do you draw the line if you were to criminalize it? And would you put a woman behind bars because she chose not to participate in a pre-natal program? There are many ways to get rid of a pregnancy. Normally women in such a situation would go to an abortion clinic. But, if you take away that option, there will be many more that have "miscarriages" by dangerous means.

              How would this play in a court of law? Imagine court cases where the state prosecutes women for terminating their pregnancy. What would be the burden of proof?

              --She fell or she threw herself down the stairs?
              --She knew or didn't know that her new diet or lack of eating would be detrimental to the baby?
              --She could or couldn't afford pre-natal care?
              --She knew or didn't know that she was pregnant and that her self-destructing activities were harming the baby?

              How do you prove these things in a court of law? How many women would plead insanity?

              "I have never been able to conceive how any rational being could propose happiness to himself from the exercise of power over others." Thomas Jeffeson

              by Sunqueen212 on Wed May 11, 2005 at 09:26:05 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

      •  Punitive Pregnancy (4.00)
        Well, the key phrase here is "rape or incest". When someone says that they are against abortion because it's the murder of an innocent baby and then add the phrase "unless rape or incest", they have revealed that they are really into the punishment for sex business, not the innocent baby protection business, since the innocent baby is innocent of the rape or incest.

        Someone who is philosophically against it would not accept that qualifier -- and, to be fair, many don't. "Life of the mother", on the other hand is essentially self-defense. You are allowed to kill someone in honest self defense.

        Ask yourself, if you really thought it was murder of an innocent baby, would you be able to accept it? I'm glad I don't -- it saves significant anguish, but some sincerely do.

    •  Of course there are cases (none)
      where the overwhelming majority of the population believe that killing is or is not justified (i.e., defensive war is justified; killing someone for personal gain is unjustified). But if there's any doubt, any division in the population as to which course of action to take, the government should err on the side of not getting involved.

      Those who cannot remember the future are condemned to repeat it.

      by Abou Ben Adhem on Wed May 11, 2005 at 07:10:50 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  So if at least one person... (none)
        ...thinks a killing was justified, then its legally okay and not the governments business? Or does any division mean perhaps a bigger number of people supporting it? 2? 3? 50? 100? 6 million? What does "any division" mean?
        •  If you have to put a number to it... (none)
          I'd say there should be a threshold of around 90% public support before the government involves itself in matters of life and death.

          Those who cannot remember the future are condemned to repeat it.

          by Abou Ben Adhem on Wed May 11, 2005 at 07:47:09 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Here are the reasons (none)
    I am pro-military action when needed to defend ourselves or innocent nations (I.E. Defend Kuwait or mobilizing on Afghanistan,

    I am pro-euthanasia because if someone is of sound mind and the end is imminent or they have a health situation that will lead them through a long drawn out illness they should be able to choose not to put themselves or their family through it.

    I am pro-choice because it's not my place to make a decision that a woman and her doctor should be making. The needs of the mother and her ablity to continue after a child is born should be her decision to make, with support for her community but they should not have input into the decision she makes.

    I am pro-death penalty because our court system overall is pretty damn good. Yes it could use specific overhauls but in general I am okay with it if a jury of your peers feels that you have committed such heinous acts that you should be put to death then I think that should be carried out for the victims families, friends and for the future members of society.

    "Religion's in the hands of some crazy ass people..." Jimmy Buffett

    by Show Me Dem on Wed May 11, 2005 at 06:33:29 PM PDT

    •  So you're pro-death penalty (none)
      and (conditionally) pro-military action. Would you accept (as I suggested in another thread) a threshold of 90% popular support before the government got involved in such cases?

      Or do you think the threshold should be lower? Or do you think there shouldn't be a threshold (which would effectively make it 50%)?

      Those who cannot remember the future are condemned to repeat it.

      by Abou Ben Adhem on Wed May 11, 2005 at 08:47:20 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  No actually (none)
        I don't believe that popular support should be a factor in deciding if we should go to war or not. People do not understand, nor do they have all the facts about ANY military action. The Iraq war was a prime example of fairly high popular support for a war that  forced some members of Congress to vote for it as opposed to voting no.

        The decision to go to war should be made by Congress and the President. The President should have a transparent relationship with Congress in sharing the true reasons why we should or should not act.

        Having referendums/votes by the public over if we should or should not go to war is frankly quite scary since you are putting the decision into the hands of those who are less informed than the people currently making the calls.

        "Religion's in the hands of some crazy ass people..." Jimmy Buffett

        by Show Me Dem on Thu May 12, 2005 at 03:12:17 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  What if the threshold applied to Congress (none)
          instead of the population?

          I.E., a declaration of war would require a 90% vote of the Senate?

          Those who cannot remember the future are condemned to repeat it.

          by Abou Ben Adhem on Thu May 12, 2005 at 03:36:08 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Hmm... (none)
            Honestly that is an interesting argument... Currently it's just a majority of the Houses, I would be interested in seeing the arguments for raising it to 60, 2/3rds or maybe 90 (though that is an extremely high threshold for Congress to ever attain, I mean even under the most dire situation 11 Senators may hold out or what if a number of Senators were unable to report for the vote would it be off of the number of Senators present or off of the number currently in the chamber?

            Like I said that is'nt a though I have entertained and I would be interested in hearing more.

            "Religion's in the hands of some crazy ass people..." Jimmy Buffett

            by Show Me Dem on Thu May 12, 2005 at 05:07:02 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Wasn't there only one dissenting vote (none)
              on the Afghanistan war?

              I know there was only one for WWII, and I think for WWI as well. It seems like Congress is generally much more supportive of military action than the overall population is.

              I don't think a 90% requirement would necessarily be too high.

              Those who cannot remember the future are condemned to repeat it.

              by Abou Ben Adhem on Thu May 12, 2005 at 05:28:01 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

        •  The people do not understand...? (none)
          I don't believe that popular support should be a factor in deciding if we should go to war or not. People do not understand, nor do they have all the facts about ANY military action.

          People don't understand or have all the facts about economic policy, or most other public policy, decisions either. Perhaps we need to rethink the whole idea of consent of the governed, if the people should not have input into decisions where the people do not generally understand or have all the facts, and instead adopt a system of rule by enlightened Philosopher-Kings.

          •  they elect people to represent them (none)
            who are presented the facts... Sometimes they elect idiots but on a whole they elect people better prepared to sift through the info and make an informed decision.... 99% of people don't know/won't read the BRAC reccomendations, nor even know what that is. The same is true for most of what Congress deals with.

            "Religion's in the hands of some crazy ass people..." Jimmy Buffett

            by Show Me Dem on Fri May 13, 2005 at 11:13:19 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  And, on most of what Congress deals with... (none)
              ...public support is an issue, even if the public clearly doesn't directly decide. If it wasn't, we wouldn't try to write letters to our legislators urging courses of action.

              I don't see why war, of all things, should be exceptional and immune to public response. It is certainly no more out of the realm of public understanding than the intricacies of tax policy.

              •  Yes it is (none)
                reams and reams and reams of paper are delivered to the Members of the Armed Services committees and other related committees that the public NEVER have access to for national security reasons and the like.

                Bob Graham was the only one who stood up and before Iraq questioned the intelligence and said "We are'nt getting the full story" and fought the White House.

                Congress has far more info than the NYT, Wash Post or DMN ever provides or can provide. I want those in Congress making the decision not the yahoos who live 2 blocks over.

                "Religion's in the hands of some crazy ass people..." Jimmy Buffett

                by Show Me Dem on Fri May 13, 2005 at 11:32:16 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

  •  I disagree with you on this. (none)
    Here's why:

    A liberal position is consistently the more inclusive one.  It extends rights to more people whereas conservatives restrict rights to fewer people.  

    For a liberal, the purpose of government is to secure the rights of individuals.  Indeed, this is the founding premise of the United States, to secure for individuals the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that all people are endowed with just by being just being created human and not something else.

    Based on that, it defies consistency to maintain that the government should restrict its jurisdiction to securing the rights of only those people whose humanity is questioned by no one.  

    If you would have followed your reasoning 150 years ago, you would have had to conclude that slavery was indeed acceptable because many people, including the US Supreme Court, believed that black people were only 3/5 human.  

    Instead, if you want to be consistent, the inclusive, liberal, position, must be to include all possible people in that jurisdiction, particularly on such as basic right being alive.

    •  But none of that holds for abortion. (none)
      I agree that what you've stated here is a more basic, and more fundamentally liberal, principle than what I was suggesting. But liberals have chosen to violate that principle in the case of abortion -- we've decided the government shouldn't intercede to protect the "basic right [to] being alive" of an unborn fetus.

      So... what's going on here? Did liberals arbitrarily suspend their principles in this particular case, or do we have some other principle that applies here? And if so, is it a principle that conservatives might be persuaded to agree with?

      The usual response is that we've decided that human rights don't apply to fetuses because they're not fully human. The slavery argument is a powerful rebuttal to that argument, but not to mine. The principle I'm suggesting has nothing to do with human vs. non-human (which is why it can also be applied to euthanasia). It was actually the slavery argument that made try to think of other principles that might be involved, that couldn't be used to justify slavery.

      Those who cannot remember the future are condemned to repeat it.

      by Abou Ben Adhem on Sun May 15, 2005 at 12:07:17 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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