Category Archives: Pseudo-rights

Freedom of speech does not justify pornography.


From Jacky Fleming.

Pornography advocates have one, and only one, argument to support their case: freedom of speech. So what does that mean exactly, and how does one argue for pornography on this basis?

As I’ve argued before, free speech is for individuals, not for corporations. Pornography is a capitalist product made by corporations, not something two people film in their bedroom. But now I want to look at the argument presented to us.

Valid rights and freedoms can only be exercised if they do not harm others. As the maxim goes, “your freedom ends where my nose begins.” There can be no such thing as the freedom to punch, main or kill, or the right to gulags or concentration camps. Likewise, even in our societies, freedom of speech is not absolute. We do not have the freedom to use our speech to defraud others, and rightly so.

Therefore, freedom of speech alone cannot provide a justification for pornography, especially not in reply to the harms of pornography, since the latter is a suitable response to the former.

The pro-pornography argument from freedom of speech is extremely simple:

Written or spoken pornography is an instance of speech, and all pornography is an instance of expression. A defence of freedom of speech, or of freedom of expression, is therefore implicitly a defence of the freedom to produce and consume pornography. Anyone who supports state prohibition or censorship of pornography is by that token supporting suppression of freedom of speech or expression.

We can express this argument as such:

1. Pornography is a kind of speech.
2. All speech should be protected.
3. Therefore pornography should be protected.

I will not dispute 1, but 2 is clearly false: many kinds of speech are not protected, and rightly so, including fraud, defamation, threats, and child pornography. The last example is rather relevant to the subject, so I will come back to it.

How can pornography be justifiably protected as speech? All the examples I gave involve harming, or threatening to harm, innocent people. And indeed advocates are forced to address the issue of harm when defending pornography.

As I’ve mentioned before, I am not interested in studies on the effects of pornography because I don’t think such studies are needed at all to make a conclusive case that pornography entails harm; we already know that pornography causes harm to women in three ways:

1. Pornography depicts verbal, physical and sexual abuse done to women. Not only is it real harm done to real women (the women involved in these depictions), but it is real harm done to all women (no different from any other form of hate speech, threat, intimidation, etc).

Porn advocates love to concentrate on the few fortunate porn actresses who have made a name of themselves, and are mostly rich and white, and not on the majority of the dispossessed and prostitutes on whose backs most pornography is made. Their rhetoric, like most voluntaryist rhetoric, is inherently elitist and colonialist. They belittle and insult women who have gone through prostitution and speak up against the institution, saying that they were unsuccessful or that they’re just bitter. They refuse to listen to the voices of anyone but the most privileged.

2. We know that approximately half of prostitutes report being used for the purpose of the production of pornography. Again, this is real harm done to real women (I have to keep specifying this because pornography advocates keep saying that pornography is not real, does not really harm, and is not done to real women).

3. Pornography usage communicate to men what kind of sexual acts they should want to perform on real women, who are really harmed by these acts.

To this, porn advocates have little reply but to argue that censorship is so harmful to society, so paternalistic, and leads to such a slippery slope, that we should shirk from it, no matter how bad pornography is. But this is, at best, a disingenuous argument. I know of no one who argues that censoring threats of violence is harmful, paternalistic, or a slippery slope. I know of no one who argues that censoring fraud is harmful, paternalistic, or a slippery slope (if I am wrong on either of these points, leave me a comment).

The pro-pornography argument critically hinges around negating the existence of the Patriarchy and the existence of the rape culture; they have to either posit that they do not exist or do not matter. This demonstrates that the case for pornography relies on willful ignorance.

I concede that if we bury our heads in the sand and simply posit that the Patriarchy does not exist and that the rape culture does not exist (or just ignore them), and assume gender equality (or even, in the case of MRAs, some imagined female domination), then the validity of freedom of speech to the issue of pornography might seem self-evident.

But this is not a particularly novel way to reason about hierarchies. People already do the same thing when promoting the “free market” while ignoring the profoundly distorting effect of corporations, when promoting “democracy” while ignoring the profoundly distorting effect of the power elite, or when promoting “human dignity” while ignoring the profoundly distorting effect of religious relativism. Assume equality and you are free to posit any “voluntary” arrangement you like, because you’re ignoring the pre-existing inequalities that make those arrangements evil.

Obviously if we actually were equal, most of the issues with pornography, such as capitalism, patriarchial beliefs, prostitution and consent issues, would simply not exist and pornography could be a medium for beautiful snowflakes to express their love or whatever else people think depictions of sexual activity could be like. I have no problem with that, but that’s not the world we live in. Capitalism, the Patriarchy, prostitution and consent issues are precisely what make pornography unjustified.

I just want to be clear that I don’t believe pornography cannot exist without capitalism. Pornography has existed for millenia, but this is a result of patriarchal beliefs, not just capitalism. Capitalism makes it worse, like it makes everything worse, but it is not the First Cause.

Child pornography is censored, and there is little open opposition to this. It’s interesting to note why this is so. In the United States, child pornography may be banned because of the harm inflicted on the children who are raped or abused for its production (New York v. Ferber, 1982). There is an obvious connection here: pornography is produced in dangerous conditions (as proven by the propaganda against demanding condoms on porn movie sets) and inflicts harm on real women. Furthermore, consent is no more possible in a pornographic context than in the case of child pornography, because such a context excludes prospective agreement as valid.

Furthermore, consider that there’s not much difference between pornography involving a 16 year old woman and an 18 year old woman. There is no magic barrier that gets crossed when one reaches adult age.

This is the dichotomy of adult and child and they are viewed as very separate, very distinct, so that there is a clearly perceived line between these stages, these ages, but in fact it is not a line. It is a bridge. It is a bridge that spans the in-between; that gap that connects the points in the lives of so many women who were prostituted first as children then as adults. I lived that bridge in my own prostitution life, when I was turning from a child into a woman, and I was used sexually for money on most of the days that made up my adolescence, as I was before in childhood and afterwards in early adulthood. And here is the crux of the matter: it was all the same nightmare to me.

So how is pornography involving adults any more ethical than pornography involving children? People get off on the abuse and vulnerability of children, and they get off on the abuse and vulnerability of females. Pedophiles rationalize watching the abuse of little children in the same way that other porn users rationalize watching the abuse of females (they were asking for it, they need a good fuck, I’m owed the porn that I want, they really want it). If there is any difference, it is purely because of the illegality of child porn, but to use this as proof that child porn is worse would be a circular argument.

Various feminist thinkers have put forward a freedom of speech argument against pornography called the Silencing Argument. Pornography attacks women’s free speech by making their statements about wanting or not wanting sex to be disregarded by porn users:

Pornography produces in its consumers beliefs that prevent them from recognizing women’s intentions to refuse sexual overtures. These might include beliefs that women are coy, that they don’t like to appear too sexually forward, and so on. In producing these beliefs, pornography causes the systematic illocutionary disablement of women.
Ishani Maitra, Silencing Speech

Even if we assume that pornography is protected speech (an argument which, to my knowledge, has not been made), there is no reason to believe that it should have primacy over women’s speech. Because of its abusive and objectifying contents, pornography is a form of intimidation and silencing against women.

We can see this by analogy. What if there was a whole industry of popular movies portraying black people getting beaten up, insulted and treated like means to white people’s ends? What if white teenagers went around reproducing this behavior against black people they found on the street? I don’t think it would be too hard to recognize such movies as hate speech and as a threat.

What about silencing? Any propaganda that aims to dehumanize a segment of the population necessarily entails silencing that segment. The reason for this is obvious: giving targeted persons the opportunity to be heard also makes it more likely that society in general will understand their plight and sympathize with it; at any rate, it is contrary to the demands of dehumanization.

I live in a country where if you film any act of humiliation or torture, and if the victim is a woman, the film is both entertainment and it is protected speech. Now that tells me something about what it means to be a woman citizen in this country, and the meaning of being second class.

When your rape is entertainment, your worthlessness is absolute. You have reached the nadir of social worthlessness. The civil impact of pornography on women is staggering. It keeps us socially silent, it keeps us socially compliant, it keeps us afraid in neighborhoods; and it creates a vast hopelessness for women, a vast despair.
Andrea Dworkin, Pornography Is A Civil Rights Issue

Here is one concrete example:

When I was sixteen years old I was raped by my boyfriend (who was twenty,) at the time who made pornography of that rape.

The pornography was then taken as a sign of my consent by the police when I tried to press charges and they proceeded to call me a “dirty lying whore”, a “trouble child” and proceeded to press charges against ME for “making a false statement”.

I do not bring this up as a typical example of silencing, or to evoke sympathy for the victim, but to show that this phenomenon does exist and that it can have powerful silencing effects (that it’s not a purely theoretical construct made up by feminists for the sake of argument).

Pro-prostitution propaganda, to use an example very similar to this topic, attempts to portray prostitution as normalized “sex work” performed by “happy hookers.” They are doing so with the explicit purpose of silencing the majority of prostitutes and ex-prostitutes who have to deal with the consequences of their “work” and their marginalization in public discourse. The organizations putting out this propaganda are usually led by “legal” pimps or madams (see also and also), and they are actively trying to silence ex-prostitutes.

My point in bringing up this example is to show that this phenomenon of silencing is not by far unique to pornography. Speech, along with oppressive rules, violence, and many other tactics, is often used by the privileged to try to force their inferiors in a hierarchy to shut up. The vast majority of pornography is made by men for the use of men, and harms women; this is perfectly in accord with the gender hierarchy. The “marketplace of ideas,” like any other form of anomie, favors the powerful.

As an aside, because I know someone will bring this up: yes, I do realize there are handmaidens who produce pornography as well, but this does not invalidate the point any more than the existence of handmaiden CEOs disproves the patriarchal nature of the power elite.

And yes, I also expect someone to bring up the beautiful, special unicorn of “feminist porn” and whether it should be banned as well. But there is no such thing as “feminist porn.” Pornography commodifies and objectifies females, while the goal of feminism is to eradicate gender, which is the source of the commodification and objectification of females.

I’ve already lambasted the “Feminist Porn Awards” for putting a “feminist” stamp of approval on what is just normal pornography. Such speech is not worth protecting simply because it fulfills some token standards of representation. The rules of the “Feminist Porn Awards” are not feminist in any way whatsoever:

In order to be considered for a Feminist Porn Award, the movie/short/website must meet at least two of the following criteria:

1) Women and/or traditionally marginalized people were involved in the direction, production and/or conception of the work.

The fact that handmaidens are also involved in the production of pornography does not make it “feminist” any more than conservative politician women make conservatism “feminist.” To argue otherwise entails the belief that anything women do is feminist, which means that “feminism” is not a movement or an ethical position, but simply a descriptive label. This is simply false.

2) The work depicts genuine pleasure, agency and desire for all performers, especially women and traditionally marginalized people.

There is no way for a viewer of pornography to know that a pornographic video “depicts genuine pleasure and desire for all performers” (“agency” is a nonsense concept, so there’s no point in including that). What we are talking about, after all, is acting; the job of an actor or actress is to portray fictional characters with fictional desires and emotions. One cannot take an actress’ own testimony as validation, either, because the actress is likely to be concerned with keeping her job and reputation, like any other worker who knows eir words might be made public.

The issue of this standard being feminist or not does not even enter the picture, because it is an unworkable standard to begin with. Anyone who claims otherwise is extremely naive.

3) The work expands the boundaries of sexual representation on film, challenges stereotypes and presents a vision that sets the content apart from most mainstream pornography. This may include depicting a diversity of desires, types of people, bodies, sexual practices, and/or an anti-racist or anti-oppression framework throughout the production.

Presenting the exploitation and objectification of females through a diversity of bodies, practices, or an anti-racist or anti-oppression framework, does not change the fact that it is a representation of the exploitation and objectification of females. The issues of fat acceptance, acceptance of various sex acts, acceptance of races, flatters liberal viewers and makes them more committed to liking and accepting such pornography. To everyone else, it clearly appears as what it really is: a smokescreen. Indeed, it is bizarre to think that the objectification of more types of people and bodies is a step forward, instead of a step backwards.

Now, I don’t have anything against women being involved in movies, against portraying genuine pleasure or desire, or against challenging stereotypes, quite the contrary. But none of these things make pornography “feminist.” “Feminist porn” is like a square circle, a purely theoretical entity because its very nature is self-contradictory. If you think you’ve seen “feminist porn,” it either wasn’t feminist or it wasn’t pornography.

Is there such a thing as a “right to self-identify”?

Here is Daily Kos describing the “right to self-identify”:

Do we have a right to self-identity and self-identification? Do we have a right to decide for ourselves the sexual, gender, religious, ethnic and other labels we go by, even if such labels deviate from or — worse! — subvert long-established conventions? I think the answer to this question from a leftist perspective simply ought to be, “Yes.”

How insulting for a bunch of politico liberals to claim to speak for all leftists. Talk about some fucking gatekeepers right here. The answer most definitely ought not to be “Yes.”

Words are not just random assemblages of sounds. They actually stand for concepts and are used in conversation to communicate information. This may be hard for liberals to accept but, while you can just claim you’re anything you want, that doesn’t make it true.

If you’ll permit me the arrogance of quoting myself, I’ve gone into more explanation in a previous entry about calling everything “feminist,” including pornography:

“Feminism” does not mean “believing that women shouldn’t be treated like shit.” That’s called “being a decent human being,” not “being a feminist.” To be a feminist entails a lot more beyond that; it entails wanting the elimination of gender roles, wanting to end the exploitation of women, and recognizing Patriarchy in our daily lives. A pornographic movie that doesn’t treat women like shit is not a “feminist porn,” it’s just a movie that was made by decent human beings. That’s nice, but not feminist. Calling anyone or anything “feminist” because they exhibit the most basic human decency is profoundly insulting to, well, pretty much everyone, including feminists.

Likewise, you wouldn’t call someone a “communist” because they believe workers should be treated like human beings. Again, that’s nice, but not communist. Communism, like feminism, designates a framework used to understand how human societies work. If you don’t agree with that framework, then you’re not a feminist or a communist, no matter how nice you are or how much you believe you “deserve” the label or how hard you believe in imposing your feminist/communist self-identification on others (“well, I call myself a feminist and you have no business telling me what I am or am not!”).

What is to stop some dude from calling himself a feminist, or some theetie-wheetie liberal from calling emself a communist? Really nothing. But to then feel angry because others point out the falsify of that proposition is disingenuous at best. Even if you have the right to self-identify, we have the right to call you on it when you’re lying.

More importantly, there can be no such thing as a right to self-identify, because there is no such thing as a right to lie. People who lie for considerable personal gain are criminals, pure and simple, and at least a few self-identifiers are in this category.

The image I posted as a header for this entry was inspired by this entry and its defense of the Christian self-identification against the evil atheists:

I believe one of the most sacred of human rights is the right of self-identification…

What struck me about this was Hitchens final conclusion: “you’re not in any meaningful sense a Christian.” It sort of tickled my funny bone that an atheist was now informing people of faith about who is and isn’t a Christian. What began to stir in my mind was an idea that Hitchens had no right to attempt to make such an identification for Sewell. Marilyn Sewell has chosen to identify herself as a Christian, which is her right…

Bringing this back to the original statement, what we’ve witnessed here are attempts at projecting identities onto other people. As we’ve seen, this is done primarily to serve our own causes in stealing individuality from people. The motto expressed is: “if you don’t fit my easy definition of ________, then you cannot be identified as such.”

It is the individual’s right to self-identify; if a liberal Unitarian Universalist wants to identify herself with the Christian narrative, that is her right. You see, when we voluntarily accept the mantle of a community narrative, we are practicing a uniquely individuated and communal rite.

How melodramatic. One would think the “most sacred of human rights” would be something more important than some narrower version of free speech. Oh well.

But I also think there is an interesting process of projection going on here. Hitchens did not define what a Christian is, Christians did. So this attempt to state that Hitchens is the one making “such an identification” and that atheists are “projecting identities onto other people” in order to steal “individuality from people” is a reversal. It is the Christians who constantly and without fail “project identities onto other people” in order to steal their individuality and turn them as props in the divine comedy that is Christianity. You are saved or you are a sinner, you are godly or condemned to hellfire, you conform or do not conform to God’s laws, you are a true Christian or a heretic, you conform or do not conform to gender roles as proscribed in the Bible, and so on.

So again, who defined what a Christian is? Christians did, not atheists. Christians defined a Christian as someone who believes that Jesus (a character in a book of fiction) is their personal savior. Hitchens was merely using established definitions to identify who is and is not a Christian, a proper use of concepts which any mentally healthy person masters when they’re less than a year old. These “labels can mean anything” morons are trying to reduce your cognition to that of a baby, so their nonsense can stand unrefuted. Talk about juvenile!

Finally, let’s talk about the use of the word “subvert.” Daily Kos was trying to establish the “labels can mean anything” position as subversive, as if being deliberately irrational in order to believe whatever you want is somehow subversive. It is not. Not only is there nothing subversive about lying to yourself, but that’s what they want you to do. They are counting on you denying your true self. No part of this system could exist if we were not lying to ourselves at some level and giving it our tacit approval. Christianity would buckle and crash if CINOs stopped identifying as Christians. Gender roles would disappear in a puff of smoke if everyone who didn’t completely agree with their gender role would simply stop identifying as a gender.

Now why should leftists, who are interested in actually subverting the state of affairs, not changing the state of affairs by lying to themselves, be interested in this ideology? Being able to name the victims and to name the perpetrators is an important part of radical work. What destroying labels does is make us unable to do this naming.

For another detailed analysis of self-identification, see Elizabeth Hungerford’s entry Socialization Matters: Why “Identity Libertarianism” is Failed Politics. She goes into so much detail that there isn’t much point in me quoting any specific part of it, and I heavily recommend you read it.

Why I am against gay marriage…

I’ve already written an entry on this topic, but it was written at a fairly basic level. There are misunderstandings about the egalitarian, anti-religious opposition to gay marriage which go beyond this basic level, so I want to address them. I am not demanding that anyone else agrees with me, but I would like to see fewer straw men in this discussion.

First of all, people who oppose gay marriage for egalitarian reasons are not only people like me. In my blogroll I link to a queer organization called Against Equality, which argues against homosexual integration into destructive institutions like marriage, the military and the prison system. This is what they have to say about the kind of “equality” preached by the LGBT community:

Equality, as defined by contemporary mainstream LGBT political organizations, is a meaningless term. If further entrenching special rights for certain couples when those rights should be extended to everyone, bolstering the U.S. war machine by providing more bodies for cannon fodder, and advocating for never-ending prison expansion as a legitimate way to address anti-queer/trans violence are part of your vision of an equitable future: we say “hell no!”

So it may seem a bit strange for me to say that an organization called Against Equality has an egalitarian stance, but that’s the truth. It is the “equality as integration” LGBT position that they reject, not egalitarianism. Although I am not a queer person, I support Against Equality and their opposition to LGBT politics (although personally I would add genderism as another evil institution supported by the LGBT community).

People who crow that they’ve defeated the egalitarian case against gay marriage by only attacking one side (queer or non-queer) are simply mistaken.

Another misconception is that we oppose gay marriage simply because we are against the institution of marriage and gay marriage happens to be part of it, that we have no reason to oppose gay marriage specifically.

Marriage creates a privileged class. Here is a list of privileges gained by married people. These privileges are missed cruelly by those who don’t have them, especially ease of “immigration” and the ability to take medical decisions for a loved one (as well as hospital visits). People who are not part of the privileged class are second-class citizens insofar as these areas of society are concerned, and this hurts people’s well-being.

A privilege can only be justified by an overwhelming need to protect human lives. The greater the need, the greater the privileges that may be granted. For example, you have to stop for ambulances; this is a relatively small privilege warranted by the need to save lives in danger. So I am not making an argument that no privilege is ever justified. But marriage is not needed to protect human lives, so the point is moot; marriage is a privilege with no reason to exist.

As an unjustified privilege, marriage needs to be eradicated. This is a standard egalitarian argument. But legalizing gay marriage expands the class of people who are allowed to gain that privilege and who have a strong incentive to protect it. The more people who hold on to a privilege, the more people who will fight to keep it: therefore gay marriage makes the marriage privilege harder to eradicate.

One may reply that acceptance of gay marriage will lead to more and more acceptance of other kinds of marriage until it is completely liberated. But everyone, even the “open-minded,” has a limit beyond which they refuse to allow marriage. So I don’t think equality will be achieved this way.

There are always people to argue that we’re already equal, no matter what the issue. So I imagine that some may say that we have equality because everyone can already marry. Well, that’s what they used to say against gay marriage too, that everyone can get married to someone of the opposite sex. It’s hard to see why one answer is insulting but the other should not be insulting.

A reply to this would be that people used to limit marriage to heterosexuals, but the limit has been moved by gay marriage campaigns, so why couldn’t the limit keep moving in the direction of universality? But I think there are functional differences. The cause of gay marriage is connected to that of civil rights for minorities, which marriage universality could not exploit.

Of course I know that gay marriage can’t be stopped at this point. It will happen no matter what anyone says. And I’m fine with that, if only because it pisses off the religious right. But I think it’s a step backwards, and many people devoted to the end of privilege and social equality agree with me on that.

“Property rights” as pseudo-rights.


Above: a fence in the middle of a field that separates part of a field from another part of a field. They are obviously completely different.

I’ve discussed in the past how property is a nonsense concept. In this entry, I want to concentrate on the notion of “property rights” as the economic foundation of capitalist theory. Property rights are taken as a given, but they really are not. The fact is that property rights as we understand them are designed to further the interests of the rich minority (especially business owners), and there’s no particular reason why they should. Many different ownership systems have existed throughout history, and new ones have been conceived and tried out with success.

[D]efinitions of ownership and theft tend to be thought of as straightforward, even natural. But they are not. They are, rather, the product of human decision. That decision operates to give special protection to just those types of ownership (or putative ownership) that are crucial to economic stratification… Indeed, this was the more or less explicit intent of the framers of the U.S. Constitution. As Noam Chomsky and others have discussed, James Madison viewed the property rights of the “opulent minority” as threatened by the masses, and thus as requiring particularly stringent protection.
The Culture of Conformism, p15

Now, what is the foundation of “property rights”? Where do they come from? Capitalists will give various answers to this question.

The most popular foundation is self-ownership (the bizarre circular belief that the body is a property of itself). I’ve already extensively debunked the concept of self-ownership. I’ve also pointed out that proving “property rights” with self-ownership is a circular argument, since the concept of self-ownership itself is based on the concept of property.

But even if we ignore these fatal problems, how do we pass from self-ownership to property rights? It is argued that if we own our body, then we also own what that body produces. But surely this is grossly inadequate as a justification of “property rights” as they exist today; for one thing, “property rights” are routinely applied and enforced on natural resources, which are not the product of any body. But also, this does not address all “property rights.”

“Property rights” are divided in three category: usus, fructus and abusus. Usus contains the rights regarding usage, such as inhabiting a house or an apartment. Fructus contains the right regarding the products of that property, such as the fruits of a tree or the crops gathered from a piece of land. Abusus contains the right to dispose of a property, such as selling, modifying, destroying, etc.

If we accept the reasoning from self-ownership, then we can make sense of usus and fructus, but not of abusus. After all, most capitalists do not believe that we have a right to sell our own body into slavery, for example. Many also do not recognize a right to suicide, especially conservatives. But if self-ownership excludes abusus rights, then how can abusus rights be derived from self-ownership? There is a logical problem here.

One may sidestep the issue by stating that the kind of ownership in self-ownership differs from the kind of ownership we establish with “property rights.” That’s fine, but then in what meaningful way are “property rights” derived from self-ownership? Logically, the fact that one owns one thing does not imply that one owns, or even can own, anything else. So self-ownership in itself doesn’t logically imply the concept of property.

One may then reply that self-ownership does imply property because we need property in order to survive. We need food, lodging, cleaning, and so on. We must, or so goes the argument, hold things as our property in order to use them in these ways. We have a right to life and, in order to maintain that life, we need “property rights.”

But again, this does not prove all “property rights.” You can hold and use an apple without selling it or destroying it (that is to say, making it unusable). You can live in a house without selling it, modifying it significantly, or destroying it. So again, abusus is not proven here, and it is a necessary part of “property rights.”

Not only are “property rights” not needed to affirm any right to life, but “property rights” are at tension with the right to life. Nowhere is this shown more clearly than in the contradiction between the “property rights” of Big Pharma and the “right to life” of people in the Second and Third World. Let’s look at the root cause of this tension.

Consider that “property rights,” by their very definition, are an absolute limit over the implementation of all other, real rights. I’ve made the point before that the right to life is meaningless without the right to health care and other life necessities, that the right to assemble is meaningless without a place to assemble in, that the right to free expression is meaningless without the tools of that expression, that the right to justice is meaningless without the means to be treated as an equal, and so on. All “negative rights” necessitate “positive rights” to be meaningful at all, including material ownership. And “property rights” make it so that this material ownership is contingent, contingent upon a multitude of factors: who you were raised by, the kind of education and work you were able to get, and so on.

Not only that, but “property rights” also dictate how this material ownership becomes concentrated into a small number of hands. The two biggest influence on this are the lack of limits on the amount of land or property one can acquire (so that one person can buy more than his equal share) and, most importantly, the private ownership of the means of production, by which the owner can extract surplus value from his workers with the help of the extensive structural crippling executed by the State. But this is not new; for centuries, “property rights” have explicitly been used to protect the moneyed minority against the anger of the destitute majority (when they talked about the “rights of minorities,” they were talking about the rich, not black people or natives, who were considered subhuman).

If a small percentage of people have most of the wealth (in the US, the top 1% controls 35% of the wealth and receive 20% of the income, while the bottom 80% controls 15% of the wealth and receives less than 40% of the income; the picture is less dramatic but similar in other Western countries), and we live in a society where wealth determines material ownership, and by extension rights expression, then we should expect such a society to be stratified, and for some to have more rights than others. Furthermore, we should expect many in the bottom strata to have very little to no rights at all.

Note that it does not matter what the power elite claims is the case. We are told that all citizens have equal rights (never mind so-called “immigrants” and children, because they still aren’t considered fully human). Yet in practice we know this is false, to a large extent because of material inequality within countries and around the world. Many people don’t have access to adequate food (six million children die annually of starvation), housing (homeless persons die 22 years younger), or health care (ten million children die annually of treatable diseases), or are forced into substandard food (junk food), substandard housing (“ghettos”) or substandard health care (so-called “alternative” medicine). All children are deprived of education, but some have access to better schooling than others, pushing them towards success or failure. The judiciary system in most Western countries, unlike other judiciaries, is explicitly set up so that rich people and majorities have a clear advantage, both in the structure of the police and courts, as well as in the laws themselves (looking at the kind of crimes that are punished, as well as the kind of crimes that are given much lower punishments or no punishments at all). Workers who have to sign work contracts in order to make a living must agree to have some of their most basic rights violated, in some cases to a point where they are made basically slaves (people from Second and Third World countries are “imported,” then their means of leaving are taken away from them). Religious fanaticism, bigotry, homophobia, racism and sexism can make many people’s lives a living Hell and deprive them of their right to liberty, freedom of thought, and the pursuit of happiness, partially through refusing them access to good-paying jobs, inheritances, the ownership of property, and other ways to access wealth. This is just a very short list, obviously, as the number of ways in which people are deprived of rights or given inferior status are pretty much limitless.

Since people must fight against “property rights” to maintain their livelihood and their dignity (as the Zapatista and other indigenous people have clearly demonstated), there cannot be such a thing as “property rights.” A “right” which supports aggression against other people’s rights is not a right at all.

The legitimacy of “property rights” is only maintained by the pretense that because anyone can, in theory, own property, therefore “property rights” are egalitarian. But this is incredibly flimsy grounds on which to exploit and oppress people. Anyone can, in theory, become a CEO- does that mean corporations are egalitarian? Anyone can, in theory, win a fistfight or a duel- does that mean “punching rights” and “shooting rights” are egalitarian? Anyone can, in theory, write a novel or produce a song- does that mean “IP rights” are egalitarian? Anyone can, in theory, follow “the right god”- does that make religion egalitarian? Anyone can, in theory, be a perfect parent- does that make the child-parent relation egalitarian?

“Property rights” are not only not egalitarian, but they are the primary source of inequality, and therefore of unfreedom. As I’ve argued before, all hierarchies are property.

Pornography is not a right.


From Sinfest.

Talking against pornography in any way whatsoever is a direct attack against the liberal mainstream. When I posted my entry against male entitlement, which only mentioned pornography once as an aside, all the replies I got from the liberals (especially from Reddidiots) were about pornography. It’s obvious that this is a topic they have an extremely strong need to defend.

We seem to now be operating under the assumption that access to pornography is a human right. In fact, this has been American jurisprudence since 1969 (Stanley v Georgia). Prisoners are not given access to pornography for the most part, which prompted a court case famous amongst radfems, and this response:

Seeing as pornography is largely produced for, made by, sold to, and used by men; it is unsurprising that it would be viewed as a civil right, as is being argued by the prisoner. After all, men’s sexuality is represented as both uncontrollable and as, in fact, a ‘need’, like food and water. Because this dominant version of male sexuality is also very much tied to a version of masculinity that tells men (and women) that what is ‘sexy’ is to treat women as though they are not equals, assumes that masculinity equals dominance and femininity equal passivity, and also, of course, that sex must equal the penetration of women in an orifice that belongs to her, this supposed ‘need’ men have to find a sexual release seems, based on these assumptions, almost always to include the objectification and degradation of women, for example through the use of pornography and prostituted women.

On this particular issue, I am of course against prisons and think that whole system (including the entanglement of profit-seeking, and therefore prisoners-seeking, corporations in what is now the prison business) needs to be dismantled pronto. It makes no sense to say that prisoners surrender their rights. If they have a right to pornography, then they have a right to pornography whether they are in prison or not. Human beings are human beings, no matter whether they’re children, prisoners, in a coma, etc.

But beyond that, Meghan Murphy is right in pointing out that this is a male issue and that it is based on the sexual myth of [heterosexual] men as depraved beings who can only “get off” on the degradation of women. This is a great myth for men to perpetuate because it gives them the perfect excuse to degrade women.

Pornography, on the whole, exists to channel that degradation and objectification for profit-making purposes, although it is not by far the only industry that does so. It also gives men the perfect comeback to women who oppose pornography or to girlfriends/spouses who oppose their use of pornography; they can belittle them for being backwards (because pornography is “progressive”), for not being considerate to men (because men absolutely “need” pornography) and for not supporting women’s choices (because pornography “empowers” women).

As for the thorny issue of what exactly constitutes pornography, there seems to be no consensus on this. My working definition of pornography is pretty simple: it is the product of the mass production of representations of what is supposed to be sexual activity.

Pornography is not the explicit depiction of people having sex, it is the transformation of this sex act into a commercial commodity for popular consumption.

According to a recent study, 88.2% of scenes in top-circulating adult videos contain violence, and 48.7% of these scenes contain verbal aggression. Some pornography does not visibly objectify or degrade women and portrays female sexuality realistically, mainly Internet-intensive companies like MET-Art, Abby Winters, Hegre-Art, and so on (although Abby Winters has been sued for a number of unethical practices, so those companies can be shady as well). But these companies produce a minority of all pornography, and I doubt you’ll find any of those videos on the shelves of video stores. At any rate, I am not including them in this analysis, so if you only watch videos from these companies, don’t take it fucking personal.

Men who do not watch porn are discouraged from speaking up by social ostracism; for instance, famous sexologist Dan Savage has called such men “liars or castrates.” A man who doesn’t get off on the degradation of women is not really a man.

Here is Savage’s unprovoked attack against a woman who is concerned about her boyfriend’s use of pornography and asked for his help:

All men look at porn–men with hot girlfriends, men with dumpy girlfriends, men with 10 girlfriends, men with no girlfriends. The handful of men who claim they don’t look at porn are liars or castrates. Tearful discussions about your insecurities or your feminist principles will not stop a man from looking at porn. That’s why the best advice for straight women is this: GET OVER IT. If you don’t want to be with someone who looks at porn–if you can’t handle it, AG–get a woman, get a dog, or get a blind guy. I’m sorry if you think that’s insensitive–no, wait: I’m not sorry.

Either get over your feminist principles or become a lesbian/spinster, you crying hysterical woman! Things always get interesting when privileged liberals think they can get away with being bigots, don’t they?

In another entry, Meghan Murphy quotes Savage and other sexologists, who do their best to trivialize women’s reasonable objections and worries about porn use. While they are not as macholy insulting as Savage, their message is basically that those women are worrying for nothing and that some good ol’ communication (the universal relational solvent) will quiet their reticence. Heck, you can even use the porn as a way to improve your own sex life (one assumes that a cumshot on your face a day keeps the divorce away, or something like that).

Pornography is only a problem if the man is addicted to it, i.e. an actual “medical” problem. Otherwise, the woman’s values or worries are merely the result of a communication problem. Presumably the man can convince the woman that getting off on the degradation of women is no big deal, and even convince her to do some of that stuff in bed.

Everything in our rape culture is oriented towards normalizing sexual violence against women and the trivialization of female sexual concerns, to the point that performing masculinity means to actively want to degrade women.

Men do not need pornography to “get off.” I state this outright because, insofar as pornography discussions go, it seems to be the elephant in the room. All men know this fact for themselves, but they cannot say it out loud because it destroys the only justification for their made-up entitlement/right to pornography. Pornography is merely one of the methods we have of expressing sexuality, a particularly degrading one which has little to do with sexuality to begin with. Because of this, no case can be made for any right to pornography.

The majority opinion on Stanley v Georgia based its support of a right to pornography on the belief that the consumption of pornography is a personal matter:

If the First Amendment means anything, it means that a State has no business telling a man sitting in his own house, what books he may read or what films he may watch.

Well, as an Anarchist, I can agree that the State has no business telling anyone anything. But this also highlights the fact that rights-talk is often individualistic in nature. No one is denying that a man should sit in his own house and read or watch whatever he wants. But it must also be acknowledged that women have very good reasons to criticize and reject pornography as an expression of male sexuality, and to be wary of any man who uses pornography as a means to express his sexuality.

Most importantly, we must be extremely critical of the production side of pornography: who is making these movies, how are they treated, what acts does pornography depict, what effects does pornography have on the men who watch it and the women who have sex with those men, and whether this kind of “speech” is performed in an egalitarian manner or if it is inherently corporatist, hierarchical.

One of the conclusions of radical feminism is that pornography is part of the Patriarchy, that its working conditions are unacceptable to the point where one cannot tell if any act portrayed is consensual or not, that its actresses are often underage and prostitutes, and that it poisons the way in which men and women see sex.

If all this is true (as I believe it is), then it is wrong to produce pornography, and our goal should be to prevent this production. And it’s meaningless to speak of a right to access pornography if it should not be produced, since one cannot access what is not produced. If two people have sex with complete consent and record themselves, I wouldn’t call that pornography, but either way there wouldn’t be any issue with people watching that.

I mentioned that what pornography presents is ostensibly sexuality, but what it does present is a way for men and women to relate physically which is oriented towards the gratification of men and the degradation of women, which has little to do with honest sexual relationships. Considering pornography as a valid representation of sex is an obvious prerequisite for its acceptance as a normal, valid way for men to express their sexuality. If pornography is instead seen as a twisted facsimile of sex manufactured to appeal to the lowest common denominator, our indoctrination into gender roles, then why would we accept it as normal or valid? So our concept of sexuality is fundamental.

An analysis of sexuality is crucial. Sexuality is foundational in the subordination of women which means that – once you’ve got that – you can’t go wrong on pornography and prostitution and the global sex industry, marriage or any of these other issues.
Sheila Jeffreys

And this is why pro-pornography and pro-prostitution advocates must desperately portray radical feminism as being anti-sex. If the concepts of pornography and prostitution are representations of sexuality, then anyone who opposes them must be anti-sex. To not claim that their opponents are anti-sex would be tantamount to an admission that pornography and prostitution are not really about sex. Obviously, that is the one fact they must evade at all costs.

But to a radical feminist, this criticism is bizarre. As anti-pornography activist Gail Dines once said, “if I made a criticism of McDonald’s from a capitalist or humanitarian perspective, would you say I was anti-eating?” Being against McDonald’s doesn’t make one against all kinds of eating.

The deeper analogy is equally obvious: McDonald’s serves imitation food, pornography serves imitation sex (a mass-produced, wrongly-produced, adulterated, unhealthy, ethically undesirable product).

Also, while we have a right to food, we don’t have a right to McDonald’s food. Shutting down McDonald’s for some good reason (whether it is the environmental devastation it causes, its illegal workplace practices, its unhealthy food, or any number of other reasons) would not deny anyone their human rights. McDonald’s is not necessary for food any more than pornography is necessary for sex or masturbation.

The funfem analysis of pornography is very, very different from the analysis I’ve given in this entry. They are pro-pornography advocates. Their central concept is that of agency: women express their agency when they voluntarily join the pornography industry or prostitution, and they see the role of feminism as ensuring that women can do so on equal grounds with men. For funfems, there are only two attitudes one can have towards sexual activity: the imposition of shame (the traditional response) or complete acceptance (the funfem response).

This means that funfems accuse radfems of wanting to make pornography and prostitution shameful for women1. But again, this conclusion is bizarre when seen from the radfem perspective, because radfem (as I understand it) concerns itself with systemic (i.e. radical) analysis, not analysis of individual actions. Radfem does not have much to say about the fact of any specific woman engaging in prostitution or pornographic work, except to frame it within the context of the Patriarchy; it is strictly concerned with the nature of these framing institutions and resulting system.

Women cope with living under a patriarchy in any way they can. This is not to say that the funfem approach is valid, but that we must blame the institutions women adapt themselves to, not the women themselves.

1 Based on this, they try to associate radfem with fundamentalist Christians who believe that pornography is “filthy” and something shameful. I don’t understand this argument: it seems to be a circular argument, since they define both pornography and filth as obscenity. As far as I can tell, it really means that pornography makes you think about sex, and that Christianity holds non-reproductive sex as sinful. This has nothing to do with radfem arguments.

“I have a right to have children!”

Antinatalists argue strenuously that it is wrong to have children, that it creates suffering, that there is no point in having children, that there’s no point in perpetuating mankind, that mankind is too fucked up for us to keep it going, that you don’t have the right to delegate risks to someone else, that you can’t force anything on someone without their consent, and so on.

But this does not convince everyone. There are extremely selfish people who don’t give a damn about human decency or factual statements; all they care about is themselves, and fuck everyone else, including their own children. These people are likely to say something like:

“I don’t care if it’s wrong… I have the RIGHT to have children, and you have no RIGHT to stop me!”

To anyone who would say that, first of all, fuck you. You have just given me proof positive that you are a sociopathic asshole who would rather see their own children suffer than do the right thing and not have them. Even when you talk about suffering that happens to other people, you ignore the fact that it might happen to your children as well. You profoundly disgust me.

Many assholes claim the right to inflict suffering on others, from the emotionally scarring to outright death. So this is not a new conceit, by a long shot. But does it make any sense to say that you have the right to inflict suffering on others? And how does it make any sense to say that I can’t stop you from doing it?

Sure, they have the legal right to have children, and I don’t have any legal right to stop them. If that is what is meant by “right,” then obviously I have nothing to reply except “legal obligation does not create moral obligation,” and that therefore I really don’t care at all. I still consider it ethically noble for people to try to stop others from inflicting harm, even if the law says otherwise (e.g. people who fought against monarchies, slavery, sweatshops, or the war on drugs). Since by definition all forms of civil disobedience are illegal or promote illegal things, I am all for people who want to fight the law.

Am I advocating killing potential parents? No, of course not. From a purely pragmatic standpoint, it doesn’t solve anything to prevent suffering by inflicting suffering.

Do people actually have an ethical right to have children, in the same respect than we have the right to life or the right to free expression? The United Nations sure think so, but then again they also think we have a right to property, which is logical nonsense.

One thing we do know is that any supposed right which contradicts an established right is not a right at all. Any “right” to shut people up (because they express things we find despicable, for instance) contradicts the right of free expression, and is therefore nonsense. Likewise, the “right” to procreate contradicts the right to the highest standard of health. We know for a fact that any given procreative act may break this right, and that there is no way for any parent to know that the expression of their “right” won’t.

And we know for a fact that starting any new life implies breaking the right to life itself. It may be impossible to say what a future life will go through, but what we do know is that this life will eventually die, whether immediately after birth or after a hundred years. Death is a part of life. Anyone who thinks starting new lives doesn’t involve causing their future death is deluding emself.

In order to actually have children, parents delude themselves into thinking that they somehow can overcome the laws of nature; they seriously believe that if they take the right precautions, if they teach their child the right thing, if they follow the right child-raising fad, somehow their child will escape all possibility of harm. This is delusional thinking, but it is necessary for them to believe this with all their heart in order to forget the fact that they have created a new life which will suffer and die.

Here there is a clear parallel with the structures of thought we erect to tell ourselves that values are meaningful and to forget the fact that we will suffer and die. Humans seem to love to multiply layers of meanings endlessly. Some thinkers have posited, in a position called terror management theory, that most of what we do both individually and socially serves the purpose of hiding the fact of our mortality. Because of their research, numerous studies confirm a link between meaning-building and awareness of one’s mortality.

But we don’t even need any studies to realize how true this is in the case of procreation. People procreate in order to perpetuate the illusion that they will not die, that they will “live on” in their children and their children’s children, that they will “pass on” whatever it is that makes their own lives meaningful.

So again we come back to the critical problem that we see new lives as means to an end, that we use them as tools to comfort ourselves. In doing so, we are perpetuating a cycle of exploitation, as children themselves grow up and need comforting, creating links from generation to generation forged in depression, delusion and pain.
We do not have the right to exploit other people for our own comfort. Much like the cycle of abuse, the cycle of exploitation provides a justification for parents’ evil acts: after all, their own parents did the same thing, and their own parents are or were beneficial figures (unless a person has been psychologically supported in eir development, ey will always see eir parents as beyond reproach).

And now we come back again to the topic of rights. One does not have the right to exploit others for one’s own comfort. I do not have the right to stop you from killing yourself because I need you in my life. My needs are important but it is not set in stone that they must be fulfilled by the person you have chosen, and a person has the right to outright refuse the role you have given them.

The problem is that a child cannot do this. Children cannot decide not to be dependent on their parents any more until a certain age, and they cannot decide not to be their child, as that fact is historical and unchangeable. They cannot “refuse the role” given to them by their parents and by society. They cannot refuse to be their parents’ psychological equivalent of a stress relief ball. To then reply, as many natalists do, that “you can always kill yourself” is to blame the victim, and is to merely reveal once again how evil their belief system is, that they would wish death on people who have come to understand that life is meaningless and feel gypped by the social order which busies itself to make people swallow the belief that life means something.

Suppose there are cows on an incredibly slow conveyor belt on the way to be butchered. The antinatalist is the cow that sees what comes ahead and decides to confront it. It tells its companions that only death is ahead, that nothing they think, say or do matters, that they need to deal with the upcoming carnage instead. And the other cows continue to have calves, to erect towers of fake meaning, and so on, and tell the rebellious cow “geeze, you can always just kill yourself!”

So what good is having children?

No fucking good. Any rational being who thinks about it for five seconds can do better than that. Fuck your “right” to bring more suffering into this world, think for a second about what you’re doing!

The male sense of entitlement to sex.

In my entry on the sense of entitlement, I explain that entitlement happens when a person believes ey is owned something due to eir social role. To bring up a simple example, a customer believes ey is owed service above and beyond a person’s job description simply by virtue of being a customer (“the customer is always right,” and so on).

As far as I can see, all social roles entail some form of entitlement, although the reason for that entitlement may be very different; for the dominant social roles, the entitlements are an expression of that dominance, and for the subordinate social roles, the entitlements are meant to make people feel better about being part of a subordinate group (on the latter, see The Culture of Conformism, p50-51).

Likewise, men, fitting in their gender role and feeling biological urges, feel entitled to sex with women. This is not just the purview of a small minority. The lure of sexual entitlement is very, very strong, and even entraps well-meaning men (including atheists, anarchists and antinatalists who otherwise hold respectful egalitarian beliefs towards women). This is not overly surprising, since we live in a society which is drenched in the evaluation of women primarily as sex objects, whatever culture or sub-culture you live in.

Of course I understand where this sense of entitlement comes from. For most men with a libido, sex is as salient a fact as eating, sleeping and breathing, and failure to obtain sex may push one to believe that not being able to obtain sex is a form of social oppression (it is not an original deduction that woman-haters must be sexually frustrated or sexually repressed). In the worse cases, mostly MRAs, complex systems of beliefs about a female conspiracy to withdraw sex, and hierarchies of fuckability (“alphas”/”betas”/”omegas”), are developed.

I am not going to address the conspiracy theories and the hierarchies of fuckability, because there’s not much point in arguing about anything made up by people for ulterior motives (and yes, I realize the hypocrisy given that I’ve written about theology for years, but at least that’s somewhat interesting). There are only so many ways you can explain that the very reason they’re alone is their hatred of women.

Instead, I do want to address the feeling of entitlement. Now, as a socialist, I completely agree that we are entitled to all sorts of things, such as clean air, food, shelter, health care, and so on. I do not agree that men are entitled to sex. The difference, I hope, is obvious: the things on the former list are all necessary for survival (if not always, then at some point), while sex is not. In fact, not having sex does not cause any physiological effects on men, for the very simple reason that they can masturbate. Although they may want it, men do not need sex for any biological purpose (and no, I don’t count procreation).

Furthermore, even if it was true that men were entitled to sex, it would be undesirable to implement it, since it would entail rape. If we have to choose between widespread rape and some woman-hating men not getting sex (unless they pay for it, but prostitution is not much better), I’m gonna go with the latter.

However, it would not do to single MRAs as an exceptional case. All present cultures, whether based on traditional marriage (Christian-style, Islamic-style, or any other religious style) or on the porn culture (liberal-style or capitalist-style), promote belief in sex entitlement. Marriage itself is a claim of sexual ownership, traditionally of men against women, and now of both sides against each other. Marital rape has only recently been banned in Western countries. We are confronted with a modern rape culture perpetuated by the dehumanization and objectification of women. The porn culture’s answer is to make women available sexually to everyone instead of making them available sexually to only one person.

As far as I can see, all woman-hating is backed and fueled by this entitlement. This is not too surprising, as abstract concepts aren’t as effective as biological desires. But we also know that woman-hating, and the sex entitlement, are not the inevitable result of human nature. While there has never actually been any matriarchal society in history (even advocates of “matriarchal” societies admit that it is really egalitarianism they are talking about), there have been many egalitarian or near-egalitarian societies (see Societies Without Government for some examples) where women lived on a roughly equal footing with men.

The more stratified a society is, and the more of an emphasis a society puts on gender roles and the monogamous family as an isolated unit, the more likely there is to be woman-hatred. Woman-hatred has to start with male perception of the female as a subordinate Other. In our societies, this happens because the male is raised in an environment where the male perspective is used almost exclusively and where females are devalued and objectified. All the way from children’s fairy tales to pornography, men are portrayed as subjects and women are portrayed as objects, objects which are generally only valuable if they are of use to men.

Now here’s another problem: when you pipe up and say that men are not entitled to sex from women, you get accused of being a bigot against men. But it is not bigoted to say that men are not entitled to sex any more than it is bigoted to say that men are not entitled to a free helicopter. Sure it would make many men happy to get a free helicopter, but hedonism (while it has its merits as part of a personal orientation) is not a sound basis for a society.

I am not denying that sexuality is a human need. Should a free society break the hold of sexual ownership? Of course. Should sexuality, especially female sexuality, be valued instead of exploited or devalued? Sure. Should we eliminate economic inequality and let everyone create new relationships on even playing grounds? Definitely. But there is a gulf between that and being entitled to sex. In fact, both are opposite tendencies: the entitlement to sex has always been associated with sexual ownership, exploiting or devaluing sex, and profound economic inequality.

We can’t talk about male entitlement to sex and sexual ownership without talking about prostitution, the commodification of sex and, through human trafficking, the commodification of human beings. People’s attitude towards prostitution depends on whether they support traditional marriage or the porn culture; the former are against the selling of sex because they believe a woman’s sexuality is owned by her husband, and the latter are in favor of the selling of sex because they believe a woman’s sexuality should be available to everyone.

In all cases, the man’s attitude towards prostitution is dictated by the kind of entitlement to sex he believes he possesses. And this is why they fail to understand the radfem position, which is strictly anti-johns (more specifically, decriminalization of prostitutes, and criminalization of johns and pimps, following the Swedish model). They cannot understand why someone would specifically blame the men who traffic in young girls, and the men who buy their sexuality, without attacking women twice as hard. Because for the Patriarchy, women are always ultimately responsible for the gender-targeted crimes committed against them.

Ultimately it is the little girl’s fault if she was the target of human trafficking. Ultimately it is the prostitute’s fault if she is beaten by her pimp or raped by johns. If the men are responsible then the woman must be doubly responsible, because she is using her sexuality to “exploit” men.

To the rare person who is not stuck in some form of woman-hating, these conclusions may be seen as absolutely fucking insane.

I think this also provides a window into the “sex-positive” mentality. Someone who’s actually “sex-positive” wouldn’t be defending prostitution and pornography, unless they were only defending sex from the male point of view. What they are really “positive” about is fulfilling the male entitlement to sex by all means necessary, including prostitution and pornography. Their primary concern is serving the male gaze and the penis, not feminism.

Do women have a right to make medical decisions on abortion?


This is an entry in the Pro-Abortion series.


From Mimi and Eunice.

One of the arguments of Roe v. Wade, and one of the arguments pro-choice advocates use when confronted with people who deny the primacy of “choice,” is that we all have the right to make medical decisions about our own bodies, and that abortion, like any other surgery, is a decision that should take place between a woman and her doctor, not the government or anyone else.

This argument seems convincing at first glance, but how is such a right justified? The only plausible justification is through self-ownership: that because the woman owns her own body, she should be able to make autonomous medical decisions about her own body, just like making autonomous decisions about any other piece of property one owns. As the famous slogan says, “my body, my choice.” In this view, excising a fetus out of a woman’s body is no different than kicking out a neglectful tenant.

Since self-ownership is little more than semantic gobbledygook and we cannot make any logical sense of the proposition “a woman owns her own body” except in a purely tautological way, any such supposed right must be invalid as well. So the answer is yes, I deny the right to make medical decisions as a whole, not just in the case of abortion, insofar as it is unjustified.

This is not to say that I think medical decisions should always be imposed on individuals. In fact, most medical decisions should rightly be left to the consent of the individual. All individuals have a right to health, but no one has a right to impose any medical risks on anyone else… as long as only that one person is involved.

When other people are involved, consent goes out the window. For instance, we impose mandatory vaccinations. This makes sense from a deontological perspective; no one has the right to transmit disease to others. Of course, some people complain that the parents have a right to make medical decisions for their children, although they cannot justify this right or explain how it trumps the right to health of the child or other people.

Another example of a medical decision other people are not allowed to make is that of a quarantine. We accept that it may be necessary for people to be isolated in order to prevent the risk of them spreading disease.

As I have argued, starting a new human life represents a health risk. Many human lives begin compromised. And if we cannot guarantee the right to health of a future life, then we should not start it. To force a woman to get an abortion for health reasons is no less valid than quarantine or mandatory vaccines. The issue of ownership or choice is irrelevant in the face of possibly or probably causing real harm.

The anti-abortion advocates make a similar kind of argument, but about the decisions of doctors. They advocate that doctors should have the right to follow their conscience (through so-called “conscience clauses”) and refuse to participate in a medical treatment for personal reasons. In practice, this is merely a way to make abortions harder to obtain. On that basis, we must reject it. In theory, it is based on the principle that one must be free to “follow one’s conscience.” But this is an irrational principle if one’s conscience leads one away from the facts.

Doctors refusing to perform abortions because of their religious sentiments should no more be allowed to work with impunity than we should allow storekeepers to refuse to serve black people with impunity because of their racist sentiments. Let us be clear here, the conscience has little to do with it: what we are talking about here is primarily hatred. At least, in my opinion, such “conscience clauses” are little more than cartes blaches for hate crimes.

That aside, I have no objection with people following their own conscience, as long as they’re not hurting other people or interfering with their human rights. Any doctor who refuses to perform medical operations is interfering with a person’s right to health. This is unacceptable.

Of course, conservatives, Libertarians and other right-wing types believe there is no such thing as a positive right, that is to say, any duty to fulfill other people’s needs (as I have argued, I believe such a denial makes all rights meaningless). In this, their beliefs are bizarrely similar to another common pro-choice argument, that the pregnant woman has no duty whatsoever to keep the fetus alive. Here is an example of this argument:

Let us suppose I have a rare blood disease and I will die unless I have a blood transfusion from a compatible donor. Let us also suppose my mother is the only person on Earth who is a compatible donor. Even though I am a “person,” I have no right to receive sustenance from the blood of another person — including from my mother — without the consent of that person. However, if I were a fetus, then “pro-life” supporters say I should have this right.

I believe that this line of reasoning is deeply wrong. But it is far less clear to me why pro-choice liberals would be so convinced that these arguments are valid; if you believe in positive rights at all, then how can you not believe in the most fundamental of positive rights, the right to get whatever is needed for your bare survival? If no such positive right exists, then no positive rights can possibly exist.

Many advocates admit that this is an attempt to make a “choice” argument that is true even if one admits that the fetus is a person. A fair argumentative goal, but an ethical failure. I find it extremely hard to believe that they seriously believe in the rightness of letting people die in the name of “choice,” while at the same time being passionate partisans on health care and welfare issues.

This is just another eloquent demonstration of the atomistic individualism that results from blind belief in self-ownership. Taken to a consistent logical extreme, atomistic individualism and the rejection of positive rights can only lead to the complete breakdown of civilized life. Ironically, I used to argue like this to defend the pro-choice position when I was a Libertarian; now I realize how cruel and wrong that was. But at least I had the excuse of having sympathies with right-wing positions at the time.

It is even less excusable for pro-choice advocates to compound insult with injury by trying to attack their opponents for upholding a positive duty (made even more bizarre by the fact that most of their opponents are right-wingers who don’t believe in positive duties):

A house is on fire and someone is trapped behind a deadly wall of flame. That person will perish if we do not act to save his life. We are obligated then, to run into the fire and attempt to save his life, if we subscribe to the notion that it is a duty to take positive affirmative action.

…This would lead to people being obligated to be the ‘hyper-good samaritain’ (sic). That is risking their life and abandoning their rights in order to save the life of another. This situation, clearly, is absurd.

This is obviously a straw man, as there is no way to get from “we have a duty to take positive affirmative action” to the hyper-good samaritan position. In this example, firemen have the job of attempting to save eir life, not any random person. Any sane society acquits itself of its obligation to save people’s lives from fires by giving people the skills and the equipment needed to put out fires and save lives, not by tasking every single person, skilled or not, with the duty of rushing into fires. Unless one wishes to argue that firemen are an inadequate provision of this service, the objection surely cannot stand: it’s a complete disconnect from reality, and if the author had thought about real life for a few seconds, ey’d have realized it too.

The problem is in the equivocation of “we.” The writer assumes that when people say “we have the absolute duty to save human beings,” we’re talking about every single individual in a society having this duty. But obviously we’re talking about society as a whole having this duty, not every single individual. When we say we have a duty to save people from fires, we’re talking about society through the agency of firemen, not every single bystander.

The only reason why a pregnant woman would, if a fetus had a right to life (which it doesn’t), shoulder the entire burden of such a right is because no one else can sustain the life of the fetus but the pregnant women. In that specific case, no institution can do the job, and no other person can do the job but the pregnant woman. So the issue of whose responsibility it is becomes moot.

The anti-abortion position tries to undermine the right to make medical decisions on the basis of regret or psychological damage. Of course, this is pointless since the right to make medical decisions is nonsense. But the objection of regret is equally nonsense.

Any medical treatment decision can lead to regret in some percentage of patients. If protection from regret were sufficient to permit government regulation, government could override patient decision-making for any medical procedure, eviscerating the legal and ethical norm of informed consent in healthcare. For example, a recent study concluded that as many as one in five men who undergo prostate surgery (which may not always be necessary to preserve life or health) regret their decision, typically because of reduced sexual function. Taking Carhart’s reasoning to its logical extreme, why not permit the State to protect men from the regret that may result from their reduced virility, which may lead to depression and other psychological harms? Treatment for prostate cancer can also be an emotionally fraught decision for men, particularly due to possible sexual side effects. Yet, lawmakers do not respond to this proven risk of regret by limiting men’s treatment options; rather lawmakers and physicians work to ensure the provision of more accurate information to improve men’s decision-making. Only in the case of the gender-specific abortion decision does the law react to the possibility of patient regret–present to some degree with any medical treatment–by permitting the government to ban the treatment entirely and endanger the patient’s health.

The irrational woman: informed consent and abortion decision-making, by Maya Manian

Manian’s argument is that this is due to women being seen as irrational and unable to rationally consider risks. If this is true, then the regret argument is inherently sexist, and must be rebuked with extreme prejudice. Either way, the argument is clearly flawed; giving more information is always a better solution than illegality.

We do not have a right to not feel regret, if only because any right based on emotion is self-contradictory. Of course we don’t want to feel negative emotions, but to reject them out of hand is to plunge into mindless hedonism. Any decision we take involves risks, and those risks will sometimes become reality, inevitably creating regrets. As we see with prostate surgery, the best response to regret is to be better informed so that we are fully aware of those risks and can cope with them appropriately.

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