This is an entry in the Pro-Abortion series.
3) How ought we go about the task of defining (understanding) tyranny? How should we apply ourselves to the problem of developing a more adequate and rationally coherent understanding of tyranny?
The problem with this question is that it treats tyranny as a fundamental concept, that all we need to do is apply ourselves to a specific kind of observations to come to conclusions about the concept of tyranny. But I think tyranny can only be understood within a specific framework of what liberty (not being imposed upon) is.
A person alone on a desert island, to borrow the typical example, is not free, but ey has liberty, insofar as no one is imposing upon em (at least, if we follow the traditional scenario: as we’ll see, two of the three worldviews disagree on that to some degree). Tyranny does not enter the picture until at least two people are present (which introduces the concept of ownership- who gets to use what, and how?), and a relation of dominance/submission is introduced between them (with control as the end goal of such relations). So we can only understand the concept of tyranny if we first share an understanding of the concepts of liberty, ownership and control. What we believe about these things and their interactions will structure how we think of tyranny.
If we look at the Christian worldview, there is really no such thing as liberty. God is omnipresent, omniscient, and gives humans moral rules to follow at all times; the desert island scenario no longer applies. Ownership immediately becomes relevant, and God is likewise seen as the rightful owner of all of Creation, including human beings (however incoherent that is in reality). In that view, humans can only position themselves as enforcers, or rebels, of God’s will. Obviously there are more dimensions to this, including the strange alliance of Christianity with capitalism in North America, but at a basic level, control is valid when it’s used to enforce God’s will, and invalid when it’s not used to enforce God’s will.
The Bible supports abortion, and early Christian theologians supported abortion. But two major factors come into play: the Christian hatred of women’s rights, and the need for the more aggressive organized religions (including most sects of Christianity) to keep reproduction going to get more parishioners. Common law was pro-choice; abortion was made illegal around the West in the late 1800s to boost White procreation rates, and Roe v Wade created the modern pro-life Christian movement as we know it. But even with the Bible supporting abortion, Christians still use the reasoning that God is against killing, and therefore abortions, to justify their actions.
Classical liberalism, from which liberalism and Libertarianism are derived, is premised on the concept of self-ownership. We should therefore expect the pro-choice position to lean heavily on that concept when talking about social issues, especially those that concern a person’s body such as abortion. Choice is a corollary to the idea that the person owns their own body.
My position is that liberty is basically an illusion, as exemplified by the fact that the desert island scenario omits the most important fact about a human being, namely that ey was deliberately brought to life by other human beings. We cannot be free from impositions, whether it is the imposition of life itself, of our desires, of pain, disease and degeneration, and so on. To limit ourselves to impositions from other people merely highlights the fact that those human impositions are pretty much the only ones we can do anything at all about, and even then we can do very little about them.
Like the Christian, I deny self-ownership, albeit based on logical and biological arguments, not theological ones. My position is that ownership systems should serve human needs, not the opposite. This leads me to a very egalitarian position, and to the recognition that freedom and equality are really just two sides of the same coin.
Each of these views on liberty, ownership and control lead to a different understanding of tyranny. To the Christian, that which turns people away from God’s will is tyrannical, no matter what that will is or how it’s determined. To the liberal, a society which restricts choices and opportunities for all is tyrannical, no matter what those opportunities are. To me, a tyrannical society is one where institutions serve some abstract form of power (profit, control, holiness, status) instead of concrete human needs and self-determination, no matter how well-intentioned the people serving those institutions are.
[I]s there some basic methodology for going about the process of thinking about a fundamental philosophical problem such as the nature of tyranny?
Again, I want to reiterate that the nature of tyranny is not a “fundamental” problem, but rather is predicated on a number of assumptions regarding what is just and what is unjust, whether liberty is possible and in what form, what normal and just ownership relations are, and what forms and structures of control are reasonable or unreasonable. The “process of thinking” about tyranny has to start with examining these assumptions and how they differ from ideology to ideology. I have tried to explain where I think all the positions are coming from, ideologically. Persons from the other positions can evaluate whether I described their ideology accurately or not (I certainly hope I did, at a very general level anyway).
As for whether we can reconcile all these views, I don’t think you can change them piecemeal. I think you need to change the person’s underlying ideology before you change their ideas about tyranny or liberty.
4) Why do people struggle against tyranny at all? This question may seem too simplistic to ask. One could say that people naturally struggle against tyranny whenever they feel that they are being oppressed. This is basic common sense, and is fine as far as it goes, but it does not explain why pro-life advocates would struggle against easy access to abortion when they are not being personally oppressed by it, or why some men would hold pro-choice views when they cannot become pregnant.
It is bizarre for Bellinger to not understand basic altruism. Why does he think it’s weird for people to want to defend the innocent, even if it doesn’t affect them personally? I don’t think he thought this question through.
I also think that there is a sense of horror associated with tyranny. People from every position on abortion find the others to be horrific, because each believes that the others are supporting pretty grievous harms (be it mass forced abortions, the profound harms of existence, murder-on-demand, or outright genocide). I do feel a sense of horror and disgust towards the positions of pro-choice and anti-abortion advocates, as well as the kind of world their position entails (a world where people are treated as means instead of ends). I would surmise that this is a big motivator for everyone involved, not just me.
Pro-life advocates see themselves as acting on behalf of unborn children, who cannot protect themselves. Why is there this concern for the unseen fetus? Is the basic motivation a desire to feel self-righteous in relation to others who are seen as morally inferior? Is it a concern for the moral progress of the human race, as with the Abolitionists? Is it a belief that abortion on demand is a form of legal anarchy which is eroding the moral fabric of Western civilization? Is it a concern to prevent women from harming themselves psychologically by deciding to end the lives of their own children?
I don’t quite understand the perspective of this question. He has acknowledged that tyranny is an important concept, but now seems to want to get into a different topic. Is he asking what makes people act against this specific kind of tyranny in the specific ways that they do? I think now we’re getting into folk psychoanalysis, and I am not really comfortable doing that. It’s too personal. I am interested in the ideas people hold, not the psychological reason why they hold them.
On the other hand, I can treat these reasons as ideas and analyze them at that level. For example, is it objectively justifiable to see people who support abortion as morally inferior? I don’t think calling people immoral solely on the basis of their ideas is valid, because they could have arrived at these ideas in all sorts of ways, some rational, some irrational. It is the act of thinking (rationally or not) that has moral relevance, not the thought itself. Same for the concept of “moral progress.” What would be real “moral progress” is if we started thinking about morality in a more rational way. Sadly, that’s not happening.
Is it “legal anarchy”? “Legal anarchy” is a logical contradiction, as the concept of law (elitism) is pretty much the exact opposite of anarchy (egalitarianism). Even if we’re talking about the colloquial meaning of anarchy as chaos, I don’t see how abortion is causing any kind of legal chaos. There doesn’t seem to be any confusion as regards to what kind of abortions are legal and which are not. As for psychological harm, there’s a lot of propaganda on that topic, but people don’t inform themselves as to what the women who had abortions actually think. This web site is a good way to inform oneself.
On the pro-choice side, is the basic motivation a desire to feel self-righteous in relation to others who are seen as politically and philosophically “backward” in our modern liberal society? Is it a concern for the moral progress of the human race, as with the Abolitionists? Is it a belief that abortion on demand is a triumph of respect for individual moral autonomy? Is it a concern to relieve the suffering of distressed women?
My answers about immoral ideas (or in this case, backward ideas) and moral progress apply to the first two points here as well. I certainly do not think liberalism is at the cutting edge of philosophy (like all other ideologies, it evolved from much older positions), and I don’t think an idea can be called backwards unless we examine the reasoning that leads to it. If the reason is, say, “because the Bible says so,” then yes, I think that would be sufficient reason to call it backwards.
It’s kindof ironic to talk about “individual moral autonomy” when childbirth is as much of an attack against moral autonomy as enforcing childbirth on women. In that respect, I suppose pro-choice is preferable insofar as it at least doesn’t attack the moral autonomy of the woman as well. The last justification, reliving the suffering of distressed women, is quite valid in itself, although it is as much a pro-abortion justification as a pro-choice justification.
This is the end of Bellinger’s questions. I think these are great questions for the most part, and I think they deserve to be answered by people of all positions. My only problem with this is, do they really put us any closer to mutual understanding or any kind of resolution? I may be wrong, but I don’t really think that any amount of understanding will make pro-choice and anti-abortion people realize that starting new human lives is wrong. To expect this would mean to deny the tremendous weight of one’s life experiences and intellectual development in molding one’s opinions. This is clearly wrong-headed.
Even a complete, total understanding between individuals of what they consider factual will not solve the debate, because we will never agree with everything everyone else believes, even if we understand it perfectly.
No, debates such as this one, which hinge on fundamental human rights, are only truly “resolved” by history, insofar as one idea wins out over the others. As long as people keep creating harm, we will need to keep fighting against them, whether it is through childbirth, slavery, war, penal systems, or any other evil institution.