Comment Of The Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 8/24/17”

The debate over what kind of tolerance is required and justified in a democracy inspired reader Chris Marschner to submit a thoughful and thought-provoking comment, as he has before, that takes the discussion in a diferent direction.  I’ll let you read it and have your own reactions; Chris needs no further preface.

Here is his Comment of the Day on the post,Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 8/24/17:

Let me begin with the question, what lies as the foundation of tolerance? Is it understanding, empathy, or a just a willingness to comprehend an alternative perspective? Perhaps it is all three. By definition, tolerance is a willingness to live and let live, so to speak. But, the notion of willingness to live and let live does not preclude the actions of those who seek to change minds through cogent rational argument.

I have listened at great length to those who oppose and support the destruction or removal of Confederate iconography in today’s world. If we start with the assumption that what is right and good will triumph over that which is bad and evil in time without the need to resolve the dispute violently we might move toward a more tolerant and enlightened social structure.

My thesis is neither a defense of nor a condemnation of societal issues that continue to pit one against another. I will merely juxtapose the historical issue which divided the nation into camps that found the practice repugnant and those that found no problem with it an a modern day issue that one group find morally repugnant while others do not and attempt to draw parallels to historical events that sanctified, or at least legitimized social behavior.

Again, I am trying not to cast any judgement on any behavior but to develop my thoughts I needed to find a modern day issue that a majority segment of our population finds morally repugnant and another minority segment sees as perfectly acceptable. I then asked myself the question to what lengths might the minority segment go should the majority segment impose its will by executive or judicial fiat? How much will the minority tolerate before it finds the political majorities imposed will too much to tolerate. What issue might create substantial animus toward the ruling segment that it too may seek to enjoin itself from laws of the land. What parallels in history do we see that might engender such animus and how might future generations view the loser if the debate escalated into a full on confrontation?

Today, I would guess nearly 100% of our people see involuntary servitude a human rights violation. I am aware there are some that still cling to beliefs of racial or ideological supremacy. Here in Maryland, a border state, some in the nineteenth century had differing opinions on that issue. In those days, such as now, economics and politics played a critical role in one’s perspective. Even Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation only freed the slaves in states that seceded. Maryland’s slaves were held hostage by the Union to ensure that Maryland did not secede, which would have been strategically disadvantageous for the Union forces. Why is Lincoln’s strategic decision to emancipate only those slaves in confederate states and not in Union states acceptable? If slavery was believed to be an anathema by Lincoln then the Emancipation Proclamation should have applied to all those currently in bondage. Or, did politics and military tactics play a role in his ethical decision-making? Do we rationalize this as the ends justify the means?

Then as now, when the federal government imposes its will to expropriate value from one sector of the population to give value to another, the group that perceives harm fights to preserve that to which it feels entitled.

It seems logical that any supremacist, irrespective of the biological or ideological rationale, perceives others as an inferior or sub-human species. Science can now show that genetically we are virtually the same as a species with the exception of differences due to the expression of certain genes. Why is it that some see other humans being substantially differently enough and thus not worthy of the same inalienable rights as another?

This brings me to my point. Since time began one group enslaved another for various reasons. In the United States, we endure the legacy of the past injustice of involuntary servitude of Africans who were brought here in chains and legally considered personal property that could be treated as its owner wished. I doubt seriously that any American – even these “supremacists” – would today argue to return to the days in which any group could be treated as personal property and maintained in bondage; separatism maybe,  but not involuntary servitude.

Nonetheless, we have a large segment of the population, as well as modern day court decisions, which promote the idea that certain human beings are not deserving of the same inalienable rights. If we compare much derided Scott v Sanford in which Supreme Court Justice Roger B Taney decided that Mr. Scott had no standing to sue in Federal Court, as well as extending his ruling to state that the Federal government had no Constitutional power to deny states the right to permit involuntary servitude, to Roe v. Wade we might see little difference in the two. In Scott, we see the court ruling in favor of state sovereignty and denying a person citizenship status because he was deemed legally inferior in the state of his domicile. In Roe, the court determined that the rights of a developing human being are subordinate to its master. It effectively treated the unborn human being as an inferior class of the species such that personal sovereignty over one’s body permitted that person responsible for its care and maintenance to exercise a property right over that unborn human being to the extent that the unborn human being can be discarded at will.

I find it hard to believe that anyone, especially those who decry the “science deniers” can argue against the fact that upon conception all the genetic material necessary for a human being has been combined in a manner necessary for that human being to begin to grow and develop. Why did the court establish what could be perceived as an arbitrary line in the human being’s development? What makes leaving the uterus of its host any more of a determining factor when the life of a human begins than when it begins cellular division, or the age of reason, or graduates from college? Why is the age of consent different in different states? Why are fathers not given the same right to choose if we have equal treatment under the law? Why do we have a “violence against women act” and not a “violence against children act”? Are little boys to be precluded from protections from violence Because these determinations are made by other human beings who decide what groups have superior rights over others which, is in fact a form of supremacy belief based on societal beliefs, political calculations and assumptions of social roles, and inherently superior capabilities of the genders. It matters little if they are actually correct of incorrect assumptions – they are what they are at that time. When a woman seeks to terminate the life of a developing human being, the fact that the government never provides a guardian ad litem for the unborn to argue on its behalf is prima facie evidence that much of society today views the developing unborn human being an inferior species – no better than your pet which too is treated as property in law. Thus, the born are treated as a superior class of people.

Today’s science can tell us what genes will be expressed which determine whether or not the child if left to develop will be “normal” or be afflicted with some characteristic that will impose a burden on the parent such as Down’s syndrome or some other undesirable trait. It was recently reported that Iceland has wiped out Down’s syndrome simply by aborting pregnancies – i.e. children – that test positively for that trait. China, long used abortion to control the female population and still maintains strict rules for family size. At what point, does abortion advocacy lead to the point of genetic cleansing? Should we begin to claim advocates of at will pregnancy termination are actually attempting to create a superior race that embodies only the genetic characteristics deemed desirable by society? I hope not. Wasn’t that the rationale behind opponents of interracial marriage? Didn’t they think any offspring would jeopardize the strength of its gene pool? Wasn’t this the basis for Dr. Mengele’s experiments in Nazi Germany? . Maybe it just boils down to simply a belief that as a born humans have more rights than an unborn humans and that the unborn human is imposing a cost on that one does not wish to bear.

All arguments are couched in terms of endearment. We don’t kill babies we terminate pregnancies. No one will ever argue that women have a right to kill their unborn babies. They simply have a right to choose. How Orwellian. Either way the effect is the same the baby dies because the master of its destiny believes the human being not yet born is an inferior human being and not entitled to the same rights as the born. Like today’s advocates for abortion, confederate soldiers were fed the line that the issue isn’t about slavery it was all about state’s rights and state sovereignty. Conversely, the counterarguments paint the opposition with ad hominem attacks and attempt to stifle the speech of anyone espousing a different point of view in order to preserve the purity of their ideals. That itself is a form of supremacy belief.

Before we start condemning all those who stand for anything we owe an obligation to allow them to speak their peace, make their arguments, and then and only then rebut them if we can do so logically, rationally, and peacefully.

I close with the following thoughts, would some states seek to secede from the union if the majority of its voters and politicians demanded it if the high court decided that women no longer have the right to choose. If they lost the fight would they be considered treasonous? How many statues to progressives might be felled 150 years should they fall from grace in those future times and will those that seek to preserve the past to which their foremothers fought maintain be treated as social pariahs?

32 Comments

Filed under Childhood and children, Comment of the Day, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, History, Law & Law Enforcement, Rights

32 responses to “Comment Of The Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 8/24/17”

  1. Sue Dunim

    I find it hard to believe that anyone, especially those who decry the “science deniers” can argue against the fact that upon conception all the genetic material necessary for a human being has been combined in a manner necessary for that human being to begin to grow and develop.

    Argument from Incredulity.

    But no matter, whether you find it hard to believe or not, biologists do indeed argue that what you state as a fact is not factual.

    Why? Because what’s important is not what you find hard to believe, or what others, even experts in the area say,but what is reality.

    Consider monzygotic twins. One conception, two people resulting.
    Consider chimerae. Multiple conceptions, one person resulting.
    Consider hydatidiform moles. One conception, a malignant tumours resulting.
    Consider miscarriages, where the conception did not provide genetic material of adequate quality to develop fully, regardless of environment.

    Those are simple cases. During foetal development, multiple cell lines can be created in the developing foetus. This is most obvious with the sex chromosomes, with 1 in 300 men not being the usual 46,XY.

    Given that fatal, fundamental flaw, that assumption of something as a fact that is probably untrue, it is surprising and gratifying that the rest of the post is so useful, logical, and covers almost all of the moral bases. The only critique I can give is to say “I agree”.

    One area not covered: best explained through a hypothetical.

    Would it be ethical to compel someone with a rare blood type to donate blood so others may live, even if the donation had a high possibility of killing them?

    If not, why not? And how does this differ from compelling a woman who is pregnant against her wishes to carry the foetus, an entity which is brain dead until a certain point in development, at the risk of her own life?

    Once the foetus is no longer brain dead, then using the same logic we use for all other cases, it is a person, regardless of viability. Such a point is reached after 22 weeks. Where exactly depends on circumstances, so 22 weeks is a safe divide, even though 24 may be safe too, we can’t be 100% sure. At that point we have an analogous situation to the blood donor hypothetical above.

    • How about this, what if the person you’d compel to donate blood was responsible for the donee’s condition ie, the donor had assaulted him, shed enough blood for him to need a transfusion, and whaddayaknow, the assailant just happens to have the right blood type!

      Except in rare circumstances (rape, incest) a fetus is in a similar position. When a woman gets pregnant through voluntary intercourse, she is responsible for a human life. To terminate that life is to punish it for her own choices. And honestly, how risky IS pregnancy nowadays in first world countries?

      • Sue Dunim

        How risky? From the Lancet.

        • Sue Dunim

          Those are maternal death rates per 100,000 live births.

        • Kyjo

          If we managed to get the maternal mortality rate per 100,000 live births down to Irish levels, would you accept Irish-style abortion abolition?

          • Kyjo

            Let’s get some more perspective on that maternal mortality rate. How many live births were there in the US last year? CDC says 3.98 million, which comes out to something like 1,050 maternal deaths at a rate of 26.4 per 100,000 live births. Roughly twice as many women die from asthma every year. The lifetime risk of dying from childbirth is 1 in 3,800 in the US, compared to 1 in 1,771 from falling down stairs. Childbirth is riskier for the mother than abortion, but having had an abortion previously increases the risk of maternal mortality. (Not to mention that abortion nearly always results in the death of the fetus … ) There’s work to be done to improve maternal perinatal care in the US, but giving birth generally isn’t dangerous.

      • Davide Somma

        “Except in rare circumstances (rape, incest) a fetus is in a similar position. ”
        Are you implying that in these rare circumstances abortion you consider abortion to be acceptable, even if the rape or incest is no way the fault of the fetus?

        I’m asking because the rape/incest exception seems to be quite a common position, but it’s hard to reconcile with the idea that the fetus is a human being with the right of life.
        So if abortion is wrong because the fetus has a right to life, it’s ALWAYS wrong – doesn’t matter how the fetus got there.

        (I suspect Jack has written about this inconsistency himself, though)

        • Indeed I have. The life, if it’s a life, has exactly as many rights and human value no matter how it was conceived.

        • “Are you implying that in these rare circumstances abortion you consider abortion to be acceptable, even if the rape or incest is no way the fault of the fetus?”

          Yes, and here’s why: Even though the fetus itself is not responsible, it owes its very existence to a violation. Living through the trauma of rape is bad enough, but having to carry a baby to term on top that (especially given the risk you cite), that’s a heck of a lot to ask. So my position is, no abortion for convenience; you choose the risk, you choose the consequences by default. But if you did NOT choose the risk, then you shouldn’t be blamed for opting out of the consequence of pregnancy.

          • Davide Somma

            But by allowing abortion to spare the mother further trauma you allowing sacrifice of an innocent human life.

            I think this is an implicit admission that, to most pro-lifers, the fetus’ life isn’t actually worth THAT much, because they wouldn’t be willing to let the mother kill an innocent adult to spare herself further trauma (I hope), but are willing to sacrifice the fetus.

            And what is the problem with the mother ‘opting out’ of the consequence going to be, if the fetus’ right to life isn’t that important in the end?

            Do note the fetus’ right to life isn’t the primary focus, the ‘you choose the risk, you choose the consequences’ positio has really extreme consequences; for example, to refuse people health care for accidents caused by their own carelessness.
            Or, more radically, to ban them from seeking health care, even if they pay with their own money.
            Do you agree with that? Do you think that it is unethical to ‘opt out’ of the medical consequences of any risky behavior by seeking treatment?

            (Yes, this is an appeal to consequences; but in moral reasoning, it’s hardly a fallacy)

            • Even an adult’s right to life is not absolute; ending human life is considered by all the but the most extreme pacifists to be acceptable under certain specific situations: Self-defense, facing enemy combatants in war, or ending a permanently vegetative state. Outside these scenarios, society does not and should not condone the taking of human life.

              I am aware of pro-life advocates who object to aborting a product of rape/incest, (so far I haven’t come across any who object to ending a pregnancy judged by competent medical authority to be an imminent danger to the mother) and I disagree with them, just like I disagree with pacifists who wouldn’t raise a weapon to protect their own family.

              The slippery slope you suggest with my “accept the consequences” statement I find inapplicable, and frankly absurd, because of COURSE you can make choices regarding the care or lack thereof with your own body, but when you get pregnant by your own, voluntary actions, that new human life deserves consideration too and should not, IMHO, be terminated except in certain very specific circumstances.

      • Chris

        How about this, what if the person you’d compel to donate blood was responsible for the donee’s condition ie, the donor had assaulted him, shed enough blood for him to need a transfusion, and whaddayaknow, the assailant just happens to have the right blood type!

        I’d expect that any law forcing a prisoner to donate blood to a person he assaulted would be found unconstitutional.

    • Pure rationalization. I’m surprised you would endorse it. Bootstrapping and reasoning to reach a pre-determined result.

      • Were you responding to me or Sue?

        • Sue Dunim

          What matters is

          Before we start condemning all those who stand for anything we owe an obligation to allow them to speak their peace(sic), make their arguments, and then and only then rebut them if we can do so logically, rationally, and peacefully.

          To continue with your argument, would someone who gave a lift to the victim to a place where a falling rock hit them be “responsible” too? Even if they called out a warning?

          In one case, harm was intended. In the other, not. Unless you can show cases of women getting pregnant just so they can have an abortion – a procedure not without risk, though less risky than carrying a foetus and later child to term – then your analogy is less than useful.

          But your imperfect analogy was expressed in a civilised and rational manner. Jack’s description of it.could have been more diplomatic.but was accurate, just overly terse, without explanation. Hopefully mine helped?

          In any event, in times like these, being over!y polite, overly courteous, even unreasonably understanding might be what saves us all. There’s a time for terseness and brutal honesty. This is not it. Honesty, always, brutality not so much, even if deserved. Not helpful.

        • Sue. The way comments align on the post and on my administrator page are somethings different.

    • Sergio Romo

      ‘..an entity which is brain dead until a certain point in development..’ Utterly amazing. So now the baby isn’t a human being until the brain is fully developed?? My 2 year old nephews brain is still ‘ developing’ , so I assume it would be ok to ‘terminate’ his existence. Just be honest, the sanctity of life assumes a moral obligation which you find incompatible. Or inconvenient. Perhaps your brain has outdeveloped your heart.

      • Chris

        ‘..an entity which is brain dead until a certain point in development..’ Utterly amazing. So now the baby isn’t a human being until the brain is fully developed??

        Sue never said the fetus was not a “human being” until the brain is
        fully developed.” She said it wasn’t a person as long as it is brain dead. That you mischaracterized both of these terms shows you don’t understand what they mean.

        My 2 year old nephews brain is still ‘ developing’ , so I assume it would be ok to ‘terminate’ his existence.

        Your 2-year-old nephew is, presumably, not braindead.

        Next time you might have better luck if you respond to Sue’s actual argument instead of making one up.

        • Sergio Romo

          ‘..an entity which is brain dead until a certain point in development..’ Utterly amazing. So now the baby isn’t a human being until the brain is fully developed?? My 2 year old nephews brain is still ‘ developing’ , so I assume it would be ok to ‘terminate’ his existence. Just be honest, the sanctity of life assumes a moral obligation which you find incompatible. Or inconvenient. Perhaps your brain has outdeveloped your heart.

          • Chris

            I’m really not sure why you came here two weeks later to repost the same comment I’ve already rebutted? That seems like a really weird thing to do.

    • Chris Marschner

      Sue,
      I appreciate your thoughts. However I was neither advocating for nor against abortion. I thought I made that abundantly clear. My point was simply that human beings, fallible as they are can make what many consider absolutely dreadful and repugnant decisions based on their understanding of the world.

      As for your point regarding monozygotic twins. If left to develop they would be identical twins that developed as two distinct zygotes with 46 chromosomes each. Dizygotic twins are fraternal are two eggs fertilized from 2 different sperm. Each form contains 23 pairs of chromosomes with the DNA pattern that differentiates it as the species homo sapiens. Chimaera also have DNA strands that when tested would yield the result that the genetic material is that of a homo sapiens. The only difference in chimaera is that the individual could have 2 different DNA strands in various organs because 2 sperm fertilized one egg. I never stated that every conception led to the birth of what most would consider the norm. Even a Down’s syndrome child has more not fewer chromosomes. It is caused when there is a third copy of chromosome 21 – or a partial. I made the point that minor differences occur when genes are expressed but these gene expressions do not change the species. As for hydatidiform moles, this occurs when the egg – devoid of a nucleus is fertilized. In this case you are correct that insufficient genetic material exists upon fertilization. If left untreated, a hydatidiform mole will almost always end as a spontaneous abortion or miscarriage. There is no doubt that these conceptions require medical treatment to ensure the health of the host.

      From Wikipedia: “In rare cases a hydatidiform mole co-exists in the uterus with a normal, viable fetus. These cases are due to twinning. The uterus contains the products of two conceptions: one with an abnormal placenta and no viable fetus (the mole), and one with a normal placenta and a viable fetus. Under careful surveillance it is often possible for the woman to give birth to the normal child and to be cured of the mole.

      Even those males with Fragile X syndrome are homo sapiens.

      I really don’t see that my statements should be viewed with incredulity. That seems a bit of hyperbole. What I stated is more correct than not. There are exceptions everywhere in the universe. Does that mean we must create every assumption, statement, or argument with a full set of disclosures to make an unrelated point? I hope you realize that you actually reinforced my point that some members of our species view others who are not “genetically proper” are a sub-species unworthy of all the rights and privileges afforded to the perceived more pure of the species. The name for that is eugenics.

      Every human being expresses themselves differently in behavior. We all make decisions based on our understanding of the world. The larger point is if we work to silence any voice, banishing them from the marketplace of ideas we are simply imprisoning ourselves into a world in which that which we do not understand is filled with misunderstanding.

  2. Davide Somma

    But this completely ignores the actual arguments in favor of considering the fetus morally inferior – lack of awareness, subjective experience and sentience. At least early on in its development.

    The human fetus is certainly not part of an ‘inferior species’ – it is human, after all, because it is a living being with human DNA – but does differ in some morally relevant ways from adult human beings, like the mother who actually has to bear it.
    The fetus isn’t simply a mini-person.

    Or is the writer implying that the arguments for the moral inferiority of the fetus are on the same level as those for the inferiority of black people, women, and so on…?

    • It’s simpler than that. Both blacks and the unborn are/were placed in the category of lesser, subordinate classes of human beings, in part for thge sake of convenience and the benefit of a more powerful group. In my view, moral status is irrelevant.

    • Chris Marschner

      Davide,
      Jacks answer is exactly the point I was making.

      If you will indulge me I will add this: Who defines “viability’ of the fetus – humans do. How viable is the life expectancy of a newborn without the care and attention of another human being that has “awareness, subjective experience, and sentience”? The viability of a newborn left without care is I would argue zero. Nonetheless, we use the term viability to determine at what point in a pregnancy may an abortion take place yet we would never consider not caring for a foundling.

      We do not know what we do not know. Simply because we cannot test a fetus for all the criteria you specified does not mean that they do not exist. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

      We arbitrarily define terms in the manner that fits our perspective. We define our terms in the manner of our subjective experience. Our definitions are not an absolute truth. They are simply a decisions made by fallible people. Only through experience do we learn whether or not the decision was a good one.

      • Davide Somma

        “in part for the sake of convenience and the benefit of a more powerful group.”
        Correct.

        But convenience and benefitting the powerful do not make a position automatically wrong. I’m sure you can find a convenient moral position that benefits the powerful more than the powerless and that you strongly agree with.
        Pro-choicers have much better arguments for treating the fetus as a lesser being than slave-owners did for black people.

        And absence of evidence IS evidence of absence in cases where one would expect evidence of some sort.

        “We define our terms in the manner of our subjective experience…Only through experience do we learn whether or not the decision was a good one.”
        How do you reconcile that with the fact that people don’t remember being a fetus? That is, they do not remember *any* subjective experience from that stage of their life.

        As for your other claims about perspective, ‘not knowing what we do not knowing’ and so on, they look more like moral relativism than an actual anti-abortion argument to me.

        • Chris Marschner

          Davide,
          “Better arguments” are subjective in themselves. If you hold one position or another you are likely to assess merit based on your underlying beliefs.

          Science continues to help us understand that which we do not know. Using your logic, If we do not immediately see evidence where we expect to see it we must stop looking. End of story, case closed. Furthermore if science chooses not to or lacks the means to investigate the cognitive ability at every stage of development then evidence will not automatically appear, whether we expect to find it or not.

          Regarding subjective experience. I have neither a recollection of my last days in the womb nor of my first years as a born child so I find it easy to reconcile the position. So because I have no recollection of that stage of life I should have fewer rights.

          The only moral relativism that has been suggested is that one group has the idea that simply because they have fully developed brains capable of understanding and communication world they hold a superior position in terms of rights. And, until such time does the unborn become born it remains the property of the host.

          • Davide Somma

            You talk about ‘fully developed brains’, I’m wondering then what you think not about the fetus, but about the embryo that has no brain at all (rather than an underdvelope done)

            Do you think society should seriously consider the hypothesis that it might (somehow) still be conscious and have subjective experience and thus ban aborting brainless embryos (and maybe the morning-after pill)?

            If the answer is yes it sounds like you are arguing in favor of fully separating cognitive ability/sentience and brain, which I hope is a really extreme position.

            (or you actually don’t believe cognitive ability matters at all in the abortion debate, I suppose)

            • I don’t believe cognitive ability matters. It’s a bootstrapping rationalization. It’s a growing organism, and we know it’s growing. If it will have cognitive ability if left alone to do what it will do naturally, leaping on its current limitations as an excuse to kill it is no more justifiable than killing it later. The reason we tolerate allowing brain dead adults to die is because they will not be better over time.

              • Chris

                I don’t understand how that is not a fallacy, Jack. If cognitive ability matters when considering whether a being has rights, that can’t be applied retroactively; that a fetus will have cognitive ability at some point doesn’t mean it has rights now. It means it will have rights when it has cognitive ability.

                Also, this:

                If it will have cognitive ability if left alone to do what it will do naturally

                Is actually funny to me. Pregnancy is hard work. Pregnant women don’t just get to “leave alone” their growing fetus and let it do it’s thing “naturally.” Many women have to change their behavior quite a lot in order to ensure their fetus survives.

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