I’m going to try and keep my response to this post as brief as possible.
“The difference between our reaction to the two is that now we know Africans are people.”
If you wonder whether Africans are people, go and ask one of them. If you wonder whether they should be slaves, try asking them for their opinions on the subject.
If you wonder whether a fetus is a person, asking it won’t get you very far.
Let’s think about the significance of this. In order to perpetuate the enslavement of Africans or to exterminate Jews, the first step that had to be taken was to exclude their voices and opinions from consideration via ideological, legal and practical means.
The fact that fetuses cannot speak, and do not have opinions — the absence of that autonomous voice — changes the entire nature of the issue. There cannot be an “Up From Slavery” or “Diary of Anne Frank” of the fetal experience. Instead what we have are people claiming to speak for fetal persons, arrogating to themselves the role of defenders of an entity which others do not believe to exist and for which there cannot ever be evidence of existence.
There are ample psychological and political rewards to assuming the role of defender of the defenseless. It is a role that is even easier to assume when the defenseless entities are incapable of speaking for themselves, because there is no “themselves” to speak.
Now let’s turn to the real thrust of Megan’s post, which is I think a powerful and interesting one. It is that we ought to be as concerned with the motivations of pro-life Christianist terrorists as we are with the motivations of Palestinian terrorists:
Like many contributers to Obsidian Wings, I can understand the structural forces that contribute to Palestinian terrorism without believing the terrorism is legitimate. Unlike them, apparently, I don’t find it all that hard to transfer that understanding to the fringes of our own democratic system.
There are different ways for polities to respond to the problem of violence at the fringes of the political system. And the proper response depends both on the nature of the people who are engaging in the violence, and on the legitimacy or remediability of their claims.
Pro-life terrorists in the US are less like Palestinian terrorists than they are like the Serbian death squads who carried out ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Kosovo, or the Oklahoma City or 9/11 terrorists. Palestinian terrorists act mainly in pursuit of national self-determination and an end to Israeli oppression. These are real interests appertaining to real people who also speak for themselves. But the Serbians who assassinated Kosovars in defense of the proposition that “Kosovo shall always be Serbian” (regardless of who actually lived there), or the 9/11 terrorists who killed 3000 people as part of a messianic crusade to restore the Caliphate (or something), or the Oklahoma City bombers who acted to stop the Tyrant Bill Clinton from establishing an atheist one-world government, were acting on behalf of imaginary constituencies.
Our response to such terrorism cannot address the causes the terrorists themselves voice, because those causes make no sense to anyone outside their own religious or ideological community. Instead we address such irrational violence indirectly — that is, to the extent that Islamist terrorism is really driven by fury over the Israel-Palestine conflict, we can push for a Palestinian state to relax the tension, and so on. And while we apply these indirect measures of conciliation, we also attack the zealots with the full force of the law and the full opprobrium of moral condemnation.
As we seek to take such rational steps, we are constantly frustrated by a self-reinforcing dynamic of extremism: it is in the interest of extremist groups to set their demands at a level which cannot be remediated by the opposing side. They have an interest in making demands the enemy cannot meet, in order to perpetuate the conflict that fuels their organization. In the case of the pro-life movement, they have placed the locus of their demands inside the bodies of the enemy. They demand that in my family, if my teenage daughter should become pregnant, she be forced to carry the baby to term. They would demand this on behalf of the baby — a person that does not exist.
I once met a woman in Africa who believed with deeply felt urgency that a neighbor had killed her cousin by turning herself into a bat and sucking out her soul at night. I am sure she believed with utter sincerity that a murder had taken place and that she was morally obligated to seek justice. I am sure there were structural reasons that made it psychologically or pragmatically useful for her to believe in witchcraft. But, from my rationalist perspective, I could do nothing for her moral urgency except to recommend that she seek spiritual solace for the emotional pain she had suffered. From my perspective, pro-life extremists are seeking protection and justice and vengeance for imaginary entities, and it is imperative to make it clear to them that the rules of our social order prohibit them enforcing such claims on me, my family, or anyone else.
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