Make sure to see this from DeLong as well.
In response to my claim that the exemption of women from punishment under laws banning abortion is fatally incoherent, a commenter here (as a TAPPED commenter did earlier) invokes Ronald Dworkin’s argument that abortion is a “cosmic shame” that nonetheless doesn’t rise to the level of murder. The commenter says:
I have some sympathy for that argument even though I don’t accept the premise (that abortion is at least morally problematic because it shows “disrespect for life”.) Dworkin argues that this is really the position of most abortion opponents- that they do not in fact think that abortion is murder, and that they don’t think this is shown through their actions. That part seems exactly right…If you have a position like this it doesn’t seem implausible that one might think that abortion should be illegal, but might still think that those having abortions should not punished. I don’t find that an attractive option myself, and hope I’d not find it to be one even if I did think that abortion showed disrespect for life, but it’s not an incoherent one.
The problem is that adopting Dworkin’s position makes things worse, not better, for pro-lifers:
–Fundamental reproductive rights have been entrenched for decades, in decisions that have no chance of being overturned. Whatever its other defects, the “seamless web” argument that fetuses are comparable to babies offers a compelling justification for overriding these rights. An inchoate sense that abortion reflects disrespect for life but not in a way that is comparable to murder, much less so. Most people are ambivalent about abortion, but there is no effective way of writing these moral ambivalences into legislative enactments. As Dworkin argues, once you’ve conceded that abortion is more of a “morals” issue like adultery, it becomes almost impossible to justify criminalization.
–The exclusion of women from punishment under statutes justified by such rationales is every bit as incoherent as it is under claims that abortion is comparable to murder. Once the criminal law is involved, there’s simply no good reason to exclude women from punishment that is applied to doctors unless you don’t believe that women are moral agents, period. (It would also remove any legal stigma from self-administered abortions, although such abortions are not in any way morally different.) Dworkin’s rationale might justify lower penalties in general, but provides no basis whatsoever for excluding the woman primarily responsible for the act from punishments that are applied to the person she hires.
–Finally, an absolutely inevitable consequence of abortion laws enacted under such a rationale is that these laws will be enforced in an egregiously arbitrary manner (as was the case in the United States pre-Roe.) In practice, seeing abortion as justifiable in some circumstances but not others will mean that it’s justifiable when you choose to get one but not necessarily when others get them — which means that abortion access comes down to power, not finely drawn moral distinctions. Criminalizing abortion really means abortion-on-demand for affluent women and very limited access to safe abortions for poor women, which is both unfair and completely incoherent, unless somebody wants to argue that abortion is less of a “cosmic shame” when a fetus is in an affluent woman’s body.
The argument that most pro-lifers don’t really see abortion as comparable to murder (which, as was the point of my argument, is certainly correct) makes their position weaker, not stronger. Seeing abortion as a difficult, ambiguous moral problem makes criminalizing abortion almost impossible to defend if any value is placed on reproductive autonomy at all.
[Cross-posted to TAPPED.]
I can’t comment substantively on the proposed French law that would criminalize the denial of the World War I-era Armenian genocide. I know too little about French politics to predict whether it will pass or not (though some of the reporting suggests it probably won’t), and I know too little about the continental politics of the EU to speculate on the weave of motives that might be prompting this bill. Moreover, I tend not to get too animated about the contours of free speech law outside the US (where my ability to alter anything amounts to something less than nil.)
Like Henry, though, I can’t imagine this is going to be especially productive. The Turkish government has always sought to quash debate about the Armenian genocide within and outside its national borders; and whereas few people recall the attempted extermination of the Armenian people (as Hitler once noted in an oft-quoted remark), I simply can’t imagine that the state of actual genocide denial is so great that a law of any sort is going to have much of an effect. There really isn’t any room for disputing the historical evidence of genocide against Armenians within the Ottoman Empire. Like all great bureaucratic atrocities, this one is abundantly documented. To be quite reductive and personal, I equate denying the Armenian genocide with being a shithead. Whether France or anyone else needs an anti-shithead law is worth considering, I suppose, but it strikes me as being somewhat beside the point.
Meantime, though, it’s worth reflecting for a moment on the official stance of the United States government with respect to the Armenian genocide. If the statute being considered in France has debatable value, what are we to make of the official American position, which continues to resist using the actual term “genocide” to describe the liquidation of 1.5 million lives between 1915 and 1917. In a letter sent on 19 February 2000 to Edgar Hagopian and Vasken Setrakian of the Armenian National Committee of America, candidate George W. Bush offered the following uncontroversial observations, which he topped off with a simple pledge:
The twentieth century was marred by wars of unimaginable brutality, mass murder and genocide. History records that the Armenians were the first people of the last century to have endured these cruelties. The Armenians were subjected to a genocidal campaign that defies comprehension and commands all decent people to remember and acknowledge the facts and lessons of an awful crime in a century of bloody crimes against humanity. If elected President, I would ensure that our nation properly recognizes the tragic suffering of the Armenian people.
After his ascent to office, however, Bush carried on in the tradition of his predecessor, who had also — after campaigning in 1992 on a similar pledge — resorted to post-election vague phrases intended not to dismay the Turkish government. It has been 25 years now since an American president used the word “genocide” to describe the 1.5 million Armenian deaths that occurred between 1915-1917. Ronald Reagan was the last — and in fact the only one ever — to do so, which he did quite clearly on 22 April 1981. Every April 24, the date on which Armenians mark the commencement of the genocide, Bush has spoken of the “tragedy,” the “calamity” of these “mass killings”; he has mourned the “bitter fate” and celebrated the “indomitable will” of the Armenian people. But he has carefully refused to use the proper words — that is, the proper word — on those days or any others.
I used to think this cowardice was merely strategic, a style of discourse calculated not to offend an important military and economic ally. I’m now convinced, though, that the vague annual rituals surrounding the Armenian “tragedy” are more than that. Genocide is in fact a legal category, with unmistakable implications for states who choose to invoke the term; by virtue of the 1948 Convention on Genocide (not ratified by the US until the mid-1980s), signatories are obliged to act to “prevent and suppress” acts of genocide. Clearly, to call the slaughter of Armenians “genocide” does nothing to alter the history of that period. The use of the term, however, does serve perhaps as a reminder that the United States knew about the events in eastern Anatolia as they were occurring — they were widely and graphically discussed in the pages of the New York Times, for example — and chose to remain silent. Woodrow Wilson’s Secretary of State Robert Lansing even expressed his view at the time that the Ottoman policies were “more or less justifiable” given the “disloyalty” of Armenians within the realm. He did note, almost off-handedly, that the harsh treatment of the Armenian people might jeopardize the “good feeling” that existed between the Ottoman rulers and the United States.
Lansing’s equivocations would be replicated countless times over the next century, as the United States mumbled and ruminated over — and at times passively abetted — genocidal campaigns in Cambodia, Rwanda, Iraq, and the disintegrating Yugoslavia. The Armenian genocide calls to mind this depressing history. Our government’s refusal to use the correct language is a revealing embarrassment.
You mean I no longer have to rely on Charles Johnson and Michelle Malkin for my news on Middle Eastern affairs?
Mark Lynch of Abu Aardvark has just rolled out a new Middle Eastern “blog-journal,” Qahwa Sada (which evidently means “black coffee”). Lynch explains the premise:
Why a new blog-journal by Middle East experts? Because Middle East studies specialists have a phenomenal amount of quality knowledge about the Arab and Islamic world: deep knowledge about the history of the region, detailed empirical knowledge of political and social trends, sophisticated theoretical insights into their meaning. Many are out there in the region, seeing things happen and talking to people over a sustained period of time. But they often have trouble getting that knowledge out into the public realm. Part of the problem is that there just aren’t nearly enough of the right kind of outlets. Academic journals are not well suited to getting information and analysis out to a wide public, and many have yet to adapt to the internet era. Blogs are wonderful, but not everyone wants one or has the time to run one. The op-ed pages are a crapshoot. MERIP and the Arab Reform Bulletin can’t do it all on their own. That means that debate is too often dominated by people with, shall we say, a less empirically rich or theoretically sophisticated understanding of the region.
I’m particularly excited about this. Abu Aardvark is a daily read for me, and Lynch (whom I’ve never met) seems like a swell fellow in addition to offering really smart observations on media, politics and society in the Middle East.
I will note, however, that it took exactly one post before a commenter — the first commenter ever at Qahwa Sada– descended into a thinly-veiled attack on Juan Cole. Which I suppose only underscores why this project is needed in the first place.
In response to this post, one Seth Edenbaum–who seems to think that his silly point is such an astounding insight that he cut and pasted it to another post (with some Lee Siegelesque rants about yuppies and Willaimsburg) –says:
The issue is not one of internal consistency. Or rather the argument with the majority of abortion opponents will not be won by trying to convince them that their arguments are illogical (or that they are illogical under the circumstances they choose to accept). Their arguments are attempts to impose a sense of “moral seriousness” by means of law.
How do you respond to that desire? That is the only question that is not academic: that does not revolve around the two of you and others like you talking amongst yourselves.
Well, first of all, the terminology gives the arguments he’s demanding I respond to a rational content they don’t have. Criminalizing specific acts (with the attendant
ruination of lives than ensues) out of an inchoate sense that people are making choices you would prefer them not to be making is neither moral nor serious. But as to the question of how to appeal to people who have made a priori commitment to bad laws based on irrational gibberish, I’m sure I have no idea. Once I again I will repeat that I am not a political operative; when making political arguments in these forums am I trying to expose positions that are factually, logically, or normatively deficient. How to appeal to people who simply don’t care about defending their positions in terms that are intelligible to others is not my department.
I won’t waste your time mocking this Marty Peretz post, which is an act of considerable constraint. He statements about the quality and reputation of Catholic Universities as a whole are flatly false (see comments about Notre Dame, Georgetown and BC) and his method of evaluating the quality of a University (scanning the faculty roster for people he’s heard of) almost as comically self-important as it is stupid. What I’m interested in is this statement:
The fact is that Finkelstein is not a scholar. He is a nut case. There are many contentious issues in Holocaust history. But he is a Holocaust denier. That is like denying that slavery existed in America and that the economy of the South was based on slavery.
There’s no support for the underlying claim, unless posting a crude political cartoon of Alan Dershowitz is now evidence of holocaust denial. This is appalling, but is it a possible foundation for a libel case?
Furthermore, does Peretz have a chance to surpass Mickey Kaus? Or has he done it already?
Admittedly, when it comes to illogic on the part of supporters of criminalized abortion, the rape and incest exemptions are relatively small potatoes. What really gives away the show is their unwillingness to apply criminal sanctions against women who are allegedly committing something akin to murder. Hack politicians, of course, respond to questions about how the Republican Party platform can support a constitutional amendment that would make abortion first-degree murder in all 50 states but would entirely exempt women from punishment by babbling nonsense. But even serious, usually principled pro-life intellectuals like Ramesh Ponnuru are willing to claim that abortion can be comparable to murder as a moral act but a matter of less import than spitting on the sidewalk when it comes to punishing women who obtain them. Evidently, one of these premises must be incorrect.
Or, to be more precise, the Republican position on abortion is incoherent…if you believe that women are rational citizens, fully responsible for their actions. As Reva Siegel and Sarah Blustain reported in their terrific article in the October Prospect, however, what might seem to be banal assumptions about women in 2005 are by no means universally shared by pro-lifers. When you consider the atavistic findings of South Dakota’s (egregiously stacked) task force, it’s not surprising that their draconian new abortion law doesn’t punish women for allegedly taking a life:
South Dakota based its ban on a 70-page set of findings contained in the “Report of the South Dakota Task Force to Study Abortion” — by far the most comprehensive government account of the arguments and evidence for protecting women from abortion. A transparently one-sided publication — even the anti-abortion chair of the task force voted against it to publicize her objections to its abstinence recommendations and abortion “facts” — the report includes a variety of findings explicitly endorsed by the legislature as the basis for the ban. Some are the more familiar, fetal-focused items, emphasizing that a fetus is a “whole separate unique living human being.” But more than half of the 10 findings focus on women. The task force found that abortions cause long-term emotional and physical damage to women, everything from suicidal ideation to the possibility of breast cancer. But the task force’s report went even further: It argued that the state needed a ban because of the epidemic overriding pressures on women to abort — from a family member, a husband or boyfriend, or an abortion clinic — that make extra protection from abortion necessary. Finally, to make credible its claims about women’s health and women’s choices, the task force made repeated claims about women’s nature. It asserted that women would never freely choose an abortion — even absent outside pressures — because doing so would violate “the mother’s fundamental natural intrinsic right to a relationship with her child.” The task force took as a statement of biological and psychological fact that a mother’s connection to her unborn baby was more authentic than her own statement of desire not to be pregnant. These gender-role convictions are at the heart of the movement’s claim that the nation must now combat an epidemic of dangerous and coerced abortions.
This is how the circle can be squared: import 19th century conceptions of women as passive vessels, unable to make rational choices, whose nature is defined by childbirth. (You can recognize the task force’s understanding of women in the language of the 1873 Supreme Court decision that upheld an Illinois law that prevented women from practicing law: “The constitution of the family organization, which is founded in the divine ordinance, as well as in the nature of things, indicates the domestic sphere as that which properly belongs to the domain and functions of womanhood…The paramount destiny and mission of woman are to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother. This is the law of the Creator. And the rules of civil society.”) Which makes it all the more remarkable, then, that as reported by Stephanie Simon these profoundly reactionary conceptions of gender are being advanced in South Dakota by activists calling themselves “feminists.” This a rather strange name for people who believe the assumptions underlying the 19th century legal status of women are correct. Perhaps after they’re done in South Dakota, these activists can start groups called “Jews for anti-Semitism” or “steak-eaters for PETA.”
(Cross-posted at TAPPED.)
In addition to throwing a competent knuckleball and embarking on a genuine, wake-up-in-a-ditch bender, it’s been a lifelong ambition of mine to write an article on foreign affairs for The Weekly Standard. It can’t be that difficult, as Waller Newell demonstrates this week in yet another bodice-ripper devoted to unmasking the grave existential peril posed by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who tips his sinister hand by smiling mysteriously, “as if he knows something we don’t.” Known best for his anthology of writings on manly virtue, Newell has lately restyled himself as an interpreter of political Islam, writing articles that insist by juxtaposition that contemporary jihadists are actually European leftists in Muslim garb. His latest piece claims to locate Ahmadinejad in a perverse intellectual genealogy that includes Hugo Chavez, Robert Mugabe, Jean-Paul Sartre, Frantz Fanon, Martin Heiddeger, Michel Foucault and a more generalized pool of nihilist ideologues including “the Jacobins, the Bolsheviks, and the Nazis, and extending to later third world offshoots like the Khmer Rouge.” (Curiously, Kant and Locke are omitted from this roster of the damned. He’s evidently not a reader of Chris Muir. His loss, I suppose.) Newell packs his article with predictable, apocalyptic references to the “Hidden Imam” — whose return, we are told, will be assured by Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons — as well as the obligatory, credulous reminders that Ahmadinejad seeks to “wipe Israel from the map.” he spends a great deal of time arguing that Ahmadinejad is a contemporary disciple of Ali Shariati, the late Iranian sociologist of religion whose works Newell has clearly not bothered to read.
It’s all a gigantic mess, with scraps of Orientalist gristle thrown together like a mangy dog’s breakfast. But its so typical of the Standard’s prevailing hermeneutic: take an apparently dangerous and unstable personality, imply dark and indiscernible motives behind their conduct, impute to them certain real-world powers that they don’t actually possess, marshall the evidence selectively to show their filial relations to the worst monsters of the 20th century, and wrap it up with intellectually sloppy claims about what this all owes to postmodernism, postcolonialism, Marxism, and Dr. Spock.
I’m pretty sure I could do that.
A brief public service announcement here to any new or soon-to-be new parents in the greater LG&M area: I cannot recommend strongly enough against giving your sick, six-month-old child a “slightly larger than recommended” dose of Tylenol Infant Cold and Cough at, say, 11:30 in the evening. Unless (like me, evidently) you prefer to spend much of your night listening to your child babble incoherently and kick her feet enthusiastically against the bars and mattress of her crib. If my daughter were able to walk, I am pretty confident she’d have stolen her father’s laptop and robbed a liquor store by now.
"if you take cranberries and stew them in applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does"
As Scott predicted and Dave shows, the updated Lancet study is going to make for some good hack-watching. Over at the Corner, Pod the younger announces he’s about to make an ass of himself, and then does so:
I am not a demographer nor a statistician nor a medical person, but isn’t “cluster sampling” a means of extrapolating phenomena occurring in nature like disease patterns and the like?
Iain Murray then patiently explains that what was fairly obvious–Podhoretz doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
But Murray must have felt a bit guilty about spoiling Podhoretz’ fun, because what he unleashes next is a sight to behold:
More on the Iraq Figures [Iain Murray]
The US death rate is 8 per 1,000 population (see here). The UK is 10 per 1,000. According to the study, Iraq’s post-invasion death rate is 13.2 per 1,000. A whole host of countries have death rates way higher than that – see here. Now a lot of this is to do with age of population, but given that the death rate of, say, Cameroon, which has a similar birth rate to Iraq is also around 13, this suggests that the humanitarian crisis in Iraq is no worse than that of many other countries. Different in character, certainly, but it suggests that the epidemic of violence in Iraq is less debilitating to that country than the AIDS epidemic is to Botswana, for instance.
Posted at 2:18 PM
Yes, you read that right. Unless they’ve shown that Iraq is the worst place in the world, Murray can’t get himself too worried about it.
Time for a peek into the crystal ball. A year from now, the violence has increased and much of Baghdad is in flames:
Iraq Violence [Iain Murray]
Let’s not carried away reading too much into the big Baghdad fire. Sure, much of the city is in flames, but really, compared to the great Chicago fire of 1871. And to those alarmists who keep focusing on the rising level of violence, torture, and executions, I ask you: would you rather be in Baghdad today, or a Tutsi in downtown Kigali, April 1994?
Longtime readers surely know that none of us here find principled pacifism to be a useful philosophy or guide to foreign policy. I must admit I’ve never really felt like I understand pacifism as a personal philosophy, let alone a guide for policy. In that spirit I was delighted to see Hugo Schyzter, a progressive Christian blogger and devotee of an Anabaptist-inflected pacifism, offer a defense of his approach in light of the Amish school shootings last week. The post is here. It strikes me as more about what pacifism isn’t than what pacifism is, some of which seems reasonable and correct (I’m quite certain the equation of pacifism with cowardice isn’t reasonable) some of which isn’t as persuasive. But that isn’t what interests me. The post leaves a great deal about pacifism unanswered, and Hugo is pressed from the left and the right for more details in comments. After reading some of Hugo’s comments in this thread, I’m more confused than ever about pacifism:
Pacifists are allowed to get angry. Pacifists can even push someone. We can’t use lethal force.
Oh, and a pacifist could definitely tackle the gunman. We could try and wrestle the gun away. But we can’t use the gun, no matter what.
And, most tellingly, in response to a question about pacifists’ attitudes toward non-lethal incapacitating devices:
Col Steve, you ask the very sort of question many of us are asking these days; the answer is “I don’t know.” Within the peace church community, there’s been intense discussion of this sort of thing. I think we can work closely with the powers and principalities to help create a less-lethal way of fighting. I won’t let the best (total non-violence) be the enemy of the good (concrete steps towards lowering lethality).
Like I said, all this leaves me more confused than ever. Too much work is being done by the lethal/non-lethal distinction–I don’t know this for certain, but I’d imagine that if you tackle a hundred unstable gunmen in a 100 rooms full of children, there are going to be X amount of deaths as an result, where X is solidly more than one. Furthermore, shooting the gunman will not result in deaths 100% of the time. So pacifists are cheating if they just say that lethal force is always banned, but non-lethal force may be acceptable under certain circumstances. What we’re really talking about is the likelihood of lethality. Does principled pacifism allow us to do something that has a 20% chance of lethality? 10? 30? I don’t see how it could provide an answer. Distinguishing between the physical act (shooting, tackling) doesn’t get us as far as Hugo needs it to.
Which is, of course, fine. The real world of violence is remarkably muddled and complex and muddling through as best we can with our conscience and wisdom as our guides is all any of us can really do. But in this sense, how is pacifism really any different than a boring approach like mine, which suggests that 1) violence is really bad and should be avoided whenever possible, and 2) when violence is absolutely necessary, we should opt for the least-likely-to-be-lethal approach possible. I’d never dream of calling this a pacifist ethic, as I’m pretty sure it’s not.
What bugs me about all this is there’s a sort of moral smugness to the tone and tenor of pacifist arguments (not calling Hugo smug per se; he’s just channelling a position that’s inherently smug) when at the end of the day, they’re through all sorts of second best options just like everyone else.