Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Tribute to Moloch: Viragos and Violinists, Part 1

WOMEN HAVE A UNIQUE LICENSE IN CONTEMPORARY LAW, the license at will to kill a certain segment of the population with legal impunity. We might call it "Moloch's law," or the law of materfamilias. The group which is the most rabid defender of the license to kill is the radical Feminists. That group's political influence on the expansion and defense of abortion rights worldwide is nonpareil. This group has been instrumental in ushering in and institutionalizing one of the most magnificent, monstrous, and sublime evils in the history of man, equally nonpareil.

The central motto which underlies the justification for this license over another's life: "Women have the right to do what they want to with their bodies." Regardless of whether that political slogan is true or not (and it clearly is not: surely there are moral or legal constraints that may be imposed on one's use of anyone's body whether a man or a woman?), the very mantra displays a politically astute if not also a massive evasion of the question. It evades the question since it presents only one-half of the issue, as it ignores the clash of another right: the right of the unborn fetus that, through no moral fault of its own, has imposed itself upon and relies upon a woman's body for its life. In other words, there are two rights at stake, not just one.

What is worse is that in the Feminist formulation the right that is ignored is the more important right, as the right to life is more important than the right to bodily determination (since without the right to life there is no bodily determination, and the right to life includes the right to bodily determination). In light of what we know from modern science, the conceptus, zygote, embryo, fetus, however and when you identify this individual human being (these are words describing stages in a human being's life just like infant, toddler, pre-teen, teenager, young adult . . . ), is not part of a woman's body. It is another human being separate and apart from the mother, and one, moreover, that as a matter of natural processes uses the mother's body, relies upon the mother's body, and is served by her body. "So whatever 'the right to choose may mean, it cannot entail that the choice to have an abortion is like the choice whether or not to have a nose job." Oderberg, 22.

Judith Jarvis Thomson: Abortion's Ace Apologist

This supposed right a woman has over her body (read a right to abortion) is, as Oderberg understatedly (and perhaps with purposeful double entendre) puts it, "is hardly one with a venerable history." Oderberg, 22. Not only is it a "right" without a long history, it is a "right" with a sort yet sanguinary history worse than Nazism or Communism put together and multiplied by ten. Confronted with the fact that traditionally, and "as a matter of socio-biological fact, women just do not have only themselves to answer to when fertility is in question," one would have thought that the justifying burden for this new "right" was upon them as innovator, as rebel, as recalcitrant to custom and nature. It was an onus never really met by them, and one avoided through a sort of shrewish academic and political screaming, termagant-like accusations of patriarchy and male chauvinism, nonserviamatic hubris, and just plain bad rationalization for lust and power.

One of the more famous efforts at justification was that advanced by Judith Jarvis Thomson in a 1971 article entitled "A Defense of Abortion," originally published in Philosophy and Public Affairs 1 (1971), 47-66. In his preface to an anthology of Judith Thomson's essays, William Parent calls it "the most widely reprinted essay in all of contemporary philosophy." Judith Jarvis Thomson, Rights, Restitution, and Risk: Essays in Moral Theory (William Parent, ed.) (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986), vii. It is ubiquitous: I remember being given it in law school in a jurisprudence class, and finding it singularly unimpressive, in fact stupid. Yet it remains one of the foundational apologias for abortion. As the Canadian philosopher, Donald DeMarco put it in an essay in "The Interim"*:

With her "defense of abortion," however, [Judith Jarvis Thomson] hit, so to speak, the philosophical jackpot. Her article has become the most widely reprinted essay, not only on the subject of abortion, which is a remarkable phenomenon in itself, but in all of contemporary philosophy. Because her article has been reprinted, anthologized, amplified, circulated, read, and discussed as often and as much as it has, it seems reasonably safe to assume that it has had a significant influence, particularly as an apologia for abortion. The article's broad popularity among abortion advocates suggests that it is the best argument that has been put forth as a defence of, and argument for, abortion.

For the sake of argument, Thomson concedes the humanity of the fetus. Her argument focuses not on the minor premise of the Anti-Abortion Syllogism, but on its major premise: that the right to life of an innocent human being is inviolate, and one cannot intentionally kill an innocent human being without grave fault. This fundamental moral principle, Thomson insists, is false. She characterizes the fetus a status which has not been characterized as one of "innocent aggressor" (the term is not Thomson's, but her successors') and proposes that an innocent aggressor's right to life is not absolute.

Thomson, a very clever philosopher at MIT known for her thought experiments, has imported her technique into the the stage of the abortion debate. Jesus taught in parables; Thomson teaches by thought experiment. Thomson's abortion-related thought experiment has become almost legendary in the abortion debate:
You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist (who) has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment . . . the Society of Music Lovers . . . kidnapped you, and last night the violinist's circulatory system was plugged into yours, so your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own . . . To unplug would be to kill him. But never mind, it's only for nine months.
There is a superficial analogy between this fiction and the non-fiction of a mother being with child, and, of course, this is what Thomson seizes upon in launching into her argument and explains the success of her venture. But there are also a deep disanalogies between the violinist situation and pregnancy which render the thought experiment stillborn at the outset.** Of the many that could be distinguished, I will focus on three: a natural/artificial disanalogy, a criminal/non-criminal predicate disanalogy, and a relational disanalogy. In my mind, these are fatal at the outset. If a thought experiment is to be used, it has to be based upon an analogy that is more akin to the matter that is sought to be analyzed. Otherwise, the analogy is bound to lead us in the wrong direction, as this one does.

First, the innocent person's attachment to the violinist is palpably artificial, while the mother's attachment to the fetus is patently natural. We are dealing with two different worlds. At the outset, therefore, the analogy suffers from the same discontinuity as an analogy that compares the brain with a computer, and concludes that therefore one can punch a person in the nose and re-boot the brain. The point is that a situation that may be morally offensive if artificially imposed is not necessarily offensive if naturally imposed. Thomson's presuppositions, it might be noted, are also horribly mechanistic, even Cartesian and Hobbesian. "For what is the ‘heart’ but a ‘spring’; and the ‘nerves’ but so many ‘strings’; and the ‘joints’ but so many ‘wheels,’ giving motion to the whole body, such as was intended by the artificer?" says Hobbes. Thomson carries on in the Hobbesian tradition: "For what is pregnancy, but being used as a hemodialysis machine?" The analogy falters at the get go since it confuses the organic with the inorganic, the natural with the artificial.

Secondly, there is a huge moral distinction between the situation of a pregnancy and the situation of waking up attached to a violinist after being kidnapped by the Society of Music Lovers who act on behalf of the violinist, being assaulted by this Society, and being subject to false imprisonment by it. The difference seems to elude Thomson. Nothing like this is even remotely alike the act of becoming pregnant, and this even if the pregnancy is entirely non-consensual, say, as a result of rape, as the rapist, whose intent is to assuage his lust, generally has no intent to impregnate his victim and tie her to the burdens of pregnancy. Moreover, the rapist's crime is his violation of the woman's bodily integrity; the rapist has nothing to do with the natural processes of pregnancy. The rapist is directly guilty for sexual assault, and only indirectly for the illegitimate pregnancy. This criminal or tortious predicate in the Thomson thought experiment immediately adds a notion of self-defense in the violinist situation that is entirely absent from a pregnancy. As the philosopher Donald DeMarco puts it:
The act of unplugging yourself is justified on the basis of self-defence. It is a legitimate response to assault and battery (and in the example Thomson uses, to kidnapping and unlawful confinement as well). The development of the child in the womb is not an example of assault and battery or anything close to it. Assault and battery presuppose willfulness and malice aforethought, and have always been regarded as criminal acts. It has never been regarded as a criminal act for an unborn child to develop in his mother's womb.
One wonders what sort of psychological sickness would cause Thomson to equate pregnancy with criminal acts of kidnapping, assault, and false imprisonment. There is something deeply wrong, unbalanced, even psychopathic, with such a jaundiced, pessimistic view of what pregnancy is.

Lastly, there is a relational disanalogy between Thomson's thought experiment and motherhood. As DeMarco puts it:

Thomson supposes that the violinist and the victim are unrelated. She adds nothing to their relationship that would mitigate the victim's aversion to being yoked for nine months. The two are presumed to be total strangers. Such is not the case with the relationship between the mother and her child. The victim, by virtue of being yoked to the violinist, does not inherit or attain any specific kind of positive relationship. He does not become his brother, for example. When a woman conceives a child, she is no longer merely a woman. Nor is the child merely her child. Conception confers maternity on the woman and her child is her son or daughter. There is a relationship between the two that is primordial, interpersonal and universally recognized. A mother is expected to do things for her children that strangers are not expected to do for each other.

To equate motherhood, a relation that is by definition nobly sacrificial and intimate, with the coerced relationship between two strangers, violinist and host, should be offensive to any person who is not jaundiced against motherhood, but retains some natural sentiment, some appreciation for the office of motherhood. Motherhood is something other than an artificial womb. John Finnis has characterized Thomson's notion of motherhood as defective, and that this defect stems from a deprecation of motherhood into a form of social contract. "John Finnis is correct when he encapsulates the radical weakness of Thomson's argument by saying that she is trying to reduce the mother-child relationship to a "sort of social contractarianism,'" says DeMarco.*** It seems to me that it is not social contractism that moves Thomson, but a lack of appreciation of the office of motherhood. Thomson is externalizing motherhood and masculinizing or confusing it with a sort of "fatherhood." As John Paul II distinguished motherhood from fatherhood in his Encyclical Mulieris dignitatem:
Motherhood involves a special communion with the mystery of life, as it develops in the woman's womb. The mother is filled with wonder at this mystery of life, and "understands" with unique intuition what is happening inside her. In the light of the "beginning", the mother accepts and loves as a person the child she is carrying in her womb. This unique contact with the new human being developing within her gives rise to an attitude towards human beings - not only towards her own child, but every human being - which profoundly marks the woman's personality. It is commonly thought that women are more capable than men of paying attention to another person, and that motherhood develops this predisposition even more. The man - even with all his sharing in parenthood - always remains "outside" the process of pregnancy and the baby's birth; in many ways he has to learn his own "fatherhood" from the mother.
Mulieris dignitatem, 18. Thomson's thought experiment is wholly oblivious to internal aspect of motherhood. She externalizes it, mascunalizes it, confuses it with process that is "'outside' the process of pregnancy and the baby's birth." Thomson for all her cleverness has not grasped the essence of motherhood. She is shallow, indeed banal, in her appreciation of motherhood. Whatever the source of Thomson's misunderstanding of motherhood, it results in a disanalogy that infects the thought experiment from the outset.

So Thomson's thought experiment itself displays tremendous prejudices and presuppositions that infect its value as a legitimate basis for analysis of the problem of the clash between a woman's bodily determination and the right of life of the child. Thomson shows a highly mechanistic, Hobbesian view of mankind, a sick Feminist perception of pregnancy as something intrinsically based upon torts and felonies and other high misdemeanors, and a complete deprecation and lack of appreciation of the noble and utterly office of motherhood. To compare pregnancy to being attached to a violinist as a natural dialysis machine is fraught with error. The analogy is unsound from the get go. One would only think the argument sound if one's judgment is already unsound.

*Donald DeMarco, "Judith Jarvis Thomson: A Defence of Abortion," The Interim (February 2004).
**In his treatment, Oderberg does not seem to attack the fundamental disanalogies, but concedes the analogy is accurate, and humorously extends it to include other-than-rape situations to include not only ailing violinists, but ailing trombone players and ailing harpsichordists.
***DeMarco is referring to John Finnis's article, "The Rights and Wrongs of Abortion," originally published in Philosophy and Public Affairs 2 (2):117-45 (1973).

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