Some perspective for the pro-life and anti-war

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What organization has a weekly death toll more than twice the five-year death toll for American troops in Iraq? Planned Parenthood [ht: Sam].

I don't think it's remotely morally decent to abandon Iraq the way most Americans seem to want to do (and most of the rest of the world wants us to do). Nevertheless, if I had to be a one-issue voter and did share that view, I would have little inclination to prefer the war issue to the abortion issue. Other issues being equal, anti-war pro-lifers will have a very hard case to make if they want to end up supporting the Democratic candidate over John McCain. Other issues aren't equal, of course, but there will have to be an awful lot of very serious issues, all favoring the Democratic side, to overcome this difference (and some people probably do think that). But I've seen people, even commenters on this blog, claiming that pro-life issues are outweighed by the anti-war issue, even claiming that it's more pro-life to support those who approve of the status quo on abortion in order to end the war. I don't know how that view can stand up under these numbers.

6 Comments

I don't think it's remotely morally decent to abandon Iraq the way most Americans seem to want to do (and most of the rest of the world wants us to do)

I used to feel this way too, especially during the first year of the occupation. Even though I opposed the way the war was run and justified, it seemed that we had a responsibility to sort thing out.

However, as the occupation wore on, we seemed to be making things worse instead of better. At one point, it seemed that civil war was all but inevitable. I had always thought that we had needed to go in with more troops and I worried that the Surge would be too little too late.

Luckily, the Surge seemed to stabilize things, but hardly at a good level. I'm no longer convinced that we're making things worse, but I'm not convinced that we're making things better either.

So for the morality of leaving, I think a lot hinges on whether we're making things worse by our presence. I understand that technically, we're responsible for this mess, and therefore we need to fix it. But if we're just making things worse, then at some point we need to just stop being involved, even if it is our responsibility. (We can argue about whether we're at that point--I used to think that we were, but since the Surge I'm no longer convinced of that.)

To illustrate by analogy: Suppose my son spills paint on the carpet. Technically, it is his responsibility to clean it up. However, upon trying, he just makes even more of a mess. Technically, this additional mess is his responsibility to clean up too. However, the *right* thing for him to do is to stop and let someone else handle it even if it isn't their responsibility to do it. There seems to me to be a difference between what the right thing to do is, and what you are obligated to do in cases like this.

That's a good point. If it's clear that our presence is making things worse, we should get out. I don't think that was ever true. If it's clear that it's making things better, it's pretty bad to get out. But I don't think we should evaluate it in terms of whether our presence now makes things better in the future than they are now. What matters is whether our presence is making things better than they would otherwise be without our presence. I'd be extremely surprised if the condition of Iraq would be better or even the same without the U.S. presence.

I've been thinking a lot about voting priorities recently, especially about how seriously I should consider Obama in the absence of a good third-party candidate (realizing that I'm a radical deontologist and don't care about electability, as we've discussed before, and so will vote for a third-party candidate if I like him or her best). I'm against the war, but I would be rather uncertain in my opposition were it not for how badly we have been conducting it in terms of respect for human rights (Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, extraordinary rendition, waterboarding, etc.). There's that issue, plus the fact that we are trying to fix somebody else's problem with money we don't have and are plunging deeper and deeper into debt.

I think an important point on the abortion issue is the difference between what the government DOES and what the government PERMITS. If the government was forcibly aborting fetuses against the will of mothers (as has occasionally happened in China), I wouldn't just be a single-issue voter - I'd be advocating violent resistance. But this is not the case (and I doubt it ever will be in this country). There are a huge number of areas in which our government is ACTIVELY VIOLATING HUMAN RIGHTS - the most egregious cases being indefinite detention with torture for individuals who have been charged with no crime and may never see a trial - but in the case of abortion the government is looking the other way at the violation of its citizens' rights. The abortion case is like a security gaurd who sleeps at his post every night and knows that things are being stolen while he sleeps, but keeps on sleeping on the job every night because he doesn't think he'll get fired. The detention and torture case is like a security gaurd who is stealing things himself (perhaps claiming that he is just keeping them at his house to make sure they aren't stolen). Both are serious moral failings and violations of trust, but even if much more property is lost in the former case than in the latter, the latter is still a more serious offense.

I suppose the difference between doing and allowing is important in terms of evaluating which action or omission the government is doing. On the other hand, I think it's a lot less relevant in terms of evaluating the moral status of my vote. In voting for George Bush against John Kerry, I wasn't endorsing everything Bush believes or does. I was indicating my preference for him over Kerry, because I was indicating that I thought the country would be better off with him. In other words, I think it's more appropriate to use consequentialist thinking when evaluating a vote than it is when evaluating the actions of the politicians once in office. I know you disagree on that, because we don't agree at all on what a vote constitutes, as we've discussed before, but that's where I am on that issue and why I disagree with you.

As for the war and the abuses, I don't see how that's necessarily relevant to McCain, at least insofar as he's arguing for significant change on those issues. He doesn't disagree with all the controversial elements of the Bush Administration, but he's consistently called for serious revision of some of the policies, calling them downright immoral on many occasions. A vote for McCain must be seen as at least tolerating a continuance of our presence in Iraq, even if it's a "lesser of two unfortunates" situation where the voter takes it to be a moral obligation to choose the lesser unfortunate. But it must not be seen as tolerating the things McCain has criticized the current administration about, and a number of things in your list would be included there. McCain really would be a change on such matters.

This is absolutely true, and for this reason I also take McCain seriously. I do really believe that he would put an end to torture, at least. On the other hand, I'm skeptical about him trying to do anything about abortion, and even more skeptical about him succeeding if he does try. The main reason I can't actually support McCain is that he voted for the Patriot Act (I've never voted for a politician who voted for the Patriot Act) and several others of the Bush Administration's most problematic domestic anti-terror policies. While he has taken a firm stance against torture, he hasn't (as far as I know) taken a firm stance in favor of habeas corpus and due process for those accused of terrorism at home or abroad. I'm confident he would be better than Bush (as would just about anyone else) and depending on who he picks as VP, I might consider him. I'm just saying that (as you know) I take a very strict view of (negative) rights, and my first priority is that the government not violate them, and my second priority is that goverment prevent and/or punish private violations. Abortion is in the second category, plus the status quo is more entrenched there than it is in these other areas. The worst violations of rights by the government are now generating significant backlash, and if a president worked to turn these things around, he or she would probably succeed. For this reason, issue like torture and the rights of the accused top my list.

Let me say that an election between Obama and McCain would have me feeling much better about the state of politics in this country then I can ever remember feeling. That may not be saying much, because I've always been pretty cynical, but I think that either of them would be much better than the current status quo.

I think we see things so differently here that we're never going to convince each other. I do understand your position better, but your starting points seem all wrong to me. I think I understand them better than the idea of a libertarian liking much about Obama, though, which is a real head-shaker for me).

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