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Bill Roper's Journal
Bad Ideas 
2nd-Jun-2009 04:01 pm
I generally like to believe that murder is a bad idea. And I admit that I'm not in favor of banning the death penalty, although I believe that it's probably used far more often than it should be and in cases where the hard evidence isn't strong enough for it to be considered. But I consider it to be a different category of thing than "murder", just as I do killing someone in war.

If we want to believe that we live in a civilized society -- and I do! -- then murder's almost always going to be an inappropriate response. I have to say "almost", because I could imagine and sympathize with a case where someone killed the person who murdered a member of their family but walked on a technicality. Yes, killing the bastard would be wrong, certainly in the legal sense of the word. But I'd understand it.

To use a phrase that's been sorely overused lately, the decision to murder someone because you think that's the right thing to do is "above your pay grade". That's true for an abortion doctor, or a corrupt politician, or your selected scumbag of choice. Whether anyone is a scumbag or not is a matter of personal opinion. Those vary a lot, I've noticed. Heck, one man's corrupt politician is another man's beloved civil servant.

What's legal is not necessarily what's moral. And what you believe to be moral may not be what the fellow sitting next to you believes to be moral. And if you think something is legal, but immoral, you've got every right to try to use persuasion to get a majority (or possibly a super-majority) on your side in order to get those laws changed. That's true whether the issue is abortion, or gay marriage, or executive compensation, or campaign contributions, or your hot button issue of choice.

What you're not entitled to do is to use tactics that you would object to if they were employed against you. So if you think that you shouldn't picket an abortion doctor's house (which I agree with -- you shouldn't), you should be equally incensed when community organizers gather up bus loads of people to go picket the houses of AIG employees who received bonuses that they were contractually entitled to.

You don't get to throw paint on people because you don't like what they're wearing, whether that's fur or a t-shirt that expresses some sentiment that you find offensive.

You don't even get to throw a pie in the face of Bill Gates because you're tired of working on Windows Vista. I'm sorry, but that's just the way it is.

Nor do you get to hop out of the stands at Wrigley Field and charge the mound after Randy Myers gives up another homer to the opposition. But you do get to boo. It's within the civilized norms of behavior.

Yes, I've started out with the deadly serious and moved down to the outright silly and stupid.

But they're all on the same continuum.

We can all get along.

As long as we behave in a civilized fashion.

Once we decide what that actually is.
Comments 
2nd-Jun-2009 11:02 pm (UTC)
But here's the difficult question: How can it ever be right for the government to do what is categorically wrong for the individual to do?

There are certain people, a very small number, that I would consider it quite proper to kill if I had the chance. You can probably guess some names. Whether I could make myself do it, even with them, is something I don't know, and the likelihood the situation would ever come up is vanishingly small. If I did kill them, I would have to let a jury decide whether I should live or not.

Now let's venture even deeper into trouble. The people I could justify killing are mass murderers. But what if you sincerely think that an abortion doctor is a mass murderer; in Randall Terry's words, "one of the most evil men on the planet; every bit as vile as the Nazi war criminals." He's out of reach of the law. The only way to stop him from committing more "mass murder" is to kill him, so you decide to do so. Is there a moral equivalence between this person's decision and my claim that killing Osama Bin Laden would be justifiable?

I say that they aren't equivalent, because the moral stature of a person isn't merely a "matter of opinion." One man's mass murderer may be another man's messiah, but he is still a mass murderer. An abortion doctor isn't a mass-murdering Nazi, regardless of what a fanatic may believe. There is still room for saying that abortion is wrong and should be outlawed, but I hope we all agree it isn't in the same category as hunting down people and shooting them.
3rd-Jun-2009 12:40 am (UTC)
The hair that is being split is that in an ideal representative government the definition of what is right for a government to do is part of the social contract that defines morality in a world of relative ethics.

Part of the definition is that vague (and all too often pushed aside) concept of "due process", which (again, in an ideal world) is meant to make certain that all aspects of legality and morality are explored before condemnation. In particular, the standards of proof escalate (and rightly should) as one moves from a result that would deprive a person of property to one that would deprive of liberty and ultimately to one which would deprive of life.

If you believe that the wisdom of the many outweighs the wisdom of any random one (and it may very well be that this is no longer a supportable case, mob mentality is becoming far too common and the internet feeds prejudice more than education), then a procedure using the wisdom of the many and time to make a balanced decision is preferable to one man one gun one law.

I would not particularly agree that anyone, no matter who they are, should be summarily executed without such due process.

Disobeying that social contract has consequences - in this case, killing for your own somehow justifiable reason is murder, plain and simple, and should be punished as such. Should the social contract change, then the memory of the act will change. However, we must judge based on our current agreement with that contract.

To the original statement, in the specific case engendering this particular debate, I find it rather off-putting that the same people who would be appalled at casting all Muslims into the category of "terrorist" seem to be only too easily inclined to cast all pro-life/anti-abortion activists into the category of "doctor murderers". I understand why this is, but don't like it in either case.
3rd-Jun-2009 01:06 am (UTC)

What you're not entitled to do is to use tactics that you would object to if they were employed against you.

A possible flaw I see in your argument is the assumption that Scott Roeder wouldn't want to be shot and killed if he were responsible for the same things George Tiller was responsible for.

3rd-Jun-2009 04:29 am (UTC)
Yes, but my argument is that Scott Roeder would not want to be shot because someone else had decided that he had transgressed against that person's idea of moral behavior that was not shared by the society in general. And I think that's a safer place to be standing.
3rd-Jun-2009 02:00 pm (UTC)
Gotcha.
3rd-Jun-2009 10:47 am (UTC) - I am going to get *so* flamed for this ...
The problem is there are actual differences between minor assault (throwing paint on someone) and murder.

And then we get to the hypothetical "would you assassinate Hitler in 1943?" (or in 1941, or in 1937 ...) Apply it to governments now ... if you knew there were genocides going on in Rwanda, DR Congo or anywhere else ... would it be ok for you individually, or your government to say "I'm not getting involved, let them murder each other". If your government said, it's illegal for us to intervene, but you felt strongly about it, would you feel morally challenged if you could do something and let the law stop you?

I'm not saying this murder is right, I'm saying that the person who killed this doctor may have sincerely believed that dozens or hundreds of human beings were being killed in these clinics, and that the law allowed that to happen. And if it requires him to give up his liberty or his life in order to draw attention to this "mass murder" then he was/is prepared to do so. And I very strongly disagree with his method of protest (in case that wasn't totally clear!)

Using the usual rhetorical tool of pushing an analogy which doesn't quite fit ... if the majority of US people (and the majority is white) said that black people weren't fully human and it was ok to kill them in certain circumstance, then I think we can all (pretty much, KKK excluded) agree that's wrong. And when you start defining what is and what isn't human, you're into a slippery slope. Is it ok to kill premature births that require a ventilator to survive? Is it ok to kill a child in the first three months after birth? How about mentally challenged infants? Mentally challenged adults? If you fail an IQ test can they kill you there and then? Letting judges decide who is human and who isn't is the best solution we've got at the moment, but it's not perfect.

Do I think he did the right thing? No, of course not. Do I think abortion is murder? ... not in a strictly legal sense, as it's "lawful". But I also see we don't really value human life or dignity in this world so I'm not about to make too special a case for one group (the unborn) when we don't do a good enough job for lots of those who have been born.

In some very strange sense, we may not be human until someone loves us. A sort of a "tree falls in a forest" philosophical point. If the "potential" child (or new born) is unloved and killed, then it's easier to consider they are not human. This allows spontaneous miscarriages to count as an unborn human being (and deserving of burial, naming etc.) while at the same time allows the concept of abotion of a fetus ...

I say that there are no true universal human rights, just a UN Universal Convention on Human Rights and then national and religious layerings on top of that. Rights are things that societies agree on to either make the society work or to benefit members of that society. Whether is a social club saying membership gives you the right to attend the AGM, or it's the US government saying you have the right to free speech ... it's an agreement, not a universal truth. And Right to Life is the same. It can be an expectation and an aspiration, but it is not absolute, and you can have it taken away from you.
3rd-Jun-2009 01:40 pm (UTC) - Re: I am going to get *so* flamed for this ...
And when you start defining what is and what isn't human, you're into a slippery slope. Is it ok to kill premature births that require a ventilator to survive? Is it ok to kill a child in the first three months after birth? How about mentally challenged infants? Mentally challenged adults? If you fail an IQ test can they kill you there and then? Letting judges decide who is human and who isn't is the best solution we've got at the moment, but it's not perfect.

1) The anti-Choice crowd *is* trying to define what is and isn't human; don't forget that.

2) There is an obvious dividing line here. I think it is sometimes overlooked because some folks like to talk about fetuses as if they floated around in little spherical forcefields, and this assumption has crept into the discourse. In reality a fetus is drawing its nutrients from and depositing its wastes into its host's tissues, hijacking its host's metabolism. (No wonder she often feels tired and nauseated.)

I see a clearly obvious moral difference between an entity whose continued life involves intimately parasitizing a human host and and one whose continued life doesn't. I don't think there's any "partially parasitizing" category we need to worry about, and thus I don't see a "slippery slope" here but rather a nice bright line.

Regarding the ventilator baby argument--many adults choose "no heroic measures" and "do not resesitate" orders for themselves. Are they allowed to choose them for their children? I have no idea, but if they were, I wouldn't see that as part of the abortion debate but rather as part of the "parental control over minors' medical treatment" and the "end of life" debates.

3) I thought Caucasians were about 40% of the US population? Hardly a majority?
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3rd-Jun-2009 12:58 pm (UTC)
One of the reasons that the government is allowed to do things that individual people are not is that due process and the rule of law keeps society from falling apart into anarchy. One person may feel that killing an abortion doctor is perfectly moral and right. Another person may feel that killing the first person in retaliation is perfectly right. Then if -they- are justified in killing each other then -I'm- justified in killing the person who fired me! Etc., etc. In my not so humble opinion, a law-abiding society is worth a few murderers getting off. Though I might not -do- that if the killing was close enough to me, it would still be wrong to go out and kill them personally.
3rd-Jun-2009 01:28 pm (UTC)
That's true for an abortion doctor,

There is no such thing as an "abortion doctor" anymore than there is such a thing as an "appendectomy doctor."

Dr Tiller, like most Ob/Gyns, performed a variety of necessary medical procedures. The ones that weren't abortions (prenatal care, labor and delivery, etc) don't get much press because the people persecuting him wanted people to see him as a one-dimensional monster.

He even helped those of his patients who wanted to give babies up for adoption.
3rd-Jun-2009 03:38 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure that getting into a terminology argument is necessarily helpful, to be honest. I picked "abortion doctor" as a shorthand for "doctor whose practice is, at least, best known for performing abortions" as being less loaded than "abortionist". Exactly how heavily he specialized is something that I don't have first-hand data about, not having access to his office records.

And while we might not have a doctor who specializes in appendectomies, we certainly have -- for example -- brain surgeons. They could cut into some other part of the body and are probably licensed to do so, but it's not their normal practice.

I mean, if we want to get into terminology arguments, I'll point out that having to carry a baby to term isn't "slavery" in any normal usage of the word. It would be, at worst, "indentured servitude", in that there's a limit to the term of service and you get something as a result. And if you argue that there are people who want to keep the mother "enslaved" to the baby for 18 years plus 9 months (which I believe I saw you do elsewhere -- if I've misremembered, I apologize), that's certainly no less true of the father who has no say in the process under our law, but can certainly be compelled by the courts to labor to support the child for that 18+ year term.
3rd-Jun-2009 08:15 pm (UTC) - Indentured servitude vs slavery
Being impregnated against your will isn't entered into voluntarily, in the same way slavery--being forced to labor for the good of another without recompense--isn't entered into voluntarily. Indentured servitude, on the other hand, *is* entered into voluntarily.

And regarding "getting something as a result" I don't consider a human being to be something you can "get"--i.e. "own"--in any normal sense of the word. So I guess you mean you "get" responsibility for providing food, shelter, clothing, education, medical treatment and emotional support for a baby you didn't want in the first place. But if you didn't want a baby, that's not a payment--that's a *debit* and a pretty stiff one too.

The 18 years plus 9 months comment was someone else. It's okay that you bring it up here, though. I agree that financial responsibility for accidentally impregnating someone is onerous. I agree that a moment's carelessness in controlling ones fertility can lead to results out of one's control, and that is not fair. The financial responsiblity is, of course, shared by the woman involved, so she suffers just as much as he does from it. In the meantime, nothing is excreting into his bloodstream, and no hospital has (as far as I know) ever lost a man in labor.
4th-Jun-2009 01:13 pm (UTC)
Oh, regarding the "abortion doctor" thing.

I agree that terminology is sometimes unimportant. I don't think this is one of those times, because I think the anti-abortion movement is very focussed on controlling the terms of the debate by controlling the terminology. Some of it is obvious, like "baby-killer" as if doctors ran through day care centers with chainsaws, mowing down babies right and left. Some of it is subtle, like "abortionist" as though that was all Dr. Tiller ever did. Yes, he was a doctor who performed late term abortions. But calling him an "abortionist" is presenting him to the world as a cardboard caricature. If you oppose abortion he's a monster with no redeeming features (and never mind the impoverished women who got free prenatal care from him, or the couples he helped adopt) and even if you don't oppose abortion but think blood and amputations are kind of squicky, he's ...kind of squicky.

You're right that "abortion doctor" is less loaded than "abortionist." But it's still doing the cardboard thing. An Ob/Gyn does a great deal more than abortions. It's all Operation Rescue cares about, so it's all they want us to care about. But we don't have to play into their hands.
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3rd-Jun-2009 08:17 pm (UTC)
(puzzled frown) I'm pretty sure our own government had absolutely *nothing* to do with the buses to AIG employees neighborhoods.

It's fine to be outraged by it, and I do understand the outrage better now that I have read how that tactic has been directed (for decades) at people I admire. But let's direct the outrage at the correct entity.
3rd-Jun-2009 10:31 pm (UTC)
You're pretty much right ... though some reports say that the buses were funded, in part or in full, by ACORN which may be 40% funded by taxpayer dollars. So in that respect, the government had *something* to do with the buses, but I'm sure would have stepped in and stopped them or at least demanded an accounting showing that the money ACORN spent (if indeed they spent any) was ringfenced from the 60% not from taxpayers (the money ACORN gets from the government is for specific purposes and may not be used for things like hiring buses)

But there are so many contradictory websites out there, it could all be lies. And the articles I find about the "buses to houses of AIG employees", well, I found one article that said that having failed at the AIG headquarters, polite protesters dropped off letters at the houses of two AIG executives.

Again, what the truth of the stories is is hard to say.



Edited at 2009-06-03 10:32 pm (UTC)
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