Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Things I Don't Get

  • Pro-Lifers. I don't get why pro-lifers appear to value unborn human life more than, well, born human life. They seem to go to often ridiculous lengths to protect fetuses but, for the most part, are the same people who oppose a secure welfare net and reliable public health care system that would see those same babies safely into adulthood. Or maybe this is why they simply call themselves pro-life rather than pro-good life?
  • Lynda Barry. I find Ernie Pook's Comeek neither funny nor insightful.
  • Why no one does anything about price fixing. Everyone knows that the price of gas is fixed. Everyone knows that it's bullshit when they explain that it will take 90 days to refine, process, and ship the oil that is now selling for half what it was only a few months ago, and so we'll only see the price drop 3 months from now. But no one seems willing to point out the contradiction when, in advance of a storm that is merely expected to reduce production, the price of gas anticipates the next 3 months rather than waits for them to pass and jumps dramatically.
  • How to take a compliment from the other team in sports. I always think they're mocking me, even when they compliment me after I've done something good. I was traumatized as an undersized child, evidently.
  • Why the news - on TV, on the internet, in the paper - is incapable of staking out a critical position outside of the occasional editorial. A timely example: Now that Christmas is approaching, we're met with a barrage of tips about bargain-hunting and getting the best deal. Some even pretend to be exercising a pseudo-criticality by making token mentions of "the economy" and charity. But why is it that no one is will to critique the quest for "bargains" as an ultimately futile one, to note how short-sighted and self-defeating this strategy is when it encourages us to spend money on businesses that aren't locally (or even domestically) owned and whose profits leave the country, who don't buy or produce their products locally or invest locally (or, again, nationally), and who don't produce sustainable jobs at a living-wage and thus create the need to find "bargains" as a means of surviving on one's meager earnings?*
*This distress about news-discourse is also a more personal one that's connected to the media's inability to make sense of my union's positions throughout the strike - that, yes, continues. Once you start talking about 'restoring "real" wages to 2005 levels' and 'indexing increases to the benefit funds to membership growth', the media - and so the public at large - stop paying attention. In response, I've pushed the need to develop a strategy of 'sexy sound-bites'. I'm not entirely certain that it would work, but it seems that PR wars can't otherwise be waged through mass media.


Omar Karindu said...

I still find the most perplexing thing about most pro-lifers to be the bizarre ingongruity of their stated beliefs with their continued participation in civic life.

Taken at their word, they'd almost have to believe that legal abortion amounts to government-sanctioned mass murder. And, to be fair, most pro-life pundits do indeed say as much.

Yet aside from launching protests and trying to push through legislation -- legislation which, frankly, is never terribly well-considered for all sorts of reasons other than being merely anti-abortion -- the vast majority of pro-lifers participate in all the practices and rituals of ordinary civic life otherwise.

The pro-lifer who yells back when you debate him or her on their pet issue is perfectly willing to pay taxes to a government that they claim to believe sanctions abortion ((mis)read: infanticide). They're perfectly willing to speak to their fellow citizens and human beings about many other things, of sails and ships and sealing-wax, as though the question of abortion were not so morally central as to create an impassible ethical divide rendering everday life impossible.

I tend to agree with those who point out how much of the opposition to abortion is really about women's sexuality: sex should have the possible consequence of pregnancy, period, and extramarital sex of any flavor, be it adulterous, premarital, whatever, should result in pregnancy. Why else do so many pro-lifers, indeed, nearly all pro-lifers, also oppose things like birth control availability, HPV vaccinations, even basic sex education?

The conduct and statements of pro-lifers seems to make sense only when abortion is not a problem because it's murder, but because it ends pregnancy quite specifically. Pregnancy, in the end, is not about fetal life or human life, or rights, it's about a set of social sanctions and social roles linked to a more broadly conservative notion of gender.

It's startling in the United States to read of how many pro-life groups have made quite clear that they don't wish to impose prison terms on women who seek abortions; most, in fact, don't seem all that interested in sanctioning abortion providers beyond eliminating the capacity to perform abortions as a health service.

Some of this is political practicality, of course. You don't go far in demanding that pregnant women and doctors be jailed for attempted murder. But this very rejection of the practical ethical and political necessity that a belief in abortion-as-murder would seem to force one towards suggests again just where the truth of the issue lies.

So it then becomes perfectly consistent for pro-life institutions and individuals to oppose such stuff as social and economic justice or publicly-funded health care. Abortion-as-murder is simply a useful way of adapting the expression of rather well-worn conservative positions and fantasies to modern media and spectacle culture.

Crying out for women to stay in the kitchen and the nursery and for women's sexuality to be restricted and regulated by default masculinist and patriarchal mores are not merely less popular stands, but less attention-drawing framings of the issue.

But if you can quite literally scream bloody murder, you can create plenty of discursive firestorms and pull in plenty of attention.

I don't mean to neglect those genuinely terrifying individuals and groups who do in fact bomb clinics, murder health care providers, and perpetrate other atrocities.

But I do wish to make sense of the curious way in which the greater part of people identifying as "pro-life" do so in conscious or unconscious service of an entirely different ideology, and the way in which the cry of "infanticide" never seems to carry with it the genuine moral force or ethical practice that a good-faith belief in the full and equal humanity of the fetus would demand.

neilshyminsky said...

That all sounds more or less right to me, Omar. Of course, we could twist it a bit and look at how a great number of pro-lifers have either removed themselves to some degree from civic life or set about trying to insert sympathetic people into those same civic institutions. Maybe it's not the sort of rejection of a state that endorses murder that might seem more appropriate, but then most anti-war folks liken the military occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan to murder and they also continue to participate in civic life. So both groups seem to endorse a participation aimed at changing the state's behavior preferable to removing themselves from that state.

My reaction in this little post had less to do with deconstructing the position - which you seem to do quite well, here - than with problematizing it according to its own stated logic, which is sometimes articulated as a 'right to life' (and, implicitly, to living) rather than an opposition to infanticide, explicitly. Though I suppose that both arguments are subject to the same caveats, as you've listed them above.