Having a Reasonable Debate About Abortion – A Clarification


IMPORTANT UPDATE: James Croft has changed his mind on this, and has apologized and offered a retraction. Good for him.

I thought this was pretty clear in the original post on the abortion debates, and most people seem to have gotten it. But I’m going to spell it out more blatantly for those who seem to be having trouble with reading for comprehension.

I did not say anywhere in this post that no pro-choice advocates should ever debate abortion anywhere. What I am saying is this:

1) I want pro-choice advocates to respond to anti-choice arguments (when they choose to do so) with the same level of outrage, ridicule, and moral revulsion they would treat arguments for imprisoning gay people, enslaving black people, marital rape, and other violations of bodily autonomy. We debate and discuss morally repulsive positions that violate people’s bodily autonomy differently than we do positions we disagree with but can see the value of (or just don’t see as morally repulsive). When it comes to arguing against anti-choice arguments, I want us to do the latter.

1a) Related to this. I do not want pro-choice advocates (in this case, Hemant Mehta) to give a platform to anti-choice arguments, with no comment whatsoever, as if they were just another interesting political topic for discussion and debate — as opposed to the grotesque violation of the right to bodily autonomy that they are.

2) I want pro-choice advocates to quit telling women and people with uteruses to be more polite, kinder, and less angry when their basic right to bodily autonomy is debated, or when people handle the issue in a piss-poor way.

3) I do not want to host that debate in my own blog. In the Having a Reasonable Debate About Abortion post, I am willing to have a meta-debate about the controversy in the community, and in fact created a space for it — but I am not willing to host a debate about my right to not be forced to be an organ donor for nine months.

Any problems with any of that?

Comments

  1. Beth says

    I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect every pro-choice advocate to respond to anti-abortion arguments as you wish them to. Some of us are okay with treating it as an interesting topic for discussion and debate and do not consider it to be a grotesque violation of the right to bodily autonomy. I agree that which conversations you choose to host or not on your blog are completely up to you.

  2. says

    The point here is that there are things that are not subject to debate. I’ve had the same response from some people when I assert that there’s no moral defense for calling another human being “it.” The people who wished to defend that behavior were outraged that I drew that moral line and won’t entertain debate about it. But it’s simply not subject to debate. Bodily autonomy is the same. Beth, you and others are free to respond to arguments any way you like, but it doesn’t change this fact: Claiming that there is reasonable debate to be had about womens’ bodily autonomy is objectively questioning womens’ basic humanity. No one can present an argument that refutes this, because there objectively isn’t one.

  3. brianpansky says

    @beth

    i hope you say the same to everyone calling for the opposite of greta’s wishes.

    your second sentence points out something as well:

    the only way someone wouldn’t do it greta’s way is if they have a differing view of abortion itself. this is why it can be taken as a meaningful signal when people do something else.

  4. cswella says

    @Beth: It’s completely reasonable. If you can’t discuss the topic without derailing, maybe this isn’t the forum for you to be discussing.

  5. brianpansky says

    @beth

    furhter, it doesn’t matter what your stance on abortion is. if you even know what the words “bodily autonomy” mean, you should know it is involved. you tried to avoid being completely incoherent by adding the qualification “grotesque violation”, but this is incoherent because violation of bodily autonomy is judged by the person with the body who has to experience the violation, not you. we don’t go asking other people whether someone’s rape was really actually all that bad. we get that kind of fact directly from the only legitimate judge, the person who was raped.

  6. Beth says

    @2 I disagree. Anything and everything can be debated. Whether or not you choose to participate in the debate is your choice. Expecting other people to not discuss something because you find it deplorable that they do is not.

    @5 Your post isn’t clear. I’m not sure if you mean it’s completely reasonable to expect people on the same side of an argument to agree about everything with respect that issue or something else. Also, I’m not sure why you think I’m derailing or why you think I should seek out another forum. I think expressing disagreement with Greta is still allowed here.

  7. Beth says

    @6 – I used the qualification ‘grotesque violation’ because that was the phrase Greta used.

  8. Kelseigh says

    Wow, 23 posts since Hemant gave a platform to someone who thinks women’s rights are #UpForDebate with not one follow-up on it either to criticize or indicate he took people’s concerns about doing so seriously. Guess he’s got better stuff to do.

  9. Thomas Hobbes says

    @Greta,

    If that was all, it would be okay, but it’s not all.

    Our religious opponents hardly ever literally say that we are not allowed to question their viewpoints. Nevertheless, their arguments often boil down to “shut up, that’s why”.

    Reactions like @David Weintraub’s #2 boil down to the same thing. “Claiming that there is reasonable debate to be had about womens’ bodily autonomy is objectively questioning womens’ basic humanity.” Firstly, it is bullshit. Debating what to do when ones rights conflict with someone others rights does not question ones basic humanity. Secondly, it puts a taboo on the subject.

    Some argue that unborn children have no rights, some argue that the mothers rights should alway prevail. That’s okay – at least they’re arguing. But some simply assert that it is obvious, and then compare me to someone who brings up the benefits of concentration camps.

    Well fuck it, that’s the kind of response I would expect from some relidiot bigoted Tea Partyist, not from one of our community members. And your comment policy practically disallows me to refute that crap.

    This isn’t about abortion. This is about debate. I can understand you don’t want a calm debate. But you don’t seriously mean you don’t want a reasonable debate, do you?

    If you’re angry, please, show it. If you want to insult, or ridicule, or swear, by all means, do so. But please don’t give me the “shut up, that’s why”. That is so much against the values of our community I can hardly believe people are actually advocating it.

  10. cswella says

    Our religious opponents hardly ever literally say that we are not allowed to question their viewpoints. Nevertheless, their arguments often boil down to “shut up, that’s why”.

    Huge difference between quoting a ‘divinely inspired’ book, and telling you that not everything is up for debate ‘just for the sake of it, because freethoughtlol’.

    Reactions like @David Weintraub’s #2 boil down to the same thing. “Claiming that there is reasonable debate to be had about womens’ bodily autonomy is objectively questioning womens’ basic humanity.” Firstly, it is bullshit. Debating what to do when ones rights conflict with someone others rights does not question ones basic humanity. Secondly, it puts a taboo on the subject.

    So you don’t think autonomy is linked to human rights? You don’t think a debate where one person is discussing what someone else should do with their body is infringing on their human rights?

    Some argue that unborn children have no rights, some argue that the mothers rights should alway prevail. That’s okay – at least they’re arguing. But some simply assert that it is obvious, and then compare me to someone who brings up the benefits of concentration camps.

    Oh, wonderful. So long as they’re arguing, that’s fine. Is there ever a solution to an issue in your world?

    Reread my comment about the concentration camps. The point of it was that discussing someone else’s rights/autonomy as if there’s 2 equal sides to the issue should make you feel awkward and embarassed, yet it doesn’t. I was just curious why.

    Well fuck it, that’s the kind of response I would expect from some relidiot bigoted Tea Partyist, not from one of our community members. And your comment policy practically disallows me to refute that crap.

    “Waaa! I’m oppressed on a private forum! Also, you guys are just like religious people, so there!”

    This isn’t about abortion. This is about debate. I can understand you don’t want a calm debate. But you don’t seriously mean you don’t want a reasonable debate, do you?

    Possible to have a reasonable debate on if removing people’s autonomy is good or bad? not really.

    If you’re angry, please, show it. If you want to insult, or ridicule, or swear, by all means, do so. But please don’t give me the “shut up, that’s why”. That is so much against the values of our community I can hardly believe people are actually advocating it.

    Who is advocating “shut up, that’s why?” I’m sorry, are you still missing the point about bodily autonomy? Maybe if I say it a couple more times.

    BODILY AUTONOMY! BODILY AUTONOMY!

  11. says

    “Debating what to do when ones rights conflict with someone others rights does not question ones basic humanity.”

    No one ever makes the argument that a person who needs a blood transfusion has rights that conflict with the rights of a person who could be compelled to give them one. That debate simply does not exist. That you are willing to entertain debate about conflicting rights when it comes to pregnancy demonstrates that you see people who can become pregnant as different from all other people.

    You continue to repeat the same things, but you have not been able to refute this. If you want to make the argument that people who can become pregnant should not be treated the same as all other people, then make that argument. But don’t keep trying to claim that’s not what you’re doing with no evidence, and then hide behind “you sound angry.” You may not realize it, you may not be comfortable confronting it, but that is what you are doing. OF COURSE women are enraged by this. You would be too if it was your body.

  12. Greta Christina says

    I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect every pro-choice advocate to respond to anti-abortion arguments as you wish them to. Some of us are okay with treating it as an interesting topic for discussion and debate and do not consider it to be a grotesque violation of the right to bodily autonomy.

    Beth @ #1: Asked and answered. The entire original post was an answer to this, making the case that it is deeply troubling at best to treat women’s bodily autonomy when it comes to abortion as a matter for reasonable and “interesting” debate and disagreement. The entire original post made the case for why anti-choice arguments are inherently advocating a grotesque violation of the right to bodily autonomy. Do you have an actual case to make? Are you going to engage with the actual arguments that were made? Or are you just going to reiterate your points without actually arguing for them? If the latter: Your concerns are noted. Thank you for sharing.

  13. MadHatter says

    Really Thomas? It’s reasonable to discuss my basic humanity by questioning when someone else gets to assert their rights over mine? In which other arena do we ever question the assertion of someone’s right to bodily autonomy over anyone else’s? Lessee…the moral discussion of slavery is out (well, except as it applies to forced-birthing apparently), there isn’t any discussion on forced organ donation last time I checked, what am I missing here?

    I, and probably many others, might be more willing to entertain the discussion on some purely intellectual basis if our basic human rights weren’t under constant attack. It’s not a philosophical discussion anymore. It’s one that has direct and lasting consequences to everyone who could possibly face pregnancy!

    I know women who have had to run the gauntlet at clinics, I have repeatedly been questioned by doctors as if I was a child on my own reproductive choices. I also have a loved one who just had to undergo a painful and dangerous abortion, at home, alone with her 3 year old because a hospital had a moral issue with doing a hysterectomy on a woman who may have been pregnant! It wasn’t even a pregnancy but it might have been so they sent her home in debilitating pain to face a medical issue that could have fucking killed her.

    So it’s not a philosophical discussion we can just debate, and until it is you can’t possibly expect that people will entertain it as such!

  14. Greta Christina says

    Thomas Hobbes @ #10: Asked and answered. As I just said to Beth: The entire original post was an answer to this, making the case that it is deeply troubling at best to treat women’s bodily autonomy when it comes to abortion as a matter for reasonable and “interesting” debate and disagreement. Nobody is telling anyone to simply shut up. We are saying, “If you treat some people’s bodily autonomy as a subject for interesting debate among reasonable people who happen to disagree, that is a morally repugnant and indefensible position.” Why is it that “That is a morally repugnant and indefensible position, please stop taking it, it hurts people and here’s why” is an idea that should not be expressed in debate?

    The case has been made, and made, and made and made and made and made. I am not morally required to respond to it calmly and reasonably the 100,001st tie that it’s made, any more than I am morally required to respond to Pascal’s Wager calmly and reasonably the 100,001st tie that it’s stated.

    Do you seriously think that your desire to have whatever argument you want to have, in whatever space you want to have it? Do you seriously think that I am morally required to allow people to make the case — in my home, in my space — for why I should be legally forced to donate my organs to a zygote/ embryo/ fetus for nine months? Funny about that. Funny how little you respect my autonomy over my own space.

  15. brianpansky says

    @8
    Beth

    @6 – I used the qualification ‘grotesque violation’ because that was the phrase Greta used.

    yes, and? does that mean you get to decide that abortion is not a grotesque violation of a body other than yours? no, it doesn’t. you have no point, you are incoherent.

  16. brianpansky says

    *should read “does that mean you get to decide that **anti-choice** is not a grotesque violation of a body other than yours?”

  17. Beth says

    Do you have an actual case to make?

    I’m not sure what you mean by “case” here. Are you asking me to make a case for pro-choice advocates not responding to anti-abortion arguments as you wish them to? That seems pretty obvious to me, but I can spell it out if that’s what you are not understanding.

    Or do you want me to make a case for why it’s okay to not find the idea of some limitations on legal abortions a qrotesque violation of bodily autonomy? That gets into a discussion of actual arguments against abortion which I gather you don’t want to host or partake in. I can discuss that if you are interested, but not unless you specifically say you want me too.

    Or did you mean something else?

    Are you going to engage with the actual arguments that were made?

    I thought I had. At least regarding the arguments I have disagreements with. Could you be more specific about which arguments you want me to comment on? I think the main disagreement is that I don’t find it a morally repugnant position to discuss why our society is better off with abortion being legal. I also disagree with stance that anti-abortion arguments/advocates are equivalent to arguing that women are less than human.

    BTW, you were correct in the previous thread that you don’t need to be calm and reasonable to convince others. Passionate emotional arguments can be very persuasive. I’m just generally not interested in those types of arguments and prefer to discuss things calmly and assume the best of those who argue in the other direction. This isn’t to say that I can always manage that, but I generally avoid internet discussions of issues where I become upset and try to stop posting when I cannot stay calm and reasonable.

  18. Dan Ryder says

    Philosophy professor here…

    Those involved in this discussion don’t seem to notice that an anti-abortion argument need not be an anti-choice argument. I agree the choice issue is a non-issue, and should be treated as such. However, once autonomy is a given, that doesn’t end all moral questions. There is a further question of what, morally speaking, one ought to do with that autonomy. Yes, it would be wrong to interfere with your choice. (This should be uncontroversial.) But what autonomous choice should you make, morally speaking? (Space for reasonable disagreement here.)

    I think secular anti-abortion arguments, like Marquis’s argument (abortion is morally wrong, at least in some cases, because it takes away a fetus’s valuable future) should be seen as addressing the second question, (what ought I to do, given that I have the right to choose?), and not the first (do I have a right to choose?) But the recent discussion seems to run these two questions together. I’d be interested to hear what Greta thinks of this.

  19. Greta Christina says

    I’d be interested to hear what Greta thinks of this.

    Dan Ryder @ #19: What I think is that you are seriously bad at reading for comprehension. Which is especially problematic for a philosophy professor. What part of “I do not want to host that debate in my own blog. In the Having a Reasonable Debate About Abortion post, I am willing to have a meta-debate about the controversy in the community, and in fact created a space for it — but I am not willing to host a debate about my right to not be forced to be an organ donor for nine months.” did yo not understand?

    You have been put into comment moderation. Any further comments from you will need to be approved before they are posted. Please abide by the comment policy set out for these discussions. Thank you.

  20. Greta Christina says

    I’m not sure what you mean by “case” here. Are you asking me to make a case for pro-choice advocates not responding to anti-abortion arguments as you wish them to? That seems pretty obvious to me, but I can spell it out if that’s what you are not understanding.

    Beth @ #18: Yes, that’s what I’m asking. Although I wouldn’t phrase it as “not responding to anti-abortion arguments as you wish them to” — I would phrase it as “responding with some recognition of the fundamental moral repugnance of anti-abortion arguments.” And in general, I’m asking people to not tone-troll when other people express their moral repulsion towards anti-abortion arguments.

    Please note that I am not asking you to not be calm in debates about abortion if that is your preferred style. People can be calm in their expressions of moral repugnance.

    If, however, you want to debate whether anti-abortion arguments are or are not dehumanizing and morally repugnant: You’re right. I don’t want to have that argument in my blog, or indeed anywhere.

  21. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    “Debating what to do when ones rights conflict with someone others rights does not question ones basic humanity.”

    Translation: Women don’t have basic humanity. Only men and imaginary babies do.

    Like I said before, how CONVENIENT for you, thomas, that this debate is never about what happens to YOUR body or YOUR rights. And how CONVENIENT for you that all of this is academic. You will NEVER be expected to be a fetus farm. You will NEVER have someone tell you that your right to control your own body is contingent on whether or not someone else wants to use it.

    The day that changes, we’ll care what your opinion is.

  22. JimB says

    Geez. Giliell spelled it out in the original thread at comment 13.

    The list I argue with right wing relatives and friends has 3 points:
    1. Available, affordable health care for all. And it includes birth control.
    2. Comprehensive sex ed. in school.
    3. Available, affordable morning after pill.

    There should be no debate over here because we know the above solves the “problem”.

    There is nothing to debate. Why is that so fucking hard to understand.
    Fuck anybody that says abortion has anything to do with morals.

  23. Beth says

    @21

    Although I wouldn’t phrase it as “not responding to anti-abortion arguments as you wish them to” — I would phrase it as “responding with some recognition of the fundamental moral repugnance of anti-abortion arguments.”

    Thanks for the clarification. Could you tell me what you sort of recognition you are asking for? For example, what would you like to have seen Hemant Mejta provide when he hosted the discussion over there?

    I don’t see recognizing that some people find the argument of fundamental moral repugnance to be problematic. Just as I don’t have a problem with recognizing that same fundamental moral repugnance about abortion to people who argue against it as well. On the other hand, I don’t bother to express that explicitly, so if what you are looking for is a verbal acknowledgement of their right to that moral stance, I’d like to know what you are wanting. The way your OP came across to me was you just wanted everybody to shut up about it already. Apparently, that was a misinterpretation and I’m sorry about that.

    And in general, I’m asking people to not tone-troll when other people express their moral repulsion towards anti-abortion arguments.

    I find most arguments against ‘tone-trolling’ to be arguments about why and when it’s okay for one person to verbally abuse another on the internet. I prefer the Camel’s with Hammers approach to civility.

  24. Dan Ryder says

    Sorry if I wasn’t clear, Greta – I intended the comment purely as an analysis of the controversy. That is, the controversy could maybe be diffused somewhat if the autonomy issue (what you are talking about, and which I agree should be uncontroversial) were separated from issue #2 (when I make my own autonomous decision, what moral considerations are relevant?). In other words, maybe the people who think there should be reasoned debate about abortion in the atheist community are really talking about issue #2 (maybe without realizing it), and could agree with you that “issue” #1 is closed. Or at least maybe they could be made to see that.

    Compare: it’s silly to have a debate about whether I have the right to choose suicide. (Roughly the right to have nobody else interfere with my personal choice to commit suicide.) But it’s reasonable to have a discussion about when it’s a morally good thing for me to freely choose suicide, and when not.

    Now, it may be that you think issue #2 is closed as well, I don’t know. My point is that the meta-debate should at least distinguish the two issues, and that maybe this would help.

  25. Holms says

    GEE, GOOD THING THIS THREAD DIDN’T GET DERAILED!

    …Anyway, I for one thought it was clear what Greta meant, even if some people seem to feel it more important that they make this thread all about their snubbed feelings rather than take note of Greta’s point.

  26. Greta Christina says

    Could you tell me what you sort of recognition you are asking for? For example, what would you like to have seen Hemant Mejta provide when he hosted the discussion over there?

    Beth @ #24: At the very least, if Hemant felt it was important to post the anti-choice guest post in an effort to inform people of what exactly David Silverman was talking about, I think he should have prefaced it by saying clearly, not just that it was a guest post, but that it was a guest post whose views he absolutely opposes, and that he’s only posting it for informational purposes so people can see what’s being discussed. At the very very least, once he got called out for not doing that, he should have posted a follow-up making that position clear. At best, he should have not posted the guest post at all. If he felt it was important to let people know what exactly David Silverman was talking about, he could have linked to the craptastic anti-choice humanist website, saying something like, “Hey, here are those secular arguments for abortion, sure they exist, but they suck, and they’re basically the same arguments that the religious right makes but with God taken out of the picture.”

    I find most arguments against ‘tone-trolling’ to be arguments about why and when it’s okay for one person to verbally abuse another on the internet. I prefer the Camel’s with Hammers approach to civility.

    The Camels with Hammers approach to civility has been dismantled multiple times. by several people. And I find most arguments in favor of tone-trolling to be attempts by privileged people to shut up marginalized people and keep them from expressing their anger. In particular,I am appalled at the hypocrisy of people who cheer on my “Why Are You Atheists So Angry?” book/talk, and who love my righteous atheist rage at religion, but who are now telling pro-choice advocates to tone it down and be more polite. and not alienate people. If you prefer the Camels with Hammers approach to civility, go comment there.

  27. karmacat says

    I am having been thinking about this discussion all evening. I have a few thoughts that may not be completely coherent. One idea I had is a thought experiment. The Catholic church has been able to progress with science (kicking and screaming) such as the earth orbiting the sun, and evolution. We have more knowledge of embryology and human development. yet the church clings to this idea that life begins at conception. Why don’t they say god has given us more knowledge so we can better decisions, so we need to think about what it all means. They can accept evolution but not that a blastocyst or a heart beat doesn’t mean it is a person. I wonder why there is so much shame of sex and why they project this shame mainly on women.

    When Savita Halappanavar died in Ireland because doctors refused to treat her until there was no heartbeat, I was surprised that a lot of people were not furious and yelling at the church and the hospital and doctors. These people KILLED a woman. This is an extreme example but there is no room for calm, back and forth debates. It is the ultimate violation of bodily autonomy and free choice.

    The other thought I had is a lot of people don’t try to understand why women have abortions. They are not listening to women. Some people just don’t want to see that more pregnancies and children just lead to poverty for some families. It is more important to focus on children who are living and thinking than to focus on a fetus. There are a lot of other reasons to have an abortion. I did contemplate an abortion at one time because I was exhausted with my child not sleeping through the night for 4 years. the relationship I was in was going downhill fast and he was emotionally abusive. I had to work extra hours because I was struggling with bills which just added more stress. It turned out I had blighted ovum so I never really had a pregnancy. the point is that women do think about these issues and yet we don’t trust them to make the right decision. And that is what really makes me angry. Women are thinking living people. We are not incubators

  28. karmacat says

    To Dan Ryder: I am not sure what you mean when you say “when it’s a morally good thing for me to freely choose suicide.” the main reason to not let someone kill him/herself is if that person is in the throes of depression or psychosis. If a person is rational, is able to think about their future in a rational way, weighing reasons for and against suicide, then it is their choice of whether and how they want to die

  29. Silentbob says

    @ 27 Greta Christina

    The Camels with Hammers approach to civility has been dismantled multiple times. by several people. And I find most arguments in favor of tone-trolling to be attempts by privileged people to shut up marginalized people and keep them from expressing their anger. [… ] If you prefer the Camels with Hammers approach to civility, go comment there.

    Item 1, 5 & 10 of your comment policy basically are the Camels with Hammers approach to civility.
    (That’s not meant to be a gotcha, I just think there are a lot of misconceptions about what Dan Fincke actually advocates. He is not, for example, opposed to expressing anger or swearing.)

  30. Dan Ryder says

    To karmakat: Yes, I was thinking of the rational person, not someone whose basic rationality is compromised – it’s exactly right that “it is their choice of whether and how they want to die,” they have the right to choose. This is the same thing as having a right that others not interfere with that choice: others have a duty not to interfere. This right to choose suicide is pretty uncontroversial, at least from an atheist perspective.

    Now put yourself in the place of the person who is contemplating suicide; you are now exercising your right to choose, free of interference. You might think to yourself, “OK, I have a right to choose suicide, nobody should interfere, and they all know that, so nobody will interfere. OK, good, I’m happy about that. Now… should I actually do it? Would it be the right thing?” Establishing your right to choose doesn’t thereby answer your question you have now of which way to choose. This decision is a weighty one, and there are likely to be moral considerations (not just practical ones) that mean it’s not obvious what the right thing to do really is. (How would the suicide affect others? for example.) So this decision is controversial in the sense that it isn’t clear-cut; if I were in the same position, I would also find it difficult to decide what is the morally right thing to do. I might ask your advice, and we could talk about the reasons for and against, for anyone in the same situation. What’s uncontroversial is that it is my decision, if I’m the one contemplating suicide. Whatever I decide, nobody should interfere. (It follows that the legality of suicide should be uncontroversial.)

    So we have an uncontroversial moral right to choose suicide, coupled with a controversial moral question of whether to choose suicide. I’m suggesting “the” abortion issue may bifurcate in exactly the same way. This would mean that we atheists could all agree that the right to choose an abortion is absolutely uncontroversial, as is its legality, but still countenance the possibility that there are cogent anti-abortion arguments. It’s just that these arguments would have to be about the moral considerations facing someone who is exercising their right to choose, and deciding whether or not to have an abortion. They would be about the form that rational deliberation takes for someone who is contemplating abortion. So Greta might both continue to say: I’m not listening to anti-choice arguments, nor should I. And at the same time: but I’ll listen to a cogent anti-abortion argument, e.g. an argument that aims to be helpful and rationally persuasive for anyone who is conflicted about an abortion decision at 23 weeks.

    I hoped that might defuse the controversy to some extent, and I wondered if Greta agreed that there is this bifurcation.

  31. Thomas Hobbes says

    @Greta

    I met this community in 2008. PZ was engaged in the Eucharist controversy. I was very curious how it would end, and I was pleasantly surprised when he threw the host into the thrash bin together with a piece of the Quran and The God Delusion, with the words:

    “Nothing is sacred. Question everything.”

    And now we’ve come to a time where the common stand is:

    “Some things are obvious. Do not debate them.”

    I can’t believe the hostility I’ve been facing the last 24 hours simply by stating that abortion should be debated. People tell me I’m questioning their humanity by debating human rights. I’ve been misrepresented, I’ve been accused of treating women as non-human, I’ve even been called a women hater.

    Not only should we not debate abortion, we should also not debate debating abortion, we should not even debate debating debating abortion!

    All I hear are echoes from bigots and creationists. “You just hate God.” “It’s obvious.” “Don’t discuss that on my website.” In short: “shut up, that’s why”.

    Do you really think that debate is dehumanizing and morally repugnant?

    I already explained why I think debating abortion is different, not dehumanizing, nor morally repugnant. This only led to more hostility. That’s not the community I learned to know six years ago.

  32. says

    1. It is always easy to conjure up the “moral outrage” consistent with one’s current position on a topic, and to make that emotion serve as a wall to contrary arguments. This is what those not committed to rationality do. For those of use committed to rationality, I would suggest that there is no position that your “moral outrage” can insulate from a reassessment. if you have the arguments, present the arguments instead of your outrage. Let the arguments speak for themselves.

    2. It appears that this topic is forcing rationalists to reexamine the notion of “human rights” and “morality”. And this is a good thing. What grounds human rights and secular morality? I could be wrong if presented with a coherent argument, but to this point after years of wading through various arguments attempting to ground these notions, I have seen no defense of a true obligation to any system of “rights” and “morality” above the obligation we have only after intentionally subscribing to the system in questions. There seems to be no “objective rights” or “objective morality” that is not merely grounded in mere emotions.

    Instead, it appears that many “rationalists” are simply framing their subjective opinions in moral terms in an attempt to give their desire that others behave as they desire more weight. This added weight is merely a relic of language, emergent of the connotative baggage of moralistic terms such as “immoral”, “inhuman”, “evil”. Outrage is translated into moral terms to illegitimately render such outrage justification for a linguistic condemnation of others.

    I think it is time to revisit the notions of “right” and “morality”. If you can not give them any grounding beyond emotions (and I have yet to see this), it is time to give up 1) pretending our subjective opinions possess universal obligation, and 2) proclamations that those opposed to our emotions are somehow “immoral”.

  33. Silentbob says

    @ 32 Thomas Hobbes

    Oh, come on Thomas. It has already been explained to you, several times I think, that this is not a case a community refusing to debate. It is a case of one blog author refusing to participate in, or host, a debate that as far as they are concerned has already been debated to death. If you want to debate you have already been directed to the Thunderdome; there is also a post by PZ and a post by Avicenna refuting the anti-choice argument from Hemant’s blog. As far as I know, you are not forbidden from making your arguments there.

  34. karmacat says

    @Hobbes and philstilwell, this blog entry by Greta is not about debating abortion but about the debate about abortion. The question is how and why is the debate about abortion different from other debates. Why can’t others trust women’s decisions. Why are some people able to accept the science of evolution but not embryology. Why do people put the fetus as more important than the woman. And it is infuriating to see cases where women are marginalized where their physical and mental health are deemed not important. Or undergoing government directed rape via trans vaginal ultrasound. Or told they have to wait 72 hours because they think women don’t really know what they are doing. If Greta had a blog entry about abortion, then your arguments about abortion would be on topic but it is not the focus of this particular blog entry

  35. says

    Karmacat, ultimately, you are going to have to deal with the most fundamental issue: what is it that grounds “right” and “morality” enough to claim rights and to make “moral” statements. That is the elephant waiting patiently on one side of the room while the individuals on the other side bicker about stepping on each other’s toes.

    All I currently see is emotions undergirding the assertions that “X is a right” or that “X is immoral”. You’ll have to first substantiate your assumptions of “rights” and “morality” if you wish to remain rational.

  36. karmacat says

    @philstilwell, you clearly not reading what people are writing. You basically called me irrational and emotional. You are saying if we don’t do things your way we must be irrational. I don’t know what else to say. Why are you hanging around here ? I’m learning how to think through this issue in a different way. Your statement makes me think this topic is over your head or your just here to troll. . I obviously don’t know your real motivations. But your comment is not making you look good)

  37. says

    Those involved in this discussion don’t seem to notice that an anti-abortion argument need not be an anti-choice argument. I agree the choice issue is a non-issue, and should be treated as such. However, once autonomy is a given, that doesn’t end all moral questions. There is a further question of what, morally speaking, one ought to do with that autonomy. Yes, it would be wrong to interfere with your choice. (This should be uncontroversial.) But what autonomous choice should you make, morally speaking? (Space for reasonable disagreement here.)

    I, for one, am completely unwilling to entertain such debates until the ongoing, very real attack on my ability to access abortion has stopped. I view it as a betrayal and a slap in the face when someone like you waltzes in and insists that it’s possible to have a nice abstract debate about the morality of abortion. Of course it’s possible. It’s just that this is a FIGHT. Wherein people–pregnant people, of course (do they matter? that is the REAL question at hand)–are dying.

    Your interest in the abstract is morally repugnant to me, not because there’s anything wrong with abstract discussions but because of the context in which it’s occurring.

  38. Beth says

    Greta @27

    Greta, thank you for your response. You’ve been very patient with me. I appreciate your taking the time to answer my questions.

    I don’t understand how what you are suggesting is a recognition of the profound moral repugnance some people feel towards anti-abortion arguments. Instead, in #27, you seem to be saying that the only acceptable way to present anti-abortion arguments is to make very clear that he (Hemant) opposes those arguments and supports abortion rights. This presupposes that he a) absolutely opposes those views and b) that his purpose was informational. While I think these are reasonable assumptions for Hemant, what if it wasn’t? Is it possible for someone to recognize the existence of arguments against abortion and also give recognition that some people will find them morally repugnant without specifically stating their opposition to those arguments?

    The way your OP came across to me originally was you wanted everybody to shut up about it already. You said that wasn’t the case, but then you say in response to my question about how best to go about it: “at best he should have not posted the guest post at all”. To me this just doesn’t seem all that different from someone saying to Rebecca Watson “Shut up about harassment already”. While I can understand that some folks don’t want to participate in a discussion, I don’t understand the attitude that the other people should not do so either.

    And I find most arguments in favor of tone-trolling to be attempts by privileged people to shut up marginalized people and keep them from expressing their anger.

    I don’t understand this. I can understand that privileged people have used similar arguments to keep from having to listen to marginalized people in RL. But “tone-trolling” is an internet term and on the internet, everyone has equal access to express their anger. Everyone has the power to decide where they wish to participate and where they don’t. How does tone-trolling shut up marginalized people and keep them from expressing their anger? Perhaps we are each thinking of something different. What do you consider ‘tone-trolling’? I think of it as requests to not gratuitously demean others, either individuals or groups.

    In particular,I am appalled at the hypocrisy of people who cheer on my “Why Are You Atheists So Angry?” book/talk, and who love my righteous atheist rage at religion, but who are now telling pro-choice advocates to tone it down and be more polite. and not alienate people.

    Interesting. Have there been many people who have done that? I haven’t followed comments about your book and I haven’t read many of the comments on the actual abortion threads, so I wouldn’t know.

    If you prefer the Camels with Hammers approach to civility, go comment there.

    I do comment there. I don’t generally have much to say because I rarely disagree with Dan. At any rate, I find your comment policy sufficient. Thank you.

  39. Dan Ryder says

    Sally: I agree that the choice (non)-issue is the only politically relevant one. But I wouldn’t want to bar the personal decision issue from public discourse. I don’t think there’s anything merely abstract about it when a woman is morally conflicted about an abortion decision, and I’m sure you would agree that we shouldn’t tell her: don’t discuss that in public, don’t put it on your blog. We refuse to help you with that decision.

    Maybe the recommendation should be, if someone is going to discuss the morality of abortion in public (e.g. on an atheist blog), make sure you preface it by saying: the right to choose is (or at least should be) uncontroversial. This stuff here that I’m about to say concerns the moral considerations that might enter into that free choice, aimed at someone who is conflicted about it.

  40. geekgirlsrule says

    Why is it so hard for people (mostly men) to understand that there is NOTHING abstract about this for people who have uteruses? For a lot of cis men, it’s apparently “interesting” to think about what it might be like if other people did not have bodily autonomy. For those of us with uteruses, it’s not interesting and in many places it ISN’T a case of “if.”

    Think about how you’d feel if you knew what you wanted to do in regards to your own body in regards to a medical procedure, maybe a vasectomy, and the doctor HAD to tell you for no good reason, “Well, first you’ll have to look at this sonogram of your testicles, and we’ll be using a sound* to really get in there so you can really see things in perspective, and then you need to go home and wait for 72 hours to see if you change your mind about cutting off those cute little sperms’ potential access to ova. Think of all the babies you could be fathering.”

    Dare I say, you’d be pissed?

    Yeah, we are.

    *penile probe for those who don’t deal with the medical field a lot

  41. says

    Karmacat, I assure you I am not a troll. I offered an actual argument as to why those on both sides of this apparent rift among rationalists are having a difficult time reconciling their positions. I am also prepared to defend this position in greater depth. And please don’t take my disagreement with you as trolling. When I say emotions appear to be at the foundation of your “morality”, that applies to me. I don’t claim to have any “moral” superiority over you. However, I am claiming that I have yet to see a secular system of morality that can’t be distilled to mere emotions.

    And I don’t think you are irrational. I think anyone who invokes a moral system without knowing what grounds that moral system is irrational. But I don’t think you would do that. I’m guessing you know well the foundation of your moral system is and are prepared to present it. I never intended to start a more rigorous discussion/debate on the foundation of systems of morality that justifies the moral constituents such as “human rights” and “immoral acts”, but rather wanted simply to point out that rationalists need to reexamine that foundation before they are going to be able to understand those on the opposite side of this rift on abortion.

    However, if you are willing to have such a debate/discussion here and now, that is fine. I won’t attack you personally, and I’m sure you will also just stick to the arguments. Deal? Or would you like some more time to reexamine what grounds your moral system?

  42. says

    Why do some atheist/skeptical interlocutors, who I note are almost always white cishet men, argue that emotions are opposed to rationality? And, further, that emotional reactions are evidence of irrationality, rather than a crucial part of the reasoning process?

    It’s always when issues of rights for marginalized people come up, too…

  43. Steve LaBonne says

    It’s not possible to have a reasonable or even honest debate about abortion- and therefore it’s not worth trying- because the so-called “pro-life” side is not what it portrays itself to be. It’s not actually about embryos and fetuses- those are used as convenient emotional triggers. It’s about patriarchal control of women’s reproductive tracts.

  44. says

    CAN any systems of morality not be distilled to “mere” emotions? I’m not convinced. At base, morality stems from emotions: the vast majority of humans not only don’t like feeling bad, they also feel bad when they see other humans feeling bad. We design systems of codified morality mostly because there is a small minority who don’t experience those bad emotions upon witnessing other people’s suffering and act accordingly. If we had a different evolutionary history–say, intelligent sharks with an evolutionary history where most adults spend their lives isolated from their fellow intelligent beings–we’d have a very different system of morality because we’d experience different emotions when faced with the prospect of witnessing another’s suffering. But, we’re descended from gregarious social apes and our evolutionary success hinges on mutual cooperation in many ways, so we have the legacy of that, manifested mainly in our responses to other humans.

    Claiming that a system of morality must not be based on “mere” emotions is begging the question.

  45. says

    The thing about the whole “debate” is that whole framing is dishonest:
    People who want to debate abortion don’t want to debate about bodily autonomy per se. The are not interested in talking about mandatory testing for bone marrow donation or mandatory organ donation after death. Nonononono! It’s only abortion because that is somehow special™
    Why? Because that’s why!
    Therefore I cannot take all the “but we need to be able to discuss anything people” serious or even to be arguing in good faith.

  46. MadHatter says

    Ok, I said it. SallyStrange said it. geekgirlsrule said it. But I’ll emphasize it again.

    There is not and cannot be an abstract discussion of rights and morals while there is an ongoing assault on the legal right and accessibility of abortion.

    This is an issue that actual women are facing every day. Not in some abstract, theoretical realm. Every damn day. My relative nearly died. Savita Hlappanavar did.

  47. Greta Christina says

    philstilwell: This notion that morality — or indeed any human cognition — can and should exist separate from emotions is laughable. Go read “Decarte’s Error.” Go read some elementary neuropsychology. Emotions are, among other things, what makes us value some things over others in the first place. This hyperskeptical, “oh you’re being so emotional, not rational like me” crap is just that — crap. It’s disingenuous, and it’s ignorant.

    And in particular the idea that we shouldn’t get emotional when our basic right to bodily autonomy is being put up for debate is crap.

  48. Greta Christina says

    Instead, in #27, you seem to be saying that the only acceptable way to present anti-abortion arguments is to make very clear that he (Hemant) opposes those arguments and supports abortion rights. This presupposes that he a) absolutely opposes those views and b) that his purpose was informational. While I think these are reasonable assumptions for Hemant, what if it wasn’t?

    Beth @ #39: I said this because (a) I’ve read Hemant before, and IIRC he is pro-choice, and (b) I was giving Hemant’s actions and words the most charitable interpretation possible. If he doesn’t staunchly oppose the views expressed in the anti-choice guest post he hosted, and if he thought they had merit, then my criticism of him would have been far more damning.

    But “tone-trolling” is an internet term and on the internet, everyone has equal access to express their anger. Everyone has the power to decide where they wish to participate and where they don’t.

    I’m sorry, but if you think everyone on the Internet has equal access and equal power to express their anger, you seriously need some Social Justice 101. In particular, you need to find out more about what life is commonly like for female public figures on the Internet — especially feminists. I don’t have the time or energy to do that here, though. Maybe some other commenters will. If not, then go do some reading and get up to speed.

    How does tone-trolling shut up marginalized people and keep them from expressing their anger? Perhaps we are each thinking of something different. What do you consider ‘tone-trolling’? I think of it as requests to not gratuitously demean others, either individuals or groups.

    No, that’s not what tone-trolling is. Tone-trolling is avoiding the content of what someone says, and derailing a conversation about that content, in order to condescendingly scold them about the tone in which they said it, and inform them that they should express their ideas more temperately and kindly. It is disproportionately wielded by privileged people against marginalized people, as a way of deflecting criticism, derailing conversations, and trying to get marginalized people to shut up about their anger.

    In particular,I am appalled at the hypocrisy of people who cheer on my “Why Are You Atheists So Angry?” book/talk, and who love my righteous atheist rage at religion, but who are now telling pro-choice advocates to tone it down and be more polite. and not alienate people.

    Interesting. Have there been many people who have done that?

    Yes. All the freaking time.

  49. Greta Christina says

    I can’t believe the hostility I’ve been facing the last 24 hours simply by stating that abortion should be debated.

    Thomas Hobbes @ #32: You’re really not so good at this “reading for comprehension” thing, are you? I have now said — multiple times, in a reply to you in comments and in an update on the original post and in this very clarification that you’re commenting on — that I am not telling pro-choice advocates, “Don’t ever debate abortion.” I am saying that any such debates should be done with a clear recognition of the moral bankruptcy of the anti-choice arguments. I am saying that any such debates need to NOT treat the anti-choice position as valid in any way. I am saying that any such debates need to NOT treat the debates as simply an interesting intellectual exercise — they need to take place understanding the context that this is a real-life issue for roughly half the population, that we are in a real fight, that our bodily autonomy is in fact being threatened or demolished in countless serious ways. I am saying that anyone engaging in these debates need to not tone-troll when pro-choice advocates get angry. And I am saying that i do not want to host these debates IN MY OWN BLOG, IN MY OWN SPACE, IN MY OWN HOME.

    How hard is this to understand? Will you please stop with the “We need to be able to calmly and rationally and politely investigate absolutely any question that anyone might pose” crap? Do you think we should calmly and rationally and politely question whether slavery is a good idea? Whether gay people should be locked into prisons or mental institutions? Whether women should vote? If you don’t, then please knock it off with the “Free inquiry!” line when it comes to debating abortion. And if you do, then please get the hell out of my blog.

  50. Greta Christina says

    Thomas Hobbes @ #32: Oh, one more thing. You might take a look at the #UpForDebate hashtag on Twitter. Ophelia Benson has captured some of the best examples of it. Some examples:

    Why shouldn’t bigger stronger people just take what they want when they can get away with it? #UpForDebate

    I think if I heard some solid evidence on the positives of dog fighting I could be convinced. #UpForDebate

    The healthcare you receive should be dependent on what you’re wearing at the time of injury. #UpforDebate

    Maybe #atheists aren’t fit parents. We should remove their children. #UpforDebate

    Read these, and then tell me that absolutely any topic should be open to calm, rational, polite debate.

  51. says

    Jebus, somehow I missed this inanity:

    But I wouldn’t want to bar the personal decision issue from public discourse. I don’t think there’s anything merely abstract about it when a woman is morally conflicted about an abortion decision, and I’m sure you would agree that we shouldn’t tell her: don’t discuss that in public, don’t put it on your blog. We refuse to help you with that decision.

    Yeah, next time some woman puts up a blog post entitled, “Should I terminate my pregnancy? YOU be the judge!” then have at it. Until then, stop talking about it unless you’re going to confront anti-choicers about how awful they are.

  52. says

    Greta, “laughable”, “disingenuous”, “ignorant”, “crap”…These are words I had hoped to avoid here. I had believed that I had written rigorously enough to avoid my argument misunderstood, but I apologize for obviously not having done so.

    So let me start over.

    The current apparent rift between rationalists on abortion will go nowhere beyond emotions until what presumably grounds the “moral” systems on each side is made explicit.

    I’m suggesting there is nothing that grounds the secular “moral” systems on each side other than emotions, and therefore neither side has actual moral system, but is, for its obligatory force, merely sneaking in the connotative weight of moral terminology. There is no universal obligation where the foundation of a “moral” imperative is merely subjective emotions. And where there is no universals obligation, there you have merely a system of recommendations or a pragmatic formula for getting from A to B. If your moral system is equivalent in obligatory force to a system of recommendations or a pragmatic formula for getting from A to B, then there is no justification in presenting your position as a true moral system with obligatory weight beyond the weight of a recommendation or a pragmatic “if you want X, do Y”.

    I am not disparaging emotions. Emotions are fundamental to meaning and life. But you can’t get from subjective emotions to universal obligation. And where there is no universal obligation, there you are not justified in employing moral terms. The desire to employ moral terms in the absence of universal obligation seems to be merely an attempt to illegitimately sneak in the connotative power of such terms.

    If you want to justify your position as carrying moral weight, and not having merely the weight of a recommendation or pragmatic formula, you’ll have to ground your system on something other than emotions.

  53. says

    WHY can you not get from subjective emotions to universal obligations? And how are you so sure that emotions are 100% subjective?

    I don’t think you’ve thought this through as well as you think you have.

  54. says

    Sally, I’m not absolutely certain of my position.

    Simply rigorously lay out how you can get from subjective emotions to universal obligation, and/or how emotions are something other than subjective, and I’ll reevaluate my position in light of your argument.

    The point is, if you are going to employ moral terms, you’ll need to demonstrate how your system of morality is grounded by something other than emotions so as to give your system of morality obligatory force beyond that of mere recommendation or of a pragmatic formula.

  55. says

    you’ll have to ground your system on something other than emotions.

    lololol
    ethics systems are all, ultimately, based on an axiom or two, and axioms are not rationally defensible (you’d have to use circular reasoning to do so). Plus, the human ability to construct social ethics systems is based in empathy.

    It’s impossible for a human being to have an ethics system not derived from an emotion, ultimately.

  56. says

    Jadehawk, then you’ll agree that the obligatory force deriving from such “moral” systems is identical in strength to the obligatory strength of recommendations or pragmatic formula such as “If you want X, do Y”, correct?

  57. Dan Ryder says

    Preface: If there are any anti-choicers out there reading this, let me be clear: you are dead wrong, catastrophically so. Please go away.

    Sally:

    Yeah, next time some woman puts up a blog post entitled, “Should I terminate my pregnancy? YOU be the judge!” then have at it.

    I’m glad that would be OK. Now what about conflicted women who don’t have blogs? who don’t really want to put this out on facebook? Who might use google, and primarily come across defences of choice, and attacks on choice, but little on the personal decision as such? Do you think there might be circumstances in which it’s OK (for someone with expertise) to discuss the personal decision in public to help these women? I’m undecided about this, but it seems that there might be – nothing in this thread convinces me otherwise, at least not yet. Maybe some atheist blog posts could be OK for this reason. (The post at The Friendly Atheist, which is anti-choice, is NOT a case in point.)

    Or maybe the costs would be too high. The worry, as you point out, is that some anti-choicers may (will!) get the wrong end of the stick and subvert the discussion to serve an anti-choice agenda. I share this worry, believe me. I’m not sure how to balance it against the potential benefits to conflicted women. So I basically never post about this stuff.

    But I do teach abortion in my bioethics class. That’s a somewhat public forum, and they generally don’t know beforehand that abortion will be one of the topics. I have more control over it than an internet post, though. Do you think it’s OK to discuss the personal choice there? (I’m genuinely interested in your opinion.) My own experience is that this discussion can be helpful, even transformative. I have had firmly pro-choice students whose feelings of guilt are washed away when they realize there’s a powerful reason to believe that there simply is no subject that could have a valuable future before 22 weeks. But that required taking seriously the Marquis future-of-value argument. By contrast, I have never had any pro-choice student complain (in their anonymous evaluations) that I’m subverting the political discourse. Admittedly, this is in Canada, where the situation is considerably less dire. Maybe it’s much clearer that I shouldn’t teach this stuff in Texas.

    And then there’s this particular circumstance: an atheist blog comment thread, with the current meta-debate topic. I think my posts so far have been OK in that context. But I might be wrong, and in any case it seems I’m not really wanted. I’ve raised the question I wanted to raise, and will now bow out and just listen. (Though I’m sorely tempted to lay out for philstilwell how you get from subjective emotions to universal obligations….)

  58. Silentbob says

    My position is that banning (or restricting access to) abortion would cause vastly more human misery than not doing so. From this I conclude that banning abortion would be immoral. I’m a simple guy like that.

    It’s beyond me why anyone would want to stuff about trying to measure the relative strengths of “obligatory forces”.

  59. says

    Silentbob, if people deploy a phrase such as “Abortion is immoral” or “Abortion is a human right”, but these phrases carry no more obligatory weight than “I get angry over abortion” or “I recommend abortion be legally allowed”, then those deploying those phrases are illegitimately attempting to piggy-back on the obligatory weight the connotations of the “moral” terms carry. Do you think it is proper to employ moral terms when you know you have no moral foundation?

    I’m not saying there is no moral foundations which provides for actual universal obligation above the obligation of recommendation or pragmatic formula such as “If you want X, do Y”. However, until the person who is deploying moral terms understands the obligatory foundation of their “moral” system, they are deploying the terms irrationally. Wouldn’t you agree?

  60. Silentbob says

    @ 62 philstilwell

    Actually, I agree with James Croft:

    Engaging in abstract philosophical discussion about other people’s rights in a public forum, when those rights are constantly under threat in the current political and social climate, and when the answer to the questions you raise will never effect you directly, is a callous and thoughtless thing to do.

    Do you think you could knock it off?

  61. says

    Silentbob, when someone asserts there are rights without having any foundation for those right that obligates others to recognize those rights, well…

    Simply consider a theist who says that abortion is “sin” without substantiating the god who would then substantiate the notion of “sin”. We wouldn’t let them get away with that.

    Likewise, if you want to deploy moral/rights terms, you need to be able to defend the foundation of your system of morality/rights that gives your normative proclamations obligatory weight above mere recommendation or pragmatic formula.

    You can’t simply conjure up obligatory weight without justifying it somehow. Is that a bit more clear?

  62. Greta Christina says

    philstilwell: You are missing two very essential points.

    1) For most of us, this is not our first time at the rodeo. We have debated and debated and debated and debated and debated this. We have already examined, in minute detail, the moral issues underlying the topic of abortion. For most of us, this is like Pascal’s Freaking Wager. If Pascal’s Wager were somehow an actual political fight in the real world, in which our basic right to bodily autonomy were under attack. Which brings me to:

    2) This is not a game. This is not an interesting intellectual exercise. Abortion access is being shut down all over the country. Draconian anti-choice access laws are being passed in multiple states. Catholic hospitals are buying out hospitals left and right. People’s right to bodily autonomy is not just under attack — the attackers are winning.

    So please knock it off with the condescending bullshit. If you’re going to debate this, or even meta-debate this, please do so with some respect for the practical, real-world seriousness of the topic at hand.

    And please stop trying to sneak in the actual debate through the back door. When you insist that people don’t have a solid moral foundation for their pro-choice stance, the only way for them to counter that is to explain that moral foundation — which means getting into the very debate I’ve said I am not willing to host here. Knock it off.

  63. Dan Ryder says

    I doubt that philstilwell’s line of argument would necessarily lead to the actual debate. After all, he seems to be challenging the claim that the choice debate is closed by saying that no debate is closed, because morality has no objective foundation. So the discussion would be a general one about the possibility of objective moral facts. But his point is probably still inappropriate: it’s like wading into a debate about whether there’s any real issue to discuss concerning harmful effects of fracking by bringing up global skepticism about knowledge.

    Phil: I’m sure if you had a question about fracking you’d go to the experts. Since you have a question about the foundations of morality, I would suggest that you do the same. Academic philosophers have examined this issue far beyond anything that you have apparently read on it. (Why is it that people go to experts on scientific questions, but so rarely on philosophical questions?) A good place to start is the Stanford Encyclopedia article on moral realism. From there, you could read some David Brink, Peter Railton, and Richard Boyd. They all have very subtle and interesting moral realist views.

    Your moral anti-realism seems to be pretty common among atheists. We had a recent discussion about it in our local group, and while I convinced a number of people, I didn’t convince everyone that moral realism is true. However, I did convince everyone of this: the anti-realist position you’re advocating, which you and some of them seemed to think is just obvious, is very, very far from obvious!

  64. says

    Greta,

    1) You have “debated and debated and debated and debated and debated this” with little progress. That is my point. Until both sides have made clear the foundation for their notions of “rights” and of “morality”, you’re not going to make much progress. Having made your foundation clear is no guarantee of progress, but not doing so is a guarantee of failure. Now, in the rationalist community, few people would beg the question by asserting rights without being able/willing to ground those right. Though that is what appears to have been done here, I’m probably wrong. What is it that grounds your “rights” to legitimate an obligation/application beyond mere recommendation or a pragmatic formula? This is the only question I’ve been asking. I have not assumed you don’t have an answer, but have been only asking for the answer.

    2) This is most definitely not a game. I take my arguments seriously. I’m not interested in anything but to know what provides obligatory force behind your moral/rights proclamations. That’s all. I’m not being condescending. My position is malleable, and is contingent upon the evidence you provide. But could you please simply offer a paragraph or two that grounds your system of morality/rights? Once you have done that, then those on the other side can better understand your position. Is this not true?

    Please reread my previous comments to confirm that I have not been condescending, but have been focused only on understanding what grounds your morality/rights. I really don’t understand your unwillingness to offer something at the very foundation of your position. Do you understand what I’m saying? If not, please simply ask what you don’t understand about my request.

  65. says

    Philstillwell says he isn’t being condescending. Anyone who disagrees, should know they’re wrong, because philstillwell knows better than you when he’s condescending to you.

    You didn’t answer my question, buddy. Have you donated money to increase the chance that a woman who needs an abortion can access one? Have you donated to Planned Parenthood? Have you volunteered as a clinic escort? Have you even so much as written a letter to the editor of your local paper in defense of women’s human rights?

  66. says

    I honestly do apologize if I seem condescending to anyone. I really do prefer to focus only on the point I’m trying to make. I appreciate the fact that, among rationalists, there is far fewer personal attacks and less dogmatism. That is why rationalists can resolve conflicts much better than those in theistic camps. I could be wrong, and that is why I enjoy asking others for their arguments/evidence backing their positions. ;)

  67. says

    I appreciate the fact that, among rationalists, there is far fewer personal attacks and less dogmatism. That is why rationalists can resolve conflicts much better than those in theistic camps.

    LOL. What are you basing THAT on? Now you REALLY seem like you haven’t thought much about this, like, at all.

    I could be wrong, and that is why I enjoy asking others for their arguments/evidence backing their positions. *winky smiley face*

    You’d do better providing some for yours. Then you wouldn’t seem so condescending. This isn’t your classroom; we’re not your students. Nobody owes you the time of day, let alone a long wank-session about morality.

    The emoticons aren’t helping your case, either.

  68. says

    I note that you still haven’t answered my question.

    Have you donated to the National Abortion Access Bowl-A-Thon? Or any other pro-choice cause?

  69. Greta Christina says

    I appreciate the fact that, among rationalists, there is far fewer personal attacks and less dogmatism. That is why rationalists can resolve conflicts much better than those in theistic camps.

    philstilwell @ #70: First of all: “Expressing one’s emotions in a discussion or a debate” does not equal “personal attacks and dogmatism.”

    Second of all: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

    Seriously? What movement have you been involved in? Have you seriously not been aware of the harassment, persistent verbal abuse, death threats, rape threats, threats of sexualized violence, invasions of privacy and safety (such as hacking into private email lists and posting home addresses on the Internet) that have been aimed at feminist women in the atheist and skeptical movements in the last few years? Have you seriously not been aware of how many more people who are not themselves harassers have been dismissing, ignoring, trivializing, rationalizing, making excuses, derailing, and diminishing this?

    And do you not realize that this, among many other things, is the context in which these discussions and debates are happening? Do you not realize that “Why do you have to get so emotional about it?” is one of the chief ways in which women’s concerns about dehumanization and threats against us get dismissed?

    Until both sides have made clear the foundation for their notions of “rights” and of “morality”, you’re not going to make much progress.

    philstilwell @ #68: I have said repeatedly that I am not willing to debate the actual abortion issue — i.e., the moral foundations supporting or attacking the pro-choice positions — in this blog. You keep disrespecting this boundary and trying to sneak this debate in through the back door. I am therefore putting you into comment moderation. Any further comments by you will have to be approved by me before they get posted. (I have mostly been approving comments by other people who have been put into comment moderation in these threads, but I make no promises.) Please note that I am on a speaking tour right now, and will not be able to moderate the blog and approve comments as promptly as usual.

  70. says

    I find most arguments against ‘tone-trolling’ to be arguments about why and when it’s okay for one person to verbally abuse another on the internet. I prefer the Camel’s with Hammers approach to civility.

    Well, at least follow that stupid pledge you like so much, Beth. Here is one of its tenets:

    8. I commit that I will always argue in good faith and never “troll” other people. I will respect both safe spaces and debate spaces and the distinctly valuable functions each can potentially serve. I will not disrupt the functioning of either kind of forum.

  71. says

    Phil, the only “obligation” I would place on you is to not support any fucking laws or policies that deprive people with uteri of bodily autonomy. Beyond that, do all the philosophical jerking off you want about “foundations” or whatnot. On a site that welcomes that sort of thing, which is not this one, obvs.

  72. says

    But could you please simply offer a paragraph or two that grounds your system of morality/rights?

    Women are human and have the same rights as everyone else. That’s what grounds my opinion on abortion. It’s actually that simple.

    If you want to have a more in-depth discussion about the ramifications of that, there are plenty of places where this has already happened, as opposed to here, where Greta has said she doesn’t want to deal with it. This is not the first time the topic has come up and if you’re sincere about figuring this out, you will simply read what has already been written on the topic.

    There’s a 1000+ comment thread here to get you started. Do yourself a favor and read the whole thread before you post. It’s a post on Pharyngula, so you will be eviscerated if you post a question that has already been addressed.

  73. says

    Ugh, HTML fail on my part.
    One more time!

    And now to this:

    But could you please simply offer a paragraph or two that grounds your system of morality/rights?

    To quote my dearly saintly mother, “Who the BLEEP is you?”
    No, really. Where do you get off demanding that Greta make you the exception to her already stated guideline? If you can’t figure out where she stands from reading her posts, that is your problem, not hers. She doesn’t owe you a discussion. Deal with it.

  74. Beth says

    @#50 Greta,

    Thank you once again for your time and patience in responding to my comments.

    But “tone-trolling” is an internet term and on the internet, everyone has equal access to express their anger. Everyone has the power to decide where they wish to participate and where they don’t.

    I’m sorry, but if you think everyone on the Internet has equal access and equal power to express their anger, you seriously need some Social Justice 101. In particular, you need to find out more about what life is commonly like for female public figures on the Internet — especially feminists. I don’t have the time or energy to do that here, though. Maybe some other commenters will. If not, then go do some reading and get up to speed.

    You bring up a good point. I was thinking merely of comments with respect to ‘tone-trolling’ and not blogging; that was an oversight on my part. I’m aware of the vicious backlash that women get and find it a serious problem in terms of the raising the cost of participation for women. Since raising the cost of something is equivalent to reducing access, you are correct. I was wrong.

    But I’m not sure what rape and murder threats and, more generally, verbally abusive behavior have to do with tone-trolling as I was thinking of it or as you define it below. I find it hard to accept ‘tone-trolling’ as a significant barrier to participation on the internet by people who belong to marginalized groups, but perhaps I am wrong about that too.

    How does tone-trolling shut up marginalized people and keep them from expressing their anger? Perhaps we are each thinking of something different. What do you consider ‘tone-trolling’? I think of it as requests to not gratuitously demean others, either individuals or groups.

    No, that’s not what tone-trolling is. Tone-trolling is avoiding the content of what someone says, and derailing a conversation about that content, in order to condescendingly scold them about the tone in which they said it, and inform them that they should express their ideas more temperately and kindly. It is disproportionately wielded by privileged people against marginalized people, as a way of deflecting criticism, derailing conversations, and trying to get marginalized people to shut up about their anger.

    Thank you for your definition which is rather different from my perception. It gets into the motivations of the people who make such comments and their backgrounds which I don’t feel comfortable making assumptions about. As you experience a great deal more than I read, your judgments about such background is more informed than my own would be.
    I’ll ask one more question in the hopes that I’m not trying your patience too much – is ‘tone-trolling’ dependent on the motivations of the person making the comment? Another way to phrase the question is – can we distinguish ‘tone-trolling’ behavior from innocent requests for more civility when we lack knowledge of the person’s intentions and background with respect to privilege/marginalized status?

  75. Beth says

    @#76 donnagratehouse

    Well, at least follow that stupid pledge you like so much, Beth. Here is one of its tenets:

    8. I commit that I will always argue in good faith and never “troll” other people. I will respect both safe spaces and debate spaces and the distinctly valuable functions each can potentially serve. I will not disrupt the functioning of either kind of forum.

    I have, to the best of ability, done this. If you feel I have failed, please indicate what I said and why you feel it would have been a violation of this tenet.

  76. Greta Christina says

    But I’m not sure what rape and murder threats and, more generally, verbally abusive behavior have to do with tone-trolling as I was thinking of it or as you define it below.

    Beth @ #80: People who point out and comment on the rape threats and murder threats and abusive behavior and harassment commonly get tone-trolled.

    I find it hard to accept ‘tone-trolling’ as a significant barrier to participation on the internet by people who belong to marginalized groups, but perhaps I am wrong about that too.

    Tone trolling has a number of effects on marginalized people speaking about their/ our marginalization. It derails conversations; it contributes to the atmosphere of trivialization and dismissal of marginalization; it treats the hurt feelings of privileged people as more important than the damage they cause to marginalized people. (Anyone else want to chime in with more? I’m at the airport between planes, and am kind of pressed for time.)

    is ‘tone-trolling’ dependent on the motivations of the person making the comment? Another way to phrase the question is – can we distinguish ‘tone-trolling’ behavior from innocent requests for more civility when we lack knowledge of the person’s intentions and background with respect to privilege/marginalized status?

    Somewhat, but not really. Good intentions aren’t entirely trivial — I do cut more slack to people who just don’t know that they’re hurting people than I do to people who are deliberately poking people with a stick — but they don’t take you very far, and they’re really only relevant if you’re willing to recognize that you’ve done harm and try to make good on it/ work on doing better. (See my earlier piece, Some Thoughts on Intention and Magic.) And the whole point of this conversation is that “innocent” requests for civility aimed at marginalized people speaking about their marginalization aren’t so innocent. The marginalization inherent in them nay be unintentional or unconscious, but it still comes from a place of privilege.

  77. Al Dente says

    One important point about tone trolling is that it focuses on the way something is said rather than the content. Tone trolling is about form rather than function. If someone says “you are not considering point A, you jerk” and the other person reacts solely to “you jerk” and doesn’t consider point A, the first person’s argument has been effectively dismissed. Also tone trolled derails the conversation, changing it from the original topic to “you’re being mean to ME!”

  78. Devin Morse says

    The thing that makes me uncomfortable with this attitude towards pro-life arguments is that it completely mirrors the attitude of pro-lifers towards pro-choice arguments. They feel that one should respond to pro-choice arguments with the same level of revulsion as arguments in favor of genocide, that people shouldn’t give a platform to pro-choicers as if it was just another matter of debate instead of about the murder of human beings, and so on. And while it is almost certainly true that anti-abortion sentiment has it’s roots in patriarchal control and misogyny, and is still used to further those ends, many (I would hazard to say most) of the people who do hold these sentiments hold them honestly and in good faith. This includes 44% of women (comparable to the percentage of men who feel abortion should be illegal in all or most cases) (Pew 2012) (and in 2010 at least only 26% of women thought abortion should be legal in all cases, again comparable to the numbers for men [Gallup 2010]) – even amongst women who are college graduates only 35% (in 2010) thought that abortion should be legal in all cases (Gallup 2010). How does this attitude towards pro-life arguments engage with them?

  79. says

    Also,

    They feel that one should respond to pro-choice arguments with the same level of revulsion as arguments in favor of genocide,

    They claim to feel this way but they rarely behave as if it were true. See: The Alas, A Blog! Chart detailing how you’d expect people to act in various situations if they sincerely believed abortion was murder, vs. how you’d expect them to act if they’re just reinforcing patriarchy and punishing sluts for having slutty sex.

  80. geekgirlsrule says

    Hey, Phil, why don’t you go on up to comment #41 and instead of ignoring it, address why it’s ok to undercut women’s bodily autonomy that way, but not men’s? What makes getting a vasectomy any more “moral” or acceptable than women having abortions, or for that matter getting sterilized?

    Did you know that often when women attempt to get sterilized (frequently in an attempt to avoid having to some day have an abortion) doctors will make them seek out psych evals, will make them bring in their husbands so that the doctor knows the husband is on board with it. Even if, in the case of fibroid cysts that have caused the woman to have had multiple surgeries already, there is no other treatment than the removal of the uterus and ovaries that will definitively put an end to her condition.

    What possible moral grounds make any of that shit ok? And if your morals make it ok to declare that half the human race doesn’t have the same rights as the other half, then your morals are fucked.

    I’m sorry if I’m derailing Greta, it’s just, these assholes often don’t see how this restriction of women’s bodily autonomy plays out outside of the abortion debate as well.

    I’m also sorry if this is too close to debating.

    Fuck these guys.

  81. Devin Morse says

    Sally Strange:

    Of course women can perpetuate patriarchy. That was not my point. (Although I am troubled by the implication that of the nearly half of women who are opposed to abortion – not to mention the majority who support some form of restriction – not a single one has come to that position through the exercise of her own moral judgement.) The point was that there is a large percentage of women whose moral concerns about abortion are not being addressed when the attitude is that not only is there no room for debate, but that debate itself is immoral. This to me seems like both a massive disservice to these women and a tactical error in attempting to build support for abortion rights.

    It is of course true that people’s moral positions relating to anti-abortion sentiment are usually not consistent (though not always). I don’t know that that necessarily implies that they are insincere, though: people are often inconsistent in their moral judgements, especially when they are emotionally charged. Even if the inconsistency is due to bias it doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s insincerity. I am not arguing that anti-abortion sentiment isn’t promoted and encouraged by those with a patriarchal axe to grind, but in my experience everyday people who are against abortion hold that position out of real moral concern.

  82. says

    Although I am troubled by the implication that of the nearly half of women who are opposed to abortion – not to mention the majority who support some form of restriction – not a single one has come to that position through the exercise of her own moral judgement

    I must have missed that bit. Who said that?

  83. says

    I don’t know that that necessarily implies that they are insincere

    I never said that people who claim abortion is murder rarely act in a way that is consistent with what you would expect if they sincerely believed that.

    Which leaves two possibilities for those who act in the way I described: either they’re insincere, or they experience cognitive dissonance on the issue of fetal personhood and abortion being murder.

    Try to keep up, and stick what is actually being said.

  84. says

    I got my first sentence mixed up. It was meant to be two sentences.

    I never said that people who claim abortion is murder are insincere. I said they rarely act in a way that is consistent with what you would expect if they sincerely believed that.

  85. says

    Devin Morse #88:

    It is of course true that people’s moral positions relating to anti-abortion sentiment are usually not consistent (though not always). I don’t know that that necessarily implies that they are insincere, though

    I am fairly sure that, here, on a blog network that loves science and skepticism, we all understand humans can behave in a manner not necessarily consistent with their statements without even realizing it. There are, after all, multiple blogs that focus on psychology, and skepticism as a whole often deals with these psychological foibles in the course of deconstructing falsehoods and why people believe them.

    Holding a position you see as socially acceptable does not give you a licence to interpret someone as though they simply do not understand matters as well as you do. Please try again, only this time without treating your opposition as your intellectual inferiors.

  86. says

    Also, I never said that women who support patriarchy aren’t exercising their moral agency. They are, they’re just doing it really badly. Check your assumptions. Why would YOU assume that concluding that a woman or a group of women is badly wrong on a certain issue means they aren’t exercising moral agency?

  87. Devin Morse says

    Lyke: that was an unfair characterization of SallyStrange’s views on my part. I do think that view is implied by much of what has been said, although I could more clear about what it is. If the only way one can be opposed to abortion is by buying into patriarchy and misogyny, and not because one has considered the question using independent moral judgement (be it mistaken), then that’s also true of all women who are opposed to abortion.

    SallyStrange: I read your statement that “they claim to feel this way but they rarely behave as if it were true,” as “they claim to feel this way, but their actions show that their claim is likely false,” which would mean they were being insincere.

    Setar: of course. I apologize that I sounded like I didn’t think others understood these facts: I was just trying to state my points clearly. (I would also note that at least twice now it’s been explicitly assumed of me that there is something incredibly obvious that I don’t understand, namely that women can perpetuate patriarchy and that people who think abortion is murder act in ways that are inconsistent with that position.)

  88. Devin Morse says

    SallyStrange: I don’t assume that, if for no other reason than that I myself both believe women who are opposed to abortion have gotten something badly wrong and that they are exercising their own moral judgement. What concerns me is whether one characterizes their error as being primarily about flaws/omissions in in their premises or reasoning or whether it’s that they are channeling patriarchy and misogyny. (This is where I read something into your statements that wasn’t there, but that I have seen elsewhere.)

  89. says

    When was the last time you donated to a pro-choice cause or organization, attended a pro-choice protest, or volunteered your time to help women access abortions, Devin? I really don’t care whether people are anti-choice because they sincerely think fetuses are little people or because they sincerely hate women–the end result is the same. Women suffer. Their children suffer. Families suffer. If people like you would stop pontificating and start fighting, I wouldn’t have to worry about the best way to convince them that they’re wrong, because there’d be no societal support for their legislative shenanigans.

  90. Devin Morse says

    But they make up half the population, more than half if you include people who think there should be some restrictions on abortions. So unless they are convinced to change their minds there will be societal support for anti-abortion legislation, regardless of how many protests there are. And beyond legislation it’s also important to change social and personal attitudes towards abortions, because those also are barriers to women both seeking and getting the help they need.

  91. Devin Morse says

    It occurred to me that I had written the previous post in a way that sounded like I was saying protests and other forms of mobilization against anti-abortion efforts are somehow futile. That’s both factually wrong and an insult to the efforts of pro-choice advocates. I apologize.

  92. says

    “They”, i.e. people who believe that abortion-getters or abortion providers should be thrown in prison, do not make up half the population. According to polling, most of “them” are YOU–mostly pro-choice but with Serious Concerns (sarcastic capitalizations because the concern there is mostly a result of decades of concerted anti-choice propaganda) about late term abortions.

    I think you should apologize for not answering my question.

  93. says

    As I observed in the other thread, not a single one of these male devil’s advocates has given any indication of actually being active in the fight for women’s reproductive rights. What makes your opinion so special, Devin, that you get to pontificate on a subject you’ve zero experience with and expect people to take you seriously? Why should activists pay you a whit of attention? My position is that if your ideas are really THAT compelling, AND you care as much about the issue as you want us to believe, you’d have already been out on the front lines. Don’t lecture activists on how to do it–if you have grand ideas about how to do activism better, go do it. Prove that your approach works better.

  94. Greta Christina says

    The thing that makes me uncomfortable with this attitude towards pro-life arguments is that it completely mirrors the attitude of pro-lifers towards pro-choice arguments.

    Devin Morse @ #84: Yes, anti-choice advocates have an attitude of moral outrage. So do white supremacists. So do the Taliban. So what? Does that mean we should dial down our moral outrage about them?

    This to me seems like both a massive disservice to these women and a tactical error in attempting to build support for abortion rights.

    As SallyStrange keeps saying: When you can demonstrate that you have been in the trenches of the fight for abortion rights, then you can tell us what you think about what tactics in that fight are effective.

  95. Beth says

    @Greta #82

    Thank you for taking the time to respond. I think I’ll mull over the comments in this thread for a while.

  96. Devin Morse says

    SallyStrange: the polls I found had those who think abortion should be illegal in all or most cases making up somewhere between 40-50% of the population. I am not one of the people with “serious reservations” – I think abortion should be legal across the board. Even from a moral perspective my inclination is to say that at no point during gestation does a fetus reach a moral status such that that moral status outweighs any given concerns of the mother.

    Greta Christina: of course not. And certainly there are elements of the anti-choice movement who deserve to have moral outrage leveled at them. But they (I’m talking about the loudest voices and the politicians) don’t make up most of the people who have moral concerns about abortion.

    No, I have not been active in the pro-choice movement. I would like to be. My financial situation prevents me from donating money (although I do think I’ve contributed to Planned Parenthood at some point) and I do not have access to transportation. Less legitimately, the reservations about tactics and attitudes I’ve expressed here make me feel unwelcome in pro-choice organizations. (Not that they have any responsibility to make me feel welcome.)

    I don’t think my opinion is special. I have it, I think I have reasons for it, and I’ll express it and argue it when the opportunity arises. I appreciate it when people pay attention to it, but no one has to. It’s also quite possibly wrong.

    I also recognize and appreciate that those active in the pro-choice movement embrace the tactics and attitudes they do because of real experience with what works. I don’t think that experience is the be-all-and-end-all – I think it can sometimes lead to tunnel-vision – but it does have more-than-considerable weight.

  97. says

    You really piss me off, Devin Morse. The fight is ON. There’ve been nearly 2,000 anti-abortion laws proposed in the past 2 – 3 years. I’ve lost track of how many have passed.

    Join the fight or leave the fighters alone. Anything else is you getting in the way.

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