Why, the little lady can think!

18 05 2009

Enough with the constant bitching about male pronunciamentos on abortion. Not that they can’t have their say, but, really, enough with their privilege.

So can I bitch about a woman’s pronunciamentos on abortion. . . ?

Let me rephrase that: I take issue with Amy Welborn’s take on abortion, specifically, with her quick dismissal of the question of the status of the [pregnant] woman. In her commentary on President Obama’s speech at Notre Dame, she notes

And a subissue – if this is not even an issue for you, if you do not see the unborn as a group in need of legal protection, and if you resonate with Obama’s call for reduced numbers of abortion…why? If Obama goes too far with this, he will run up against what Hilary Clinton ran up against a couple of years ago when she attempted to allude to a moral dimension to abortion. Boy, she had to backtrack, and fast.  The fundamental issue, you see, is trusting women as moral agents.

Why yes, that is the fundamental issue: trusting women as moral agents. Are we able to make decisions about our lives, or not?

I noted in a previous post that I didn’t think that rights language was sufficient to address the moral difficulties and passions of abortion. I still don’t. As much as rights are necessary to procure legal protections, without a sufficient moral and political argument behind those rights the reason for those protections are obscured, and the protections themselves at risk of a hollowing out.

The moral argument may begin at its basic level: survival. If I am to exist as a full human being in this world, then I cannot allow anyone else literal control over my life—whether that anyone else is a member of Congress, a judge, a boyfriend, or the fetus itself.

This is not as simple as it sounds, not least because we do live interdependently, and, in so doing, cede some measure of control to others. Yet even in society we are allowed to defend ourselves—our lives—even at the cost of another’s life.

There is nothing easy or automatic about that allowance, that decision to, perhaps, kill, and some of us are unable or unwilling to choose our own lives over those who threaten us. It is a fraught circumstance, difficult to determine in advance how one would react. My life or yours? I can guess, but I can’t know what I would choose.

But is abortion self-defense? I think it is, albeit of a different sort than that against a ‘outside’ attacker. First, it is an assertion against authority who might seek to prevent me from defending myself—the assertion of a right. Second, it is a self-recognition of a woman’s own worth as a human being, as being morally capable of determining whether to continue or end a pregnancy. It is an assertion of her own life.

But what of the good question Welborn does ask: If I don’t think fetuses as a class are in need of protection, then why bother with reducing the number of abortions?

The immediate response is that, as in other cases of self-defense, it is a fraught circumstance.

To recognize this is to recognize that the fetus, especially as it develops, is itself developing into a being deserving of its own recognition. To end the pregnancy is to end its development, its potential. And while I tend to accord personhood rather late in the pregnancy, the accordance itself is rather ad hoc; I’m not at all certain about fetal status.

Which means that I support abortion even if it could be killing another person.

This is not a politically happy conclusion. But if I am to assert the primacy of a woman’s moral capacity to choose her life over another’s, then I also have to allow that she is, in fact, choosing her life over another’s. It is entirely possible that terminating a pregnancy means killing a person—and if I defend the right to terminate, then I ought at least recognize this possibility. To make a moral decision is not to shirk consequences.

Pro-life advocates often argue that the status of the fetus as a person trumps all other claims, a position which I, obviously, reject. But what of the subsidiary claim of the innocence of the fetus? The Catholic Church, for example, argues that however grievous sexual assault, aborting a pregnancy resulting from rape is nonetheless forbidden, insofar as the fetus is itself innocent of any crime.

True, the fetus may lack malevolent intent, or any intent, for that matter. Yet however innocent the fetus, it still threatens; it is not about intent, but the effect itself. That said, I can still recognize the fetus is simply doing what fetuses do, capturing resources from a woman’s body so that it may develop. Whether this is innocence or simply the fetal condition, there is nothing personal in the fetus’s slow takeover of its immediate environment.

The problem, of course, that its immediate environment is, in fact, a(nother) person’s body.

This, finally, is where one may locate the core of the response to Welborn: When a woman does not want to continue a pregnancy, she sees herself at odds with the fetus, views it as an intruder, even; she aborts it to save herself. She kills to save.

Thus, the fraught circumstance, the one I believe most of us would rather avoid. I would prefer to reduce the number of abortions because even the morally defensible position to abort allows for the possibility of killing a person, and I would prefer less rather than more killing.

This hardly comprises a comprehensive defense of abortion, reproductive rights, and sexual expression; indeed, there are any number of pro-life advocates who consider pregnancy a just punishment for sex. But the position of those who seek to defend the life of the fetus is a morally serious one in a way that misogynistic screeds against women’s sexual personality is not, and, as such, deserves a similarly serious response.

It is not a nice response, and, I imagine, it’s bluntness might offend even some on the pro-choice side. But it is necessary to admit to what one defends, however unpleasant that defense may be.

Nobody ever said moral agency was easy.

And you will know us by the trail of dead

31 12 2008

Time to take sides: you started it! No, you started it! No, you started it!

You made me do it. No, you made me do it.

A rocket an airstrike a bomb in a cafe a demolished home a sniper a sniper a suicide bomber on a bus a tank blast and this is what you get.

What? I’m not saying one side’s dead matters more than the other’s? Do I refuse to take sides?

Oh, I take sides, all right. It’s just that my side isn’t represented by the combatants.

Enough. Give up Israel. Give up Palestine. Give up the My side. Enough.

It’ll never work. Can’t have a homeland without a state. No, worse than that: Home must equal state. Which means you have to get out of my home-state.


This is the nationalism I hate, Ct. I know, unfair to tar all nationalism with violent exclusion, but this is how my knee jerks.

I’m workin’ on it. . . .

If they hide under the ground, we will dig them up

27 12 2008

David Hwang did not have to invent the terror of Radio Falange: For each one of us they kill, we will kill them tenfold. If they hide under the ground, we will dig them up. And if find them dead, we will kill them again.

Nationalist General Gonzalo Queipo de Llano: For every one of mine who falls, I will kill at least ten extremists. Those leaders who flee should not think they will escape [that fate]; I will drag them out from under the stones if necessary and, if they are already dead, I will kill them again. [quoted in Giles Tremlett, Ghosts of Spain, p. 29]

Quiepo de Llano was not alone in his sentiments. General Emilio Mola  argued that Everyone who is openly or secretly a supporter of the Popular Front should be shot. . . We have to sow terror. We must eliminate without scruples all those who do not think like ourselves. [p. 32]

And then there were the stolen chilren, ‘separated from rojo families and then adopted or handed over to Falange or convent-run orphanages. Some 30,000 children passed through their doors between 1944-1955.’ [p.67]

Late-Franco Spain may have been ‘only’ authoritarian, but the bloody terror of the early decades gave way later not merely to suppression, but a more controlled violence. The transition from Franco to his selected successor (and eventual democratizer) King Juan Carlos could be called non-violent only in comparison to that bloody past. Manuel Fraga Iribarne, a Francoist who helped found the right-wing People’s Party (which governed Spain 1996-2004) and who had presided over police killings of protesters in the 1970s, enjoyed threatening his opponents. Remember, he told future Socialist president Felipe Gonzales, that I am the power, and you are nothing. And when, after Franco’s death, he was asked to go easy on protesters, he responded I shall beat them black and blue.

It is late, and I have nothing to say about this, for now. But I had wondered in a previous post if Hwang and Golijov had exaggerated or invented the terror of the Falange. They did not.

Here is my blood shed for thee

13 12 2008

Last thing about Ainadamar (for awhile): Did I mention that after the performance I trekked up to Corporate Bookstore and bought two books on the Spanish Civil War?

Wait! There’s a reason for this! The libretto  included broadcasts from Radio Falange, and I wanted to know if these were the product of David Hwang’s imagination or actual transcripts. Here’s a sample (translated)

Our youth must be ready//to shed their blood generously/ for the sacred cause of Spain//Whoever is not with us/is against us//We’ll exterminate the seeds of the Revolution,/even in the wombs of their mothers//Long live death!

And later:

. . . And if we find them dead, we will kill them again. I give you permission to kill them like dogs, and your hands will be clean.

Well. I just started Anthony Beevor’s The Battle for Spain (c. 2006) so I don’t know if these are actual transcripts, but he does note, on p. 56 that the nationalist Foreign Legion, ‘Composed in large part of fugitives and criminals. . . were taught to be useful suicides  with their battle cry ‘Viva la Muerte!’‘ And, skipping ahead to p. 424, Beevor notes that ‘Ideological and religious invocations deliberately tried to make the violence abstract. . . . Carlist [nationalist] requetes were told that they would have a year less in purgatory for every red they killed, as if Christendom were still fighting the Moors.’

So much for the notion that Al Qaeda invented the (anti-)political cult of death.

In any case, I was seized by the notion of the ideological underpinnings of massacre. What makes it killing those who are not trying to kill you okay? It seemed—seems—a tremendously important issue.

But as I thought more about this, I remembered the work I did a lifetime ago in a human rights seminar in grad school. We were trying to theorize about human rights abuses, and, frankly, having a terrible time doing so. There were too many massacres, across all populated areas, from all different ethnic, religious, and ideological groups: how does one find a way through such a fog of data?

One key feature, as discussed by Leo Kuper in his book Genocide, was the dehumanization of the victims. They were a cancer, an infection, rats, insects—anything which not only removed them from their fellow humans, but which also made it a positive good to eradicate.

But the casting out of humanity of the victims is only part of the story; what of the killers? There have certainly been a number of studies of the sociology and psychology of mass killing—cf. Ervin Staub The Roots of Evil; Robert Jay Lifton’s The Nazi Doctors; Christopher Browning’s Ordinary Men, among others—but what of the specific ideological indoctrination? Robert Proctor gets at both the material and ideological aspects of Nazi scientists and doctors in Racial Hygiene, as does Benno Muller-Hill  in Murderous Science, but even these are more sociological than political-ideological.

What kind of ideology posits mass murder as a good? National Socialism was proudly genocidal, but does all fascism necessarily lead to the valorization of massacre? And Stalinism was clearly genocidal, but that seemed more cultic or psychopathic than ideological. (That said, Bolshevism wasn’t all sunshine and daisies, and Bolshevism clearly shaped Stalin. And no, I’m not one to think Lenin was somehow betrayed by Stalin: ol’ Vladimir may have been more pragmatic than Stalin, but he was a revolutionary, after all, with all the ruthlessness that implies.) The errors and crimes of Leninism and Stalinism are clear to me (if not their precise etiology), but Marxism is an ideology, if not always a practice, of liberation.

Capitalism? Certainly, in practise it has sanctioned the treatment of humans as ends rather than means, and there is plenty of violence woven into long history of the emergence from pre-capitalist economies and societies as well as colonization. And, oh yes, there were more than a few killings commited in the defense thereof during the Cold War. Yet, as with Marxism, as an ideology it pitches liberation.

Furthermore, I think it makes sense to distinguish between massacres, such as My Lai, and concerted extermination. It may make little difference to the victims of such massacres whether their deaths were the result of  a (morally, psychologically) chaotic situation or a fixed program, but as I’m trying to get at the programmatic content of mass murder, the distinction is important. In the former case it is a kind of criminal accident, a breakdown of ordinary operating procedures: Even if the soldiers or killers are not ultimately punished, the massacre itself must be explained [away] as something extrinsic to the (political, national) cause itself. In the latter case, however, massacres are intrinsic to the cause, necessary as both means and end.

Hm. I think that’s a part of it: an ideology in which death is not a mere (unfortunate) means, but a desired end. And this bifurcates: it is necessary and good to kill these others, as it is necessary and good for ourselves to die in battle against the others, and for ourselves.

So back to the ideology of death. Is this its own ideology, or a component of other ideologies? Can it be integrated into other ideologies? Does it require a belief in some kind of life [for the killers] beyond death?  And whatever its status as a freestanding or constituent part of another ideology, does the embrace of death mark the ideology as anti-political?

That last question, at least, I can answer: Yes. Politics is about the world, a particular kind of being-in-the-world which is predicated on human life (yep, Arendt again). To disdain such life is to disdain politics.

I’m not saying anything particularly shocking here: What violent dictator hasn’t asserted his triumph over politics? And while I think there is a political (i.e., worldly) agenda of Al Qaeda, from what I’ve read of bin Laden or Mullah Omar’s speeches, ideologically, they’re all about wiping out politics.

Sigh. Don’t know how much this helps me with the whole exterminationist-ideology thing, tho’.

Anyway, I did at least discover that one line from the opera is authentic. It is the response of the fascist Ramon Ruiz Alonso, to the question of the crimes of Lorca:

He has done more damage with his pen,/than others have with their pistols.


21 08 2008

I don’t want to kill. I stopped eating most meat over 14 years ago because I didn’t want to kill animals, and I thought that if I weren’t willing to kill a critter, I shouldn’t eat it. I do occasionally eat fish; I have gone fishing and thus know that I have been willing to kill what I consume. Still, it’s been a very long time since I’ve gone fishing, and I wonder if I’d still be willing to whack the head off a perch. In fact, I’m pretty sure that my fish-killing credit has long since been exhausted, and that if I were really honest, I probably wouldn’t kill a fish today. The conclusion, of course, is that I should stop eating fish. But I haven’t.

And I don’t want to kill what I wouldn’t eat, either. Here, I’m talkin’ about bugs. A couple of weeks ago I had a couple of flies in my room, and I tried to shoo them away rather than actively attempting to flatten them. My benevolence has been rewarded with more flies, and a more constant irritation with them. Now, when I’m outside, I figure it’s everyone’s and everything’s territory: I don’t stomp on ants because, hey, we all gotta live somewhere. Inside, however, I am murderous. I celebrated the visit by the monthly exterminator (gel, no sprays) at my last apartment because it meant I could look forward to another month of roach-free living. I kill ants, potato bugs, and those horrific hairy multi-pedal monstrosities which skitter out of unseen cracks in the floorboards. I don’t kill spiders because I consider them allies in my anti-insect quest. I don’t look for the bugs, and many times I’ll try to ignore them. But when pushed, I squash ’em.

I don’t want to kill. But I do.