Good, Evil, and Honest Tyrants
This honest yet appalling piece by Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon.com was a wake up call. “Honest yet appalling” is usually a blessing to the part of the populace that isn’t too interested in digging into the logic and presuppositions of less clear statements by would-be tyrants, helping them to see the true implications of certain ideas.
Between this “argument” from Williams and the fact that many pro-abortion advocates frankly admit, “We are killing children,” the ground of the debate has clearly shifted. No longer is there a need to debate whether or not unborn children are legally or morally or ontologically “persons” anymore, no longer a need to debate whether scientific or common sense “life” is being horrifically ended. Williams is arguing to cede that ground to the pro-life side.
What is called for now is a debate about what exactly she and others like her mean by “the good” or “human flourishing” or whatever you’d like to call the basis upon which she judges options and makes choices. I think it is clear from the article (provocatively titled “So What If Abortion Ends Life?”—a rhetorical question that my kids use to tell me “I just don’t care”) that the only way she is defining Good is by what she wants. The will to power of the strong over the weak is absolutely the bedrock of her position. Just so we’re all clear.
In Neal Stephenson’s excellent book Anathem, there exists a school of thinkers called the Lorites who, in following after their founder Saunt Lora, believe that all the ideas that human beings are capable of thinking have already been thought. They know history extremely well and continually shoot down seemingly new ideas with either defeater arguments from the past or the negative consequences of those same ideas from events in the past.
At Bethlehem College and Seminary, we are beginning a new degree program in the fall called the History of Ideas which, essentially, is a Lorite training program. If the song that Williams is singing doesn’t set old bells ringing in your memory—minor key dirges from the era of American slavery, Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, all composed by their patron saint Mr Nietzsche (even anachronistically)—then the History of Ideas program might just be for you. Williams’s ideas are not new and they have inescapably concrete consequences.
Regardless, it is now time for deeper philosophical issues to take the main stage in the US. It is time for our President to discuss what evil is (without using the word Axis and giant gobs of color on a map), and do so in relation to each one of us (e.g., at what point in a human life does it cease to be acceptable for a mother to pay a doctor to murder her child? or, what makes the millions of deaths from abortion “good” but millions of deaths by Stalin “evil”). It is time for him to say, along with other well-meaning pro-abortion folks, if they agree with Williams’s positions that “life begins at conception” and “All life is not equal.” If they agree that these persons who are truly living human beings are each “A life worth sacrificing.”