Monday, November 19, 2012

What I have to do

There are a lot of things I don't have to do. I don't have to wear dress socks with sandals. I don't have to pretend to enjoy the music of Leonard Cohen. And I certainly do not have to agree with your conclusions just because I agree with your premises.

Let me back up a bit here. During the vice-presidential debates, nearly a month back,  moderator Martha Raddatz asked Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, respectively, to state his position on abortion. Ryan responded that he believes life begins at conception and that those who agree must then consider themselves pro-life and support pro-life policies, presumably as dictated by the Republican Party. That's when I said, "Step back, Loretta!"

I'm going to state for the record that I'm not trying to start a debate about abortion, nor do I have the slightest interest in changing anyone's opinion. I'm pro-choice but if you hold another position, fine. Have at it. However, I am quite adamant about contesting Mr. Ryan's bold assertion. I have a semi-firm belief that, yes, human life does begin at conception, but for me there is no dotted line connecting that belief to support for spousal notification or forced ultrasound laws. I can explain this seeming contradiction with two friendly little terms: nuance and context.

Nuance: The recognition of a zygote as human life is a long, long way from recognizing that zygote as a human being. I do not, for example, consider an acorn the equal of a oak tree, even though the humble acorn is the origin of every mighty oak. If I have planted an acorn and then a week later change my mind about its location, I do not summon a landscaper with a bulldozer to transplant it. That's because the acorn is not an oak tree and does not require or merit the same treatment. Instead, I go out to my yard with a goddamned spade, dig up the thing and plant it elsewhere. Similarly, I don't worry about offending a zygote, or hurting its feelings, or being sensitive to its emotional needs because it doesn't have those.  Someday, sure, but not now. Now it is a zygote, not a human being, and I treat it accordingly.

Context: The meeting of sperm and egg is a wondrous event, but it does not spontaneously take place on a kitchen table or in a library without human involvement; if it did, I'd be open to arguments about protecting it in whatever way possible. However, this miraculous joining happens inside the body of a sentient human being who has rights and preferences and all those things that make individuals who they are. Protecting a zygote that just appears in mid-air is much simpler than protecting one that's gestating inside an individual. So context matters, you see, and when we're discussing forcing sentient beings to carry pregnancies to term it matters even more.

Now, Joe Biden's reply to Ryan was something like I-agree-but-don't-try-to-force-my-beliefs-on-others, which is fine but not what I really hungered to hear. I find that many political-type philosophies are very simplistic and internally consistent but have few points of contact with the real world, and Ryan's was one of them. And I get really ticked off when someone tells me what I must believe. Yes, I agree with Ryan's central premise, but he and I could not disagree more on the real-world implications. So, Mr. Ryan, I have to pay taxes, stay gay, and die, but I do not have to agree with any of your damn conclusions.


Amy McWeasel said...

For me, this was spot-on.

greengreyeyes said...

Very well put!