29 October 2007

unborn humans and social conservatives; mixing emotion and politics

  • Oct 29, 2007

unborn humans and social conservatives; mixing emotion and politics

I went to see the exhibit where they dissect human cadavers, coat them in plastic, and display them in various poses in a cross between anatomy education and a morbid art form.

Two of my three companions skipped the section with embryos and fetuses, as well as a pregnant woman.

I found this surprising, as I found it among the most interesting of the sections there.

They said it made them uncomfortable (particularly in light of a job which involves pregnant women.)

I pointed out that they are, and interact with, people all the time, (like us, right then), and all the other dead people were people. But they felt it was different.

Although my third companion had not skipped this section, she found their aversion entirely understandable.

I've been thinking about that. People in general seem much more protective of pregnant women than anyone else.

Murdering a pregnant woman is seen as significantly more heinous than ordinary murder. A pregnant woman will cause people to give up a seat on the train who would not do the same for, say, an overweight person, or someone visibly tired, who may appreciate it just as much.

I suppose the roots may be biological, as embryos are delicate, or it may be social, but it seems pretty prevalent. The reason isn't important though.
Every person who feels this in someway should be able to understand the strong feeling of "right-to-lifers".

People who are against abortion are not misogynists, they are not advocating women be considered less important than men, or less in control of their bodies. They feel that life is valuable before birth. Apparently liberals feel this way too, just instinctively. When we argue that a several month old embryo doesn't have a brain, we are looking at a scientific issue. But in another, also objective, sense, there really are only to concrete lines that can be drawn - conception, and birth. defining trimesters is very imprecise, and so in a way, a bit arbitrary. Of course if you believe (as most of the most passionate pro-life people do) that man is made in the image of God, then brain development is irrelevant, as the human soul is injected at the moment of conception.

I think this "reasoning" based on feeling may explain a good deal of (social) conservative views. Things like gay marriage, religion in schools and politics, porn and prostitution, sex-ed in schools, the death penalty, media censorship, or that every person should be responsible for themselves, what statistics say are irrelevant, what the practical consequences of a policy are, are irrelevant.

On abortion we argue that a woman should have a choice in her reproductive choices. To a pro-life person this makes no more sense than arguing a mother should retain the right to kill her newborn. In each issue we put forth our own arguments, instead of addressing the issues the people we argue against raise.
Perhaps a more productive tactic would be to attempt first to understand our opponents view point, and then focus on education. Education of the science and statistics, but also of our own universal feelings. Anger management involves becoming aware of ones self. Irrationality management should contain the same. We need to acknowledge that we all feel unborn humans are valuable, and we all want rapists and murders put to death, we all feel homosexuality is a little gross, and that certain things shouldn't be said on TV. Then we can decide whether giving into these visceral feelings is worth the consequences. And only then can we begin to articulate our arguments in a way that will mean anything to the people we want to convince.


This belief based not on information and fact but on visceral feeling, it explains the vice grip religion still has on humanity. Its irrelevant how well evolution explains everything. Its still unbelievable. The Selfish Gene is one of my favorite books of all time, but I still find life incredible. Divine intervention feels more right. Its irrelevant that we can induce mystic visions and divine experiences with drugs or electrodes to anyone who has experienced it first hand.

Combine this way of experiencing life with the "why would anyone care about anything other than money; issues which affect society at large don't have any bearing on me personally" attitude described in my last blog, and I guess conservatives become pretty understandable.

Perhaps understanding the opposition could lead to more effective ways of working with them (read "working with" as "defeating") but I'm not really sure how. I suppose the only way is education. Lots of it. Not only on facts, but on the psychology of politics, and of self. In real people it seems awareness of our own underlying neurosis, obsessions and hang-ups precedes a rapid transformation. Could this work for society at large? I just don't know.

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