Wednesday, November 12, 2014

"Desperate times call for desperate measures"

The schism between prolifers and abolitionists is a microcosm of a larger debate among American Christians regarding the best way to fight the culture wars. It's part of debates over the respective merits of cobelligerence, libertarianism, 2-K (e.g. Kline, VanDrunen), Kuyperian "transformationism," &c. In that respect it has a significance that's larger than the specific prolife/abolitionist division. 
I. Immediatism
Abolitionism has historically been wed to the doctrine of immediatism.  The history of the pro-life movement has been one of gradualistic means and measures, incremental legislation, ameliorative programs, and the inclusion of exceptions to abortion along the way to its eventual total abolition. 
We demand the immediate and total abolition of abortion. We believe that allowing abortion in some cases along the way to its abolition in all cases is neither strategically sound nor consistently Christian. You cannot abolish any evil by allowing it to continue or justify it in some cases.  Any strategy for ending abortion in this country which allows for the continued occurrence of some abortions for the sake of outlawing the rest, though seemingly pragmatic and deceptively promising to be effectual, is just that: compromise. We reject incremental abolition, the gradual regulation of evil, and “pragmatic” strategies.
1. Does AHA have a deadline for the abolition of abortion? Does AHA even have a target date for the abolition of abortion? How much time does AHA allow itself before concluding that its tactics are ineffective?
If you demand the immediate and total abolition of abortion, in contrast to gradualism and incrementalism, then, presumably, this can't be an abstract goal, set in the indefinite future. AHA positions itself in contrast to what it deems to be unacceptably slow pace or lack of progress of the prolife movement. In that context, what metric is AHA using to assess its own progress? What if abortion hasn't been abolished 10 years after AHA was started? Or 15 years? Or 20 years? 
Perhaps AHA says they will keep at it for as long as it takes. Indeed, one of their slogans is that "we will not rest until we have effected abolition." 
If so, how does that open-ended timeframe differ from the prolife commitment? Prolife leaders and prolife organizations are in it for the duration as well. 
Remember that, from the AHA standpoint, merely reducing abortion is no evidence that the goal of abolition is getting any nearer. So when can we say that AHA has turned the corner on abortion? What's the tipping-point?  
2. We need to distinguish between growth and progress. Let's begin with a truism: every movement grows until it stops growing. Why do movements stop growing? We can start by asking why they grow in the first place. They catch on because they tap into a neglected market niche. And they may grow at a rapid or explosive pace in the early stages of the movement. The potential for rapid growth is accelerated by social networking. Due to instant communication, social movements can burgeon faster than in the past. 
But the same thing which causes them to grow causes them to peak. They saturate that market niche. They reach everyone who takes an interest in their cause. 
At that point the movement levels off. And if it's not expanding, it's contracting. For several reasons:
i) For some members, it was just a fad. The cause du jour. They get bored. Drop out.
ii) Social movements draw on singles who have leisure time to devote to the movement. But when people get married, have kids, they no longer have the same amount of free time to devote to the movement. It is squeezed out of their schedule.
iii) Some members become disaffected when they notice that nothing is really happening. There's lots of activity. Lots of busywork. Lots of motion. But the motion is circular. All the agitating does nothing to move the needle in the desired direction. They're just moving in circles. Lots of noise, but nothing much to show for it. 
iv) That's the difference between growth and progress. There's a difference between a growing movement and a successful movement. Presumably, the movement is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. Success is defined, not by the size of the movement, but by achieving the goal. Progress is defined, not by the movement, but by the goal. Having lots of members isn't progress. It just means you're popular with a certain segment of society.  
v) AHA has another twist. It pickets churches as well as abortion clinics. Not only does it alienate people on the left, but it alienates people on the right. 
Now, I'm not saying that's good or bad. But ordinarily, social movements succeed by attracting people to the cause, not by driving them away. So the question is whether AHA's methods are consistent with its goal. 
Again, I'm not saying it's ipso facto wrong to alienate potential constituents. The question, rather, is how you intend to achieve your goal. Does that advance your objective, or does that work at cross-purposes with your objective?  
II. Nonviolence
1. According to their website, AHA eschews violence:
They also appeal to inspirational historical precedent:
EVEN MORE BOLDLY than their British Counterparts, the American Abolitionists denounced Southern slavery, and the North’s complicity in it, as “the epitome of SIN!” They condemned the act of “turning a man into a chattel” as entirely contradictory to the Old Testament’s prescriptions regarding human servitude, and to the New Testament’s spiritual instruction to both masters and slaves. They declared every slave holder to be a “man-stealer” and argued that every man-stealer was guilty of a “capital crime” according to the Law of God (Ex 21:16). They charged every church that did not discipline slave holders in their congregations to be “recreant to their posts,” and warned the nation that the preservation of human slavery would lead the nation into Civil War. 
We believe, along with another of our heroes Dietrich Bonhoeffer, that, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
However, that's in tension with their commitment to nonviolence. Bonhoeffer was complicit in the plot to assassinate the head-of-state. Some abolitionists like John Brown resorted to violence. 
AHA prides itself on being "uncompromising" in relation to the prolife movement. Well, couldn't Brown and Bonhoeffer say they were uncompromising in relation to AHA? How does the "no compromise" slogan select for the nonviolent tactics of AHA rather than the violent tactics of Brown and Bonhoeffer–especially when AHA casts itself as heirs to the mantle of Bonhoeffer and the American abolitionists? 
2. This goes to another issue. I recently faulted AHA for not having a screening process to filter out convicted terrorists. Two prominent AHA member responded by defending their practice of letting convicted terrorists join AHA. 
Now, this is on condition that convicted terrorists foreswear violence. But think about that. 
i) Why do terrorists resort to violence in the first place? Short answer: impatience. They resort to violence because they want to see results. The democratic process takes too long. Moreover, because the democratic process requires consensus, it shuns radical goals as well as radical means. 
ii) Let's say a convicted terrorist sincerely foreswears violence when he joins AHA. Still, if after agitating for however long, it dawns on him that AHA is spinning its wheels, then why would he not revert to violence? 
After all, AHA is, itself, based on impatience–impatience with the prolife movement. If impatience with slow or negligible progress was what attracted him to terrorism in the first place, and he begins to see that AHA is no more effective, what prevents him from falling back on violence?
BTW, I'm not talking about just one person. Since AHA has an open-door policy on admitting convicted terrorists into their ranks, if they foreswear violence, then this question will repeat itself for every convicted terrorist who's drawn to AHA. 
Suppose you're a former terrorist. You renounce violence when you join AHA. Every morning you get up and decide where to go today. Will you picket an abortion clinic? A high school? A church? A college campus? You might even have a rotating schedule, where you do each one a different day of the week.
Every day you agitate. You go to the same places. The next day you start all over again. You do this dutifully, day after day, week after week, month after month.
Suppose you wake up five years later, and as you're gathering your tracts and placards, you're overcome with a sense of deja vu. You and your AHA brothers keep doing the same thing, but nothing happens. The nation is no closer to abolishing abortion than it was five years ago. Not only has abortion not been abolished, but there's no appreciable progress in that direction. You demonstrate. You make "demands." But your efforts are just as ineffectual as the prolife movement you were taught to disdain. 
Why would you not conclude that just as the prolife movement is a failure, AHA is a failure, and it's time for drastic action? "Desperate times call for desperate measures." 
III. Movements and organizations
The AHA Facebook says AHA it's not an organization. It only looks like one because it's...organized. I'm afraid that distinction is less than self-explanatory. 
Another prominent member says AHA is a movement, but state chapters of AHA are organizations. Whatever. 
Let's discuss a difference between a movement and an organization. An organization can impose a degree of ideological conformity which a movement cannot. An organization can impose party disciple based on membership requirements. Likewise, it has official spokesmen. If you veer too far from the party line, you're kicked out.
Movements are less stable. They retain ideological coherence to the degree that they are centered on a charismatic leader–like Gandhi or Martin Luther King. Their unity derives from having one acknowledge leader. 
As a result, founders of a movement can lose control of the movement they founded. As it grows, it gets away from them. Rival leaders pop up. That's exacerbated by autonomous chapters. Who speaks for the movement? The leader of one state chapter or the leader of another state chapter? 
A movement can become radicalized, especially by opening its ranks to radicals. Extremists who naturally gravitate to fringe groups. People who find the Manichean rhetoric appealing. 
Consider secular parallels. There are radical environmentalists who consider Green Peace to be too compromising. So they join ALF or ELF. That's where the action is. That gets results. Dramatic results. Instant results. Likewise, you had the debate between King's nonviolent philosophy and Malcolm X and the Black Panthers. 
Maybe AHA will get lucky. Maybe it will avoid that fate. One can only hope.

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