Thursday, May 07, 2015

Alternate historical escapism

Alan Maricle 

[Steve Hays] AHA mortgages the lives of babies here and now in the hopes of saving every baby’s life in the future – except for all the babies they sacrifice in the interim in the furtherance of their long-range goal.
Which is utter nonsense. Incrementalists have no idea how many babies would have been saved if they had pushed for immediate abolition from the beginning. Y'all HAVE to start saying foolish things like that. 

Let's try to untangle Alan's convoluted argument. 

i) He's making a counterfactual claim about the past in relation to the present. Incrementalists aren't really saving babies here and now–because they don't know how many more babies might have been saved by pursuing an alternative strategy (abolitionism) "from the beginning."

So that's a hypothetical exercise in alternate history. How would the present be different if the past was different? And how should we act in the present given that alternate historical scenario? Having set the stage, what are we to make of that contention?

ii) At best, his proposal cuts both ways. Since that counterfactual never played out, he has no idea how many babies his preferred alternative would have saved. For all he knows, that would sacrifice even more babies.

iii) Alan doesn't specify what he means by "from the beginning." Is that an allusion to Roe v. Wade? Suppose, for the sake of argument, that Alan is right. Even if abortion opponents had deployed abolitionist tactics from the start (i.e. 1973), that's utterly irrelevant to what should be done at present. Consider a few illustrations:

a) Suppose a ferry hits a sandbar and capsizes because the captain was drunk. I can swim, but many passengers can't. I can rescue some of them, but not all of them. 

However, as I proceed to rescue the ones I can, Alan objects: "You're not really saving any drowning passengers. If the captain hadn't been inebriated, it would be unnecessary to fish any of them out of the water. Had he stayed sober, that would save them all."

Well, that's true–but entirely irrelevant to what I should do now. I'm not the captain. I'm not privy to his drinking habits. I have no control over his drinking habits.

How should a fatal mistake in the past dissuade my action in the present? I can't change the past, but I can change the future, depending on what I do or refrain from doing. 

b) Suppose Raoul Wallenberg is about to issue passports to Jews and set up safe houses to protect them. But Alan objects: "You're not really saving any Jews that way. For if somebody had assassinated Hitler in 1938, that would save far more Jews than your rearguard actions."

Once again, that's true, but irrelevant. Since no one assassinated Hitler in 1938, why sould that nonevent hinder Wallenberg from doing whatever he can in 1944? Why should his interventions here and now be constrained by a rosier hypothetical past? 

iv) We could just as well say that if only presidents nominated social conservatives to the court in the years leading up to Roe v. Wade, that would have saved far more lives than prolife efforts after the fact. But even if that's true, so what? How does that alternate history have any bearing on what prolifers should do right now? It's too late to revisit that fork in the road. That's behind us. We can't go back–we can only go forward. Counterfactual improvements to the past have no bearing on our present-day options or duties. We must deal with the consequences of what really happened.

v) How old were Scott Klusendorf and Jill Stanek in 1973? It's not as if they were in a position to do something different 42 years ago, right after Roe v. Wade–or 60 years ago, before Roe v. Wade, when nominees for the Supreme Court came before Congress. 

vi) Alan's claim suffers from another misstep. Even if some action might have been more successful had it been tried earlier, it doesn't follow that it would still be effective if attempted at a later date. Sometimes that window of opportunity closes. For instance, an oncologist may well have more or better options if cancer is detected early on. If, however, the cancer goes undetected until stage 3, it may be a lost cause. 

Historical contingencies vary over time. If you changed one variable in 1938, WWII might have a very different outcome. It doesn't follow that changing the same variable in 1944 will have the same effect. Likewise, 2015 America isn't 1973 America. 

Further, you are the ones mortgaging the lives of babies in the future just so you can make some short-term "gains", many, most, or perhaps even all of which are not gains at all even in the short-term, and are definitely losses in the long-term, for they compromise with evil as Gregg Cunningham said he'd happily do if it would save a baby, and they inform the culture that we are not really actually Gospel people. Your "gains" are chimæræ.

Now Alan switches to a hypothetical future. But consider the comparison:

i) On the one hand, incremental legislation is actually saving lives. Restrictions on abortion save real babies who'd otherwise die absent any restrictions whatsoever. That's not hypothetical. That's what's happening. Concrete results. The babies aren't "chimæræ."

ii) On the other hand, Alan is opposing that to his unverifiable, optimistic conjecture about the fate of future babies if absolutionist tactics are pursued. In the nature of the case, he has no scintilla of evidence to substantiate that speculation. He doesn't know that AHA will succeed. In fact, he has no tangible evidence that it will probably succeed. It's all wishful thinking. 

iii) In addition, notice the bait-n-switch. He swaps out saving babies and swaps in "compromise with evil." Did you catch that legerdemain? The hand is quicker than the eye! 

But that's equivocal. The "gains" had reference to saving babies, but he redefines the "losses" as "compromise with evil." So he's not defining gains and losses the same way. Indeed, his equivocation is a backdoor admission that incremental legislation does save babies. Because he can't deny that, he changes the subject. In effect, he says "Yes, that does save babies, but that's offset by compromise with evil." 

So saving babies is not AHA's priority. Rather, saving the imaginary moral purity of abolitionists is the real priority. Not to be tainted by alleged moral compromise is their ultimate objective.

And, of course, to say prolife methods are morally compromised is, itself, morally confused–as I've already discussed.

1 comment:

  1. AHA holds to a moral purity that results in nothing but hot air.