De-constructing a one sentence defence of “Pro-choice”

Here is some back-story – Senator John Madigan wants to put abortion on the political agenda and has done so by putting forward a funding bill. I think he is going about it the wrong way. I think he should be upfront about it and I think he should start by ensuring that the government collect accurate statistic about abortion so that we can have an informed debate about it.

I actually find this encouraging considering it came from the SMH

I actually find this encouraging considering it came from the SMH

Here is the article I want to comment on though … primarily because it represents the typical response in the media towards discussion around abortion ….. and that is to try to shut down the discussion without engaging in it. This article in the SMH started in brilliant fashion.

“Every once in a while they pop up, these old white men who feel they have a God-given right to meddle with women’s bodies.”

Wow …. Stephaine you could have stopped there …. You won the argument without even trying … or without even putting up an actual argument ….actually I just re-read the article … you didn’t really put up any argument or add anything new to the debate in the remainder of the article. So let us just look at this first sentence ….
Argument Strategy Part 1: “Establish annoyance.” Pop-ups are so annoying – always they are trying to sell you something you don’t want. Google the term “pop-up” and you also get references to telemarketers and Jehovah’s Witnesses. A great way to shut down a conversation in almost any setting is to say “It is so annoying that you keep bringing up ….”.
Problem: Just because one person (or a group of people) finds a topic of controversy annoying to discuss does not mean it all of a sudden becomes off limits to discuss it. This is an attempt to shut down further conversation, after all I don’t want people considering me one of those annoying pop-ups. It is what I call silencing by negative association.

Argument Strategy Part 2: “Beware the ruling class” – I mean the arrogance of those “old white men”. They have had it so good for so long that they have lost the right to hold an opinion. I wonder if the opinion came from an “old black man” would could we perhaps have been a little softer. Does skin colour, gender and age affect the quality of the opinion that much?
Problem: While the area of concern does primarily affect women (although I would argue that a significant number doing the dying are male). Any opinion on the matter should be discussed on its merits and not on the gender, age or skin colour of the individual. This would be akin to saying that a female inner city politician’s view on the high rate suicide amongst rural males should be ignored regardless of the quality of her thinking on the matter.

Argument Strategy Part 3: “Thou shalt allow religious view to be peddled” – The “God-given right” part here is trying to establish a link to Australian’s general dislike of having religious views thrust upon them or even discussing religion at all.
Problem: Firstly The Senator doesn’t openly present his point of view from a religious framework. None of his language as quoted in the media is framed this way. Yes he is a catholic, but he is rather quiet about it. Secondly, this is not a specifically religious issue. I have met atheists who would think along the lines that this senator does.

Argument Strategy Part 4: “Appeal to rights”. Of course this is an old chestnut – it’s my body, it’s my right. This comes out in so many permutations. Framing abortion as a women’s rights issue is a master stroke. We are the generation of self – it appeals to us. It also frames those who are against us as oppressors!
Problem: It assumes that the human life inside of its mother has no right to exist unless that right is conferred onto the child by the mother. In other words – my right to live was given to me by my mother. Of course you can get around this if you think of the foetus as being a “potential human” in other words they are a lesser type of human and we can of course choose whether or not to confer such rights on them. This is sort of like how people in Australia in the past thought of the aboriginal people, as human, but not quite on the same level as us whites, less evolved perhaps … and look how that turned out. No, human rights are “God-given rights” …. “it’s my body, it’s my right.” Doesn’t really work because there are two bodies involved here. I think that my right to life trumps your right to a career, your right to convenience, your right to emotional well-being, your right to be financially stable. I think that your right to life trumps those things for me as well. I think that every human has this right to life. I think that a child in-utero is a human and by logical extension they have a right to life.

I’m intolerant of “intolerance of intolerance”

I have been accused of being intolerant on a few occasions. I’ll have to admit that it is true. It is good to be intolerant at times. There are things in this world that I don’t agree with and do not believe should be allowed to happen. There are also things that others may be ok with, that I personally do not tolerate in my own life.

In engineering terms, that which sits within the range of tolerance is that which is allowable and conducive to the integrity of the system. Any value outside of the range of tolerance is thus because it could be (or is) destructive to the system. Within the tolerance range is often an ideal or optimum subset which means that the system will perform at its peak.

As a member of the human race each of us needs be tolerant and intolerant. There is a time and a place for both. Whether you should be tolerant or intolerant on any point and how you express the choice you make is up to you, but it is an important one because it will affect the way in which you relate to others. The important difference between human tolerance and engineering tolerance is that the things we like, our ideals, we do not need to tolerate them. I don’t tolerate my first coffee every morning, I love it. I tolerate the traffic on the way to work and if I miss that first cup of coffee at home I tolerate the poor excuse for coffee that the machine spits out at work.

The problem is that some people in the community have adopted tolerance as some sort of virtue. It is as if being able to tick the “I am a tolerant person” box makes you a better person. It follows that if tolerance is good, then intolerance must be bad …. Ok let’s face it, it is downright immoral. Which means that if I am to be tolerant then I cannot abide with intolerance which means that I have to add an exception two the “intolerance is bad rule” which leads people like Catherine Deveny to say something  like “I’m intolerant of intolerance” on Q&A.

This is a bit difficult for me because I have a preference for being rational – but let us follow this a bit further now…..

I am personally intolerant of nuts, I just don’t like them. I have however tolerated nuts for the sake of others, like when they made something for me without knowing I don’t like them and they put nuts in it. I am tolerant of others eating nuts in my presence or extolling the virtues of nuts, except in my own house for the sake of my anaphylactic daughter.

You see tolerance in and of itself is neither a good nor bad thing. Yet for some it seems, it is acceptable to hijack the word “intolerant” and turn it into an negative association, an ad hominem for others that they are in fact intolerant of.

That is why I am calling for everyone to be intolerant of “intolerance of intolerance”.


I did originally link this post directly to Catherine Deveny’s website. I have removed that link due to my intolerance! It is not so much her further comments against Peter Jensen referring to him as a “creepy ‘gentleman with manners'”, it is the public insinuations and degrading comments she makes about her own son that really get me.

I choose the “flying spaghetti monster” attack

I sometimes spend time thinking about the flying spaghetti monster. I have a very specific image of what it might look like in my head. I couldn’t find an adequate one by Googling so I used the image above. It provides some idea of what the flying spaghetti monster is about without tarnishing my imagination. I have it in my mind right now. Hovering along, a tangled mess of spaghetti complete with tendrils hanging down. For some reason it is always raining on him with sparse heavy drops. This creates an every changing splatter pattern of tomato/meat sauce. It has a sad expression to its eyes and it has no mouth ….

For those of you who are reading this and have never heard of such a creature, well that is because there isn’t one. It is a construct that is poised by the irreligious sceptic to be juxtaposed with the faith of the religious. You see, faith in this construct is portrayed as “equivalent” to religious faith.

It is easy to dispel this “equivalence” with just about any established religion. Christianity has no problem dealing with this “creature” after all Jesus was an actual person. The flying spaghetti monster is actually a “straw man” argument. A weaken representation of an opponent’s position created for the purpose being “knocked over” so to speak.

But that is not the true point of the flying spaghetti monster. This creature is also an “ad hominem.” attack. It is a very clever way of making the person of faith look foolish. It is a direct attack on person without addressing their beliefs, but their beliefs are tarnished by the association.

There are many debates in this world where one side claims to be loving, while telling of the other side’s hate. Where one side claims to be caring while implying that the other side seeks to control others. Where one side claims intelligence or enlightenment, meaning of course that the other side lacks credibility. Where one side thinks that it is upholding rights, while the other side is proclaimed to be selfish. One side is rational which logically means that the other is not.

The dichotomies posed in these debates play on people’s desires and fears. People desire to be respected and loved. They fear to be despised or held in contempt or to be thought of as thoughtless. Consider the lobby group “Dying with Dignity”. In their very name there is an implication for those who disagree with them. If you disagree with them you don’t seem to care about people’s dignity. After all who wants to deny people their dignity? They have claimed the moral high ground on the issue. This is of course a false dichotomy because dignity is a mindset. It is not a method. A man might feel quite dignified in his career, in which he seeks to maintain a pristine environment; meanwhile his teenage daughter thinks that having her old man being a “garbo” is most undignified.

Too many people take sides of a particular debate because they want to be seen to be on the “good side” or because they fear being associated with the “bad side”. When debates revolve around attacking people (either directly or by implication) we should, I think, step back. Perhaps engage in some critical thinking and be brave to face the fact that the “bad side” may be a brighter; more caring; intelligent place than we originally thought.