The readers of Reason, Ken, Megan McArdle are asked to ponder the importance of their votes, to argue convincingly. Ken’s stance was the least cynical, the most objective. It seemed a grown up complaint. Still, I was heartened by his comment, which led me to think that his stance was rhetorically effective but, fortunately, a bit empty. (And I do mean that in the best of all possible ways – interesting to read, eye-catching, but, in the end, reaching a complex resolution himself.) Still, here is a response.
Okay, Ken. My ignorance in this area is quite complete – despite the fact that my colleague, “Scotus”, has brought a series of lecturers (some of them nationally known) to our parochial campus. (His Thomism, of course, means these have not always taken your view.) My mind remains a dark abyss with no light that orders thought. So, I’m quite willing to let lie your argument that this is a terrible position that Bush has taken. (Even Kofi Annan – like a stopped clock – may be right every once in a while.) However, like Lex, I have some problem with the humanity=sentience thing
And I’ve come to realize I’d rather stand with (or at least not against) those who are against abortions, have problems with cloning, have reservations about the death penalty, doubt that euthanasia should be a ready option. I probably will never be an advocate – indeed, like Kerry, I see these questions as treacherous and full of nuance. But, my sympathies are closer to those who pray outside our local abortion clinic than to those who argue that baby is a parasite, an inconvenience. Of course, I know it is not for I have known life growing within me–those three beautiful (and unique) girls were not parasites. I’m not sure when they became those unique selves, but it seemed long before birth. And I will accept that cloning may prove useful and not diminish our sense of the specialness of each separate self. And, indeed, these other difficult choices may sometimes be best resolved with death. Indeed, at 43 with my last child, the doctor insisted on amniocentesis. We recognize that we might well have to face choices in which all the consequences were likely to hurt someone other than ourselves. We were lucky; but I have not forgotten we waited for the results with fear.
A society that sees such choices as easy, as rote (whether the euthanasia of Holland or the executions of Saudi Arabia, whether the millions of abortions in the United States or casual cloning in a lab) has in important ways alienated itself from the tragic, from what both life and death mean. Like so many of the mysteries of life, this is a paradox: we can not properly value life unless we have understood its proportions, what is greater.
You see, Ken, I believe that Bush’s position, one you find abhorrent, derives from a vision that is more likely to treasure what you want treasured. The founders (many of whom were only loosely religious but even the most casual sensed a Providential Order) believed that the rights we have come to treasure so greatly are “natural rights” – given by God and not by governments. While I have neither the religious sensibility nor philosophical training to make this argument, I do know what experience has taught me. Policy made with this assumption in mind will value the ends of independence and freedom, will lead to resilience and responsibility. It is this vision that respects (as Whitman would put it) the divinity in each of us, our individuality. It is this trust in the individual, in our rationality and common sense, our objectivity and honesty that promotes free elections in Afghanistan and Iraq and trusts us to handle (privatize) some of our retirement funds; that opens up the candidates to our scrutiny and accepts the grand marketplace of ideas, of religions, of goods. Other politicians of other sensibilities may have no problem with cloning, but that may be because of a more reductive rather than a more generous sensibility.
Yes, our sympathy for others leads us (a compassionate society) to weave a safety net, but our respect for each other encourages us all to risk that awesome highwire act that is the independent, the responsible, the “chosen” life. This vision works in a myriad of ways – and I suspect most of them are ones with which you agree. Another paradox, of course, is that in terms of cloning you are valuing life – but because others also value life they question the consequences of cloning.
Ken, I suspect this is not convincing, but then you recognize, already, your values are not those of Kerry.