Rawls And Abortion

In the comment-thread to our post about Duck Dynasty a few weeks back, the discussion turned to abortion rights. I wrote this:

Are the not-yet-born rights-bearing persons, deserving of moral consideration? One would think that in a morally consistent ethics this would be an attribute inhering in the unborn person — but apparently in many people’s opinion it depends merely upon the whim of the mother. From the perspective of the unborn, that’s a mighty precarious position to be in — and rather unfairly so, it seems to me.

It’s Schrödinger’s Kid.

Later on I added:

To leave that ontological determination up to the whim of the person doing the killing is a unique moral and philosophical ambiguity. If you were a developing fetus, would you want your fate to be in such a precarious position?

Given that we are all brought into the world this way, one could say this is the ultimate Rawlsian question.

In John Rawls’s theory of justice, the “original position” is the position, behind the “veil of ignorance”, of people not yet placed into the world, who have no idea into what circumstances they will be delivered. The idea is that the optimally just society would be one designed by those behind the veil, because without foreknowledge of the station they are about to occupy, they will be maximally impartial.

What better instantiates the “original position” than our situation in utero? One might find oneself in the belly of a pleasure-seeking, atheistic NYU sophomore (a precarious situation!), or that of a pious, married Catholic. Under our law, your very personhood — your existential status, your chance at moral consideration, and most important of all, your chance at ever getting past the original position — depends upon nothing intrinsic to yourself. Indeed, it depends upon no consistent principle whatsoever, but rather upon the caprice of the woman into whose womb you happen to have been deployed.

Before I go looking around online, I’ll ask the question here: how do Rawlsians address this issue?

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  1. With trepidation?

    Posted January 9, 2014 at 12:09 pm | Permalink
  2. JK says

    The idea is that the optimally just society would be one designed by those behind the veil, because without foreknowledge of the station they are about to occupy, they will be maximally impartial.

    I saw down in Texas I think, there are apparently some operating behind some sort of veil and, keeping a female deceased victim of a car wreck on a ventilator until “the incubator” serves its uhm, Purpose.

    I’m somewhat discomfited thinking about the sort of precedent a post mortem pregnancy might set.


    Posted January 9, 2014 at 2:27 pm | Permalink
  3. JK says


    Posted January 9, 2014 at 2:30 pm | Permalink
  4. the one eyed man says

    The New York Times had a front page article yesterday on the issue which JK raises. It is difficult to reconcile conservatives’ purported belief in liberty, freedom, and the evils of government interference with statutes which ignore a pregnant woman’s living will, as well as her constitutional right to abort a fetus which is not viable.

    It has been forty years since I read A Theory of Justice, so I would not presume to know Rawls’s opinion on abortion. My guess is that it would hinge on whether or not a fetus is a person, which has been discussed ad nauseum here and elsewhere.

    Veering shockingly off-topic, it would be interesting to hear the opinion of the waka waka waka editorial board on two pressing issues of the day.

    The first is the thuggish modus operandi of the Christie administration.

    The second is the recent article in the New York Times which demolishes the right wing obsession about Benghazi. Thanks to David Kirkpatrick’s exhaustive reporting – someone I’ve known since he was a teenager – we now know that there was no cover-up, no Al Qaeda connection, and the uprising was caused in large part because of the anti-Muslim video, as Susan Rice reported. This is not surprising – the right wing meme was never substantiated with actual facts, only assertions – yet the response from the accusers, as far as I can tell, is not one of contrition, but rather angry denunciation of the article as “clearing the way for Hillary” with no regard to the facts surrounding the tragedy of Benghazi.

    Posted January 9, 2014 at 7:29 pm | Permalink
  5. JK says


    Posted January 10, 2014 at 12:08 am | Permalink
  6. Malcolm says


    It is difficult to reconcile conservatives’ purported belief in liberty, freedom, and the evils of government interference with statutes which ignore a pregnant woman’s living will, as well as her constitutional right to abort a fetus which is not viable.

    You yourself provide the key to understanding this:

    My guess is that it would hinge on whether or not a fetus is a person…

    Regarding Chris Christie: disgusting. New Jersey political thuggery at its worst. If he were a gentleman he’d resign.

    As for that Benghazi article, as you can imagine I have a lot to say about it, none of which you will like. But it is, as you say, completely off-topic here. I’ll have a post about it soon, I imagine.

    Posted January 10, 2014 at 12:50 am | Permalink
  7. JK says

    Off-topic but I don’t have time to log into email – just to check the state of my local highways and happened upon;


    Cold up your way Malcolm?

    Posted January 10, 2014 at 9:40 am | Permalink
  8. the one eyed man says

    Although I will keep to my principle of refusing to waste time and digital ink by arguing when personhood starts, I think I speak for everyone except the most extreme fringe of anti-abortion absolutists in stating that keeping a brain-dead woman alive through artificial means, solely to gestate a blastocyst, and causing unimaginable pain to the survivors, is not only morally repugnant but an affront to anyone who truly believes that adults are moral agents who ought to be entrusted with the right to make their own decisions about contentious issues of which reasonable people disagree.

    However, I am glad that we agree about Fat and Furious. Stick a knife in. He’s done.

    Posted January 10, 2014 at 11:29 am | Permalink
  9. Malcolm says

    Well, then, in your mind the question of personhood is already settled. You ignore that there is a very large body of coherent philosophical argument on the other side of that issue — certainly enough to leave the ontological status of the fetus in doubt.

    If there IS such doubt, then if we weigh the possible harm caused by the two courses of action in terms of “worst cases”, we have, on the one hand, the possibility of ignoring the wishes of a dead woman, and causing some psychological anguish to her family, and on the other, the death of a helpless innocent.

    Since we cannot be certain of the personhood of the fetus, there is, therefore, at the very least a reasonable case to be made for erring on the side of the “least worst” possibility — what Rawls called the “maximin” rule.

    You wrote:

    …adults are moral agents who ought to be entrusted with the right to make their own decisions about contentious issues of which reasonable people disagree.

    When the only life affected is their own, yes. But due to the unique nature of this situation, the issue is not so simple. The fact that the dispute is itself about whether two lives are affected or one introduces a new problem at a higher level. (I believe the kids call this ‘going meta’.) This is why I have always considered abortion to be one of the thorniest of all moral problems.

    I’ll have to come back to all this in another post. Still trying to clarify the Rawlsian question. I realize also that my use of the word ‘ontological’ in the main post might be called into question: obviously doubt about ontology is an epistemological problem — but the ontological status of the fetus, rather than our opinions about it, is what is essential to the moral question.

    Posted January 10, 2014 at 1:01 pm | Permalink
  10. the one eyed man says

    I don’t dispute that “there is a very large body of coherent philosophical argument on the other side of that issue.” I disagree with it. There is an equally large body of coherent argument which takes the opposite view. Some people will always think that abortion is tantamount to murder, while others will always believe that there is no such thing as an “unborn child:” a child is not a child until it is born.

    I believe that as a general principle, when there is a moral issue which lacks a societal consensus, the coercive power of the state ought not to be used so one side can impose its preferences on the other. This is the libertarian position, as well as what a Burkean conservative would advocate.

    I think that the case in Texas also shows the limits of theoretical arguments and philosophical constructs. On a practical, common sense basis, it is ludicrous to require a legally dead woman to stay in a hospital room for nine months when doing so is diametrically opposed to her expressed intent, as well as the survivors’ wishes. If you were to ask one hundred people what should be done, I doubt you would find two who would support this, and those two would likely change their views if they were placed in that situation. It is uncanny how one’s opposition to abortion suddenly fades when one’s sixteen year old daughter gets pregnant.

    Posted January 10, 2014 at 3:56 pm | Permalink
  11. Malcolm says

    I don’t know if you are willfully ignoring the difficulty and subtlety of the problem here, or simply don’t understand it.

    There is no “imposition of preferences” greater, or more wrong if your opinion about the personhood of the fetus is mistaken, than causing the death of a helpless innocent.

    You often declare yourself a Rawlsian, and cite his theory of justice in these pages. For you not to consider this issue according to his core principles of justice — in particular the ‘maximin’ rule that is central to Rawls’s theory — is therefore surprising, to say the least.

    In Rawls’s own words (my italics):

    The maximin procedure is defined by a conservative rule for choice under uncertainty. The maximin rule tells us to rank alternatives by their worst possible outcomes: we are to adopt the alternative the worst outcome of which is superior to the worst outcomes of the others.

    Perhaps it’s that word ‘conservative’ that’s putting you off. Or perhaps Rawls’s theory is just something that you remember, dimly, from college, and recall giving general assent to at the time, but that you haven’t really thought deeply about since then, and don’t really understand as well as you think.

    I think that the case in Texas also shows the limits of theoretical arguments and philosophical constructs.

    Anything does, if your mind is already made up. Saying that something “shows the limits of theoretical arguments and philosophical constructs” is just another way of saying “I don’t want to think about this any more.”

    On a practical, common-sense basis, it is ludicrous to require a legally dead woman to stay in a hospital room for nine months when doing so is diametrically opposed to her expressed intent, as well as the survivors’ wishes.

    Others might say: “On a practical, common sense basis, it’s ludicrous not to protect an innocent life if you can. I doubt, after all, that the dead woman will find the accommodations uncomfortable.”

    If you were to ask one hundred people what should be done, I doubt you would find two who would support this…

    Try asking in Texas.

    …and those two would likely change their views if they were placed in that situation. It is uncanny how one’s opposition to abortion suddenly fades when one’s sixteen year old daughter gets pregnant.

    Obviously, such crises put one’s conscience to the test. But you are just making people up here. What was that the Straw Man said? “If I only had a brain…”

    Also, re Chris Christie: Yes, we agree about him. (Nobody should be surprised to see such goings-on in New Jersey politics, but it’s despicable nevertheless.) Where we differ is that I feel exactly the same way about many of the Democratic knaves and jackals (including the senior members of the current administration) you so zealously defend and support. I’ll include many Republican politicians as well. As Jonah Goldberg wrote this morning:

    Do you think Rahm Emanuel hasn’t played games with which streets get plowed first after a snow storm? Do you think that the Cuomos have issued every business permit and license on a first-come, first-serve basis? Wait you do? Oh man, that is adorable. Bless your heart.

    That reminds me: gotta get cracking on the Benghazi post.

    Posted January 10, 2014 at 4:14 pm | Permalink
  12. the one eyed man says

    I don’t think we are going to make any progress here.

    If your opinion about the personhood of the fetus is mistaken, then you have forced a woman to bear a child she does not want to have – including, for example, a fetus with spina bifida which will have a life which is nasty, brutish, and exceedingly short. Or you force the husband and parents of a brain dead woman to suffer immeasurably. Your argument gives much greater weight to a theoretical understanding of when life and personhood begins than to the incalculable pain and suffering which this insistence ineluctably causes.

    Implicit in Rawls’s book is the assumption that moral issues involve persons. If you don’t think that a fetus is a person, then the maximin principle is moot.

    I think that even in Texas, you would be hard-pressed to find many people who think that the unfortunate woman should be incarcerated in a hospital for nine months when her living will dictates the exact opposite.

    However, this horse is dead, so I will beat it no longer.

    * * * *

    As is his custom, Goldberg is dead wrong. I doubt very much that Rahm Emmanuel sends snow trucks to precincts which vote Democratic before ones which vote Republican. Nor do I think that business permits in New York are issued on a partisan basis. (As someone who has business licenses issued by California and Nevada, I can tell you that this is not how things are done: you send the application in, it gets processed, and if you meet the qualifications you get the permit.) I certainly believe that neither Emmanuel or Cuomo would ever deliberately create a situation which puts human life in jeopardy, as Christie’s goons did.

    If Goldberg has actual evidence to suggest thuggery by Emmanuel or Cuomo, he is welcome to present it. Otherwise he should be ashamed of making unsubstantiated and libelous assertions of civic leaders who have never demonstrated the acts he accuses them of (to use a preposition to end a sentence with).

    Posted January 10, 2014 at 4:47 pm | Permalink
  13. Essential Eugenia says

    My dear man, the Ladies and I, of the Ladies’ Sewing Circle and Terrorist Society, are feeling terrorized by your capricious use of the word caprice!

    The deployment of zygotes into a war in the womb? Fetus as foot soldier? Is this how you see women and mothers, as creatures filled with dangerous notional whimsy?

    Fie! Be brave, my man, be stout of heart!

    The Ladies and I are made of sterner stuff. And, we dare say, so are you!

    For the moment, the Ladies and I are amused.

    My goodness, have you no sense of irony at your own caprice in agreeing even philosophically with the stunningly offensive governmental overreach in Texas? In subjugating a body to serve as a holy vessel against her own expressed wishes and those of her grieving husband, you offer a fresh tale for the handmaid to tell.

    But the Ladies and I say: Enough with the ontological circle jerk, my good man!

    Let us have a few observations from real life, shall we?

    Ladies sometimes have abortions; the Ladies always have and the Ladies always will.

    Whether by slurping up Lydia Pinkham’s Magic Elixir to Relieve Monthly Suppression or scalding their innards with turpentine or taking a knitting needle to her Lady parts or surrendering herself to one who does the best that can be done in an illegal setting but botching it nonetheless, Ladies will always attempt to choose when and if to bear a child.

    The Ladies and I are amazed you would possibly consider it acceptable to coercively restrict the Ladies’ liberties in favor of an inanimate lump of tissue. To the Ladies, all this hyperbolic intellectual claptrap in the name of moral obligation is pie in the sky laughable.

    The Ladies know, all too personally, all too well, how the sorrowful scraping of pulsing cells, rather than constituting mass murder, actually prevents the mass slaughter and sacrifice of our mothers, sisters, and daughters. Perhaps it is time you knew it too, and so the Ladies and I invite you to come with us the next time we venture out across the seas to do Good Works for our sisters in travail. Please, won’t you join us?

    Your seeing a woman writhe in extremis, clawing toward life and losing the battle, septic from an abortion gone awry, the stench of gagging putrefaction assaulting your nose as pus-filled multi-system organ failure marches inexorably onward, should settle your hash and hush this intellectual hooliganism once and for all.

    As we would with any other doctrinaire novice, the Ladies and I promise to sit with you, to help you do everything you can do: be present, hold her hand, cool her brow raging with fever, hold her gaze, soul to soul, heart to heart, to speak murmuring words of comfort in response to her desperate babbling delirium, and bear witness to her slow and brutal death.

    Then – and the Ladies and I do promise – we will hold you in our arms as you wail like a baby.

    Posted January 10, 2014 at 7:04 pm | Permalink
  14. the one eyed man says

    I would add this to Eugenia’s eloquent post: the fact that botched abortions were a leading cause of death among women of child bearing age before Roe v. Wade alters the maximin calculus. The worst possible outcome is the immense amount of deaths and injuries caused by the criminalization of abortion, not the abortion of an insensate clump of cells.

    Posted January 10, 2014 at 7:53 pm | Permalink
  15. Malcolm says

    Eugenia, my dear lady, calm yourself. (I should probably install a fainting couch for the sake of our distaff visitors.)

    Let me make clear that I have not even staked out any position here; indeed, in my darker moments — of which I have many — I have considered, in the interest of social tranquility and the amelioration of the suffering of adults, raising the cutoff date for abortion far beyond the third trimester, and perhaps all the way to 18 or 21.

    My purpose here has only been to limn the complex moral and philosophical issues involved, to examine the way in which our deepest ethical theories might be brought to bear, and to remind everyone that this is an excruciatingly difficult problem to resolve, due to the diametrically divergent moral and existential intuitions that good and caring people can have about it. Despite your appeal to have me disqualified simply on the basis of my manhood — and despite your theatrical appeal to emotion, for which of course I will always forgive a lady — there are certainly a great many of your own sex whose opinions and intuitions are the polar opposite of your own.

    Your position seems quite absolute, as far as I can tell; with your explicitly dehumanizing description of the fetus as an ‘inanimate clump of tissue’ you of course beg the central moral question, and short-circuit any moral complexity. (You obviously have every right to do so, of course — everyone is entitled to an opinion — but others, just as obviously, will not.) Is there, in your mind, any point at which the developing fetus acquires personhood, and so is no longer fair game for extirpation? Third trimester? A week before delivery? A minute? Do you have any moral issue with aborting every pregnancy until one has a fetus of the desired sex? The desired hair-color? Is there any moral issue with simply using abortion as one’s only means of birth-control?

    At any rate, at no time did I expect to resolve this issue to everyone’s satisfaction with this post; I doubt that will ever happen. I merely wanted to examine the question from a Rawlsian perspective, to see what light his enormously influential theory might bring to bear on the question, and to see where a rational inquiry on his terms might lead us. I have hardly begun even to frame the terms of the question with the sort of clarity I’d like. So please, do have a sniff of these smelling salts, and I’ll have my man Jarvis mix you a julep.

    Peter, with your last comment, at least you are beginning to engage the problem in the kind of utilitarian terms that Rawls favored, though hardly in the thorough and dispassionate sort of way that this sort of process requires. Certainly the effect you mention is an important part of any Rawlsian calculus.

    Posted January 10, 2014 at 10:25 pm | Permalink
  16. Might I inquire where this statistic on botched abortions being the leading cause of death among child-bearing age women came from? I would have suspected it would be something like automobile accidents.

    Can’t really add much, except that insensate clump of cells sure gets described much differently, courtesy of the Mayo Clinic http://www.mayoclinic.org/prenatal-care/art-20045302?pg=1. Eugenia deserves an award for her flair with presenting the “my body is my temple argument”, replete with the inanimate lump of tissue and dreaded back alley abortions harkening back to Margaret Sanger, the left’s perennial favorite eugenicist.

    Now, even a grandma like me would hope to avoid arguments where I throw the baby out with the bathwater, that’s why these arguments go nowhere. It has alarmed me that since the legalization of abortion in America, women in the lower socioeconomic circumstances, whom this was ostensibly supposed to rescue from deplorable conditions, are the very women still suffering at the hands of poorly regulated abortionists. A tad off the original topic, but a concern of mine for years now, is that this issue has been pedaled as a “right”, but what happens if the numbers indicate generational poverty still persists for the same demographic groups and the overall health of women doesn’t benefit from access to poorly regulated and delivered reproductive care. What if you step back and review the numbers and a disproportionate percentage of black children are being aborted? Doesn’t this present a moral dilemma for society?

    Eugenia, you remind me very much of a lady who used to chat in a politics chat room under the name helen…….. about a decade ago. She had a BFF named autumnleaves.

    Posted January 10, 2014 at 10:49 pm | Permalink
  17. Malcolm says

    Oh, and I forgot to mention: as regards your Democrats, Peter, I’m glad to see that your political reflexes are still working with their usual, canine responsiveness. To see such a snappy reaction to the mere suggestion that Democratic machine politics in Chicago might be anything other than squeaky clean is very reassuring indeed.

    Posted January 10, 2014 at 11:14 pm | Permalink
  18. Essential Eugenia says

    Malcolm, good sir, the Ladies and I do so enjoy a fainting couch, the better to rest and rejuvenate, and Jarvis does mix a mighty fine julep!

    I believe you will find, good sir, that my (paraphrased) words on the coercive restriction to the liberties of women and the reference to an inanimate lump of tissue are, in fact, your own words from a previous post. Used here by me without giving you proper attribution (for which I do beg your pardon), I had thought you would recognize your own turn of phrase. Certainly your words, stunning as they are, caught my attention previously, as they have now caught yours, such words being powerful.

    I have disqualified you from what on the basis of your manhood, Malcolm? Please explain.

    Forgiveness is a great virtue and when I have deserve your forgiveness, I will gladly accept it. But be forgiven for making an emotional appeal? My dear man, from my perspective, my words were hardly emotional – mostly a simple recitation of physiologic dysfunction leading to the separation of body and soul.

    The Ladies and I live in the real world where, for us, the questions attendant to abortion and the loss of life in pregnancy and childbirth are heavy, deep, and very real. Moral riddles are easily set aside when the need arises for us to meet the bloody urgent needs of real women experiencing more than a righteous theoretical conundrum.

    When a woman is having a miscarriage, she grieves the loss of her baby or she may secretly celebrate the loss of her pregnancy, grateful she won’t be going to the abortion clinic the next week and feeling her guts getting sucked out, hoping all the while the attendant doesn’t let the towel slip for fear she will glimpse the contents of the glass jar swirling bright red. However it goes, miscarriage or abortion, a woman may grieve or she may celebrates, and often she both grieves and celebrates.

    The grief of abortion affects men too, of course. Men grieve also, deeply. I am guessing the silence here from the good men of Man Chat signals great emotional ambivalence within the tender hearts of the manly sex. No doubt, men too count the years and reckon how old the child might now be who was conceived on a wild night under a full moon. No doubt, many a man wonders fondly too whatever happened to the woman with whom he shared a passionate, if momentary, dalliance leading to a difficult and uncomfortable conversation. Nonetheless, the Ladies and I know that regardless of who writes the check, it is women who pay for abortion, in a loss so real, perhaps in a loss necessary to the continuance of her own life, that she is changed forever.

    Rarely do I see any woman in pregnancy who has not had an abortion earlier in her reproductive life, abortion now being almost a right of passage.

    And certainly, not every teen who might have been better off choosing abortion has access. When a thirteen year old child, knocked up by her father, gives birth to a lusty bouncing baby boy and puts that child to her breast, I do not think to champion a woman’s right to choose, but I serve that mother and her child with a willing heart, my repugnance for incest and child sexual abuse aside. When I sit a twelve year old child on my lap and explain how the baby is going to get out, I often must explain first how the baby got there. When her mother signs consent forms for her abortion, I hold them both in my arms.

    Abortion is never easy. Motherhood either, for that matter. Women make hard decisions, and, for the most part, live with those decisions with good grace and a strong degree of happiness. Womanly caprice? Hardly.

    The Ladies and I live in the practical world and we invite you to join us there, in reality, where things are often confusing, uncertain, and a bloody awful mess.

    The Ladies and I believe you will find, as we have, that ease with ambiguity helps.

    Another julep, Jarvis, please.

    Posted January 11, 2014 at 2:06 am | Permalink
  19. Malcolm says

    Eugenia, it was never my intention to diminish the very real anguish of abortion and miscarriage. I have seen it first-hand. I believe it was my use of the word ‘caprice’ that vexed you so. I do choose words carefully, and I chose that one in its sense of a change of intention, to indicate that the moral status — the personhood — of a fetus rests, under our law, not on anything inherent in that fetus, but rather in something as volatile as the state of mind of the mother. From the perspective of the unborn considered as a person in Rawls’s “original position”, this struck me as a uniquely precarious existential situation.

    More to the point, as I have taken pains to explain, no amount of visceral empathy for the plight of a woman in such situations — and your descriptions are vivid and compelling — alters the fact that a coherent, and for many people also extremely compelling, argument can be made that there is another, innocent party whose interests it is morally defensible to advocate: namely that life, that person, who never has the chance to be born, to live, to grow, and to grow old.

    For me simply to point out that such a viewpoint exists, and is considered by millions of decent and intelligent people not just plausibly defensible, but as morally commanding as your own view is to you — and for me to try to explicate it for the sake of clarity, better understanding and closer ethical analysis — should not give offense.

    So I believe it must be that word, ‘caprice’, with its suggestion of blithe unconcern, that has so enraged you. I would have done better to choose another. Do forgive me.

    Forgive me also for misconstruing “we will hold you in our arms as you wail like a baby” as an appeal to emotion.

    Posted January 11, 2014 at 2:34 am | Permalink
  20. “Moral riddles are easily set aside when the need arises for us to meet the bloody urgent needs of real women experiencing more than a righteous theoretical conundrum.?

    Morality serves as both anchor and impetus to act when the bloody needs of real women confront us. Albeit, the morality fluctuates, dependent, of course, on the feelings of the woman, free in her sexual choices, free of judgment of said choices too. A moral code based on women’s feelings, well, how dare one consider such, capricious? The deeper question on the discarded lump of tissue matters not a whit in a social justice belief system where we can all happily bypass that question and accept that:

    Rarely do I see any woman in pregnancy who has not had an abortion earlier in her reproductive life, abortion now being almost a right of passage.

    …a rite of passage…..you’ve come a long way, baby…

    Posted January 11, 2014 at 8:47 am | Permalink
  21. How this “rite of passage”, casual dismissal of morality questions, fits with the political hard sell mantra, “safe, legal, and rare,” perplexes lesser intellects like mine? The rare seems a tad superfluous and added only to silence the political opposition. Alas, regarding the selection of words, on that, I can agree with Eugenia wholeheartedly.

    Posted January 11, 2014 at 9:17 am | Permalink
  22. Malcolm says

    Right, LB. You bring out again the sense of ‘caprice’ that I had intended. Thank you for your comments here.

    The only point of this post is to show that there are coherent moral viewpoints on both sides of this intractable argument, viewpoints that each side is usually unwilling to give the serious consideration they deserve.

    The idea of ‘Man Chat’ has become a running joke here, but when passions rule, and consensus is nowhere in sight, rational discourse is the only alternative to escalating factional conflict — and the first requirement of rational discourse is to examine our axioms. That’s all I was trying to do here.

    It is a slender reed to grasp, however. As we have seen throughout history, reason rarely trumps passion.

    Posted January 11, 2014 at 12:28 pm | Permalink
  23. Essential Eugenia says

    Good morning to you, all you good people of Man Chat.

    The Ladies and I, being enormously busy with the final arrangements to deploy a maternity care delegation to Liberia in just a few days – Liberia, where one in twelve women dies in childbirth – will make this brief.

    Thank you, Malcolm, for your gentlemanly generosity in acknowledging my womanly response to the implications ‘caprice’ might carry in reference to abortion and a woman’s right to choose.

    My promise to “hold you in my arms as you wail like a baby” is no entreaty to cheap emotion, my dear man, but, rather, a solid promise to give comfort where comfort is due. Never in this work have I met any doctor, midwife, nurse, missionary, or other lay practitioner, who did not howl in keening anguish after first witnessing the long, slow, agonizingly brutal death of a woman succumbing to puerperal sepsis.

    Lady LibertyBelle, please forgive my lapse is word choice – right for rite. The Ladies and I were up late inventorying supplies – the anti-hemorrhagics pitocin and methergine and misoprostol, and our small treasure of anti-biotics – and, truly, I was too too tired when I sat down to write.

    Abortion as a rite of passage is a painful reality, certainly a concern which you and I share. May I suggest you put plenty of time into literacy for women and early sex education in the public schools, for it is in those countries where women own themselves, own the means of their own reproduction, where women read and write, where contraception is readily available, that we see the lowest rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion is truly safe, sane, and rare.

    Now I must go teach a class on how first world health care providers might best cope when first encountering the third world. Then, being the emotionally labile and capricious creature that I am, a woman, knowing what awaits them and having given my promise that I will be here when they get back, I will weep.

    Bidding you all a fond adieu!

    I see you The Big Henry, I see you peeking. How right you are: With trepidation!

    Hey, JK! The Ladies and I are sooo very delighted Papa Phil will be back on Duck Dynasty. Such a relief to see at least this one social ill now restored to health, don’t you agree?

    To the OEM: You called Eugenia’s an eloquent post. How droll. How kind. How good of you to tie in the Rawlsian. Eugenia never heard of the guy; Eugenia thought Malcolm was talking about Lou!

    Posted January 11, 2014 at 12:34 pm | Permalink
  24. Malcolm says

    I never said ‘cheap’ emotion, Eugenia — just ’emotion’.

    At any rate, adieu, or au revoir.

    Unsaid so far, but of real importance to this conversation, is that the First and Third Worlds are very different place — and that vastly higher incidences of both maternal death and infant mortality, as well as rape, surely affect any Rawlsian assessment of our ethical obligations. Your work to ease the suffering of these poor women is praiseworthy.

    Posted January 11, 2014 at 1:43 pm | Permalink
  25. Eugenia, Humanitarian work always deserves high praise, likewise educating all people, in all stations. Although, truly I would much rather we emphasize a classical liberal education, replete with the classics, foreign languages, history, science and great literature and move away from this litany of politicized sexual/socialized approach. Teaching children to respect others and their own bodies seems more appropriate than sexualizing children at very young ages. Alas, it’s doubtful Eugenia and the ladies would find much merit in my approach.
    My particular concern, while admittedly encountering this more as an observer than an actual doer of much constructive is the vast chasm right here at home between how public policy impacts various socioeconomic groups. And, it seems based on many disparate metrics, incarceration rates, unwed births, lower birth weights, higher infant mortality rates, lower economic status, higher high school drop-out rates, and higher abortion rates, that perhaps there’s a larger social question that should be addressed.

    Perhaps, the very programs and social panaceas being foisted on the most vulnerable in society do more harm than good. Certainly, I would not support cutting out social programs without some real plan in place to provide a bridge toward some other approach, but throwing more money into failed social policies or policies that demonstrate only generational community dysfunction demand new ideas and new ways of approaching problems.

    Just one example (not abortion), the push to make welfare recipients work for their benefits sounds wonderful to conservatives, but the liberals would like to stick to the status quo, cradle to grave government dependency. What happens is a dilemma, I’ve witnessed in my ordinary life many times in recent years, because I work in an ordinary blue collar job. Young black women start working and almost every one has an out of wedlock child (or children).
    Stepping into these women’s shoes, invariably they encounter childcare problems and transportation problems, which leads to attendance problems at work. So many times I’ve listened to the makeshift childcare arrangements, where inadequate is an understatement, and I wonder if society is better-served by creating a support system that does next to nothing beyond provide permanent government jobs for a cadre of social workers, career counselors, etc, who have perfected the art of “referring” these needy people through an endless maze of shifting rules, regulations and programs. Is society better served by more children left unattended? And of course then we move on to the young black men and the other great crisis – the incarceration cycle. Several young women I work with have baby daddies or husbands in prison. And here’s a real life story that I don’t know what to do to help, because the things I have done so far aren’t helping. I live in the real world, not a world of theoretical discussions and hotbed political activism.
    At the end of the summer, in the store where I work, my associates told me a young black man was sleeping on our outdoor swing display on the patio when I got to work one morning. I went out there to talk to him. He’s 18 and out of the protective services purview for children, but he’s a kid. High-school drop-out, no family to help him, and from my conversations with him, my unprofessional observation is he probably has some learning disabilities/emotional problems.

    I have made calls to find out about services for the homeless, I have urged him to talk to the police, local churches, etc. I have given him money several times for food too. He told me he was given a motel room for a month under some homeless program, but once that month was up he was back on the street. He’s on a list for low-income housing. Everyone refers him to someone else. I talked to a white man, whom I know is active in his church and he told me white churches aren’t all their cracked up to me. I talked to some black co-workers, one of whom is a lay pastor in his church, and he told me black churches aren’t all they are cracked up to be.

    I saw this boy a few times recently and he actively avoids people now and constantly looks down when he comes in the store and he is shoplifting, because our security personnel are watching him waiting to nab him. His future looks like it will include cycling through the criminal justice system. I’ve though about bringing him home, but hesitated, because I do not know his history and my husband is severely disabled and could not defend himself if this young man turned out to be violent. It’s easy to talk about social policy from the cozy confines of political partisan flame-throwing, but when you are talking to so many bright young people and their future seems so much less than what it could and should be in America, it’s disheartening. We ought to be able to do better.

    Posted January 11, 2014 at 5:20 pm | Permalink
  26. JK says


    Tedia. Extremia.

    Posted January 11, 2014 at 5:48 pm | Permalink
  27. JK says


    Thinking better of that above reply – aware I’m often misunderstood, perhaps responding to you in pictures would more adequately explain my experience reading your “commentary.”

    ♂ → … → … δ.

    Posted January 11, 2014 at 6:39 pm | Permalink
  28. Essential Eugenia says

    Ha! The Ladies and I just cannot stop laughing – you are a funny guy, JK.

    Tedia Extremia? Oh, yes! Eugenia is extremely tedious and all the Ladies talk a lot too, most women do. Relieves stress.

    And that, Gentlemen, is why the Ladies and I call it Man Chat, your conversation is so often short, harsh, and to the point.

    Lady LibertyBelle, shall we leave the men now to their cigars and brandy? This way to the drawingroom . . .


    Posted January 11, 2014 at 6:47 pm | Permalink
  29. JK says


    Please? Stop?

    I’m hoping a good eight hours sleep will recover me to the point I’ll not be considering how to explain to the ER staff – “Yeah I know it looks like two bellybuttons but it only happened after contact with Eugenia.”

    Posted January 11, 2014 at 7:11 pm | Permalink
  30. the one eyed man says

    Regarding abortion: I feel like Michael Corleone getting sucked into the family business when his instincts told him to stay away. I am happy to say that I have more self-control than he did. I’m staying away.

    * * * *

    Regarding Rahm Emmanuel: Mayor Daley may have been the most corrupt major politician of the 20th century. Getting 231 dead Indians to vote for JFK in alphabetical order was quite a feat. I think that four Illinois governors have been jailed in the last decade or two, including of course Rod Blagojevich. (Spelling his name is only slightly easier than that of the President of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov. Apparently it is the custom of Eastern European cultures for a groom to give his bride something long and hard on their wedding night: a last name.)

    However, the younger Mayor Daley was (as far as I know) competent and incorruptible, as well as Jane Quinn. Ditto for Paul Simon, who was an Illinois Senator for many years, or Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk, who are the current Senators. I don’t believe that guilt by association. The fact that someone is a leader in Chicago or Illinois politics says nothing about the individual.

    By the same token, while New Jersey politics may have historically been almost as dank a cesspool as Louisiana, it has had a number of governors who (as far as I know) were honest public servants: Richard Hughes, Tom Kean, Jim Florio, Christie Todd Whitman, and Jon Corzine.

    So the fact that “Chicago machine politics” has a long and tawdry history says nothing about its current mayor, and to insinuate otherwise is calumnious and inexcusable.

    As for the current leadership in New Jersey, it brings back the old saying: what the world excretes, Trenton eats.

    Posted January 11, 2014 at 7:14 pm | Permalink
  31. the one eyed man says

    Just parsed the prolixity here.

    Regarding passion trumping reason: I’m with Ben on this. If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins.

    Re rites and rights: when my daughter got her drivers license, her mother and I got get a white VW Beetle. I told her that getting your first car is a rite of passage.

    She was unfamiliar with the phrase, and thought I meant right of passage – as though getting a car is every seventeen year old’s right.


    Posted January 11, 2014 at 8:04 pm | Permalink
  32. JK says

    Reb One Eye?

    You’ll be sure to post the distinction on some site I can point to?

    Posted January 11, 2014 at 8:46 pm | Permalink
  33. the one eyed man says

    JK: sure.


    Posted January 11, 2014 at 10:21 pm | Permalink
  34. the one eyed man says

    I noted that some of the heat is coming off Christie, now that newly elected Mayor Bill de Blasio has been caught in his first major scandal: eating pizza with a fork. I just saw the shocking details revealed on the Fox News expose on Feastin’ Furious.

    New Yorkers could learn a lot from North Korea. Over there, they know how to deal with government officials who step out of line.

    Posted January 12, 2014 at 11:05 am | Permalink
  35. JK says

    Yeah Peter, a regular ChrispyGate™ doncha reckon?

    Posted January 12, 2014 at 12:58 pm | Permalink
  36. JK says

    Upon further reflection on your comment Peter, from this timestamped comment further,


    Posted January 12, 2014 at 1:01 pm | Permalink
  37. the one eyed man says

    A friend of mine from college got a single room in his dorm by telling the Dean of Students that he was married. When the Dean found out that this was untrue, my friend was called in to explain.

    “Dean, you must have misheard me. I said that I was harried.”

    A secretly recorded video reveals a similar misunderstanding regarding the Bridge over troubled waters.

    Christie: “I never said to close the bridge. I said: ‘Close the fridge!'”

    Posted January 12, 2014 at 1:28 pm | Permalink
  38. “I see you [TheBigHenry], I see you peeking. How right you are: With trepidation!”

    Essentially busted. Guilty as charged.

    What can I say, having summarized in the opening comment my own feelings and views on this, arguably, most contentious of sociopolitical subjects.

    Nevertheless, I applaud all y’all for expressing eloquently your obviously heartfelt positions.

    Posted January 12, 2014 at 2:10 pm | Permalink
  39. the one eyed man says

    “The Big Man from New Jersey” once brought Clarence Clemons to mind. Last night the Boss put the other big man from New Jersey in his place:

    Posted January 15, 2014 at 11:44 am | Permalink
  40. Malcolm says

    Well, the voters don’t seem to care. But hey — voters. If they can elect Barack Obama twice, anything’s possible.

    Posted January 15, 2014 at 11:49 am | Permalink
  41. the one eyed man says

    It’s true about those voters. They elected Bush twice. The second time, he even won fair and square.

    Polls about Christie right now are meaningless. We’re barely in the second inning of a rapidly expanding scandal. We already know that he lied in last week’s press conference, and he keeps digging a bigger and bigger hole for himself. (Given his girth, he needs a pretty big hole.) Now that more Democratic mayors who have been stiffed because they didn’t support Christie are speaking out – pennies for Sandy relief in Hoboken, meetings suddenly cancelled for the mayor of Jersey City, etc. – the media are giving his administration the scrutiny it so richly deserves. In the next few weeks, his senior staff will be summoned to testify. They will take the Fifth. At some point, one of them will get immunity and spill the beans. At best, he will emerge from his second term badly damaged and take a job at Fox News. At worst, he will resign or be impeached. He’s done.

    Posted January 15, 2014 at 2:30 pm | Permalink
  42. Malcolm says

    You sound like me talking about Fast and Furious, IRS harrassment, Benghazi, AP/NSA spying, Pigford, “recess” appointments, unapproved military action in Libya, green energy cronyism, UAW cronyism, Obamacare website cronyism, unconstitutional Obamacare waivers and delays, etc. …

    Sure, hope springs eternal that these bastards will be held accountable for their sins. Sometimes, though, powerful pols inexplicably survive these things. If there were any justice in this world, or if the voters deserved their franchise, Mitt Romney would be president, or at least Joe Biden.

    No need to respond, by the way, with 2,500 words of reflexive, canine defense, and detailed accounts of why every one of those things is a “calumny”. We already know how you feel.

    Posted January 15, 2014 at 5:09 pm | Permalink
  43. the one eyed man says

    Why should I? Each of those phony memes has been conclusively refuted elsewhere.

    Posted January 15, 2014 at 7:07 pm | Permalink