7:08 PM Jun 20, 2003

by Rob Ritchie

I received the email below from an acquaintance, one recipient among what appears to be her entire address book.

If you believe we have the right to choose, please click the link and protect that right. If you don't then tell me why a man has the right to choose to walk away from a child without any moral obligation and a woman doesn't?

 We need a million signatures! Tell a friend about the commercials and the petition - click here: http://xxx.org/xx/xx/xx

 I responded as such:
Not to put too fine a point on it, but a man doesn't have a right to walk away from a child without any moral obligation...the courts have repeatedly enforced a woman's claims against the man she accuses as the father of their children (even when DNA evidence has proven that the man is not related to the kid).

Also, since when can a woman not walk away from a child? There is such a thing as putting a child up for adoption, you know.

I am not trying to get into a debate about the rightness or wrongness of abortion. I'm just pointing out that the premise of your argument is without basis. Not that that will make any difference to your target audience.

Of course, this did become a debate about the rightness and wrongness of abortion, and in the course of several email exchanges (which I’ll mercifully spare you the pain of reading) I found my opponent resistant to the point of obstinacy in her apparent willful misunderstanding of my points. Below, I reprint my last post in this entertaining, but frustrating, exchange (suitably redacted to eliminate names and personal remarks).

This is the closest I’ve ever come to articulating my position on abortion.

The fact that there are people in the world who want to end abortion does not make them evil people. It makes them people with a different conception (no pun intended) of what constitutes a life, and with a horror at the unjust killing of unborn children. The do not want to usher in a police state; they just want to stop the killing of babies.

The fact that there are people in the world who want to retain the hard-fought legal rights that people have to end pregnancies does not make them evil people. It makes them people with a different conception of what constitutes a life and with a horror at the damage that can be wrought upon a person by an unwanted pregnancy. They do not want to usher in a police state; they just want to free people from the rigors of this part of biology.

People who conceive a child through casual sex with uncommitted partners are foolish people who have put their own pleasures ahead of their own responsibilities and well being. They are also doing evil, in that they put their partners at risk by possibly causing life-long connections to unplanned-for children, and those children at risk of poverty and abuse. Whether the person is the woman or the man, they are equally negligent and at fault.

Women, since they personally are biologically responsible for the child, bear responsibility for the decision as to its fate. Ideally, the father is involved, but I realize that this isn't usual in the cases we're discussing. Because of this fact of reality, women bear most of the burden, and so have the greatest say in what happens. This is what both the courts, and common sense, dictate.

I believe that the ready availability of abortion has led to a lessening of the sanctity of life in our society; that people are coarsened emotionally and morally to pregnancy and abortion in general; that promiscuous men and women, supported by easy abortions, have elevated dishonorable behavior to a higher level than it ever has before. And, as a consequence, demand for abortions has reached a level never dreamed of by the very people who fought to make them legal.

I believe that a society can prohibit a form of infanticide without shaking the foundations of legal abortions. I believe that those who demonstrate against these changes are deliberately clouding the issue for the purpose of maintaining their relevancy and their power base. They do so entirely to maintain their political power, and do not care one whit about whether or not women are free to kill their babies late in their pregnancies. In fact, it seems monstrous to me that anyone would advocate such a horrible thing, yet we have people sending me emails telling me I need to do something to preserve a woman's precious right to murder a baby so late in the pregnancy that most women would have named their child by that time.

I believe that all persons have the potential to change the world for good or ill, and that the circumstances of a person's birth do not dictate their worth or future. I believe that we are doing irreparable psychic damage to our society by condoning the behavior that drives women to choose to destroy their children. And I can't help but reflect that those whose futures are snuffed out, had their mothers made different choices, might have become wonderful people who bring much of value to their societies.

I would remind you that you started this by forwarding to me some stupid little political-action email that you no doubt received from some other like-minded post-feminist. The reduction of the feminist movement, so successful in so many material areas in our society, to a single-minded pursuit for the maintenance of abortion, is perhaps one of the most tragic stories of our times. A movement that, in it's origin, strove to bring equality of opportunity and equality before the law to BOTH sexes, and to end unlawful discrimination, has devolved into shrill, fear-mongering voices solely in favor, not of improving the lives of all people, but instead the medical elimination of an entire, inconvenient, generation.

4:19 PM May 16, 2003

by Rob Ritchie

I have been exchanging some pleasant emails with a Canadian named Alfred Woolley. In reponse to his thoughtful letter, I responded like this:

Dear Alfred,

You have the distinction of being the first person ever to write to me concerning my blog, with the exception of my family. I would like first off to thank you for your well written letter; it is an unfortunate fact that I had come to expect your note to be filled with expletives written by someone calling me an "asshat." What a relief that your note was polite and friendly!

Since you were nice enough to take the time to write me, I'll do my "Den Beste-ian" best to answer your points in a complete way. I can't claim that I'll do a terrific job of making myself clear, but here goes.

In my family, I am considered fairly conservative, though I'm wary of right and left labels in politics, because the meaning seems to shift with usage. In one place, left and right refer to Socialist vs. Capitalist economics, in another, it refers to Internationalism vs. Nationalism, in a third it represents the extremes of a continuum between Stalin and Hitler, or the SLA and the KKK.

In my experience, most people consider themselves in the "center" because the center is where "reasonable" people reside, and I've never met anyone who considers their beliefs unreasonable. The most people will admit to is being "left-of-center" or "right-of-center" which still ties them to the reasonable center, and after all, that's where most people belong.

I can certainly understand why many people in other nations (mine too) would be alarmed by the recent actions of the US. The specter of unbridled militarism is one that should alarm anyone. But from the inside, it doesn't look that dangerous to me. The policies and interests of Canada are not diametrically opposed to those of the US, and our common history and the reasonableness of our two nations precludes any sort of war between us. The same is true with any other Liberal Democracy in the world. Liberal Democracies do not make war on each other; but that doesn't mean that they do not make war as a last resort upon nations with other forms of government. With LD's, there is always the route of diplomacy and trade; with nations like Iraq, those available routes are limited and following the same methods as are productive with LD's is often fruitless.

I do know that wars have been waged without UN sanctions by practically every member of the Security Council in the last 20 years or so, without the attendant outcry that we've heard recently. Perhaps our status as a "hyper power" is behind it, but few nations have misused their power less than the US. Does that mean that the US has never misused its power?

To discuss US meddling in the governments of other nations without putting it in the context of the Cold War is to leave out the motivating factor behind such actions. The US has supported many awful governments in the past in its (ultimately successful) attempt to halt the spread of communism throughout the world. Many of the "democratically elected" governments you site were created through elections as legitimate as that which elected Saddam last year in Iraq.

(By the way, I'd like to thank you and your nation for their assistance in our united efforts to topple the legitimate government of Afghanistan last year. If it hadn't been for actions like that, the Taliban would still have a voice in the UN General Assembly.)

Were all of these actions, in retrospect, the right thing to do? Probably not, but we don't have the luxury of judging events in this way before we undertake them. Were some of these actions so reprehensible that they shouldn't even have been considered? That's harder to judge, without knowing everything that went into the decision making process, including the expected results of inaction.

Do I, personally, wish that the US hadn't been forced to make these kinds of devil's decisions? Certainly I do! I'd love it if the nations we shielded during the Cold War could have the same peace and freedom they currently enjoy, without the stains to our national honor that the shielding required us to take on. But I'd rather us be perceived as evil then to have real evil visited upon us or upon others.

Finally, has the US made mistakes in its foreign policy? Of course it has. No nation can say they've never strayed from the best course. But I think that no nation regrets its mistakes more, makes restitution more, and is a stauncher ally than is the US.

With regard to the question of WMDs, I think that the jury is still out on this. I also will be very angry if Powell's presentation to the UN last December turns out to have been some sort of farce. At this time, I have no reason to believe that it was; if, as suspected, Iraq was able to move a significant portion of it's WMDs to Syria, and otherwise hide them, then that does not invalidate the threat they pose if passed into the hands of an organization like Al Qaeda. Considering that, before the war, UN inspectors were asking for many additional months to find the WMDs, I don't think it's unreasonable for the US to take some time to find the incontrovertible evidence that the world rightly expects.

As far as the relative fighting power of the Iraqi army, I think it was demolished not only by the prowess of the Coalition forces, but also by the effectiveness of the psych-war that was waged against them piecemeal in the months preceding the invasion. None of its neighbors had the capability to soften up Iraq's army divisions the way that our nations could; and in the absence of that, they remained a threat to the Saudi Arabian oilfields and other countries in the area.

Finally, about NGO's...thank you for your service! In no way did I mean to denigrate the selflessness of people like you who volunteer to help other people in need. I never expressed an opinion of NGO's before, and I can see that I struck a nerve with you on this. In no way did I intend to annoy you or anyone else. The article linked made it fairly clear that it was the administrative councils that were causing problems, and at least implied that there were political motivations for the complaints that we were seeing. Just like any organization, you can support the folks who actually do the work while still grousing about the brass hats at the top.

I am sure that I have made a total mess of trying to express myself in a clear and consistent way, though it wasn't due to lack of trying. Your letter prompted me to think through some of the points you raised, though I suspect that I haven't convinced you in any way. That's OK; two people in the center can still disagree on lots of issues. And to answer your last sentence, maybe we have messed up this time, but it isn't because we haven't tried to do right, but because our reach exceeded our grasp; but we won't know if we messed up, I think, for years to come.