Dialectic, Not Debate
Published: Thursday, April 5, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
Is it important to consider the positions of others you disagree with?
So I just got back from the abortion debate (held on the night of Thursday, April 5, in Knox 109). I have to say, I was a bit disappointed with the whole thing. Between the evident lack of respect between the two sides, the nauseating gaffs committed by both sides, the stupid analogies (the “dying violinist” ranks up there with “Shrödinger’s cat” in the silly-analogy-used-to-describe-abstract-concepts-to-laypeople department), and the bad Rick Santorum impressions, the whole thing left me less than satisfied on the intellectual front.
Regardless of how you feel about abortion, though, one thing is pretty clear: Neither side is changing the other’s mind any time soon. And a big part of this has to do with the fact that neither side has all the answers, level of self-righteousness aside. And this is why, I think, being pro-choice is the most sensible position.
Before anyone gets too fired up, note that “pro-choice” does not mean “pro-abortion.” No one (or, at very least, very few people) think(s) abortion is a good thing. It’s a sad reality often brought about for economic reasons. Ironically enough, and I don’t mean to point figures here or to generalize, but many of the same people who are staunchly against abortion are also against contraception, welfare, food stamps, and the whole idea of a social safety net.
In short, many who are against abortion are at least partially responsible for the fact it’s so widespread, in terms of socio-economics at least. And yeah, the fact that economics figure so heavily into whether potential human beings live or die is really messed up – a fact that is as much an argument against abortion as it is for the expansion of this social safety net, I think.
Sorry for that digression, but the point I want to make is that neither side can prove its correctness, at least not yet. Aborted fetuses may very well be people in the metaphysical sense, in which case killing them would be reprehensible. Conversely, it might also be that souls don’t exist and what we conceive of as personhood develops gradually and assuming otherwise is totally wrong, in which case forcing people to have children they don’t want and can’t afford and may very well (unfortunately) not care for would be comparably reprehensible according to several utilitarian morality models.
I don’t pretend to know which of these is correct – if you know someone who does profess to know, take what they say with a grain of salt. Jesus, last time I checked, didn’t say anything about abortion. Likewise, I can’t remember the last time every single one of the roughly 674,000 extant schools of philosophy all totally agreed about anything.
And so, if you don’t want an abortion, don’t get an abortion. Because, well, who are you to impress what you can merely speculate about on another who doesn’t actually know with any amount of certainty anything more or less than you do?
The really great thing about living in a secular liberal democracy, I think, is that we are free to make up our minds, individually, about these sorts of things, can freely debate them, and can work toward whatever happens to be true together. And, unfortunately, any absolute answer (e.g., totally banning abortion) to an ambiguous social issue completely destroys this prospect. This, I think, is bad. And if you disagree, you’re perfectly entitled to – such is the beauty of our system.
So, partisans of both sides, ask yourself the following:
Is there anything that would change my mind?
If you answered “no” – well, isn’t that the very definition of closed-mindedness?
Shouldn’t you be interested in what’s true, not recapitulating whatever you happen to think or feel is true regardless of whether or not it actually is?
So, instead of an abortion debate, we should be having an abortion dialect, because two incredibly awkward hours’ worth of ideologues talking at, not to, other ideologues isn’t going to change anything if no one’s willing to listen.