At Least They Have Some Logical Consistency

“The most merciful thing that the large family does to one of its infant members is to kill it” – Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, Woman and the new race

Taken out of context, this is a pretty shocking quote. Merciful to kill an infant? In context, it’s not that much better, but it is at least logically consistent and defensible … from the progressive mindset anyway. I’d like to point out a few of these defenses, oddly enough in praise of Margaret Sanger. Now, don’t get me wrong, I find her utterly reprehensible and will surely make that clear before the end of this post. But, at least she had the courage of her convictions.

Sanger was a progressive – of the early 20th century ilk. The kind who believed that we, through “progress” could fix what was wrong with men. The kind that believed we could ferret out the “root causes” of social problems and solve them, freeing men to move on to a better existence. Surely she was (and is) not alone in this. However, such ideals, when fashioned in an atheistic worldview, lead to some disturbing revelations. For instance, these early progressives were given over to such things as eugenics. (Breeding out the less desirable human characteristics makes perfect sense to the evolutionary mind – but not the Christian.)

I mention this because the context of the quote gives light to its logical defense on the basis of progress. Sanger points to statistics (probably valid at the time but surely not any more) indicating a dramatic increase in first-year-deaths for children born later in the family order. That is, once families got large, new children were far more likely to die in the first year (over 50% for the 11th child). Now, when one is in no way bound to the concept of human life as sacred, then it begins to make logical sense to murder these young ones. They have little chance of survival anyway, and will doubtless draw resources away from the older children – inhibiting their progress as well. Logically, the case can then be made that “we’re all better off” by making this sacrifice. (Collectivism always seems to revert to harming the few for the good of the whole.)

Now, this type of thinking would be shocking today. But, Sanger was not inhibited by political sensitivities of 2010. For this I commend her. She was a progressive – a murderous wretch of a progressive – and she was not afraid of telling you what she believed.

The next few statements of the book make another argument in defense of infanticide. She goes on to say: “The probability of a child handicapped by a weak constitution, an overcrowded home, inadequate food and care, and possibly a deficient mental equipment, winding up in prison or an almshouse, is too evident for comment. Every jail, hospital for the insane, reformatory and institution for the feebleminded cries out against the evils of too prolific breeding among wage-workers.” Again, Sanger is an early-20th-century-progressive, and she is sticking to her guns. What I find interesting is the frequency with which we will here such arguments in favor of abortion. “These kids won’t have sufficient love, care, or resources, and are therefore far more likely to become criminals” is a common refrain. As though that justifies their murder without due process. Guilty of potential crimes … outrageous.

It is in this connection that I would like to point out the most painful logical consistency of the discussion. Margaret Sanger had no need in this moment to draw distinction between pre and post-birth. She was fully comfortable with the cessation of human life for the betterment of society. The modern abortion defenders have fled this clean position and attempted to draw some rather tenuous line for the beginning of life – attempting to remove the guilt of the action. It is a failure though. First, the line of “birth” is indefensible – children are clearly viable long before that. Second, the guilt is not erased, years of tragedy have borne this out. In this we say that unlike the modern pro-choicers who tend to shy away from this difficult question, Margaret Sanger was no coward.

Now, at this point one might reasonably argue that context is broader than the surrounding sentences – we must consider the time in which Sanger was writing. To this I say both “OK, let’s do so” and “it doesn’t matter.” The book was originally published in 1920. It was not a depression-era book. At best we can say that Sanger was influenced by WWI and the desolation it caused. In the preface she says “It is in the deliberate restraint of human production that the fundamental problems of the family, the nation, the whole brotherhood of man find their solution. The health and longevity of the individual, the economic welfare of the workers, the general level of culture of the community, the possibility of abolishing from the world the desolating scourge of war – all of these like great human needs, depend, primarily and fundamentally, on the wise limitation of the human output.” (emphasis added.) Now, the entire quote is rich with progressive themes that we don’t have time to touch now. We merely want to point out that she desires an end to war, which the world has just seen in devastating array.

It is here that we add the “it doesn’t matter” clause. First, we rarely see “wrong” views or policies of the past successfully defended on the premise of “it was a different time”. That may be ample explanation, but rather than a defense it is usually a greater condemnation – indicating that the need for change was fundamental to society not just found in the leadership. Second, truly great principles must be beyond time. If Sanger is just a product of her times, then she can easily be discarded now as out-dated. If, however, her policies and legacy are to be cherished, she absolutely is subject to the scrutiny of 21st century moral norms and sensitivities.

It is in this light that I say she offers a much clearer picture of progressivism in general and the abortion debate in particular. She fully believed in limiting the number of people (by murder if necessary) for the sake of improving society. Modern abortionists hold a shadow of these views, but have been pressed back by the moral horror of their actions, attempting only a shell-game defense of debating about life and personal rights to “choose”. Neither of these have ever really been in debate – and I believe they are fundamentally wrong on both. Conception seems the only reasonable demarcation for “the beginning”. Further, personal rights and freedom of choice are sacred to the freedom-loving conservatives, not the progressives (who subjugate all to the authority of the collective mind). We hold that these freedoms are only subject to the rights of others, including the right to life.

I offer that our views are consistent and we can easily defend them from a Christian basis. I also offer that Margaret Sanger’s views are consistent and can easily be defended from an atheistic-progressive basis. If, however, you find yourself in some “middle ground” this day, then you may well be clinging to logically inconsistent worldview. There is still time to straighten that out though.

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10 Responses to At Least They Have Some Logical Consistency

  1. Anon says:

    It’s not nearly as hard as you make it to be “in the middle.” In fact, I’d argue that middle is precisely where most are given policy on this topic is still unsettled despite the attention it receives.

    To an unbiased observer, your logic isn’t different from Sangers; both of you seek guidance and rationale to form an absolute position on a morally and scientifically complex topic. You differ in that your religious guidance leads you to a much different conclusion. It is easy (and correct) to criticize Sangers position just as your policy opponents criticize clinic bombers and other extremists. But by declaring an absolute position on a topic that lacks non-faith based absolute truths, it’s not clear to me how you aren’t making the same mistakes of Sanger.

    • nomasir says:

      @Anon.

      I would argue that my logic is NOT different from Sanger’s. In fact, I argue that both I and Sanger argue logically from a set of basic principles to arrive at our conclusions – but we differ wildly on those principles (as one would expect from Sanger, an athiest, and me, a Christian). It is the other middle-of-the-roaders that I don’t understand. Or rather, that I do understand but wish to cast their faulty or ill-conceived logic into disarray.

      To argue from a progressive-atheistic position that abortion is acceptable up to birth, but horrible afterward does not hold water. Why should birth or the existence of life bring any change to the atheist’s perspective on the need for progressive management of the population? Similarly, to argue from a Christian perspective that abortion is to be condoned is just as faulty. There are plenty of Biblical references to support the concept of life existing in utero – not starting at birth. To then accept, as a Christian, the prospect of abortion is to defy sound logic.

      So, I do not intend to criticize Sanger’s logic. Our’s is a difference of principle – and is largely beyond debate. I will no more attempt to convince Margaret Sanger (were she still alive) of God’s existence, and the implicit value of all human life, through the use of logic than she will convince me of His absence using the same logic. We would be at an impasse. This, I find wholly acceptable. Having started at different bases, we reasoned well to come to dramatically different conclusions.

      If Sanger made a “mistake” then it is in her selection of basis.

  2. Eric says:

    First, my position on abortion is mostly secondary to my main interest in this post. So to get it out of the way, I think aborting a pregnancy is almost always the wrong thing to do… but I also don’t think it should be illegal.

    I am more interested in the relevance to the mind-body problem. You make the statement that “Conception seems the only reasonable demarcation for ‘the beginning.'” I see two problems with this statement.

    First, the beginning of what? In a broad, vague sense, we are talking about when a person “begins.” I think it is not just interesting but useful to try to be more specific here. From a religious perspective, are we talking about when a new soul comes into existence? This seems difficult to put into any concrete, objective language that could, for example, become law. Perhaps something more objective is meant; but if so, what?

    And second, given such an objective description of the distinction between the “before” and “after” states, when, exactly, is that demarcation between them? Conception is an amazingly complex process that takes time. Consider the thought experiment where sperm swim toward an egg, and all the while a doctor somehow stands ready to destroy cells at any time. When does that crucial instant occur, just after which the doctor is doing something that you see as murder, but before which s/he is not?

    When I ask these questions (as I have of friends in the past), the response is usually to dismiss such discussion as absurdly pedantic. I disagree; I think a lack of ability to be precise is a comment on the messiness of the issue.

    • nomasir says:

      @Eric,

      Several notes.

      (1) Nice use of pedantic.

      (2) As to your first point, I recognize that my statement of “conception seems the only reasonable demarcation for ‘the beginning'” was left largely undefended. Time being what it is. Let me just note that We will almost all agree that a 17 month old child is alive (or pick any other arbitrary age). I argue that a -1 hour old child is equally alive, equally viable, and suffers only from the unfortunate state of being in-utero. Now, I do not at all hang my hat on “viability” – many people are not viable if enough support is taken from them. I’m only noting that if the pro-choice movement is willing to accept the “life” of a +1 hour child then they have a hard time rejecting the same life 2 hours earlier. From there I jump to the Christian perspective that life begins at conception. Marching back from 0 hour to -9 months, I see no rationale demarcation of “something changed here” that has greater weight than conception.

      (3) Of course, nothing is really an impulse. Dirac can theorize about his delta function all he wants – it exists only in textbooks. Pointing to an instant is clearly difficult. But, we can point to a “before and after”. Before THIS there was no life, but after THIS there is. I find birth to be untenable as such a dividing line, owing to the discussion above (it too, is not an instantaneous thing and is a wildly complex process). Conception seems much more defensible. Now, could the issue face debate? surely. (and it surely has.) But the current state of legal affairs is to claim that THIS is, in fact, birth – which I find utterly nonsensical.

    • beverlylynn says:

      Eric, how do you defend your thoughts that “aborting a pregnancy is almost always the wrong thing to do” and if it truly is, why shouldn’t it be illegal? That is really two questions that need different responses.

      • Eric says:

        I should re-emphasize that my main interest here was not in the moral issue of abortion, but in the physical– or metaphysical– implications of arguments for and against it. From a moral standpoint, I personally think this is a hotly contested issue for good reason: because it *is* thorny, and not as cut-and-dried as religious groups would like it to be. But I’ll attempt to answer your questions.

        If I understand correctly, the first question is (from my perspective), “How do I defend my opinion that aborting a pregnancy is almost always the wrong thing to do?” Put simply, I think it is unnecessary denial of potential. I think this is a wonderful world worth living in, and aborting an unwanted pregnancy cheats that potential. (Such denial of potential gets me pretty fired up… and it happens *after* birth as well as before. A child’s education is important, and I have a particularly sore spot for parents and/or teachers who mess it up; I think that ignorance can limit life in a way that is truly just as harmful as a woman who aborts a pregnancy.)

        The second question is easier to answer. Consider two worlds, one where abortion is legal and one where it is not. Which world is “better”? I think legalization of drug use is a useful analogous issue. I think drug use is wrong, I think it negatively– even destructively– impacts lives beyond just the user… and at the same time, I think its illegality results in *more* expense of time, money, effort, and lost lives than if it were legal. I think making abortion illegal would have a similar effect.

        “But abortion is different from drug use!” I admit I am being somewhat intentionally coarse in this oversimplified comparison to make a point. *How* is it different? Why is it okay if a girl dies from an unsafe abortion that she will get whether it is legal or not?

        And the whole idea of choosing worlds smacks of the “utility-maximizing” line of thinking that nomasir just discussed in his latest post (“Lifeboat Earth”). For my part, it makes perfect sense to me to evaluate possibilities and choose the “best”… but the problem is that we do not all agree on the objective function.

        But that’s my point, that it’s *not* simple. In other words– words that I find myself saying repeatedly– the problem is messy. Whether you agree or not, hopefully it keeps us thinking.

      • nomasir says:

        You had me until drug use.

        First, I would like to draw a distinction between legal and moral. The two are not the same (as I think we all agree). I hold that legal should be a subset of moral, or rather that the law should inhibit only immoral activity – and only a subset of immoral activity. That subset: the immoral activities that directly violate the rights of another human.

        As for drug use, I do not hold that it directly violates the rights of another. Thus, while I find it immoral, I do not feel it should be illegal. The victim is the aggressor. Are their societal costs? Sure, but the concept of societal costs here presupposed collectivism – which I dare not unpack in a “short” reply.

        But there are immoral acts which the law (or the organized government of the freely-associated people) ought to repress. Among these are theft, assault, rape, and murder. You will see in this partial list that there is always a victim.

        Now, if you will indulge me, I’d like to be allowed a bit of foolishness.

        Consider the case of rape. We know that rape is illegal and has been for some time (though, interestingly not always in all cultures). We also note some rather interesting conundrums. First, the illegality of rape has not eliminated its practice. Second, rape is dangerous. When a man forcibly assaults a woman, both of them are at risk of suffering physical harm. She may hit, or scratch, or kick him. She may even choose to pick up a stick, or crowbar, or GUN and apply force to defend herself. Sometimes she will succeed, but often not. And what has this additional pain helped? Nothing. So, we must conclude that outlawing rape has not stopped it and that adding a second victim to the crime does no good – therefore we should keep rape safe and legal.

        And what of these men, these perpetrators of crime? Do they want to victimize women? NO! They want to have beautiful girlfriends or wives who fulfill their every sexual desire. Yet, life has dealt them a bad hand. Perhaps they are ugly, or short, or fat, or have no discernible personality to attract a mate. So, they are left with two deplorable choices: either live in forced celibacy or force themselves upon unwilling partners. For the ones who choose the former, we applaud you – your respect and admiration for the freedom and rights of women is praiseworthy. But for the others, we will not cast guilt upon you. We recognize the difficult decision that was thrust upon you and respect that you had to make a deeply personal and emotional choice for yourself.

        (OK, I’m done with the foolishness.) THIS IS MADNESS! Why? Because in rape there is a victim. The rights of the aggressor to avoid harm are not, in any way, shape or form, to be compared to the rights of women not to be violated against their will.

        Abortion, in my world, is not a debate at all about women’s rights. Those rights are inherent and undeniable – and I will gladly fight to defend them. It is a debate about the right to life. If you believe, as I do, that life begins at conception, then abortion is unquestionably murder. The only justifiable use is to save the life (the no-kidding, she will die if we don’t do this, LIFE of the mother). This does happen, but only rarely in ectopic pregnancies. Beyond that, this is not a messy issue at all – not for us.

        So then, either life begins at conception, or some other point, or there is no inherent right to life above the collective. Which is it? If the middle one, then what is the demarcation? If it is not an impulse then what is it’s nature? Is it viability? Define that. Living with absolutely no support? Then life does not start until about 4 or 5 when kids could even plausibly survive all alone in the world. If it is a measure of the degree of support, then it is quite a fuzzy line indeed. Are Indian kids alive later than American kids because their medical system is worse? This is not clean at all. For a natural, physical world that presents so many clean relationships to us that we can write down formula after formula to describe them, it sure does seem that this one is elusive. Or, perhaps it is elusive because the answer is right in front of us – but it is a painful answer that demands a response.

        I gladly accept your first argument of “denial of potential” – well stated, and well extended to other non-life issues. I accept the Sangerian argument as logical but differing in basis (that’s right … “Sangerian”). I also accept a pro-life evolutionist response of “interference with the system is a bad move and ultimately hurts the species” – though again I differ on basis. But an argument of compassion for the aggressor (herself also likely a victim of some manner) or likening to a victimless crime does seem to fit (to my mind) without first defining away the victim.

        (By the way, this is great – this post has gotten more comments than I’ve seen in a long time …)

  3. beverlylynn says:

    Thank you both for your responses. And Eric, I wanted to hear you defend your position (Although I am fairly certain that I have heard it before) because you stated that it was secondary to the mind body problem, where as I think that those two problems are intricately related and inseparable.

    Brad – I know this is off topic but two thoughts about your rape arguement. Rape is rarely about sex and almost always about violence and control (and it happens to men too, just often unreported and unfortunately, less prosecuted). Although this does not negate your point in the least, one could argue that rape is violence and therefore the perpetrator does indeed intend to victimize the woman. Second, as we have seen with the Gore case recently, apparently to many, some issues are more important than a woman’s rights, safety and life since the victim was allegedly instructed not to accuse Gore to save the planet. Admittedly, this sounds a bit trumped up, but unfortunately, I could believe it.

  4. Eric says:

    It is likely that I made a mistake in choosing to comment on either the original post or subsequent replies, despite my repeated emphasis on my focused interest in the science of consciousness as opposed to the morality of abortion. I am not sure I made it clear that I have no interest in or expectation of changing anyone’s mind about whether abortion should or should not be legal.

    And yet here I am again. There are topics which are difficult to discuss coolly. For many, abortion is one of these. For me, rape is another. I should repeat my own initial acknowledgment that the comparison with drug use was coarse and oversimplified (my words). However, I feel that the extension to rape was even more so. I disagree with the claim that drug use is a victimless crime, never directly violating the rights of someone other than the user. From the baby born with birth defects from drug use during pregnancy, to even a kid with serious health problems caused by his mom or dad’s smoking, are pretty straightforward examples to me. How are these childrens’ rights, their potential, not directly violated in those cases?

    Ok… whew. My original intent was to comment on what happens when we try to characterize precisely when human life begins, or even just when it is legally considered to begin. I wanted to take typical arguments and logically extend them to always interesting and sometimes uncomfortable conclusions. In this case, I questioned the choice of “conception” as that characterization. I think the impression may have been that in doing so I was attempting to argue that the correct “specific time” must be after conception. I didn’t mean to do that; why not well before conception? Indeed, from the standpoint of either viability/supportability/denial of potential/whatever, if the criteria should be “that time after which if we kept our hands off we would have a grown human,” then it is not clear to my why conception is a more “special” time than, say, the long arduous swim toward the egg.

    • nomasir says:

      “before conception” – interesting indeed. Reminds me of Jeremiah 1:5 (the Lord speaking): “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

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