Monday, August 20, 2012

Todd Akin and why I don't like political discourse

Most of us are fairly reasonable in our every day lives when it comes to every day things.  But when it comes to politics, reason is out the window.  And this is especially true during election season.  Greg Koukl calls it "the silly season," and for good reason.

I don't like to talk about politics with friends (or even with strangers) because there is so much emotion and so little careful thought.  Fair-mindedness is completely out the window.  The object, it seems, is to demonize your opponent as much as possible with the use of dysphemisms, slander, ad hominem, poisoning the well, insinuation, exaggeration, misrepresentation, and every fallacy in your arsenal.  If your opponent says something that could in the least way be taken in more than one way, it is expected that you take the least charitable interpretation and run with it.

That is what is going on with Todd Akin, the republican congressman from Missouri.  Everybody is shocked and offended by what he said about rape, pregnancy, and abortion.  But there is a slew of misinformation out there about it.  For example, one of the earlier articles on CNN claims that Akin said legitimate rape rarely results in pregnancy.  The CNN article substantiated their headline with quotes.  But then later on, you have this article on Yahoo News claiming that Akin said that legitimate rape cannot make you pregnant.  And if you hang out much on the internet, you'll see people running with this false information.  It has gone viral.  I attempted to correct somebody earlier today, and his response was, "Sorry, no. He says it's impossible - hence a reason abortion is not needed in rape cases. The article is very clear."  Once ignorance takes hold, it is stubborn.

Many people are also offended by his use of the phrase, "legitimate rape."  Apparently, they are interpreting him as if to say there is such a thing as "illegitimate rape," or that there are different kinds of rape.  A more charitable interpretation is that "legitimate rape" is meant to be contrasted with a situation where somebody claims to have been raped when they in fact were not raped.  And there is nothing to be offended by in this case because women do sometimes falsely accuse men of rape.  I know somebody personally who has done that, and who admitted it.  So "legitimate rape" is nothing to be offended by, yet people are going nuts about it.

Regardless of whether Akin said pregnancy is impossible or just rare in cases of legitimate rape, I see no reason for anybody to be offended.  Akin either had his facts wrong or he did not have his facts wrong, but what on earth is there to be offended by?  Where is the insult?  Akin claims that he got this information from some doctors.  Perhaps he considered the doctors to be authorities on the subject.  Perhaps he got the mistaken impression that studies had been done on it.  It is not a crime to have your facts wrong, and if you're getting medical information from doctors, you can hardly be considered a meanie for believing them.  Say Akin was factually wrong if you want, but it's silly to be all up in arms as if he's said something offensive. (BTW here is an article that explains where the idea came from.)

Even Mitt Romney has jumped on the band wagon, acting as if he's appalled and offended by what Akin said.  I really think Romney is just playing the game.  Of course he's got to distance himself from Akin since Akin is public enemy number one right now.  Romney is a politician, and he's doing what politicians do.  You cannot take these people seriously.

Akin himself is playing the game!  He issued an apology, saying that he "misspoke." But if you read the apology, he is not at all clear about what he is apologizing for.  Does he regret his use of the term "legitimate rape"?  Or does he regret his claim that rape victims rarely get pregnant?  He doesn't say. If he "misspoke," then what did he mean to say?  Or what should he have said?  He's simply acting on political expediency.  He's doing damage control.  He may not even know himself why everybody is upset.

Honestly, I suspect people are not as offended as they let on.  What's going on here is typical political silliness.  A republican said something that could be construed in a most heinous way.  Liberals are jumping at the opportunity to demonize a republican, so they're making the most out of it that they can, to the point of distorting the facts.  They're pretending to be so offended that they can hardly stand themselves. And conservatives are playing along.  They're acting like they're just as offended so they can distance themselves from the public enemy and not go down with the ship.  It's all a game, and I absolutely hate the game.

A lot of people are offended that Akin is pro-life even in the case of rape.  Now this I can understand.  It does seem heartless to deny an abortion to somebody who has been raped.  It seems calloused to force a rape victim to carry the offspring of her rapist.  I'm surprised so much of the outrage is directed at Akin's use of the phrase "legitimate rape," and the claim that rape victims rarely get pregnant (or falsely that they can't get pregnant) rather than being directed at his position on abortion for rape victims. (And by the way, for those who are under the false impression that Akin thinks rape victims can't get pregnant, what on earth do you make of his opposition to abortion for such people? Don't you have to get pregnant before you can get an abortion?)

But this opposition to abortion, even in the case of rape, follows from the primary argument for the pro-life position:

1.  It is wrong to take the life of an innocent human being.
2.  Abortion takes the life of an innocent human being.
3.  Therefore, it's wrong to have an abortion.

The unborn are no less human just because of how they were conceived or who their parents are, so if you are against abortion because it takes the life of an innocent human being, then you should be against abortion in the case of rape, too.  Granted, rape is traumatic, and granted being forced to carry the offspring of your rapist adds insult to injury.  But in what world is it morally justified to take the life of an innocent human being in order to spare another human being emotional trauma?  Think about it.  That is the primary justification that is being offered for why rape victims should be permitted to have abortions--because it spares them severe emotional trauma.  If the unborn really are human beings just like the rest of us, then emotional trauma is not an adequate justification for having an abortion.  The only reason people are offended by the suggestion that abortion should be banned even in the case of rape is because they have not fully appreciated what the pro-life position is or why people are pro-life.  Even a lot of pro-life people don't seem to fully grasp it (which puzzles me).  I suspect they don't really think the unborn are just as much members of the human family as the rest of us.

Try a thought experiment.  Suppose a woman who got pregnant because of rape decided that, by golly, she was going to keep the child.  But when the child was born and turned out to look just like her rapist, she couldn't handle it anymore.  She tried for a few days, and finally, she drowned her baby in the bathtub.  Would you excuse her on the basis that she was only trying to spare herself the emotional trauma of seeing the offspring of her rapist? She just killed her own baby!  That shouldn't be allowed.  Babies don't deserve to die even if their fathers are rapists and even if their existence causes their mothers emotional trauma.

Thankfully, there's at least the option of adoption once a baby is born.  But a person might say that once the woman has chosen not to have an abortion, it is wrong for her to go back on that after the baby is born.  It's wrong for her to kill her baby because she has already agreed not to.  Somebody did once say this to me when I brought up the above thought experiment.

In answer, let's try another thought experiment.  Let's suppose a pregnant women who was raped decides to keep her baby.  But then after a few months, when she starts to 'show,' she decides it's too much for her. The pain is too deep, and the turmoil is overwhelming.  Does she then have the right to change her mind and abort the pregnancy?  Well, if we take the above reasoning to its logical conclusion, you'd have to say 'no.'  Having chosen to keep the baby, she can't then turn around and have it killed.  But I suspect the person who gave me that answer would say 'yes.'  As long as it hasn't been born yet, she should be allowed to have an abortion.  But that falsifies the above reasoning.  It isn't really because of the choice she made that she shouldn't be allowed to kill her baby once it's born.  Rather, it's because once it's born, it's a full member of the human family, and emotional trauma is just not an adequate justification for taking the life of a full member of the human family, especially an innocent one.  That takes us back to what I originally said.  If the unborn are just as much members of the human family as the rest of us, then emotional trauma is not an adequate justification for taking their lives either.

So go ahead and be offended by Todd Akin's opposition to abortion even in the case of rape.  But instead of droning on and on with gasps of shock, wallowing in your emotional frenzy, deal with the arguments.  Think a little.  Offer a rational refutation.

And I know this is too much to ask and that nobody will listen to me, but be fair-minded.  Consider what your opponents are saying.  Listen to them.  Don't misrepresent them.  If they truly are being offensive, you don't have to make stuff up to prove it.