Monday, June 26, 2006

Cheap talk...

Talk is cheap. Everyone knows that, and everyone believes that, but the implications of it elude most people. Which isn't surprising; saying that "talk is cheap" is talk, and therefore, cheap.

There are times when you can look at someone's words and say "that's cheap talk". For example, President Bush has asserted that the costs of the war in Iraq are "worth it".

If you support the war, you should still agree that it's cheap. Because, what does it say? It says that the war in Iraq is worthwhile, for some reason or another. Moreover, let's face facts. Few people, if any, would have supported the war if he said, in 2003, "we are going to invade Iraq, and spend hundreds of billions of dollars, lose the lives of thousands of our soldiers, see tens of thousands of them injured, may with lost limbs, we're going to anger many of our allies, and three years later, we're still not going to have any guarantee that anything will work out well. In fact, we'll still have a real, honest-to-goodness fear of civil war."

Even if you think Iraq is "worth it", merely saying that the war is "worth it" is cheap. We already have high costs; we don't have any benefits that are certain (though we have hopes, and reasons not to despair). We have some rock solid facts to point to, and we can recognize that if anyone wants to make the claim that it's "worth it", they need to do more than just say that it's worth it. They need to point to something that clearly offsets the huge costs.

But what about situations where there is a lot less certainty? There's one that's been on my mind in recent days, and it's an opinion that's upset me for a long time. That's the opinion that many people express when they say that "abortion is murder". Is that cheap, or not cheap?

You see, it's a really subtle question. There's no real way to decide with certainty when an abortion is right, wrong, or neutral. While we have very good guesses as to what makes something right or wrong, we don't (and can't) know the answers with certainty.

Ah, but I cheated. I didn't ask if it was cheap to say "abortion is wrong". I asked if it was cheap to say "abortion is murder", and I did that intentionally.

Saying the war in Iraq is worth it is cheap because it's completely unsupported; you need to dig a lot deeper to be able to say that and have it be taken as being meaningful. However, saying that abortion is murder is cheap because, among the people who say it, damn few believe it.

Oh, they say it, and they can fake sincerity quite well after saying it a lot, and they insist they believe it. But do their actions bear them out?

Doing a quick google, I found estimates of over 750,000 abortions performed yearly. Every estimate I found showed more than that, but let's take that. Three quarters of a million murders in the US, done under the protection of the government.

Do these people act as if 750,000 US citizens are being murdered each year? Remember that the murder of three thousand caused a great many people to be willing to go to war against a completely uninvolved nation (Iraq). This is two hundred fifty times as many, each and every year.

Do they fight back, claiming that they are fighting against a greater wrong? No, in fact, they've pretty much condemned that approach - in public, at least - because it made them look bad. How many people fighting against murderers give up because it makes them look bad?

Are they willing to overwhelm the prison system, through civil disobedience? Well, no... silly thing, they're not really all that big into going to jail, and they don't think enough people believe as they do to make a difference if they did engage in civil disobedience.

When they try to get abortion outlawed, what do they do? Well, in South Dakota, they made it a crime for a doctor to perform an abortion, not for a woman to receive one. If you believe abortion is murder, you can't go saying that only the hired assassin deserves to be punished; you go after the person who hires the assassin as well, especially when that person's identity is obvious.

When it comes to those who claim that "life begins at conception", a claim that abortion is murder is even cheaper. If you were around in the 70s, you might remember having read essays where people talked about holding an inquest over a menstrual pad. You might have thought those people had lost it; I know I did. I later realized that there was a point to this. We don't hold an inquest when a woman has her period, because we don't consider it to be the death of a human being... even if she was expelling a fertlized egg that hadn't implanted, or one that had implanted, but didn't continue. We don't think of fertilized eggs as full human berings.

But you don't even have to go that far. If a woman has a miscarriage at twelve weeks, you might be pretty darn insensitive if you said "well, you can try again, right?" In some cases, it might be okay to say that, but I wouldn't risk it myself. Nevertheless, it would only be insensitive. You'd be a complete asshole if you said "well, you can always have another" to a parent who lost a child to SIDS.

Whether abortion is right or wrong is a question that can be debated... but a blanket claim that abortion is murder is not only wrong, it's cheap. The speaker probably doesn't believe it, and neither should you. Use it for fertilizer; that's a fine use for bovine manure, but for gods sake, don't swallow it.

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