Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Life at Conception Act

Senator Rand Paul has introduced the Life at Conception Act (henceforth LCA) in what I take to be a sincere attempt to end the practice of abortion in the US. I have not read the act, but I’m reasonably sure the title captures the essence: human life begins at conception, therefore to term abortion “the elimination of a product of conception” is simply an attempt to deny that a human is being murdered by using obfuscatory language to deny the personhood of the victim.

This is all well and good so far. Contrary to the willful ignorance of some, libertarians in both small-government and anarchist camps do care about life and want to see murderers brought to justice. This goes (or should go) double for Christians, who want to please God in all aspects of life and who know that God has special concern for the defenseless.

The act is not without its problems, however. The one I want to concentrate on is the lack of the definition of conception. “The Medical Definition of conceptionat says that it is “the process of becoming pregnant involving fertilization or implantation or both.” Read it again. Do you see the illogic? How can one “become pregnant” in any meaningful sense without both fertilization and implantation (the latter requiring fertilization)? If one cannot be pregnant without implantation, then fertilization by itself does not conception make. If one can become pregnant without implantation, why is it mentioned as an alternative? Is implantation required or not? I don’t see that the question is answered.

The good folks at define conception as fertilization alone, and that’s fine, but they are not the household name that Merriam-Webster is.

My point is that the experts don’t seem to agree on what conception is. I assume the LCA defines conception as fertilization.

By doing so it will arouse opposition from those who would include implantation in the definition of conception. It will also arouse opposition from those who in the light of Lev 17:11 (“The life of a creature is in the blood; cf. 17:12-13) and Deut 12:23 (“Be sure you do not eat the blood, because the blood is the life, and you must not eat the life with the meat”) believe that only those beings with blood are alive.

Because the Bible does not define conception scientifically, I think we need to be very careful about taking scientific definitions as God given. The Bible was written to people who knew they were pregnant only when implantation had long since occurred. The product of conception had blood and therefore was a human being with all the rights and privileges thereof by any possible biblical definition, and killing that human being would be at best a self-defense measure and otherwise murder.

But let’s go with conception as fertilization. What can we look forward to as the LCA is enforced? I will assume here – though I don’t for a moment believe it – that there will be no problem enforcing the law against abortions performed on beings with blood. I want to concentrate on the vast majority of killings of products of conception: those accomplished using IUDs, in which term I include drugs and any other technology that prevents fertilized eggs from implanting.

I want to address specifically how this law will impact privacy. We agree that murderers have no right to privacy. The question before us is now much privacy nonperpetrators have, and I address the following to those who support the LCA and the definition of conception as fertilization.

If the LCA defines life as beginning at fertilization, that makes IUDs implements of murder, right? At least with a firearm you can say it’s to shoot burglars. I don’t see any use for an IUD besides keeping fertilized eggs from implanting.

How do you make sure women don’t have IUDs? After all, if you outlaw IUDs in the US, those who want them can go to China or Canada (or to an underground IUD dealer) and get one. Bootleg web sites will give downloadable instructions on how to 3D print them. People smarter than I am will come up with even more, shall we say, effective ideas.

Do you force all women to undergo random X-rays? Do you monitor their menstrual cycles and force them to take pregnancy tests if their period comes X days late? In short, does the US become a giant airport where women have to go through the equivalent of a TSA frisk every month to prove that they are not murderers?

With a regular murder you have a corpse to show that a death has occurred and some procedure to determine if the death was caused by foul play. I’m sure it is possible to determine if a woman has prevented the implantation of a fertilized egg, but do you want all women of childbearing age in the US to go through that procedure, and if so, how often? Otherwise, how do you know the murder has occurred?

These are not nitpicky questions. If you’re serious about enforcing that law, you’d better prepare for a fight from those who disagree with your definition of when life begins. If you’re going to make X a crime, you need to decide how you’re going to enforce the law. How much in the way of money and intangibles are you willing to spend? What cost does God want you to impose on those who disagree with you but are not themselves guilty of murder by IUD?

The Mafia and the police state are unintended (at least by sincere prohibitionists) consequences of alcohol prohibition and marijuana prohibition, respectively. What unintended consequences might we expect from a war on IUDs?

It used to be that missionaries went to places like New Guinea knowing that the people there were murderers by any definition. (Don Richardson’s Peace Child and Lords of the Earth are two well-known biographies of such missionaries.) They didn’t go with guns to arrest, try, and execute murderers. They went with the gospel to try to persuade them to settle their disputes peacefully. Some of those missionaries ended up being murdered.

I would suggest that the US is closer to heathen New Guinea than to the kind of Christian commonwealth that would support the LCA. We need to approach our neighbors as sojourners, ambassadors of a foreign king, not as expecting the culture as a whole to regard us as “the powers that be … ordained as God.” We begin by taking disputable activities off the table and concentrate on the general truth that all are rebels against God. After all, if we can’t get unbelievers to accept that general idea, they will never see their need for Jesus to clean up those specific areas of their lives.

The issue of abortion, and IUDs in particular, is secondary. The pro-abortion viewpoint will be well represented in hell, as will the sexually immoral in general, but so many people who consider IUDs murder and were virgins before their one marriage to a member of the opposite sex. Yes, we want to see people agree with God about IUDs, abortion in general, and sexuality in general, but who Jesus is and what he has done and our need for a savior because of our rebellion against God in every aspect of life is even more important.

Our hope – our sure hope – is that those who come to Christ will turn away from sexual immorality, but if someone is convinced that his sex life is moral no matter what the Bible says, I would suggest that a would-be evangelist agree to disagree on that point for a while and look for places in his target’s life that they agree he falls short of God’s standards in. Once he agrees in principle, we can trust God to work on him with the specifics. I’m living proof that what seems like a good idea one day can be not only regretted but considered repugnant in time.

Maybe there’s a place for appealing to the government to enforce laws on the books, like Paul did when he challenged the Roman guards who were about to scourge him (Acts 22:5; but compare that with Acts 14:19). But I think we need to think twice before we try to get laws that most people disagree with passed, especially when the root of the problem is out of reach of the law, as the human heart is.

At least for now, I think the watchword is “’Vengeance is mine,’ says the Lord, ‘I will repay.’” I can’t stop abortion in China and other countries where it is even more prevalent than it is in the US. If abortion were outlawed in Pennsylvania today, I wouldn’t be able to stop it in California. I can’t stop Sunnis and Shiites from killing each other in the Middle East, nor Pakistanis and Indians from killing each other in Kashmir. I would love the opportunity to talk to the perpetrators in every case and try to persuade them to desist, but until God opens that door, I have to leave dealing with those people to him.

If he were to open the door, I would expect to go through it unarmed, not to punish but with the assignment of appealing to them to be reconciled to God. No act of Congress is going to open that door, and if the door is open, no act of Congress is needed.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Starving Baby Problem

The school of anarchism to which I subscribe takes the Non-Aggression Principle to its logical extreme: it is never, ever, morally justified to violate people or their property. Period. Not even if “a small violation prevents something worse from happening.”

This is called brutalism by some who see reasons to violate the NAP for “humanitarian” reasons:

There is a segment of the population of self-described libertarians—described here as brutalists—who find all the above rather boring, broad, and excessively humanitarian. To them, what’s impressive about liberty is that it allows people to assert their individual preferences, to form homogeneous tribes, to work out their biases in action, to ostracize people based on “politically incorrect” standards, to hate to their heart’s content so long as no violence is used as a means, to shout down people based on their demographics or political opinions, to be openly racist and sexist, to exclude and isolate and be generally malcontented with modernity, and to reject civil standards of values and etiquette in favor of antisocial norms.

Let me only point out that ascribing nasty motivations to those with whom one disagrees is “neither right nor safe” (as I have discovered from sad experience). Take any five articles I’ve written, or those written by Murray Rothbard or Lew Rockwell or Tom Woods or Hans-Hermann Hoppe. While we do love liberty because “it allows people to assert their individual preferences,” do we celebrate open racism or sexism (or “homophobia”)? Or are we more likely to say, “I hang with whom I wish to hang with, and I’ll give you the same privilege”?

Just as you can use a hammer to build a house or bash a baby’s head, so the same liberty that allows people to profit from their good decisions also allows people – all of whom are rebels against God, don’t forget – to take bad decisions farther down the road than a “humanitarian” interventionist society might permit. My point in what follows is that liberty or anarchism or brutalism or whatever you want to call it is the best way to deal with the human tendency toward evil.

The reductio ad absurdum that is supposed to send us brutalists packing goes something like this: “What if some parent puts his baby in a display window with a sign that says, ‘Watch this baby starve to death.’ Would you not be justified in breaking the window, ‘kidnapping’ the baby, and thereby saving its life? I sure as hell would do it, and if you would sit by and let the baby die, you’re beneath contempt.” Take that, damned brutalist!

Just so you know, dear reader, I would consider “the liberty to starve your baby to death” a downside of liberty and would want to see the baby live.

I would be tempted to respond that someone once said something to the effect that making general laws to deal with exceptional cases is a good way to end up with bad laws. I don’t know of any cases of people torturing babies to death, but whaddya know, we’re standing in front of that very window with that very sign, and that very baby. big as life, hasn’t been fed for hours, and it’s crying its head off. What do we do now?

You say, “You either break the window and grab the baby, or you call the cops and have them do it. End of problem.”

Since we’re dealing with a first-of-its-kind situation – and, don’t forget, really a hypothetical one – I don’t feel badly about pointing to instances, however rare, that have actually happened, where the cops wouldn’t intervene. Can you imagine the reaction of Hitler’s storm troopers if the baby and father were Jewish? I would expect them to “put it out of its misery,” which would indeed end its suffering and get it to stop crying, but I don’t think a bayonet through the torso is quite what you had in mind.

“Be reasonable,” you say. “That was one out of countless states.” Well, I am being reasonable: you have to have control of what those interventions will look like before you can say that they will accomplish the greater good that supposedly justifies them. That is, you need political power. Mao wasn’t far from right when he said that power flows from the barrel of a gun. Those used to feeling like they look down the barrel are going to be a lot quicker to rely on political power than those who feel like they’re more likely to be looking up it.

As for states that kill their own citizens, Hitler was not alone. Uncle Sam’s ally Josef Stalin literally starved many times as many Kulaks as Hitler gassed Jews, a strategy used earlier by the Ottoman Turks on the Armenians. Can you imagine the Kulaks or Armenians appealing to the powers that be, ordained of God, to rescue a Kulak or Armenian baby being starved by its parents?

“But this is the United States. We don’t do things like that.”

Oh, no? Tell that to the hundreds of thousands who have lost their children during my lifetime to napalm, Agent Orange, “shock and awe,” “collateral damage,” white phosphorus, and depleted uranium, all for “humanitarian” reasons – “We’ve been attacked!!” Tell that to the women who feel, shall we say, buyer’s remorse after taking advantage of tax-subsidized abortions (not to mention those of us who ask, in vain, only that we not be taxed to pay for those abortions). One thing liberals and conservatives agree on is their right to kill babies; if they disagree, it’s over which babies they get to kill.

If “Yes, he’s a racist; leave him alone” or “I am not going to break that window” is brutal, what is Uncle Sam?

I would say that there has to be a better way to solve the problem than to employ the political power that George Washington called “an untrustworthy servant and a fearsome master.”

I would add that the interventionist solution inaugurates an end-justifies-the-means ethical system. It works fine as far as snatching this one baby out of the jaws of death is concerned, but we have to plan for the day that that ethical system, the cute little velociraptor that we’ve just hatched, grows into a quarter ton of muscle and voracious appetite that can run as fast as a car.

Said baby, if he grows up, will no doubt tell the world that he is only alive because someone violated the NAP, and he will be telling the truth. He will also be telling the truth when he says that he owes his life to an end-justifies-the-means action. Convinced of his own innate goodness and self-worth, if he grows up rational, what will stop him from applying end-justifies-the-means solutions to an increasingly wide range of problems? (How’s this for starters?) Might those whose persons and property he violates in his quest for self-fulfillment, whether individual or collective, be forgiven for wishing he had been left in the window?

“Look. The baby’s screaming. Stop worrying about the future. Let’s help the baby!

OK, fine. The same liberty that supposedly allows a man to starve his baby to death in public also allows the community to respond as it chooses. No man is an island, and no decent community wants a member who would starve his baby in public. So we shun him.

Who knows this father? Does he buy food? Can we get whoever sells it to him to refuse to do business with him? Can we take away from him the right to travel on the roads? Can we get the power and gas and oil shut off from his house? Can we get the medical community to tell him that if the baby dies, he himself will never receive treatment?

“None of those ‘solutions’ will get that baby to stop crying anytime soon. I want to fix the problem now!”

As those who provide services at a great discount are wont to say, “Lack of planning on your part does not make an emergency on my part.” The mechanisms I’ve just described need to be in place before the idiot tries to starve his baby in the window. He needs to be asking himself before taking any given course of action, whether it’s starving his baby or painting his house a garish color or trying a new psychedelic substance or calling people bad names or any form of “reject[ing] civil standards of values and etiquette in favor of antisocial norms” how he is going to be part of the community afterwards.

Is an extended argument that the “humanitarian” state tends to isolate people rather than build community needed? Absent the top-down state, people will find it in their best interests to build communities from the bottom up. You want to save the starving baby? Make sure the father never puts him there to begin with.

The ultimate preventive medicine, of course, is the gospel of Jesus. Anyone who would starve his baby in a window is not only an obvious rebel against God but also one who is acting out because he is somehow suffering from that rebellion. More than anything he needs the offer of life through Jesus. If he refuses the offer, it’s his business: the same Jesus who said “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” also said, “Let the dead bury their own dead.” It may literally be the case that this dead man buries his dead baby. But we’ve made that a very expensive decision.

Still not convinced, my Christian brother? How’s this, then? Many parents consider it their sacred duty to raise their children to be devout Mormons, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, Scientologists – you name it. According to our theology, they are telling us, “Watch this baby die.” Do you really think Jesus wants us to break the window and take those babies by force and indoctrinate them in what we consider the truth?

Friday, January 8, 2016

Black Lives Matter: The Pus of an Injured Society

When you get a sliver in your finger and don’t remove it for a while, what happens? You get a collection of pus around the sliver as your body isolates the bacteria and other toxins and tries to force the sliver out or make it easy for you to remove it. As ugly as the word is and as gross as the substance can be, pus is itself not bad; rather, it is simply the body’s natural reaction to invasion. When all is going well, it should not – it will not – be there. When it is there, it is a symptom of things not being as they should be.

The Black Lives Matter movement similarly is social pus. It is ugly and gross, and it shouldn’t exist. But it is a natural (in the theological sense of perverse) – and more importantly a rational – reaction to our society being out of order.

The disorder – the sliver – is, of course, the state, specifically tax-funded policing. Most evangelicals, forgetting that police as we know them are an early nineteenth-century phenomenon, will consider them a necessary fulfillment of Romans 13. Well, we’ve had two hundred years to get that system to work, and if asset forfeiture policing for profit, speed traps, a recidivism rate well over fifty percent, and trigger-happy cops who consider Mundanes lethal enemies until we’re cuffed and caged aren’t good evidence that the experiment has failed, I don’t know what would be.

Black Lives Matter is a reaction to the Catch-22 of the self-interest of officers, for whom “officer safety” is the highest priority. Poor black neighborhoods are consistently more dangerous for officers than richer white neighborhoods. Rational officers who want to go home at night, black and white, therefore prefer to patrol the white neighborhoods. While some white Mundanes might resent being policed by black officers, that resentment is nothing compared to black Mundanes’ resentment at being policed by white officers.

But because officer safety trumps “customer satisfaction” and sending black officers into black neighborhoods amounts to putting them as a class at greater risk – that is, de facto discrimination – white officers have to take their turns in black neighborhoods. And they do so feeling they need to take extra precautions – carry an extra-big stick – if they are to come home alive.

Statist religion teaches that those who work for the state are somehow morally superior to the rest of us, so when in real or perceived danger from a Mundane an officer decides to shoot first and ask questions later, the initial public reaction is to consider the shooting justified. Since police investigations are always done “in house” and the courts work hand in hand, if not hand in glove, with the police, the official inquest will almost always find the shooting justified.

If a black officer were to shoot a white Mundane, the official ruling will probably be just as predictable, but such shootings are much rarer because, shall we say, extralegal consequences are much more likely occur. Where it gets tricky is when a white officer shoots a black Mundane – there the “police are always right” mentality runs into the “whites are always at fault when dealing with blacks” mentality. That the inquests in such cases tend to favor the officers shows that the interests of the state trump even the prevailing claim of ubiquitous white racism, the exceptions being when the credibility of the state is threatened.

Do the facts matter? Of course, but the facts have to be weighed. That Officer Jones felt threatened by Mr. Smith is as much a fact as the fact that Mr. Smith was unarmed and walking in the other direction and the fact that anyone can make a mistake and the fact that officers are killed by miscreants and the fact that judges and police have to cooperate with each other. How can anyone say how those facts are to be weighed?

So, to review, white officers in black neighborhoods means heightened resentment by the Mundanes and heightened tension for the officers. Black officers in black neighborhoods means resentment by those officers against workplace discrimination. Checkmate.

How to get rid of the chaos? The answer, of course, is anarchy: defund the police and lower taxes accordingly.

Would worse chaos ensue? Well, you tell me: How many people whose names and domiciles you know would use the absence of tax-funded police to turn criminal? Red and yellow, black and white, all would like to sleep at night, right? There will be some criminals, of course, but we have those now, so that’s no argument. Someone has to fight them, but how those who fight criminals are paid is crucial.

Rich people are moving into guarded, gated communities. We don’t have to worry about their welfare. What about the rest of us? Let’s take the hardest case: the poor.

Those who do the most damage to the poor are not street criminals and home invaders. They are the power elite who steal what little the poor can save by devaluing the currency, who bar the way to gainful employment by making entrepreneurs jump through loopholes that are no problem for the rich but prohibitive to the poor, and who use “not in my back yard” zoning regulations to keep the poor out of sight and off land that they could otherwise live better on.

But street crime also happens in poor neighborhoods. What of that?

There are dozens of private security agencies in the market. Absent a tax-funded police force, there would be more. And you can bet that agents of ABC Security are not going to shoot one of their own customers first and ask questions later. They will also be a bit slower to shoot someone whose protectors are the Mafia. Similarly, the Mafia – and keep in mind, please, that the system we have has not even come close to reining the Mafia in – might tend to be a bit cautious about going after a customer of ABC if ABC has working arrangements with Walmart, State Farm, and Glock.

Perfection? No. Improvement? Certainly.

Black lives matter. The lives of those who deal with miscreants matter. Mundanes’ lives matter.

The system is broken. The present incentives are perverse. Every state-based solution there is has been tried somewhere – and failed, if not to keep social order then to result in growing respect for Jesus. On the other hand, voluntary service and exchange works, however imperfectly, wherever it takes place. The kingdom of heaven will be one of voluntary service, not of coercion. Let’s learn to live that way so we can get rid of the sliver, put a warm compress on the wound, and wipe the pus away.