All posts by meanderer007

Dignity and Life: Pro-Life and Pro-Choice

 

Abortion rights of women versus the right to life of the foetus have been the focus of numerous cases before American and Canadian courts for decades. Frankly, in neither jurisdiction has the matter been satisfactorily settled. I think the reason is that no court has properly delineated those rights and how they must be resolved. I am going to try to tease out a better foundation for the law.

First, I have always believed that the right to privacy is an odd basis for the US Supreme court to strike down legal prohibitions against abortion as it did in the landmark case of Roe v. Wade. I always thought that was a weak position and could later be challenged by subsequent courts as in fact now recently happened in the Dobbs case.

In my view no one should be surprised. Privacy was always a weak foundation for such an important right and everyone should have been wary of it. As a result decades of women and their allies did not bother trying to persuade states to open up abortion rights because they felt they did not need the states on their side because they had the Supreme Court on their side. Now we know what a weak position that was. Frankly, the same thing has happened in Canada. There is no proper foundation to the right to an abortion. There is no constitutional protection for that right in Canada, just as there no longer is the United States.

Charles Fried, is a lawyer who formerly represented the United States under President Ronald Reagan. He has impeccable conservative credentials but now argues that Roe v. Wade is based not just on privacy, because an abortion is a medical procedure in a hospital involving many people. He now thinks the right to an abortion is based or grew out of, a decision of Justice John Marshall Harlan II in dissent in the 1961 of Poe v. Ullman, a case in which the court left standing a Connecticut law forbidding the use of contraceptives but Justice Harlan’s dissent provided what Fried then considered, and still considers to be the more solid “foundation of the law of privacy and personal dignity”. It is a combination of the two rights. It is a fundamental aspect of the dignity of women that they control their own reproductive processes. To him (and to me) that seems like a stronger foundation because it accords more with what people actually believe. They believe, that whether or not a woman may have an abortion should be determined by her alone. But how do I get to this position?

 When I was a young lad in university, I wrote an essay on the subject of abortion rights. I thought my argument was pretty sound at the time. I still think the basic idea was sound; I just think I could have expressed it with greater elegance. I will try my best to that now.

I had not at the time read a very valuable chapter of a book by Bertrand Russell. It was not written on the subject of abortion at all, but I think that is views can shed a powerful light on the dimly subject of abortion rights. I referred to his position in an earlier post and referred to it as “the Russell Principle” and the “Uncertainty principle.”

 

Russell talked about uncertainty in that essay and made some very important points that I think bear on this issue. My reasoning (which I still believe is solid) was based on what I believed was the fundamental principle of criminal law, namely, that we must only convict if it can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt (not absolutely) that the accused is guilty. Why is that the case. I would say the rationale for this is the more fundamental idea that we should not inflict a certain evil on people for the purpose of a good that is doubtful. The same applies to the act of prosecution itself. An action such a destroying a foetus should only be prosecuted if it can be established beyond a reasonable doubt, that the harm inflicted on the mother or physician is less than the harm avoided. Personally, I cannot be certain enough to justify prosecuting the mother or the physician.

 

The state has no right to impose its view on her and prevent her from getting this procedure. The state should not be able to impose on her the obligation to carry the child, at least up to viability. The state has the right to prohibit murder because it is certain that his is a harm which justifies the interference with personal freedom. There is no such certainty in the case of abortion as I argued in an earlier post.

I think it is imperative for those of us who enter the fray of the abortion debates to recognize and never forget that there is more one than side to that debate. We must recognize and even empathize with those who take a contrary view. In the fight over women’s reproductive rights versus the right of the foetus to life it is not a case where all sweetness and light is on one side. Of course, those who enter this debate usually strongly disagree. Their side is pure good; the other side is pure evil.

The late writer David Foster Wallace hit the issues squarely when he said, much more eloquently than I did in 1969 in my university essay. Wallace said in effect that the only coherent position was to hold both positionsi.e. pro life and pro choice. That has been my position for all these years, but naturally, I did not express it as well as Wallace did when he said,

 

“In this reviewer’s opinion, the only really coherent position on the abortion issue is one that is both Pro-Life and Pro-Choice…

Argument: As of 4 March 1999, the question of defining life in utero is hopelessly vexed.  That is, given our best present medical and philosophical understandings of what makes something not just a living organism but a person, there is no way to establish at just what point during gestation a fertilized ovum becomes a human being.  This conundrum, together with the basically inarguable soundness of the principle ‘when in irresolvable doubt about whether something is a human being or not, it is better not to kill it’, appears to me to require any reasonable American to be pro-life. At the same time, however, the principle ‘when in irresolvable doubt about something I have neither the legal nor the moral right to tell another person what to do about it…is an unassailable part of the democratic pact we Americans make with one another…and this principle appears to me to require any reasonable American to be pro-choice.

This reviewer is thus, as a private citizen and an autonomous agent, both Pro-Life and Pro-Choice.  It is not an easy or comfortable position to maintain.  Every time someone I know decides to terminate a pregnancy, I am required to believe simultaneously that she is doing the wrong thing and that she has every right to do it.  Plus, of course, I have both to believe that a Pro-Life + Pro-Choice stance is the only really coherent one and to restrain myself from trying to force that position on other people whose ideological or religious convictions seems (to me) to override reason and yield a (in my opinion) wacko dogmatic position.  This restraint has to be maintained even when somebody’s (to me) wacko dogmatic positions appears (to me) to reject the very Democratic tolerance that is keeping me from trying to force my position on him/her; it requires me not to press or argue or retaliate even when somebody calls me Satan’s Minion or Just Another Shithead Male, which forbearance represents the really outer and tooth-grinding limits of my own personal Democratic Spirit. “

 

Of course, this is precisely not how we currently think about things. As Katie Roiphe said, in an interview on Amanpour & Company,

“We tend to believe that people who disagree with us are lunatics, or they’e  evil, or they are kind of the scum of the earth…The idea that you might take the best argument of the other side and to just think about it. I am adamantly pro-choice myself but I think it is kind of important not to engage in the mob tribalism that has brought us to the situation where we have the Supreme Court that we have, where we had Trump elected and I think that that habit on the right and on the left is very toxic and very dangerous and the David Foster Wallace quote kind of opened the door for me when I read it because I did think wait, what about if we did stop for a second and listen to other people and listen to the arguments of the other side instead of immediately demonizing anybody who thinks differently from us.”

 

Of course, in this era of deep polarization, both sides are likely to unswayed by a position like this that sees some sense in the other side. Both sides prefer to think of the other side as inherently of the devil. No one wants to actually consider the position of the other, which they believe is obviously wrong.

 

This brings me back to the position that Charles Fried espoused, namely the centrality of dignity that ought to be present in this discussion. First, let both sides of the dispute see that the other side is entitled to their position. Their right to dignity demands that they have the right to speak their mind freely and respectfully. And they deserve to be heard.

Secondly, let the pregnant woman have her dignity. Let her make this enormously difficult decision. She is in the best position to do that, not us braying from the ramparts of political debate. I say, let the pregnant woman decide. I hope she chooses life, but if she chooses otherwise I intend to respect that decision.

Democracy and Abortion rights

 

Charles Fried, the Attorney General for Ronald Reagan once argued before the U.S. Supreme in favour of prohibiting abortion rights in 1989 in the case of Webster v. Reproductive Health Services. In that case a Missouri statute forbade the use of state funds or facilities for abortions and on behalf of the federal government he argued that Roe V. Wade should be overturned. He thought abortions should only be permitted in the most extreme cases such when the life of the pregnant mother was at risk. Now in 2021 he has changed his mind. In 2021 he believed the rule of law required the court to uphold the old precedent of Roe v. Wade. (I don’t actually agree with this point).

 

Many thought the American law was settled by the case of Roe v. Wade. It has been the law for decades. Recently,  case went to the American Supreme Court out of Mississippi that challenged this.  This was the Dobbs case. It was the case that  overturned Roe v. Wade  The current Supreme Court  is packed with conservative judges after former president Donald Trump appointed 3 new justices to the court.

 

Currently, polls show that 60% of Americans believe that Roe should remain the law, but a very vociferous minority strongly believes that it should be overturned. The court ignored the majority as it should if the law requires it. Many American women are shocked that they have lost a right they have had for decades. How can that be?

 

Charles Fried said before the Supreme Court decided to overturn  Rowe v. Wade  “To overturn Roe now would be an act of constitutional vandalism — not conservative, but reactionary.He said that because he considers himself a true conservative in the style of Edmund Burke. As Fried wrote, “In 2005, testifying in favour of the confirmation of John Roberts as chief justice, I said that I thought he was too good a lawyer — a conservative in the manner of Edmund Burke and John Harlan, not a reactionary — to vote to overrule Roe.

Fried now says that Roe has grown roots in American law and is therefore a firm constitutional right, which the court should not pull out by those roots. But that is what they did. He said the current Supreme Court is busy tearing up rights by the roots that have been there for a quite a long time. Examples he gave were the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In a recent case it said we don’t need those  rights anymore. As a result America has been flooded with voter suppression statutes. The right to vote has been stripped in many state since then. Fried believes the court has done this in order to please a minority “on one politically charged issue after another.”  Fried considers that constitutional vandalism.

 

Those are strong words considering that the Supreme Court of the United States, just like the Supreme Court of Canada, is permitted to overturn its own precedents. It is not bound by those precedents though both courts have acknowledged that this should not be lightly or often done for it does undermine certainty of law. Yet, it does do that from time to time, for example famously, in the case of Brown v. Minster of Education in the U.S. where doing so has been applauded by liberals even though long standing precedents were rejected. They did not consider that vandalism. Fried considered it the growth of the common law. Law changing with changing with changing times. How is that different?

 

By asking this question I do not want to be seen as approving the politicization of the American Supreme Court. That is another issue. This is what Justice Sonia Sotomayer said in the current Mississippi case before the court,

“Will this institution survive the stench that his creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts? I don’t see how it is possible. It is what Casey talked about when it talked about watershed decisions. If people actually believe that it’s all political, how will we survive? How will the Court survive?”

 

To Katie Roiphe, the Director of Cultural Reporting and Criticism Program at NYU, it does seem that this is the Supreme Court entering the political fray and taking a side with one group of partisans against another. She sees it crippling to have the Supreme Court appear to part of “partisan fighting and this kind of political rage,” when it should be above the fray. But isn’t that what happened when the Supreme Court originally decide Roe? She enlisted conservative icon Justice Scalia to support her argument. Justice Scalia had said in 2015 in the SSM case,

“a system of government that makes the people subordinate to a committee of 9 unelected lawyers does not deserve to be called a democracy… This practice of constitutional revision by an unelected committee of nine, always accompanied (as it is today) by extravagant praise of liberty, robs the People of the most important liberty they asserted in the Declaration of Independence and won in the Revolution of 1776: the freedom to govern themselves.…”

 

Those are powerful words by Justice Scalia, but we must remember they were uttered in a decision of the US Supreme Court to recognize same sex marriage by overriding a law enacted by a democratic government. Many liberals have widely praised the decision of the US Supreme Court, but will they like it so much, when such reasoning is used against their own holy causes, such as voting rights, or laws permitting unlimited rights to donate funds to political candidates? Democracy is complicated and we should be careful about over simplifying it.

 

Others see the current trajectory of the American Supreme Court and American law towards authoritarianism. As Mary Fitzgerald of Open Society Foundations in the New York Times, “If Roe falls, the United States will instead join a small cadre of increasingly authoritarian countries that have become restrictive on abortion in recent years.” Justice Fried agrees with Fitzgerald because he sees the 3 Justices appointed by Trump as joining “a process of undermining the ability of the court to reign in an authoritarian president…If we get an authoritarian president in 2024, the court will not be there to protect us.”

 

Charles Fried made the important point that this is not unrelated to the issue of gerrymandering. The process of gerrymandering where voting district are designed to put as many possible voters in one district to dilute the effect of that group. It  is inherently undemocratic for it gives some people a more powerful vote than others. Gerrymandering allows a minority to get into power and do what the majority does not want. “The American Supreme Court should have put an end to it.” Even though gerrymandering has created unfair and inherently undemocratic systems of government, Fried said,

“the Supreme Court said ‘not our department.’ Well if it isn’t their department to protect democracy I don’t know what is…I do have a long perspective. I was born in Prague in 1935 Czechoslovakia was a real democracy and the demons of hell came out and spoiled that fro 50 years! Now I see those people remerging and I hear the same tunes and it scares me.

And those are the comments from a Republican who served a Republican president. A true conservative in other words. I wish we had more like him.

What is a child?

 

Anti-abortionists define any foetus of six weeks or more as being a “child.” Some even go so far as to say the child is created at the moment of conception. As a result, if you accept that definition the deliberate destruction of a foetus can legitimately be seen as murder or manslaughter. However, the question is do they in fact believe that the foetus as so defined is a human child?

We should look not just at what they say, but how they act. Often, actions speak louder than words. For example, how do people treat the death of a spontaneously aborted foetus by miscarriage? Often (usually?) they do not treat it as the death of a child. For example, they have no funeral for the foetus. Miscarriages are experienced by 20-25% of women. Rarely do people ask police to get involved in such deaths. Police do not investigate the death as they would if a child died. Nor do coroners get involved. The government does not allow a person to claim tax benefits for children under after the child is born.

 

All of this is evidence that actually people do not treat the death of a foetus as the death of a child. They only take that position for the purpose of winning an argument. They don’t actually believe that is true.

 

As Susan Grimsdell said in the Guardian Weekly, “they only define foetus as a child if the woman chooses an abortion to abort it; when it’s spontaneous they’re not interested. This clearly indicates it’s choice they object to.”

 

After birth things are different. Our actions speak pretty loudly.

The Uncertainty Principle

 

When we recognize that there is uncertainty in a debate, such as the debate about whether or not abortions should be banned or prohibited, we should realize some fundamentally important things. In this respect I have learned a lot from the British philosopher Bertrand Russell. This is the principle that he stood for:

“In the sphere of practical politics, this intellectual attitude has important consequences. In the first place, it is not worth while to inflict a comparatively certain present evil for the sake of a comparatively doubtful future good. If the theology of former times was entirely correct, it was worthwhile burning a number of people at the stake in order that survivors might go to heaven, but if it was doubtful whether heretics would go to hell, the argument for persecution was not valid. If it is certain that Marx’s eschatology is true, and that as soon private capitalism is abolished we shall all be happy ever after, then it is right to pursue this end by means of dictatorships, concentration camps, and world wars; but if the end is doubtful or the means not sure to achieve it, present misery becomes an irresistible argument against such drastic methods. If it were certain without Jews the world would be a paradise, there could be no valid objection to Auschwitz; but if it is much more probable that the world resulting from such methods would be a hell, we can allow free play to our natural humanitarian revulsion against cruelty.”

 

The Russell principle, if I may call it that, is that it is wrong to inflict a certain harm to achieve a dubious good. The more uncertain the future goal one is trying to achieve the less must be the harm one employs to obtain it. It is permitted to inflict violence to avoid a certain greater harm, but it makes no sense to inflict a certain harm to avoid an uncertain future harm unless that future harm is much worse than the means. It has to be so much worse that the risk of inflicting unnecessary harms is justified in order to avoid such a catastrophic harm.

This requires a rational analysis of the probabilities. The more dubious the future goal the more gentle must be the means employed to obtain it. The problem with the modern utopians is that they inflict a certain substantial present harm to achieve not just a dubious future goal, but an impossible goal! As a result, since banning abortion inflicts a certain harm on the mother by removing her ability to choose abortion, we are not entitled to do that because we might be wrong. Perhaps the foetus is not a human life until birth when it is severed form the mother. Then it would be wrong to punish the mother.

 

I have explained why I think it is not rational to claim certainty in the abortion debate. Some think abortions are evil because they required the killing of a human being. Others think abortions are justified because the life at stake is the mother and she should be the one to decide what she should or should not do with it. The mother has autonomy to decides.

John Locke, the first of the great British empiricists, that Russell saw as his mentors, held that our knowledge is always uncertain and this fact should always be taken into consideration when we contemplate any action. When we are uncertain of being right or wrong we should take what Russell called the “liberal creed.” That is the philosophy of live and let live. We should not be fanatical. As Russell said, “The genuine Liberal does not say ‘this is true’, he says ‘I am inclined to think that under present circumstances this opinion is probably the best.” For example, he believed in democracy but even there he insisted on taking a limited and undogmatic view of democracy, because he might be wrong. He would advocate the same approach for the abortion question.

That was why Russell was more concerned with procedure than outcomes, when it came to political thinking. He urged the adoption of a political approach rather than a political dogma. Russell put it this way,

“The essence of the Liberal outlook lies not in what opinions are held, but in how they are held: instead of being held dogmatically, they are held tentatively, and with a consciousness that new evidence may at any moment lead to their abandonment. This is the way in which opinions are held in science, as opposed to the way in which they are held in theology.”

 

Russell argued in favor of neither dogma nor absolute scepticism. He thought his views were somewhere between the two opposing positions. He called his political views Liberalism born from empiricism. The most important premise of that point of view is that all ‘knowledge’ is to some degree doubtful. Some of course more doubtful than others.

That is a perfect summary of my own political philosophy that I have drawn from Bertrand Russell, Albert Camus, John Gray, Michael Oakeshott and other political thinkers. Russell pointed out that if one could be certain that heretics would go to hell where they would suffer eternal torment, it made sense to burn heretics so that they would not lead others astray. If on the other hand it was doubtful that heretics would go to hell then persecution of them would not be justified. Doubt leads directly to toleration; certainty to persecution. If you know that you are fighting for God’s camp, any measures, no matter how awful are justified. As Bob Dylan put it, “you don’t count the dead with God on your side.” As Albert Camus said in his brilliant book, The Rebel, we must “refuse to be a god.”

I accept this approach. Since it is doubtful whether or not abortions result in the death of a human being, we should be modest in our actions—because we might be wrong. Inflicting certain harm on the mother is not justified until we can be certain we are right and that the harm we inflict is less than the harm we avert as a result of the imposition of the harm. Our duty is to choose the course of action which will inflict the least harm and promote the greatest good.

 

Passionate Intensity

By now we have all seen a lot of heat in the abortion debates. Sadly, we have not seen much light.

 

This is what happens when the extremists take over the debate.  This is increasingly common in modern society. The extremists take over and yell at each other. The louder the voice, the more powerful the argument. At least that is the common view. In so many debates, together the fanatics drown out all the humble voices. Perhaps nowhere has that been demonstrated more clearly than in the current abortion debates. Both sides scream at each other and neither side sees the human in the other.

The great Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, got it right when he said, at times of crisis like we have now with abortion debate,  “The best lack all conviction; the worst are filled with passionate intensity.” Inevitably, that leads to disaster.

I begin with the recognition that both the pro-life position and the pro-choice position have some truth on their side.  The people who argue for pro-life and reject all counter arguments do so on the basis of the principle that human life is sacred. Basically, that is true. I accept that principle. But does that really solve the problem? Does it end debate right there? I think it does not.

After all what is human life? Where does human life begin? Are there two lives when a woman is carrying a foetus?  Or is there only one life—i.e. the woman who is pregnant? If so then it is only her life that is relevant to this discussion.

When are there two lives?  It is clear that once the child is born and it’s umbilical cord is severed from the mother then there are two lives. Earlier than that it is not so clear.

But perhaps there are two lives earlier than birth. For example, it has been the implicit rationale of the opinions of many that at some point—before birth—the foetus becomes an independent life. Some have said this point in time occurs when the foetus is viable. In other words, once the foetus is capable of living independently of the mother then from that moment it is should be treated as a human and it’s life is sacred and to abort it after that time is murder.

There is room however for debate about when this occurs.  Is the foetus a human life from the moment of conception, as some believe, or the moment of viability as others believe or the moment of a live birth?  My point is that until then there is uncertainty and we should recognize the uncertainty and we should be wary of absolute opinions. Such opinions are dangerous and can cause grievous harm.

We should be wary of the evils of certainty.

Bertrand Russel also got it right when he said,  “the trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure, while the intelligent are full of doubt“.  That is indeed the problem. The solution is to be aware of that trouble and act accordingly.

Kulture Wars go to Court

 

America is reaping what it has sowed.  People are up in arms about the current Supreme Court overruling the landmark precedent case of Roe V. Wade.  So am I. But, the Supreme Court can do that. Since the previous decision was a Supreme Court decision only the Supreme Court can overrule it. But it can do that and has often overruled previous cases  in the past. This is what the legal doctrine of Stare decisis is all about. That doctrine obligates lower courts to follow historical cases when making a ruling on a similar case. Stare decisis ensures that cases with similar scenarios and facts are approached in the same way. Simply put, it binds courts to follow legal precedents set by previous decisions. The prior decision which is called a precedent is binding on lower courts only. However, it does not bind the Supreme Court.

 

The Supreme Court in Canada and the United States can always overturn a previous decision and when you think about it that is absolutely necessary.  Otherwise the court would be locked  forever when it made a decision. For example, those who now disagree with the decision the court made in the recent Dobbs case where Roe v. Wade was overturned  would have to accept the result forever. That would be highly unacceptable. The fact is sometimes courts make bad decisions that should be reversed.

 

That does not mean I agree with the recent decision of the US court. In fact, I think it shows what happens when for decades Supreme Court decisions and appointments to the court are determined by politics and ideology and not good reasoning. That has happened to an alarming extent in the US for decades. I hope Canada does not follow suit. And let me be clear, both parties have been guilty of this  egregious offence.  The parties have been trying to turn the court into what John Hanna of the Associated Press called “culture warriors.” That is exactly what these people have been doing.

 

The most recent example was the farcical confirmation hearings for Joe Biden’s nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson. Ms. Jackson had 3 important characteristics that drove the Republicans crazy:  She was black, a woman, and smart. As a result the conservative Senators dipped into their arsenal of stupid. Senator Cruz and other Republicans came out and insinuated that she was soft on crime and suborning pedophilia. The insinuations were nasty, brutish, and stupid but that did not build caution in her attackers. It was obvious that her Senate foes cared nothing about the truth or her obvious qualifications but cared only about showing off to the Republican base how they would defend “traditional values” like attack dogs.  As Amy Davidson Sorkin said in The New Yorker, “At one point, Republican Senator Ted Cruz suggested that supporting Jackson was comparable to calling for the police to be abolished.” Republican Senator Tom Cotton  said “Judge Jackson has also shown a real interest in helping terrorists.” Cruz was joined by Josh Hawley  in suggesting that she was part of a liberal conspiracy ring supporting a child-trafficking ring.  Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene said the 3 G.O.P. Senators who vote for her were “pro-pedophile.” Senator Marsha asked Jackson to define “woman.” When she did not provide a definition, Cruz asked her how she could expect to  rule on cases involving gender if she did not know what a woman was. Jackson instead said that the woman she admired most in the world, her mother,  who was at the hearing, is a woman. Clearly, she did not need Cruz to help her understand what a woman was.

 When criticisms become so untethered  from reality, it is obvious that the purpose of the charges has nothing to do with an assessment of the candidates and everything to do with scoring points in the Kulture Wars.

 

This has been going on in the US for decades. As a result, America has the Supreme Court it deserves deserves. Our Canadian system is far from perfect, but at least we haven’t gone there.

 

Reclaiming the Moral Ground in the Kulture Wars

 

Mallory McMorrow a Michigan politician found herself deep in the culture wars after she defended the LGBTQ community. A Republican colleague accused her of wanting to groom and sexualize children. She issued a spirited defense. She said that hate would only win if people like her stood by and let it happen. She provided a blueprint for Democrats to navigate the thorny issues of sexuality in schools, race, gender identity, that Republicans like Ron DeSantis had been using to gain support and money from their supporters.

 

Lana Theis, a Republican state Senator said this, to her supporters in a fund raising message :

 

“Progressive social media trolls like Senator Mallory McMorrow (D-Snowflake)…are outraged they can’t teach can’t groom and sexualize kindergartners or that 8-year-olds are responsible for slavery.”

 

McMorrow was justifiably angry, not only about her own treatment but all members of the LGBTQ community who are subjected to such vile hatred from the American right every day. McMorrow is upset at the Republicans who are weaponizing Christianity to target already marginalized people. She says of herself that she is a straight white Christian mother. But she was speaking for the marginalized LGBTQ community against the hateful attack from other white straight Christians. She wanted to reclaim her own identity and refused to let it be stolen by hateful others from her own group. She did this to break through the binary camps to express her own individuality that she would not allow to appropriated by hateful white Christians.

 

McMorrow was interviewed on Amanpour & Co. and said she wanted to “reclaim the moral ground” that others had tried to seize from her. That is how she believes liberals can win the Kulture wars. As McMorrow said, “We should not be attacking people just because they happen to be different. We can debate them; we can disagree with them; but we ought not to attack them with weapons of religion.

 

McMorrow also said,

“Christopher Rufo is one of those who has created moral panic culture wars of manufactured outrage. It started with critical race theory  and he said as much here in Michigan . He admitted there is so much power in attacking the LGBTQ community and the moral panic surrounding around sexuality. So it is the black community, the LGBTQ community, really any community that is targeted by this strategy.”

 

Targeting these people, she said, will not bring down inflation, or fix our infrastructure. The Republicans are playing on fear. She said, “Also it is not sexy to talk about policy when you can stoke fear and anger.

 

McMorrow emphasizes that this is not a Republican vs Democrat issue. She said she was elected in what was once Mitt Romney’s home riding because people did not want to hate the other.  Republicans who don’t want to hate Democrats voted for her!

 

Mitch McConnell said there were no policy issues in the mid-term elections. Just like there were none in the 2020 presidential election on the part of the Republicans. Their only platform was Trump! That is why they have manufactured Kulture War issues instead.

McMorrow acknowledged that people do not want to have sex acts described to very young children. But that is not the point. Even very young children see everyday that there are a lot of different people in the world that they are already meeting. Some families are different. Some have a mom and dad. Others have 2 moms or 2 dads or single parents or grandparent led families or a transparent. This is a fact. These people are there. You can’t wish them away. There is nothing wrong with openly discussing this, even at a very young age.

She says once we can meet like people we won’t have this fear mongering and the same language that we saw during de-segregation. Some people did not want their kids seeing black kids in school!

 

McMorrow says she has learned things from people like Father Ted Hespeller from Notre Dame who stood for some of the same values she stands for. He fought for many disadvantaged or marginalized people for much of his career. Martin Luther King was scorned by most white Americans at the time, though now that is often forgotten. Father Hespeller as a white man and head of a large institution took a big risk by walking with King. He was able to see his own privilege. He saw his neighbours being attacked, targeted and beaten and he wanted to reach out to them. That is the kind of faith McMorrow wanted.  Change is hard McMorrow says. We can recognize that but recognize our own place and reach out to help the marginalized and those who are being targeted. “How can we remind people that we all want the same thing at the end of the day? Those are the community family values that we all hope for our own kids.”

McMorrow thinks that this is how the Democrats might win the Kulture Wars. Simple, plain, real talk about families, neighbours, and friends. And how we can work together.  But maybe such hopes are pretty far-fetched. What do you think?

War is a very effective tool for firing up political support. That is just as true of Kulture Wars.

 

The Staircase

 

 

The Staircase is a fascinating  HBO television series is based on a “True Crime” or “True Accident.”  Added to that, there was a documentary made about the case as it unfolded and this series presents that documentary as part of the story. I should mention there is also an earlier Netflix series based on the same story which I have not seen yet.

 

It arose as the result of a woman dying at the bottom of a staircase in the home she shared with her second husband a novelist. Did he kill her or did she fall accidentally? That is the question.  The event happened in Durham North Carolina in 2001.

 

According to Doreen St. Felix of the television  critic of the New Yorker magazine,

 

“Antonio Campos, who adapted the original documentary as a scripted series for HBO, treats the staircase as a metaphor. His version, a baroque drama that reimagines not only the tragedy of the Peterson family but also the filming of de Lestrade’s documentary, depicts the transfigurative process by which facts are stacked and elevated to narrative. The resulting staircase is Escherian.”

 

By that I think she means to refer to a staircase which is based on the illusion of  a staircase where not matter where one starts or which direction one walks one ends up at the place one started. How can that be?  Look at the illusion:

 

 

I found parts of the series maddening. Particularly the extreme use of flashbacks.  I had a very difficult time following them. Often, I did not understand whether the scene was before or after the central murder. Sort of like such an Escherian  staircase. I was constantly disoriented. But perhaps that was the plan. Like the illusion. It just can’t be. Can it?

Sometimes a flashback or flash forward came early in an episode and seemed to give away the mystery.  It was maddening until I realized there was more to be revealed. Truth is always murky, even when it seems clear!  Sometimes that is exactly when it is most murky.

This film tackles the very difficult subject of whether or not a wife was murdered by her husband or accidentally fell down the staircase in her home.  And where does justice fit into this exploration for truth. It really is a very interesting mystery.

As a French journalist Sophie, said in the series,

“Justice is no more than a construct. No more than a game.  A game that shapes the outcome a man’s life.”

This film exemplifies the truth of a statement made by Michael Peterson, the protagonist—“a lie cannot set you free.” That is a profound truth. And it is a hard truth as this television series shows.  One of the ironies of that  statement is that is was made by an admitted liar. Yet peculiarly, the liar seems entirely  unwilling to lie to get out of jail. How is that possible? Can such a person nonetheless be a telling the truth?

 

 

The Nightwatchman

 

 

The Night watchman by Louise Erdrich

This Pulitzer Prize winning book tells the story of Pixie Paranteau, a young indigenous woman living on an Indian reservation in North Dakota who insisted that everyone call her Patrice, but very one called her Pixie.  Even her friend Valentine Blue, who was “pretty as a sunset,” would not call her what she wanted. As so often in life, people don’t get to choose much about their own lives. That is particularly true about Indians, as indigenous people are still called in the US. To make such choices they must be very determined. That applies to young people and old people alike.

 

Thomas Wazhashk was a nightwatchman at the jewel bearing plant near the Turtle Mountain Indian reservation in North Dakota. He was also a Chippewa council member who was given the task of trying to understand the “Emancipation Act” that was being considered by the United States Congress in 1953. As happens so often in politics, the name of that legislation is badly misleading. It is not about granting them freedom, it is about reneging on treaty obligations and removing the rights of the Indians to their land and their identity. Again, freedom is hard to come by. Others are deciding what is good for them. A Senator from Utah, a Mormon, discussing, the proposed bill was “filling the air with sanctimony.’

 

One day Thomas was beset by the appearance of two young men approaching his house and wearing white shirts and black pants—the unmistakeable uniform of missionaries who would want to tell Thomas what to do. One of the men asked Thomas if he ever wondered why he was there? Thomas said no, because I know. Don’t you he asked?  This deflected the young men. They wanted to tell him why he was there. Instead, Thomas asked them why the Mormon Senator wanted to do away with Indians.  He said he wanted to “terminate” them. The Mormon men wanted him to read their sacred book. The men were so ignorant they believed their religion was the only religion that originated in America.  But Thomas politely told them he had a religion and wasn’t interested in a new one. The two men walked away “full of mystifying purpose.”

 

Patrice learned religion from her mother Zhaanat. Whereas the Senator from Utah wanted to divide the people from each other and from their land and the creatures on it, she refused to see divisions. She instead saw connections. “Zhaanat’s thinking was based on treating everything around her with great care.” Why would people with such a religious world view need Mormons to tell them why they were there and what they should do? Later Louis told them “We are thankful for our place in the world, but we don’t worship nobody higher than…” as he gestured out the window at the dimming sky.”

Bu the heart of the novel is a love story or really 2 or 3 love stories involving 4 couples. This required contradictory feelings, but what was wrong with that? Millie, another friend, of Patrice understood that one explanation did not rule out anything else. The northern lights could be spirits and also electrons. After all, “mathematics was a rigorous form of madness.” So a man could love two women and a women could reject one man and lose another. Emancipation could be termination. These are just some of the issues explored in the novel by a very fine writer.

I recommend you read this book.

Ron DeSantis: King of the Kulture War

 

According to Rick Wilson a former Republican strategist who became an anti-Trumpster, “Ron DeSantis (the governor of Florida) is the undisputed king of the culture war in America now.” I find that comment sickeningly shocking. It is sickening because I fear Wilson is right. In addition to advancing his Don’t Say Gay legislation now he is accusing the Disney Corporation, an icon in America and Florida in particular, of being guilty of pedophile grooming. Again this is part of the right-wing hysteria about protecting children from perverts and liberals.   He is making it illegal in Florida to criticize the country for slavery just because it makes some white people uncomfortable, when they ought to be uncomfortable for their country. As if you can pretend that racism–even the most vicious form of racism, namely slavery, never happened. Now he has passed one of the most restrictive abortion bills in the country.

 

Those are  pretty big pillars in the Kulture war in America.  And according to Wilson that makes DeSantis the king of the war. No other conservative in America, even Donald Trump can claim a collection of scalps like that. He is doing this, says Wilson, because he and his advisors have determined that this is the way to the Republican nomination for President in 2024.  Can he even defeat the Trumpster-in-Chief?

 

As if that is not enough, Wilson says, “The only thing the Republican base now cares about is the Kulture War.” When Wilson was a Republican strategist they did have a coherent ideology whether you agreed with it or not: limited government, individual freedom, free markets, and the rule of law. They were never evenly applied but they were real policies. But as Wilson said,  “at least the principle of the Republican Party wasn’t lets try burn down Walt Disney because they are secretly trying to groom children for a pedophile ring under the Magic Kingdom.” At least in those days, unlike now,  their principle did not require the complete abandonment of reason and truth.

 According to Rick Wilson, “This craziness which has infected the party is very much what Ron DeSantis is running on.”  The base of course loves this.  No doubt many other Republicans will jump on this band wagon for the upcoming mid-term elections.

DeSantis who grew up in Florida, went to the Navy, went to Yale, and became a graduate of Harvard Law School  as a result of which he was viewed as a classic conservative and a serious politician. At least until recently that was true.  Now he has been downing crazy pills. Of course the current Republican Party has very little room for serious conservatives. The current Republican Party is deeply ensconced in FantasyLand.

 

Wilson believes DeSantis has moved so far into LaLaLand because of the influence of Christina Pushaw. She is deep Alt-right and she is very ambitious and influential in the Republican Party in Florida. To her trolling and the social war stuff is all that matters, says Wilson. According to Wilson, she helped transform DeSantis into an “alt-right, trolling, cultural warrior of the first degree.” He is now Trump’s main contender.  There are a number of Republicans who are trying to be “Trump without all the warts. Or Trump without all the moral and cognitive deficits.” A lot of those candidates vying for Trumps leadership position have said they would deliver “Trump without all the crazy stuff, but it turns out many of them want the crazy stuff.”

According to Wilson,

 

“Because of Pushaw in the most distilled and perfect form, the conspiracy theory QAnon aspect of the Republican Party today requires that they be constantly poked and stimulated with terrifying imaginary demons. Whether it’s critical race theory or pedophile groomers or big tech or anything of the things they imagine are going to destroy their lives, he has become incredibly adept at framing these things so that only he can deal with. That is the same thing we heard in 2015 and 2016 from Trump. ‘Only I can fix it…Only I will be the avatar of your rage and anger.”

 

These Kultural War appeals are powerful to the working class of Florida, says Wilson. I think this is what politics is now all about in the US. The Kulture wars are supreme. Nothing else matters (except inflation).