Why You Really Must Stop Talking About Your Civil Rights!

Warning! Whenever you talk about “your Civil Rights” you are walking straight into a trap. Please do not ever talk about “your Civil Rights”!

Please remember: it’s we the people, not “he”, nor “she”, nor “me” the people. Thus, the idea that “you” have Civil Rights or that “I” or “they” have Civil Rights is perfectly meaningless. Either we all have Civil Rights, or none of us does.

They are our Civil Rights. Please, please make sure you use the correct pronoun when speaking or writing or even thinking about our Civil Rights.

This is not just about good grammar or logical semantics. No, the stakes are much, much higher. The moment you or anybody starts talking about “your Civil Rights” or “my Civil Rights”, etc. you are essentially walking down a dangerous road that will eventually lead you directly into an anarchic nightmare — a place where if you, personally — YES YOU, THERE, THE ONE READING THESE WORDS NOW — are not personally willing to take the Law into your own hands; if you, personally, are not ready to be murdered by another person or to murder another person yourself in order to protect these things you are so casually referring to as “your Civil Rights”; then really you have absolutely no Civil Rights at all.

Please, please do not ever talk about “your Civil Rights”. They are our Civil Rights, and it’s only if we all see them as our Civil Rights that any of us has any reasonable chance of safely enjoying them within the context of a healthy, modern, liberal democracy.

The alternative is blood-feud, internecine warfare — anarchy.

 

The Abortion Issue, Fetusplained

Embryo

Image found here.

I would like to tell you what I think about the abortion issue, but first I must beg the reader’s pardon for my overweening privilege-bloat. “Mea culpa”, as they say. Yes, and despite my autistic neurology, which has cumbered and reeked since my childhood like a dead walrus chained to my ankle — the oily stink of its rotting, blubbery flesh being a metaphor for whatever it is about me that some people (thankfully not all, or even most, but definitely some, and even quite a few whom I really cared about) seem to find so repellent — I am nonetheless a quite stereotypical example of a generally privileged group — a college-degreed, heterosexual white man of middle-class upbringing.

Without trying to minimize the general significance of my genetic and cultural endowments, and especially the unfavorable moral implications arising from my having selfishly hoarded all of that good luck and exploited it quite shamelessly to my own advantage and for most of my life; I wish to submit here for your consideration the idea that, when it comes to the question of legalized abortion, my own privilege-bloat — for better or worse — is all more or less irrelevant when compared to the fact that in addition to my own tainted privilege profile, I am also a former fetus and gestation survivor. As I see it (for now, at least, and until I encounter a good reason to change my mind), the simple fact of being an unaborted fetus is really the most important and relevant qualification anyone need have in order to be granted a legitimate voice in the public conversation about legalized abortion. I believe (again, for the time being) that my relatively substantial privilege endowment, and especially the fact that I’m a man, is largely beside the point.

In any case, and for whatever it may be worth, here is what I think about the abortion issue: In general, I really don’t know what to think about the abortion issue.

Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right

Am I pro-choice? Pro-life? To be as clear as concrete about it, I feel quite confused about this, actually. I think both sides of that conversation make excellent points, but to be honest, I see a lot of apparent stupidity on both sides as well. For example, I know I would feel utterly ashamed of myself if I somehow lost my mind temporarily and did something to stand in the way of, say, a rape survivor who wanted to purge herself of any and all physical traces of her trauma, especially some zygote that her rapist forced upon her. So, yes, from that perspective I am solidly pro-choice and think that at the very least some sort of right to safe abortions should be protected by law. Furthermore, whenever I hear arguments against that position, and especially when those arguments are clearly based on some kind of religious doctrine, those arguments always look quite half-baked as far as I’m concerned. I really don’t think it too harsh to describe any argument of that general form as just plain stupid.

On the other hand, given the prevalence of rape throughout history, I have to guess that pretty much every human being alive today is the descendant of surely a great many such rape-fertilized zygotes somewhere in the deep past. I think it must be quite certain that somewhere buried in your own family tree are countless great-to-the-nth-power grandmothers of yours who were raped into motherhood by countless great-to-the-nth-power grandfathers of yours. Each of us is nigh certainly the product and beneficiary of what tallies up to now as an epic monstrosity. And to the extent that is true, I find it stupidly hypocritical to simply assume without question that such a zygote has no moral right to the care and feeding it needs to survive, regardless of what its unfortunate mother might need in order to cope with the horror she endured.

All Rights Have Limits

All rights have limits. The right to free-speech is not the right to commit slander or libel, or to threaten violence against another. The right to own property is not the right to own another human being. The right to own a gun, is not the right to go around shooting it off in a crowded public space. And the right to a safe, medically standard abortion must also have its limits. For example, I think few would argue that a mother should be legally permitted to abort a near-term baby, simply because it’s still living in her body. To my view that would clearly be an atrocity. At the other extreme, I can see no rational justification to prevent a woman from aborting a newly fertilized zygote. Anybody who thinks that qualifies as a crime should feel either embarrassed about the inconsistency or utterly scandalized by the pan-cultural, globally practiced ritual of fingernail clipping.

Life does not “begin at conception”. Life on Earth began some 3.5 billion years ago, and an egg and a sperm are very much alive both before and after conception. To kill even a few hundred human cells, even if they are well on their way to growing into a human being, is (as far as I can tell) of no more moral significance than a haircut.

But in between those two clear extremes is a great deal of moral murkiness. Just where exactly should we draw the line? At one point do we blow the whistle and say “No! You’re too late, that’s a person in there, now, and ain’t nobody gonna do so much as scratch it!” And this is where I feel stuck, quite confused, utterly speechless, with nothing left to say on the matter, at least for now.

 

Ideology is the Problem

Violence at Berkeley Rally

Image found here.

“…At this point you are probably nodding in agreement, thinking of all the people in your life who fit the picture I am drawing of the typical ideologue. It is easy to recognize such behavior in others. The real challenge is to recognize it in ourselves. This is because it does not feel like ideology when it is our own beliefs, it feels like Truth. Ideology is the problem because it leads to closed-mindedness, motivated reasoning, self-righteousness, and political correctness. It tends to stop skeptical inquiry and genuine discourse….”

— Steven Novella, Ideology is the Problem

Privilege-Shaming, Whiteysplained

Young man with a beard

Note: This is not a picture of the author, who is much, much older, and inclined to see this younger fellow as something of a stunt-double. Image found here.

First, congratulations to the inventor of privilege-shaming, and especially to all of the underprivileged human beings who feel empowered by this potent tool of civil discourse.

Notwithstanding my autistic neurology, which has been quite the bull in the china shop of my life — strewing it with the embarrassing barn stink and colorful porcelain shards of countless relationship failures, job failures and financial failures — after all that foamy, taurine ruckus, I am nevertheless a college-educated white man of middle-class upbringing, which is to say a man of no small privilege and thus a bona fide member of the group that is really the primary target of privilege-shaming. And writing as such, I must tell you that I am impressed with the acidic sting of this talk-weapon, in particular its ability to make me feel ashamed of myself, and for a reason that is totally different from all of the others that I already have.

To clarify, it doesn’t make me feel ashamed simply for being lucky enough to win the privilege lottery — after all, we really can’t fault someone rationally for getting lucky — but rather because I have spent so many years mindlessly, shamelessly, and yes, selfishly benefiting from my genetic and cultural inheritance, and will probably continue to do so, unless I can figure out what the heck else I should be doing with it. Rest assured, I am quite sure the problems I’ve had with my autistic neurology would have been much worse had I been born black, say, and maybe female, and perhaps two-months premature, with some sort of horrifying physical deformity, and maybe an HIV infection, and perhaps a crystal-meth addiction, and on top of all that, as an orphan.

Yes, and all I have to whine about is autism, and relatively mild autism at that. I know indeed that many, many autistic people have it much worse than I do, and somewhere out in the world I’m sure at least a few of them are crystal-meth addicted, HIV infected little black girls with horrific physical deformities and dead parents.

Yes, it’s all quite humbling, to say the least.

The relevant catch-phrase here seems to be “check your privilege“, which I take to be a modernized, smug-free and possibly more aggressive version of “noblesse oblige“, or as the character of Uncle Ben said it in an old Spiderman reboot: with great power comes great responsibility (YouTube clip). To the extent that this is true, then “check your privilege” is basically a reminder not to take it all for granted, or let it go to my head, or maybe an invitation to pause and acknowledge that there is no virtue in merely getting lucky. To have any claim to virtue, luck must be shared with those less lucky.

But in seeing it this way, I think it’s important also to recognize the unfortunate resemblance “check your privilege” shares with Rudyard Kipling‘s now infamously racist and pro-imperialist exhortation to the United States, made in 1899 following the Spanish-American war and the subsequent American take-over of the Philippines, to….

“Take up the White Man’s burden
Send forth the best ye breed–
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild–
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child….”

But I think this resemblance must be superficial. I seriously doubt that asking someone to “check your privilege” is really anything like asking (more or less) to “please use the fruits of your good fortune to care for me like a pet monkey”. That strikes me as a straw-man, and probably a cheap tactic for licencing oneself to dodge the requested privilege check.

No, to my view “check your privilege” is for the most part a blunt reminder that good luck is best shared, and really nothing to brag about.

 

[Note: A few weeks after I wrote the above, I realized I had more to say on the subject, which I posted here.]