Sunday, July 20, 2008

New Victims (by Phila)

Maggie Gallagher is upset with Spain for contemplating the granting of certain "human rights" to great apes.
Spain's proposed rewriting of our own Declaration of Independence reads something like this: All apes are endowed by parliament with certain inalienable rights, among them life, personal safety, limited freedom of movement and the right to claim property through court-appointed (human) guardians.
What this means is that they can't be killed (except in self-defense), can't be used in medical experiments, and can't be compelled to "act" in films or "perform" in circuses. (That's what it means on paper, at least; there are plenty of human beings whose human rights don't seem to afford them very much protection from discrimination, exploitation and murder, and I assume that'll hold true for apes as well.)

Obviously, the part about limiting medical experimentation is controversial, but that's not what bothers Gallagher. Her complaints are a bit more abstruse, as thus:
By now the basic outline of the strategy for cultural power is clear: Begin with one of the world's truly great moral and spiritual narratives -- the civil rights movement -- but take black people out of the heart of this narrative, and insert the new victim d'jour.

Divert the spiritual and moral power of the movement -- for which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. died -- to strange new purposes.
See, the civil rights movement existed solely to convince a majority of white people that not all black people are subnormal. And it was marvelously much so that structural racism can no longer be considered an excuse for blacks' failure to thrive. Therefore, the movement can now be viewed sentimentally as one more jewel in America's crown (or better yet, invoked as proof of our basic goodwill, when it comes time once again to civilize some backwards nation).

What we must not do is imagine that this struggle is ongoing, or that it has any connection to debates over the legal status of women or workers or gays or animals (all of whom Gallagher believes either deserve a certain amount of formal oppression, or are better off when subjected to it).

Gallagher also worries that the plea for "tolerance" is intolerant:
Redefine the word "tolerance" so it means: Agree with me or be denounced and driven from the public square.
What "tolerance" has to do with making it illegal to butcher apes, I have no idea. But it seems obvious that legal protections are intolerant by their very nature; they're intolerant of aggression, theft, and so forth. For someone who's perpetually fretting over the breakdown of society and the evils of multiculturalism, Gallagher's rhetoric can be remarkably anarchic.

Enough dallying, though. Let's get to the real question: If we're going to make it illegal to kill endangered apes, why not make it illegal for women to terminate unwanted pregnancies?
Could the next great civil rights movement be to protect the million not-yet-born children each year who are literally never permitted to see the light of day? Could the culturemakers who need to see themselves as participating in this great moral drama that gives meaning to their lives, come to recognize the incongruity of entertaining the idea that apes may have a right to life on the grounds they share "98.5 percent of DNA" while withholding it from real, living, developing human children?
There's enough wrong with argument to fill the Marianas Trench, but the most obvious problem is that unlike protecting an ape, "protecting" not-yet-born children involves directly and formally oppressing women who are able to walk and talk sans an umbilical cord.

Remember how Gallagher was complaining a moment ago about giving lower organisms rights that conflict with the preferences of higher ones, and lamenting that some people are "denounced and driven from the public square" when they fail to agree with such determinations? And remember how she didn't like the idea of taking black people out of the heart of the civil-rights narrative, and inserting "the new victim d'jour"? Well, forget about all that: As long as we insist on the civil rights of fetuses -- as opposed to "new victims," like animals or women -- we can think of ourselves as moral, no matter how many obligations to other living beings we ignore, or which cities full of pregnant women we bomb. Like her sentimentalizing of the civil rights movement, Gallagher's handwringing over unborn life is notable -- and politically useful -- mainly for what and who it excludes.

Here's the punchline:
That guy Jefferson wrote a lot of great stuff, including this: "Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just."

But in places like Spain, I suspect, they are so over worrying about that.
Spain, as I'm sure you know, is about three-quarters Catholic and accordingly has some of the most restrictive abortion policies in Europe.