Tuesday, 4 January 2011

"I Just Care So Much About The People I Want To Care About"

Ross Douthat (AKA "reasonable" Conservative-for-hire) has an op-ed up on adoption and abortion that Amanda Marcotte found so distasteful she decided to demolish it twice.

I recommend reading both of Marcotte's articles in full; they're exactly the combination of intelligent argument and thorough subject knowledge that one needs to reveal subtle mendacity like Douthat's (I say subtle because I'm not sure Douthat even realises the tricks he's playing).

Clearly, Marcotte's perspective is profoundly valuable, and I wouldn't dream of attempting to augment it in areas in which she is so clearly more informed than I.  Having said that, I would like to add a more holistic point.  Douthat's attempt to pluck the heart-strings by asking us to cry over the testimonies of those unable to have their own children is deeply obnoxious.  Not because we should ignore suffering, obviously, but because of the highly selective nature of Douthat's concern.

I'm sure we could find testimony from people who found their families homeless during the recent financial crisis that would make one weep.  Douthat doesn't suggest the rich should give them the houses they don't use all that often, so those children can have beds.  Doubtless there are stories of parents unable to gain health insurance for their sick children.  Douthat hasn't argued that a portion of unclaimed insurance policies be concerted into free medicine, so that those children can walk, or breathe easily, or live. 

In other words, Douthat has decided what he personally believes is right - preventing abortion - and is pointing to those people whose suffering he thinks will be alleviated by his stance as proof that he is right.  Those people whose lives - whose ability to feed and clothe the babies he claims to care about - could be improved by policies he disagrees with are on their own.

So far as I can see, Douthat thinks multiple houses are fine,and that health insurance companies should be allowed to spend their profits however they choose, but abortion is fundamentally wrong.  That's his prerogative.  But pretending that he cares about the latter because of the effect it might theoretically have on a certain group of people is the co-opting of the suffering of others to his own ends.  Let the rich have as much real-estate as they want, and do what they want with their cash, but be damn well better force women to carry children to term.

In other words, Douthat can fuck right off.

PS: Just to be entirely clear, none of the above should be taken as an argument that seeing people suffering and wanting to do something about it is an inherently suspicious or foolish motive.  Quite the contrary.  It's just not the same thing to decide what you want to do first, and then start searching around for a group of people you think your choice will benefit.  Especially when your idea will simply switch suffering from one group to another, without any evidence that the latter group is smaller, will suffer less, or will be more easily able to cope with it.

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