which is unexamined is not worth living.
At the recent
Ron Paul Rally in Tampa, Ron continued to generate the kinds of
in-depth questioning I never dreamed would be heard in political
campaigns: that the Austrian business cycle might overcome Willie
Horton’s furlough as an issue for a presidential contest was beyond
my imagination. At this same rally, economist Walter Block’s discussion
of the abortion question has given rise to numerous blog/e-mail
responses on that topic. My talk at this same forum – which immediately
followed Walter’s – focused on the importance of people further
extending their inquiries into the nature of a society grounded
in peace, liberty, and individualism.
of peace and liberty requires each of us to take our understanding
into ever-deeper levels. Ron is the most highly visible example
of this practice, but he is not alone. There are many others –
both living and dead – whose inquiries permit us to flesh out
the details of our thinking on the topic. Ayn Rand, Robert LeFevre,
and a renowned Marxist with whom I studied in college, played
such roles in my life. While I was never attracted to Marx, my
professor’s seminar led me to more profound inquiries than could
be found in bumper-sticker one-liners. Rand’s ideas did much the
same: only by examining them with energized effort was I able
to answer questions implicit in her philosophy, a process that
resulted in my rejecting most of her central views.
not have to agree with someone in order to learn from them! Whatever
the subject-matter – be it the study of history, economics, law,
philosophy; or gardening, auto mechanics, raising children, etc.
– the quality of your effort will depend upon the continual refinement
of the questions you raise. We live in a culture that demands
answers to unasked – or unfocused – questions. As a consequence,
most of us end up with little more than opinions, but no
"evictionism" approach to the abortion issue invites
us to explore deeper levels of our understanding. That I don’t
agree with his approach or conclusions, does not detract from
their value in helping us refine our thinking. When a few people
booed his ideas – a tactic that should have reminded those at
the rally of the treatment Ron received from conservatives in
the audience at some of the debates – Walter was correct in criticizing
them for their anti-intellectual behavior. One uses the ideas
of others as vehicles for examining and questioning their own.
I also disagreed
with Walter as to the place and time for raising
this issue. This was a rally to celebrate Ron Paul – particularly
on the eve of a Republican convention to which he was persona
non grata to the political establishment – and the focus should
have been on him as well as the eleven-thousand young people who
came to honor his efforts. This refinement of the abortion issue
was ill-timed only in the sense that it is the kind of
inquiry that follows from earlier questioning about the nature
of life, "who" is a person, what is property, etc. Walter
raises one of many "lifeboat" discussions that are essential
to refining the boundary lines of one’s thinking. ("If your
neighbor kidnapped one of your children and was torturing her,
would you trespass upon his property to rescue her?" "Of
course I would, but I would still treat my act as a trespass!")
I am reminded of a number of young "libertarians" from
the 1960s who insisted on introducing their ideas to others by
jumping right to such deeper questions as "do you own your
children and, if so, can you sell them?" Sound thinking necessitates
and produces a refinement in the quality – the form – of the questions
we ask. In the words of Milton Mayer, "the questions that
can be answered are not worth asking."
of Walter’s thinking on this topic is reflected in the questioning,
debate, and puzzlement generated in the minds of others. David
Kramer sent me two e-mails outlining some of his own thinking
on the topic, and asked for my opinions. His e-mails have prompted
me to make this response. Walter has accomplished what any intellectual
effort should produce: further questioning of the subject matter
I have long
regarded "life" as sacred; not "sacred" according
to some formal religious doctrine – I am an agnostic in all matters,
be they religious, political, artistic, or any other realm of
opinion – but as a quality innate in, perhaps, all of existence.
I remember as a small child feeling anger toward other kids who
would step on ants or bugs for no other apparent reason than to
kill them. Even today, my children – and grandchildren – call
upon me to come "rescue" a spider crawling up our living
room wall. Those who might regard the life even of an insect as
not worthy of our interest might ask themselves: how might you
respond if NASA’s Martian explorer should discover a fuzzy caterpillar
on that distant planet?
the inquiry to the issue of when a given life form becomes a "person,"
I regard this as occurring upon conception. It is the point
at which one acquires his/her unique DNA that the sense of "thingness"
is transformed into a "personhood" that is relatively
free of arbitrary definition. This is also why I am unable to
regard a corporation – or other institution – as a "person."
Such abstract bodies have no existence or will of their own, but
are only tools through which their owners act. I like the bumper-sticker
that reads: "I will accept the idea of a corporation as a
person when they execute one in the electric chair."
I also believe
that it is wrong to kill or use any form of violence against a
person, which (a) helps to define my social philosophy and (b)
makes the killing of an unborn child an act of murder. You will
note, here, my refusal to dehumanize the unborn by referring to
any of them as a "fetus." The treatment of slaves, American
Indians, and Hitler’s non-Aryans, by defining them out of the
category of "persons," ought to awaken us to what we
do to one another.
my disapproval of all political systems – which are universally
defined as agencies that enjoy a monopoly on the use of violence
within a given territory – I am unwilling to sanction the use
of violence to either (a) physically prevent, or (b) punish a
woman for having an abortion. At this point, I am often asked
"are you saying that, in a society grounded in liberty, people
are ‘free’ to kill one another?" My answer is "yes."
Even in our present command-and-control world of legalized violence,
each of us is "free" to kill – or as a friend of mine
once modified the proposition – "free to try to kill"
– others. Such "freedom" does not mean that we
may rightfully or morally do so, only that we have the capacity
to inflict harm upon others. From a libertarian perspective, the
question becomes (as it does in our daily lives): how do we
exercise our freedom so as to minimize harm to others?
In my view
of the world, a pregnant woman will make her own decision as to
whether to abort. I may disapprove of the decision she makes,
but I will not resort to – nor sanction – force against her to
make her conform to my value. I ask only that she be willing to
defend my freedom to make choices in the world.
I am also
unable to accept Walter’s characterization of the unborn child
as a "trespasser." Such a person came into being through
no act or will of its own (although I am open to the argument
that the sperm had a powerful will to become a person by
outracing all others in order to be the one to impregnate the
egg). Whether the unborn child was conceived voluntarily – as
an act of either love or lust – or through the violent act of
rape, is irrelevant to the question of its sense of personhood.
In the case of rape, the worst that can be said of the unborn
person is that it is the product of wrongdoing, not
a wrongdoer itself.
the unborn child as a "trespasser" further begs the
question. If someone was to deposit a newly-born baby on my front
doorstep, would I be entitled to (a) ignore the child, or (b)
place it on the curb, neither act worsening the plight of the
child? However Walter might answer this question as a philosophic
matter, I think I know him well enough to predict that he would
not respond in either manner. Would he – or I – have an "obligation"
to the child to come to its rescue? As a matter of some imposed
"duty," I would answer "no" to both possibilities.
But as a response to our self-interested needs to protect the
value of life – which is what our philosophic principles should
be about in the first place – I have no doubt as to how each of
us would behave in this circumstance.
on behalf of the woman being able to abort the unborn child often
includes the proposition: personhood does not arise until the
child is able to sustain itself independently. To this contention
I reply: who among us – even as adults – is able to sustain our
lives independently, without help from others? I could grow
my own food, or produce my own clothing or shelter, or bandage
up my serious injuries. But the reality is that I depend upon
others – voluntarily acting within the marketplace – to supply
such goods and services. It is because of specialization –
the division of labor – provided only by exchange with
others that we are able to enjoy a higher quality of life than
any of us could create independently of others.
We have also
learned – from studies of men and women in isolation – that we
have such a profound sense of connectedness with others (we are,
after all, social beings) that we can quickly become delusional
or even mad if we are separated from other human beings for too
long a period of time. Furthermore, who among us can truly say
that work they perform is unrelated to the responses of others?
Why do I teach and write if not to communicate to others? What
farmer, physician, artist, restaurant owner, scientist, actor,
or the provider of any other goods or services is able to accomplish
their purposes without a dependence on others?
It is also
argued that an unborn child is unable to physically sustain itself
outside the mother’s womb. That is true – particularly in the
early stages of pregnancy – but the proposition would seem to
apply to all of this: would any of us be able to survive without
the society of others? A variation of this same pro-abortion argument
is this: the unborn child is still in a stage of development.
Just watching my children, grandchildren, and students – and especially
talking with my wife – remind me that I, too, am "still in
a stage of development." The psychologically healthy life
is one in which learning – i.e., further refining the quality
of the questions we ask of nature and one another – dominates
cannot end this inquiry without discussing the inherently contradictory
and conflict-ridden slogans that make the abortion question so
confusing to those who refuse to look beneath the surface of issues.
Those with a bumper-sticker mentality embrace either the phrase
"pro-life" or "pro-choice" to explain their
thinking. Most supposedly "pro-life" people are hostile
to life. If you doubt this, ask them about their views of war,
capital punishment, police brutality, or the free and spontaneous
nature of what "life" is about. As for the "pro-choice"
people, you will discover few who are prepared to defend the choice
of people to not have to pay taxes, or to be forced to provide
for abortions, day-care centers, etc.
As the weekend
at the Ron Paul Rally reminded us, there is nothing so creative
and liberating as the free flow of information, as well as the
questions generated therefrom. Now that the presidential campaign
is in full lassitude (i.e., the corporate-state establishment
will not allow Ron Paul to be heard in whatever form of mutual
babbling Obama and Romney will pretend to debate) it is time for
intelligent minds to pursue their own lines of questions. As I
recall looking into the faces of the eleven thousand young people
at this rally, the fun is just beginning!