OK, so democratic task number one requires that we define the issue and decide
who is affected by the outcome. The abortion issue, of course, is fairly
clear cut. "Are there any circumstances under which the abortion
of human foetuses should be permitted and, if so, what are those circumstances?"
The question of who is affected (and thus "who should decide" the issue)
is much more contentious. The battle lines are fairly clear though.
On one side it is argued that the pregnant woman is the sole person
affected (or at least that the extent to which she is affected outweighs
the effects on anyone else) and thus she and she alone should be entitled
to decide the issue. On the other side are those who claim to represent
the foetus itself and they argue that it too has an interest, and indeed,
that as what is at stake for the foetus is more serious (usually) than
for its mother, that its interest should take precedence.
Let us make it plain to start with that this is NOT a "Philosophical
Question". Though it clearly comes under the umbrella Third Question
"How Should We Behave?",
the philosophical part of that discussion really ended in the last chapter.
Or perhaps we could say that, up till now, we've been trying to discuss
"Pure" philosophy and what we're about to do comes under the
heading "Applied Philosophy".
We have already
concluded that there are and can be no universally meaningful concepts
of absolute good and evil, no absolute right or wrong - only useful
strategies to enhance survival more effectively than naked self interest.
Intelligent beings are capable of perceiving such strategies and recognising
a joint vested interest in promoting them. The act of such promotion
itself demonstrates the depth and sophistication of our Survival behaviour.
This may be "good for us" but that doesn't make it objectively
"good for the cosmos." Nevertheless, if it is "good for
us" then lets get on with it!
If there is one issue upon which it ought to be possible to reach
a near universal consensus it is the simple observation that we all
share the desire to survive. Even those who reject our rejection of
the concepts of absolute good and evil can not deny their own desire
to survive, nor their experience that everyone else shares that desire.
It should be as easy to agree on that obvious truth as it would be to
agree that liquid water is wet.
This is important because that agreement can form the basis for agreeing
so much more - ultimately how to manage the difficult interface between
society and the individual and, if not best how to run society, then
at least how to run society with minimum dissent and maximum support
for any given policy or set of rules. It is the basis for no less than
a new form of political constitution. We'll be taking a look at that
in later chapters.
The fundamental point is that not only can we all easily recognise
this shared urge, we can, if we choose to do so, collectively agree
that we will co-operate in order to determine those strategies which
will best maximise survival for the largest number of individuals of
all species, or at least all species whose survival contributes to our
Its not that much of a leap. In fact its no more than a philosophically
rigorous endorsement of the Utilitarian target "the greatest good
for the greatest number". We have merely avoided the logical pitfalls
associated with their acceptance of the notion of objective "good".
Nevertheless, this is as far as we can go in philosophical pursuit of
the third question. Its the best we can do while remaining consistent
with pure philosophy. Our advocation of the obvious benefits of co-operation
to promote survival constitutes the best and most logically consistent
advice philosophy can offer about "how should we behave".
It is the strongest conclusion we can reach as an exercise in pure,
detached, philosophy. It may not seem particularly profound because
it echoes the conclusions reached by so many other paths. Christians
and Communists, Hindus and Humanists alike would all preach the benefits
of such co-operation.
And thats the point - this philosophically consistent guidance on behaviour
represents the common core shared by not just Christianity and Communism
but virtually all mature attempts at social engineering.
Religions advocate co-operation on what they call spiritual grounds.
It is what God wants us to do. Communists advocate co-operation on materialist
grounds - it is how best to improve the productivity of society and
share the benefits of that productivity most fairly.
We don't care why anyone else advocates co-operation, just so long
as they do. They may not realise it but the ultimate implication and
form of that co-operation is Democracy. And Democracy and its adult
form - Consensus - are thus the only philosophically defensible means
of making social decisions in the 21st century. The actual decisions
made are trivial in comparison.
So, despite being a restatement of the bleedin obvious, its more than
good enough as an answer to the question "How should we behave?"
Answer: "whenever possible, co-operatively/democratically/in consensus"
This, in turn, liberates us to make rational decisions about behaviour.
We no longer need to justify our existence. We don't care whether or
not our survival is a "good" thing in any absolute sense.
We don't need to twist or ignore the logic we have ploughed through
hithero and pretend that promoting survival is the "right"
thing to do in any objective sense. It doesn't matter if its right,
wrong or neutral. If we can finally accept that there are no rules we
have to follow (at least none which dictate behaviour in any
moral sense) then we can take the next logical step - which is not
(as religious thinkers charge) to abandon the desire for civilised interaction
between people. It is the recognition that nothing stops us - where
necessary - making our own rules of behaviour based on consensus
or, at least, democracy.
There is nothing to stop us agreeing between ourselves a set of behaviours
we condone and a set we condemn. We can also agree to combine our resources
to establish countermeasures against anyone who chooses to behave in
ways we collectively condemn. The first countermeasure is public agreement
on which behaviour falls into the condemned camp. It doesn't take any
imagination to anticipate a list of behaviours which would easily attract
a consensus of condemnation.- they already do: Murder, Rape, Physical
violence, wanton Property destruction, Fraud, Theft etc. From then on,
we're back in the normal world. These are routine criminal behaviours.
Not because its "immoral" or against "Gods laws"
but because its against democratically mandated Human Laws. That's enough.
That justifies preventative measures if possible, and, where prevention
fails, it justifies detection, incarcaration and any punishment agreed
suitable by the same democratic process which formulated the Law in
the first place. This is not rocket science. This is not about massive
disruption to the many moral frameworks our species has devised for
themselves. Most of the really important existing rules would be democratically
endorsed in any society that dared to submit them to such a test. They've
already stood the test of time.
The rules of society have always been owned and controlled by the people
in whose interest the rules were created. All that has changed over
the past thousand years or so is the size of the group in whose interest
the rules were created. Since we stopped being hunter gatherers, society
has been structured hierarchichally. Some very tall pyramids have been
built along the way. The physical ones were simply the embodiment of
the social. The thing about pyramids, however tall they are, they always
have a single point at the top. In 30,000 years we have failed to improve
on that model. All that has happened to date is the broadening of the
base of the pyramid. But those who form the bottom layer still support
all the other layers.
Until today, that is. Today, the pyramid is beginning to crumble. Largely
because information which was once available only to the top tiers of
the pyramid is now widely available much lower down. Information is
widely acknowledged to be the basis of power, so inevitably the power
is drifting downwards with the information. The days are numbered for
the cliques who run society. They are probably more aware of this than
most of their subjects and are constantly seeking ways either to steer
us away from this future or at least see that they survive into it with
some semblance of their power intact. Give credit where it is due. They
have honed their own survival skills to impressive levels.
Democracy, as a concept, is over 2000 years old. All it means is "People
Power". Nothing more. Nothing less.
How many human beings alive today qualify as "People"?
How many "People" have their fair share of "Power"?
Isn't it about time we really tried "People Power"?
Instead of tyrannical or even well meaning dictators (elected and otherwise)
trying to steer Society around the white water of contentious decisions,
isn't it time we treated human beings with the dignity they deserve
and let them make up their own minds - collectively and, where consensus
is not attainable, individually?
We believe that time is at hand. Within the next 10-50 years, the human
population of planet Earth will restructure itself into a global democracy.
We The People will, eventually, show that we can make rational decisions,
or at least decisions which attract genuine large democratic majorities.
We will make all the decisions - whether its a village deciding where
to put the new community leisure centre or a global discussion on what
to do about global warming.
There is no obvious level at which we would hold the debates on behaviour.
It might be local, national or global. Consider the issue of bull-fighting
for example. Most of the globe would oppose it. A few Latin countries
practice it. Clearly we will not reach consensus, merely a large majority.
The question the majority have to face in this situation is whether
they care enough about their opinion to support the use of sanctions
up to and including armed force against the minority.
This, of course, is a separate democratic question and our guess is
that there would not be even a bare majority of global citizens in favour
of such sanctions - particularly not the use of force.
So we will have a situation in which a relatively small minority will
be permitted to continue behaviour of which a large majority disapproves.
Is this healthy or unhealthy? We argue that it is very healthy and essential
to the operation of Democracy in the absence of Consensus. It allows
for flexibility, local and individual diversity and, above all, tolerance
of our many differences.
The number of such issues - where one or two countries would find themselves
in the minority of world opinion - makes it inevitable that the nation
state will continue to attract support from its citizens and, therefore,
survive at least a few more decades.
Spain would vigorously defend their bullfighting against allcomers.
The UK would fight for its right to continue to drive on the wrong side
of the road. Americans will cling to their right to bear arms and so
Generally, therefore, we can expect an international rule which requires
democratic majorities within national boundaries before global democratic
decisions become local laws. Does this mean the global community will
never intervene in the affairs of a country outside the majority?
No. It is likely to be rare that - outside the offending country -
there is a consensus (or at least very large majority of the order of
90%) that such intervention was necessary and justified. But it is not
impossible. Female circumcision might be one such issue and we'll be
discussing aspects of that shortly. Given, however, the much wider divisions
on Abortion, it clearly would not be the kind of issue on which a global
majority would endorse intervention.
So even if we reach a global majority one way or the other on the Abortion
issue, we cannot expect it to become the law in every country because
the global majority is unlikely to be mirrored in every national vote.
But it doesn't really matter. The principles are the same whether we're
conducting the debate within the family, the nation or the species.
Issues like abortion and the other similarly abrasive issues which
we deal with in the later chapters are merely examples of how we might
apply the conclusions emerging from the philosophy we've described in
previous chapters. Specifically how we might apply them to the conduct
of any level of public debate prior to plebiscites in the context of
a Survival based behaviour code. Assuming that we have reached the initial
widespread consensus that such a code is going to form our bedrock principle,
what we are now trying to decide, is the specific question of "how Society
should behave" in regard to these issues. We repeat, though, this is
not Moral Philosophy, its simply Applied Philosophy. We will never say
"you should" only that, if your aim is to enhance global survival,
"you could". (please bear this in mind should we ever lapse
into "should". It is merely a lazy shorthand for "we
think this is the best way to achieve the desired outcome")
Our intent in discussing the options for Abortion is not, therefore,
to offer the definitive solution to a persistent question which clearly
divides society pretty well down the middle. We may have have views,
of course, and we will make our own position clear on this and several
other key issues as we proceed, but at no point do we wish to convey
that the conclusion we reach is in any sense the only conclusion
possible under the proposed behaviour code. This can never be
so. We won't even claim to offer the best solution. That would
be hugely arrogant. It is highly likely that people better informed
than we are about any of these issues will be able to indicate the weaknesses
in our own arguments and proffer stronger, more consistent arguments
in their place. We will welcome such insight with open minds.
It is also possible that our arguments and/or their superiors will
fall on deaf ears and the democratic decision will go for the lowest
common denominators more often than not. It is entirely possible, as
well, that some aspects of the democratic control of society will be
an even worse disaster than any tyrant to date. Certainly many have
tried to frighten us away from the democratic ideal with their talk
of "tyranny of the masses".
We'll take our chances. A century or two ago it might have been difficult
to justify, but today we'll trust a jury of the common people before
we'll trust a highly educated and no doubt refined and civilised judge.
The major political point which arises from this analysis to date is
that the only reasonable way of making fundamental political decisions,
consistent with a Survival based code, is by democratically establishing
the true opinions and feelings of the entire (relevant) population.
(Relevant meaning those who will be affected by the outcome of the decision).
This appears to be fundamentally different the other approaches to
the questions of behaviour. Moral philosophies all try to provide a
template for calculating the correct behaviour in any given hypothetical
situation. They try to establish a set of rules which can be always
be applied to a given set of circumstances. SBR starts from the position
that there is and can be no such template. Every ethical decision is
unique. There might be multiple similarities but they are all unique.
And one of the things that make them unique are the people involved
and the attitudes and opinions of those people - which can change from
country to country, culture to culture and day to day.
Consider the differences between a bullfight in Pamplona and a bullfight
in a Bhuddist Temple.We'll stipulate that the bull faces the same fate
in both situations. From the bull's point of view, the ethics are pretty
similar. But consider it from the different positions of the Spaniards
who paid to see the slaughter and the Monks who, presumably, are being
forced to witness the barbarism against their will. Clearly, in the
latter case, there are two offences - the unnecessary slaughter of the
animal and the deliberate and offensive breach of the Monks' autonomy.
Two crimes obviously outweigh one - especially when the first crime
is common to both scenarios.
But the reason the attack on the Monks is more evil than the Pamplona
killing is that the Pamplona people obviously condone and even enjoy
the killing. We may disapprove of their approval as much as most others
who weren't brought up in a bullfighting culture. But we cannot deny
them their right to their own opinion just because we disapprove of
it. That way lies totalitarianism. That way lies the Thought Police.
Now just pause a while. It probably didn't escape your attention that
we used the word "evil" in that paragraph, without batting
an eyelid. We've spent a few chapters trying to demolish the whole concept
and then we just slip it into the conversation without so much as a
quotation mark. What's going on?
We think we've made the point. The concepts of good and evil are not
to be found anywhere in nature except in the minds of Man. We invented
them. Over the centuries, the definition has been ultimately based either
on allegedly divine rules or an assumption that existence is the archetypical
"good" which underpins the definition. Its opposite - non
existence - being the foundation of evil.
We're simply suggesting a fairly minor re-definition: "Good"
and "Evil" are whatever the Consensus says they are. And with
that qualification, we're happy to resume use of the terms.
Now where were we.
A good testing vehicle for democracy
and ethics is the question of female circumcision.
Widely reviled almost everywhere it isn't practised - which is the vast
majority of the planet. Surely the ethical imperative is to ensure that
it cannot happen. Agreed. And, if the global democratic consensus supports
sanctions or even force to bring such practices to an end, many of us
would be delighted.
But that doesn't mean that proponents of the practice should be prevented
from arguing in its favour. They're unlikely to persuade us but they're
entitled to try. We'll never reach consensus on the issue, so, unlike
the more contentious issue of abortion, this is one of those situations
where the 99% who oppose genital mutilation may well insist that this
is one of those few global decisions that ought to take precedence even
over local majority opposition to the rest of the planet. Our collective
resources should be used to ensure that measures are taken by the global
community to ensure that no young girls are ever again submitted to
this particular barbarity anywhere in the world. We would argue that
this means - in the context of the early 21st century (Christian) -
the United Nations should act as the enforcement agency. If economic
and other sanctions don't work, then we should be sending in a task
force to prevent this locally common harm.
It won't happen of course. We should have intervened in Rwanda and
failed. We should have intervened in Zimbabwe and won't. We should have
intervened in the Sudan by now (July 2004). We probably won't until
at least a million have died. Now there's a thought. If we do get our
arses in gear and intervene to prevent the ethnic
cleansing being carried out in the Sudan - what possible excuse
could we have for not taking the opportunity to stomp on the barbaric
ritual of female genital mutilation. That might have the useful knock
on effect of making the other African
and Islamic states who indulge in this torture sit up and take notice.
The International Community can and should always be prepared to intervene
in order to prevent harm, even if the harm is the result of a local
democratic decision. If you still have difficulty with that, use your
imagination: forget female circumcision. Think "ritual sacrifice
of all first born female virgins as they reach puberty". Still
hesitant to intervene just because they voted for it?
The key consideration here is not the democracy - it is the harm to
the third party who is not in a position to with-hold her consent. Ethically
this is no different to seeing your neighbour beating up his wife in
his front garden across the road. "Do as you would be done by"
is possible the longest established philosophical statement of the bleedin
obvious. When Luke's gospel summed it up, the first century, as "Do
to others as you would have them do to you." - he was at the tail
end of nearly twn thousand years of "The
Golden Rule - Reciprocity" and, in the 21st century, another
two thousand years have passed, and still we have yet to to implement
it. Of course - when our neighbour is being attacked, we intervene.
Damn right we do - either personally or call the police or both. In
this case, the neighbour being attacked is a Sudanese or Somali nomad.
What's the difference?
The more awkward question, though, is whether such intervention is
similarly justified on behalf of the bull in Pamplona. If not, why not?
Is it not analogous to seeing your neighbour beat a dog to death? Or
an Imam and a Rabbi slitting the throat of a lamb?
Of course, if you are vegan and/or a strong animal rights supporter,
all three examples are no-brainers. Most meat-eaters will be struggling
however. Of course they should intervene on the dog's behalf. But kosher/halal
lamb is vastly superior in taste and texture to stunned meat. That's
a "fact". Any keen lamb eater knows it. Can't really condemn
the killers in that case then, can we, without exposing our hypocrisy.
And though we don't approve of the bull's fate, neither do we really
want to go to war with Spain over it, or frankly, even impose trade
sanctions. We like their Rioja too much for that.
And, bringing it home to the UK, what should the two thirds of us who
want to see an end to recreational fox hunting do about the third who
support it (despite the fact that only about 2% indulge in it). Should
we bully them into submission? Some argue that we should indeed. Make
it a criminal offence and imprison those who persist. And what if that
2% were 20% or 30% or 49%. Still think that locking them up is a good
The ethical considerations always go far wider than the actual behaviour.
The numbers involved do matter. If you're the single vegan in a household
of carnivores, you can't expect them not to eat meat. On the other hand,
if you're the single carnivore in a household of vegans, you can't expect
them to let you eat meat, at least, not in their presence - probably
not in their house. Numbers matter, of course, because attitudes and
opinions matter. Sometimes, the facts being as plain as they are in
some of the instances above, the only thing that actually matters
is the numbers. The ethical question becomes the democratic question
because the only fair and reasonable means of reaching a conclusion
in the debate is to take a vote on it.
Numbers also justify the apparent paradox in opposing the prospective
Afro-Islamic democratic support for female circumcision. The numbers
of opponents, worldwide, vastly outnumber the numbers of supporters
and despite the manmade convention of respecting international borders,
such boundaries are no inherent component of democracy. Some democratic
decisions might affect no more than 3 people. But at the other end of
the scale, we are just the one planet and some behaviour affects or
offends us all - regardless of the local conditions which may permit
Obvious global issues include, for example, the measures we ought to
be taking to mitigate the global warming we're beginning to witness
unequivocally. Its already too late to stop it, but we can take steps
- globally - to reduce its impact. Every year we delay consensus will
probably cost a few million life years over the next few decades. Our
track record suggests we won't even reach agreement on the need for
action until annual deaths caused directly and unequivocally by global
warming reach a million or more. Thats likely to be about 10 to 20 years
from now. The total excess loss in life years caused by this delay is
likely to be in the hundreds of millions.
Would "we the people", acting globally, be so desperately
and pathetically unable to reach a consensus? We think not. We hope
not. We'll only find out if we try.
Hopefully, once a debate gets going, opinions and feelings may be open
to and modified by scientific evidence together with political and philosophical
contributions, but it is unlikely that any single debate will ever be
entirely decided by rational discourse.. Emotion and prejudice are powerful
players in the human psyche. Hence the only answer which matters is
not the "right" or "wrong" answer, it is the answer provided by the
people. That answer, which could, and no doubt often will be both empirically
and intellectually "wrong" is, nevertheless "right" for them (the voters)
- at least at the time they cast their vote.
Our intent, therefore, is not to second guess the electorate and provide
a uniquely "right" answer but merely to illustrate how the discussion
might take place in the lead up to the final decision. If you like,
we will demonstrate how a philosopher might argue the case, and, hopefully,
help the wider debate by clarifying the real issues. We might even persuade,
along the way, a few people to agree with our own conclusions. What
we regard as much more important, though, is that we can achieve some
agreement on the kind of questions to be asked rather than the
answers. The latter we are content to leave to the democratic decision.
The first question we need to ask in
relation to any democratic decision is "Do we need a debate?"
Presumably there will be a set of previously agreed policies. Can existing
policies answer the particular question being raised in this situation?
Some will argue that they do. Others will say nay. In formalising that
part of the debate, we'll have to agree on some form of question and
then discuss whether it has already been answered in previous debates.
So the next relevant question is "What's the Question?". Lets
skip the debate on that issue in regard to Abortion and imagine we've
reached a broad consensus on what we used in the first paragraph of
this chapter:"Are there circumstances under which Abortion should
be permitted? If so, what are those circumstances?"
Having formalised the Question, we can return to the first vote - Do
we need a debate? If society is already broadly content with existing
policy then the proposal for a debate will fall at the first hurdle
- not enough people want to change the policy. As it happens, at the
time this chapter was being revised, a news
story broke with direct relevance to this issue.
Specifically the latest ultrasound images from the womb revealed that:
From 12 weeks, unborn babies can stretch, kick and leap around
the womb - well before the mother can feel movement
From 18 weeks, they can open their eyes although most doctors
thought eyelids were fused until 26 weeks
and given that the UK's current law on Abortion makes it available
up to 24 weeks virtually on demand, a number of people, including the
Prime Minister are being forced by this new evidence to consider reviewing
the policy. So, in this instance, the first hurdle is passed - the debate
is on. Let battle commence.
The second major question is "Who Should Decide?" Who is
entitled to participate in the debate and the subsequent decision? Who
is involved? Who is affected? Pregnant mothers and potentially pregnant
mothers go without saying. Also directly affected are the potential
fathers and any personnel required to perform the abortions. What about
others? In particular, what about "Society"?
The Pain/Pleasure Matrix
Don't forget that Survival questions are not just about issues as black
and white as life or death. The pain/pleasure matrix, i.e. individual
reactions to events are often the most important factor we need to take
account of in deciding policy. In the case of abortion, there is clearly
a sizable portion of the population whose lives are deeply affected
simply by the knowledge that abortion does go on. In our view, this
alone justifies their interest and participation in the debate.
This is not a unique or even an unusual situation. The same could be
said, for example, of militant vegetarians, who are 'in pain' because
the rest of us eat meat. As we've implied elsewhere, as meat eaters,
we do consider that their pain is a factor which we should take into
account in deciding our own behaviour. Avoiding meat in their presence
is no great sacrifice as long as we don't spend too much time in their
The question is "who is involved" and as we made
clear above, when we see our neighbour beating his wife or kids, or
hear of Sudanese nomad women mutilating their daughters' genitalia,
we are hurt and offended. We don't give a damn about whether or not
we are directly involved. We are affected. Note how easy it
would be at this stage to assert that this somehow gives us a "right"
to intervene. As we will discuss in a moment, we have no such "right".
But then, by the same token, neither has anyone else any right to stop
us intervening. We will perhaps merely exercise our autonomy to in whatever
ways we can in the hope that it will help bring such behaviour to an
end. This may be - in the case of the bullying neighbour - by means
of alerting "the authorities", or even, if the situation appears to
demand it, by direct personal intervention. Or, in the case of the circumcisors,
by arguing for sanctions against any regimes which permit such behaviour.
Meanwhile, back at the abortion issue, in short, if you, as a female
pro-abortion feminist, argue that your potential direct involvement
entitles you to a greater role in the decision making process than men,
but you would also like to be able to do something to end female circumcision,
then - unless you are one of the unfortunate victims of this behaviour
- you are clearly accepting grounds for your interest other than "being
directly involved" and thus, you are in danger of hypocrisy if you deny
a similar interest - and hence a right to participate in the debate
and vote - on the part of the anti-abortionist, whether they are male
Yet this does raise a fascinating issue. Should we give more "weight"
to some parties than others in deciding some issues? In deciding an
issue like Abortion, for instance, should we recognise the greater involvement
of Women and let them have- say - two votes while Men only get one vote?
Tentatively, our answer is "Yes" - simply because it seems
inherently fairer to recognise the degree of involvement. The practical
problems, though, are immense. Who makes decisions on which issues deserve
such discrimination and what mechanism can be used to allocate fair
"weighting"? Abortion, in this context, is actually a relatively
simple issue. Women clearly have more direct involvement than men. But
should there be a similar weighting on the issue of, say, fox hunting?
If so, who would be entitled to the additional votes? Just those who
make their living from the practice? or all those who participate? or
all those who have participated for at least N years?
We could simply make such decisions a routine part of the decision
making "matrix" for all issues. Until we have a fairly advanced
artificial intelligence to help us with that process, it is likely to
remain impractical and we will thus be stuck with "one person one
vote" for the immediate future. As soon as the technology is in
place, though, we should consider migration to the fairer option as
soon as practical.
For the time being, and in present, early 21st century circumstances,
our conclusion would have to be that, in deciding the policy on Abortion,
we cannot justify restricting the decision only to those actually or
potentially directly involved and, instead, anyone who feels motivated
to participate should be allowed to do so.
Thus we reach our position on the question of "who should decide" the
wider social issue. Our position is that the issue is so contentious
that it will attract the interest of a large majority of the community
at whatever level (family, national, global) it is debated.. And they're
all equally entitled to have their say and to cast their votes. Others
will put other cases. The first vote will be taken and that will determine
whether there is a perceived need for a social policy and, if so, who
should be permitted to take part in the debate and subsequent decision.
Thus ends the first democratic task. We have defined the issue and
decided who shall take part in deciding it. Now we have to decide whether
the issue can be decided simply by gathering the "facts" or whether
emotion has its part to play. In the case of abortion, it is pretty
clear that facts alone will not suffice. Indeed this is one of the debates
most seriously clouded by (often hysterical) emotion. On the one hand
it demonstrates the malign influence of religion and how appeal to allegedly
divine rule is intended to take the place of using our own reason. And,
on the other, it demonstrates the equally irrational effects of appeal
to dogma and metaphysical concepts such as alleged "rights" (of either
foetus or woman - depending which side of the fence you're on).
We think we have made pretty clear our views on following a religious
code - whether or not there is a God - in Chapter 5, so we won't deal
with that side of the argument here. Lets start, instead, with the question
of so called "human rights" which is often seen as the fundamental argument
in a number of major social issues.
Just where do these "rights" spring from? Are they a natural attribute
of Humankind? If so then what is their full "natural" basis? What was
the method by which they evolved? And if they're given to us naturally,
then why do we have to fight other human beings so damn hard, on occasion,
to obtain or preserve them? Are we born with them? Or do we attain them
as we age? Can you show us one? Do they exist without us? Just some
of the questions we prepared before the show.
The concept of Human Rights staggered painfully into human consciousness
as recently as the 17th century; most notably through the work of John
Locke. He held, basically, that there were certain "natural" laws (in
his case conveniently listed in the bible) which, in an ideal world, all
human beings would follow voluntarily simply by use of their reason. They
would all individually perceive what was "right" and the world would operate
in perfect harmony. Unfortunately, he observed, the world is not full
of reasonable people. Some occasionally try to seize advantage over their
fellows by acting in ways which breach the natural laws. For example they
may try to steal someone else's property. In Locke's eyes, the most basic
human right consists of being allowed, in such a situation, to defend
the natural law (i.e. in this case your retention of personal property)
by whatever means are necessary up to and including the killing of the
thief. A bit harsh, you might think, for someone caught nicking hubcaps,
but Locke made no distinctions of degree. The natural law was God's law
and thus you had His authority to do whatever it took to defend it.
He developed the thesis to a considerable level of sophistication, going
on to explain how if we choose to share the burden of protecting the natural
law by establishing Governments, then we forfeited some of our rights
to them. For example, whilst without Government, we not only had the right
to kill in self defence (of ourselves, family or property) but if the
attacker was successful, then Locke's interpretation of the natural law
was that we also had the right to kill in retribution. However, as soon
as we introduce Government and delegate to it the duty to apprehend the
law-breaker, then we no longer hold the right to exert our own justice.
All of which has a superficial "common sense" appeal so strong that its
main tenets are those enshrined in the American Declaration of Independence;
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal;
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights;
that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that,
to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men."
The reality is, of course, that there are no such things as "self evident
truths" - this follows from our discussions of the first
and second questions.
And by now you won't be entirely surprised to see us rejecting the notion
of "God Given" or other "inalienable" rights out of hand. But neither
are there any "natural rights" somehow allocated to us at birth like
a stamp in your passport! The only "rights" which have real meaning
in human society are those we accord ourselves. And those we accord
we can take away. The more accurate description of what actually happens
in society up till now would contain references to "power". If we have
the power to prevent theft, rape or murder etc, then we will do so.
If a Government has that power then it will exercise it on our behalf.
And once we grant Governments such powers (or they have seized them)
then we find that the definition of human rights becomes simply the
definition of to what extent those in power will permit individual liberty.
Naturally, if there is opposition to their definition, there will be
a debate as to what the "right" should be. But this debate has never
been won by mere argument. It is again decided by power. If the power
of the opposition is sufficient to outweigh the power of the State,
then the new human "right" is born - the various fights resulting in
the successive widening of the right to vote are examples. (This is
the "broadening of the base of the pyramid" we mentioned above)
If, as is more common, the power stays where it is, then the status
remains decidedly quo. So there is nothing "natural" or God-given about
rights. They are a purely social phenomenon arising from the normal
interplay of political forces.
Hence it is pointless to base your appeal for change or stasis on an
appeal to such rights. What you are trying to do is no more nor less
than establish or reestablish a definition of the right. To appeal to
it in its own defence is a futile circular argument. It is like offering
a definition of "good" as that which gives pleasure; and that, therefore,
anything good is pleasurable. Big deal. That is not even tautology -
which, as we saw in establishing the Theory of Behaviour, can illuminate
- it is mere repetition. Similarly to argue that the foetus has a right
to live, therefore we shouldn't kill it; or that women have the right
to choose, therefore they should be allowed to make the choice; is equally
unenlightening. We need to ask why the foetus has a right to
life, or the woman has a right to choose.
What then, are the real issues? It seems to us there are a number
of pertinent questions with some important supplementaries.
1. First, in pursuit of that course of action which best promotes
survival, what, specifically, are we aiming to achieve in the case
of abortion? Protection of all life; Protection of human life; or merely
the relief of human beings from pain?
2. When does Foetal Life begin?
3. When does Human Life begin?
We can dispose of the first option offered in answer to the first question
p.d.q. The fact that most of us are still meat eaters means we can't claim
to be intent on protection of all life.
Similarly, there is little controversy in claiming a clear consensus,
in normal circumstances, in favour of the protection of human life.
Exceptions at the time of writing (1997,2004) include the equally clear
consensus in favour of Capital Punishment and the somewhat lower but
still significant support for voluntary Euthanasia. It may be that Abortion
qualifies as a third exception.
As to the objective of relieving human beings from pain, this goes
along with a broad consensus that unnecessary pain, at least, should
be avoided (and that some necessary pains ought to be tolerated). However,
it would also, we think, be fairly widely agreed that the avoidance
of one person's pain doesn't justify another person's death.
As to when foetal life begins, we might find we can now make further
use of that definition of life we arrived at in Chapter 6: "Life is that
which does something in order to Survive". We can now rephrase the question
in the form "at what point does the foetus begin doing something in order
to survive". The answer is perhaps simpler than you may have thought.
It begins replicating within hours of conception. It is replicating in
order to survive. Presto - it is alive. If you doubt that, compare it
to the replication of a salt crystal which is driven merely by the need
to find the lowest energy state - the exact opposite of organic replication
which steadily increases the energy state.
Note to Biophysicists - what we have here
is perhaps an alternative definition of life which is apparently true
of all forms we currently know about - although we can't logically leap
to extending that to the rest of the universe. Viz "Life is that which
causes a localised and temporary reversal of entropy - usually by promoting
it elsewhere". For instance a tree represents a highly ordered and energetic
system which arose from components at lower energy levels; however,
a) its development was driven by the sun and b) in the process it converts
high order energy of visible and ultraviolet light into much lower grade
infra red, thus increasing entropy for that radiation much more efficiently
than a standard "black body". I also offer this as the somewhat depressing
answer to the "meaning of life"; our physical function is to increase
entropy, in order to bring forward the heat death of the universe. Just
compare the efficiency of human beings as entropy accelerators with
the aforementioned trees. In its lifetime the average tree will process
the equivalent of around 25 KWH per day. Human beings in the western
world currently account for up to 1000 KWH each. Pound for pound that
makes us some 500 times more "entropic"! [check figs] But don't get
too gloomy, we don't have to abide by that "purpose" if we don't like
it - but it will be something of a challenge to avoid it! [update Jan
2009. 16 years after writing this speculative paragraph, we finally
see science going someway to confirming
more specifically, they argue that entropy drove the increasing chemical
complexity which produced the initial self repicating organic molecules
which themselves become the "point of origin" for life on
Earth. That'll do me.]
So it is easy to establish that the foetus is alive from a point very
close to conception. However, the next obvious question is whether its
life constitutes "human life". If the answer is "Yes", then the debate
probably ends there as it is difficult to imagine anyone putting forward
serious arguments for the taking of one human life for the "mere convenience"
of another. However, there is a powerful argument for stating that the
answer is "No". In which case, we must then ask the question when does
it achieve the status of humanity. What is interesting, about this part
of the debate, is that it is genuinely open to question. In other words
there is no scientific definition of "human life" or indeed what constitutes
"humanity" at all. If there were, then, in a sense the debate would
be much more limited. We would merely have to determine what empirical
test determines the existence of human life. Up to that point, for the
most part, abortions would be uncontroversial (at least among those
who accepted the validity of the test) and, similarly, beyond that point,
again for the "majority", the embargo on abortions would be acceptable.
You might have hoped that, on such a fundamental question, medical
scientists and biologists would have reached clear unequivocal conclusions,
with appropriate supporting evidence, which could then inform the social
debate. Unfortunately, they are as divided on this issue as the rest
of the community. Scientists, of course, have opinions, like the rest
of us. But that doesn't make them "scientific" opinions per se. There
is, in short, no clear empirical answer to the question. (at least -
Some will argue that human life begins only at birth. This, after all,
is when we measure it from! More important, it would be argued that
"humanness" involves certain behaviour and characteristics which can
apparently only begin to be expressed after birth. Obvious examples
include the ability to learn and to interact with the environment. This
might be called the functional definition of human life. Its elegance
lies in the fact that it can be used again at the other end of the spectrum
(should we be considering, for example, Euthanasia) when people fall
into irreversible coma or brain death.
Some have taken the functional definition to extreme lengths and suggested
that we measure humanity from when the individual becomes "self-aware"
or "rational". Frankly, however, we've all met fully functioning adults
who probably don't meet either of those criteria so we're just going
to ignore that angle! At the very least you'd have to have further lengthy
debates on what constitutes "self awareness" or "rationality".
A more measured version of the "late functionality" argument
can be seen in Peter Singer's approach. He has made himself the bete
noir of the "pro life" faction by openly advocating not just
abortion but infanticide under certain extreme circumstances. His criteria
are based on "quality of life" estimations. He wouldn't argue
that any child is not "human". He raises the question of "viable
humanity". If the child is clearly suffering and unable to profit
from being kept alive, and there is consensus between the family and
medical support teams, that the child's life has no material or moral
value, then he argues that the most humane action would be to kill the
child as painlessly and quickly as possible. He has, of course, been
subjected to immense waves of emotional criticism - right up to and
including death threats. Yet those who criticise him have clearly not
read or listened to what he is saying. At most, they tend to pluck a
sentence or two out of context and build it into rabid opposition which
likens him to Nazi eugenicists.
We have posed the question "when does human life begin?"
and offered that as the logical point beyond which abortions become
murder and therefore indefensible. His argument essentially points out
that "human life" in some cases either doesn't begin at all
- even in babies that are delivered normally and live a few years. In
other cases, illness or injury can cause such catastrophic damage that
"human life" has effectively ceased despite the fact that
the person is still living and breathing - albeit usually only with
so called "heroic" medical intervention. What he is saying
is that if a human being is not capable - and, importantly, is extremely
unlikely ever to attain or recover the capability - to think and act
like a human being, then they have lost everything of value which constitutes
their humanity. Even so, he argues, if they are not suffering and their
condition is not causing suffering in others, then maintaining their
life is still a viable option. However, if, on top of their loss of
human functionality, they are also clearly suffering and causing others
to suffer as well, then it is probably kinder to kill than continue
Of course, the issue is much more clear cut in the case of voluntary
euthanasia - where an informed individual can not only make clear their
desire to die but is still capable of taking the necessary steps to
end their own life. But what of the individual who anticipates being
in a situation where they are no longer capable of being able to end
their own life but makes it very clear to all concerned that, should
they ever be in that position, and become not only unable to end their
own lives but unable even to participate in normal human activity or
even thought, that they wish to have others take appropriate steps to
end their lives as painlessly as possible. Now we've stepped into a
grey area. Which gets even greyer when we step into the territory Singer
has dared to inhabit. In the cases he addresses, prior consent is not
possible and, of course, consent at the time is ruled out by their condition.
Most moralists have shied away from the issue as being too controversial.
We see it as being not significantly different to the female circumcision
issue. In that case we argue that because the young girls who are victims
of that maltreatment are incapable of giving their informed consent,
it is the responsibility of third parties to act on their behalf - in
this case to prevent harm. We make the assumption, on their behalf,
that they would not wish to suffer.
The logic applies equally to anyone similarly incapable of giving their
informed consent, as is the situation with the severely and irreversibly
ill or injured human. We have to act on their behalf. The difficulty
is not a moral one. There is no great soul shaking dilemma about putting
a suffering animal out of its misery. The difficulty is deciding whether
the human condition has been reduced to that level in any given instance.
What we really need in these cases is an objective measure of their
consciousness, self awareness, and suffering. These are partly scientific
questions and part social questions. At what reduced level of cognitive
function do we consider humanity to be no longer possible?
A scientist can't answer that question. In the near future we can expect
to see accurate measurement and description of precisely what level
of awareness is going on within any human (or animal) brain. Over several
years, we may even learn to correlate the brain activity with "mind".
But none of this will answer the question. Scientifically we can't define
a point at which brain functionality produces "mind" and there
is certainly no arbitrary point at which we can say a brain is functioning
Indeed, because life support technology is improving all the time,
there are an increasing numbers of cases where the brain shows no activity
other than basic brain stem life support functions. These "permanent
vegetative state" cases are generally utterly beyond recovery;
will never think again; will never breathe again without technical support.
And yet we still agonize over ending their lives. Why?
We would like to be able to say "Because we misdiagnose PVS every
one in a million cases." In fact the misdiagnosis rate is no less
than 43%. Nearly half the people diagnosed with PVS after being in a
coma for more than 3 months make some kind of recovery after 12 months.
It would be difficult even if the error rate was as low as one in a
million to tell the other 999999 that their loved one's death is so
probable that they should be allowed to die (Or as Peter Singer prefers,
more honestly, they should be humanely killed)
At 43%, the relatives and friends are actually being thoroughly rational
in hoping for the best. Ironically, the real suffering in this situation
are those close friends and family who may have to bear the decision
to terminate a loved one's life. He or she is well out of it. Whatever
else they're doing, they're not suffering.
There is, thus, no ethical dilemma and no obvious reason to kill them.
Under no circumstances is it reasonable to "allow them to die".
That is truly the cowards way out. We can all sleep better knowing we
didn't kill her can we? Do as you would be done by.
"If I have to die, delay it as long as possible by all means
- until I am either suffering more than I can bear (and even I don't
know how much that is until the time comes) or incapable of benefiting
from staying alive. Then end it quickly and with as little pain as possible.
Preferably while I'm pleasantly high on my favourite weed" (Stottle)
Obviously we need to reduce the suffering of the relatives in PVS cases.
This will only be done with more accurate diagnosis and prognosis. At
the moment it takes a year in most cases before we know whether or not
the condition is permanent. It needs to be brought down to a few weeks
but although they're working
on it we're a long long way from that
But assuming that medical research leads to a situation where we can
accurately predict PVS with an error rate of one in a million or less,
What is the ethical situation then. Still think that its a problem?
OK. Whats the ethical situation when we have a zero error rate? They
predict PVS and can be shown to be 100% accurate over 100,000 cases
over a period of 10 years.
Well, there's always what might have happened in the eleventh year...
Some people will cling on to homeopathic traces of hope.
Can we ever refuse them that "right"?
Yes. It happens all the time. We're asking "should it?" and
if so, in what circumstances is it right for society to pull the plug
or inject the lethal drug regardless of the relatives wishes?
And if you're still not prepared to accept that Society ever has such
authority, what if the cost society has to pay to maintain this figment
of hope is a million dollars a day? Money no object? OK - lets make
it a billion a day. 100 Billion if you like. Whatever it takes to bankrupt
your country in less than a year. Do we still have no right to pull
By now we'll have shaken off all bar the nutters. It is of course obvious
that society has to make economic choices about how its resources are
put to use and those decisions have to benefit the whole of society
and promote its survival. Cost benefit calculations are a practical
and unavoidable necessity.
The problem for the Consensus seeking democrat is that we probably
wouldn't achieve consensus until the $100 billion a day cost level.
At a billion a day we'd probably attain a majority in excess of 90%.
At a million a day the majority would probably still be around two thirds
or more. At one thousand a day, we'd probably be 50:50. And at less
than a thousand dollars a day, most people would probably vote against
pulling the plug. Unless, of course there are millions in a similar
Of course those numbers are arbitrary. No-one's ever researched attitudes
to pulling the plug in quite such fine grained detail. But its not unreasonable
to suppose the response curve would be a similar shape albeit shifted
up or down the scale and wherever that curve sits, it demonstrates the
same salient point.
Democratic decision making cannot be divorced from - quite often literal
- value judgements. The facts are never enough to decide the issue.
The values we put on such intangibles as human life are entirely arbitrary
and individually unique. If the decision required reflects those values,
then opinion and emotion must inevitably and rationally play as important
a part as logic and discovery. This is why models of society based optimistically
on our innate ability to make reasonable and rational decisions were
always doomed to fail. Such models are predicated on the naive belief
that there must be a single state of affairs which is "correct"
and, thus, satisfactory to all citizens.
We're simply not built like that. As the Abortion issue clearly illustrates,
we can't even agree on something as apparently fundamental as when human
life begins. The functional argument inevitably pulls us into discussions
where value judgements must be made.
Conversely the biologist might argue that a set of replicating cells,
which is destined to become a human being, already is a human being,
albeit at its earliest stage of development. This has the merit of not
trying to draw arbitrary lines at which humanity suddenly emerges. This
has a common sense feel to it.
Ten minutes prior to a successful delivery, the foetus is clearly very
active. Its heart is beating in order to pump blood round its system.
Its brain is functioning and controlling at least the autonomic reflexes.
It is kicking. Its opening and closing its mouth etc etc. No one is going
seriously to suggest that the next ten minutes makes the difference between
human and sub-human.
Furthermore, though there are those who would persist in arguing the
dominance of the mother's rights over the foetus even at this late stage,
I don't believe that this option would attract significant support other
than on the rare occasions that it was the only way of saving the mother.
(Indeed, the decision has often gone the other way.) Why not? Because
there is already a clear consensus that we don't kill one human being
merely for the convenience of another.
We might also argue that though the functional definition is more appropriate,
the moment of birth is too late in the sequence. There is considerable
evidence that a foetus begins to "learn and to interact" (or at least
attempt to interact) from the moment brain function begins. It can also,
from this moment, feel pain. It is at this point that the foetus ceases
to be a bundle of cells merely following chemical orders and begins
to act in ways the chemicals can no longer be held entirely responsible
for. This might be the most reasonable point at which to define the
foetus as having become human.
But note that however inclined you are to agree or disagree with that
definition, we do not contend that this definition has any logical force
or empirical support. It amounts to no more than a proposed definition
in our language. It is, though, empirically testable. In other words
we can fairly easily establish the point at which brain function begins.
Thus, if we can agree that this is a reasonable point at which to define
the onset of humanity, then we have a measurable point on which to base
the test. Hopefully this would become the basis for compromise between
the warring camps. As we have implied above, we can probably achieve
consensus more easily on the simpler question of whether or not we can
justify the taking of one human life merely in order to enhance the
life of another. That consensus would, we think, be very strongly against.
If we can now proceed to agreement on when human status is arrived at,
then we finally have a basis for consensus on the overall question of
The point is that whilst "Choicers" might have to concede to "pro-Lifers"
(as if anyone could seriously be "anti-life"!) that the argument is over
if conception is considered to mark the beginning of both life and humanity,
conversely, the latter would have to concede that if the consensus supports
a later starting point to either, then abortions up to that point do not
breach their main objection. They may have other objections but these
are usually religious - and thus, meaningless - and in any case pale into
insignificance against the fundamental and agreed objection against taking
The outcome of that argument determines the next. Specifically, if
any moment later than conception is agreed as the starting point for
humanity, then abortion up to that point is likely to be supported by
a similar consensus. That being the case, we would then probably have
to consider the question of under what circumstances abortions would
be permitted. To some extent this will entail a rehearsal of the arguments
we will already have heard in the argument over the fundamental principle
of whether or not abortion should be permitted at all. The antis will
argue for the tightest restrictions - medical reasons and, perhaps,
pregnancies caused by rape will be all they would grudgingly concede.
The most liberal will argue for no restrictions whatsoever up to that
point. In their view, abortion up to the point of humanity is no more
significant than contraception and should be treated the same way. Indeed
the RU486 pill already exists (in France at least) and is the culmination
of that logic. It is difficult to disagree with that analysis. If the
foetus hasn't attained humanity, then its abortion is not a matter of
general social concern as no human life is involved.
The more difficult area is in dealing with abortions past the agreed
point of humanity. The antis will now fight tooth and nail for a complete
ban - some even at the expense of the mother's life. The pros will argue
at least that certain medical circumstances may necessitate the late
abortion of a human foetus. They may also argue for abortion for what
might be called 'late' social reasons - for example the discovery (after
the agreed cut off point) that the baby has a serious handicap. The
compromise position here is, we suggest, to allow abortions without
question where the life of the mother is at risk, but not for less.
However, what then arises is a new social responsibility. Whilst one
can argue the case for allowing a handicapped or unwanted human to be
born, one can not impose the duty for its care on to a mother who clearly
didn't want it. Hence, we would argue that if, for any reason, society
forbids an abortion then society must take on the full responsibility
for the post natal care and life support of the infant. This would not
preclude the mother taking back such responsibility should she choose
to do so, but that would be her choice, not a social imposition.
There is a further social responsibility implied here, which is that
every effort should be made to identify potential reasons for abortion
at the earliest possible stage in order to minimise the extent to which
mothers are obliged to carry handicapped or unwanted babies against
their will. This implies the allocation of social resources to the research
required to generate the appropriate tests, and then unlimited access,
for all potentially pregnant women, to those tests. Of course there
will be some women who choose not to know, or even when told of the
handicap, choose to carry the baby to full term regardless. And why
not? If thats their free choice, so be it. Mind you that raises another
obvious and much thornier question.
If we accept the argument that a woman who gives birth to an unwanted
infant against her will is to be released by society from her normal
parental responsibilities, will there be a call for the corollary? In
other words there may be a case made that a woman who had the option
of an early abortion but nevertheless knowingly gave birth to a handicapped
child, should not receive any special support from society in supporting
that child, or that she should but that she should contribute towards
the extra resources the child would need. An even harder line might
be proposed that as such tests were available, then any woman choosing
not to be tested must take full responsibility for the subsequent
birth of a handicapped child. And the only argument against that hard
line position that springs to mind is straightforwardly emotional. We
want to live in a humane society which simply wouldn't consider "further"
penalising a woman in an already difficult situation.
That then is how one might seek to argue the issue rationally under a
Survival Based Constitution. We will have covered the issues every bit
as intensively as the modern ongoing debate, but, hopefully, having done
so in the context of a Survival Based code, we will reach a decision consistent
with that code and which could attract a wider consensus and thus reduce
the present levels of hostility between the camps. Presumably we would
then commission appropriate authoritative research from scientists representing
various points of view and ask them to report their findings and recommendations
to the public at large. The final stage would then simply consist of voting
on the various recommendations on the basis of which analysis most persuaded
the individual voter.
Let us now assume that Society has agreed some of the fundamentals.
It has been agreed that the onset of humanity, if not at our proposed
"brain function" point, is nevertheless at some time significantly later
than the moment of conception (several weeks or months past that date).
It has further been agreed that Society will permit abortions of human
foetuses prior to that point, and that, after that point, abortions
would only be permitted in genuine life threatening cases. One further
question remains. Society having made the decision in principle clearly
will not wish to repeat the debate for each and every subsequent abortion.
The question is, on any specific abortion, who should make the final
Who is directly involved?
The woman, obviously, but we'll come back to her. The medical team
is directly involved as they will perform the operation (unless, of
course, it is possible to induce the abortion entirely through drugs
such as RU486). Should they be entitled to "veto" the abortion? Our
answer is an unequivocal "No" as they do not have to live with the consequences.
However, we do not see an argument against their having the "right"
to refuse to take part in a particular abortion - or indeed any at all.
Clearly if all medical personnel exercised such a right then no women
would be able to have abortions other than those induceable by drugs.
This is, however, a somewhat unlikely scenario.
The father is also directly involved and may have to live with
the consequences. Should he have a deciding vote? Again, our answer
is a clear no. Yes, he is "involved" but now its a question of "degree
of involvement". And in brief, it is difficult to argue that any
individual other than the potential mother is involved to the extent
that she must be. She is the one person who can never walk away from
the consequences of her decision. That is sufficient to award her the
social "right" to make the final decision regardless of the feelings
and opinions of others. She may, of course, wish to consult others,
and may to a greater or lesser extent be swayed by their feelings. But
that consultation is itself a voluntary act on her part and the results
of the consultation can not reasonably be argued to be "binding" on
her either way.
There are those who would still argue against that and try to
prevent any abortion, but only in the sense of trying to lock the stable
door after the horse has bolted. i.e they will repeat the same arguments
they should and will address to the wider social question. At this stage
(i.e. an individual abortion) their objections are politically invalid
as what they amount to - providing that the policy results from a genuine
democratic debate and decision making process - is no less than an attempt
to subvert the democratic will. There is always a case for that, as we
will see later, not least because merely being in the "majority" doesn't
mean you are "right". But anyone trying to buck the majority view must
be prepared to face the collective wrath of those who share it. And there
are no obvious limits to the measures the majority is entitled to take
in order to ensure that its will prevails.
So at the individual level, the anti-abortionist has no locus (unless,
of course, she is pregnant and it is her turn to decide; a decision which,
presumably, will be to proceed with the pregnancy). But at the social
level, there is no real argument against the anti-abortionist being involved
in the debate.
Are there any circumstances in which the father's rights would equal
the mother's? If medical science progresses to the point at which is
technically viable to fertilise and develop an embryo all the way through
to birth outside the womb, and assuming that there are no other gender
based functions which can and must be provided for the infant solely
by the mother, then perhaps we could make the case for the father's
role having equal weight with the mother's. But, under those circumstances
the question of abortion becomes almost redundant - or at the very least
takes on a whole new meaning!
The debate is over. The vote is taken. As we made plain earlier, we
make no claims for the eventual intellectual validity of the resulting
policy. It is entirely conceivable that the worst argument (philosophically
speaking) would win the hearts and minds of the people. There is and
can be no protection against that. Human beings will never be in a position
to judge objectively whether they or someone else are better decision
makers - although they will always, of course, be able to judge results
after the event. All you can judge, at the time, is your own perception
of the validity of your own and other peoples' arguments. That is what
you are doing now, we hope. You should not be either disagreeing with
this line of reasoning because the author is a nonentity who has never
written a serious book before or agreeing with it because by some strange
good fortune it has become widely read and millions of other readers
agree with its main thrust. If you really want to live in a democratic
world, you must take seriously your democratic responsibilities. It
is up to you personally to conduct your own analysis of this and all
other arguments and then to make your opinions known in reaching any
appropriate collective or individual decisions.
Having said that, as we said at the end of the previous chapter, many
of us have a deep conviction - and we are not sure whether it is genuine
insight or mere wishful thinking - that even with the risk of occasional
regressive collective decisions, there are two major advantages to making
decisions this way. First it puts the issue to bed for a while - presumably
until someone comes up with some convincing new evidence - and thus
allows us to spend our time on more useful pursuits. And secondly, as
we've said elsewhere, decisions made by such means could and would be
far more easily reversed if experience proved them wrong than under
the various autocratic forms of Government we presently endure and which
all represent immovable power blocs and vested interests to a far greater
extent than they can or have ever represented individuals. It is often
in the interests of those who hold power in this pre-democratic era
to maintain a policy well after it has been clearly demonstrated to
be "wrong"; usually because despite being "wrong" for the majority,
it is "right" for the minority whom they represent.
Now then, what about Capital Punishment?
First draft pre 1993
Last Update Jan 2009