One of the beauties of disciplined thought is that it is impersonal. We can tell nothing about what kind of man Pythagoras was from his celebrated theorem, nor what kind of a man Rutherford was from his celebrated experiment. The logic and the data speak for themselves; the qualities of their discoverers are matters of uninteresting historical accident. The Right aspires to such discipline in the political realm. We refuse to play the game of taking political statements as indicative of the moral qualities of those who propound them.
To see how alien this is to the modern mindset, consider a recent article on First Things, “To my liberal friends, on the day after the Women’s March”, by Solveig Gold, who, like the magazine’s founder, seeks to be liberal on every issue except abortion. How liberal? Well, there’s the naked feminist chauvinism with which she begins and ends her piece.
I am a feminist. Indeed, I am, in some people’s eyes, the worst kind of feminist—the kind who believes that women not only are equal to men, but may, in fact, be superior. As I see it, a woman can do anything a man can do, but she can do it better, faster, and in high heels.
Pause for a moment and ask, not whether this is true, but what it even means. Let M be the set of men, W the set of women. She may mean that for any task z, there is some x in M and some y in W such that y is better than x at z. This would be true but uninteresting. She may mean that for any x in M and any y in W, it will be true that y is better than x at z. This is rather less likely, and First Things being a religious magazine, I expect the editors would insist that there are at least some things Jesus Christ did that couldn’t have been done better by a woman. Perhaps she refers to the median man compared to the median woman. In fact, I doubt she’s thought it through herself. This piece of nonsense is not meant to assert fact, but to display attitude, that is, to tell us about her, not about reality.
While on the topic of feminist chauvinism, let’s look at what the author finds inspiring.
But yesterday did give the feminist in me one reason to celebrate. Sandwiched between photos of uteruses and pink pussy hats, my friend from Princeton posted this status to her Facebook: “tfw your prof returns your dean’s date paper with thorough feedback the same week she had a baby and basically makes you realize you have absolutely no excuses for not doing work ever #myprofiswonderwoman.”
Well, it depends on one’s idea of how much investment in time babies require and how much it matters who it comes from. Some might call this neglect of one’s higher duty rather than heroism. The old accusation that pro-lifers don’t care about babies after they’re born is more plausibly made against pro-life feminists (who agree society should be structured around universal employment rather than family) than against pro-life patriarchists. In any case, suppose we grant that women are better than men at everything (whatever one means precisely by this). There is an economic principle of comparative advantage: if there is one crucial thing that only women can do, it makes sense for them to concentrate on it regardless of their superiority in other fields. From this, the traditional division of roles follows.
Moving on to the main point, it is striking how the author judges political beliefs not as true or false but as selfish or unselfish.
Over the years, I have listened carefully as you accused members of the Republican Party of selfishness, of a lack of empathy for experiences different from their own. And often, I think, you were correct. The Right’s frequent apathy towards, for example, welfare recipients and the environment and the experiences of minorities betrays a privileged and, yes, fundamentally selfish outlook. Certainly our new, narcissistic president ran a campaign that was all about him, and I would argue that his inaugural speech was selfish on behalf of America…
The question of whether or not what conservatives say about the pathologies of socialism or the black underclass is true needn’t be considered. Ms. Gold is able to look into the souls of conservatives and see the blackness in their hearts. One might think this rather presumptuous. Wouldn’t it be better to allow oneself to be persuaded by liberals that the conservatives’ arguments are false, their conclusions invalid, and leave the state of their souls to God? Her objection to each state putting its citizens first naturally prompts the question of whether it is selfish of me to put my own children first? Isn’t that what separate families–and separate nations–are for? Normal people understand that by putting my family first, I don’t mean that I may be unjust to other children. It means my job is not an unconstrained optimization problem for the human race but a constrained optimization problem for my family.
Ms. Gold’s ability to divine selfishness forms the basis of her objection to abortion.
And yet, what could be more selfish than the rhetoric of the pro-choice movement? MY body. MY choice. Just as Republicans may be accused of ignoring their responsibility to the poor and oppressed, so you are guilty of choosing to ignore the possibility that we may have a greater responsibility to humankind—a responsibility to promote a culture of life, instead of death, a culture in which every human life is valued and allowed to reach its full potential. You make the right to choose all about you, while conveniently forgetting that it isn’t all about you—there is, in fact, another human life at stake, whether you like it or not. When you fight for the right to choose, you are saying that you should be able to prioritize your career, your education, your relationship, your convenience, etc., over the future of the fetus inside you.
There are some good points in there, but they are tangent to the main point that the pro-choice movement is selfish. In fact, as proudly anti-abortion as I am, I would never presume to know this. It would be preposterous to assume that Hillary Clinton is pro-abortion because she thinks she may need one herself one day. I have no reason to doubt she holds her beliefs for the reasons she has given. It’s true that legalized abortion allows one person to pursue her interest at the expense of another, but this is the point its supporters would dispute. If “personhood” depends only on present mental ability and not substantial form, then they are correct to dispute it. In fact, the personhood theory of the bioethicists is an error of the intellectual order, just as Cartesian dualism is an intellectual error. They are, in fact, the same error.
I propose that the author’s accusations of selfishness are unconvincing. It is the assertion that the fetus is a human being whose interests we are morally constrained to recognize that gives her conclusion what force it has.
There is a strain of thought on the Right, Neoreaction, which reduces Leftism entirely to moral status signaling, dangerous precisely because of the extremes these sorts of status competitions incentivize. We in the Orthosphere wouldn’t go so far. We attribute the dynamism of the Left to the ideas themselves. We think these ideas are wrong; we don’t presume to judge those who hold them. They are, after all, only following what they have been taught is incontestably true. In fact, hostility toward liberal persons is always a conservative deformation, often a conservative deficit–the manifestation of an anxiety that one’s beliefs alone do not sufficiently differentiate oneself from the Left, so that one must posit personal moral failings to them as well. I have no idea if Hillary Clinton has any serious personal flaws, but even if she does, these would be fundamentally irrelevant to the issue at hand.
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