From the Notebook of R.B. Ripley: Wherein I Learn I’m a Supporter of Genocide Feb07

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From the Notebook of R.B. Ripley: Wherein I Learn I’m a Supporter of Genocide

Last week, after poring through legislation penned by House Republicans and discovering it would not allow abortion, even in the case of rape and incest, I dashed off a short Tweet declaring my horrified view of this topic, which appeared my Facebook wall:

RR: Note to GOP House of Representatives: We’ve got mire [sic] pressing issues than your freakish abortion views.

What I thought to be a fairly innocuous, passing gas bubble of a comment quickly erupted as a full-blown fart on my Facebook page when one of FB friends angrily responded:

FRIEND: I could just imagine the GOP people last year really wishing the Dems would have thought about more than their freakish views on healthcare.

Clearly, I’d touched a nerve. Though admittedly mystified at how ensuring all Americans had health care was similarly freakish to denying a woman who’d been impregnated by rape or incest the right to an abortion, I genuinely welcomed the opportunity to thoughtfully engage with someone who thinks very differently than me. After all, one of life’s great joys is learning to think, reason and logically validate beliefs and have shenanigans called on my own silliness.

So I responded:

RR: This is not about last year’s health reform debate, it is about the legislation that refuses to allow for rape and incest to be considered legitimate reasons for a woman be allowed the option of abortion. If the Democrats were proposing this unquestionably reprehensible and short-sighted legislation, my tweet would have said “GOP and Dems”.

The discussion would unspool, as you’ll soon see, touching on myriad topics including the decline of America, The Greatest Generation, genocide, and individual rights to name a few, though none of these were truly about abortion or a compelling case that would alter my belief on the subject.

However the discussion highlighted what I believe to be some of the most fundamental and pressing issues our Union faces: Our collective decision to eschew fact and logic, reason and compromise in favor of sound bytes, treating un-provable beliefs as fact, and, most alarmingly, Absolutism.

What I Learned

I should always strive to be more specific about how I phrase things. If I had to do it again, I would have Tweeted “…freakish abortion legislation.” Which is what I meant. Big lesson learned. I’ve grown weary of politics and frankly, my idea of a good time isn’t baiting anyone, Republicans or otherwise. The word choice of my tweet was substandard and unfocused.

I also learned that I am not alone in my despair about the reductive, Absolutist stances taken by both ends of our political spectrum. So, I share this experience in the hopes that it might be of help to anyone else in developing their own way of engaging the growing Absolutist views which wield so much influence on our every day lives, no matter what the topic.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was intentionally misleading in how I framed responses to my friend’s rebuttals and allegations in which those women who consider abortion were never included. To be clear, I never for a moment thought my friend actually lacked compassion for these women, rather it was an opportunity to demonstrate how Absolutist answers and rhetoric are, by definition, ineffective in addressing complex issues and dangerous insofar as they prohibit genuine discussion and compromise.

Following is the text from the “debate” in its entirety and unedited, with the exception of excising two short posts by other people who agreed with my basic position but had no impact on the dialogue between me and the other actor. I’ve also removed the entire topic from my Facebook page to protect their identity.

My goal with this article is not to engage in the endless debate about abortion, but rather to promote logic, reason, informed discourse, and of course compromise (insofar as both choices are viable alternatives to the issue at hand) since these are truly the foundation for a free-thinking, secular democracy such as ours.

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RR’S ORIGINAL TWEET: Note to GOP House of Representatives: We’ve got more pressing issues than your freakish abortion views.

FRIEND: I could just imagine the GOP people last year really wishing the Dems would have thought about more than their freakish views on healthcare.

RR: This is not about last year’s health reform debate, it is about the legislation that refuses to allow for rape and incest to be considered legitimate reasons for a woman be allowed the option of abortion. If the Democrats were proposing this unquestionably reprehensible and short-sighted legislation, my tweet would have said “GOP and Dems”.

FRIEND: Some people hold sincerely held beliefs that ALL life is sacred and should be protected. Seems a little odd and perhaps judgmental and close-minded to call their sincerely held beliefs “freakish”. What about those lives make them any less valuable than yours?

RR: My original post, as clarified in my first comment, wasn’t about the health care debate or abortion in general, but rather this specific legislation that prohibits exception for incest and rape. My objection to this legislation in particular is that it defines rape and incest as de facto consensual sex, that there’s no difference. Something that I, and many others find to be abominable. THIS is what I find freakish.

As far as the general issue of abortion you brought up, your clearly defined stance that because I believe this to be a woman’s personal decision can only mean I DON’T hold life to be important reveals the very things you’ve accused me of, judgment – that your belief is more valid than mine; and close-mindedness – that my belief couldn’t possibly have merit.

And finally, please don’t redefine my empathy for the living who suffer rape or incest as a belief that my life is more important than anyone else’s. I care no less about an unborn child or an aborted fetus than you do about a rape or incest victim. To tacitly declare otherwise simply because I believe differently is illogical and reductive.

FRIEND: I just can’t come to the place where I would say or think we as a country should say that the life created – no matter heinously it came to being – can be discarded. Who are we to think we have the right to choose who gets to live and who gets to die?

RR: Conversely, I can’t imagine a country whose basic ideals such as those we purport to hold would refuse a woman the choice of what to do if she was a rape or incest victim. To deny her this fundamental decision is to is to discard the basic tenets on which our democracy rests.

We as a collective society make these decisions. Just as we make the decision to employ the death penalty, or send women and men to war, both of which have death as their ultimate destination. Sanctioned and approved by the collective citizenry.

It is our responsibility as citizens to make these kinds of difficult decisions thoughtfully and with intellectual rigor and compassion. A difficult balance, always.

FRIEND: It’s a weak, lazy and reprehensible society that places more value on a woman’s “right to choose” than it places on life. We either value life and protect or we don’t. We are a grossly lazy and pathetic people that brags of our vast accomplishments – but we are no where near as strong as our parents and grandparents – who were strong enough and adult enough to work through their “irreconcilable differences.”. We care more about our conveniences than we do life. We care more about our “rights” than we do about doing right. We are too weak to let our children know when they need to do better, and instead of helping them, we just give them grades or demand they be given more than they earned.

We are talking about a mere 1% of abortions, yet we scream like that is what really matters. We say it’s ok to pick and choose who lives, because in 99% of the cases, we made decisions that we are no longer strong enough to deal with. And look where it’s gotten us. We should be wondering why there aren’t more Columbines than wondering how that could happen. Rights should never trump life.

And by the way, if the child of incest was killed the day it was born – that would be murder – but it’s perfectly OK in your mind to kill the very same child a few months earlier?

It is short-sighted to compare war and hardened criminals to innocent life. I guess under your arguments, we should have let Hilter have his way. After all – that was his “choice”, wasn’t it? No – instead, we did what was right – the hard thing – and put an end to the atrocities. That war ended the slaying of millions and millions of innocent people – simply because of their heritage. A mere drop in the bucket compared to the number of children aborted in America because we live in a weak depraved society that allows women to pick and choose. THAT is freakish. I guess we will have to agree to disagree on that one. Nothing trumps life in my mind.

RR: I am having a bit of trouble following the progression of logic, so bear with me while I map the connections:

Abortion in cases of incest and rape should not be allowed.

No abortion should be allowed.

Belief in an informed, personal decision about abortion indicates caring more about “individual rights” than Life.

Those who care about individual rights have made America a lazy, reprehensible society.

Those who value individual rights inherently support genocide.

This leads me to the conclusion the Emperor has no clothes. And here’s why:

First, I did not compare “hardened criminals to innocent life.” I raised the question about the concept of society-sanctioned death in all its forms. Furthermore, it is anything but short-sighted to compare the ways in which we as a society deem death to be an acceptable outcome; rather, it is intelligent, thoughtful, and necessary for a democracy to flourish. We have done so with our military, the death penalty, abortion, and end of life decisions. If we’re willing to legally sanction death, no matter the reason, then our responsibility is to have performed this basic ‘cost benefit analysis’ and declare such death to be a worthwhile option. This is the comparison I made and not, as you interpreted, the discrete value of an unborn child in relationship to a convicted criminal.

Bringing this back to the context of my original statement, that not ALL abortions are ALWAYS the same.

If cases of rape and incest truly account for “a mere” 1% of all abortions, then considering this possibility shouldn’t be an outrageous request worthy of such a sweeping, generalized and vitriolic reaction. Your claim that 99% of abortions are simply “decisions that we are no longer strong enough to deal with” is the truly outrageous statement because it declares every one of those abortions to be nothing more than than basic contraception. That’s as patently absurd as saying that because of 9/11, all Muslims are terrorists.

Your tacit, though clear declaration that abortion is only used as a “convenience” has no real basis in rationality, but rather is simply a way to highlight the boundary erected to easily (though incorrectly) reinforce the other side as “bad.” To clarify, an example of “convenience” is a software application that allows us to say, deposit a check through our phone rather than travel to the bank. To frame with such self-righteous fervor that only those who are against abortion care about life is, in a word, disappointing. In another word, it’s wrong. This kind of ritualistic and simplistic thinking reveals little capacity for basic compassion, and is the psychological equivalent of an early adolescent displaying its inability to consider and navigate complex circumstances. “We either value life and protect it or we don’t.” may be an easily repeatable talking point or look good on a protest sign, but its only real value is to create political chaos in the stead of true dialogue and complex, meaningful, and difficult solutions.

Once again, you make startling and deeply misguided assumptions about what it is I believe, in this case that it’s “perfectly OK in [my] mind to kill the very same child a few months earlier.” First, how on earth would you know? You never asked me what I thought. You merely assumed based on a dogmatic view of the topic. Further, that you choose to believe a situation or decision such as this would not be difficult and painful for someone to have to face speaks volumes, not just of your own ability to consider a complex situation from someone else’s perspective, but what appears to be a compulsive need to create an ‘Us vs. Them’ scenario in order to ensure the infallibility of your own belief. Which of course, it does not; in fact, it reveals the opposite in startling clarity. And though you didn’t ask and likely aren’t interested, I don’t believe it is simply “okay” for a woman to have an abortion, whether it is one cell, a blastula or otherwise. I do however, believe it to be an indescribably difficult decision and that sometimes, like sending women and men to war or removing a loved one from life support, it is a sad and necessary price to be paid. As I believe should be afforded the victim of incest or rape.

Second, your implication that those who don’t hold your beliefs have created a “weak, lazy and reprehensible society,” is Absolutist rhetoric at it’s most rancid. According to your claims, either I agree with you completely or I am part of ‘Them’, the unnamed and generalized Bad People you hold responsible for what you claim to be our country’s ills? This couldn’t be any more loosely tethered to reality. To use your own example of Hitler – it was a very narrow, dogmatic, Absolutist belief system that created his rise to power and made the Holocaust possible. Had more people in Germany had stood up and said, “Now really, are ALL Jews ALWAYS [insert any derogatory and untrue generalization here]?” then perhaps such an event wouldn’t have occurred. But genocide is hardly the point.

The point, the REAL issue this dialogue brings to light is that which truly plagues our country here in 2011: Absolutism.

Absolutism, by definition, rejects any kind of compromise, which we all know to be the foundation of a successful democracy. I clarified my point early on that I was speaking specifically about abortion as a result of rape and incest. Nevertheless, you continue to not just marginalize this core thesis but instead, rather incredibly, link it to genocide. So rather than asking me to consider those 99% of abortions that aren’t due to rape and incest in a different light, you instead simply cast me as The Enemy, unworthy of consideration. Convenient, I suppose but hardly useful or truthful.

I posit that our country’s problems are not rooted in, as you declare, women having the right to “pick and choose” (as if it were a Golden Corral lunch buffet!) not to carry an incest or rape-created pregnancy. Nor is our problem that we have citizens concerned about individual rights. No, our real problem is that we have cast aside real, factual information, critical thinking and genuine dialogue – the necessary ingredients for compromise and solutions – that lead to informed decisions.

The example I have used – formally sanctioning death – is about sanctioning death, whether such sanctioning is prior to birth or as an adult. To pretend otherwise is to live in a fantasy world that is not just a hindrance, but a danger to free-thinking democracy. You’ve been abundantly clear that you’ve no desire to consider another perspective let alone honor it as valid, which according to your post, is exactly what made previous generations stronger. Perhaps there’s a link here as to why we have such problems?

In closing, I respect anyone’s right to believe in an idea and to stand up for said belief. I enjoy engaging in logically presented and structured arguments for just about anything. That’s how I validate my own beliefs and learn. What alarms me here is not just a general lack of curiosity and dialogue, but the condescending and utterly dismissive tone of your message.

I would never deign to go to someone’s Facebook page and address them with such undisguised contempt for making a statement with which I disagree. In future, if you don’t want to be exposed to a post of mine with which you don’t agree or aren’t willing to respond on my own page by, at the very least, asking “Why do you believe that?” before launching into Absolutist and unsubstantiated rhetoric, then I respectfully invite you to de-friend me.

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