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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Quote News Unquote

Since I suppose I started my return from blogsolescence (get it? I took a normal word - obsolescence - and gave it 'blog' as a prefix! I'm tech savvy, kids. I'm fuckin' edgy.) by talking about why I don't vote, it's almost serendipitous that I recieved, by e-mail, a sterling example of why I don't read the news, either.

Michael Kinsey wrote a lovely little ditty that he titled "War and EmbryosBush's faulty logic about stem-cell research" but which could have just as easily have been called "The War in Iraq is Bad, and Here Are Six Logical Fallacies as to Why."

I suggest you read the whole article, since the rest of this won't make sense if you don't, but I'm curious how a person can thing something like this is even a vaguely appealing argument. Essentially, it's just two separate "I Hate Republicans" articles run through a food processor, with a link more tortured than a prisoner at Gitmo.

So let's look at the arguments, such as they are:

Bush is right, of course, that the inevitable loss of innocent life in wartime cannot be a reason not to go to war, or a reason not to fight that war in a way intended to win. Eggs, omelettes, and all that. "Collateral damage" should be a consideration weighed in the balance, of course. But there is no formula to determine when you have the balance right. It does seem to me that both of our wars in Iraq were started and conducted with insufficient consideration for the cost in innocent blood. Callousness, naiveté, isolation of the decision makers from democratic accountability, and isolation of the citizenry from the consequences, or even the awareness, of what is being done in their name—all have played a role. I don't see anything coming out of this war that is worth 50,000 innocent lives, although a case can be made, I guess.

First off, "isolation of the decision makers from democratic accountability"? There was an election in 2004, was there not? Because it seems as if the 'decision makers' - namely Bush (who gets to take credit and blame for his cabinet's actions) and many of the senators and congressmen who voted to authorize war - had to run in said election. And it seems as if, wonder of wonders, they were reelected. So to say that they are democratically unaccountable is both false and a little silly.

As for citizen's unawareness of what is going on: all I got to say is, if they're unaware, it's not because it's not being reported. Sure, we don't know about all incidences of ungentlemenlike behavior in Iraq and Afghanistan, but certainly there has been enough exposed brutality that if people cared, they have ample sources from which to draw their ire.

Apart from those qualms, the argument is just fallaciously assuming both antecedent and consequence. "The war in Iraq is unjust, therefore, the deaths it involves are equally unjust." It's not drawing some deep moral equivilence between stem cell research and war, it's just equivocating, saying "There's death in one instance, and death in another instance." The article attempts to paint Bush's position as "All death is bad, ever, under any circumstances." That would be nuts. The man loves the death penalty. Loves it. I hardly think that he has ever taken the position that embryonic stem cells must be protected because Bush just... loves life.

In all discussions weighing the cost of something-or-other in terms of human life, a philosopher pops up at this point and says that the crucial difference is a matter of intentions. Terrorists purposely target innocent civilians. We try hard not to kill innocent civilians, even if we know it can't be avoided. They're worse, even if our score is sadly higher.

But are stem cells any different? Stem-cell researchers don't want to kill embryos. They know that the deaths of embryos are a consequence of what they do, and they think that curing terrible diseases is worth it—just as President Bush thinks that bringing democracy to Iraq is worth it. In the case of stem cells, there is the added element that the embryos in question will be killed (or pointlessly frozen indefinitely) anyway if they are not used for research. And—oh, yes—there is still the question of whether a clump of a half-dozen cells you can't see without a microscope is actually a human being in the same sense as a 6-year-old girl blown up as she skips off to kindergarten in Baghdad.

Again - I hate to get off topic - but if a 6-year-old girl is allowed to go to kindergarten, and the kidergarten exists as something other than a state-run Islamic propaganda machine, then Iraq is already doing better than a majority of its neighbors.

Moreover, though, the moral argument the author comes close to making explicit is sort of horrific. Namely, if someone is going to die anyway, or absent your actions would likely have died, then anything you do to them is automatically value-added. This is one of the justifications for torture: that enemy combatants captured during duty could, under normal wartime circumstances, have been killed - therefore, short of death, actions you take that let the captors acquire knowledge are justified.

It's another example of the author pandering to a liberal audience - and using a strawman to characterize the conservative position on stem cell research. Oh, I'm sure some people have an unnuanced view of a fetus, and believe that a zygote is a living, breathing person. But far, far more people don't have this view. The vast majority of educated conservatives don't believe that a 3-month-old fetus has a constitutional right to bear arms, or from quartering troops during peacetime, or any of the other rights a real, living breathing person would have. They just find the idea of using pre-human embryos to try and grow body parts... well.. ghoulish. It's distasteful. And to say that the emotional response to embryonic stem cell research is less valid than the emotional response to torture or the captivity of enemy combatants in secret prisons is intellectually dishonest. Both have arguments for them, but as the article illustrates beautifully, it's not a matter of the arguments convincing anyone (here, he doesn't even try to) - it's a matter of choosing the argument to fit what you find emotioanlly compelling.

So let's ask - is it inherantly contradictory to hold both the position that civilian deaths in the course of a just war are unfortunate necessitis, and simultaniously that it's unwise for the US to use stem cells for medical research? The only link between the two that the author offers, between vitriolic spasms against Bush, is that both supposedly involve death. But it's silly to say that these positions - which are, for the most part, utterly devoid of common ground - are morally equivilent in any way.

It's possible to accept the grim realities of war and also wish to preserve humanity away from the battlefield. And the humanity I'm talking about isn't that of a fetus/child, but that of the people doing the experimentation. It's possible that stem-cell research will cure Parkinsons, despite no scientific suggestion or advance towards doing so, even in the many countries that allow this sort of testing, but it's also possible that it will just lead to a lot of cultured cells and a lot of distasteful embryo harvesting and a little less respect for the sanctity of human life as something beyond a means to improving our personal comfort.

cranked out at 11:53 AM | |

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