William B. Turner
One can argue that a key feature distinguishing humans from other animals is our capacity to make moral distinctions, which is a function of the weirdly large frontal lobes in our brains.
All animals have to eat to survive. Most animals have innate dietary requirements that they mostly satisfy with readily available food. Evolution works to create a good fit between animals and available food supplies. Cats are obligate carnivores. They can’t survive if they don’t eat meat.
Humans, by contrast, can survive by eating meat, but we can also choose to become vegetarians or even vegans and not eat any meat or any animal products at all. This is a moral distinction. There are multiple reasons why one might become vegetarian or vegan, but one option is because one finds killing animals morally objectionable.
“Conservatives” in the United States like to make a great show of being terribly concerned with morality and moral issues. It is true that political choices are mostly moral choices. Most policy decisions are moral decisions. Whether you pay your taxes and how much are moral choices. So we can and should pay attention to the moral competence of the persons whom we choose to make our laws for us. Also, the Constitution is the supreme law of the land and in important ways defines how we will conduct our politics. A key fact about the United States is that we try to engage in politics in a manner that is consistent with the law.
“Conservatives” have never been very good at making moral distinctions. An example is abortion. It makes a huge, determinative, moral difference that a fetus cannot survive outside of its mother’s body. To the mother, then, the fetus is essentially a parasite, and refusing to allow the mother to choose whether to continue to carry that parasite until it can live without her is a gross failure to make a basic moral distinction. Or take the notorious Terri Schiavo case. Schiavo, in case you forgot, had been in a persistent vegetative state, confined to a hospital bed and unresponsive, for fifteen years before a judge ordered the removal of her feeding tube at the request of her husband. The “pro life” crowd screamed that letting her die was murder.
But in what meaningful sense is an entity who cannot make any choices for herself, who cannot get out of a bed, who cannot speak, “alive”? Apparently her heart was beating, and she was respiring, with or without the help of a machine, we can bracket for now. The point is that a “life” means making choices, engaging with other people, walking or otherwise moving about, having sex, and lots of other things that Shiavo obviously could not do. To scream and cry on her behalf under the banner of “pro life” is rank nonsense.
Any woman who is old enough to carry a fetus can make choices. No fetus can make any choice at all. The choices of the woman should not depend on the claims of the fetus, which it cannot make on its own behalf. One can say the same of small children, of course, but we have all manner of arbitrary, age-based distinctions in our society. How is a person suddenly mature and responsible enough to drive a car at age 16? Nothing magical about that age, but we need a minimum age, and 16 works well enough, so most states use it as the minimum age one must achieve before legally driving a car. The viability of a fetus is actually a more rational cutoff point for abortion rights than 16 for driving. Then there is the point that most abortions that occur after the fetus is viable – late term abortions – result from some medical situation in which either the fetus will not survive long after birth, or continuing the pregnancy will cause serious harm, possibly even death, to the mother. No one has any moral obligation to endure serious threats to health or risk death on behalf of another.
But “conservatives” cannot grasp this concept.
So now we have the contretemps of Laura Ingraham v. David Hogg. Ingraham is a long time media personality who now has a job on Fox News, spewing vitriol in every direction. She is Rush Limbaugh with a vagina. David Hogg survived the recent school shooting in Florida and has used the energy of that event to become a vocal advocate for gun control in the hope of preventing future school shootings. He is well within his rights. He is a senior in high school, recently turned 18. He only sought his newfound public stature after he survived a school shooting.
He made the mistake of complaining publicly about several universities choosing not to admit him, not the sort of thing one should complain about publicly. Rookie PR mistake. Ingraham, seasoned “media personality” and good “conservative,” decided to snipe at him for this error, noting that the decisions of the universities were not that surprising, according to what knowledge on her part, she failed to disclose.
Hogg replied by calling for a boycott of companies that advertise on her show. Many companies have chosen to stop advertising on her show with various more or less nebulous statements about their “values” and how Ingraham’s sniping at Hogg is not consistent with them. Ingraham went on vacation, and on her first show back, whined about how Hogg’s call for a boycott was “Stalinist,” thus equating First Amendment activity in the United States with one of the most brutal dictators in the history of the world, and condemning all boycotts.
Maybe. She has yet to let us know what she thinks about her “conservative” supporters who have responded to the boycott call from Hogg and the decisions of various companies to stop advertising on Ingraham’s show by promising to boycott those companies.
Huh. So, um, are all boycotts “Stalinist,” or only those from liberals and progressives?
Then, amusingly, some of Ingraham’s “conservative” supporters want to compare her sniping at Hogg with Jimmy Kimmel for making fun of First Lady Melania Trump’s accent.
Well, Melania is an adult who married a man for his money, only to have him become president of the United States. One suspects she had no say in the Donald’s decision to run for president – he does not seem like the sort who consults carefully with family members before making major life decisions – but the story of her arrival and early life in the United States suggest that she came here to marry a rich man and the Donald’s history was well known when she chose to pursue him, so she cannot now claim complete innocence.
Hogg, again, is still in high school and just turned 18. He recently survived a school shooting. Making fun of a person’s accent is not a nice thing to do, but it is well within the ambit of comedy as we have practiced it in the United States, certainly at least since the invention of television, if not before.
There are no circumstances in which it is ever appropriate for an adult to deride a high school student on any topic, but especially not the topic of his college admissions. The correct response is to remain relentlessly encouraging and optimistic, if you care anything about educating our nation’s youth. Maybe Ingraham doesn’t.
But she is a good “conservative,” so we cannot expect her to be morally astute. She belongs, after all, to a group of people who have recently found it in their hearts to forgive the so called president for having an affair with a porn star shortly after his third wife gave birth to their only child. We hear endlessly from people who want to try to shame “conservatives” by pointing out what an egregious violation of supposedly “Christian” morality it is to cheat on your wife during a period of temporary sexual incompetence with anyone, but especially with a porn star, but this is entirely incompetent, since there is no good evidence in human history that moral considerations ever much stopped Christians from doing anything at all. It certainly did not stop them from invading “the Americas,” enslaving and murdering millions of Natives, then importing millions of Africans as slaves, which is tantamount to murder, since slavery deprives the slave of all capacity to make choices, or live her/his life in any normal sense (see above).
So intelligent moral distinctions are apparently beyond the ken of good “conservatives” in the United States. Keep that in mind when you vote.