2010/09/17

Abortion and Gay Marriage

This post is not about the school system.

Someone called and said he and his friends were asking about the candidates' position on abortion and gay marriage. This question makes more sense addressed to legislators than to candidates for the Board of Education. Schools don't have much to do with either issue. A requirement that schools notify parents when schools refer students for any medical procedure makes sense.

Perhaps the fellow was not seeking policy positions but some sense of the candidate's moral compass. Here goes.

Love is wonderful, and everyone would benefit from a loving relationship with a supportive partner or two. Or five. Your housekeeping and sleeping arrangements are not my business. That said, a court-mandated or legislatively-mandated expansion of the population covered by legally-mandated spousal benefits amounts to a tax increase, and US taxpayers are already overtaxed.

Abortion? Let's think this through. Morality is a result of biological and cultural evolution. Across time, various societies have applied different definitions of "human" (meaning, deserving of the protection given to humans). In ancient Greece, deformed newborn babies were left outside the city walls at night. Some African societies regarded twins as so unlucky that one would be left in the forest overnight. In ancient Rome, children were their fathers' property until they became adults (if male) or until they married (if female, at which point they became their husband's property). Basically, abortion was legal until the end of the 83rd trimester (20 years and nine months) for male children and indefinitely for female children.

1. The government of a locality is the largest dealer in interpersonal violence in that locality (definition).
2. Value is determined by supply and demand, therefore a world in which human life is precious is a world in which human life is scarce.
3. The Earth's human population cannot grow without limit.
4. The Earth's human population will stop growing when either...
a) the birth rate falls to meet the death rate or
b) the death rate rises to meet the birth rate.
5. The Earth's human population will stop growing as a result of either
a) deliberate human agency or
b) other.
6. Deliberate human agency is either
a) democratically controled or
b) other.
7. All human behavioral traits are heritable (google the entire phrase).
8. Voluntary programs for population control selectively breed non-compliant individuals.
9. Humans who will reproduce at high density have a selective advantage over humans who require lots of open space.
10. Human misery is like heat; in the absence of insulators (barriers to immigration) it will flow until evenly distributed.
11. The world's maximum possible instantaneous human population is greater than it's maximum sustainable human population. Absent a reduction in the human birth rate or a gradual increase in the human death rate, expect a sharp decline in human population numbers from the instantaneous maximum.
12. Humans displace wilderness. The world's maximum possible sustainable human poulation leaves little room for wildnerness or terrestrial wildlife. Absent a reduction in the human birth rate or an increase in the death rate, expect a reduction in biodiversity before the Earth's human population stabilizes.

Malthus was right. Between vice (forced sterilization, forced abortion) misery (starvation, pollution-induced illness, epidemic disease, genocide, war) and moral restraint (hopeless, see #8), your choices are limited. Where do you disagree? I know: "Everything's fine so far" (said the man who jumped from the 50th floor, as he passed the tenth floor).

The feminists don't like this argument. Libertarians don't like this argument. Christians don't like this argument. Only the Christians (Baldilocks, The Common Room) and the Brits at Prospect magazine and at Dave Thompson's site remain polite. The argument basically summarizes Garrett Hardin's essay "The Tragedy of the Commons" (Science, 1968).

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

An argument consists applying reasoning to one or more premises to reach a conclusion.

Istm, you've got plenty of premises, some of which are (imo) truisms (3, 4,5,6), some are (imo) questionable (eg. 9), and (imo) 2 is essentially meaningless (value, what's that?), but you haven't done anything with them: you haven't got a clearly stated conclusion (afaics)- unless "Malthus was right" is it.

Anonymous said...

"Someone called and said he and his friends were asking about the candidates' position on abortion and gay marriage."

Are you "the candidate"?

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

I was one of the twelve candidates for three Oahu at-large seats on the Hawaii Board of Education. I got 16,000 votes in the primary and did not make it to the general election.

Anonymous said...

Ah right, well done for that.

And your position on gay marriage and abortion is that you can see points on either side?

You used lots of words to say that.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

Thanks for the comment.

Value is determined by supply and demand. This is not a principle of capitalist economics or even human economics; it is a fact of life.

Changes in the rate at which a good or service trades relative to the rate at which another good or service trades will reflect changes in the relative abundance of these goods or services. See E.O. Wilson, "The Ergonomics of Caste in the Social Insects" (__American Naturalist__, 1968). Consider the response of individual plants to increases or decreases in sunlight and water, or the response of water hyacinth to changes in nutrient content of their pond water. When water hyacinth is used to treat sewage, and the nutrient content increases, the root mass to leaf area ratio decreases. The plants invest relatively less in purchasing nutrients.

Consider the response over evolutionary time of plants to their environment: plants on the rainforest floor invest more in gathering sunlight and less in gathering water than do plants in desert environments. Cacti have only vestigial leaves (thorns).

Some economist once observed that Biology and Economics were the same theory with different names attached to the variables.

If "conclusion" means "policy recommendation", I would have to append more axioms (considerations) to the list, and these would depend on the culture. I believe that the world eventually will come to a Chinese policy (one child, then forced abortion) if we're lucky. This is not a recommendation, but a prediction. The only way to avoid this result, or worse, is to apply the brakes earlier, with forced abortion (or something like it) after three or two children.

Most likely, this will not happen and "or worse" will occur.

Anonymous said...

Ah, I see. You propose to avert a
putative future natural disaster, by the imposition of a tyranny. (Which puts you in the "megalomaniac" class of nutter.)

Your argument is a non sequitur: the conclusion does not follow from the premise (2): specifically, your conclusion does not involve the notion of "value", so it really doesn't matter if your premise is true or not.

So you're worried about what happens when our species reaches its maximum possible size? Look to Nature: other species are doing that _all the time_ - that's how the planet works. The daily struggle to avoid starvation exists for all animals: the hunter-gatherer lifestyle is precarious, and though we have won some small respite from that struggle through agriculture, starvation still happens to us now and then.

Now, isn't the world cruel enough without you planning your tyranny of forced abortions on us? Natural selection favours the "fittest": what will your selection process favour? (The chinese policy produces a surplus of boys, and probably encourages polygamy amongst the rich.)

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

Again, where do you disagree?

"Value" is implicit in the conclusion.

"If you want a world in which human life is precious, you want a world in which human life is scarce". Seems to me you accept this with your "Now, isn't the world cruel enough without you planning your tyranny of forced abortions on us?" question.

Please read the Garret Hardin essay "The Tragedy of the Commons" before you respond. Please do not respond anonymously. Please drop the ad hominem. Lots of people find this argument discomforting. At least the Christians maintain their composure.

sleepalot said...

" "Value" is implicit in the conclusion. "

In a logical argument, the conclusion is _dependent_ upon the premise(s).

If we were talking about gold, your argument would go like this; "the value of gold is determined by the law of supply and demand, therefore if I throw half my gold in the ocean, the other half will be worth more."
That's a sound logical argument: the premise is true, and the conclusion follows logically from it. (You'd have to own more than half of all the gold for that to profit by that strategy, and even then the other possessors of gold would also benefit while you alone suffered the cost.)

[An ad hominem is a logical argument, of the form "you're a fool, therefore you're wrong" - but fallacious, because the conclusion does not follow from the premise: it's a non sequitur. Otoh, "you're proposing a tyranny, therefore you're a megalomaniac" is (imo)a sound logical argument, and "you're a nutter" is simple name-calling.]

Describing human life as "precious" is just poetic nonsense (sorry, but that's the proper word): gold can be traded (for food, say) while people cannot be.

Your premise 2 is a simple "appeal to emotion": it does not support your abortion tyranny - I've demonstrated that. To think that I'm speaking against it because I find it "discomfiting" is denial.

"At least the Christians maintain their composure."

Heh. I'm not a Xian, and when I call you a megalomaniac nutter, I'm being nice.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

"Sleepalot" is no better than "anonymous". If you must run from your own words, pick any name. I use "Perry" for now.

So, Perry, did you read the Hardin essay?

"Ad hominem" means "to the man": personal insults address the source rather than the argument.

(Perry): " 'you're proposing a tyranny, therefore you're a megalomaniac' is (imo) a sound logical argument..."

Since I have advocated democratic processes the premise is false. Laws which restrict reproduction are no more "tyrannical" than laws which mandate vaccination, against hunting deer out of season, or against open immigration.

(Perry): "...and 'you're a nutter' is simple name-calling."

Right. Ad hominem.

(Perry): "Describing human life as 'precious' is just poetic nonsense (sorry, but that's the proper word): gold can be traded (for food, say) while people cannot be."

We trade resources for people all the time, in wages, in accommodations (how much for parks?), in resources devoted to crime prevention and in retaliation for assault and murder, and in the time we spend on companionship. The callous big city and friendly small town are proverbial.

(Perry): "Your premise 2 is a simple 'appeal to emotion': it does not support your abortion tyranny - I've demonstrated that."

1)You failed (as I demonstrated above). 2) Democratically determined laws are not "tyranny".

(Perry): "To think that I'm speaking against it because I find it 'discomfiting' is denial".

I have no doubt that denial is involved here. On your part. What motivatess your participation in this argument?

(Malcolm): "At least the Christians maintain their composure."
(Perry): "Heh. I'm not a Xian..."

No kidding.

(Perry): "...and when I call you a megalomaniac nutter, I'm being nice."

Compared to your usual interpersonal style, that's probably true.

Stop by any time, Perry.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

Perry,

1) Visit Merriam-Webster online: "Ad hominem", "Tyrant".

2) Any time someone expends resources, including time, to acquire company, s/he trades resources for people. Consider how the appetite for company varies with the amount of company one has had: when the city has sated the apetite for people, we seek solitude. After two weeks of solitary contemplation, we will walk miles out of the way for conversation with a stranger.

Any time an amateur astronomer sacrifices companionship for a clear night sky s/he trades people for starlight. Starlight and companionship are both valuable goods which vary inversely in value with their abundance.

If food is a good, then so is companionship.

A world in which human life is precious is a world in which human life is scarce.