the assumption of responsibility for the welfare of the world











2003 April 26


Certain friends have informed me that they were not offended by the warmongering I have engaged in over the last few months. They are relatively few, but it was not my intention to leave anyone out of the general offense, and it is thus time to turn my attention to a matter of genuine controversy. Also, I have begun worrying for my political future, specifically that I might have one. I fear that there might be a natural constituency for a candidate who is opposed to religion and private property but in favor of war and handguns, and I would like to truncate such an idiotic movement as soon as possible. Let me establish, then, that I am in favor of abortion, euthanasia, and cannibalism, opposed to marriage but in favor of domestic partnership, in favor of decriminalizing all drugs and ending all sexual taboos, and not fundamentally opposed to infanticide.

When we contemplate law, we are ultimately contemplating violence, because we are contemplating the extent of law enforcement. What actions justify a violent response? The short answer is: violence alone. The more complicated answer is: any act of direct violence, against a person’s body, or indirect violence, against a person’s necessary resources. Or, to use the libertarian axiom, there must be a victim for there to be a crime. Psychological suffering does not count, and consensual physical suffering does not count, which is why the argument for banning heroin use because it “destroys lives” is imbalanced. That argument suggests that it would be better for a family to have their loved one in prison than on smack. Prison isn’t a blessed sanctuary, for those who haven’t noticed. It is violence; it is the destruction of a life.

But though psychological suffering is not something we should attempt to ban, it is the chief matter which ultimately prompts us to protect our bodies physically. We establish laws and law enforcement against violence so that we can all go about our lives without a constant anxiety over physical danger. We establish a state to create an environment that deters violence, so that we needn’t all be constantly on guard, as our fellow animals in the wild generally are. By the time prosecution becomes an issue, the damage has been done.

There is also a matter of human potential. We don’t prioritize this so much that we want all women to be having as many babies as physically possible; but when lives are already in existence we consider what they might do in the future, and provide for their continuation. I know that I, for instance, have yet to prove useful; but there is always a chance that I might, at the cost, perhaps, of throwing good food after bad (and those who know me well can attest that it has been, invariably, bad food).

The formula that liberal politicians generally adopt regarding abortion is to state that they personally oppose abortion, but support a woman’s right to choose. Well I, too, support a woman’s right to choose, but I personally favor abortion. I have known women who have had abortions, or have carried unplanned pregnancies to term, or even exist because of unplanned pregnancies. But I am not talking about the past. I have a younger brother, and would be distraught if he did not exist, and yet to speak of being distraught about the non-existence of the fourth child my parents never had is to be utterly absurd. I am only convinced that, for the future, the best decision when faced with an unplanned pregnancy is to terminate it. Having a child is a huge responsibility; it should not be undertaken lightly, and it should not be undertaken for no better reason than a failure of, or failure to use, birth control. Every child should result from deliberation, not accident. That, anyway, is the ideal.

The woman’s right to choose is based on the absolute (theoretical) sovereignty of the individual over its own body. This right honestly does not consider the fetus at all, for if it did, the issue would be without a simple answer. There is no point at which an embryo magically becomes a thinking person. How old is Rick Santorum? Is it too late to abort? Probably so, but since the process is gradual, the idea that an eight-month-old fetus is just so much tissue, but a one-month-old baby is sacred, is a rhetorical fiction. Politicians maintain the fiction so that they can avoid the truth. The truth is that a fetus is an amazingly-complicated living system, and a baby is about the same. Neither really thinks. A baby is cute, but it is still only a potential person. We customarily choose not to kill babies because we might then proceed to killing kindergartners or US senators. It is just easier to draw the line at birth.

At one point I suggested to a friend that I would encourage people to eat my body after my death. When I insisted that I was serious, she replied, “I know you’re serious, Ford. I don’t want to eat you.” At present that seems harsh, since I am relatively lean and could only be improved by a good roasting; but to be honest, by the time I die my flesh is likely to be more fibrous than tender, and not much worth eating. But as a matter of principle, cannibalism of the consenting is a good deal more defensible than eating the flesh of an animal which has not given consent, as I have been known to do. If something is already dead, eating it is not at that point a crime. Causing it physical suffering while alive is condemnable, and out of compassion we should not be causing animals the sort of anxiety that we ourselves wish to avoid, whereby they are in constant fear for their safety. And yet that is, as mentioned, the apparent way of life for many wild animals.

Incest is, technically, sex between persons who, by custom or law, are too closely related to have sex. Law, it should be clear, is a poor guide for behavior. Who cares whether something is illegal? Custom, too, is a poor guide, and subject to change over time, and in variance from one culture to another. If I wanted to have sex with my (non-existent) sister, I cannot see that it would be anyone’s business but mine and hers. I don’t find the idea any better or worse than sex in general. It wouldn’t necessarily be a blessing for a child to have even half of my genes, let alone potentially all of them. But if this were an emotional or, God literally forbid, a recreational union, but not a reproductive union, then the genetic argument is found to be the last of several hollow objections.

Necrophilia, as most know, etymologically means “love of corpses” ― but not in the way that one loves, say, a good joke, or chocolate-covered raisins. The question we should be asking is, Is this real love, or is it just some fling? But we cannot get to that point without first asking, What is the harm? It is true that it comforts me, while I am alive, to imagine that my body will cease to exist after my death (or, barring such a miracle, be destroyed immediately after my organs have been harvested), and I certainly have my own notions of dignity, however irrational they may be. But that is for me as a living person. Once dead, it will hardly matter to me what is done with my body. Of course, seeing me naked is far from a treat, and I expect that none of my physical flaws will be corrected by mottled cyanosis; but if that is not a deterrent, why should anything else be? And what if the (former) person actually consented? What is the harm?

To extend the application of logic (as Santorum attempted) to children and dogs is to find myself banned from the presence of every child and every dog; but I am surely in for more than a penny at this point. Even on such matters the key concerns are physical harm and emotional consent. On the former, pregnancy is obviously one possibility, and the damage of penetration is another. But emotional harm from sexuality for anyone ― adult or child ― is ultimately resultant from the stigmatization of sex in our society. The bonobo chimpanzees, close relatives of ours, have developed a sexuality in which every member of the band has some sort of sexual relationship with every other member. But maybe bonobos are all just perverts. On consent, it is perhaps enough to note that even the legal age of consent varies not just from culture to culture, but from US state to US state. The real issue is one of maturity, and that varies from person to person. And while predatory sexuality, given the state of our present society, is a genuine risk, those under eighteen are not all at risk, and those over eighteen are not all not at risk. (I myself once ended a relationship with a woman eight years past the age of consent because it felt too much like predation.) For children engaged in sex play with each other, the concern should be limited almost entirely to physical harm ― just as we want them to be careful climbing trees. Two girls, for instance, cannot get each other pregnant, and neither is likely to have any better idea what she is doing. As for masturbation, we know that even very young children do it, and the sooner our society stops fighting nature on that, the healthier we will all be as adults.

Rick Santorum is a closed-minded bigot, there is no question about that. My disinterest in having him as a high-ranking senator predates his latest justification of that disinterest. But I am honestly more distressed by the reactions of gay-rights advocates to his remarks. The most Santorum did was list homosexuality among several other sexual behaviors of which he disapproves and that, he was correct, do not figure into the customary definition of marriage, being a monogamous relationship of a man and a woman sanctioned by church and state. Traditional marriage is not, as Santorum so delicately put it, “man on child” or “man on dog”. Parts of his anthropology are flawed, as there are numerous societies that condone polygamy, and a few that condone homosexual marriage, while incest is by definition culturally relative. Even before the full text became available, gay-rights advocates hastened to condemn Santorum not just because he is prejudiced against gays, but because he dared to compare homosexuality to polygamy, incest, and adultery. Clearly the idea for these individuals and organizations is to force open the door, be the first through it, and slam it shut behind them. How do gays expect to violate one taboo and uphold all the rest? I used to be amused that so many gays pursued the picket-fence lifestyle with religious zeal ― and just the one exception. But I am not amused by the idea that society should make that exception, but none other. “A man can marry a woman”, they would say, “or he can marry a man; but he cannot marry a woman and a man.” Fortunately, I support gay rights on principle. If it were a matter of supporting their advocates, I would withdraw in disgust.

Disgust, did I say? What of all the disgusting things I have just defended? What of this long, excruciating gross-out? The body is a gross thing, if you care to look at it so. It is also a beautiful thing. Gross and beautiful are matters of personal preference. We claim for ourselves the mantle of open-mindedness and reason. As such, we should condemn bigots for being closed-minded and irrational, and not just for being more so than we.



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