There are polarizing angles in pretty much any discourse, from theology to philosophy to social issues. We are all rightly appalled at the recent murders of anti-racist protestors in Charlottesville, Virginia (just an hour from me). It raises questions about the future of American society and egalitarianism. It also highlights the fact that the war against racism is far from over. I recall reading a blogpost (unfortunately I cannot remember the citation) where the author argued that racism was just as bad as abortion in the consequences for society. If we compromise on racism, it will have just as deadly of consequences. This is because of the overlap between pro-choice ethics and racist bigotry.
We saw those consequences a few days ago. If there ever were a legitimate moral dilemma, it would be between whether we should compromise on racism or abortion. The dilemma arises when we start thinking of these issues in terms of political parties. When you have this larger system, ethical issues are not rationally considered. There is also a principle in Newtonian physics that can be adapted and vaguely applied. For every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction. While we are not talking about science, a similar theme emerges in the social sphere. People often repay evil for evil. A potential solution is to isolate fiery topics from polarizing agendas. When we do that, the overlap between pro-choice ethics and racist bigotry becomes more obvious.
The Preliminary Question of Value
In a recent debate about abortion, I realized a mistake that I made as the moderator. Both sides hit a wall because we realized that we had different conceptions of human values and human rights. If we are to have a legitimate discussion about abortion (or even racism), we need to establish a standing model of human value. In a debate setting, we would at least need to scrutinize our rivaling models. If I am painting with a broad brush, I might say that there are two value systems for us to consider. This is the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic value.
Intrinsic value is value that an individual possesses in and of herself. As a Christian, I affirm intrinsic value as a consequence of the imago dei. Some atheists could also affirm intrinsic value. The esteemed Christian philosopher Immanuel Kant said that people should not be treated as a means to an end. If this model were universally adopted and practiced, it would have restricted against some of the greatest tragedies in human history. It would entail that an individual’s circumstances, geography, ancestry or other contingent details were not the defining factors of her value. A contingent factor is something that if changed, the individual will retain her humanity (such as eye or skin color) and therefore bringing her to harm would be to violate her.
On the other hand, extrinsic value would relate to the perception of other people. Imagine that your loved one and a stranger were both hanging off a cliff. You will save your loved one because you give her more value. But she does not intrinsically possess more value than the other person. Cash is another good example. We ascribe value to it. But if we gave it to a tribe of people unfamiliar with our monetary system, it would just be paper. It has no intrinsic worth. On an extrinsic model of human value, value will be entirely dependent upon contingent factors that I mentioned above. These factors could relate to societal consensus or the law. Now that we have outlined these different models, let’s explore some of the implications and the overlap between pro-choice ethics and racist bigotry.
Extrinsic Value Undergirds Racism
Racism is an unjustified bias in favor of one’s own race. If a Caucasian could surrender a contingent attribute such as her race, she would be surrendering what makes her a human being. If human beings do not truly have intrinsic worth, then there would not seem to be any mechanism to prevent racism or any justification for calling it immoral. The most we could say is that it does not contribute to the flourishing of society. But that notion in itself presupposes an intrinsic model of human value. If human flourishing is important, that assumes that humans are important independent of their race. Further, the extrinsicist could easily say something like, “I do not care about the flourishing of human society,” and that would deflect the objection. They might also say that since a demographic lacks a contingent attribute, they do not qualify as members of a human society and therefore their pain does not impact human flourishing. The absolute best you could do is to say that harming a specific demographic hurts true humans: those who possess that desirable contingent attribute.
The racist could not consistently argue that only their race possesses intrinsic value. That would not be inconsistent. There are clones of their race in other parts of the world or maybe even living next door. The only difference is a contingent attribute. Further, the method through which different people groups acquired contingent attributes illuminates that it is less than impressive. The short peer-reviewed paper Genetic support for the out of Africa hypothesis demonstrates that human beings likely began in Africa and migrated the Middle East. They scattered across the world generations later. Their skin changed as they adapted to the environment. So the notion that human beings migrated out of Africa, into Europe, evolved a fairer pigmentation and then acquired intrinsic value does not seem plausible. It is what philosophers call an unevidenced proposition; it is an ad hoc measure to avoid the implications of the evidence.
Another option to preserve a model of intrinsic Caucasian value would be to deny the evidence and rest in a form of creationism. This would create significant problems since the Caucasians in the Bible do not play an esteemed role. In fact, since the Jews were in this special covenant with God, they received the message of the Messiah before the Gentiles did. Jesus came to the Jews and sent his disciples to preach to the Gentiles. But the problem becomes even worse. Philippians 2:9-10 says of Jesus of Nazareth, “God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” A Jew is the King of the Universe, and every tongue will confess that a Jew is Lord. Jesus was a Jew even after his resurrection. Romans 1:3-4 refers to him as “the son of David according to the flesh… who was declared the Son of God with power by resurrection from the dead.” Overall, I do not think there is any way to salvage a model of racism that allows for intrinsic value. It is restricted to extrinsic value.
The Intrinsic/Extrinsic Conflict Within Pro-Choice Ethics
This is where the overlap between pro-choice ethics and racist bigotry becomes obvious. Pro-choice ethics necessitates that it is appropriate to take a human life under certain circumstances. This means there are contingent attributes that define whether it is okay to kill somebody. In this case, that includes geography and dependence. If a human being is geographically located inside of the uterus, it is acceptable to take its life because the woman should not be forced to carry it to term against her will. If that is the pro-choice argument, that entails that human value is extrinsic.
But the problem becomes even worse when we realize that pro-choice philosophy is laced with notions of intrinsic human value. It emerges when we start talking about the right to have an abortion. I am not sure how we could ground the right to an abortion in an extrinsic model of human value. The most we could say is that society and the law agrees that this right exists. With that being the case, the annulment of a right could never be a human rights violation. This highlights the difference between objective morality and relative morality. Objective morality means that some things are wrong even if everybody disagrees. People have certain natural rights even if everybody disagrees. As far as I can tell, the only way to ground the right to an abortion is in the intrinsic value of the human being. The problem is that abortionist philosophy presupposes that there are some contingent attributes that allow us to take the lives of a human being. So it is an internally inconsistent system.
The only recourse I can possibly imagine is to suggest that the fetus is not a true human being and therefore to kill it is not a violation of intrinsic value. But science has been settled on this point for nearly one hundred years. In the 2012 peer-reviewed paper Phosphatases and proteases during sperm capacitation, the author writes, “Fertilization is the process by which male and female haploid gametes (sperm and egg) unite to produce a genetically distinct individual.” A few more peer-reviewed papers include Maternal and fetal genomes interplay through phosphoinositol 3-kinase(PI3K)-p110α signaling to modify placental resource allocation, and New insights into differences in brain organization between Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans and finally Pregnancy leads to long-lasting changes in human brain structure. If contingent factors such as “conceived in rape,” or “inside the uterus” are used to justify an abortion, this will form an extrinsic model of human value because the fetus is a distinct individual human being.
The Death Toll
We have two examples of extrinsic human value. If this philosophy is applied, we should not be surprised when there is a death toll. Individuals who do not possess the qualifying contingent attribute can be exterminated by those who do. Think of race-based slave-trading here in the United States. Tens of thousands of human beings who do not possess some attribute are kidnapped and brought across the world and thrown into forced labor. They are separated from their families. Females are treated as sex slaves and both genders are forced to perform manual labor. Both this practice and the death toll are manifestations of an extrinsic model of value. While slavers may claim to believe in an intrinsic model, I already pointed out the problems with that and I think their affirmation of that (if there was such an affirmation) would be nothing more than lip service.
Many of us see abortion as a far greater crime. It commits the same two sins. First, it compromises human value on a fundamental level with the notion that innocent human life can be exterminated under certain circumstances. Second, there is a significant death toll. The death toll is the reason that many regard abortion as the greater evil. It could also be that abortion is a present day issue, whereas slavery and racism are thought to have faded into the background. But I think the emphasis on political parties has played a role in our overlooking these two crimes. They are different manifestations of the same value problem. If we knuckle under and concede something to racists, we will suffer from the same value problem. Western culture has been imbued with this concept of intrinsic value. The secular textbook Western Civilization: Ideas, Politics, and Society argued on page 91 that this is largely the result of Judeo-Christian influence, especially the doctrine of the imago dei.
If we are looking for a practical application, it is that we should never concede anything that will compromise human value. We cannot allow bigotry of any form to gain a foothold. In abortionist philosophy, we are losing the doctrine of the imago dei. This has far-reaching implications for society. It literally creates a culture of death. But the same can be said of racist bigotry. If we allow it to gain a foothold, we will compromise the doctrine of the imago dei. This means we cannot be given to White Nationalist rhetoric, even if they do not claim to be racists. We cannot overreact to opposing political parties. Jumping between extremes is still a form of extremism. We have to be nuanced and recognize that we cannot tolerate a death toll, whether it is a consequence of abortion or racism.
Anticipated Objection: Does Capital Punishment Compromise Human Value?
The careful reader might have thought of what she thinks are counter-examples, such as capital punishment. In capital punishment, a human being is in a specific set of circumstances wherein it is acceptable to take her life. This might seem like an example of extrinsic value. But I want to emphasize again that the whole purpose of this post is to crystalize that we have to isolate these issues from their political contexts. If we think of abortion and racism as inherently a conservative versus progressive debate, we will overlook the fact that they both suffer from the same fundamental error.
Having said that, I am happy to address the issue of capital punishment. First, I am a libertarian. I am more sympathetic to the case against capital punishment than many of my conservative friends. However, I do not think it compromises human value. The compromises to value that we have discussed are based on an individual’s contingent attributes. This could include geography, ancestry, race, et cetera. In contrast, capital punishment is based on an individual’s actions. She is not being executed for what she is. She is being executed for what she has done. Something similar can be said about self-defense. This objection should be classified as a category error.
The Overlap Between Pro-Choice Ethics And Racist Bigotry
I have two fundamental objections to abortion and racism. Yes, they are literally the same. First, they both undermine human value. They allow for the slaughter of human beings in specific circumstances. The problem becomes worse for abortionist philosophy because the notion of human rights is deeply interwoven throughout. So it necessitates an intrinsic model of value, yet when applied, it practices an extrinsic model of value. Abortionist philosophy therefore cuts its own throat. The second objection is the actual death toll. But the value problem actually creates the death toll. Christians should spend more time thinking about the value problem.
As a result of this overlap, I do not think there is room for compromise or concession. We need to be immovable on this front. There is no room for White Nationalism. Churches need to exercise church discipline (Matthew 18:15-20) and we need to popularize the errors within racism that I have outlined here. In doing so, we will also popularize the errors of the abortionist philosophy.
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