Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Hard Part About Inalienable Rights

Glenn Reynolds points to a piece at by Ed Krayewski and asks: "Is that the right analogy?"
 The case of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, horrific on its own, is not helpful as a stand-in or argument in the wider debate about abortion and reproductive rights (because what he did is already illegal), just as the case of Adam Lanza, horrific on its own, is not helpful as a stand-in or argument in the wider debate about personal safety and gun rights (because what he did is already illegal).

As seems the usual case; yes, and no.

Yes, these are analogous as questions of political and legal debate.  Both are examples of individuals abusing lawful activities in what is already legislated to be a criminal fashion.

But that's not what anybody wants to talk about in either instance.

The hard part about inalienable rights is coming to terms with the decisions individuals sometimes find themselves compelled to make.  Mostly we question the choices of others, but ...

And, mostly we try (when we don't absolutely insist upon) considering those decisions in isolation, not as the difficult-choice-in-a-complex-(often hurried)-and-demanding-context-of-countervailing-options-amidst-doubts-and-uncertainties-galore they actually so often are.  So, no, they are not analogous because one [Gosnell] is acting in response to a legal request (however illegal his method of response unquestionably seems to have been) and the other [Lanza] imposed his unilateral decision on an unconsulted other.

Lets get one critical aspect of what's involved here clearly out in the open; as a society, we in the United States have decreed that killing is not unlawful - only highly constrained.  Indeed, it is a fundamental stipulation of the concept of "inalienable rights" that the decision to kill another person is an inherent condition of anyone who possesses such rights (and that's just for Texas; your state may have differently worded laws, but they're just as complex in practice - go look for yourself and see).  As a matter of law, beyond recognition of the individual's option to conform to moral edict in purely private and personal matters, religion can play no formal role in deciding what the law will prohibit.  Like the responsibility for the outcomes of our personal choices, responsibility for the consequences arising from the laws we cause to be written is ours.

Abortion is a type of killing of another human being that we as a society have chosen to sanction under stipulated circumstances.  The question facing the court in Philadelphia is whether, and to what degree, Mr. Gosnell exceeded the constraints placed upon that otherwise legislatively sanctioned killing.  Mr. Lanza, however, was never within the constraints of the law in his act of killing others, so the judgement he would have faced is seemingly a more straightforward issue.

In America, the law is always a matter of imposed considered judgement (anything else being a failure of law).  As such, the law is itself always subject to reconsideration and evaluation, as it should in a representative form of government (I would like to argue in any form of government, but outright tyranny makes for a very slow and ... how to put this, rigorous evaluation process, usually lasting only as long as the tyrant-in-question).  While individual moral judgements of both men are inextricably bound up in the process of considered judgement as to the lawfulness of their respective choice of action, religious preemptive commands have no place in American statute.  We damage our society by forgetting that in moments of aroused passion in response to circumstance.

The temptation to cast moral aspersions at another for their behavior is a personal judgement; calling for a religious verdict as a matter of law is simply another form of tyranny.  Justice and Tyranny are never analogous.

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