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Friday, May 09, 2003

On Disenfranchisement


Or, a descent far from my original topic

A certain acquaintance has written a book: Invisible Citizens: Youth Politics After September 11. I went to the book signing yesterday; their presentation was rather interesting, and the book looks good. The author of my acquaintance will be the first Indian president of the USA, I'm quite certain. One point was made with which I did not quite agree, however: one of the authors said that the current college-age population is disenfranchised because they are not interested in voting.

There comes a time when an idea becomes so overextended that it ceases to have any use and minimizes the importance of its original meaning. When the British decide that pornography within a prison is a basic human right, classifying it at the same level as access to food and air and so forth, the whole concept of "basic human rights" becomes ridiculous. When Mary Daly wishes to define feminism as necessarily believing that all heterosexual intercourse is per se rape, both the work of worthy feminists interested in giving a woman equal right as a man to ask a bank for a loan etc. and the suffering of women (and men) who have experienced the more commonly accepted interpretation of "rape" are trivialized.

It's the same argument made about PETA's WWII campaign -- saying killing chickens and killing Jews and Jehovah's Witnesses are morally identical minimizes the latter. An article I read perhaps a year ago asked the question, "why are there no woman philosophers?" (to which my initial response was, aren't there?) and then answered it, and I paraphrase, "There are no woman philosophers for the same reason there are no child or animal philosophers." The article was attempting to be pro-woman (although it failed miserably and was in many other ways horridly offensive), but, especially in that one comment, came across as implying that women in philosophy are either immature or sub-human.

In the political sphere, saying that George Bush is a terrorist of no moral difference from someone in Iraq who puts people through shredders or someone in Finland who will kill his female relative for dalliance with a male not in her family (and then defend it, and have many Fins join in in the defence on the basis of tolerance of other religions) becomes entirely ludicrous. Saying that Bob Dole wants to "put women's rights back 100 years" is equally laughable (you may believe he wants to outlaw abortion; does anyone believe he wants to deny women the right to vote, or any other thing that has changed in the past century?).

Back to the original point, calling apathy about politics "disenfranchisement" trivializes the state of people actually disenfranchised, actively denied the opportunity to vote, and makes them out to be no different from lazy collegians. They may be no different in effect, as neither is voting, but eagerly desiring to vote and being prevented is quite different from not caring and not bothering.

Yes, there are people who sincerely believe that each of these extreme positions are morally equivalent to the core of whichever concept is being stretched. Mary Daly appears quite certain that there is no such thing as consensual heterosexual intercourse. I have met an educated Jain monk (a rarity, I hear, because of his order's tenets, among which is a requirement that you must believe the world to be flat) who was filled with self-loathing because of his conviction that he was constantly committing murder by existing and therefore killing microorganisms whose life was entirely morally equivalent to his own. Telling any of these people that they are extremist is useless, because they believe themselves to be correct; I'm sure we all take some positions that others would believe to be extremist. (As a dear friend often says, as long as the death threats are coming from both the right and the left, you're probably doing ok.) I've recently had a conversation in which I was called a racist Zionist extremist for disagreeing with the proposition that all Jews must abandon the middle east in order to atone for their sins. I found the other person's position a bit extreme, myself, which goes to demonstrate that extremism is in the eye of the beholder, to some level. I don't have a solution to this problem (yes, my omniscience fails me here).

I've made this point on another blog recently, but it fits here as well: when you have someone fully convinced that aborting a baby six months along is murder, what do you say to them -- that it objectively isn't murder? that it's murder, but it's allowable? that they can feel it's murder for them, but it's ok for other people (incidentally, I can't for the life of me understand the people who say they believe abortion is murder but also call themselves pro-choice)? That society has decided what is murder and what isn't, and they must go by what the courts feel (why do the courts get to decide what is murder and what isn't)?

When you have someone fully convinced that killing a chicken is murder, what do you say to them? which of the above answers?

And what when you have someone fully convinced that killing a four-year-old is murder, what do you say to them? Or someone fully convinced that it isn't -- what do you say to them?

Why would any of those discussions be different from the other?

Is murder defined as depriving another human, after birth, of life without their consent or the consent of the court? Can courts approve of killing a person? Does an individual's consent to be killed change the moral status of the circumstances of his death? Why is it restricted to humans? Why is it restricted to humans of a certain age/location? Is allowing someone to die when you can keep them alive murder? why? why not?

Why is murder wrong?

Is it?

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