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    Pro- and Anti-

    Monday, February 9, 2009, 9:18 PM [General]

    The most common way to frame the discussion of abortion is in terms of "pro-choice" versus "pro-life," obviously implying that one cannot value both a woman's autonomy and "life," whatever that means.

    I've never liked this way of framing things. Most pro-choice people are also pro-life, but not all pro-life people are pro-choice. The conflict here is over choice. The question here is not "is life good" but "is it good for a woman to choose for herself whether to have an abortion." So the argument is more properly framed as "pro-choice" versus "anti-choice."

    But not on BeliefNet, evidently.


    After my first post in the abortion discussion forum, I received a warning. My tone was fine, and all I did was point out that--contrary to the OP's rant--there was indeed an anti-choice ticket (since using laws set down by Alaska's legislature doesn't actually say anything about the head of its executive) in addition to the pro-choice ticket.

    This violates the rules, the post was deleted by justme333, and I was warned. I sent an email to the mod, and here is the text of it:

    I noticed that I was just warned and had a post removed because I did not frame the abortion debate using the terms you prefer.

    "Finally, the only terms allowed in the description of positions for this board are Pro-Life and Pro-Choice."

    Do you understand why there are many people who object to framing this issue in terms of one side which is in favor of "life" and one which is not? There is a very good reason why I do not describe the anti-choice position as "pro-life," most notably that it is not my life they are protecting.

    I find it hard to believe you would not be aware of this issue of terms and why it is important, so I suppose the real question is why you object to this terminology so strongly that you will not even let anybody post using it. It is not offensive, it is not inaccurate. It is, in fact, a well-established and well-accepted way of framing the issue, which scholars in these matters use for a very good reason.

    Except, evidently, on your board. Why?

    I don't anticipate getting a satisfactory answer. The only reason anybody objects to the terms I'm using is that they resent the loss of a moral high ground they never earned, that of being the side that values "life."

    But who knows. Perhaps I'll be surprised. Doubt it though.

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    A rare personal entry!

    Sunday, February 8, 2009, 1:19 PM [General]

    She's going to change the world...
    She's going to change the world...
    But she can't
    change me.

    My partner has commented in the past that I have an odd approach to religion, even my own. I view it as a cultural system in which I either want to participate or not. If I gain from it as a person, it's good. If I do not, then I have no use for it and will leave it to the people who can gain.

    But what this means is that while I can throw myself into a practice wholeheartedly, throwing myself into the beliefs is somewhat of a trickier proposition. This is simplified by the fact that I don't care about how a religion answers questions of science or fact. I don't care if a holy book says that the world was created in six days or whether an even more ancient oral tradition posits a planet on the back of a turtle (on the back of a turtle on the back of another turtle...). That stuff isn't for religion, and if I make it about answering questions for which we simply have not figured out the facts... well, I'm missing all the stuff it does that matters (and is actually interesting).


    Some people reading are aware that I'm a member of a Wiccan circle. We play pretty fast and loose with dogma in my circle, and that was essential to me feeling comfortable there. We draw from many different traditions so that we can attempt to learn or accomplish something new. Thankfully other my circle-mates are also aware of the colonialist implications of picking buffet-style from other religions as well, so there's a lot of respect there and I don't have to smack anyone with various bits of miscellaneous scholarly discourse.

    Anyway, that's not the point. The point is that we negotiate lots of different traditions by acknowledging that different things work for different people. The real question here for many folk (Pagans in particular, though anyone in an interfaith social group will face it eventually) is why.

    To some people, all gods are real. Some of these believe that we make them real by creating or coalesce those divine power forces using our own personal power of will. Some of these believe that there is simply one massive pool of divine energy that everybody draws from in the way that best fulfills their needs.

    To some people, only some gods are real. They have to be "real" gods, preferably ancient. After all, a religion that sprang up two thousand years ago carries a lot more weight than a religion that sprang up five years ago, or six months (even if a religion scholar would see little functional difference aside from age).

    To other people, no gods are real. Religion is best experienced through allegory and metaphor, as a meditative practice that allows for access to multiple perspectives, opportunity to answer questions that many individuals just wouldn't think to ask.

    I am personally somewhere between a monist (it's all the same, just with different faces on the divine to break It down into smaller, easily-digestible pieces) and an atheist. How the fuck do I manage that? By not fucking caring whether the facts are verifiably true, instead worrying about the processes. Do the processes of the religion do for me what I'm setting them up to do? Yes? Good! I win at religion!

    I don't think this necessarily makes me an agnostic. I'm not ambivalent or indecisive, which is what "agnostic" implies to me. I genuinely do not give a damn at this phase in my life whether god is blue or brown or has four arms or two or a beard or exists at all. For many people the idea of a deity watching over or supporting them is helpful, and is a useful avenue for personal growth. Personally, no answer to that question is useful to me.

    If scientists proved tomorrow that there is no divine force, deity, whatever, I'd be stunned that they'd figured out a way to test it... but I wouldn't throw out religion. At least not my religion. I don't fucking care if there's a god/dess, and I don't really tend to petition anything outside myself in the way that many magick-users and praying Christians (though there's not actually any difference if you ask a non-Christian). So why do I care whether someone answers?

    Same if they proved there was a divine force, I think. Again, what the hell did they do to prove that one, but... meh. I still reserve the right to disagree with or even ignore a deity if I choose. Free will is awesome, and if I'm not letting a deity tell me what to do... does it matter whether they're shouting their divine heads off without me listening? It's still the same world it was yesterday, and my life would still be my own.

    It's not indecision. It's unconcern. It makes no nevermind to me one way or the other. I just plain do not care.

    I do care whether I am absorbing a code of ethics and customs that I believe to be useful and beneficial in my life. If I find out conclusively tomorrow that there is or isn't a deity out there, the world will still be the same place it was today, and what works will still be the same as it was today.

    This means that I can accept and cherish lots and lots of religious traditions without fretting over whether telling beads really wins Catholics brownie points with God, or whether my menstrual cycle is a cosmic metaphor, or whether I'll be born again after I die. I am doing what I need to do to make my life work, and I assume everyone else is as well.

    I think that perhaps someday I might make a useful sort of spiritual-leader-type-person, simply because I'm good at making use of what I've got and seeing the good in what we have. I ask decent questions, and think a little ahead. I could be useful to other people who are just looking for a set of customs and perspectives to fit them better than the one to which they were likely born and raised.

    But there are problems. I can't just run out and become a priestess. For one, does anyone really want to talk to a priestess who doesn't care whether the divine force we're all here to revere actually exists? For another thing, I don't know what it would do to my relationship with my partner. I've already had to face the possibility that because I practice a religion, he won't be able to commit to having me in his life. If I became a religious leader of some variety... it might be more of a strain than our relationship can take. While I know he would never demand that I give up any aspiration or dream for his sake, I do have to consider what sacrifices I might be making. Whether they'll be worth it in the end.

    I'm still looking. I have a better idea of what I am, and I'm taking steps to get a better handle on that. The question of where I am can come later, but I'll have to chew on it eventually. I don't know how that will resolve, but I foresee emerging a new person. I have to trust myself and assume I will come out of it better. I always seem to do that, and damn it I can do it again.
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    power of the corpse

    Sunday, February 8, 2009, 1:18 PM [General]

    Read a news article today. I am hesitant to link to the original page, for reasons that you'll understand if you've read this entry of mine. It has a picture of a dead man.

    Here is the printer-friendly page.

    DETROIT -- This city has not always been a gentle place, but a series of events over the past few, frigid days causes one to wonder how cold the collective heart has grown.

    It starts with a phone call made by a man who said his friend found a dead body in the elevator shaft of an abandoned building on the city's west side.

    "He's encased in ice, except his legs, which are sticking out like Popsicle sticks," the caller phoned to tell this reporter.

    "Why didn't your friend call the police?"

    "He was trespassing and didn't want to get in trouble," the caller replied. As it happens, the caller's friend is an urban explorer who gets thrills rummaging through and photographing the ruins of Detroit. It turns out that this explorer last week was playing hockey with a group of other explorers on the frozen waters that had collected in the basement of the building. None of the men called the police, the explorer said. They, in fact, continued their hockey game.

    Before calling the police, this reporter went to check on the tip, skeptical of a hoax. Sure enough, in the well of the cargo elevator, two feet jutted out above the ice. Closer inspection revealed that the rest of the body was encased in 2-3 feet of ice, the body prostrate, suspended into the ice like a porpoising walrus.

    The hem of a beige jacket could be made out, as could the cuffs of blue jeans. The socks were relatively clean and white. The left shoe was worn at the heel but carried fresh laces. Adding to the macabre and incongruous scene was a pillow that gently propped up the left foot of the corpse. It looked almost peaceful.

    What happened to this person, one wonders? Murder in Motown is a definite possibility. Perhaps it was death by alcoholic stupor. Perhaps the person was crawling around in the elevator shaft trying to retrieve some metal that he could sell at a scrap yard. In any event, there the person was. Stone-cold dead.
    I think that the reporter, Charlie LeDuff by name, covered this in as sensitive and tasteful a manner as could be hoped. He used it as an opportunity to discuss Detroit's homeless, and the ability of the city to continue functioning unphased no matter what happens to them. If you're homeless, damned near anything can happen to you--anything--and even people who supposedly share your situation will be too busy with their own struggles to worry much about you. LeDuff did an excellent job with that, and I think that including a picture of those feet above a plane of ice that you know hides the rest of a man is part of hammering in that we only care because we don't see, or can pretend we don't see.

    But I still have issues with the use of images of the dead. If you don't know what I'm talking about, please check out the entry I linked before. Read it here; this'll make more sense if you do. I think that there I explained it as well as I am likely to do.
    371d36d75e05eda735858f8e467be99cHere is my question. Do you feel that, considering a debt that comes with viewing images of the dead, that LeDuff has paid his debt? Or has he just used this homeless man's corpse and his suffering to make a political point of his own? Is he taking up the unnamed corpse's cause, or pursuing his own and using the power created by the stranger's death to fuel his own cause?

    And here's the really disturbing question for me. Completely aside from considerations of LeDuff's debt and the repayment thereof, what about me? I've seen this image, and I've been touched by the emotional energy of a man's death. I owe him something, but as I discussed in that previous entry... you cannot always know just what it is you owe the dead. By helping people in Indiana get foodstamps and Medicaid, am I helping to repay a man whose death was caused by disregard? Or is that not what's required at all?

    Now that the emotional/spiritual energy created by this man's suffering and this man's death is part of the emotional/spiritual energy of my life, what do I owe him for grokking his death in that way? By observing and considering his death in such a way that it has become part of me and my life (something which cannot be avoided now that the photo of his corpse has been reflected in my eyes), I have taken something from him and made it part of myself.

    How can I repay it? I don't know what he wants. You can basically never know what the dead want.

    What do you think?
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    The Exception

    Sunday, February 8, 2009, 1:16 PM [General]

    I have blogged before over here on what I think of the so-called "rape exceptions" in anti-choice legislation. To grab an excerpt:

    "Well, they should have thought about that before they started having sex," you might say. It's a common enough argument. If women don't want to get pregnant, they shouldn't engage in risky behavior like sex. Most people will agree that a woman who is raped or molested at a young age is not "to blame" for her sexual activity, and as a result an abortion is okay in these cases.

    But here's what this really says. A woman who doesn't choose to have sex deserves the choice of whether to keep an unwanted child. A woman who does choose to have sex does not deserve the choice of whether to keep an unwanted child. What makes this misogynist is that it takes a moral imperative ("good women don't sleep around") and uses it as a framework to give "bad" women fewer rights than "good" ones.
    371d36d75e05eda735858f8e467be99cI was reading something that made another point about this exception, and it's here. The author mentions those anti-choicers who're willing to admit that rape is terribly sad but "why should the baby have to pay for someone else's wrong?" She rightly questions just whose wrong we're looking at here, suggesting that the figure blamed is seldom the father who didn't wear a condom, but the woman who "wrongly" took an interest in sexual activity.

    And here's an excellent question, one that is asked but seldom by people who seriously offer an answer. What about the woman? Whose choices should she suffer for, and to what degree?
    I know, it’s a radical thought, but really: what of them? Why should they have to pay for someone else’s wrong? What about their lives? Don’t they matter a damn bit? Or again, are we just assuming that they are partially at fault for the wrong committed?

    Of course, anti-choicers will argue that we’re looking at disproportionate interests/rights. The “baby” has a life; the woman just has “convenience” and her lazy, selfish desire to not have a physical reminder of her traumatizing experience every second of every day for 9 months, not to mention a child created by that rapist at the end of 9 months.

    In fact, regaining control after a rape experience really can be about a woman’s life. Thankfully, I don’t know the trauma of having been impregnated as the result of rape. But I do know the trauma of rape itself. And I know, or can read in tons of readily accessible literature, about how rape takes away a sense of control over one’s body. It can, in fact, heavily make one question who that body belongs to.

    And anti-choicers want that answer to be the government. In spite of the fact that the right to an abortion after rape really can be about a woman’s life — since a woman may be easily made suicidal over a forced pregnancy as the result of rape, or simply traumatized forever because of it — anti-choicers think that a fetus’ rights overrule it. When forced to choose between the life of a fetus, and the life of a woman (and often thereby her fetus due to simple biology), anti-choicers choose the fetus time and time again.

    Once again. The unborn always take precedent for an anti-choicer over the already-born. Whose suffering has worth to you? Whose life has worth to you?

    This is why the anti-choice position is not pro-child. It is anti-woman. That's why we don't call them pro-life, because it sure as hell isn't my life they're fighting for, nor is it yours. They'd sacrifice you in an instant if it meant that those dirty fornicating whores get what they deserve, subhumans who should have kept their damn legs closed, or not had that third drink, or not worn that skirt, or screamed a little louder, fought a little harder.

    It's not about protection; it's about punishing women who step out of line--a line drawn by misogynist factions of our culture more concerned with keeping women in their proscribed "traditional" gender role than with keeping women safe.
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    The Least of These

    Sunday, February 8, 2009, 1:16 PM [General]

    I always did like this passage. It's pretty unambiguous, which is not usual for this book.

    "For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me."

    Then they also will answer, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?"

    Then he will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me." - Matthew 25:42-45
    371d36d75e05eda735858f8e467be99cI suppose this is one of the big differences between Jesus and Jeezus, the American folk hero. For some others, see here.

    Funny how people are so often willing to "vote their consciences" when it's about denying women access to reproductive control, but they're not willing to do the same when it comes to poverty. Even if they say they believe it's virtuous to help the poor, they vote against such efforts at every turn because they don't want charity to be mandated.

    Guess what, guys! If we vote for it, no one's shoving it on us. It is not a measure of your faith and virtue to vote against social services in the hopes that private charities will do the job instead. It's a measure of your unwillingness to do what works to accomplish a goal you claim is important to you.

    But if that's cool by you, fine. You're the one who'll be answering for all those times you denied Jesus disability pay, or all those times that you voted to deny food stamps to his family, or all those times you scoffed at the needs of Jesus' children for affordable single-payer health care.

    You may not have to answer for the unborn babies that you forced their mothers to bear, but you'd better start figuring out how you're going to talk your way around what happens to those children after they're born, at how little you did to ensure that resources were available for their wellbeing and education. Because "the least of me" doesn't just mean the unborn. There are people around now who need you, and what exactly do you think Jesus would do about it?

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