action not debate

Bill writes:

“Making child labor legal is better than the alternative, because making it illegal doesnt prevent it from happening. It simply forces children who would have worked in factories to work as prostitutes instead.”

Let me take a philosophy class trick and put it into practice here: argument by analogy. What if the morally suspect practice at hand were abortion? Then the statement would read: “Making abortion legal is better than the alternative, because making it illegal doesnt prevent it from happening.” Indeed, abortion is an ancient practice in many cultures and it will definitely happen, legal or not. So by this argument a sane society should permit it without a fuss.

You can take this analogy even further, and see that Bill and I would both be arguing for the sake of political ideals. I am actually in favor of abortion being legal because I disagree with the idea that governments should be able to legislate or restrict a womans body, including the termination of fetuses. Bill is actually in favor of child labor being legal because he disagrees with the idea that governments should be able to legislate or restrict profitable activity, including this kind of labor practice.

In my opinion, however, political ideals tend to be roiled with bullshit. It is better to look at the facts straight on. When you see child labor and do nothing, you are complicit. When you see the killing of fetuses and do nothing, you are complicit. You do have real options though. And they dont necessarily have to do with the political apparatus. You can take action to encourage the sacred bond between mothers and their daughters, raise awareness about the patriarchy, promote sexual education and family planning in the community. You can take action to protest the WTO, raise awareness about consumerism, the sinister labor practices of rich corporations, and the military support of the imperial United States. You can boycott Nike and Kathy Lee fucking Gifford.

Or you can sit there. And watch TV. And blog. And talk about your high-minded political ideals.

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6 Responses to “action not debate”

  1. David Says:

    Wow, somebody got fired up by Obama!

    Your abortion argument is strange because you present as a joke one of the most forwarded pro-choice arguments. The idea is that in the absence of *legal* abortion, you force women to turn to unsafe alternatives. You don’t stop the practice, you just put a certain percentage of women in greater danger. Yes the ownership of one’s body is the bigger issue, but the way you dismissed this argument really supports Bill’s argument 100% for me.

    Also, whether I agree with Bill or not, I really don’t see what more he could say to emphasize the fact that his brand of economics is rooted firmly in practicalities, not ideals. You both accuse each other of being idealists just because you don’t believe the specific applications of each other’s beliefs are valid. But by saying ”oh that guy is a high-minded idealist” you do a disservice to him, and to yourself by shutting your mind off to him unilaterally.

  2. tripinchina Says:

    David-

    I assure you, I am not in any way joking! I genuinely believe the argument I set forth for why abortion should be legal — because if it wasn’t, people would do it anyway except in unsafe and unsanitary back-alley conditions. I am pro-choice. And yet…I am anti legalization of child labor.

    Bill (I assume) genuinely believes the argument he set forth for why child labor should be legal — because if it wasn’t, it would happen anyway and the children in question would be subject to even worse conditions. And yet…Bill is (I assume based on previous conversations) anti-abortion.

    So it seems to me that the reason we can reach this impasse, of being for the permission of one reprehensible thing but against the permission of another, has to do with political logic — what we both see as “feasible options”. In this instance, our disagreement is about political philosophy, not on what’s good and what’s bad in the world. So my thought is this: Bill and I have different complex theories of life. But we both see bad things going on in the world, so both of us should focus on changing the status quo for the better!

    As far as the GDP issue goes, people generally believe that an increase in commercial activity and concomitant increase in GDP helps the poor (how practical!) but that measure does not take into account the way that said activity takes place, or for whose benefit. Instead it substitutes a Western oriented, one-sided definition of “progress” and “poverty relief” for any real consideration of the quality of human life. I argue that GDP increase often has to do with the existence of powerful commercial and banking interests and their quasi-colonial machinations. For debate to occur, I need some substantive evidence that these don’t exist, rather than theoretical formulations.

    Anyway, for the record, “you” can just sit there and blog was not meant as an ad hominem attack.

    I do hope that in the course of this debate between Bill and myself that I haven’t come off as closed-minded because that certainly hasn’t been my approach. Critical, yes. Closed minded, I hope not.

    ~Thomas

  3. tripinchina Says:

    ADDENDUM: In case this is not absolutely clear via my blog, watching TV and blogging and talking about political ideals are like three of my favorite activities!

  4. William Bruntrager Says:

    Your overall point is well taken, that political ideals can play a big role in supposedly value-neutral debate, and you’re right that I’ve been in favor of laws against abortion in the past. Actually, though, I’ve pretty much changed my position on abortion, for a couple of reasons.

    There was a time when I thought, “Even if we can’t stop abortion, we still need to make it illegal to express our belief that it’s wrong.” I no longer believe that this is a reasonable test. I don’t think legislation should be used as an expression of “the will of the people,” because I don’t think that legislation does a good job of representing the will of the people. As I’ve moved closer to an anarchist view, government has lost the legitimacy I once assumed it had in representing the morality and will of the people it is supposed to represent. There is nothing special about this entity called government that makes it able to represent all the people of the United States.

    It doesn’t make me feel any better to know that the government passed a piece of legislation banning abortion, when that same government has recently passed a $200 bn farm subsidy package. These people don’t represent me.

    As such, legislation that I would advocate advances practical purposes, not moral ones. It will happen to be the case that many laws are both moral and practical. Murder is immoral, but more importantly, a prohibition on murder is necessary for a functioning society. I guess I still believe that abortion is immoral, but I’m not convinced that anti-abortion legislation is necessary to have a functioning society.

    Basically, I understand the point that you are making, that for some people, it can be important to pass legislation or take some kind of action on an issue, not for its practical effects, but as a kind of statement about what is right and wrong. However, I’m now more or less convinced that this view is mistaken.

  5. William Bruntrager Says:

    That which must be added:

    Again, you are right that I object, in principle, to a third party (e.g. government) interfering with a voluntary transaction between two people, and for me, that is a matter of human rights. Obviously this isn’t the starting point of most people, or I wouldn’t even have to defend capitalism.

    It’s hard to agree on ideals, but regardless of ideals, it’s important to recognize that legislation has consequences. An advocate of laws against child labor should be prepared to accept the actual consequences of such a law. Similarly, an advocate of laws against abortion should be prepared to look at the real consequences of such a law and say “Yes, this law is still worth having.”

    For now, we’re not going to agree on whether globalization and capitalism helps the poor. But we can agree that it’s important for people who think about these issues to be aware of the real consequences of legislation. Maybe in the end we’ll still decide we want a law we can feel good about, and so we just can’t bear to give child labor or abortion a “seal of approval” by not making it illegal, but at least that will be an informed decision.

  6. tripinchina Says:

    Bill-
    I like your anarchist tendencies! I agree with you that legislation should be evaluated and understood only in terms of its practical consequences. I also agree with you that the state and its government (essentially a bunch of
    mobsters
    ) don’t have moral legitimacy. Praxis is where it’s at.

    Perhaps we can agree to disagree when it comes to ideals. While you object to the infringement of liberty, I object to the infringement of sustainability. Do you think that’s a fair assessment?

    ~Thomas

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