David Carlin: What factors divide pro-life from pro-choice Americans? Mostly, it’s the difference between humility and arrogance.
This column is about abortion, but it will take a moment or two to get to the point. Please bear with me.
If ever there was an obvious example of fallacious reasoning, it’s this: “I am rich, and you are not. Therefore I’m right, and you’re wrong.”
What could be more stupid than an argument along these lines? And yet this is precisely the reasoning that has been used, century after century, by those in the higher classes to dismiss complaints made by persons from the lower classes. This is the reasoning that permitted lords of the manor to dismiss complaints by serfs, slaveholders to dismiss complaints by slaves, mill-owners to dismiss complaints by factory hands, etc.
In a society that places great value on wealth (and what society does not place great value on wealth?), rich people cannot help but feel that they are superior people: not just superior in wealth, but superior in almost every way. And if you are superior in almost every way, then you must be superior in judgment.
If it happens, then, that a person from the lower classes disagrees with you, it becomes obvious – does it not? – that you must be right and the other must be wrong.
Your rightness and his wrongness are so obvious, in fact, that there really is no need for you (the rich person) to examine the other fellow’s case. Save yourself time and trouble by dismissing it from the get-go as unworthy of consideration.
And don’t waste a lot of time trying to explain to the other fellow why he’s wrong. Out of a noblesse oblige kind of courtesy, you might offer him a brief explanation; but when you see (as you soon will) that he doesn’t buy it, move on to something else.
And now to abortion. Considered on purely intellectual merits, the anti-abortion argument is vastly superior to the pro-abortion argument. The anti-abortion or pro-life side argues that the entity that gets killed in an abortion is a human being, a tiny human being that grows less tiny every day.
And what else could it be if not a human being? It is not a dog or a monkey or a fish or an elm tree. The pro-abortion side has no counter-argument that comes even close to refuting the anti-abortion case. The best the pro-abortion side can come up with are mindless slogans like “a woman’s right to choose” or “a woman’s right to control her own body” or “if you don’t like abortion, don’t have one.”
This last is my favorite stupid argument. It is strictly parallel to, “If you don’t like slavery, don’t own a slave.”
And yet, despite the obvious superiority of the anti-abortion argument, hardly ever is a pro-abortion person persuaded. Why is this?
The answer, I think, can be found in the social class differences between pro-life and pro-abortion people. The heart of the pro-abortion movement is found among men and women of the upper-middle classes: people who have (or soon will have when they finish college and get a few years older) good educations, good jobs, good cars, good houses, good food, good wine, high incomes, millions in assets, many important social and political connections, a cosmopolitan outlook, etc.
Given contemporary American standards, they are superior people. They may not be superior according to the standards that prevailed in Plato’s Academy, or in ancient Sparta, or in the monasteries of St. Benedict, or in the Shaker communities. But they are without question “superior” according to present-day American standards.
By contrast, the heart of the pro-life movement is found among women from the lower-middle classes: persons with educations and incomes that are barely adequate in today’s high-price society; persons who lack the millions, the high culture, the good connections, etc.
These women tend to be religious; they tend to have more children than does the average American woman (and certainly more than does the typical pro-abortion activist); they tend to be sexually un-liberated – so much so that many of them (and this is truly shocking from a contemporary point of view) have had sexual relations with only one man, their husband. According to present-day standards, these women are definitely inferior.
It will be pointed out that my ideas of the typical pro-life and pro-abortion person are stereotypes. Of course. But stereotypes are often enough more or less accurate.
In any case, the typical pro-abortion activist, instead of taking seriously the arguments presented by the pro-life movement, says to herself or himself: “I am rich and well-educated, I own a handsome house or condo and a fine automobile, I am thin and athletic, and I am blessed with excellent taste when it comes to coffee, wine, food, furniture, music, movies, works of art, etc. In short, I am a superior person. The world is fortunate to have people like me in it.”
“And so, that anti-choice woman standing over there – whose education is limited, whose income is modest, whose house is small and unattractive and in the wrong neighborhood, whose body is unshapely and somewhat overweight, whose taste is appallingly vulgar – when she tells me that I am wrong about abortion, I would laugh at her if I didn’t pity her. What could be more preposterous than to think that an inferior person like her might be right and a superior person like myself might be wrong?”
These “superior” people, let us remember, are the people who control the “command posts” of American culture. Which is to say that they are dominant in a number of our leading institutions: the mainstream journalistic media, the entertainment industry, our best colleges and universities, and one of our two great political parties.
They shape the public mind, especially the mind of younger generations. If they won’t listen to reason (which they won’t), do we have any grounds to be hopeful for the long-run success of the pro-life movement?
Yes. But I’ve run out of time (and space) today. More to come next time.
David Carlin is a professor of sociology and philosophy at the Community College of Rhode Island, and the author of The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America.
EDITORS NOTE: This Catholic Thing column is republished with permission. © 2019 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to: firstname.lastname@example.org. The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.