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August 31, 2004



Excellent post, Hugo. I agree with nearly every word of it.

Incidentally, Frederica Mathewes-Green once wrote a wonderful essay talking about why she doesn't really fit into any ideological box:



Thanks, Lee -- I'll go check it out...


I don't really think of you as a rightie, Hugo, but I do think you are definitely more conservative than I!

Oh, and the pimp and ho costume hoax - it just seemed so believable in our society. I'm glad it wasn't real though.


"Even further right", huh? Oh, if only the right wing believed in protecting the lives of all human beings! What bliss!



You see your unusual mix of positions as a sign of intellectual and political independence, whereas as I see it as a sign that you are just blind on certain issues--most obviously abortion.

Conservatives tend to be against legal abortion and liberals tend to be for it not because of some unthinking group loyalty, but because the differences in their underlying premises and worldviews tend to lead to those different positions.

If you basically agree with progressives on other matters, if you share their basic worldview, then your contrary position on abortion is much more likely to reflect some lack of knowledge or understanding on your part than it is on theirs.


Now, there's a pithy argument for mindless group-think if I ever heard one!


No, it's an argument that, in general, you're more likely to be wrong if you're in the minority. If you're one of a large group of people sent into a room to look at a piece of furniture, and everyone else reports seeing a blue sofa while you alone report seeing a red chair, it's much more likely that the room contains a blue sofa than a red chair.

I realize your dissent from the progressive position on abortion isn't as clear cut as that example, but the same principle applies. The fact that most people whose basic values you say you share, and with whom you agree on most other issues, see abortion very differently than you do suggests that it's you, not them, who is misunderstanding that issue.

Jonathan Dresner

"in general, you're more likely to be wrong if you're in the minority"

I'm sorry, I'm with Hugo on this one. We disagree on plenty (abortion included), but you're not going to make any headway with anything this simplistic.

On matters of furniture you have a pretty good case (assuming a great deal about the normalcy of the group, the chair, etc; it's not, really, that great of a case), but in matters of morality, ethics, values and their applications, such majoritarian rubrics are worse than useless.

Even confining the argument to 'movements' or 'ideologies' assumes too much about the immutability of premises and internal consistency of the worldview in question to be generally applicable.

Lynn Gazis-Sax

And I'm going to agree with both Jonathan and Hugo that majoritarian arguments are pretty useless in matters of ethics, politics, values, etc. Come on, Fred, however true "in general, you're more likely to be wrong if you're in the minority" may be when it comes to the color of furniture, we all know of plenty of cases where we now judge what was once the majority to have been dead wrong in their ethics.

The other problem with your position is that you're assuming that there are only two ways to be consistent, the conservative and the liberal one. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that conservatives and liberals do each have a coherent set of positions, which naturally leads to their respective usual positions on abortion. That doesn't say that Hugo may not also have a coherent basis for his positions, which leads him to choose some from each side. After all, there are more than two different values that are relevant to the political realm.


Lynn and Jonathan, thank you for your eloquent defenses of the integrity of being unclassifiable!


Hugo, I plan a long response to this post, but It'll have to wait until
I've got a little more time and I find a book that's currently missing (to
quote from). I'll post it on my blog and let you know when I get around to
it. I don't think you've quite engaged with the substance of the argument

I agree that Fred doesn't make his case and is overly vague. Here's an
attempt to add some meat to Fred's bones. The evidence provided by the
historical record would currently suggest that in wealthy industrialized
and generally liberal societies, abortion happens pretty regularly
regardless of the law. When it's illegal or severely restricted, it tends
to disproportionally effect the poor. Those with good connections, money,
etc. have historically had no problem accessing abortions. This is a
pretty wide and deep trend.

Now, I think those of us with egalitarian ethics need to think long and
hard about supporting a law when virtually all existing evidence suggests
that that law will not be enforced anywhere near fairly--don't you? I
think it's entirely possible to come to the conclusion that abortion is
such an evil that it must be faught even at the expense of other social
goods, but I have yet to see you acknowledge this downside.

I'm not a libertarian, and I don't think that anyone has some inalienable
"right" to abuse heroin. I'd like to live in a heroin-free world. Yet I
oppose existing drug laws because the evidence suggests that they simply
can't and won't and aren't being enforced in a way that complies with even
the most minimum standard of fairness.

(Note that I know that your opposition to abortion runs deeper and
stronger than my opposition to other people using heroin--it's not meant
as a perfect analogy).



Yes, of course the minority is sometimes right. That's not the point. The point is that you're more likely to be wrong if you're in the minority, especially if you're in a small minority.

If you're the only one in the room who sees a red chair, and everyone else sees a blue sofa, what's more likely, that you're wrong or that everyone else is? If you're the only one who thinks the answer to a math problem is 42, and everyone else agrees that it's 43, what's more likely, that you have got it wrong, or that everyone else has? If you're the only reader of a certain book who thinks it promotes war, and everyone else thinks it promotes peace, what's more likely, that you've misunderstood it, or that everyone else has?

I think the answer in each case is obvious. It's you, the dissenter, who is more likely to have missed or misunderstood something. Is it possible that you're right and everyone else wrong? Yes, of course it's possible. But it's also unlikely. And that principle applies to answers to moral questions just as it applies to answers to any other kind of question.


Fred, I don't think that argument works well in politics. Think about some of the majority views almost all of us share.

Women should have the right to vote. If you thought this, you would have been in a small minority for all centuries until the last one.

The divine right of kings isn't a successful theory of legitimate government. That would have had you in a small minority in Europe for a great deal of the last couple of millenia.

People of different races should be allowed to marry each other. That would have put you in a small minority until about a few short decades ago.

I could go on, but I think I've made my point. As I made clear earlier, I think the pro-choice position and progressive egalitarian politics do fit together better than a pro-life position and egalitarian politics. But it's incumbent upon us to actually say why, in substantive terms.


Fred, the "more likely than not" is not an adequate basis for argumentation. A thought experiment: in a child sexual abuse case, the jury is told, with a lot of analytical justification that "in 80% of cases, children cannot and would not lie." But this statistic, though very likely accurate, leads to 100% of defendants being found guilty because it's always more probable than not that an individual is guilty. However, 20% of the time the individual is not guilty, which is to say that the probability of the prevalence of a "trait" (guilt/being wrong) in the entire set does not tell you enough about the individual member that you are justified in ignoring the specific circumstances of each case/moral position. In other words, probability is rarely a substitute for addressing the actual rightness or wrongness of the person's argument.



I'm not suggesting that probability is a substitute for argument. I think that abortion rights proponents have compelling arguments against Hugo's position.

What I'm saying is that the fact that he is in such a minority amoung progressives is a separate and independent piece of evidence that he is missing or misunderstanding something about the implication of progressive values for the issue of abortion.

Lynn Gazis-Sax

Fred, it's such a weak piece of evidence, relative to the actual arguments about abortion, that it's not worth offering it.

Colors are what people see them as, so, in your example of the blue sofa, the fact that everyone but me sees it as blue means it is blue, not just probably so, and no further argument is required.

If, on the other hand, the majority disagrees with me on something else - let's say, I find myself in a place where most people are young earth creationists and I am in a minority for believing in evolution - the evidentiary value of the majority vote is dwarfed by other evidence (in the case of evolution, for example, a wide variety of mainstream scientific evidence, see http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/evolution-research.html). So that, even if it could be shown that I was in the minority, in the population as a whole, for believing in evolution, and even if, in the abstract, I were to concede that being in the minority is usually a piece of evidence that I'm wrong, that very weak piece of evidence that I'm wrong would be thoroughly dwarfed by the large amounts of evidence that I'm right.

Abortion isn't so clearcut a case as evolution; there aren't mountains of scientific evidence that either the pro-life side or the pro-choice side is right. But it's still a case where the actual arguments for being both "progressive" and "consistent-life ethic" are bound to outweigh any argument about Hugo being in the minority; Hugo would be a fool to place a lot of weight on that one fact. (To tell the truth, I think that the actual arguments for any position on abortion, pro-life, pro-choice, or mushy middle, are far more compelling than demographic arguments, though obviously all positions on abortion aren't equally good.) Considering the actual arguments of people who are also progressive and who disagree with him about abortion is another matter.

Lawrence Krubner

The costumes haven't changed. Go look at the photo of the girl in the so-called black prostitute outfit. How do you feel about it? Is she flaunting too much skin or not? As I say, the costume has not changed.


No, the costume hasn't changed. She isn't showing too much skin. The issue for me is not what the children reveal, but the degeneracy of thinking that dressing one's daughter in a "ho" costume is cute. Names, I think, have significance.

Hugo wrote: "Too often, knowing where someone stands on reproductive issues is a highly accurate predicter of a host of other views on issues ranging from guns to gays to the war on terrorism. I don't think that's at all helpful. This outlook locks us into ideological boxes that make it impossible to admit that the 'other side' might have some excellent and useful ideas."

I think Fred is correct about one thing. The ideological consistancy that Hugo (somewhat insultingly) assumes goes hand in hand with close-mindedness is not always a bad thing. Sometimes it can indicate mindless groupthink; but it can also indicate a consistant and well-thought out worldview. Just because you don't fit into a neat ideological box doesn't necessarily make you a better thinker or a more open-minded person; it could indicate that, but it could also indicate that you've just reached different conclusions. (Or it could indicate that your own views are inconsistant and ill-thought out.)

I also have responses to the more substantive points of Hugo's posts, but I think I'll post them on my own blog.


Oh, and when I read through your archives a bit, I decided that I had misplaced you and recatagorized you as "to my right," rather than "even further right."

However, I'm glad that you're not taking my catagorization seriously - it's a pretty tongue-in-cheek system of organizing my blogroll.


Hugo, I have to take up with you on your comment about women who are "at risk" for abortion. While it is true that women who don't have regular access to contraception are probably more likely to have abortions than those who don't, the way that you phrased that implies that abortions is something *other* people do. The specter of class and race infects most arguments I see from the pro-life side, but I would think that you would be above that sort of thinking. Privileged women have as many abortions as u-privileged women, but theirs are not as visible. And, if abortion is made illegal, it will only be effectively so for un-privileged women, because privileged women will continue doing what they already do--get abortions from private doctors and have some euphemism put on the bill for it.


Hugo, correct me if I'm wrong, but it's my understanding the FFL officially has 'no position' on contraception. I find it problematic that a group professing to be feminist would not, as you do, strongly favor non-abortifacient contraception as the best means of preventing abortion.


Because a substantial percentage of FFLA's membership is Catholic, it is considered divisive to take a stance on contraception one way or another.

And when it comes to the "best" method of preventing abortion, if we are going to talk superlatives, I think abstinence wins hands down!


Actually, a sex change operation beats abstinence. After all, a woman who practices abstinence as her method of contraception could still be raped, whereas a transsexual no longer possesses the organs that permit conception.

Because a substantial percentage of FFLA's membership is Catholic

Then why are they wrapping themselves in the label 'feminism'? The Pope has spoken out against feminism, condeming it as opposed to the natural order of things--which is respect for women in their roles as wives/mothers and as helpmeets to men, but certainly in no way equal to men in the way feminism holds them to be. They're trying to square the circle.

(As for abstinence, I was pretty sure the Church had rejected the doctrine that ideally husbands and wives should live 'as brother and sister', so advocating abstinence means telling married couples they should stop having sex--permanently--as soon as they have the number of children they want.)

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