I have now read comments by several logicians who deny that the revelations in the recent round of #defundPlannedParenthood videos are game-changing. For the principled and philosophically consistent pro-lifer or pro-choicer, these videos shouldn’t make a difference.
To computers, maybe. Not to human beings. We do not live by logic alone.
It was one thing to think about the evils of the slave trade in the abstract — quite another to see the tiny boxes in the slave ships into which living men, women and children were packed like sardines, or to catch even a whiff of the excrement and vomit they were made to lay in for weeks. It was one thing to read the “Final Solution” — quite another to walk through the camps at Flossenbürg or Dachau in 1945. It was one thing to read Plessy v. Ferguson and Jim Crow laws on a printed page — quite another to witness a lynching, or the burning of a black church, or Bull Connor’s attack dogs tearing into civil rights protesters.
And it is one thing to listen to Planned Parenthood profess concern for “reproductive rights” and bemoan “heavily edited” videos — quite another to hear its own officers and abortionists talk breezily over lunch of altering a baby’s presentation from vertex to breech in order to extract intact heads.
And to bring this, finally, up to the seventh video: It is one thing to hear someone testify “they have cut brains from the skulls of babies,” quite another to hear someone confess “I have done it.”
Abstract principles are not bad per se. But you have to take a good hard look at any principle’s real-world effects to evaluate it accurately. It would have been possible, theoretically, for slave traders to treat Africans “humanely” in the Middle Passage. You could say even that it might have been wiser to do so, because they would then have delivered more living, healthy slaves to the West Indies and the shores of New England. But the slavers didn’t — because the principle that “it’s okay to kidnap African men and women and treat them as chattels” trained them to do otherwise. Dostoevsky wrote that “man grows used to everything, the scoundrel.” Barbaric principles will reveal themselves, sooner or later, by begetting practices that are correspondingly and visibly barbaric.
Procrustes seems hospitable and tidy when he talks of making sure guests and beds are well suited to one another. And then you look at the amputated limbs. Planned Parenthood’s long-faced statements about health, rights and “not in her shoes” have an appearance of compassion and moral seriousness — but its practices have now been revealed as unmistakably callous and Procrustean. When you catechize a generation in the question-begging sophistry, obscurantism, and individual-autonomy absolutism of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, this is the harvest. The tree is known by its fruits.