“Legitimate Rape” Now A Thing

According to Representative Akin of Missouri,

“First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare,” Akin told KTVI-TV in an interview posted Sunday. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

He’s quite clearly wrong, of course (see here for the history behind his claim) — RAINN estimates 3,204 pregnancies resulting from rape in 2004-2005 alone (a rate of 5%.)

But I think there’s one pressing question here for Akin and those who agree with him: if the female body is so good at knowing when a rape is occurring, why do we, as a culture, not axiomatically trust women when they say they’ve been raped? And if Akin’s answer, or your answer (for those of you who agree with him on abortion and rape), is that sometimes women lie and that false rape accusations, despite being truly extremely rare, should nonetheless be taken seriously, well, I think you’ve kind of answered your own goddamn question.

Update #1: What is unsurprising but nonetheless depressing is that Todd “the female body prevents pregnancy in cases of rape” Akin is on the House Science and Technology Committee. Here’s a petition to call for his removal from that committee.

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Proof by Contradiction: a Fairy Tale

Once upon a time there was an evil king. He had all he could desire: a huge castle, servants, riches, and more power than he could shake a stick at. But as time wore on, even these could not comfort him, nor could they solve his one problem (and this wasn’t his usual problem, which was that he was so powerful even he had to obey himself.) No, this problem ran much deeper. Even with everything he had, there was one thing he couldn’t have: friends. He would try to become friends with people — but he could never have a true friend, because eventually friends disagree, and he was an evil king, and you don’t disagree with evil kings. So he became lonely. And lonelier. And as he became lonelier and lonelier, he became bitterer and bitterer and bittererer.

Finally, he became so enraged at everyone who had friends, that he began to devise an evil plan. He would hold an enormous feast, and after the feast, all the guests would be lined up. “And then,” he said aloud, in his evil planning voice, “I will begin to draw numbers from a hat, and with each number drawn, one guest shall die! Moreover, as I have no friends, each guest will die when the number of friends they have at the feast is called!” His plan completed, the King began to put it in motion. Until he hit a fatal snag.

He spent weeks and weeks trying to devise a guest list, but as you’ll recall, he was so powerful he had to obey his own commands, and he had said that with each number called, one guest would die. But try as he might, he could not figure out a guest list (even with his evil party planner) that would invite guests where each guest had a unique number of friends at the feast. Finally, the king sent for his evil royal mathematician, the evilest mathematician there was. “O King,” said the mathematician, “how my I serve your Royal Evilness.”

“Help me with my guest-list, and I shall reward you beyond your wildest imagination,” the king responded, detailing his dastardly plan.

Cowering in sudden fear, the mathematician spoke, her voice trembling. “Your Majesty, it — it is not possible.”

“Explain yourself,” the king roared.

“Well, Your Evilness,” she spoke again, “suppose you invite k guests. Since you aren’t counting guests being friends with themselves, for each guest there are k-1 other guests to be friends with. So the most friends any guest can have is k-1. The least number of friends any guest can have, clearly, is 0. Which means that for any guest there are k possible numbers of friends: 0, 1, 2 ,3, …, or k-1. But now, you see, you have k guests and k numbers-of-friends you need to pair. If you want each guest to have a unique number of friends, you must therefore pair some guest with each of the k numbers-of-friends. Thus one guest, Xanthia, will have 0 friends, and also another guest, Bartholomew, will have k-1 friends. But since Bartholomew has k-1 friends and there are k people counting him, he must be friends with Xanthia. But then Xanthia and he are friends, which makes no sense, since Xanthia has no friends and thus Bartholomew and Xanthia aren’t friends. This is clearly impossible, and so each guest cannot have a unique number of friends, and so therefore there must always, no matter who you invite, be two guests with the same number of friends.”

And with that, the king suddenly ceased to exist. For, you see, his existence had become the battleground of two great Necessities: the Necessity of his power said the feast must exist, and the Necessity of the Laws of Mathematics said the feast must not exist. Thus, his existence was a contradiction, and therefore, he did not exist.

And so, children, the kingdom was saved from the evilest, powerfulest, loneliest King in the world.

Well This Is Depressing

Apparently Kristen Stewart is no longer going to be a part of the Snow White and the Huntsman franchise. The link pretty much covers the truly depressing part of this, so I’m going to shut up about that and talk about why this is the death of that franchise.

Honestly, here’s the thing: she and Theron made that movie. And Theron is out, unless they do some ultra-stupid rejuvenation thing (this is Hollywood, after all.) Who gives a fuck about watching the further adventures of the huntsman? I mean, sure, he was good, but terse and stoic white male action heroes aren’t exactly hard to find.

The movie’s success hinged on giving agency and depth to two character tropes (fairytale princess and evil queenwitch) usually deprived of both. It wasn’t perfect, but it did a pretty good job, and that’s what made it not just a fun action-fantasy movie but rather something even more engaging and meaningful. Which is why The Further Aventures of the Huntsman: Frown Harder, even if a well-done movie, isn’t going to be, on any really meaningful level, a Snow White and the Huntsman followup.

Maybe they’ll prove me wrong and bring in a new strong female lead for the next movie. But it’ll still, at least from they are saying, be centered around the Huntsman.

‘Cause we’ve never seen that movie before.

ADDENDUM: I will note that it only took about half a screen of comments on Salon to find some  truly disturbing ones. Do not venture there.

Ryan on Ayn Rand Now

Paul Ryan isn’t so happy with Ayn Rand anymore:

“I reject her philosophy,” Ryan says firmly. “It’s an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview. If somebody is going to try to paste a person’s view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas Aquinas,” who believed that man needs divine help in the pursuit of knowledge. “Don’t give me Ayn Rand,” he says.

Abortion

This will be a long post. This is your final warning. This is also not, incidentally, a complete overview of my thoughts on the subject. But I wanted to have a basic, preliminary post to point people to when the topic comes up, so I don’t have to rehash my basic positions over and over and over again.

Why I am not pro-life

I am not pro-life simply because I am not pro-life. Life is too broad and complicated and messy a thing to be simply pro- or anti-. For example, I am decidedly not pro-life when it comes to viruses and bacteria: I fully support the efforts of scientists and doctors in eradicated as many species of this form of life as possible.

Moreover, I am not even pro-life when it comes to alive humans. I believe that physician-assisted suicide should be legal. No, it isn’t a pleasant thing. Yes, we should work towards a world where the health issues which prompt such a decision, such a necessity, are a thing of the past. But until that time, I think that death with dignity is not only a necessity, it is a right. (Moreover, in places where it is legal, like Oregon, we have seen none of the horrors which its detractors have been wont to predict.)

There are also instances where I could consider sacrificing my own life to be ethical, or where someone else’s sacrifice of their life would be ethical. There are instances where, I think, armed conflict is justified. So there is simply no way I could ever claim to be “pro-life.”

People will, no doubt, object that I am taking a context-specific phrase and interpreting it outside its context. This is, I am sad to say, a tad bit of nonsense. Pro-life advocates say that because a fetus is alive, or perhaps, because a fetus is a live potential human being, is sufficient reason to support its right to life. I have demonstrated that I think life is good and the exercize of a right to life is good are context-dependent propositions. Hence, the mere fact of life, even the mere fact of human life, is simply not sufficient to determine an absolute position.

Why I support a woman’s right to choose

There are two main reasons. One is pragmatic, one is philosophical.

I’ll deal with the pragmatic first. Let’s take for granted the idea that there is some situation in which abortion is ethical and should be legal. Pick whatever context you feel most comfortable with: the life of the mother, the mother is a rape victim, whatever. Now, the question is: who gets to decide if an abortion is allowed? Suppose the life of the mother is at risk. Should it be the decision of some government official? Her doctor? A hospital ethics board? And how will they make that decision? Suppose her doctor estimates that she has a 65% chance of death. Is that enough to justify an abortion? If not, where do we draw the line? Is the fetuses chance at life worth a 72% risk of the death of the mother, is a 73% risk too much? What if it is lower that 50%? Suppose the mother has a 75% chance of survival. That still means that 1-in-4 women in this situation die from pregnancy. Who gets to decide if that is a risk worth taking? How will they decide it?

These are important pragmatic issues, because all pregnancies carry a certain amount of risk. Less in the developed world, certainly, but the WHO estimates that 1000 women die from childbirth-related complications every day. Anti-abortion people must be able to answer the question of who determines what amount of risk is acceptable, and how they determine it. I don’t think this is a decision the government can ethically make. It is, essentially, placing government officials in charge of determining how careful citizens are allowed to be with their own lives and bodies. It is placing the government in charge of the lives of its citizens. Moreover, there is no usable metric for deciding this. Suppose the government decides that anything over a 15% risk of mortality is acceptable for abortion. Now suppose a woman has a 14.3% chance of dying. Is there really a material difference in risk here? Enough to justify the government being able to tell the woman in question that she is not allowed to protect her own life? That her right to self-protection and self-defense is abrogated? Nonsense. And the same arguments work similarly for ceding these decisions to a doctor or an ethics board. The only pragmatic answer is that the woman must make the choice. And similar arguments also hold for other situations — who gets to decide, for example, if an instance of rape or incest is traumatic enough to warrant an abortion (how does one even begin to measure such a thing.)

These pragmatic issues are sufficient for me to say that I unequivocally support a woman’s right to choose. But even if these matters could, somehow, be resolved (they couldn’t, in this world), I still would be “pro-choice” (alas, even I must sometimes simplify.) This is because I do not believe that anyone’s life trumps another person’s bodily autonomy. We do not require that people donate organs, even after death, despite the number of live, fully-functioning human beings who die every day due to organ donor shortage. Why on earth, then, should we feel morally obliged to require a woman to donate her entire body to another being, which is not even a fully-formed conscious human?

There’s an odd, and completely fallacious, rebuttal to this argument, which claims that the distinction is consent: we cannot require people to become organ donors against their consent, but women (presumably through merely the act of having sex) are aware of the possibility of pregnancy and thus have consented to this. But even if this weren’t sheer nonsense (and it is), would not then women who use condoms and birth control thereby be explicitly demonstrating an absence of consent, a denial of consent, to pregnancy? This is what exposes this argument for the utter nonsense it is: a fetus which does not yet exist cannot ask a woman’s consent to be born by her (even a fetus which does exist cannot ask for this consent.) There is no person, no being, which is asking her consent. In fact, the biological processes preceding pregnancy are doing so quite explicitly without asking her consent. She is therefore unable to do so.

The fact of the matter is quite plain: no one other than the woman is capable of making this choice, and, moreover, it would be unethical of us to require a woman to sacrifice her bodily autonomy for the chance that a fetus will someday be a human being. There is simply no other option.

EDITED TO ADD: I realize that throughout this piece I incorrectly assumed that someone who is pregnant is necessarily a woman. This is false: some men can and do get pregnant. I apologize, and will go through the full piece to correct this as soon as I have time.