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February 13, 2006

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Bob

Fairy and Kimball,

To me, the abortion issue and the art issue are the same. They are both property right issues. The owner of the art IS the owner. He may use it as he sees fit. The owner of the baby's life IS the baby (not the mothers) and taking the baby's life is a criminal act against his person (murder). As I said before, I believe all criminal law derives from property law as ones self (body and mind) is one's property. The problem with abortion is that many people do not believe that the baby has any rights (property, or otherwise). Therefore, the baby will lose as he cannot defend himself.

But look on the brightside Fairy, states are starting to outlaw abortion. It will go to the Supreme Court again, and this time, who knows.

And Kimball, this just goes to show that law is political (it's all about intentions; the impacts are irrelevant; this is the problem with poilitcal laws). The majority changes its opinion from time to time. Law is used by majorities as an expedient tool to make others conform to their beliefs. Natural rights be damned. Law is bastardized. It only represents the moral (or immoral) attitudes of the day.

But if our country does outlaw abortions, at least for a while, I can breathe easier knowing that my right to life is a little safer. Now, if we could just ban the death penalty...

Kimball Corson

Law Fairy writes:

“Kimball, the fact that I'm religious is irrelevant, and I'm able to argue without that fact needing to be raised. Indeed, it's at best unfair of you to "blame" my religion for any disagreement I have with you on this point. Might it not be simply that you and I see things differently? And, if so, my religion itself is not a handicap. I see your point. I think it's wrong, for the simple reason that a fetus is not a piece of artwork.”

I respond:

Although a fetus is not an artwork (your arguable blasphemy aside – Are we not created in his image?), from the vantage point of an externalities analysis the two can be treated similarly, just as I do. And I do believe the problem is your religious upbringing, or conditioning, as I would call it. It blocks you from considering what is really involved in the analysis. I explain. Implicit in your position, I believe, is the popular, Christian notion that a life is priceless because it is imbued with attributes that cannot be assessed except in human and spiritual terms. Consequently, it cannot be equated for any purpose to a mere piece of artwork, however good.

To be sure, this is a popular notion but it is demonstrably wrong for many purposes. As Milton Friedman explained to me years ago, by our actions and behavior we all refute this popular notion every day by the calculated risks we deliberately take. For example, if you will not cross a busy street to pick up a dollar on the sidewalk on the other side, but you are just willing to take the risk of being killed to cross the street to pick up a $5 bill, then you have implicitly valued your life in monetary terms: $5 = the expected gain which is > or = the probability of getting killed X the value you placed on your life -- that is, the expected loss. We take calculated risks every day that tell us we place finite dollar values on our lives all the time. Indeed, we may assume a low risk of death in one context and a higher one in another, depending on our expected gain. A low one would derive from crossing that street for a newspaper that costs only $.50. Or we may do dare devil stunts for high dollar stakes, where the probability of death is great. All along the continuum of probabilities, we take risks and act in ways that place dollar values our lives. Further, and quite importantly in this context, the doctrine of revealed preference would argue, we should believe what we do, not what we say. So we need to get off the horse that says life is priceless and realize it is valuable, just like artwork, except that in the absence of, a market for human life, each person values his or her own life instead. This is the background for my externalities argument and for applying it to both unborn fetuses and artwork.

This analysis is a big part of the difference between us. And I do believe you have been conditioned by your early religious training to the popular, Christian view of these matters and so you do not even start to think in such directions, and are cut off by your preconceptions. Preconceptions often close doors to block inconsistent thoughts and protect beliefs, even unconsciously. If I am wrong here and being unfair – which I do not believe is the case – I apologize.

LF writes:

“. . . my religion isn't what makes me disagree with you. It's my carefully considered opinion on the subject that causes that. I trust that you agree that religions persons can have beliefs and opinions and thought processes that don't line up with the "party line," so to speak, of their respective churches, without having to give up the basic tenets of that religion. [of course]

“As to the externalities of *not* having an abortion, it's an argument that, you're correct, isn't given much thought. But I honestly don't see how it could, or how your theory plays out here. I think life is more than the sum of its parts. If this is so, then your calculus loses a lot of its value, for the simple reason that we can't predict what a person will become before that person is even born (or, arguably, even a "person").”

I respond:

The theory plays out here by having each woman who is considering an abortion also consider the likely societal effects of her decision. Not in those terms of course. More like the following thoughts: I think the baby won’t amount to anything. His father is a bum and I have not done much with my life.” or “He could be famous,” or “He’ll be a criminal just like his brothers and mine are” “I cannot support him; we’ll have to go on welfare or sell drugs again.” “Maybe our child will be an even better musician than his father and I.” All I ask is that, along with all the other things on her mind, a prospective mother give some thought to the likely impact her decision on the abortion question will have on society, as these comments indirectly reflect. I would like the consideration raised to the conscious portion of the brain and made an issue in women’s minds. That is all I am asking – not that it be the sole consideration. Simply that it be a consideration. I do not think that is a lot to ask and my analysis, which you so strongly oppose, supports doing that. I am not asking for much here. Why you are so adverse is not clear except perhaps you read part of what I wrote and then closed down your mind to the rest of it. For these reasons, I don’t understand how you can seriously object.

LF writes:

“Aside from the more emotional problem that your theory brings to mind Justice Holmes proclaiming that "three generations of imbeciles is enough," the more pointed issue is whether life can take its own course and a person can rise above her circumstances without being condemned to the likely fate of someone from her situation. I say it can, and I'm fairly certain you agree with me, given your reference to Hellen Keller (as to the externality considerations, one might recall the Beethoven story, overused though it is by the pro-life movement).”

I respond:

It is precisely the thoughtless emotional flapping that I so abhor. And I agree with Justice Holmes. Three generations of imbeciles is too much. However, imbecilic mothers may not be able to think the social aspect through that I suggest. But that is a special case. Sometimes life can take a good turn and a person can really rise above their circumstances, but seldom can they really rise above their genetic heritage. My parents both started life very poor, but wound up very well educated and reasonably wealthy. Believing in genes, they refused to contribute to my brother’s and my education after high school, but we both finished out better educated than they were. Genes do matter. I bred Moran horses and different breeds of dogs for many years and was very surprised to learn how much, down to temperament, is genetically determined or substantially controlled. We try to fool ourselves otherwise sometimes, but geneticists and many other researchers know better. A fourth grade teacher once told my young son in class, that when he grew up he could do and be anything he wanted. He asked if he could be a cow and jump off a tall building and fly. His teacher told him she was not amused, but he said to me later, “Dad, I was not trying to be funny. She was just being silly”

LF writes:

“Here is the problem with the externalities approach you suggest: it necessarily implicates the development of social psychology. If human life is reduced to a series of calculations and a pro/con flowchart, we all lose something in the process. Human life loses meaning. I recall a favorite college professors telling us in economics: every time you use numbers, you lose meaning. Numbers and calculi (??) have their place, but what is the point of using them if human life itself does not exist for these numbers to serve? If we encourage this kind of calculated decision-making in pregnant women, we're altering the social perception of human life. I'm opposed to doing this. Not because I deny the value, within the logic you've set out, of this suggestion. But because the harm of your suggestion is too great. What it boils down to is this: Either human life has meaning that cannot be derived or understood from its empirical bases, or it does not. I say it does.”


I respond:

First off, as I have shown, the value of a human life is calculable, whether you approve or not. We so value our own lives all the time. If we truly thought our life was priceless, we would not take any risks at all. We would be so risk adverse that we almost would not move. Most of us are not that way, but some are and will not even leave their homes. We take risks of loosing our lives because we want what each such risk allows us to get. So much for pricelessness or valuing our life above everything. Second, I am not urging pregnant women to undergo any life valuing calculations or calculus at all. I only did that to provide an underlying rational analysis. All I am just asking them to do is also consider the likely impact of their child on society and those around them. That is not a lot to ask. Also, as I have said, many do this implicitly anyway. I do not see what I am doing as valuing or devaluing life. I see it as more neutral ethically and helpful socially. As for numbers and mathematics, they too are ethically neutral and subject to good uses or abuse. Without them much would be lost. Science would be largely a useless collections of notions. In economics, we could not even draw a demand curve. Eschewing numbers is nonsense, I believe.

LF writes:

“Obviously, you are free to disagree with me here, but I believe that if you do we are likely at a standstill -- there is nothing wrong with this. When you talk about the meaning of life, you're getting down to core beliefs. These sorts of things are built up over time and have further-reaching implications than even deeply-held policy preferences. Obviously my religion plays into this. But I have just as much of a right to think that human life has independent meaning, as you do to disagree with me. The fact that I count myself a member of what happens to be an organized church shouldn't be reason to automatically disparage my beliefs. Deep down, everyone has his or her own religion -- it's just that some of us get the added fun of being labeled "religious" (and therefore "suspect") simply because enough people agree with us that they're put together a church. This is a tragedy and a fallacy in my mind -- but that's neither here nor there.”

I respond:

Talk about the meaning of life, as opposed to how we value it, is an entirely different matter. I agree with you that meaning and core beliefs are important. I also agree with you that “human life has meaning that cannot be derived or understood from its empirical bases.” Further, I did not disparage your belief system (although I do take a swat at it in what follows here). However, when your faith based beliefs get in the way of your thought processes in other areas, then I do think they warrant some reexamination. That enough people agree on matters of religion to form a new church is only a testament to the fact people cannot agree much on matters of faith because there are so very, very many different churches, mosques, temples and disparate belief systems world wide. All cannot believe the truth, with such disparate thinking, so, to me and as a prima facie matter, they are all then very suspect. That you did not choose your denomination should trouble you, for what are the odds of you landing in the “true” one by the coincidence of birth, even assuming there is a “true” one – which I do not. But as you say, these matters are neither here nor there.

Heinlein

Religion is faith. Faith means never asking "why?".
Faith gets in the way of learning.

Religion is for followers; weak-minded sheep that are too lazy to ask questions and learn.

"Religion is absolute belief without proof. I thought that that was the definition of "faith". But religion is faith! Faith strikes me as intellectual laziness. When you become too tired to face the facts, you can always turn to religion."

"Anyone who can worship a trinity and insist that his religion is a monotheism can believe anything - just give him time to rationalize it."

"Jesus had brothers and sisters, so is Virgin Mary still a virgin?"

Cult vs. Religion...definition of the difference. A "religion" is a faith one is born into; a "cult" is a faith an adult joins voluntarily. "Cult" is often used as a slur by a member of an older faith to disparage a newer faith. But this quickly leads to contradiction. In the 1st century A.D. the Christians were an upstart cult both to the Sanhedrin and to the Roman priests. "Cult" is also used as a slur on a faith with "weird ideas" and "weird practices". But this can cause you to bite your tail even more quickly than the other. "Weird" by whose standards? Theology has nothing to do with it.

A religion is sometimes a source of happiness and I would not deprive anyone of happiness. But it is a comfort appropriate for the weak, not for the strong - and you are strong. The great trouble with religion - any religion - is that a religionist, having accepted certain positions by faith, cannot thereafter judge those propositions by evidence. One may bask in the warm fire of faith or choose to live in the bleak uncertainty of reason - but one cannot have both."

"Justice is not a divine concept; it is a human illusion. The very basis of Judeo-Christian code is injustice, the scapegoat system. The scapegoat sacrifice runs all through the Old Testament, then it reaches its height in the New Testament with the notion of the Martyred Redeemer. How can justice possibly be served by loading your sins on another? Whether it be a lamg having its throat cut ritually, or a Messiah nailed to a cross and dying for your sins."

"Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don't do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof." -Genesis 19:8

God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. If you have a mind capable of believing all three of these divine attributes simultaneously, I have a wonderful bargain for you. No checks please. Cash and in small bills.

One man's theology is another man's belly laugh.

Thou shalt remember the Eleventh Commandment (Don't get caught!) and keep it Wholly.

And don't even get me started with the refutations of religion by Thomas Paine. It was awesome!

Kimball Corson

Bob, as to readdressing your earlier post, using our old format, I don’t think that would be too useful, in light of what I wrote in response. I think my positions are clear. As to your last post, here goes:

Bob writes:

“To me, the abortion issue and the art issue are the same. They are both property right issues. The owner of the art IS the owner. He may use it as he sees fit. The owner of the baby's life IS the baby (not the mothers) and taking the baby's life is a criminal act against his person (murder). As I said before, I believe all criminal law derives from property law as ones self (body and mind) is one's property. The problem with abortion is that many people do not believe that the baby has any rights (property, or otherwise). Therefore, the baby will lose as he cannot defend himself.”

I respond:

Your absolute, inviolate property and freedom rights position entails several problems. First, Law Fairy’s dictum that ‘your right to swing your fist stops when it come up to my nose’ implies, many, many such rights are relative and are so defined. You get free, unfettered swings in Montana, but only checked swings in New York City. Your property line is defined by my adjacent property line. In other words, your rights end, where mine or others’ begin. Secondly, such rights cannot and should not be absolute because of the externalities generated by your exercising those rights. In other words, the exercise of your rights impinges on our collective wellbeing so that we too have an interest in how you exercise those rights, e.g., you want to destroy a Rembrandt you own (we had this discussion) or destroy by fire an apartment you own in a high rise. Because of how they are relatively defined and because of externalities, rights cannot be absolute.

I agree that the abortion issue and the art issue are the same to the extent that externalities involving both should be considered and limit those rights. I also agree that the owner of the art is [largely] the owner. However, under Roe v Wade, however, the putative owner of the baby in the first three months is [largely] the mother who has a right of destruction because it is a private part or her body and largely not viable outside of the womb. After then, the owner of the baby is [largely] the baby, just as you say. That is how those baby related property rights are presently defined and the rationale behind those definitions. That you and perhaps law fairy want to change the definitions of those property rights based on different rationale is another matter. My argument is that there can be substantial externalities (positive or negative) from a decision to abort or not, and those externalities need to be considered in deciding in favor of or against an abortion. To deny all abortions can create serious negative externalities affecting all of us and to allow abortions can deprive us of many positive externalities as well.

Bob writes

“And Kimball, this just goes to show that law is political (it's all about intentions; the impacts are irrelevant; this is the problem with poilitcal laws). The majority changes its opinion from time to time. Law is used by majorities as an expedient tool to make others conform to their beliefs. Natural rights be damned. Law is bastardized. It only represents the moral (or immoral) attitudes of the day.
But if our country does outlaw abortions, at least for a while, I can breathe easier knowing that my right to life is a little safer. Now, if we could just ban the death penalty...”

I respond:

Someone said the two things you do not want to watch being made are law and sausage. Law is very political in the sense that it tries to reflect legislators’ intentions about how they want to control the perceived impacts of our behaviors. Why and what they truly intend by legislation is not always clear, Neither is the true net impact long term of our behaviors which they try to control. The process is fraught with intellectual problems. For example, the net long-term impact of prohibited behavior might well be positive for most people impacted, while that for other behavior allowed could be negative. True intent in such a system is bound to be subject to confusion.

The majority uses law to control the behavior of all except criminals, according to their beliefs in regard to such behavior. To the extent those beliefs are primarily “religious” or faith based as to their rationale, then a form of establishment of religion is exercised by government. To the extent that positive economics or policy affords the rationale, then all are more likely benefited, at least as to initial impact. Natural rights or law springs more largely from the direct needs of the community as such. The Ten Commandments loose something when there is only one man left on earth. True natural rights are rarely compromised unduly. As for banning abortion in the first trimester, I am against it, largely for the reasons stated here. As for the death penalty, the rationales of deterrence, revenge, etc. I find pretty unpersuasive. I do not like the cost of executions or life imprisonments. I also do not really believe in rehabilitation for career criminals. It seems there is not a good choice here, but I opt for life imprisonment on the outside chance of true rehabilitation. This decision is almost entirely one of analyzing externalities, if you believe the death penalty candidate forfeited his right to his life to the state upon conviction

The Law Fairy

Kimball, why do you persist on blaming *me* for not seeing things your way when you're every bit as stubborn as I am?

"First off, as I have shown, the value of a human life is calculable, whether you approve or not."

Look, I don't see the point in arguing with you if you're going to make ad hominem attacks rather than try to meet me where I've made it clear to you I stand. As I've said, it's fine if we disagree -- this most recent discussion started when you implicitly accused me of censorship. I really think these attacks on my religion have gotten out of hand. They're unpersuasive and you're starting to sound like an anti-religious broken record even though, as I've pointed out to you, you're just as "religious" as I am.

By the way, I did in fact choose my denomination. The people I went to church with in my youth would be horrified to learn of the types of churches I frequent now that I'm an adult.

Kimball Corson

Glad to hear you chose. Sorry if I offended. I will leave matters be with you inasmuch as I do not see anything substantive and on topic in your post for me to address, and we seem to disagree, but I am left unsure where or why. So be it. This has not been not a useful exchange, as I have had with Bob and many others here. Sorry to have botherd you.

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