Well, as anyone with a pulse and 10% of political common sense knew, now that the conservatives have a majority we, as a nation have begun to talk about abortion and the death penalty again. As they have always done, the Harpercons have essentially generated this discourse by stealth, attempted to instigate a discussion in such a way that it seems as though it is not them that wants this discussion but like it has been organic or self-generating. This rhetorical technique is familiar to anyone that has looked after kids or is a parent, you gently guide the conversation with the child so that it appears to them that it was his or her idea to go to Subway instead of Macdonald's. If employed effectively it is remarkable how you can convince almost anyone that it was not you that wanted to have a certain kind of conversation or go to a particular event but it was someone else's idea.
However, I have no delusions about the Harpercons - I know that they want to outlaw abortion and bring back the death penalty and they are going to work very hard over the next few years to pursue that agenda while trying to make it look as though it was not them that tried to make it happen.
So, before we go too far down that road, I want to make my position clear on these issues - if only for the sake of self-discourse. I oppose the death penalty under all circumstances and I oppose all laws limiting abortion.
First the death penalty - Liberal discourse on the death penalty has been well summed up by Warren Kinsella in recent days - he, like most liberals, opposes the death penalty because they know that the legal system is imperfect and that, even though in many cases one might want revenge on a killer or a rapist, one should strive for reason over passion. (I hope this very short summation does not mis-characterize Mr. Kinsella's position) Now, this is a decent, rational position because, indeed all legal systems are deeply flawed and in places like the US the death penalty is demonstrably racist and classist. Blacks, and working-class people who dont' have significant funds to protect themselves from courts will always fall victim to the law more than others and they will always be victims of the death penalty more than people with greater resources. If you don't understand that this is always the case in legal systems then you simply have your head in the sand. However, what Liberals like Mr. Kinsella are not doing is taking this argument to its logical conclusion. Many of the flaws in the legal system are simply illustrations of flaws in the state itself. Though great strides have been made by activists over the last 200 years or so since the creation of the modern state to make sure that it represents and protects the people in general, at some basic level I believe the state continues to be an institution that most represents the interests of the wealthy-class. The legal system favours the wealthy because the structure of the entire state is generally built that way. Furthermore, no matter how truly representative a state is, it will always be an institution of power, and power is self-defending and self-replicating. I therefore not only oppose the death penalty because it is demonstrably racist and classist, not simply because it is demonstrably ineffective, not only because it is immoral and 'unchristian,' but because the state apparatus will always have an advantage over people and to use the state in such a brutal and negative way will always represent an imbalance of power to me, and an imbalance that is not intended to protect people but one that is intended to harm them.
Second comes abortion - I will always opposes limiting abortion for the same kinds of reasons that I oppose the death penalty. You can argue at what point "life" begins till you are blue in the face and it doesn't really matter to me. What matters is the fact that even if I were to see abortion as a terrible and tragic act, the right for a woman to control the basic functions of her body will always outweigh for me the other issues of abortion. I don't have a problems with the state outlawing, say, certain kinds of drugs or promoting certain kinds of healthy living, but at a basic level, to me, forcing a woman to carry a pregnancy to term is a kind of control that is just too draconian. Thus, beside the fact that there is a deep-seated sexism involved in men in suits trying to enact laws limited what women can do with their bodies, I just don't believe that we should ever give the state the right to have such control, there are just too many pitfalls to such a system of laws.
I suppose, I am a product of a long history of Anglo-radicalism which found its first voice in activists like Thomas Paine and the members of the London Correspondence Society. I believe that we must continually work toward democracy and work toward the state playing an important role in protecting people, creating a fair distribution of wealth, and creating as much equality of opportunity as possible, but at the same time I also know that the wealthy-class and those who seek power will always have an advantage over those with fewer resources and those who live in a more vulnerable situation, I thus always maintain a healthy skepticism about the state over-reaching it powers in areas where certain kinds of basic rights are concerned.
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