John Walker's Electronic House

Rum Doings Episode 159: I Missed The Bit Where We Said What Should Be The Title Someone Tell Me

by on Apr.18, 2014, under Rum Doings

In our 159th ever Rum Doings, our topic is, what is it with those flamingos?

It’s Rum Doings in person! We unite in the echoey halls of Posi Castle We begin with our listener’s all-time highlights of Rum Doings. Then we begin our LCHF picnic, of home-baked not-bread and chocolate brownies. Mmmmmmmm. With our mouths full, we explore the ways of Nigel Ferage, which inevitably leads us to discussing abortion.

And then we move on to a very special letter. Typed on a manual typewriter, what begins as a sympathy message about the disappearance of Dexter, quickly becomes… very strange. Whatever you do, make sure you listen to the final excerpt.

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10 Comments for this entry

  • Xercies

    I swear that letter was going towards a Scientology like religion ending with all its combination of science, hating modern religions, and that one guy who hated psychologists. That last excerpt was equally as weird crazy and so entertaining though.

  • Amnesiac

    I lost it at the funeral at sea part.

    A most fitting funeral for a bird.

  • Gassalasca

    The last bit was absolutely superb.

  • Disagreeable Me

    Here’s my attempt at a robust coherent defence of the pro-choice position.

    I’m assuming that moral questions need to be addressed from a utilitarian perspective. It’s as good as any other, and better than most in my view.

    Murder is wrong because of:
    1) the pain and suffering caused to the bereaved
    2) any suffering caused to the murdered before death
    3) the suffering caused by living in a hypothetical society that does not regard murder as wrong (e.g. living in fear).

    Abortion is not murder because the foetus leaves no grieving relatives (or in any case the grief so caused is not really comparable to the loss of a loved one and is outweighed by the right of the mother to autonomy).

    The foetus is not yet a person so the suffering of the foetus, while regrettable, is of no more moral consequence than the suffering caused to animals in the production of meat (and perhaps less so, as a foetus presumably has lesser cognitive faculties than an adult cow).

    The foetus does not live in fear of abortion and even if it did it could not know if abortion is tolerated in society, so the third criterion does not apply either.

    These criteria might also apply to babies, so they could also be used to justify infanticide. I think the argument against this is that there is rarely much positive utility to be gained from infanticide. If a baby is unwanted, it can be put up for adoption. There are plenty of childless couples who want to adopt babies. The suffering caused to the baby, and the instinctive abhorrence of society as a whole towards infanticide is enough to make the murder of babies immoral, though I would say less so than the murder of older children and adults.

    For late term abortions, the ideal method of abortion would be induced labour followed by an attempt to save the baby if possible. The dividing line provided by viability thereby distinguishes abortion from murder rather naturally.

    Of course there are many pro-choicers who regard the personhood or suffering of the foetus as immaterial and see the autonomy of the mother as paramount, using arguments such as that explained by the thought experiment “The Violinist”.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Defense_of_Abortion#The_Violinist

    I’m agnostic on such arguments, but I do find them reasonably interesting. In any case the non-personhood of the foetus makes pro-choice rather obviously correct to me, so luckily we don’t need to make decisions about analogous situations with aborting actual persons.

  • NM

    Disagreeable me: all very well, but aren’t you begging the question of personhood there? After all, there are terrible precedents in history of depriving categories of people their personhood as justification for all sorts of enormities against them.

    Would you agree that a foetus at 39 weeks is a person? If so, how far back do we go before it loses that status? And if it is not a person, when does it become one? As soon as any of its body parts emerges from the confines of the mother’s womb? Only after the umbilical chord it cut?

    And your definition suggests that children with profound disabilities might also not be people?

  • Disagreeable Me

    Hi Nick,

    We already beg the question of personhood when we think it’s OK to slaughter cattle for food because they are not persons. You can’t therefore avoid the question with the excuse that past enormities were justified by denying personhood.

    We need to have some working definition of an entity for which we ought to have some moral concern. Rocks, no. Adult human beings, yes. Cattle? Foetuses? Borderline.

    You may say that persons are simply human beings, but in my view we ought to have moral concern for other hypothetical intelligent creatures such as aliens or AIs. For me, a person is an entity that has a certain level of mental sophistication, perhaps language, and perhaps the ability to feel moral concern for others. Whatever the definition, it’s a continuum, but it seems to me that foetuses are even less persons than animals by such criteria.

    I would say children are not persons until they are a few years old, but that personhood grows gradually and there is no clear threshold. The process of becoming a full person continues into adulthood.

    That in itself doesn’t justify infanticide, however, because there is generally little reason to commit infanticide. It does mean that infanticide is usually less immoral than murder, especially in cases of parents killing their own babies.

    My definition might suggest that children with very profound disabilities are not full persons, indeed. At the extreme, if they have no mental life whatsoever, I would say they are not persons at all. I would generally regard them with as much consideration and compassion as I would give to an animal of comparable faculties. A typical patient with Down’s Syndrome, for example, is certainly a person.

    Of course we can’t always know how disabled someone really is (e.g. in cases of locked in syndrome), so I would give them the benefit of the doubt.

  • Geetoo

    Holy crap disagreeable me, that is jaw dropping analysis.

  • Evert

    Really good episode. The letter was fantastic.

    The abortion topic is interesting. It is something I vacillated over for a while, but now solidly find myself on the “pro-life” side of the fence. I have no grand logical arguments – just an instinctive emotional sense that killing a human (or proto-human) is wrong. That said, if I could decide to ban abortion or keep it legal I would keep it legal for utilitarian reasons.

    Finally, have you changed anything with the feed? For some reason the mp3 didn’t download (on android)

  • John Walker

    No changes made to the feed as far as I know.

  • Evert

    Hmm, strange. Your new one has done the exact same thing. I’ll check my phone later to see if it is something I have done.