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Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Political Ideology vs Morality

I have done only one post about Terri Schiavo. I suppose I thought that there were enough that were doing so that I read regularly. But as this case appears to be drawing to an end, I wanted to point out a flaw in the reasoning of many of us.

We tend to say 'don't label me', but then embrace the label we like - liberal, conservative, libertarian, independent, moderate, etc. However, all of these fail to outline what is moral behavior...aside from meeting the tenets of that label.

Conservatives are supposed to favor the rule of law. However, in this case, the law clearly says that when an incapacitated person does not have any written directives for what to do with them, their spouse makes the decisions. Period. The legal answer in this case is that Mrs. Schiavo dies, as her husband desires.

Liberals are supposed to favor doing "whatever helps people", at least according to Mark. He calls it 'pragmatism', but I don't find that any less of an ideology. Anyway, if it is 'whatever helps people', and the government is involved (like most 'liberal' ideas), then as there are medical experts and 17 disability advocacy groups who are putting their weight into an argument that Mrs. Schiavo can have some recovery, clearly this line of reasoning should be to 'help' Mrs. Schiavo and give her nourishment and therapy.

As we all know, generally both sides say exactly the opposite of what their normal ideology requires. Why is that? Why do modern day liberals who want government intervention in nearly every aspect of life say that the G should back off? Why do conservatives deny the validity of longstanding law and ask for governmental intervention?

It's simple - it's a moral question, not a legal one.

You can tell the true organizations of political ideology and policy. Take the Cato Institute. Many feel they are a conservative think-tank, while they would describe themselves as libertarian - and they are. Do you know how you can tell? They have no position on abortion. Why not? The libertarian view can be applied to either case - either the unborn baby is not a human and the decision is exclusively that of the mother (how can you be a mother without a baby? Never mind), or the unborn baby is a human, and its individual rights can not be trampled on by another simply because it cannot express itself. What keeps the balance from tilting is that the decision of whether the baby is a person or not is NOT a libertarian-influenced decision. It is moral, perhaps scientific, but is totally without influence in the realm of libertarian thought. Therefore, libertarian ideals are NOT moral ideals...nor are any other political ideals.

The law does not even consider the likelihood that the spouse would NOT have the best interests of the incapacitated person at heart. Good freaking grief, the divorce rate is over 50%, people don't have the best interests of each other at heart at least that often! Think about it - no matter what the details are, divorce is always a result of at least one (and often both) spouse's unwillingness to put the other person's needs ahead of their own. So why the heck should the law assume that it would be that way for someone who can't express themselves? Mr. Schiavo, through his cohabitation with another woman, while still 'married' to Terri, and fathering of two children with this other woman, coupled with his wholesale refusal to have any therapy conducted on Terri, has shown that he is NOT operating with Terri's best interests at heart (did you know he waited 8 years to 'remember' that Terri allegedly told him not to keep her alive??).

According to the law, as correctly interpreted, Mrs. Schiavo's feeding tube should be removed. I think it will stay that way, and she will die. However, it's a bad law. The constitution specifically says that the government exists to provide for the general welfare of the citizenry. It is this same line that is used to justify myriad government programs to 'help' people who need it. It certainly should be used to craft the set of laws that protect the lives of those who cannot speak for themselves.

I have noted that the libertarians have stuck to their guns on this one, for the most part. The flip flops by the others are more due to their dual moral-political classifications. ‘Liberals’ are also more morally liberal, and have less qualms with whacking folks who can’t vote…as long as they are not in another country. ‘Conservatives’ tend to be morally conservative, and favor protecting those who don’t have a voice…unless they are in another country. Get it?

I’m a Christian, not any of the above. Hence my seeming paradox.


  • Hammer,

    So...are you saying that, once again, Christians have allowed a bad law to be enacted and stand because, probably, at one point, they thought it would bring them some benefit here on Earth? Laws they've accepted like marriage laws---allowing themselves to receive financial gain by letting the government "grant" them some kind of privilege (monetary or otherwise) in an area that--if there is anything at all to the vow of marriage--clearly lies in Gods domain? This allowed Christians to be exposed as hypocrites when others, using the same terms that Christians use to describe marriage and quite rightly, demanded the same privileges in the name of marriage---and then watching the Christians twist and turn.
    I don't want to sound harsh...but I am rather disgusted at the moment by what we are doing with Terri Shiavo.

    By Blogger David Hunley, at 3/23/2005 06:41:00 PM  

  • I have a hard time with this one. In general, I sympathize with the parents slightly more than the husband. I used to assume it was at least partially about money, but apparently this isn't true. There are no villains here, however we desperately want them to help make sense of the tragedy. 85% of the population says if it were them, they would want the tube removed, so this seems like an application of the Golden Rule, but that rule was never perfect, only a first approximation. My wife has told me in no uncertain terms to remove that tube if this happens to her. I'm not sure I could do it, though.

    As I pointed out before, Bush passed a bill in Texas to allows hospitals to deny service against terminally ill patients, against the patient's or families wishes. That makes this whole thing just look like grandstanding.

    By Blogger Mark, at 3/23/2005 07:26:00 PM  

  • Mark,

    Son of a gun...that's a good point. The Golden Rule! It's the first one I've heard throughout this ordeal that has given me pause. Now...let's just see if I can cast aside my cynicism long enough to consider this being the real reason for wanting to pull the tube from Teri. I'll honestly admit that it might be my own shortcoming when I say, at this moment...I don't.

    By Blogger David Hunley, at 3/23/2005 07:57:00 PM  

  • I prefer the negative golden rule myself. I promise I won't do anything to you that I wouldn't want done to me, much better than the positive golden rule. But then again I believe that government is here for freedom from rather than freedom for.

    Bottom line, the conservatives and liberals are all acting hypocritically, in my opinion. As a person I am feeling really badly for the Schindlers and everyone else involved. I care deeply about other people. And that caring leads me to want the dispassionate rule of law. I don't want you to make decisions for me based on morals I may not hold in common with you. It seems that we can live with this when it is economic morals and poor people. When it is life and liberty morals and folks with money for a multi-million dollar PR and court campaign we can't live with it. Hypocrisy again.

    As far as abortion goes the best libertarian argument I heard was that we use the traditional scientific test of measurable brain activity. At the point where we can measure brain activity in the baby then we know we have a living human being and killing it is a violation of the baby's right to life. But I can also make a libertarian argument for outlawing abortion. What I can't manage to do is make an argument for any abortion, any time. It would be wildly inconsistent with libertarian principles.

    Finally, although difficult to follow if you are not one, I think that libertarianism is the one political philosophy actually based on morality. Much like my deist classic liberal forerunners (Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin are good examples) my morals are founded on observable natural philosophy that shows us that certain rights are inherent to humans.

    By Blogger Eric Grumbles, at 3/24/2005 02:24:00 AM  

  • Eric,

    Just a few short years ago, we couldn't have observed brain activity at all. Would it have been alright to abort any time up until then? Seems to me that's what you're saying. And if we discover tomorrow that in order to get that brain activity, there must be cellular activity that is just as crucial, would you then be against abortion at that point? What is so vitally important about brain activity that it alone is the step in the growth of a child that it is the deciding factor---especially in light of the fact that 100 years ago, we never even knew it existed. This is a rather tenuous way of establishing our morality isn't it---subject to change with a chance discovery beneath a microscope? That is, if we believe there is such a thing as this morality that libertarians say they base their philosophy upon. And who defines this observable natural philosophy that gives you the right to claim it as the base for your morality...I've got dozens of people saying it is merely evolution (and providing much ridicule while saying it :) and that people who believe otherwise are just religious nuts of one variety or another.

    By Blogger David Hunley, at 3/24/2005 08:16:00 AM  

  • David,
    I don't think it is an issue of "Christians allowing a law to be enacted". Christians are a small voting block - much smaller than many believe. Oh, there are lots of churchgoers and those who profess to be Christian (my first platoon sergeant immediately responded that he was a Baptist when I asked if he was a Christian. He had been in church once in adulthood - his wedding). The governmnet does not need the permission of Christians to co-opt their terms, principles or sort-of-principles.

    What do I get from the government for being married?

    Eric, I don't think Jefferson was a deist. I'll get back to you on that.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 3/25/2005 08:58:00 AM  

  • Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Greenhoow in 1814: “There never was a more pure and sublime system of morality delivered to men than is to be found in the four Evangelists.”

    Historians say Jefferson was a Deist. A Deist believes God created the world but then backed off and has no influence in any future events. A careful reading of Jefferson’s writings reveal he was not a Deist. Jefferson to David Barrow, 1815: “We are not in a world ungoverned by the laws and the power of a Superior Agent. Our efforts are in His hand, and directed by it, and He will give them their effort in His own time.”

    Also, from President Jefferson’s Second Inaugural Address in 1805: “We need the favor of that Being...who led our forefathers...that He will so enlighten the minds of your servants, guide their councils, and prosper their measures....”

    I wouldn't say that Jefferson was an orthodox Christian, but I think to say that he subscribed to the 'clockmaker' theory of deism is a stretch.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 3/25/2005 04:08:00 PM  

  • It was my understanding that deists believe in God by don't believe in any "revealed religion", which leaves quite a wide open array of interpretations. While I'm sure many believe God is "hands off" I didn't think that's part of the definition deism, but I could be wrong.

    By Blogger Mark, at 3/25/2005 04:26:00 PM  

  • Hammer,

    I don't think it is an issue of "Christians allowing a law to be enacted". Christians are a small voting block - much smaller than many believe. Oh, there are lots of churchgoers and those who profess to be Christian..."

    is kind of my point. Although it would fall on deaf ears...the ones some rail against as "religious-right" just might be exactly right in the term they use. The terms religious right and Christians are not interchangable. Do you understand?

    What do I get from the government for being married?
    Property rights, inheritance rights, visitation privileges, tax breaks (you know...those things gay couples quite rightly demand for themselves?) we see unfolding before us...the ability to decide (on your word and your word alone) whether your wife lives or dies if she is ever in a condition that she herself can't tell us.

    By Blogger David Hunley, at 3/25/2005 10:57:00 PM  

  • David,
    Have you been reading Andrew Sullivan? First, I don't get a single tax break for being married. Actually, until Bush 43 changed it, there was a tax penalty for filing married.

    All those other "benefits" are easily obtained by anyone by simple contracts. The government provides no material incentive to marry.

    I'm with you 100% on the "religious right" - but that doesn't surprise you.

    Hey, where are my darn interview answers???

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 3/25/2005 11:50:00 PM  

  • Hammer...

    It might be, in your case, that you had a financial penalty for being married...if the income of you and your spouse were approximately the same. However, if one of you made much more that the other, by filing jointly, your tax bill is less for the greater salary---thus a bonus...and it could run into the thousands.
    But aside from this direct tax...there are automatic inheritance rights...there are preferential estate tax rights, there are social security benefits, and there lower insurance rates. These do, in a majority of cases, provide substantial financial benefit; even more significant when you take into account that most were enacted before women were as large a presence in the private work force. In an effort to get more tax money, the government did reduce some of these benefits in later years---but they were initially conceived to support marriage.
    Your pointing out that most of these could be satisfied via a contract is true...which lead some to believe that gays attempting to get married aren't doing it for the financial gain they claim it to be. What would be their goal then? Some believe it is an attempt to discredit the institution of marriage and they want to pile foolishness on top of foolishness with some kind of constitutional amendment to "define" marriage as being between a man and a woman...and around and around we go. I think it all began when we let the government get its paws into marriage in the first place! Christians, (or religious right as the case may be :), wanted to claim marriage is a pact between man, woman, and God---yet allowed the government into the game by accepting those benefits. How much better would it have been had we said at that time "No thank you Mr. Government!" "You have no place in the institution of marriage!" Now look at the mess we're in. How many times must we be taught the lesson that the government never giveth without taking away much, much more...even from the people they giveth to.
    I guess it is my naivety showing does surprise me that those church goers...protestants, catholics, baptists, methodists and so on...are not Christian. In that case, one can certainly see why Mark is so skeptic of the religious right---and what makes me so much closer to Mark than he may realize.
    Actually though Hammer, I can't really claim to be surprised...because I'm not.

    And I SWEAR I've been working on the interview I'm trying to hone it down from a 10 pages rant into something someone might actually read.

    By Blogger David Hunley, at 3/26/2005 08:03:00 AM  

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