Tuesday, 05 April 2011
Intro:In the comments of a previous post, I was discussing how it is that we can scale seemingly insurmountable ideological divides on issues like abortion. The following thought experiment, which I've contemplated many times in the past, came to mind again. Rather than dropping it on that commenter, I thought I'd share it with everyone as food for thought.
By some fluke of the time-space continuum, you wake up one morning to discover that you live culturally next door in the same country with an equally proportionate amount of ancient Aztecs who offer human sacrifices to their gods on a regular basis. After a period of time of learning the language, you have a conversation over the fence with some of their most outspoken representatives and they tell you that it is perfectly okay for human sacrifice to be legal because you don't personally have to kill any humans yourself. They are pro-choice. You, as a conservative minded person, evaluate your options. You can:
A: Passively support legislation to make pro-life laws banning human sacrifice, waging a decades long legal war with Aztec representatives in various courts and Congress.
B: Start a war based on your irreconcilable differences with your evil neighbors.
If you chose A, I'd be surprised. People are being murdered and you resolve to vote perhaps once a year about it. If you remember to send in your voter registration that year, of course.
If you chose B, you are on the same moral page with the killers of abortion doctors, given that you think the unborn are equally human as anyone being sacrificed by your next door Aztec neighbors.
You are also on the same page with most of the Liberals in this country I would think, who would probably be right there with you starting that war because they have basically the same values you do in reference to the institutionalized murder of innocent humans.
By not starting this war over the abortion debate, by implication, it appears that you do not value the unborn as much as you think you do. (BTW, please do not start a war over the abortion debate.) You just value them a little bit more than Liberals.
[Note: I was going to post pictures of aborted fetuses for comparison, but it turns out those pictures are a lot more gruesome than that one.]
Moral disagreements do not have to be the intellectual equivalent of a game of turbo tops if we are willing to systematically evaluate why we value what we value. We can be wrong or ignorant about the facts and wrong on our own terms by making use of logical fallacies to justify our claims, etc. My hypothesis is that when most humans take correcting for all of that seriously there will be a lot more convergence than not. Most people don't do that. They accept their first impression of things and it's all superficial attack and defend from there with little to no possibility of self-correction. Even if they do have some change of heart, or several, there's still nothing really rigorous about it, and it is more psychological accident than intentional method.
Of course there are also the problems of resolving differences between liberal pacifists who presumably wouldn't choose option B in any event. Additionally, what happens when our country fights an unjust war overseas? This particular thought experiment is just directed at conservatives even if we can think of ways to make it more messy.
I have plans to build an argument map attempting to reconcile some of the differing answers that prominent atheists have given to the abortion question. It will at the very least show which particular issues need to be resolved between them on the secular side of things and which disagreements are illusionary.