Okay, I’m a dope

I finally had a chance to read this article, the one I quoted and linked to last Thursday. This is a good example of why we should all read the entire article we quote, not just the brief snippet we read on someone else’s blog. We might start by noting the site where the original article was published.

When I taught college writing, I was astounded at the number of times my students quoted articles that in fact came to the opposite conclusion the students claimed they did. The students would then go on and on about why Ed Koch was right to oppose capital punishment, or why Gloria Steinem was wrong to oppose women’s rights. How could they do this? Were they really that stupid? Of course they weren’t. They were just in a hurry, and they weren’t being careful. They saw a long, sprawling article and couldn’t be bothered to read the whole thing, so they selected the choicest snippets and just went with them. (This phenomenon, incidentally, is one of the things I worried about in my long, rambling post yesterday.)

Now I’ve caught myself doing exactly the same thing: I had read the post on Alas, A Blog, followed the link to the article, and saw screen after screen of somber grey text. I don’t need to read all this, I thought, I already know what I’m going to say about it. I proceeded to blurt out three extensive posts, all building on the same initial riff inspired by the blatantly anti-abortion article I hadn’t even read. Turns out, the author was not anti-abortion at all. My first clue should have been that the article was published on a site called “catholicsforchoice.org,” but I hadn’t even noticed that. Yesterday, I read the entire article. I should say, I skimmed the article, because it is a hard slog to get through the whole thing. Ugh!

I wouldn’t say the article shreds my argument to pieces, but it definitely places it in a new light. The author, Frances Kissling, is complaining about how steadfastly pro-choicers refuse to acknowledge the value of “fetal life.” In short, she’s complaining about people like me, and my response was to give her back more of the same.

I’ve always been open about the fact that my position on abortion probably won’t change anyone’s mind. I wouldn’t recommend any pro-choicers go out on the streets and spread the Word Munger gospel to all the unannointed pro-lifers out there, because they probably wouldn’t listen to a scrap of it. However, I’m not sure Kissling’s approach is going to be effective either: if it’s too much cold rationality for me, it’s probably too much for just about anyone.

One of the many reasons I would make a terrible politician is that I’d have a hard time making a position statement I didn’t believe in. When John Kerry says he thinks abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare,” it sends a chill up my spine. About the only thing I can agree with in that statement is that it’s better than the alternative. I think many sorts of abortion should be safe, legal, and as common as necessary to get the job done. Saying the day after pill should be “safe, legal, and rare” is like saying cough medicine should be “safe, legal, and rare.” Yes, I’d prefer the common cold be rare, but I don’t honestly believe it will happen over, say, the next two presidential terms.

There are some compromise positions on abortion I’d be willing to accept, but it doesn’t mean I’m not going to argue for the whole nine yards. I’m not so naive to think that my way of thinking will convince anyone, but if I had to argue for a compromise, I wouldn’t claim that the compromise position was what I believed all along. I might say it was a reasonable compromise, but I didn’t completely agree with it. This would make me more consistent, but it wouldn’t make me a good politician.

I’m much more concerned about being a good writer — and that starts with being a good reader. I’ll try to be a better one from here on out.

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