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Posts Tagged ‘power’

It seems to me a good idea for our laws to be based on truth.  If the meaning of “miles per hour” is ambiguous, I would want to find the true definition of miles and hour rather than arbitrarily setting up some other explanation.  No argument about how an accurate definition of miles would infringe my freedom to drive as fast as I wanted should be considered.  We might change the law to increase the speed limit if that is our argument, but we cannot keep the existing law and just lie about what all the words mean.

Personhood is such an issue.  We have a law that guarantees life and due process to all persons.  If we don’t like that law, we can try to change it so that not all persons are so guaranteed.  (That law, incidentally, is based on a moral judgment that murder is wrong.  Many of our laws are enforcement of morality.)  What we cannot do is alter the definition of a person to mean something that it truly does not.  Defining the word “person” to include my rocking chair would be absurd.  Including my pet would be a stretch not intended by those who wrote the law.  Excluding my neighbor with freckles is dishonest.  Saying that my neighbor in the womb is less of a person than me is too arbitrary to be good science or good law.

Some would argue that the truth reflected in our laws should be based on precedent.  This breaks down for a number of reasons.  First, we have the problem of where the very first precedents got their truth.  History does not record an eternal list of precedents.  Secondly, we can point to many court rulings that have been made by liars, self-serving judges who refused to acknowledge the truth.  For example, see the slavery decision Dred Scott.  Finally, precedents can (and sometimes should) be overturned.  The “landmark” ruling that made abortion legal throughout the USA, Roe v. Wade, overturned many state laws that had been in existence for years.  It wasn’t that the question of reproductive rights had never been in court before; this was simply the first time the Supreme Court said abortion was a mother’s “right.”  (I must specify that it was seen as a woman’s right, not a man’s right or a baby’s right – which is important.  Roe v. Wade rests in the supposition that the baby is actually a part of the mother, thus giving her special privileges to end his life.  US law does not give a man the right to decide a mother must abort.  In fact, it will punish those criminals who assault a preborn child.  Nor does the legal system ask the baby, who is demonstrably a separate entity from his mother, whether he wants to be aborted, or acknowledge his right to life.  This is what Personhood seeks to amend.)

Another supposed basis for the truth of our laws is democracy.  What does the majority believe or want?  While our government is set up as a participatory representative system, where the voice of the people influences the leaders making the laws and even at times the laws themselves, this is arguably not the best means for ensuring justice.  The majority has sometimes voted for terrorist governments.  Or for slavery.  Hitler got his first foothold of power through democracy.  A majority of people once believed the world was flat.  We human beings are special, but not powerful enough to mold truth as we wish it was.  Republics like ours, the founding fathers warned us, are only sustainable, only free, if they are comprised of a moral citizenry.  The people must acknowledge a standard outside of themselves, and align with that, for freedom and justice to exist.

Can science be used to decide such a moral and philosophical question as what constitutes life or personhood?  We already have these philosophical terms in our law.  These words have been applied to at least some groups of humanity since the law was written.  No one disputes that the word “person” applies to a large part of humanity (always including the one making the judgment).  And here comes science, demonstrating that there is no significant, meaningful difference between one group of human beings and another.  Science can demonstrate that skin color is not a factor in personhood.  Size does not make person more of a person.  In fact, science can tell us that a human being has the same unique DNA from the moment of conception, at their birth, as they grow from infants to adolescents to fully-formed adults, even as they age and their health declines.

Any lines that have been proposed distinguishing one class of human beings as non-persons have been arbitrary.  Every person needs two things to continue living: nourishment and defense from violence.  The fertilized egg, the single-celled human embryo, needs only these things to develop into an adult.  An infant 1 year of age is still very dependent on his parents for the necessary nourishment and protection.  But given these things, he will grow into a man.  A young woman has to go through puberty to give her the hourglass shape associated with womanhood (and the ability to reproduce).  Where do you draw the line?  Which of these stages begins personhood?

In the history of this debate, the line of personhood has been suggested to begin:

–         at some point after birth when the baby is still dependent on his parents.  (If we draw the line at 3 months, was he less of a human the 24 hours before he was 3 months?  Honestly?)

–         at the first breath of air.  (Are humans receiving CPR or on ventilators not people?  What about the pre-mi’s born and kept alive for months by artificial breathing machines, to be weaned off when their lungs developed fully?)

–         when the baby completely leaves the womb – birth.  (Ten inches decides the identity of a human being?  There have been surgeries performed on preborn babies that involve removing the infants from the womb and then returning them there.  Are they people while out of the womb, then non-people again?  What has changed in the baby?)

–         at viability.  (Come What May, a film produced by the students at Patrick Henry College, makes the point that when we talk about viability, we are talking about viability sustained by human inventions.  Most babies are viable in the womb.  When we talk about viability, though, we disqualify that means of life support and substitute our own.  Man is not better than God at providing a hospitable environment for the youngest among us.  Even aside from that argument, our technology is improving.  A child who was not viable outside the womb 20 years ago might be now.  Nothing changed in the abilities or nature of the children.  We changed.)

–         when the mother can first detect movement – sometimes called “quickening.”  (Some mothers are more sensitive to the movement of their child than others.  Body shape and other factors might contribute to missing the first sensations of motion.  Also, some preborn babies move less or less emphatically than others.  We know from scientific experience that the baby is moving: swimming – from day one when he moves to the uterus!, kicking, waving, turning, changing facial expressions.  Again, this line is not dependent on the nature of the being inside the mother.)

–         at the beginning of biological development – called fertilization or conception.  (At this point a new life is begun.  Already his DNA has determined his features, his gender, his blood type – all of which can be different from his mother’s.  Before this moment, more was needed than nourishment and protection.  After this he will grow at his own body’s initiative and direction.)

All but the last “line” are arbitrary – as arbitrary as me deciding you were not a person because you live in the country, or because your skin is a different color from mine, or because I can whistle and you can’t (actually, I can’t), or worse: if I can’t hear you whistle even when you are.  Science and a bit of logic can recognize that there is no objective difference between adults like us and the kids who are so needy and the preborn.  Draw the line at conception.  Anything else is discrimination.

One more point I’d like to address is the legal objection many put forward.  In most abortion laws, pro-abortion activists push for “exceptions,” when a baby may still be killed.  They say that oh yes, abortion is a tragedy and we want it to be rare.  But surely there are bigger tragedies that abortion could solve: rape, incest, the life of the mother.

Regarding the “life of the mother” exception: our definition of person begins at conception.  It doesn’t end at birth.  This definition includes mothers.  The life of the baby is not, by this truth-reliant definition, more or less important than the mother’s.  Doctors and parents would be legally required to treat that baby as a person, without treating the mother as a non-person.  That’s the answer to the most common “life of the mother” clause.  No exception is necessary in the wording used by Personhood groups, because they affirm the right of the mother to life as well as the right of the baby.

But there are other “exceptions” argued for.  These tragedies are chosen for the exception list emotionally.  Why not include in the list: financial incompetence, household over-population, genetic deformity?  And if you go that far, why not make exceptions for gender, for the mom’s busy career, for her relationship with the father?  I’m not saying that everyone pushing for a few exceptions wants all of these exceptions.  My goal is to make it obvious that to be consistent in their reasoning, they should include all of these exceptions.  In every case the baby is a person.

That’s why I want to finish by asking you a few questions:

–         Is a human being not a person if her father is a rapist?  Is a 3 year old not a person if her father is a rapist?  Do you have less rights if your father was a rapist?

–         Is a human being not a person if his mother gets cancer?  Is a 3 year old not a person if his mom gets cancer?  Do you have less rights if your mother gets cancer?

–         Is a human being not a person if he and his mother are in danger and only one of them can be rescued?  Is a 3 year old not a person if he and his mother are in danger and only one of them can be rescued?  Do you have less rights if you and your mother are in danger and only one of you can be rescued?

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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In recent years outcry has been growing against the biased mainstream media.  This generally encompasses newspapers, broadcast television, and cable news channels, who have been shown to favor a political candidate in their reporting over his opponent, or to spin coverage of wars and international relations.  We should not be surprised at how easy it is to sway an audience.  The tone of an article, inclusion or omission of certain facts, the way questions are asked to acquire facts, and even the use or frequency of positive or negative buzz words all contribute to manipulating an audience.  And we must admit that it is impossible to prevent bias from appearing in our media.  Some gross abuses may be avoidable; news coverage should not be fabricating stories, and ought to check that they have reliable sources.  What bothers most people is the apparent monopoly in the media by one side of American culture, namely, the more liberal side. 

 

This is not a new phenomenon.  During the Revolutionary War underground printing presses published pamphlets, propaganda for the masses who were otherwise uninformed about the masses of people discontented with British oppression.  Media has been used in such ways, then, for centuries.  100 years ago the newspaper moguls such large and influential cities as New York and Chicago, far from being true competitors, met in the legendary smoke-filled rooms to agree on policies to support, on news to cover, that would best protect their power and influence.  For my purposes today I cannot describe how these men gained their power.  Yet they had it, and motive to keep their power. 

 

But how could their power be threatened?  One threat that goes deeper than we may at first imagine is the possibility of real competition.  Suppose an enterprising young reporter had started his own printers, and published his own version of the news.  More than likely he would have started small.  Such a man could have made certain news available that was not to be found in any other papers.  And so he could gain an audience.  There is obvious economic pressure on the established media to maintain their audience.  The nature of free markets dictates that larger corporations can afford to have lower prices.  They have the advantage of an incumbent, brand recognition and loyalty already strong among their patrons.  With more reporters, they can cover more territory, and produce more writing.  And, of course, they have the ear of the people, and can tell them what they will about their opponent’s or the facts the other news sources report. 

 

This competitive atmosphere is a familiar fixture in the market.  And media giants have the advantage in every respect.  Why would they be worried?  Power.  The more this different voice gains the respect of the people, the more power is taken from the others.  The new voice creates few new readers, garnering the majority of its business by persuading the subscribers to the other papers to transfer their interest and attention.  There are only so many news consumers to go around.  And if readership falls below a certain level, the influence of that paper is strikingly less.  In a democratic society, the majority rules.  If one news source ceases to control the majority, they are in danger of losing everything. 

 

Risk goes beyond that simple math.  The more media is divided, and choice is required of the consumer, the less power is wielded by the media as a whole.  Think of a large room.  If one strong voice is projecting its speech in an otherwise silent room, the people will hear him.  They are more likely to believe him.  Many voices in chorus produce the same effect.  If the whole room erupts in conversation, not only will you scarcely be able to hear the person right next to you; you will not be able to hear the one large voice, either.  You will have to make a choice.  Who do you wish to hear?  The friend next to you, or the intelligent man across the aisle?  The woman discussing a topic of interest, or the man with the microphone?  Are you going to heed the voice on the stage or the voice by the door?  How do you know if these people are even telling the truth?  Suddenly no one has power to manipulate you, and once more you are an individual with private responsibility. 

 

Today we have just such a room full of voices.  The traditional media is losing large portions of its audience.  Technology has made it possible for thousands of people to broadcast their thoughts and information.  Newspapers proliferate.  Old radio companies moved into television and cable.  Conservative talk radio now has a strong following of people dissatisfied or bored with the traditional “mainstream” media.  News magazines are published weekly.  Millions have access to the internet, with free host services for blogs that can be searched and linked. 

 

Acquiring information on which to report is a much broader road today.  Rather than waiting for the communication carried by a single ship, months delayed, as was nearly the case during the Revolutionary War, we now have satellites and long distance telephones, cell phones, email, airmail, etc.  If I were to witness a robbery, a friend in another state could know of it in minutes.  Google and similar search engines have made it possible to search for the information you wish to share, eliminating part of the need to filter the competing voices on the overwhelmingly large and loud media stage. 

 

Many are taking advantage of this new world of information.  Some who have escaped the education system able to think for themselves have been creating these competing voices and sustaining them for decades until we reached this point.  They investigate sources and find them reliable or not.  Combining information offered by various outlets, an individual can draw his own conclusions and just as easily share them with others.  Nevertheless, the majority of people remain addicted to the single voice.  Unpracticed in discernment and logic, many people embark on an increasingly difficult course of clinging to the familiar one voice.  It won’t last long.  Market forces are at work.  A house divided against itself will fall. 

 

I’m not saying that radio will cease to exist, or that TV will go out of business, or even that the blog and web news fads will blow over.  The influence is what is crashing in on itself.  There is a possibility that it won’t.  More on that in a moment.  If it does, however, there seem to be two choices: either the people who don’t want to choose will wake up and think for themselves anyway, or a new power will come in and control them.  Humanity craves leadership.  It has found leadership without media in the past, and can persevere in its quest once again in a world where media is weak. 

 

Recall those newspaper editors in that room, drinking and smoking cigars.  They don’t want to lose their power.  They don’t want the media empire to fall.  These men know that strong competition, especially when faced on more than one front, reduces their power and eventually destroys it for all of them.  What do they do? 

 

The only chance of survival for the entrenched media is to fight back so hard that opposition is silenced.  In this global technological age, I’m not sure that is possible.  China is finding censorship a difficult problem to conquer.  News businesses may strong arm their competition out of existence through economic competition, or they could if the internet weren’t essentially free.  They can resort to sabotage, eliminating their foes with violence and vandalism and threats.  Some of these new voices might be enticed into joining the club, the chorus.  Or they can utilize their still-strong voices to change the laws.  Laws are changed by wealthy special-interest groups all the time, and markets are controlled by big business using little laws to regulate small business into insignificance.  So with media. 

 

Do not doubt it: the powerful in the media have already begun to work.  Using the government, members of which they helped to their election (and can slander out of power just as easily), they have begun to censor the freedom of speech. 

 

         Broadcast TV, beginning this January, will be a thing of the past in January.  Everything will be published in High Definition, and the government will take control of the airwaves for their own uses. 

         Cable and Satellite TV, though offering many stations, are ultimately controlled by a select few established companies. 

         In the 70’s and 80’s there was a law in effect endearingly called the “Fairness Doctrine,” requiring that radio stations offer all sides of an issue in their programming.  This is both impossible and economically suicidal, as there is not an equal audience for all opinions.  If reinstated, which the upcoming administration has considered, talk radio would be gone.  (It is the nature of laws that they are not always evenly enforced.  Though there may be a law against protesting on public property, the police and district attorneys decide who will be held accountable for violations.  Therefore though the “fairness doctrine” may apply to all radio stations or even other media, enforcement can be targeted at specific stations or genres.) 

 

I don’t know of any plans to censor the printed press or the internet, but watch for it.  You will either see increased censorship or the demise of media as a superpower. 

 

Doesn’t the Constitution guarantee free speech?  Of course!  But how is the government to be held accountable for trespass of the Constitution?  How will you even know they have done so if no one tells you?  Does the government own the airwaves?  Broadcast equipment?  Your TV or radio?  In principle, they don’t.  In practice, they absolutely do.  And if you’re like me, you’re starting to think you’ve heard of other countries where there was one national media, publishing at the will of the government.  Independent media entrepreneurs are not the only ones in history who have noticed that a single voice signifies singular power. 

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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