I’m going to keep my coffee notes (shamelessly ripped off from Dave Winer) going even while we talk with HP for a couple reasons. For one, there’s other stuff besides politics that I want to jot down while I do my coffee thing (I’m down to only one refill). And second, I want to be honest about the discussion with HP and write down my reflections about his arguments, my arguments, and the thoughts in my head as I read and write them.
When a discussion takes place in a public forum like this it often turns into a public debate which then turns into a game that both sides feel like they have to win. It becomes more of a competition than a conversation. That’s not what I want at all. I mean, let’s make it clear that we’re probably not going to bring anything up in the abortion debate that hasn’t been brought up millions of times before. But I think the nature of a blog makes it much easier to have an honest discussion that really gets past rhetoric.
When HP wrote his introduction I was hoping he was going to start with an issue in the same post. I don’t know why I suggested talking about abortion first. It’s probably the subject I know the least about and have thought the least about. My automatic answer has always been that I’m pro-choice, that I think it’s a woman’s decision, that privacy is involved, and that outlawing abortion would only make the situation worse for a lot of the reasons that Abogado and I have already said. (ok, so Abogado said it better.)
But beyond all that, honestly, getting a girl pregnant has always been fear #1. I mean, serious anxiety. I have always wanted absolute freedom, lack of responsibility, and independence – ever since I can remember. I really felt – and maybe still feel to a point – that having a child would be an end to me. It’s such an intense issue because it’s so personal. Beyond the moral and policy arguments you have to really think about your own life. What if Laura called me and told me she was pregnant. What would my response be? (remember, she lives in a state where abortion is illegal, I live where it is legal) Who ought to have the power to make that choice? Her certainly. Me? I’m not even sure. The state? The federal government? Judges? Voters?
So when I read HP’s take against abortion, I have to admit I was impressed with how he framed his argument. I mean, you can’t be angry at the guy for his intentions. I don’t think he’s trying to be righteous. I don’t think it’s any kind of power trip about him wanting to control women’s bodies, choices, and privacy. I believe he really has thought about this issue deeply and has come to the conclusion that every single human life deserves … well, the right to life. That’s a moral argument and I think most people agree with it. I mean, when we hear reports about families in some countries that kill babies if they are girls, we think that’s wrong. That it should be illegal, right?
So I think – and I expected this – that the conversation is really going to when does life start? From a bizarre angle, that’s what I’m going to talk about in my own post (tomorrow? Friday? Saturday?) Most pro-lifers say conception, once the egg is fertilized. That argument, though still arbitrary, makes sense. No longer are we talking about sperm or egg, but something that has the potential to fully develop without any more interaction.
Most pro-choicers, biologists, and developmental psychologists would draw the line somewhere (equally arbitrary) in the development process of the fetus. Or at the extreme – after birth.
Now, my argument is going to be a bit more philosophical (discussing “might versus right”), but I’d like to learn more about the development of the fetus. Pain, self-awareness, consciousness. I think all of this needs to be looked at.
I’m also hoping and waiting to hear from a female. Because the woman’s privacy argument is a very important one. Sure us men do our share: spend our savings at the bar, spit out laughable game which is really pathetic begging to get girls to come home with us, fumble with zippers and bras, “who’s your daddy, who’s your daddy” for a couple minutes, and then pass out stinking of liquor.
But beyond that, the entire creation process of a child and (often) most of the responsibility of raising it is the domain of a woman. In reality, it’s that realization more than anything that keeps me pro-choice. I would never ever ever have the audacity to be the dumbass trying to get some drunk girl in bed, tell her “sorry but I don’t have any condoms” and then when it turns out she’s pregnant, force my values on something that takes place completely inside her body. Anyway, enough about abortion for now.
Get used to me talking about podcasts and podcasting ’cause I can’t get enough of it. My routine used to be, morning coffee, jot down some notes, work (while maybe listening to NPR), then do some exercise while listening to whatever Revaz tells me to on my iPod. Then I’d probably read myself to sleep. At most I’d work out for about 45 minutes.
The next morning though I’d think back and wonder just how much I actually absorbed. Was I really listening to NPR while doing web design or was it just background noise? Am I actually comprehending what I read at night or do my eyes kinda skim over the paragraphs while I reflect on the day and anticipate tomorrow.
The fact was that I had forgotten how to concentrate. A few years ago I would consistently spend an entire day reading just one book, finish the book, and really understand it on a number of levels. Or if it was non-fiction, I could absorb very complicated arguments that often take several chapters to make. Now I can’t read even a blog post or news article without clicking on a link at least every 30 seconds. I had lost all attention … all long term critical comprehension.
Until podcasting. Podcasts have saved me. While I used to dread riding my bicycle the full hour along the coast up to my gym, now that ride is what I most look forward to. And it’s not because of the ride or our beautiful sunsets but because there’s so much good stuff waiting for me on my iPod.
The difference between today and two
years months ago is that newspaper editors, radio producers, television producers used to decide what content I would see. Sure, I could flip the remote, but it’s still them bringing the content to me and I was fully aware that there was tons of other stuff I’d rather be reading/listening to/watching.
I love NPR. I love PBS. I love CSPAN. And – shhh, don’t tell – I love Jack and Bobby on the WB. But I don’t love them all all of the time. And it used to be that there was plenty of time when they were all full of shit. Or, when something was on that I really wanted to see, I was busy somewhere else.
With podcasts, the content you want to catch is downloaded automatically on to your mp3 player. Then you take it with you. You listen to only what you want to listen to. You fast forward through the parts you don’t like. Yeah, lots of people call it Tivo for your ears. But what I love is, unlike Tivo, I don’t have to be in front of the television. I can be running, I can be in the gym, I can be walking to the library, or just taking a quick walk on the beach. And while I do that, I have some of the most amazing pundits, radio personalities, researchers, tech enthusiasts, journalists, etc. right there with me, somewhere between my pocket and my ears.
A couple days ago I was riding my bike to the gym and listening to the first post-election podcast of the Gilmor Gang. They were all depressed about the results of the election and they were discussing whether or not the blogosphere played any impact on the outcome. Now the most popular political blogs are mostly libertarian or moderately left. But the blogosphere in general is definitely more liberal than conservative. It’s also more critical of the war in Iraq than most tradition media outlets. Basically, it the blogosphere had played a big impact, the vote should have gone to Kerry.
Then one of the guests brought up an interesting thesis: there is such an overwhelming amount of information on the internet and in the blogosphere that a possible reaction is curling up into your existing comfortable values and gut instincts.
That really got at me because I’m a strong advocate of the internet, of increased communication. I don’t think information overload (which I suffer from every day) is a bad thing, I just think we need to slowly let ourselves work it out. But another reaction is certainly retreating from it all back to a traditional objective moral code just like Gary Willis argues in The Day the Enlightenment Went Out.
I mean, personally I think this conversation we’re having with HP is super interesting and useful. But another part of me asks if we’re not just adding to the noise, adding to the echo chamber and that perhaps, worse, it’s having the opposite affect.
Us and the Apes
The best single podcast I have listened to so far is a presentation from this year’s Pop!Tech Conference by Comparative Primatologist Frans de Waal. His presentation was on Human Nature and his basic argument is that populism is the best form of governance given primate behavior. Now you should listen to anyone who starts telling you about apes and finishes insinuating that you should vote for Kerry in 30 minutes with a very very critical ear. With that said, his presentation really gave me a lot to think about.
I know that throughout our conversation with HP, I’m going to be thinking myself about the deeper argument of moral relativism versus moral absolutism. Mari’s boyfriend Chad framed it so well on his blog. Us liberals often cite the Enlightenment and claim we use universal rationality rather than any objective moral authority in forming policy. But Chad explains the dangers of pure rationality. Only now am I realizing that we need the two – objective morality and rationality – to balance each other. But Frans de Waal’s argument is that we need to better understand human behavior when making policy. That human behavior at least needs to taken into consideration.
An aside: Frans de Waal later described an experiment in which university age men and women were asked how many sexual relations they had in the past year. Consistently men would say 10 and women would say 5. He said it was always right around half. Now, obviously unless men were having many more homosexual relations than women, there’s a discrepancy there. So he said, the researchers then hooked their participants up to fake lie detector tests and asked the same question – how many sexual relations in the past year. All of a sudden both the men and the women gave the same answers. His point being that you have to take behavior into account in any research that relies on surveys or questionnaires.
Another example was that when Sprite made the graphic of the lime larger on their can, they got a flood of calls asking them why they started adding more lime flavor to the soda. Anyway, I’m just echoing – check out the podcast.