I was having a discussion on the WELL about the Indiana General Assembly’s latest veto override having to do with transgender women and girls participating in women’s sports. Before I got into the conversation, there had been a fair amount of discussion I regarded as being pretty deep in the weeds and/or a little too focused hypotheticals having to do with athletically gifted edge cases. Among other things, I wrote:
[R]eporting on the ground as someone with kids in Indiana’s schools: this is not an issue of practical importance for Hoosier athletes. It’s clearly a cultural proxy war. Focusing on the particulars of athletic competition is inevitably going to miss the mark because the argument is a pretext. The people voting for this legislation never showed anything like a burning concern
for women’s athletics in the past.
There are a couple of trans girls in my kids’ friend group. These kids are not what you’d call athletically gifted. They aren’t going to dominate any sport in any league, male or female. It’d be nice if they could just run around and have fun playing some sports without being turned into political footballs or abstract topics of debate.
The cultural proxy war aspect made me stop and think though. So often what we’re arguing about, with respect to all kinds of subjects, is a stand in for something else. Abortion often really isn’t about abortion, it has as much to do with gender roles and sexual morality. So, when you offer ways to reduce abortion, they often get ignored because they don’t reinforce old notions about gender roles and sexual morality. Gun control gets complicated because the weapon isn’t a tool for hunting or self-defense or whatever the stated purpose; rather it has become a cultural identifier – a shibboleth, I suppose – and, so, regulations that might enhance safety and might not, on a completely practical level, be objectionable become non-starters if they’re seen as impairing a person’s cultural identity or being imposed someone outside of the culture.
A lot of talk about racism and sexism are really about power and control, and so approaches that superficially confront the stated concerns about race or sex but don’t shift the balance on power or control will be seen as inadequately. On the flip side, requests for superficially inconsequential changes that do indicate a shift in power and control will generate outsize controversy. (Team and building names come to mind for this one.)
And it’s not just the big issues of the day where this happens. Complaints about how a spouse loads the dishwasher could be a stand-in for issues over unequal workloads around the house. Complaints about sex could be more about attention, respect, status, or a multitude of other things. Complaints about “kids these days” are really just nostalgia and unhappiness about aging.
Another small-time example: our local school board politics seem to involve a lot of talk about “transparency” and the various mechanisms for board meetings lately. But the people making these arguments seem mostly not to like that particular decision-makers are in positions where they get to make the decisions. And this dislike very often seems to stem from specific grievances — e.g., someone didn’t keep a position of employment they like, someone else’s kid didn’t get the particular services they wanted, someone else didn’t get to control a school-related working group, a school board member was in the minority as to their preferred choice of a superintendent, etc.. But, these specific grievances wouldn’t have a lot of resonance in the larger community. So, you get these process oriented complaints that are largely divorced from the substance. Addressing the stated process complaints don’t really fix anything because the underlying grievances weren’t at their heart, about the process.
As a lawyer, I’ve come to understand that the law often just a big bundle of abstractions that we’re using as tools for managing conflict. The law itself is what one writer called “potential violence.” When we’re talking about a law, we’re really talking about if, when, where, why, and how the government will cause people with guns to come and use force against you. You hit me with a car. I complain to the government via its courts. I want money from you. If I’m successful in convincing the government that I ought to have your money, the court will enter a judgment to that effect. And, if you don’t turn over your money to me, as ordered, eventually we’ll get to the point where the people with guns extract it for me. But I never say, “Government, I want you to use your employees with guns to take his money and give it to me.” Instead, I’ll spend a lot of time talking about “negligence.”
There are probably a bunch of sociologists I’ve never heard of who have spilled a lot of ink discussing why we argue in this fashion. It’s likely easier to persuade a group when problems are abstracted because they might identify with concerns that are related but not quite as specific as what’s really motivating and individual. And direct appeals based on selfish motivations that highlight the precise winners and losers along with any force that might be necessary to maintain or alter the status quo are likely more off-putting than indirect appeals that obscure motivations that leave the uglier parts unstated.
Thank you for attending my TED talk.
Hmm a quote comes to mind…
“Sometimes the ideas we get will up and change our perspective . Of course the ideas should be viewed on whether it. fits your beliefs,,practicability, convictions and sense of right or wrong.”. –Only practicability seems to fit the Republicans at this moment in time.
Seems to me most of the issues with abortion, trans-gender, election fraud, school curriculum, etc have more to do with power and getting and staying elected.
Paul K. Ogden says
“Abortion often really isn’t about abortion, it has as much to do with gender roles and sexual morality. ”
I have a lot of respect for you, Doug, but here you’ve fallen for a talking point that isn’t based on reality. Most people who have moral qualms about abortion have those qualms because they see it as extinguishing a human life. (And they have science on their side in that view.) That’s just a fact the pro choice side wants to ignore. This whole nonsense that it’s about men wanting to control women’s bodies – is, well, nonsense.
I’ve long said that the abortion issue is about not when life begins (pretty clearly at conception) but when it reaches the development stage at which that life should be legally protected. It’s rational to say that more developed prenatal life (say 5 months old) is worthy of more protection that a fertilized egg implanted in the womb only days earlier.
The pro choice side argues the importance of bodily integrity. The pro life side argues the importance of protecting life not yet born. Both sides are legitimate and compromise is called for. The problem with Roe is that it wasn’t really a compromise. It protected 99% of abortions, and mandated that states allow those second trimester abortions which are pretty gruesome. The line should be drawn shortly after the first trimester in my book.
Paul,, while I also would like to see minimal abortions, I disagree strongly that it’s not about controlling women’s bodies.
Note how some on the pro-life side have already moved past abortion restrictions to restrictions on contraception.
What’s the pro-life case for forcing women to get pregnant when we have the knowledge and ability for them to, practically, not get pregnant to begin with?
Why not achieve minimal abortions by reducing the demand, via better access to contraception, better sex education, and people better able to afford the cost of raising a child, as opposed to thinking that banning abortion clinics (reducing the supply) will help? How’s that going to be any different than the 1960’s, or Prohibition for that matter?
I also note how many (but not all) lose interest in that life once the abortion is stopped. Little interest in Indiana’s abysmal maternal mortality rate, little interest in better schooling outcomes, little interest in doing something to help people who can’t afford the $250,000 average cost it takes to raise a child.
Why not achieve minimal abortions by reducing the demand, via better access to contraception, better sex education, – Because of the Bible thumpers that think sex education should be taught at home or in a Christian setting. or not at all. Prevention and education is the key!
Here lies the hypocrisy when it comes to abortion.. I guarantee you if one of our elected officials daughter, granddaughters or wife’s would get pregnant and pass the time period when the baby cannot be aborted, that baby would be aborted in a Indiana minute. She’s running track, playing basketball, in the band, on the debate team heading to or in college or the famous “This isn’t a good time in our life’s to have a baby.” No way are the parents going to subject them to ridicule, embarrassment and low self esteem. No the pills will magically appear or a trip to Canada to see Niagara Falls will be in the cards.
If they actually cared for the children (which they don’t) then fathers that are not living with the mother should start paying child support when the law specifies that baby is a living human being. There are thousands of fathers in Indiana that are delinquent on their child support. Many are out of state and may be impossible to track down. Whatever time limit the State of Indiana is going to use to prosecute a woman for aborting a baby should be the same time limit for a delinquent father to be prosecuted for delinquent child support. I have heard many stories from numerous divorced women with kids (dated a few, years ago) complaining about their exes are not paying or behind on child support. Do I buy food or pay the rent? Do I belittle my ex in front of the kids? The a-hole never pays child support on time I can’t take off from my job to drag him into court. The hoops and hurdles to get them to pay support was nuts. The men will win a larger percentage these battles..Will women truly receive Justice? It will never happen, the hypocrites run the asylum.
How about the babies born with alcoholic and drug addition. My wife and I have a family friend who would take care of these babies. Nonstop crying in pain if you put them down to sleep. She would sleep with the babies and hold them close to 12 b hours straight. How many couples are going to say wow a addicted baby hon I want her!. Most of them grow up with severe learning difficulties that will plague them for the rest of their life’s.Who but the true devoted person would step up to take in these babies? You want more of them? Typical pro-birthers – spare the baby but hey someone else can deal with the problems after they are born.
Everyone points to killing a baby and how horrible it is. Having a abortion is more about the well off and the powerful having the power to abort a baby at their whim.and the impoverished being punished for having sex and having no power to decide what is right for their life.