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Mom and Pop(ulation)

Photograph Source: stained glass window (12th century) in Saint-Julien cathedral – Le Mans, France – CC BY-SA 3.0

As wealth consolidates and faith in all things fades, the religious right only grows more fantastical, punitive and apocalyptic. Indeed, their new mascot is not the poor and persecuted Palestinian Jesus Christ but a billionaire celebrity from New York who would only believe in God if he saw him in the mirror. For many people in the United States “pro-life” is not only their most important, but their only political belief. There is hardly a more convicted subgroup and as a result, Republicans can do basically anything they want to the working class as long as they harp on the right’s “populist” priorities of abortion, guns and immigration.

The Democrats, always caring more about Republicans of all stripes than the left, or even their own party, have since abandoned abortion has a politically toxic issue. It was a Democratic Governor in Louisiana who just banned abortion entirely (the six weeks date being a near impossibility to detect). The name of the Governor is John Bel Edwards, who just sounds like an alt-right version of the Presidential candidate John Edwards, who was much maligned for his own child out of wedlock. Of course, abortion clinics have been closing at such rapid rates under neoliberalism, it can be austerity, not criminal justice, that brings women to heel.

Christianity has some explaining to do. It often makes less sense than even the politically agnostic Democratic Party. Take the creation story. God creates a great life for Eve and Adam. But rather than just give for the sake of Christian altruism, God has to be a dick and plant one tree that they cannot enjoy. Did God do this just to prove his superiority? If God was all-powerful, why even give humans any agency at all? Perhaps, to punish them.

So, the serpent comes along, and convinces Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge. Eating from this tree makes one aware of good and evil. Most significantly, one becomes aware of shame. Eve and Adam are naked, and unaware of their own nudity until after they eat from the tree. This story has a striking similarity to the Dave Chapelle bit that we are more rational than ever immediately after masturbation. Indeed, God leaves humans in a state of ecstasy, giving us all we could want. The only sin is to finish.

The question one to ask the anti-choice crowd is this: if life is so good, why is sex, which is the creation of life, so bad? Too many people across the political and religious spectrum believe that humans are inherently sinful, immoral and selfish. If this was true, why would the act of creating other human beings feel so good, and in fact be in many ways the driving force behind all of our life choices? One can even extend this logic to simple acts of giving, caring and loving that are nonsexual. Why does one always feel good during times of kindness and camaraderie? Because humans are biologically programmed to form bonds and love one another. It is only this soul-wrenching system of capitalism that disincentivizes altruism and celebrates individualism.

The creation story begins to make sense when one traces the common thread behind nearly all organizational structures in human history: male control of women. Because of her desire for the serpent, the female, as a class, is destined to a life of subordination to her husband as well as pains during childbirth. The man, who was merely the victim of the woman’s plot, is destined to hard labor for life. God sounds like a capitalist here. Self-righteous about his charity too. The moment humans forget where they stand, they are forced into slavery. To make matters worse, the supposed crime of the forbidden fruit was planted by the billionaire savior himself, who predictably put the most blame on the sexually infused but also dehumanized “Other”—-that is the serpent, whose punishment was to lie on his stomach.

Was the forbidden fruit that Eve ate sex in form? If so, how progressive of her to invite Adam into the fold to what appeared to be a very riveting, but also heteronormative, sexual correspondence between a naked Eve and a serpent, who at this time was not chained to the ground, but free to take up any position he pleases. Let’s hope the modern sexual definition of the word “knowledge” was used, in particular by the serpent and his forked tongue. Sadly, a double standard of sex remained. It is casually mentioned that Adam has other children besides the one he later has with Eve. Why was this not a sin?

Perhaps there is some redemption for the woman when Mary clearly makes Joseph a cuckold and has a child without ever having sex with her husband. There is a darker side to the story, which explains why Mary is so revered. Being a young girl, perhaps as young as 12, Mary was raped by a Roman soldier—a classic imperialist crime of violence that few liberals are opposing in Venezuela, Iran and elsewhere at this present moment. Mary would have been stoned to death for this, but Joseph, showing us how we can use our male privilege for the common good, decided to raise the child as his own. The establishment was unable to forgive Mary for being raped, or accept that a child born out of wedlock could be worthy, a miraculous birth by “God” was said to have occurred. Mary had to suffer this lie in silence, and this story may explain Jesus’ progressive views towards prostitutes.

Making sense of the Bible is tedious work, and that is before we try doing it “word for word”, as a pre-Twitter Fundamentalist might. Yet in both those fundamental stories it is the absence of sex, particularly in women, that is seen as a virtue, whether that be pre-knowledge Eve or Virgin Mary. The same logic is brought to American schools which have never really existed outside of big market Christianity and choose to teach sex using the abstinence model. That is, the only thing you need to know about sex is: don’t have it. This approach mirrors our philosophy of teaching the genocide of Native Americans that formed this country. Act as if it doesn’t exist and it will go away.

The abstinence model not only creates millions of young people, primarily women, without financial prospects upon having a baby, it also, oddly enough, is a method that seems anti-life. Now we should clarify here. America, in all things, from food to architecture, tends to focus on quantity, not quality. That is the mentality of an Empire, which believes it is entitled to all of the world’s space. It also explains our investment in the useless practice of space travel. Maybe though it is why we could establish such grand national parks.

Quantity, not quality, is everywhere in America. Most notably fast food which is infecting the world now and putting local food service workers out of work. Or superhero movies. Run fast, lift strong, fly high, art bad. All of this goes back to the open frontier. The open theft of land manifested in private property. And the vastness of this land which accounted for the lack of unaccountability.

The conservative strain of thought tends to value life in its quantity form, rather than quality. Conservatives are very afraid of corporate media’s race-baiting threats such as immigrants, terrorists and gangsters. They too are afraid of the government violently attacking, so they keep guns to protect themselves. Not to mention, yes, they see abortion as the evilest act imaginable, precisely because of their paranoia that is quite irrational, given that no one living can be aborted.

But amongst all this fear, where is the appreciation for the regulatory state, the public school system or government programs that sustain and nurture the quality of life in general. The reasoning remains too focused on death and birth, and treats the life in between as somewhat inconsequential. Hence, they would rather make quantity of life (many babies, lots of security) than aim for quality (public health, demilitarized communities).

Regardless. One has to concede something to conservatives. When it comes to the creation of life, conservatives get it right: more is better. Now, let’s be careful. Freedom, as much as that word is polluted nowadays, is a good thing. The freedom of the consenting individual that can choose whether to fall in love (and with whom), whether to raise a family, and whether to have sex and use sexual protection. Breaking free of these conventions is good for society because choice, especially when it comes to big things like this, always makes us happier. In this way, our society is more free than any other time, and that, to conservative’s confusion, is actually mostly thanks to the invention of birth control.

So, this is not a conservative shame exercise. To each their own. But, for the sake of exercise, with hopefully no one taking this exercise too seriously, let’s ask the question: do conservatives get creation right?

John Stuart Mill’s utilitarianism is the only way to measure ethics. Utility is basically the highest level of pleasure or the lowest level of pain. It’s a good system because it doesn’t evaluate individual pleasure, but communal pleasure. An action has a positive utility if it gives pleasure to one person. But if it gives pleasure to two people, it has twice the utility. The concept of self-interest, or even societal hierarchy evaporates here as the happiness of one person as no one’s happiness is more valuable than anyone else’s.

Hence, a large corporation who gives all its money to one person at the top fails this moral test. Yes, one person may be happy, but think about the diminishing returns of such a system. How much value is a dollar to a billionaire in comparison to a worker living paycheck to paycheck, if they are paid at all. The utility a dollar can provide a billionaire is infinitely small, while the utility a dollar has for a poor person is much higher—particularly if this person lacks food, shelter or safety. A similar argument is used for economic stimulation. A poor person is more likely to use their dollar than a rich person is. That’s fine, and may be true, but it remains unconvincing unless of course we value the economy more than happiness.

The utilitarianism system has three steps. The first is to list your possible actions, the second is to calculate the utility of all of these actions and the third step is to do the right action, or the action with the greatest utility. An important facet of utilitarianism is that it values the ends of an action, rather than the motive. Mill chooses to focus on utility or happiness because he believes that all actions are performed with the purpose of achieving it. The utility of an action is determined by its ability to produce pleasure and alleviate pain:“The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure”.

Some people have described Mill’s approach as a “doctrine of a swine”. In other words, they do not believe that human’s decisions could only value animalistic desires like pleasure and pain. Mill explains that human’s pleasure and pains are richer than that of animals: “Few human creatures would consent to be changed into any of the lower animals, for a promise of the fullest allowance of a beast’s pleasures”.

Conservatives and even most liberals could learn from Mill’s emphasis on pleasure and pain as the only two things that are important in life. We are, after all, animals, and driven by animal desires. Putting ourselves above the animal kingdom is dangerous moral ground as it only justifies the genocide and enslavement of the animal kingdom in modern society—not to mention the genocide and enslavement of other ‘dehumanized’ humans. It is no surprise that the biggest barrier to environmental movements outside of corporatism is the inherent racism of many of the assumptions.

Another critique of Utilitarianism is that happiness is an unattainable goal. Mill asserts that happiness need not be a state of constant excitement and bliss but more like: “an existence made up of few and transitory pains, many and various pleasures, with a decided predominance of the active over the passive, and having as the foundation of the whole, not to expect more from life than it is capable of bestowing”.

First, let’s assume two things: happiness is not more complex than pure pleasure, it is merely the ability to sustain pleasure for long periods of time. This is not necessarily material pleasure, for sustaining this, whether in sex, food, comfort or even intellectual stimulation remains rather elusive for long periods of time. Rather, happiness is the ability to avoid pain and we could define someone who is not suffering supremely as relatively happy. Given most of the world is desperately poor, stressed and disempowered, few are happy even by this standard. Thus, we could conclude that the act of not suffering is about the best we can do.

On a side note, this is the best philosophical argument I have heard for vegetarianism as well. If animals feel pain (which they do), then eating animals who are raised in slave-like conditions is unethical. It need not matter the intelligence of said animals (likely greatly underestimated and misunderstood). Rather, we should oppose all pain on the basis of pain and support all pleasure on the basis of pleasure, not necessarily on the ability to understand or voice such pain.

It is evident how the rich’s endless pursuit of pleasure is elusive, temporal and ultimately doomed to fail as a sustainable practice. The word sustainable refers to the world’s resources, obviously, but also to the rich’s capacity to achieve happiness. Rather than focus on constant pleasure, the rich would be wise to ask: why am I feeling pain and what can I do to avoid this pain? The rich may discover that their pain comes from the majority of humans in tremendous suffering under their rule and that to really be happy in the long term, they need not buy another boat they will soon get bored of, but give up their money. Don’t count on this realization.

In fact, if we calculate utility by the greatest happiness for the most amount of people, nothing would be more moral than a rich person giving up their money—or having it taken from them by force. Don’t count on this either, as the rich are rapidly gaining control of the government. It remains however, deeply moral, to topple the rich—by any means necessary.

Another feature of utilitarianism is that there are different levels of pleasure and pain: “Of two pleasures, if there to be one to which all or almost all who have experience of both give a decided preference, irrespective of any feeling of moral obligation to prefer it, that is the more desirable pleasure”. The aspect of the utilitarianism that will have the greatest presence on the issue of abortion we are discussing today is that the agent’s own utility is weighed with the utility of the greater world: “what the assailants of utilitarianism seldom have the justice to acknowledge, that the happiness which forms the utilitarian standard of what is right in conduct, is not the agent’s own happiness, but that of all concerned”.

At first glance this seems like an anti-abortion argument. Clearly, more humans means more happiness for greater amounts of people. After all, one human by definition has more happiness than zero humans. Humans may be very sad, but one has to assume that 99% of the time human life is better than the alternative (death) simply because so few many people kill themselves. So, in theory there is an argument by fascists that by strict measures of happiness the already living woman has no say. Her life already exists and the utility within it doesn’t outweigh potential life. Not so fast.

Even if more life was good, why is abortion so bad? How is it any different than not having children at all, as poor Virgin Mary was attempting to do?

Take in mind that is merely an exercise in the “ethics” and that above all it is extremely unethical about a government controlling the bodies of its citizens. This approach will hopefully make clear that not only is it unethical for a government to have such power, but there is nothing unethical about getting an abortion in the first place. But hang with me here as there will be some engagement with the right.

There is something deeply unnatural about the population politics going on across the political spectrum. No one has written about this better than John Steppling, who gets some of his inspiration from Wrong Kind of Green. The reaction to climate change is always population control. The right-wing has a very obvious xenophobic twist to this which only values women for their ability to produce the right kind of babies.

The left-wing argument for population control is different, but it will not have a different application. Sure, the left may believe climate change, not minorities and poor people are the problem, but we have to ask a serious question: will the real-life application of population politics ever be left-wing?

The first issue one has to have with any left-wing argument on population practicality should be about race. There are stereotypes of breeding and sexual deviancy in general. But also the real government policy of population control, whether that be sterilization, genocide or anything within the military-industrial complex. Who is targeted? The poor and brown, always. So if the left really wants to control the population, these people are the first to go. So what next? Does the left want to start regulating the sexual activities of the poor?

There are progressive solutions to climate change, and there are conservative ones. It’s not just about whether climate change is real or not. This is only a debate in the most right-wing place in the world, the United States. No, the real debate going on is whether or not we have too many people to sustain the planet. To which I say, who cares. The problem at worst, seems to solve itself.

The obvious answer to this is that population control is horrible, in all its shapes and forms, and that is especially true of anti-choice politics. Saying the world is too populated accomplishes what, exactly? What are people supposed to do with that information? Not that it even is that true. The military itself, and the 1% generally, do all the polluting anyways.

What does the left-wing population control person have to say to this? It goes beyond Elizabeth Warren’s counterproductive green military plan. There is a deep reactionary root of fear here, even in the best intentioned of people.

This is the sort of irreligious nihilism that can make anyone sick. It’s the hyper-rationalization of society that commodifies anything. Saying the world has too many people implies that the only worth of a person is their carbon footprint. It’s an oddly materialist and reductionist argument for supposed Marxists. It also promotes a war-time mentality. If there are too many people, well, there won’t be enough resources for me. So let’s get rid of other people, right? Everyone says these population things but no one thinks them through to their logical and implied conclusions.

The real threat is the 1%. They hoard the resources. If there comes a day when there really are too many people, then we’ll all just die sooner, right? Are there any politics that could actually be applied to modify this in an ethical way? Rather than policing the poor, which at best, is like squeezing a dried fruit for juice, let’s take a look at where we could actually get more resources from: excessive wealth.

This is not really the point though, even. Even if it were true that there were too many people (which it might be soon), then there simply would be no way to solve these issues “politically” outside of Trump’s fascism. Everyone says Trump denies climate change, but let’s be honest. He is taking the fear-mongering of climate change people to their logical conclusion. Too many people. Stealing all your shit. Not enough resources. We have to do it. And it’s easier if we don’t apologize or reflect.

Statistics flash in the news now: in blank amount of time the world will be uninhabitable. Which may be a fine argument to recycle, but one has to wonder if climate change is just the next predictable fear-mongering tactic designed to divide and conquer the working class. Sure, it might be real, but who cares? Immigrants really need to be fed off the public dollar at times, but who cares? Or more acutely, if one does care, what exactly are you implying? The question should not be how perilous our future is but how will we respond to it.

The economists of today seek to maximize economic efficiency and production as if there is a value in this in and of itself. The question we should always be asking is this: does an economic theory increase liberation for all living creatures? If the answer is yes, the economic theory is legitimate. Clearly, from an ecological perspective, there is a natural limit on production and we have far surpassed it and any utility gained from it will be short-lived.

But questioning modern agriculture and energy production is far different from questioning the very existence of human life. Yes, a human may be producing a lot of pollution, and sure down the line maybe this makes it so two humans can’t exist, but that’s just thinking too much.

Climate change presents itself, in theory, as an unlucky coincidence. There should be no natural law that states that overproducing the earth will naturally lead to a breakdown of the entire ecosystem through external forces (global warming). The reason global warming must be qualified as a coincidence is that while overproduction of the earth may lead to the destruction of said habitat, what we have come to know as carbon emissions surely took some scientific understanding (which the corporate class did happen to have, but turned a blind eye to).

Rather than call climate change a natural effect of violence against the earth, we should call it an act of fate. Fate appears to run contrary to the liberal bourgeoise narrative: climate change is the fault of those stupid enough not to believe in it. Climate change, as currently distributed in the mass media, is just another act of terror by the rich and powerful. The act of not believing in climate change is the first step in restoring hope and vitality to a population that has been told repeatedly to wallow in despair about an inevitable conclusion.

Yes, we live in the age of science and reason. But nothing is inevitable. Fate interrupts everything. Why is climate change fate? Precisely because the effects of climate change are not direct. What we are doing now will work downstream. A hurricane in Texas comes from a certain amount of pollution we do in Afghanistan 30 year prior, right? The science is pretty basic here. It’s not exactly visible.

Either one can perceive truth directly through the five senses or one must rely on faith in some higher power. These are the only two ways of believing. Therefore, believing in (human-made) climate change is no less plausible than believing in God. These systems supposedly run against each other. Yet both are systems of “undeniable truth” and therefore top-down propaganda. For all of the above, we must believe in what we do not see and trust in an authority that holds no legitimacy outside of force.

And yes, this is true, even for climate change scientists. Take for example that the only polluters who really matter are the very rich. They believe in climate change. And they build walls to protect their properties—from both the climate and climate refugees—who are dangerous only because they are starving. So, their faith in climate change is there. But really, is it only faith in themselves? If they really believed in what the world was telling them would they not only see the rising seas but also the boats of drowning children fleeing drought at home? Really, you have to ask, what on earth does the educated class believe in?

They only believe in force. That is the entirety of it. We see that the only true belief is that the world is ending and that crime will follow. It is not exactly science. Has there been a clear-headed scientific response that avoids panic, hyperbole and above all, fear of the poor? No, of course not. Because the whole purpose of the manufactured response to this crisis is the same reason this crisis occurred, or even was manufactured on purpose. It is to keep down the poor. So how exactly are we exiting the loop here?

Now this is not to say that there aren’t levels of realness. Degrees of truth. But none of them have any relation to the shared purpose of all campaigns of terror by the rich. Yes, climate change is infinitely more dangerous than say a caravan of immigrants. Although to be fair they have different audiences. The entire point of criticism is to examine not what is inevitable, but what is possible. Climate change, according to everyone in power, which remains, one supposes, the only form of truth, well, according to these people, it is all inevitable.

Fine, then. We agree then climate change is not what should be criticized. One side may view it as inevitable, the other as impossible. But there’s no difference there. There is no difference between opposites that cannot change on their own. If the conclusion is forgone, fate will prove the victor, which makes the fight over these facts inconsequential. Rather, let us look at the radical possibility of all humans to escape the tyranny of ruling class propaganda which asserts that there cannot be any agency for the working person because survival supersedes not only the imagination necessary for change but the soul itself.

The discourse around climate change fast forwards the narrative to survival and leaves one in a glazed state of resignation or in a preposterous state of denial. This is the terminal diagnosis that threatens to end the beautiful life of the working person before it has even began in earnest.

So, this is all to say there is one thing the right gets right: more people is better than less. The right focuses too much on life and death. Easily spooked by terrorists and conspiracies. But at least there is an attitude that still values a life, just for being a life.

But being pro-life is far different from being anti-choice, or at least it should be. There is, and one may argue with any of these stages, but three distinct stages of existence. The first is before one is conceived when one is in the hands of the creator, who is, in this patriarchal world, considered to be male. There then is the stage of nine months where one is in a completely matriarchal universe—that is inside of a woman’s body. There then follows life on earth, which is also in the male control. Rather than God, you have man controlling the world.

Now it seems fishy that the right could have so little regard for the injustice when man rules and be so focused on the woman’s brief reign over life. One can only conclude that the strictly pro-life arguments are quite sexist. These men in power should be more focused on life before and after pregnancy. How does one critique life after pregnancy? Critique capitalism.

But what about before pregnancy? This is where we get into the right’s preaching of abstinence, which, targets and even sexualizes children. If the right really believed in life at all costs, why restrict sex of any kind? It is because the right would rather keep women and children in men’s control through the family. It is therefore that we see they want life, but on certain terms of control.

What is it about abortion that the right opposes? Take this thought experiment. What is more ethical? 1 child and 100 abortions? Or 0 children and 0 abortions? I love to ask this one to right-wingers. Because this really forces them to choose which side of themselves they want to go to. Is it the side that values life or the side that wants to restrict woman’s freedom, and therefore restrict the utility of life for everyone.

It is clear that having 1 child and 100 abortions is far more ethical. First and maybe foremost because this means that said woman had sex at least 101 times! But also because the real issue of life is resolved.

The anti-choice argument is puzzlingly scientific. I liked the right better when they were denying the racially charged climate change fear-mongering. Does life really begin the moment an ultrasound can be taken? These people don’t even take vaccines. A more rational argument that each of us has the capacity to create human life so each of us have an obligation to do it (although once again, no ethical application of this rule of ethics). But the truth is that there really is no difference between using a condom and getting an abortion other than gender. Both are ways to control the body of a living individual to prevent a potential life from occurring. Perhaps not ethical in isolation but given the combination of male sexual desire and male’s tendency to abandon children, a life without condoms would be even more unethical.

Is there any difference between having an abortion and not having sex at all, which the right teaches as a virtue? Both deny potential life. And neither are murder. The only difference is the passing of responsibility. In abstinence, life remains potential, in (man) God’s hands. Therefore one can never blame God for not giving life because he is a man. But as soon as life passes to the woman, we assign murder. Abortion as murder? Life is not proven yet. In the ultrasound phase there is nothing more proof than some postmodern scientific garbage that doesn’t say anything about the human soul.

Did God ever measure life by a heartbeat? No. That’s ridiculous. God measures souls. After all, your heartbeat stops and you go to heaven. Why, as soon as your heartbeat begins, are you a human? Goes to show that religion is dead. Even on the right. We are living in a capitalist wasteland that believes in nothing outside of punishment. Jesus lost His heartbeat after He was crucified. But He wasn’t dead, obviously.

I’ll give this to the right: the hyper-rationalization of society could drive anyone to paranoia. When liberals are saying we shouldn’t have babies because all humans pollute and therefore take away from the rest of us we can see how and why liberals accepted mass criminalization of primarily black youth in recent decades. It is this logic of the child as the criminal just for existing in a state of poverty. The same logic is applied to poor mothers, and is especially evident in this new wave of anti-choice legislation.

So, in conclusion. Let’s be pro-choice and pro-life. Support as many lives as possible and support as many choices within these lives as we can. Climate change and the politics around it imply a contradiction between the quantity of life and quality of life. We are supposed to choose between life (lots of people) and good life (lots of choices). This emphasis on choice over the community by the left is a neoliberal death trap that guarantees a life of pointless loneliness that only discovers its futility when one is old and it is too late to regain meaning. The right isn’t any better when it promotes a hierarchal community that can only function peacefully with unequal power relations. Women are then treated as the creators of the community, not equal citizens of it. This control of the woman’s body is the best example of these regressive politics driven by fear—and unfortunately, it exists on both sides of the political spectrum. When times are tough, we get cynical and aim to control life rather than to celebrate it. In order to maximize utility for all, we would be wise to remember why the squeeze is on in the first place: the 1% and the wealth they control.

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Nick Pemberton writes and works from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves to receive feedback at pemberton.nick@gmail.com 

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