A woman’s body, a woman’s choice. We’ve all heard it, we all know it, or at least we think we know it. In fact, this phrase, a woman’s body, a woman’s choice has been repeated into our ears so many times it has lost it’s meaning, and has taken on a new purpose. What it means now, after millions of repetitions, in print and in voice, in a modern zeitgeist, is: shut up and do what you’re told.
That’s what it means when you hear, or when you read the words, a woman’s body a woman’s choice. It means, shut up and do what you’re told.
But if we are to parse that statement, and dig into its purely grammatical meaning, it turns out to be one of the foundations of ethical principal.
This is the principal of self ownership.
I own myself. Just as you own yourself. That means I own my body, which is a natural part of myself.
Similarly, you own your body, because it is a natural part of you. That means, you also own, by natural right, the labor and the product of the labor of your own body. What you create, you own.
However, this does not extend to the ownership of people. People own themselves. Even when they are infants without the developed capacity to articulate or to act meaningfully on their own behalf.
The idea sometimes expressed that a parent owns their child, if interpreted literally, is an obscenity.
A parent is steward of that child, and as a parent, bears responsibility for protecting that child from harm, as well as caring for the child’s needs as they develop into a fully self actualized person.
So we return to : a woman’s body, a woman’s choice. Really, this should be expressed as a person’s body, a person’s choice, because if we are to read this literally, using “woman” then we are saying by implication that only women can exercise the basic principal of self ownership, and that non-women, which implies men, that men cannot exercise the principle of self ownership.
In western philosophical tradition, and in western law, there is a dictum, usually expressed in latin which states “Expressio unius est exclusio alterius”
which means, the The expression of one thing is the exclusion of another. Anyone interested can go look this up at the web site legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com if they want to. Or if you have a lawyer friend, ask them.
If we apply this principle to a number of common-knowledge social dictums, what does it reveal in our comprehension of those familiar ideals.
The white ribbon campaign is the name of an international anti violence program, producing public service announcements, literature, writing policy white papers, endowing scholarships and mounting anti violence campaigns on university and college campuses all over the world.
They describe themselves in their own literature as : the largest effort in the world of men working to end violence against women.
However, a visit to the US DOJ bureau of justice statistics website will show anyone with a functional internet connection that for every type of violent crime, and in every age range, men are the majority of the victims of violence. But the white ribbon campaign is – in their own rhetoric : the largest effort in the world of men working to end violence against women. Not the largest effort to end violence, not even an effort, large or small to end violence, but to end violence against women. Even though, men weather the majority of violent victimization.
Article 1 of the united nations universal declaration of human rights reads as follows.
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
Article 2 of the universal declaration of human rights reads :
“Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.”
And article 3 reads as follows :
“Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”
Article 4 talks about slavery, article 5 talks about torture, article 6 deals with equal recognition under the law. And so on, but lets go back to article 3 for a minute. While the UN does things I strongly disagree with, the principals I’ve listed from the universal declaration of human rights are not an area I find cause for dispute. These principals are not controversial, they are basic and self evident.
Article three states : Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person. This is one of the two most succinct article in the entire charter, tied for brevity with article 9.
But what does security of person mean? Simply, it means freedom from harm, and from violence against their person.
But we must stop violence against women.
“One of the, maybe the most, elementary of moral principles is that of universality, that is, If something’s right for me, it’s right for you; if it’s wrong for you, it’s wrong for me. Any moral code that is even worth looking at has this at it’s core.”
Those are not my words, but I stand behind them.
This doesn’t mean if I like chocolate cake, you too much like chocolate cake, it means that if freedom from harm or from violence is the right of one group of people, then freedom from harm and violence is a the right of all people.
But we have such things as the “largest effort in the world of men working to end violence against women“.
The expression of one thing is the exclusion of another.
Let’s not forget: “Her body; her choice”. This neat little catch phrase doesn’t explicitly mention that her choice includes the standard practice of enforcing the agreement of a man whose participation is not his choice, and whose legally forced funding of her choice is not his legal right.
And no, the choice to have sex is not the same as the choice to reproduce.
How about this: “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people”.
Expressio unius est exclusio alterius. Translated again, that means The expression of one thing is the exclusion of another.
The radical notion that men are not people. And sadly, this is not today a radical notion.
But this is why it is necessary to begin from first principals.
If it’s wrong for one, it’s wrong for another. And any moral code that is even worth looking at has this principal of universality at it’s core.
Let’s consider another basic ethical first principal.
This is sometimes called “non violence” but that expression is sloppy, to the point almost of being menaingless.
Violence exists, a fact of life which can be confirmed by cursory observation. Just saying non violence isnt too useful.
This doesn’t become meaningful until we become a bit more specific, and state clearly that the non-initiation of violence is a fundamental element of not simply ethics, or morality, but of ethical behavior.
Why specify behavior? Simple, because if this is all just a game of verbal badminton, then this discussion is as useful as a nail cast from lead. It looks like a nail, but try using it to build anything in the real world.
But non-initiation of violence thus isn’t simply a nice collection of words, its something to be put into practical application, thus, it is a preferable behavior.
Stephan Molyneux calls this Universally Preferable Behaviour, however, lets consider it simply preferable behavior for anyone who’s goal is to foster peace, live happily, and to not inflict suffering and conflict on others.
Non initiation of violence it is quite evidently not preferable to some people, but by observation, we can see that these are people whose goals include the fostering of conflict, increasing suffering, human damage, et-cetera.
This unfortunately provides a lot of wiggle room for arguments such as initiation of violence can be a tool in the pursuit of longer term peaceful outcomes.
In other words, the ends sometimes justify the means.
Well, no, they don’t. Suffer today, and tomorrow your reward comes. That con-game is at least 5 thousand years old, and its a con game. The future doesn’t exist. Now exists. Any rationalization that initiation of violence now, serves a better outcome in the future depends on hiding the fact that the only thing which actually exists is the present, and that’s where violence is initiated.
But lets return to our principal, the non initiation of violence – and take it out of the airy-fairy real of abstract bullshit, and make it real. It’s not just words, its practical, so it becomes , borrowing again from
the guy with the haircut, the non initiation of violence becomes universally preferable behavior.
Back to the principal of universality. The most elementary of moral principles is that of universality. That is; if something’s right for me, it’s right for you; if it’s wrong for you, it’s wrong for me. Any moral code that is even worth looking at has this at it’s core.
Now let’s apply this filter to an often repeated element of public rhetoric. She deserved it. Usually this is a statement referring to a violence or harm or injury’s infliction on a person, denoted in this case as female by the word she.
She deserved it.
This is not intellectually challenging or controversial, it is simply and universally repugnant. She deserved it – issued as a statement in reference to some incident of harm or violence is simply wrong, it is morally repulsive.
This is not difficult, and it is not controversial. It is simple, and everyone listening understands it, whether they will admit it or not.
But what about this?
He deserved it.
In this case we’re talking about a man, who while he was not murdered, was profoundly and brutally mutilated – and when the words “he deserved it” were uttered in commentary on a day time television show, the audience exploded into hysterical laughter.
The charges against the assailant in this case were felony torture, and aggravated mayhem
One of the hosts of that show, when challenged on her open contempt and gleeful celebration of the permanent and debilitating wilful mutilation on that “he” said – and I quote: “it’s different”. she also said “I do think it’s quite fabulous” as the audience squealed in obvious delight.
Any moral code that is even worth looking at has this principal of universality at it’s core. This is me quoting somebody else again, but this statement is incontestable. This is not an advanced or abstract complicated concept, it is basic. This is understandable by toddlers.
But, according to a celebrity, an entertainer, and the studio audience to roared with delighted agreement at the commentary of that host, “it’s different”.
Now this discussion is not intended as an indictment of that celebrity, nor, even of the individual members of that television show’s audience, attending that episode’s taping.
This is an indictment of a public ethic in which taking a sharp instrument and mutilating an infant girl is properly recognized as the mutilation of a child, but where public figures can argue for the mutilation of boys without drawing public censure and scorn onto themselves as advocates of child mutilation.
This is the indictment of a the common sense that human beings killed only matter enough to talk about as humans at all when they own the correct genitalia. Among the dead refugees were women and children. The male dead do not merit mention.
And of course your feelings will tell you how tragic it is when women and children die. In fact, according to one of the most socially influential people in the world: “The truth is that which feels right”.
It was the great philosopher Winfrey who said this, and for the most part, it is accepted uncritically. It doesn’t require intellect, or reason, or honesty or courage to slurp up the empty self praise of this solipsism. Whatever you feel like, that’s the truth. However, this expressed view does have the singular benefit of flattering and controlling adults who retain the intellectual acumen of tiny toddlers.
And of course, if this empty flattery is combined with a narrative of us, versus them, using a real or an imaginary other, it renders the abrogation of the humanity and the human rights of a designated demographic of OTHER, completely palatable – because the truth is that which feels right.
This by the way is the mechanism by which societies justify such things slavery, and genocide.
It is also, incidentally why first principals matter, it is why they are important. Such as the universality of ethics,
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
It’s why a stated goal of stopping violence against women is unsound.
It is why the idea of her body, her choice is ethically unsound.
It is why; the truth is that which “feels right”, is execrably inexcusable, coming from a black female billionaire whose early career included the emblematic 1980’s film about slavery.
And why any coherent or practical discussion of human rights must begin from first principals.
Addendum: I mistakenly referred to the movie “The Color Purple” as a film on the topic of slavery. In fact, this movie’s sadly predicable topic was the mistreatment of black women by black men. However, Winfrey’s position, as a black billionaire in a country with a history of black (and white) slavery gives her no possible excuse for saying “..the truth feels right..”