Tag Archives: Rick Santorum

Hyperbole, Again

English: Protesters at the Taxpayer March on W...

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Hyperbole is a rhetorical device in which a person uses an exaggeration or overstatement in order to create a negative or positive feeling. Hyperbole is often combined with a rhetorical analogy. For example, a person might say that someone told “the biggest lie in human history” in order to create a negative impression. It should be noted that not all vivid or extreme language is hyperbole-if the extreme language matches the reality, then it is not hyperbole. So, if the lie was actually the biggest lie in human history, then it would not be hyperbole to make that claim.

People often make use of hyperbole when making rhetorical analogies/comparisons. A rhetorical analogy involves comparing two (or more) things in order to create a negative or positive impression.  For example, a person might be said to be as timid as a mouse or as smart as Einstein. By adding in hyperbole, the comparison can be made more vivid (or possibly ridiculous). For example, a professor who assigns a homework assignment that is due the day before spring break might be compared to Hitler. Speaking of Hitler, hyperbole and rhetorical analogies are stock items in political discourse.

Some Republicans have decided that Obamacare is going to be their main battleground. As such, it is hardly surprising that they have been breaking out the hyperbole in attacking it. Dr. Ben Carson launched an attack by seeming to compare Obamacare to slavery, but the response to this led him to “clarify” his remarks to mean that he thinks Obamacare is not like slavery, but merely the worst thing to happen to the United States since slavery. This would, of course, make it worse than all the wars, the Great Depression, 9/11 and so on.

While he did not make a slavery comparison, Ted Cruz made a Nazi comparison during his filibuster. As Carson did, Cruz and his supporters did their best to “clarify” the remark.

Since slavery and Nazis had been taken, Rick Santorum decided to use the death of Mandela as an opportunity to compare Obamacare to Apartheid.

When not going after Obamacare, Obama himself is a prime target for hyperbole. John McCain, who called out Cruz on his Nazi comparison, could not resist making use of some Nazi hyperbole in his own comparison. When Obama shook Raul Castro’s hand, McCain could not resist comparing Obama to Chamberlain and Castro to Hitler.

Democrats and Independents are not complete strangers to hyperbole, but they do not seem to wield it quite as often (or as awkwardly) as Republicans. There have been exceptions, of course-the sweet allure of a Nazi comparison is bipartisan.  However, my main concern here is not to fill out political scorecards regarding hyperbole. Rather, it is to discuss why such uses of negative hyperbole are problematic.

One point of note is that while hyperbole can be effective at making people feel a certain way (such as angry), its use often suggests that the user has little in the way of substance. After all, if something is truly bad, then there would seem to be no legitimate need to make exaggerated comparisons. In the case of Obamacare, if it is truly awful, then it should suffice to describe its awfulness rather than make comparisons to Nazis, slavery and Apartheid. Of course, it would also be fair to show how it is like these things. Fortunately for America, it is obviously not like them.

One point of moral concern is the fact that making such unreasonable comparisons is an insult to the people who suffered from or fought against such evils. After all, such comparisons transform such horrors as slavery and Apartheid into mere rhetorical chips in the latest political game. To use an analogy, it is somewhat like a person who has played Call of Duty comparing himself to combat veterans of actual wars. Out of respect for those who suffered from and fought against these horrors, they should not be used so lightly and for such base political gameplay.

From the standpoint of critical thinking, such hyperbole should be avoided because it has no logical weight and serves to confuse matters by playing on the emotions. While that is the intent of hyperbole, this is an ill intent. While rhetoric does have its legitimate place (mainly in making speeches less boring) such absurd overstatements impede rather than advance rational discussion and problem solving.

 

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Church & State: Immaculate Contraception

 

Margaret Sanger Deutsch: Margaret Sanger (* 1879)

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Back in 1914 Margaret Sanger included information about birth control in the June issue of her magazine, The Woman Rebel. She was arrested under the Comstock Law and her ally, the anarchist Emma Goldman, was soon after arrested for the same crime. Fast forward to 2012 and another battle  over birth control is brewing (or, rather, being brewed).

Rick Santorum has made it clear that he is against contraception and Obama and the Catholic Church recently locked horns over one aspect of the health reform law. This law requires that health insurance plans offer free birth control. Since this would include Catholic affiliated hospitals and schools, the Catholic Church has been pushing back against the law.

Not surprisingly, this is being portrayed as an attack on religious liberty and the values of Catholicism. However, it is rather important to note that the law does not apply to churches, but rather only to institutions, such as hospitals and schools, that serve a large number of non-Catholics and also receive federal money.

As such, it is rather tempting to say that this is actually a manufactured issue. After all, the law simply requires that these institutions follow the same laws as everyone else and these institutions can presumably elect to refuse the federal money an thus avoid the requirement they regard as onerous. Also, churches are exempt from this and there is no requirement that they change their religious doctrines.

It might be replied that this requirement still violates the ethical views of the church by requiring institutions affiliated with the church to provide services and products the church rejects. One obvious reply is that if churches are entitled to be exempt from such laws based on their doctrines, then they could, for example, adopt the view that medical care is against God’s will and thus not be required to provide any medical insurance coverage at all. This, obviously enough, seems rather absurd.

The obvious reply is that the Catholic doctrine is well-established and hence they are opposed to this requirement on established moral grounds rather than merely trying to weasel out of paying for some service. This raises two questions.

The first is whether or not churches (or any groups) should be granted exemption from laws based on their moral beliefs. The second is whether or not the rejection of contraception is, in fact, a Catholic moral position.

In regards to the first question, there are good reasons for allowing said exemptions and others against it. In terms of allowing such exemptions, it does seem correct for the state to endeavor to avoid imposing on the conscience of people when possible. For example, conscientious objectors have been recognized during the time of war. Allowing the Catholic Church a contraception exception would thus seem to fall within this realm of legitimacy.

That said, there are clearly cases in which such exemptions would be absurd. For example, a group that regarded murder as morally correct would not thus be granted a murder exemption. As such, there is the challenge of determining what sort of exemptions would be acceptable, which would not and which would be absurd.

One standard (among many) that seems reasonable would be to require that the group in question actually holds to the principle and is not, for example, merely trying to get an exemption to avoid paying for legally a required service or to simply to get away with something. After all, to grant an exemption on moral grounds to a group that does not actually hold to that moral principle would seem rather unwarranted. This, of course, does raise the question about who determines the moral principles of the group. This takes me to the matter of birth control and Catholicism.

In my own experience, most Catholics have been fine with using birth control (or letting their partner use it). While my own observations over the years could be unusual, this is completely consistent with the polls showing that 98% of Catholics use some form of birth control. This certainly suggests that Obama’s view is in line with 98% of Catholics. Assuming that the Catholics do not regard their actions as immoral, it would seem that Obama’s view is thus consistent with the moral view of the majority of the Catholics and the folks who oppose this law on the basis of an alleged moral concern are the ones that are in the wrong.

It can, of course, be replied that these birth control using Catholics are immoral and that the true morality of Catholicism is against birth control. If so, the Catholic church needs to get its flocks back into the right pasture and off birth control. The obvious reply to this is that it seems to make little sense for a tiny minority of a group to define the values of the group against the beliefs and actions of the majority.

This does not, of course, address the issue of whether or not birth control is immoral. If it is, then a case could certainly be made against it. This would, of course, require arguments that address such moral concerns as the fact that the use of birth control lowers the number of abortions, the fact that its availability allows women greater control over reproduction, the fact that its availability can provide protection against disease and so on. Presumably this could be done.

Of course, God does not seem to have much of a problem with birth control. While it does fail sometimes, He could easily make it fail 100% of the time. If it was that big of a deal to Him, surely He would do things like smite holes into all condoms.

 

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Pro-Life, Pro-Environment

Human fetus, age unknown

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Here in the States we are going through the seemingly endless warm up for our 2012 presidential election. President Obama is the candidate of the Democrats and the Republicans are trying to sort out who will be their person.  The Republican candidates for being the presidential candidate are doing their best to win the hearts and minds of the folks who will anoint one of them.

In order to do this, a candidate must win over the folks who are focused on economic matters (mainly pushing for low taxes and less regulation) and those who are focused on what they regard as moral issues (pushing against abortion, same sex marriage and so on). The need to appeal to these views has caused most of the candidates to adopt the pro-life (anti-abortion) stance as well as to express a commitment to eliminating regulation. Some of the candidates have gone so far as to claim they will eliminate the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) on the grounds that regulations hurt the job creators.

On the face of it, these seems to be no tension between being pro-life and against government regulation of the sort imposed via the EPA.  A person could argue that since abortion is wrong, it is acceptable for the government to deny women the freedom to have abortions. The same person could, quite consistently it seems, then argue that the state should take a pro-choice stance towards business in terms of regulation, especially environmental regulation. However, if one digs a bit deeper, it would seem that there is a potential tension here.

In the States, the stock pro-life argument is that the act of abortion is an act of murder: innocent people are being killed. There are, of course, variations on this line of reasoning. However, the usual moral arguments are based on the notion that harm is being done to an innocent being.  When people counter with an appeal to the rights or needs of the mother, the stock reply is that these are overridden in this situation. That is, avoiding harm to the fetus (or pre-fetus) is generally more important than avoiding harm to the mother. In some cases people take this to be an absolute in that they regard abortion as never allowable. Some do allow exceptions in the case of medical necessity, rape or incest.  There are, of course, also religious arguments-but those are best discussed in another context.

If this line of reasoning is taken seriously, and I think that it should, then a person who is pro-life on these grounds would seem to be committed to extending this moral concern for life beyond the womb. Unless, of course, there is a moral change that occurs after birth that create a relevant difference that removes the need for moral concern. This, however, would seem unlikely (at least in this direction, namely from being a entity worthy of moral concern to being an entity who does not matter).

It is at this point that the matter of environmental concerns can be brought into play. Shortly before writing this I was reading an article about the environmental dangers children are exposed to, primarily in schools. These hazards include the usual suspects: lead, mercury, pesticides, arsenic, air pollution, mold, asbestos, radon, BPA, polychlorinated biphenyls, and other such things.

Currently, children are regularly exposed to a witches brew of human made chemicals and substances that have been well established as being harmful to human beings and especially harmful to children. They are also exposed to naturally occurring substances by the actions of human beings. For example, burning coal and oil release naturally occurring mercury into the air. As another example, people use naturally occurring lead and asbestos in construction. As noted above, it is well established that these substances are harmful to humans and especially harmful to children.

If someone hold the pro-life position and believes that abortion should be regulated by the state because of the harm being done, then it would thus seem to follow that they would also need to be committed to the regulation of harmful chemicals and substances, even those produced and created by businesses. After all, if the principle that warrants regulating abortion is based on the harm being done to the fetus/pre-fetus, then the same line of reasoning would also extend to the harm being done to children and adults.

If someone were to counter by saying that they are only morally concerned with the fetus/pre-fetus, then the obvious reply is that these entities are even more impacted by exposure to such chemicals and substances. As such, they would also seem to committed to accepting regulation of the environment on the same grounds that they argue for regulation of the womb.

It might be countered that these substances generally do not kill the fetus/pre-fetus or children  but rather cause defects. As such, a person could be against killing (and hence anti-abortion) but also be against regulation on the grounds that they find birth defects, retarded development and so on to be acceptable. That is, killing is not acceptable but maiming and crippling are tolerable.

This would, interestingly enough, be a potentially viable position. However, it does seem somewhat problematic for a person to be morally outraged at abortion while being willing to tolerate maiming and crippling.

It might also be argued that businesses should be freed from regulation on the utilitarian grounds that the jobs and profits created will outweigh the environmental harms being done. That is, in return for X jobs and Y profits, we can morally tolerate Z levels of contamination, pollution, birth defects, illness and so on. This is, of course, a viable option.

However, if this approach is acceptable for regulating the environment, then it would seem to also be acceptable for regulating the womb. That is, if a utilitarian approach is taken to the environment, then the same would seem to also be suitable for abortion. It would seem that if we can morally tolerate the harms resulting from a lack of regulation of the environment, then we could also tolerate the harms resulting from abortion.

Thus it would seem that a person who is pro-life and favors regulating the womb the grounds that abortion harms the innocent, then that person should also be for regulating the environment on the grounds that pollution and contamination also harm the innocent.

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