Summer reading, abortion’s effects on crime rates, two moral quandries, and something of a long tirade.

24 07 2008

I am at my in-laws surfing on their computer.  My mother and father-in-law are tied for #1 on my list of fabulous people right now.  They’ve taken all four of my little darlings to dinner and VBS three days in a row now.  And I am loving the freedom to just be myself, ALONE, for two and a half hours every evening.

The pleasure of this exercise is somewhat mitigated by my guilt.  I offer to go with them, but I think they know that deep down I don’t really want to.  And so they say no.  But then I wonder if they are saying no out of guilt, and I feel guilty for making them feel guilty, and after a while of riding this merry-go-round, I start to feel dizzy.  Guilt-induced malaise.  Nothing that can’t be cured by watching back to back MASH episodes and doing two hours of homeschool scheduling while eating M&M’s, of course.

I’ve been reading since I’ve been here.  (I’m sure this comes as a surprise to no one.)  Last time I came, I read “The Tipping Point.”  Very good book.  I like books like that.  It’s sort of scientific, so it makes me feel smart, but it’s written down to my level and is humorous.  It sort of entertains and swells my ego at the same time.  Feynman’s books are like that, too, and some of the bio-ethics and cloning books I’ve been reading lately.

So this time, I’ve read “Blink,” by Malcolm Gladwell (author of The Tipping Point), “Someday the Rabbi Will Leave,” by Harry Kemelman, “Freakonomics,” by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, and “Drink With the Devil” by Jack Higgins Clark.

Freakonomics fascinated me, and I stayed up until 1 a.m. reading it from cover to cover.  One point he advances, and quite convincingly, is that Pro-Choice directly ushered in the decrease in violent crime experienced in recent years.   Yes, I agree with you- I had a violent knee-jerk reaction to this one.  I am Pro-Life, as I think nearly any mother who has gestated and birthed a precious little baby who went from “fetal tissue” to a real-live human being is.  But his numbers and arguments were horribly, terribly persuasive.

I quote: “Perhaps the most dramatic effect of legalized abortion, however, and one that would take years to reveal itself, was its[abortion’s] impact on crime.  In the early 1990’s, just as the first cohort of children born after Roe v. Wade was hitting its late teen years- the years during which young men enter their criminal prime- the rate of crime began to fall.  What this cohort was missing, of course, were the children who stood the greatest chance of being criminals.   And the crime rate continued to fall as an entire generation came of age minus the children whose mothers had not wanted to bring a child into the world.  Legalized abortion led to less unwantedness; unwantedness leads to high crime; legalized abortion, therefore, led to less crime.”  – “Freakonomics” p. 139, Levitt and Dubner, published by William Morrow, an Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, hardback version.

I know this quote alone is enough to make pro-lifers scream in anguish.  And I agree with you!  It is cosmically, egregiously, horribly unfair to abort babies under the argument that they “may” become criminals, to deny couples the chance to adopt because the babies are at risk, or to continue a social policy of slaughter of the innocents to keep our streets safe.  So stop hyperventilating over there.

But I’m writing about this because, like nearly every action on this blasted planet, abortion may have had some unintended effects.  If you’re interested, please read the book for yourself.  He does a masterful job of showing, statistically, why efforts like stiffer prison terms or increasing the police force, although somewhat effective in lowering crime, would not be enough to account for the drop in violent crime we have experienced.  He also has some very interesting analysis for why the “broken windows” effect really wasn’t effective, and a number of other similar things.  Very thought provoking.  And challenging.  If what he says is true, what do we do about it?  How does it change our thinking about abortion?  How might it change our country’s policies if his theory becomes more generally accepted?  God help us all.

We have to start thinking about these things!  We can’t leave it to (suppressed snort) the politicians!  Is it right to grind up fetuses and inject the fetal tissue into wounds to promote quick healing?  What would happen to our population if people literally began cloning themselves and bearing the cloned children?  This is not a science fiction option, people!  Pay attention.  They have the ability to do this NOW.  In Japan, they are working out the kinks in artificial wombs.  At what point does genetic alteration of a fetus result in it not being human?  Should we make laws restricting how many children a sperm donor can father?  (Really- does over 100 sound OK to you?  Can you live with that?  How would the children feel?)

Now you need to ask yourself- if abortion really REALLY does keep crime down, and I mean seriously down, how would you feel about knowingly banning it?  Are you ready to make that ethical decision?  What would you do to temper it?  How would you deal with it, knowing, presciently, that the day of reckoning is not far off…

There ARE no safe choices any more!  That is something I am beginning to see.  If you make corn into ethanol for cheap, environmentally friendly fuel, the price of corn sky rockets.  Feed for chickens, hogs, and beef rises, driving food prices up.  (And endangering my husband’s job, thank you.)  More farmers switch from wheat to corn because it is profitable, and when famines turn up around the globe… the US has less surplus wheat to send and people starve that might have been fed.  So a good decision about fuel produces unintended starvation among impoverished children.

Here’s another wierd one: How the US directly influenced the Jewish Holocaust and then patted ourselves on the back for ending it!!!  I ran across this one in a eugenics book and couldn’t believe my eyes.  Eugenics is a big scientific word for animal breeding as applied to humans.  Everyone knows about animal breeding- you breed better livestock by mating the best to the best.  Then they have better offspring.  In mass, we humans have a moral objection to this.  We don’t like the idea of rating human beings as “good” or “bad” stock.  It gets into all kinds of nasty implications.  Who, after all, gets to decide what good or bad is?  Is a low IQ good or bad?  Malformity?  Skin color?  Height?  Sex?  Complexion?  Creativity?  We cringe, and rightfully so.  Every group of humans who has tried to apply eugenics to the human race has made a pig’s breakfast of it.

You simply can’t weigh the value of a person’s immortally created soul by how well formed their body is or by their racial characteristics.  HOWEVER, although we believe this en masse, in practice it turns out differently.  Each and every time a woman chooses a partner to have children with, she chooses the best partner she can find.  We constantly judge, when selecting a spouse, their height, skin color, IQ, skills, gifts, and talents.  We reject anything we judge as unworthy and try to choose the best we can for ourselves and our children.

This rather natural feeling becomes a little odd when we start talking about choosing a sperm donor, egg donor, or biological surrogate mother.  Can you see where this starts to cross the line to eugenics?  (The most popular sperm donors, it turns out, are tall men with athletic ability.  IQ has very little to do with it.)  It becomes much much worse when people start to talk about buying celebrity sperm on E-Bay (I don’t think you can do this yet, but it wouldn’t surprise me), or worse yet, talk about cloning someone from a tissue sample.

To bring this back to the Holocaust, eugenics was a popular topic in pre-World War Two America.  Books were written.  Scientists were lauded or condemned.  It was a hot, hot topic!  But there are two sides to eugenics- the propagation of desirable characteristics, and the culling of undesirable.  The culling manifested in America in forced sterilization of people committed to mental institutions or who had family histories of mental instability, which could be rather loosely defined.  There was also a great deal of racial prejudice not just against blacks, but against all sorts of racial “minorities” and other “undesirables.”

According to what I have read, Hitler was fascinated by the literature on eugenics.  It gave him a lovely scientific rational for some of his own prejudices and emotions, and led to a great blot in our history.  The shocking thing to me, was that we, in a way, caused the Holocaust with our ground-breaking work in eugenics and prejudices against undesirable elements, and then swept in with our armies and took credit for breaking the very thing we created.

Can anyone else see this, or am I only talking to myself?  No, we did not cremate Jews in America.  We only banned them from shops and businesses and drove them out of good neighborhoods and wouldn’t let them in our country clubs or through our emigration.  Now our favorite fictional villians are the Nazis, and you can almost hear the smugness with which we teach about WWII.

If an innocent belief in improving the human race or improving our fuel emissions can lead to such unintended consequences, is it really out of line to imagine that abortion might have a few unintended consequences of its own?

Malcolm Gladwell does an excellent job of divorcing himself from the ethical debate and presenting the facts for all to see.  The bible clearly states that killing a baby for your own selfish worship of your wealth, education, convenience and future position in life is an abomination to God.  All I am asking is for you to take five minutes and think about what the possible unintended consequences of an abortion ban might be, and to think about what we, the people, could do about it.  As Christians we are called to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves.  Gentle enough to be horrified by the taking of innocent life, but wise enough to look at the act in context and not to view our relationships with other people overly simplistically.

If, as Christians, we had done a better job of helping, healing, reassuring, and supporting unwillingly pregnant women, possibly Roe vs. Wade might never have happened.  For so long the attitude towards an unwed mother was so condemning.  The girls had to hide.  They were shuffled out of sight.  It was only a small, small step to shuffling the baby out of sight rather than the mother.  And it wasn’t the sinners who were condemning the girls- it was the Christians.  They thought they were doing a good thing by providing an incentive to wait until marriage, and maybe they were, but the law of unintended consequences was in that mess, too.

I do not have a great wrap-up ending for this.  I am too grieved in my heart.  There are so few simple answers in our complex society.  The earth is so full of people, we can hardly sneeze without affecting each other.  The only things I can think to do are to pray, to really think, and to love without measure or limit everyone I can.  Every sin we commit against each other is a lack of thought, a lack of love, or a lack of spiritual insight given by God to help our feeble human understanding of each other.  And maybe that’s a pretty good ending right there.




One response

25 07 2008
Luke Holzmann


I liked Freakonomics, but far from being a look into the hidden side of “everything”, it felt much more like the hidden side of three things [smile].

Gladwell is brilliant. Love his work.

The abortion issue bugged me at first too. However, I have since come to believe: I am fine with the findings. The problem is not that abortion tends to eliminated unwanted children, but that there are unwanted children in the first place. You are absolutely right: If we, as Christians, didn’t look down so much on unwed mothers, there may be more love for children. And, we as a Church, need to step up and love and seek out the unwanted children, not just condemn those that try to get rid of them. So, yes, if we want to ban abortion (which we should), we need to love the women with a pregnancy they don’t want and care for the children they have.

We need to love.

Eugenics is a scary and complicated world. There is a great (albeit brief) discussion of the movement in Ben Stine’s “Expelled” documentary.

Okay, enough for now. Great thought-provoking post. I could wax-eloquent forever, but I’ll bite my tongue for now [smile].


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