A Question

A question

The Green New Deal is ridiculous. But the idea that elected officials ought to authentically legislate their worldview is not ridiculous. In fact, it’s the only way a democratic republic can function. Socialist progressives seem to understand this. Pro-life Republicans do not. Question: Which of those movements do you think, right now, is more likely to carry out the implications of their beliefs first?

Honestly, is there any doubt?

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On Bothsidesism

A gnat and a camel are both bad ideas to swallow, but swallowing the camel is a much worse idea.

American political culture has a nasty way of inspiring all of us to take something that is true and use or apply it in a way that makes it false. “All lives matter” is a great example. The sentence is 100% true; it is invoked almost exclusively for the purpose of rebuking someone who just said that a specific kind of life (black, immigrant, unborn, etc.) matters. Another good example is Whataboutism: The act of immediately responding to any fair critique with an example of how your opponent, or his tribe, have also failed in this category. Example: “It’s absolutely wrong for a President to talk about women or the disabled in such a derogatory way.” “What about Bill Clinton?!?!”

Bothsidesism is another example. It bears a close relationship to Whataboutism but is its own species. Bothsidesism is what you do when someone points out that a particular party or tribe is guilty of something. Rather than pushing back against the accusation, you simply remind the person making the observation that “Both sides do this,” and present an example of comparable sin committed by either a) the party/tribe generally thought to be the polar opposite of the party/tribe being accused, or b) the party/tribe that you think the person making the observation represents.

This sounds a lot like Whataboutism, but there’s an important difference. Whataboutism is an accusation of moral hypocrisy that implies the original observation is meaningless or the first speaker is inauthentic. Bothsidesism, on the other hand, is not a direct charge of hypocrisy, but rather an attempt to change the subject. “Both sides do this” is often code for, “Now instead of talking about each other, let’s talk about how awful everything is.” Whereas Whataboutism challenges the moral authority of the original point, Bothsidesism challenges whether there’s any moral authority to be had at all.

Complicating all this is the fact that neither Whatboutism nor Bothsidesism are really fallacies. It does matter, for example, that the same media institutions bemoaning toxic masculinity stood up for Bill Clinton and shamed his accusers. It does matter that, while the Democratic Party sanctions the killing of the unborn, the Republican Party has also adopted language and policies about minorities, immigrants, and others that dehumanizes and obscures the sanctity of life. These are fair points, and they have to be reckoned with if our understanding of culture is going to rise above the level of AM radio.

Last night I tweeted (I know, I know):

Isn’t it weird how abortion on demand at 30+ weeks is “complex,” “intimate,” and “hard to talk about without dividing people,” while single-payer healthcare and a wall are “matters of justice” and “the Jesus way”?

I think most readers knew that my point was about left-leaning evangelicals, many of whose prolific Trump-era political tweeting has taken an intermission since the state of New York approved a ghoulish abortion law, and the governor of Virginia offered some similarly ghoulish thoughts about which born infants can be killed. It’s an observation I’ve made many times; there’s a weird overlap between the folks who go straight to the Old Testament to explain why a certain immigration policy is wrong and the folks who seem totally unable to articulate an argument against letting live-born infants die on a medical table. It’s an overlap that has the stench of identity politics and the “age of lumping” all over it.

A friend responded to this tweet by reminding me that “Both sides do this,” by which he meant that the Republican Party and the Trump administration have sanctioned the cruel separation of families and other odious, anti-Christian policies. He’s 100% correct. Both parties are, right now, imago Dei-denying, family-subverting parties. A pox on all our houses.

And yet: Both sides are manifestly not equally OK with infanticide. That’s the point. My tweet was not intended at all to flatter the GOP. It was intended to point out a lethal confusion in many evangelical writers, several of whom have rich book contracts, sold-out speaking engagements, and influential platforms. It’s the confusion that cannot see a moral urgency to the willful, state-sanctioned killing of a perfectly recognizable tiny human. It’s the confusion that looks at abortion and sees only a “divisive wedge issue” that Christians should “get beyond,” but looks at single payer healthcare and a border wall and sees a clear biblical mandate to care for the poor and welcome the stranger. It’s not that the latter conviction is wrong; it’s that the former conviction is so very very wrong that, yes, it colors everything that comes after it. A gnat and a camel are both bad ideas to swallow, but swallowing the camel is a much worse idea.

The problem with Bothsidesism is that it assumes a moral equivalency that doesn’t exist. What matters most is not that both tribes get equally dinged. What matters most is that human life, born or unborn, white or black or brown, healthy or disabled or young or old, is respected as the crowning jewel of a sovereign Creator’s work. However such life is disrespected, it is always a tragedy; but the authorized killing of innocent human life is the worst tragedy of all because it cannot be remedied. It is permanent, forever, and irreconcilable until the resurrection. Bothsidesism is correct to point out faults in both political ideologies, but it’s wrong when it’s invoked to obscure degrees of seriousness in our faults. Without being conscious of those degrees, we cannot hope to remedy injustice.

Bothsidesism feels good in the moment because it feels like taking a wider view of things. But a wider view isn’t always helpful if what you need to see is right in front of you. The bigger failure of evangelicals in the 19th and 20th centuries wasn’t that they didn’t have a fully realized, magisterial doctrine of human dignity and the political sphere. It was that they either supported or ignored lynching, slavery, and disenfranchisement. They ignored what was right in front of them.

As do we.

Don’t Punish the Unborn with Your Vote

Christian, vote angry, but do not punish the unborn in your anger.

This week a lot of Americans, including Christians, will be voting angry. Much of that anger will be righteous and just. There is much to mourn about our national politics, much injustice to grieve, and much moral disqualification to disgust us. For that reason, I’ve seen some friends of mine post how eager they will be to get to the polls and throw a vote in the direction opposite of the White House. I get it. They’re fed up and tired.

Here’s a plea, though: Don’t punish the unborn with your angry vote. Don’t punish them by forgetting them in your zeal to see the current administration checked and the ruling party disarmed. Don’t give the abortion industry what it craves: The erstwhile support of those who know better but feel pinched into the craven dichotomies of American politics.

I’m torn about being “a single issue voter.” On the one hand, abortion is not the only injustice that matters, and we’ve seen for the past 3 years how an opportunistic political movement can manipulate pro-life convictions. Pitting the lives of unborn children against, say, the lives of unarmed black men or the lives of the unemployed poor is a depraved dualism. To the degree that single-issue pro-life politics has reinforced this dualism, it should be ashamed of itself.

On the other hand, is there a more tired, more dishonest note in our political discourse than tone-policing the pro-life movement? I fear that some well-meaning pro-lifers have inadvertently sold out their convictions by accepting the moral equivalency pushed on them by both the pro-choice left and the economic right. We are supposed to take for granted that Trump’s election has de-legitimized the pro-life movement. We are not supposed to ask the unborn children rescued at crisis pregnancy centers if they agree.

Cutting through the fog, we see two obvious truths. One, the pro-life movement has been appropriated by politicians and activists who do not share its core convictions and who are happy to use the post-Roe divisions in American society for their own ethno-nationalist gains. Two, we still have in the United States a major political party that is devoted, hand over heart, to the easy and unchecked killing of tiny people for virtually any reason whatsoever. I can’t see any way for pro-life Christians to change these truths in 2018. We are dealt a loathsome hand. But that doesn’t mean there is no wisdom to apply.

Two years ago, many evangelicals said that they were unable to vote for either major party presidential candidate. I don’t see anything that’s happened in the past two years to change this logic, at least at a party level. There may be a pro-life argument for voting for a radically pro-choice party in a given election, but I’m not sure what that argument is. Some will say that voting along abortion lines is a non-starter since neither national party is authentically pro-life. This may very well be true (in fact, I suspect it is), but it’s a little bit like saying there’s no point in being a racial justice voter since neither party is sufficiently invested in equity and reconciliation. If you think the latter logic fails while the former logic works, you should ask yourself why you think that.

In my personal view, the Christians who are able to stand on the most consistent, most cohesive political theology are the ones who refrained from picking the lesser of two evils in 2016 and will continue to decline doing so in 2018. Unborn children will almost certainly still be at the mercy of Roe v. Wade long after the White House has been flipped.

There will be a day very, very soon when the resilient American republic will repudiate (at least for a moment) what’s happened to its national politics and some semblance of sanity will return. But until an immoral judicial fiat from 1973 is reversed, there will be millions of little, defenseless, utterly vulnerable Americans who reap no benefit from that. And there will remain an entire political machine that actively works to keep it that way. How effective that political machine’s work will be depends, in part, on how many Trump-weary Christians sigh, concede the point, and elect that machine’s favored candidates. My hope is that Christians would reject this dilemma entirely, and assert the radical un-sortableness of their kingdom citizenship.

Perhaps Gandalf said it best:

“Other evils there are that may come, for Sauron is himself but a servant or emissary. Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till.”

 

Has Trump De-Legitimized the Pro-Life Movement?

My answer in First Things: No.

Excerpt:

Warnings about the optics of Trump as a leader of religious conservatives aren’t totally misguided. Trump’s pro-life politics almost certainly arise from convention and convenience, rather than conviction. His rhetoric is incompatible with a holistically Christian worldview, and there may be some political blowback to the pro-life agenda in the midterms and 2020 elections. But the notion that the pro-life movement can be identified with Trump or the Republican Party is specious. It bespeaks a political and moral math that seems to apply to abortion and nothing else. That some think one politician can singlehandedly delegitimize the pro-life cause is evidence of Screwtape’s success in fogging up the abortion debate with propaganda.

Read the whole thing here.

Saving Private Ryan and the Moral Calculus of Human Life

Saving Private Ryan turns 20 this year. It still offers insight and wisdom for our cultural moment.

[Note: Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan turns 20 this year.]

Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List are two sides of the same Spielbergian coin. Both films are about the moral calculus of human life, and how a few ordinary, flawed people responded to an extraordinary moment when this calculus turned deadly. List is the greater film, but Ryan is the more philosophical. Both movies put the same question to its characters: How much is one person worth? The answers in Schindler’s List are definitive; the answers in Saving Private Ryan are complex.

Ryan has been criticized as a pro-war film. Particularly in the aftermath of the Iraq war, there seemed to me a shift in critical opinion toward the film. It’s popular today to argue that the first 30 minutes of the movie—the astonishing and excruciatingly violent D-Day beach sequence—are truly great, but the rest is replaceable. I’m not so sure. What Spielberg accomplishes in Ryan is a spiritual biography of the American soldier. It’s not a pro-war film (no movie that sought to be pro-war would film anything close to that beach sequence), but it’s not an anti-war film either. As a documentary of war, Ryan dismantles the John Wayne/Golden Age of Hollywood delusion, and as a reflection on the value of human life in a world set to destroy it, it likewise challenges the cynicism and utilitarianism of the post-Vietnam mind. It is a great movie because it makes the audience small and the questions big.

The key moment in the movie is not the beach landing, but the scene in which Captain Miller’s (Tom Hanks) company nearly begins to kill itself, literally, out of fury and frustration at not having found Ryan. The company sergeant pulls a gun on a private who says he’s “done with this mission” and will not go further. Most of the men want to execute a German prisoner; the cowardly translator Upham wants to spare him. Miller angers the group by releasing the prisoner, forcing something to give. At the last moment Miller reveals something the soldiers say he’s never told them: where he’s from and what he does. The line “I’m a schoolteacher” breaks over the tension like water on a parched battlefield. It’s the film’s pivotal moment, wherein Miller permanently wins his men’s loyalty by revealing his inner conflict and family-ward sense of duty. That the stoic and courageous Captain is an English teacher from rural Pennsylvania is a beautifully poetic irony. It epitomizes Spielberg’s big idea. In this moment, Miller is not just a captain, he is America itself—killing and being killed, exercising his duty and yet feeling (as he puts it) further and further away from home with every successful shot.

Miller’s confession that he personally doesn’t care about Ryan is poignant. It de-romanticizes both him and his mission. He’s not Captain America; he’s just trying to return home to his wife. This is a brilliant portrayal of how ordinary people calculate the value of human life. Real human beings are not bottomless wells of altruism. We make moral evaluations based on what matters to us, what helps us, so to speak, get home.

This is a good lesson for the pro-life movement. Much pro-life rhetoric is far too stoic and hollow, as if the personhood of the unborn or the immigrant are mere intellectual exercises that people should “agree” with. Human lives, though, are not the point in and of themselves. Losing the religious edge to our pro-life worldview may briefly open doors for co-belligerency, but it risks veering into an inchoate “body-ism” that ignores the fundamentally spiritual character of human life. Often the American effort in WWII is mythologized as a group of utterly selfless men running heedless into battle merely for the sake of flag and country. This misrepresentation fails to take into account how wives, children, fathers, mothers, churches, and friends sturdy the soul in the face of catastrophe. This is also the formula for a dangerous mutation of “patriotism:” A nationalism made up of nothing but symbols and gestures, and utterly insensitive to the real people who make up one’s country (this is the “patriotism” of far too many conservatives right now).

In other words, one of the reasons Saving Private Ryan is so effective is that it strips muddy generalizations away from our moral calculus of human life, and reminds us that real people lay themselves down for others only when there is a love in the soul for something greater than life itself. Secular culture desires a directionless human love, an endlessly general affection for everything and everyone and nothing in particular. This isn’t the love of real people, or of real soldiers, or of real Christians. We are all trying to get back home. The question is how much we want to get back there, and what our path toward home goes through.

Defining Pro-Life Down

I have only a brief thought on Matt Loftus’s recent essay (and follow-up blog post) on whether we should use the term “pro-life” to refer to issues other than the traditional referents.

It seems to me that you can’t make the term “pro-life” do more by making it mean less. I think that’s what Matt is getting at in his essay. Much like the word “gospel,” there’s a tendency amongst some in my tribe to want to heighten the moral urgency of certain things by using words that signal importance but not meaning. For example, you don’t have to go far before finding someone who will refer to, say, expositional preaching or love of the city as a “gospel issue.” In this phraseology, the word “gospel” doesn’t actually mean anything other than “This is really important.” The gospel is not about expositional preaching and it’s not about our love for the city. Perhaps paradoxically, everyone in the conversation where such language is used already knows this. They understand what’s being said and don’t stumble over it—simply because they already get that the point is not to say something about the gospel, but about their own sense of urgency toward an issue.

But in the meantime, something unfortunate is happening to the word “gospel.” It has started doing more but meaning less. After a few rounds, it becomes impossible to know what someone means by “gospel issue” at all, but it becomes very easy to know that you ought to care about…well, whatever’s being talked about.

I think the same philological corrosion happens when the word “pro-life” is used too much. And let me add one final point to Matt’s excellent thoughts.

The idea that we ought to talk about immigration, welfare, zoning, and other issues the same way we talk about abortion is deeply deceiving. It is an implicit concession to that odious pro-choice caricature that says that pro-lifers care about babies until they’re born. The problem with this mantra isn’t that it’s rude, it’s that it’s dishonest. And it’s dishonest all the way down. Pro-lifers are pro-life because they think unborn infants have inherent value that cannot be subjugated de facto to the will of another person. The question of whether an unborn infant is such a being is totally and completely independent of how pro-lifers think about other issues. One can be anti-abortion and the most feckless NRA advocate on the planet, and any thoughtlessness about guns does not in any way inform whether that person is authentically pro-life. Why not? Because pro-life is a response to abortion, not the other way around. Pro-life does not exist because people who are apathetic about Sandy Hook need a political pet issue. Pro-life exists because Planned Parenthood says dilation and curettage should exist. You cannot separate the word “pro-life” from the gore of the forceps.

It’s absolutely true that what we believe about human rights and digntiy should inform our entire politic. But to call issues like single-payer healthcare a pro-life matter is a most brazen kind of revisionism. While such an instinct might be well-motivated, it ultimately ends in euphemisms like “safe, legal, and rare.” You might have a good argument for single-payer, but I can promise you I have a much better argument against partial birth abortion. Those two concepts are not cousins, and to say otherwise can only strengthen the former by helping people to take their minds off the latter.

No thanks.

On Charlie Gard (a reply to Matt Loftus)

Matt:

You’re always worth reading, and your perspective on the difference between allowing the “arc of life” to complete vs causing death is helpful. I absolutely agree with you that we ought never torture dying people. I also agree that in cases where death is clearly imminent, the moral dimensions of allowing it in vs taking extraordinary measures to keep it out are more complex than Tweets allow. Charlie Gard’s suffering is horrible, and, as Christians, we believe that the last enemy to be defeated is death. It does not have the last word, and we must not behave as if it does.

But I think you and Alastair Roberts are missing something…or perhaps simply not taking it seriously enough. Both you and Alastair readily agree that something is amiss when the state usurps the role of parents as it certainly seems to have done in the Gard case. But you both seem to think this is a minor concession that doesn’t really affect the moral dimension of the life and death situation here. What I’m hearing from you and Alastair amounts to something like, “Well, of course the courts are wrong in telling Charlie’s parents what they can and cannot do for their child with their money. But Charlie’s parents are probably wrong to want experimental treatment, and actually, that’s a bigger deal than what the European courts are doing.”

I believe this attitude is profoundly wrong, and I’ll offer two reasons:

–You write, “Honoring human dignity means helping someone along on the trajectory of their life, not trying to straighten it out for as long as we can.” This is a defensible statement, but in this instance, it has a serious ambiguity: Who is the “we” in this sentence? Is it a reference to parents? Doctors? Fellow taxpayers? Churches? The common welfare?

This ambiguity matters precisely because different people have different immediate moral obligations to cases like Charlie Gard’s. Charlie’s parents indisputably feel a moral obligation to do everything within their power to save their son. By what authority do we as observers, or (more pertinently) governments and courts, stand over such instinct and pass a judgment on it? Charlie Gard does not belong to you or me the same way he belongs to his mother and father. He does not belong to Europe or the United Kingdom the same way he belongs to Mom and Dad. What is the moral obligation of the community in this case if it isn’t to serve Charlie’s parents as they try to save their child?

You might respond, “Experimental treatments are objectively torture, and even if the parents want them, allowing them would be an injustice on Charlie.” That’s a coherent moral argument. The problem, as I’m sure you agree, is that it’s an extreme one. Very few people would agree that all experimental treatments are inherently wrong to administer.

So then, the question becomes how can we discern if this experimental treatment is good for Charlie Gard or not? The answer is that “WE” cannot determine that. Charlie’s parents can. Doctors who would administer such a test can make a judgment and follow their conscience. But as we go further and further from the inner circle–Charlie’s parents at the middle, the doctors nearby–we also go into different moral terrain. Establishing this kind of triage of relational, moral authority is not some sort of Western model of “autonomy” that separates familial units from their communities. By wise design, God ordained that parents would be physically and emotionally present with their children in a way that no other person or institution could ever be. To honor the wishes of Charlie’s parents in this case IS in fact a positive moral obligation, one that the court systems of Europe have failed to their shame.

-You write, “Honoring human dignity means allowing each person to follow their trajectory as closely as possible, using medical technology to keep people from falling off the arc prematurely.” I think this is mostly correct, but with one big caveat: We don’t actually know a person’s “trajectory” until they’ve died. Downward spirals stop. Cancer goes mysteriously into remission. Physical healing that goes beyond the explanatory bounds of biology happens, and it happens often enough to make me wonder whether speaking of a person’s life “trajectory” is actually all that useful in the moments we would most need to know it.

You’ve made in the past a compelling Christian case for state-sponsored healthcare for all. For that reason, your argument here surprises me. The point of single payer healthcare, if I understand yours and others’ arguments correctly, is giving everyone access to improve their life trajectory regardless of their income. I’m not sure you can have this cake and eat it too. If Americans have a positive moral obligation to not withhold insurance to those whose life-trajectories are pointing downward, it seems self-evidently true that we ought not withhold medical treatment to the same–and, by extension, we ought not withhold the very capacity to choose treatments. If Charlie has a God-given right to insurance even if his body is failing, why does he not have a right to the treatment such insurance can purchase?

Your call to nuance amidst outrage is perceptive and helpful. But in the case of Charlie Gard, I think the outrage is justified. Letting the admittedly real complexities of medical ethics obscure the very serious action of the state in this case–and the obvious precedents such action establishes–is a mistake that pro-life, pro-dignity people cannot afford to make.

Safe, Legal, and Everywhere

Photo of the day:

Here’s what I wrote last year about the slow, underhanded, but very real disappearance of the center in the pro-choice camp.

What’s happening for the abortion lobby is that its political myths are falling apart. “Safe, legal, and rare” was a carefully crafted slogan, built to elicit both protective instincts from activists and empathy from those unsure about it all. But a fault line ran through the very heart of this kind of rhetoric: If abortion should be legal and safe, why should we want it to be rare? It sounded as if abortion were being compared to alcoholism and divorce—regrettable ailments of a society that nonetheless cannot be legislated out of it.

But this “lesser of two evils” ethic is not what the architects of legal abortion had in mind. Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, certainly had more ambitious aims for her legacy when she said that her followers were “seeking to assist the race toward the elimination of the unfit.” More recently, abortion activists like Katha Pollitt are acknowledging this, and calling their peers to drop a hypocritical façade of regret and proclaim that abortion is a “positive social good.”

Pro-abortion or pro-choice? The answer looks progressively clearer each day.

How the Internet Rescued Planned Parenthood

Last week, NARAL, one of the country’s oldest and most vociferous champions of the abortion industry, released a YouTube sketch called “Comedians In Cars Getting Abortions.” The video isn’t funny by any stretch of imagination, pro-life or otherwise. But I doubt very much whether NARAL’s purpose in producing the sketch was even to score laughter. Rather, the whole video feels like an exercise in what C.S. Lewis called “flippancy,” the lowest species of humor wherein morals and good taste are always assumed to be their own punchline. The point is not to get people to laugh at abortion, it’s to get them to scoff at the idea that one shouldn’t laugh bout it.

Anyway. The video isn’t really worth much angst. What was far more interesting than the content of the video, however, was the timing. NARAL published the sketch on YouTube on the anniversary week of the Center for Medical Progress’s video expose on Planned Parenthood. Those series of undercover videos recorded Planned Parenthood executives discussing the methods of “harvesting” the tissue and anatomy of aborted infants, for the purpose of selling them to research labs. The videos progressively go deeper into a ghoulish world of unborn human trafficking, and at every turn, the employees and doctors running the show demonstrate a chilling apathy toward their visceral marketplace.

When the videos first started to release last year, many pro-life activists believed they would be hugely consequential for Planned Parenthood. The Center for Medical Progress framed the sting as conclusive video evidence that the abortion provider was violating multiple federal laws prohibiting the profitable business of selling human body parts. Calls for Congressional investigations began immediately. Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards initially ignored the videos but eventually apologized for the “insensitive” language recorded on camera. For several weeks, it looked like the most important player in the abortion lobby had finally seen its foot slide in due time.

But nothing happened.

Though several states did vote to cease any taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood, the fallout for the country’s biggest abortion provider was miniscule. Hearings in Washington went nowhere. Cecile Richards kept her job. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called the videos “disturbing” during the first few weeks of outcry, but promptly reaffirmed her support (with PP returning the favor). National opinion on abortion law saw little or no change. One state even exonerated Planned Parenthood and indicted instead David Daleiden, the head of the Center for Medical Progress (those charges have since been thrown out).

By the end of last year, it was clear that the videos had skipped off the surface of public consciousness like a stone on a lake. There would be no reckoning, no cultural moment. Why?

The videos’ producers probably bear some responsibility. As Joe Carter has noted, the release of the videos was (seemingly) unaccompanied by any larger, coherent strategy. There seemed to have been a tactical failure to think through, “What are we asking the public to do with this information?” By the time that media outlets were begrudgingly acknowledging the sting’s existence, the space for narrative and action had been ceded already to Planned Parenthood and its legions of allies.

But the strategic failures are only part of the explanation. The CMP may not have come up with the best plan for releasing their footage, but such a misfire doesn’t take away from what the videos actually show. The pro-life community was almost immediately mobilized, and as mentioned, several state legislatures felt pressure to respond. It’s not as if the videos were (as many in Planned Parenthood’s corner have insisted) simply smokescreens. So what happened?

The truth is that the sting’s impact was limited by social media. That may seem like a self-evidently false statement, given the fact that for a long while social media seemed to be the only outlet where the videos could be seen. Sure, the number of times that the videos were streamed, counted against how many mainstream media outlets refused to acknowledge them, may seem like a victory for conservative conscience on social media. But the failure of the videos to translate into a wider sociopolitical moment is actually a commentary on the inherent limitations of social media.

Popular perception is that Facebook, Twitter, and internet commenting threads are populist locales, providing a kind of grassroots rebuttal to the “elite” culture of big media. This is only partly true, though. When Facebook employees acknowledged a few months ago that their news aggregation services were explicitly designed to exclude conservative news outlets, they were revealing how deep of a misconception the “populist” imagery of social media really is.

Before Twitter and Facebook are communities, they are inevitably corporations—corporations with leaders who have ideologies. Every single that happens on social media happens—consciously or not—in a business context. This is why social media can never be a new kind of “town hall.” A town hall binds members together by space, membership and physicality. Social media binds members together by consent to what amounts to a business contract. The business of social media is to make money off its users. This impulse affects not just what social media companies allow on their platform, but even how they present what is allowed. Thus, videos on Facebook are surrounded by “Suggested” videos that have no meaningful tie to the original content. The goal is to get clicks, because clicks are profitable. Distraction means more clicks. Focused contemplation—the kind of thinking that leads to some action—is an enemy of distraction, and thus, an enemy of profit. Therefore, the entire superstructure of social media is one that undermines the appeals to conscience that the CMP’s videos employed.

Unless you woke up each morning last summer determined to take down the abortion lobby, there’s a good chance that your outrage at Planned parenthood didn’t survive the next viral video or trending hashtag that came along. How could it, when there is just so much content to look at it, and so little time for any one thing to stick? When your feed stopped talking about the videos, did it feel wrong, or merely normal? Or did you even notice?

The fuzzy, pixelated thinking that social media foments is a good conduit for getting angry, but it’s not actually good at getting things done. This is one lesson that we should learn from an otherwise lamentable protest culture in American universities. Though social media undoubtedly has played an important role in organization, the campus protests that crippled Missouri and made a think piece out of Oberlin have been remarkably present, physical affairs, protests that are connected in meaningful ways to place and people. With Planned Parenthood, there were indeed local protests and rallies. But these gatherings were not unique to a specific cultural moment. Once the assembling was over, the internet consumed the evidence.

The pro-life movement has historically been remarkably good at mobilizing communities. In this sense, the Planned Parenthood protests were unique in their ineffectiveness. But there is a long term lesson for pro-life here. The kind of social change that will throw off one of the Sexual Revolutions’ most precious and protected dogmas will not happen amongst people who just need their “click fix.” It will happen amongst people for whom wanton destruction of unborn life matters enough to build relationships and make appearances (and not just at protest rallies). The comfort of the social media echo chamber is seductive, but benefits those who are fine with likes, comments, and retweets–just not change.

 

Stop Calling It “Adult”

Labeling smut “adult” is deceptive, since it conveys the idea that voyeurism is a mature or grown up pastime. But pornography is anything but adult.

When you hear the phrase “adult entertainment,” you probably know it means: pornography. In our cultural lexicon, the use of “adult” as an adjective almost always signifies sexual explicitness or erotica: “Adult” books, “adult” films, “adult” events, etc, ad nauseum. Continue reading “Stop Calling It “Adult””