The Incompleteness of the Abortion Debate

Mehdi Hasan has provoked a big online debate about abortion, after publishing a column in the New Statesman on whether abortion is a Left/Right issue in politics. Mehdi says that although the Left is usually identified with the pro-choice* argument and the Right with pro-life*, the arguments deployed are (in his view) the opposite of what the Left and Right usually deploy. The Left use the language of individualism and choice, while the Right use the language of vulnerability and equality.

This article sparked a furious online debate about the central issue – Kenan Malik has an excellent pro-choice rejoinder to Hasan’s piece.  There has also been a meta-debate about whether it was even possible to have a reasoned debate about the issue. I was taken with Hopi Sen’s analysis, comparing what a person thinks they said with what people on the opposing side actually hear (see these amusing stanzas for a shortened version).

I tend to think of the central question as a Devil’s Alternative type question. Whatever you choose, the outcome is bad. Trying to devise rules – legal or ethical – for a Devil’s Alternative problem seems futile. Is abortion right? is a trick question: The stuff of utilitarian philosophy lectures and episodes of 24, where you try to work out the course of action that causes least hurt… Knowing full well that any choice you make leads to permenant unpleasant consequences. Perhaps the only way out of the mire is to punt on the central ethical question, declaring it essentially incomplete in Gödel‘s sense: we are not equipped to process such a question properly. It is undecidable. A paradox that exposes the limits of our language and ethical structures. Continue reading “The Incompleteness of the Abortion Debate”

Politics of Persuasion on Proportional Representation

Take Back Parliament
Take Back Parliament rally, 8th May 2010. Photo by Lewishamdreamer on Flickr

*This post contains excessive alliteration, which some readers may find offensive.

Politics means different things at different times.  During the election campaign, it was the politics of presentation:  of a leader (and his lovely wife), and of a suitable narrative that you think chimes with the voters.

Now the election is over, we seem to be moving into the politics of game-play and strategy.  The discussion centres around what Nick Clegg can force out of the tories, and how to bounce David Cameron into Proportional Representation.  Associated with this are the recriminations over failed tactics.  For an example, see @hopisen (his debates with @sunny_hundal yesterday were a good example of this kind of politics).

This kind of politics assumes an intransigence on the part of your political opponents, and it is useful to remember that this is not always the case.  At this crucial juncture, we need a politics of persuasion too, especially on the case of electoral reform.

@ellielevenson: RT @ericjoyce A near-painful read, near-pathetic, read. RT @krishgm: Guardian group feeling guilty? http://bit.ly/aQoDWA

The above comments, discussing the Guardian’s Saturday editorial, sits within the second type of politics, the politics of strategy.  But as a piece of persuasion, I think the article is very useful.

But the fact remains that victory, under the electoral system we have, means securing a Commons majority. Constitutionally, no other metric matters. If the Conservatives believe that share of vote and lead over the nearest rival should have some moral weight in deciding a winner, they have already conceded a vital point about the need for electoral reform: the proportion of overall support in the country as a whole matters. …

The Tories by contrast are confused about electoral reform. It cannot have escaped their notice that they have suffered as a result of the system they are determined to keep. It is Labour whose results are most inflated by systemic bias. The Tories insist that first past the post delivers clear results, when it has just failed to do exactly that. Conservatives have always grumbled that coalition politics means shadowy deals between parties cobbled together in dingy corridors. The opposite is now proven.

Now, I am not a Tory, but I think this sort of logic that might persuade them.  These kinds of arguments need to be in the foreground.  My three aspects of politics overlap here:  A persuasive argument, presented right, can give your cause a strategic advantage.  In this case, if the Conservative party become a little less cold to the idea of electoral reform, that’s a good thing.

There has also been some discussion over political power in the past few days.  Here’s Laurie Penny, barging in on that Sunny/Hopi debate I mentioned earlier:

@PennyRed:  @sunny_hundal @hopisen yes and no. I think there’s enough damage that only a real defeat, preforably temporary, can make us regroup.

@sunny_hundal: @hopisen @STEPearce @PennyRed I dint believe in power for it’s own sake. That is where labour is at and that is the path to hell

Its little comfort, but the politics of persuasion persists even when the party is out of power.

All of this is a way of saying, that while the Tories and Liberal Democrata hammer out whatever deal they can; while the Labour front bench has been told to keep quiet; and while Gordon Brown keeps a low profile, it would be a good use of Labour supporters’ time to help promote and grow the Take Back Parliament Campaign.  The coalition has taken only three days to amass over 41,000 supporters, which is very impressive.  However, I think it needs a broader base than the middle-class Lib Dem supporting demographic I saw at the rally on Saturday.  This is a practical task that Labourites can take on right now, while we all twiddle our thumbs waiting for opposition.

Here’s my Flickr photoset from the Take Back Parliament rally (though I think Lewishamdreamer’s photos, one of which is reproduced above, are better).