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[content warning: gruesome uterus facts, child murder, anti-abortion sentiment]
[Comments that talk about paper abortions will be deleted on the grounds of being shit Ozy doesn’t want to read about.]

Part three of my post disagreeing with John C Wright’s On The Sexual Nature of Man. Part one here, part two here.

5.3 Prudence Related To The Sex Act 

John C Wright writes:

The question to be raised here is, suppose you get pregnant, ladies, or suppose you get your lover pregnant, gentlemen, what does morality command we do about the baby? What does prudence suggest we do beforehand, so we are not caught unawares or unprepared?

Prudence, of course, is not prognostication. Even if the sex act does not lead in most cases to pregnancy, and even if contraception is licit and is effective nine times out of ten, prudence requires that all cases be treated as if they were the tenth case, for the same reason that prudence requires we buckle our safety belts when entering a car, or don a helmet when mounting a motorcycle, each and every time, not merely the one time in a thousand when we have an accident. Nature does not tell us beforehand when the accident will occur. The reason why accidents are called “accidents” is because they do not necessarily happen.

Well, I use the implant, which is over 99% effective– which, to be clear, means that of 100 couples using the implant for a year less than 1 will get pregnant, not that of 100 acts of sex less than 1 will result in a pregnancy. I also use condoms with every partner other than my beloved husband. As a result of combining these forms of contraception, if I have sex for five thousand years, I would expect one unexpected pregnancy. That is well within the risk tolerance prudence demands. We must wear a helmet on our motorcycles, and buckle our seatbelts when we’re in cars, but prudence does not require that we avoid motorcycles or cars altogether.

Prudence suggests that women consider carefully how high a risk of an unexpected pregnancy they are willing to accept, and choose their contraception accordingly, that most women should be on some form of long-acting reversible contraception such as the implant or the IUD, and that all people should use condoms unless they are in a committed long-term relationship in which all parties have been tested for STIs and, if nonmonogamous, are regularly getting tested and use condoms with everyone outside the relationship. Prudence does not suggest celibacy.

The choices are to kill the baby in the womb or raise the baby.

Mr. Wright is missing an option, one I encourage all who have moral qualms about abortion to consider: adoption. In the US, there is a shortage of babies for adoption (the shortage of adoptive parents is mostly for older children, as many prospective adoptive parents do not wish to help an older child recover from abuse), so you need not fear that your child will languish in a foster care home. I myself consider the one-in-five-thousand-years risk of having an unexpected pregnancy, enduring nine months of pain, and then bringing joy to an infertile couple, to be quite acceptable.

While prenatal infanticide is a commonplace in our current society, logic suggests that it is not in the best interest either of the child, nor of any parent or grandparent with a vested interest in seeing his bloodline preserved…

She should discuss the matter… with the grandparents of the child—who, in the Darwinian scheme of things, even ignoring any moral considerations, would find it in their genetic advantage to make provisions to preserve the child once he exists even in his fetus-stage. The Selfish Gene, after all, does not care what stage the child is in when the child is killed, since any stage before the child reproduces is a failure from the Darwinian viewpoint.

First of all, that is not the reason any sensible person has qualms about abortion. The only good reason to have ethical qualms about abortion is that you are afraid you might be committing murder. I am actually kind of horrified by this sequence of arguments? It is as if a man came up to me and explained I should not bash my six-year-old daughter in the head with an axe because it would reduce my inclusive genetic fitness. I mean, yes, it would, but that is hardly the primary thing to object to in this situation.

Second, from a Darwinian perspective, there is no reason to prioritize the already-conceived fetus over fetuses that might be conceived. If having an abortion allows you to bear two children, that is all to the good, from a gene’s perspective. About a fifth of pregnancies end in miscarriage: most of them were disabled fetuses whom, from a cold Darwinian perspective, take up too many resources for too low a chance of reproducing. Humans are not rats; we do not have as many babies as possible and hope some of them survive. We invest in our children, which implies that we will not have as many children as we could, if the marginal resource would be better spent investing in the children we already have.

Further, if Mr. Wright’s argument held, the grandparents of the child ought to be equally upset about their daughter using contraception or natural family planning, breastfeeding her children, being abstinent until marriage, delaying marriage, or in any way choosing a lifestyle other than one baby per nine months. (The parents of men, of course, will be horrified by any career choice other than sperm donor.) Naturally, this is not how people actually work. Not only are humans not rats, but we don’t even care about inclusive genetic fitness on a conscious level.

Ladies, whether you think abortion is a sacred and private woman’s right, or you think it is the crime of Medea, prudence suggest you make provision for this eventuality before it arises. Will you need comfort and support at that difficult time? Has he agreed to provide such comfort? Or does he assume that all the risks and expense and heartache are on your side, and on his side he gets the benefit of the pleasures of your body, and then he wants you to get up in the morning and make him an egg while he lies in the rumpled bed smoking a cigarette?

I find this a puzzling argument. Surely a woman who wants casual sex could arrange for a friend or loved one to provide support and comfort in the event of an abortion; there is no law that says that the support and comfort must come from the father of the child. Indeed, in quite a lot of instances of casual sex one would not want emotional support from the father of the child, on account of one has known him for a few days or weeks (or minutes). Much better to find a friend who has been your friend for years and will comfort you, and then have sex with men as feckless as you please.

The man was delighted, honored, and overjoyed to be a father, and he did what he thought was the honorable thing and asked to marry the woman: and she went out instead and had the baby killed in the womb. This was after he had bought some baby toys and clothes and so on in preparation for the blessed event.

This is an unfortunate consequence of an unfairness of biology. Among adults, we have agreed, the individual is allowed to decide for themself what medical procedures they will have performed on their own body. I am not allowed to take someone else’s kidney without their consent (even if I will die without it); I am not permitted to require my husband to get a mole removed, no matter how unsightly it is; and I am not permitted to forbid any woman from getting an abortion or not getting an abortion, as she prefers. This leads to an unfortunate situation for men, who have no control over what happens to fetuses that are biologically related to them. (One may argue that women get the more unfair biological situation overall, given that they are the ones who menstruate and get pregnant, and that it is extraordinarily rare for a man to, say, get bits of uterine lining lodged in places where they ought not to be and where they bleed menstrual blood into his pelvis every month, while 2-10% of women of childbearing age suffer from this malady. But nevertheless the existence of other unfair things does not somehow eliminate the existence of one unfair thing.)

John C Wright’s solution is as follows:

The only way to solve an ambiguity is to make the matter unambiguous: a ceremony, a contract, a formality. The ceremony has to be strictly binary, so the gray areas and uncertainties are minimized: either you are bound by the obligations or you are not, and the obligations need to be spelled out. The ceremony has to be public even if the mating act is private, so that multiple witnesses can confirm or deny whether the formalities are carried out.

I would like to point out that this doesn’t actually solve the problem. Quite often, men do filter their partners for willingness to have an abortion or bear a child. But there’s many a pro-life woman for whom an unwanted pregnancy is far more horrifying in grim reality than it was in theory, and many an adamantly pro-abortion woman who discovers she could never bear to abort the new life growing inside her. As long as the woman is the one who makes the decision, the man gets no more input than what she chooses to allow him. There are solutions– one could, perhaps, require the consent of both parties to go through with an abortion, or alternately to bear a child– but marriage is not one of them. All it means is that the woman who (from your perspective) murders your child is your wife, whom you’ve sworn to love and honor and cherish for the rest of your life.

5.3.1. Humans are Altricial

I agree with Mr. Wright that two sets of hands makes parenting much easier. (The same, of course, applies to three or four sets.)

What I find puzzling is Mr. Wright’s insistence that the second set of hands must be those of the child’s biological father. After all– as we see in the case of many straight couples and perhaps most lesbian and gay couples– it is perfectly possible for a person to happily raise a child that is not related to them. Of course, your coparent will likely be quite angry if you lie to them about whether or not a child is related to them or coerce them into raising an unrelated child when they do not wish to, but those are simply special cases of people getting angry at you if you lie to them or coerce them into raising children. Even if one accepts Mr. Wright’s argument, that is not an argument that one should have the biological parents of the child on board with raising them, just that one should have lined up two enthusiastic coparents before commencing a pregnancy.

And in the event that a person becomes a single parent, why is it the responsibility of the other biological parent to take care of the child? (Prudence, of course, demands that Mr. Wright make provision for single parents as well, because we have yet to experience the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.) Why is the financial support of children not the duty of the government (after all, if society wishes children to be fed, society ought to make arrangements for this itself, instead of shanghaiing random individuals connected to the case)? Why can’t the support desperately needed by single parents– some time away from the child, someone to watch the child as they work, adult company– be provided by their friends and community, including the church Mr. Wright considers himself a member of? This seems to me to be the proper pro-life and pro-child attitude.

The rule must apply even if the mating act is not meant to result in mating (as, for example, with a sterile partner or through the use of contraception) merely because otherwise the mating ceremony is without legal or social effect.


A once-in-five-thousand-years chance of a pregnancy that you firmly intend will end in adoption does not, by any reasonable stretch of the imagination, count as producing a baby, as you can tell by the vanishingly small chance that you end up raising a baby at any point. Given that it is much easier to notice whether or not someone is pregnant than it is to notice whether or not they’ve had sex– using contraception or not– the latter would be much easier to enforce both legally and socially, in the event that one chose to enforce “no babies without a coparent” instead of the more sensible path of having a society that supports parents.

My other quibble is with this point:

The easiest way (although it is not successful in all cases) to have a father love the child is to have him love the woman who is her mother beforehand.

Mr. Wright appears to be equivocating between romantic love and love the feeling in which someone’s happiness is essential to your own. Of course, valuing someone’s happiness is essential for maintaining a mutually beneficial relationship and building a family and rearing children together. But the passionate storm of emotion is far from necessary. Indeed, historically, many, many children were raised by parents who did not feel passionate romantic love for each other, either because their marriages were arranged or because there was no option for divorce once romantic love was replaced with platonic friendship. Presumably these children were not universally neglected or abandoned. Indeed, given the modern happiness and stability of arranged marriages, one might argue that that is a far better strategy for stably raising children than romantic love.

5.3.2 Bastards and Cuckoos

It is astonishing how often Mr. Wright gives advice that completely ignores that we now live in a society with contraception, paternity testing, and adoption.

5.3.3. Permanence

John C Wright argues that marriage is the foundation of civilization through an argument that, oddly, mentions only fatherhood and brotherhood, both of which would exist without marriage. He does not provide an argument that marriage with no-fault divorce is less functional at being a cornerstone of civilization than marriage without. He then argues that permanence is necessary due to prudential concerns:

Now, keep that in mind. Suppose a man, your prospective mate,  let us call him Rhett, put a piece of paper in your hand on your wedding day, to give you a clear and written contract that you could sign defining the precise nature of his and your mutual obligations. Suppose this contract said your man would kick you out once you were old and gray, but until that time, he would love, honor, and cherish you. It’s a twenty year contract. After you bear his kids, he kicks you in your now-overlarge and liver-spotted buttocks down the stairs, and he will forsake you and cleave to Anna Nicole Smith. When you ask him in tears what you shall do and what shall become of you, he tells you he frankly does not give  a damn.

What bride in her right mind would sign such a stupid contract? But according to the Libertine position, when the man acts this way with or without a signed contract, he has done nothing that can be condemned, nor even criticized.

Let us suppose further that a second man, another prospective mate, let us call him Ashley, were willing to put a contract in your hand without that provision in it. His contract vows to love and honor and cherish until death. It is permanent. It lasts until eternity calls.

Independent of any consideration of morality or honor, is not the second marriage contract clearly in your best long-term interests?

Surely it depends!

Let us assume that the contracts go both ways– that is, that one may leave the relationship with Rhett whenever one desires, and that one must continue to be married to Ashley until death do you part. And let us assume that Ashley and Rhett are identical except for the fact that one offers to marry her for life.

Now, the sensible woman must consider several points before she decides which contract to sign. First, she must consider the likelihood that she has made a mistake about Ashley’s personality and character or that he will change over time. What is the chance that Ashley will spend her entire paycheck on gambling and drinking, or that he will grow cruel and insult her, or that their every conversation will turn into a screaming match? Second, she must consider the likelihood that, in twenty years, Rhett will sign up for another twenty-year contract: that he will consider her kindness and thrift and good humor shown over twenty years of marriage, the amount of time required to accumulate shared memories and shared injokes and teach his new partner how to do that thing with her tongue he likes, and not irrelevantly his own overlarge and liver-spotted buttocks, and decide that his best option is her. Third, she must consider her own options in twenty years. Perhaps she fancies her odds of finding a better man with twenty years to search, perhaps she herself will enjoy being a cougar initiating eighteen-year-old men into the ways of love, or perhaps after twenty years of marriage she thinks curling up with a cup of tea, a good book, and four or five cats sounds just about right. Fourth, she must consider the leverage that “I’ll leave” provides her when Ashley does something she despises: does she wish to give up the power of “go to therapy or I’ll leave”, “spend enough time with me or I’ll leave”, or “stop spanking the children or I’ll leave”?

I myself agreed with my husband to stay married as long as we both shall live, unless one of us should stop being an effective altruist, I decide that I don’t want children, or we are in a high-conflict relationship, so I do not mean to say that we must always come down on the Rhett side of the question. Indeed, I expect people will be all over the Rhett-Ashley spectrum– although a full Ashley seems quite unwise, and I support people having more moderate Ashley positions like my own– and I support the creation of institutions like covenant marriage that allow people to enforce their desires. (Bit annoyed covenant marriages don’t let you pick your own preconditions for divorce, though.) But for exactly that reason it is by no means obvious that permanence maximizes a person’s relationship happiness.