Sorry, conventionalists, I'm going back to my old Victorian letter-writer/typist's style of using underlining for primary emphasis because it's just too distracting for me to use bold for primary emphasis all the time and italics don't always show up well. Links are burnt-orange and usually bolded in my personal style-sheet; bold & italics indicate shifts in tone.
And I'm not doing this for praise, it's embarrassing to be praised for something that I should have had the guts to do back in 2004, and in 2006, and in 2008, and didn't.
Souvenir from another country - the past, that is--
Fred's posts at Slacktivist have helped clarify the way that prolifers do not, for the most part, really believe the "Abortion is murder!" slogans they trot out, any more than Millennial Dispensationalists really believe that the End of the World is nigh as they go right on making long-term investments and generally living like everybody else. Struggling with the cognitive dissonance of both Apocalypticism and Prolifism in my own sub-society and trying to explain a worldview that makes planning to blow up buildings in your hometown seem not only sane but a moral imperative to a devout teenager, and yet not to the adults who preached it daily, the "don't really believe it on a fundamental level" is invaluable as an explanation - but as a philosopher and student of human nature, the question then becomes "so why do they embrace it?"
I know why I did - I was raised to, with no conflicting teachings; but why do adults choose it, as my parents and their friends did? To this I must answer with the question, "Why did I continue to cling to it, even when I knew it was rubbish?" and the answer to that is found in the term "Sin Cooties," coined by natecull years ago when we were all discussing the problems of faith, loss of faith, different kinds of faith, Fearing Believers (as opposed to Cheerful Believers) and dogmatic behavior generally.
"Sin Cooties" is the ontological moral contamination you get from entertaining doubts however slight, from hanging around sinners, from disobeying your authority figures, from wandering into the ill-defined and nebulous shadows of The World. Sin Cooties are not on your head, but in it - and your fellow conservatives can see them too, if you dare voice any doubts aloud.
How serious is the fear of Sin Cooties? It's why I didn't - couldn't - bring myself to vote at all in 2000, as I have said before. The bishops said that voting for Al Gore would be supporting a Grave Moral Evil, but I couldn't accept that the alternative wasn't also a Grave Moral Evil by that point. So I stayed home, and consoled myself that my single vote wouldn't have made a difference.
It is not, as I have also said many times before, much of a consolation.
The Functions Prolifism Serves, For the Prolifer, are twofold: Moral Anaesthetic, and Absolvement from All Sins of Ignorance, Inaction, and Complicity in other Wrongs
Prolifism as a policy serves obvious ends for plutocrats and their high-level hangers-on. But what do prolifers of the rank-and-file get out of it, besides the ability to feel virtuous and saintly and lord it over those dirty, dirty sluts who want to have sex without any consequences?
Oh, lots and lots of things!
You don't have to care about any other wrongs in the world, if you're a Prolifer. You don't have to care about practical policies, or get involved in trying to right any present wrongs - you're too busy praying to Save The Babies! You don't need to know anything about economics or history or the messy horrible complexities of real-world politics and how the "Good guys" really often aren't - all you need to know is who is for kitten-burning and who isn't.
It's very clean, simple, and guarantees that you can maintain your peace-of-mind by staying Sin-Cootie-free.
Bluntly, prolifism, as a political movement, has as its primary function an excuse for non-engagement with the world, for total apathy as regards society, community, humanity and creation at large - under the veneer of a moral stance which is entirely fictive, but allows the prolifer to believe that s/he is infinitely superior to the "drop out" who owns his or her disengagement from the polis, at least.
If you're "prolife" you don't have to care about war, torture, crime (except in your own backyard), poverty, hunger, ecological destruction, economic inequities, corruption, or any form of societal injustice, because you "care" about The Greatest Injustice Of Them All, the Ongoing Holocaust of Abortion, The Daily Slaughter of the Holy Innocents, and that trumps everything. (Just read the editorials at Town Hall if you don't believe me - Dr. Mike Adams, frequent subject of World o'Crap, may be somewhat unique in his crassness and careless id-baring, but he is entirely typical of the self-righteousness of prolifers I knew, and was raised among, from the Seventies.
(Oh, you can care about other things - pollution, public transit, organic agriculture - but not enough to actually work or vote for them. If you do, then you're swiftly going to be drummed out of the movement as a liberal traitor, unless you're very very quiet about it.)
(And yes, a very, very few prolifers adopt children with Downs' syndrome, or work in charity clinics, or do other Good Works in the world. (I've known them. I can count them on my fingers with fingers to spare.) Most don't. Most of us used the excuse that we were too busy and too constrained taking care of our own big families, "doing our duty to be fruitful and multiply" to do anything else, other than "Vote Prolife!" and send some money to the Knights of Columbus or other prolife charities now and then, or work for Pat Buchanan's or Alan Keyes' campaign or prolife thinktanks.)
All you have to do is make noise - to whatever level you're comfortable with - and indulge yourself with flagellation over all the burned kittens you haven't managed to save - and not worry your pretty little head about how the world is governed, cui bono? and the messy realities of trying to Get Things Done. And you never will, so long as you're Prolife.
It's the perfect cover for absolute selfishness and Sloth, disguised as the Ultimate in Altruistic Virtue. Because on a deep and dissonant level, adult prolifers all know that they are very unlikely to ever get their way, that they don't have to worry about the consequences of overturning Roe v. Wade or Griswold v. Connecticut.
This is demonstrated over and over again when people interview militant prolifers and ask them what punishments should be meted out to women who get abortions (let alone doctors who perform them), and if the answer is none, then why not? since by their own logic these women are no different from the man who hires an assassin to take out his wife, which is a crime worse than murder in some states including my own - and they babble and stare like toddlers, completely confounded at the notion that they might actually succeed in outlawing abortion and then be faced with the problem of administering their success.
This was demonstrated to me, personally, when I was still a teenager, when I couldn't help but notice that after dutifully pulling the lever for and getting, three Republican "prolife" presidential administrations in a row, not a jot of progress had been made on our cause of overturning Roe v. Wade and none seemed forthcoming - and my parents admitted that well, no, because politicians have to get re-elected and there wasn't enough of a prolife majority in the country to allow it - but it was STILL important to take a Moral Stance and "Vote Prolife!" anyways--
Um, okay. Ideals important. Got it. After all, who was I, an ignorant girl, a mere teenager, to consider myself wiser than my parents who had traveled the world and studied Ethics professionally? And if we are faithful enough, maybe God will soften their hearts and A Miracle Will Happen...
In other words, it's a vanity vote, a symbolic gesture that keeps off the Sin Cooties, and is not really expected to accomplish its stated goal - and this is accepted by the more engaged and aware prolifers explicitly, and subconsciously by most of the rest - thus their failure to think at all about how the implementation of their aims would pan out. (Oh, how I hated Margaret Atwood for asking me this question, in 1985!)
For most of them this is a comfort, really, but for the few who are consumed with agony about the kitten-burners, it is a spur to action. Thus the John Salvis and Eric Rudolphs and Scott Roeders, the ones who prove that "ideas have consequences" as intellectual conservatives have loved to boast for decades - no matter how much they flee from the consequence of all their "Holocaust of Abortion" talk after the fact.
But the truth is that it wasn't ever intended to be taken seriously, where "seriously" means doing more than sitting around over glasses of chianti after dinner and talking, or holding conferences, raising funds, or possibly spending a few hours hassling strangers and indulging your social-animal aggression in a way accepted and lauded by your sub-society...and, of course, voting for Republicans.
So go on voting for torturers, go on voting against any social safety nets, go on voting against sex ed and contraception and real support for unwed mothers and health care for impoverished infants, go on voting against worker protections and environmental justice and help for people with disabilities and for the rights of billionaires to go on hoarding and squandering and abusing those who make their money for them, go on voting against the Beatitudes and console yourselves that it's all a sign of how fucking virtuous you are, because that's all that matters.
Spiritual narcissism - yet another manifestation of it, in the real world.
It's A Cover For Self-Interest, For Most
You might well wonder how prolifers reconcile voting for policies that promote abortion as well as hurt born children and adults, and while the first and simplest answer is that when you stay inside your ideological bubble you will never have to deal with this problem, the second answer is that cognitive dissonance can be ignored, for a while at least - and the more profitable it is for one personally the easier it is to ignore.
I've written before about how very, very few people explicitly and willfully vote against their own self-interest - that may be the outcome, but it's not what they think they're doing. I have known quite a few poor people, my own parents not excluded, who voted for Republicans not because they thought that it was okay if they were poor but other people were still poorer, but because they really believed on the one hand in prolifism - and also on the other hand really believed that liberal policies would make things financially worse for them than they already were. Things were not good in the US in the Sixties and Seventies for most everyone, as I have said before, and people who weren't around then (and some who were) forget just how dire an urban wasteland it was from coast to coast, with shuttered factories and recessions and most everything in stores even then being made overseas, and it wasn't just the macho flattery that helped propel Reagan to a national landslide, the chestpounding promises to give Uncle Sam his erection back in the face of those swarthy furriners taking our oil and our access away, but also the fact that The Great Society had been a wash for an awful lot of working class whites, every year things getting more expensive and no raises or jokes of raises and opportunities to escape it being few, far between and requiring the subsidization of education by the GI bill, or better-off family members...
Things were broke, IOW, and Republicans promised to fix them, and part of that of course was the argument that money had been going to "the undeserving" - it wasn't spelled out that these undeserving were mainly black, but if you knew the dogwhistles they were there to be heard, and if you didn't then it seemed like all accusations of conservative racism were out of line - but also slutty, selfish women of all hues taking away jobs from men, and those lazy white poor people like your no-account brother-in-law who should get a haircut and a real job instead of being a hippie, and the Decadent Artists of the NEA, and the decadent secular-humanists of public education at the other NEA, and the fat cats of Democratic politicians with their greed and graft - the Kennedys weren't exactly living lives of Catholic Worker austerity, were they? - and the Union Thugs with their overpaid cushy entitlements, and the promise of Reagan in 1979 was that once all this flow of taxpayer dollars to The Unworthy was stopped, the hard-working and virtuous rest of us would get what we should have had all along but was squandered by the Dems all these years under the lie of "caring about the unfortunate" - it wasn't like the poor were getting out of poverty, was it? So tax cuts were obviously the answer, and it wasn't like the so-called liberal media did any kind of a job pointing out the problems with this line of argument in 1979, either.
And it becomes a bit of an argument of competing faiths - things would be worse* under a liberal administration! - and no way to experimentally run tests in labs, and the SCLM continuing to fall down on its job presenting the bigger pictures with data from past years in comprehensible graphs such as you can find for free on any number of amateur blogs these days, or to debunk the plutocratic disinformation of all kinds, so "reasonable people can disagree" and claim to be fiscal conservatives without being selfish assholes out to piss on the poor and tell them it's raining gold.
If your husband is a mild-mannered sort, if he has a cushy job and a paycheck in the top 10% with, say, a defense contractor (to speak of several RL examples I know, as New England is rife with profiteers) and you don't need to work for a living, and you never have to worry about feeding your children or taking them to the doctor, then you may not feel at all oppressed by Republicanism or constrained by prolifism (especially if you sort of wink at Humanae Vitae the way most Catholics, even conservative ones, do) and how DARE anyone suggest that you pay a hundred dollars more a year in taxes to help those dirty sluts who should have kept their legs shut and all the rest of the rabble?
But when it becomes too obvious for all but the ideological die-hards to ignore that conservatives are bad for the economy where "the economy" means "how most people in the country are doing" and not "how the sliver of plutocrats are doing" - and I've worked for several of such ideological die-hards who think that the only problem was not clapping harder & if only there had been a REAL fiscal conservative in office everything would have been better, and there are plenty of them, business owners large and small who donated to the McCain campaign after two years of donating to Bush II - such as by 1988, that's when you have crises of faith that have to be dealt with. And, what do you know, that's when loads of people who were formerly solidly "prolife" voters go and vote for "proabortion" liberals, because it's finally hit home to them. (Thus the return of the Reagan Dems to the fold.)
But for those who are well-off, and don't anticipate any downturn turning them down, or who are nevertheless still afraid that despite everything that has happened to them so far they'd be worse off fiscally if Democrats were in charge, well, then, "I'm Prolife" sounds a lot better than "I Got Mine, Screw You" or "I'm going to hang onto my onion and Devil take the hindmost!" Both sides may be equally corrupt and bad for America, because they're politicians, - the claims of equivalency are very, very old - but at least one of them cares about The Babies! So we vote for them because we have to, to avoid supporting the Grave Moral Evil of Abortion (shutupshutupshutup about the poor and hungry and imprisoned and tortured and dead of unjust wars and all the rest--)
Our consciences are clean and sin-cootie free, and that's all that matters.
(So, should dear old Nana and Auntie Ellie have gone to hell for their long-ago illegal abortions, or just to jail? Or should they have died in suppurating, pus-pouring fevers instead? LALALAICANTHEARYOU--)
Not All Self-Interest Is Fiscal, Or Solely, Though--
Having an escape from the moral complexities and the intellectual ones is also a crucial and urgent need, and this is not just a conservative thing, of course - it's a human one, and no one is immune to the temptation of oversimplification and ignoring the messy bits that don't fit neatly into whichever system is most attractive, simply by virtue of political alignment.
Too harsh? I'm afraid I've not been harsh enough on us "prolifers" and our concern for our own personal sanctity and avoidance of Sin Cooties combined with wilfull ignorance and sanctimonious meddling in the world's affairs while pretending to be "in it but not of it." I tried to bury my personal past under layer upon layer of oblivion, not simply because it was too painful but out of shame as well, but no amount of cement can entomb a reactor and no amount of pretending can fully block out what was and hence is, affecting the present perpetually. If it were only affecting me I would have no duty to speak of it (I think) - but it doesn't and never has.
Back in the mid-Seventies my mother would often say that she stopped liking her favorite folksingers like Joan Baez when they became "political", and abandoned pure art for politics; I never understood what this meant, until I got online and started understanding what were the politics we were ignoring in the Seventies for our prolifism and our talk of Building The City Of God by fighting sex, drugs and rock'n'roll with a Christian Coalition and a Moral Majority instead. Oh, and rolling back the wrongs of Vatican II, of course.
I didn't know about, frex, the grape boycotts - I didn't know there was anything controversial about grapes, even though we lived in California, even though my mother had been a huge Spock fangirl and Nimoy was part of the protests, I never heard the name Cesar Chavez in any context until I was in college. We loved grapes, ate them all the time - giving them up would have been a real sacrifice for my family. I didn't know about Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement until I was in college, except some vague dismissals of all that as "liberal cafeteria Catholicism" and "liberation theology-heresy", I never heard about ongoing racially-motivated voter suppression or unequal pay based on gender or the continuing abuses and cheating of First Nations reservations of their due, or how poverty was linked to ill-health and shorter lifespans, or the SOA and why people were against the "good" Shah of Iran, or the plight of migrant workers in general, and how our cheap goods and sales all depended on a system of exploitation of people all around the world-- I remember asking my mother as a very small kid Why were things made overseas? and being told it was because they cost less because you didn't have to pay people in other countries as much, and when I asked in turn if this were not a bad thing, cheating people and making them poor, my mother blithely said no, of course not, because money was different elsewhere and so a penny there was like a dollar here and everything worked out fine.
I did hear about the badness of Nestle because there was a lot of overlap in the prolife movement with the natural childbirth and breastfeeding movements, but it didn't extend to any sort of activism or boycotting of other Nestle products. Boycotting and activism are work, and require real sacrifices, you see.
No, I heard about how the wicked pagan Japanese had lots of abortions because they were heathens who didn't know the true God, how French cosmetic companies were turning aborted babies into makeup because they had abandoned the true God, how Upjohn was an evil company because it made IUDs, how condoms caused abortions by creating a mentality of not wanting children, how the Girl Scouts were just a cover for Planned Parenthood and the March For Dimes was evil because it was a cover for eugenics tricking people into thinking it was about helping the handicapped when it was really about killing them, and thus the United Way was EBOL, too, and on and on, all these Grave Evils that were covered every week and month in The Wanderer and The National Catholic Register and Fidelity and Columbia and New Oxford Review, all these sources of Truth Untainted By The Liberal Media.
On the other hand, my mother hated pollution, hated litter, hated the destruction of the environment, hated snowmobiles tearing up pristine wilderness and DDT as much as she hated the destruction of historic architecture and the rail system in this country. She talked an awful lot about how much better it was in Western Europe where they had rational recycling programs and public transit and worked around trees and old buildings, even if they were godless contracepting euthanizing liberals who were all going to Hell in a handbasket and going to die out due to their selfishness--
Other people, though - liberals all, or moderates, none of them prolifers and thus part of The Bad Guys, the Anti-Lifers - were the ones to spend years fighting to stop polluters in the Northeast, preserve local wetlands and heritage trails and put in place our town's recyling program over the objections of local conservative politicians and pundits who argued that it was too expensive and teaching kids about preserving the environment was wussy and effeminate, and tried as they do still with Sysiphean persistence against the massive weight of the auto lobby to get us back our passenger rail. Her sole involvement with the community was putting in a Perpetual Adoration program at the local parish...but hey, faith moves mountains, right?
Imperialism of the sort that led to children being napalmed in the fields was bad, but the answer was to pray more and offer up our sufferings. The only peoples whose sufferings truly mattered - besides unborn babies - were fellow Christians, and particularly fellow Catholics - the South Vietnamese, frex, and those Catholic Chinese who according to our sub-society's mythology were the only ones being victimized by the forced labor camps, which was (along with the forced abortions) the only problem with buying things made in China. Which we still bought, of course, because that was a) all we could afford, b) most of what was in the stores. But at least we angsted about it, which made us morally superior to the rest of secular-humanist-materialist America!
--My parents had both been involved, like many Boomers, in anti-Vietnam-War protests and could see the problems with the rampant, soulless marketing-centered world of the Fifties and Sixties as well as the hollowness of the jingoistic patriotism from up close and within Fortress America as lifelong USAF brats - but they couldn't cope with the complexity of the world as a whole, the fact that there were no political groups out there they could join that were perfectly Good and Pure and uncontaminated by pride and greed and injustice and folly. So - as we see today with others of our same ilk like Rod Dreher - there was this continual fruitless ever-frustrated search for a spiritual and political outfit to join that would be TRULY pure and holy and noble and not have any jerks in it. Which, um, doesn't exist, and the faith that your particular current cluster is like that can only be maintained by ignoring reality, which is easiest to do if you focus all your attention outward on the baddies outside, which explains, again, Dreher and Bozell and all the True Believers at the Heritage Foundation and schools like Steubenville University and Thomas Aquinas College and so forth.
And yet they weren't totally isolated: we did, as I said, get "secular" publications like National Geographic and Air & Space and the Boston Globe and watch PBS, and sometimes CNN, had a house full of books that were not published by TAN or Ignatius along with all the ones that were, and although there was always this caveat that anything that contradicted our orthodox dogmas was to be ignored as liberal deceptions, nevertheless there was a constant influx of data from other sources, and that means that my parents had to be ignoring a hell of a lot of stuff that I, as a kid, wasn't aware of or didn't have any of the background to recognize at the time. I didn't know, frex, until I was online and reading blogs - and remember, I didn't start out in the political blogosphere, I got pulled into it because fandom and RL are not exclusive Venn Sets - that Bork was a Nixon hatchetman, though my folks disapproved of Nixon (which was rather heretical of them as conservatives, and had as much to do with his nekulturny presentation as with principles I think) and that there could be any rationale behind opposition to him as a Supreme Court nominee back then than diabolical Party-of-Death anti-life ideology.
Which brings me to the ugliest part of the looking-away that is required to be a single-issue prolifer, and that is how "not-racist" conservatives turned and turn a piously-uplifited eye away from all the racist dogwhistles - conservatives who lived through the Civil Rights battles of the Sixties, who were stationed in the South and/or had relatives there, who could not possibly not have known what Reagan going to Philadelphia, Mississippi and talking about States' Rights meant in 1980 - something that I didn't know about at the time as a schoolkid, not being given access to any but the prolife 'zines for "secular" news, but as soon as I heard about it a few years ago via blogs I knew exactly what it had meant then because we had as a family a) watched Eyes on the Prize on PBS when it came out in 1987 and b) had long the Dover book of Ben Shawn drawings which has his portraits of the three murdered men and background history, meaning that if I had heard that pertinent fact I would have known how it was pertinent even as a high schooler who had not lived through it - and yet got all self-righteously huffy at accusations of conservative-movement racism - who had lived in California when St. Ronnie was governor and openly prochoice, and yet accepted that he was "really" a prolife candidate now? The fuck? If even I as a sheltered New England schoolkid could get twitchy vibes in the Eighties and wonder what was being said because it didn't make sense - ie I could hear the dogwhistles even if I didn't know what the code meant exactly - by editorials going on and on about "welfare queens" and "inner city" in the Reagan years, how could my elders simultaneously be far more immersed in the mid-20th-century US middle-American culture and pretend that us being against Planned Parenthood was being REALLY antiracist because Margaret Sanger and also we were for Self Reliance instead of the handouts of Affirmative Action and bullshit bullshit bullshit piled upon more bullshit--
But hey, we're Saving Babies by voting straight-ticket Republican to overthrow Roe vs. Wade and Griswold vs. Connecticut! Even if we aren't and they won't.
But you get to feel like you're making a difference, without having to do anything that you don't want to do, that you haven't chosen to do, and it can be a voluntary poverty in which you simultaneously keep having children that you can't afford to take care of without the constant subsidization by relatives and neighbors and strangers who have not chosen to have more children than they can afford, while insisting that EVERYONE in the world should be compelled to live as you do, and "God will provide" the way He is providing those "free" turkeys and clothes and toys and medical payments for your kids, and also go on about how noble and martyred you are because you're suffering because you can't afford to take vacations or do fun things and make your kids feel like shit every day for existing, and pit them in competition with each other for your attention as well as resources, and set them against each other by favoring now this one, now that one, or pretending to at least behind their backs, and tell them they want each other dead, they want their little brothers and sisters dead when they get frustrated at being jammed into warrens and told they can't have nice things because we have babies instead and brush off their self-harming and suicide attempts as "normal adolescent self-indulgence", and go on and on about how all those other adults (your neighbors, your own brothers and sisters, your kids' schoolteachers, everyone in the world) who aren't like you are hateful, selfish, and in Love With Death while you start fantasizing about killing your kids as they and your self-martyring circumstances drive you ever crazier...but never, ever walk it back and admit that you ever embraced a position that might have been in the least bit wrong/uninformed/out-of-touch with reality, because you're too proud...
And seriously, who wants to try to figure out who's lying and who isn't, or what the ins-and-outs of some complicated funding bill are, or to deal with the fact that your Congresscritter might be good when it comes to some things but a total schmuck w/r/t others and if you do participate then you're partly responsible for the failures and ohshit there's just SO MUCH WRONG IN THE WORLD HOW CAN ONE PERSON EVEN THINK ABOUT IT ALL LET ALONE CARE STILL LESS TRY TO FIGURE OUT WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT--? I certainly don't! It's not particularly fun, or rewarding, and it never does end, though witty souls do their best to lighten the burden with snark and satire and occasional cookies. As ever was...
And so you end up with people who know that they are tools of the polluting, poverty-exploiting, materialistic, warmongering, xenophobic, racist corporate Hegemony that they claim to despise and oppose, who know that their "prolife" votes are going to cynical liars who pay lip-service to the "saving babies" rhetoric solely to gain their votes and that said votes are nothing more than empty gestures to maintain their own ritual purity of heart - and plume themselves that this knowingly-empty, ritual-purity-maintaining gesture that causes in however small a degree real material harm to humanity and supports the violation of the religious and moral principles they claim to be upholding, makes them more moral than everybody else.
And when they do admit it and stop "voting prolife" they often just retreat from politics altogether, retreat into a safe cynicism in which "everyone is equally bad when it comes to politics," letting everyone else who remains engaged do the heavy lifting and coasting along, letting others carry their weight building and mending and creating in society while they sit there and complain about how nobody's doing a good enough job and they're all dirty sinners, anyway, and things were so much better in the Good Old Days!
--Which is why I am no longer a crunchy-con prolifer, and have no respect for that mindset or those who remain in it, now. But I do understand why they bitterly resent being forced to confront the consequences of their embraced positions, embraced leaders, and social injustice in the world generally.
Because deep, deep down, you always know that the Sin Cooties aren't real, that they're just in your head, and that any God that exists and is worthy of the name can't possibly be as small and petty and sex-obsessed as you and your pals are--
* This is not a phenomenon unique to Republicans/conservatives in this country, either; but by this point, just as in 1932, there is more than enough evidence that while a Democratic administration will not necessarily improve things for any of us individually, a Republican one will sink too many little ships and benefit too few to be risked again.