Logic against abortion

A week ago the British Medical Association voted to treat abortion like any other medical procedure, say an appendectomy.

Effectively this removes even the modest restrictions imposed by the 1967 Abortion Act, those based on foetal abnormalities and risks to mother’s health.

The Act opened the door ajar and then modernity kicked it wide-open. Eight million abortions have been performed since, close to 200,000 last year alone.

Even such apocalyptic numbers are too low for the BMA. If its vote is transferred to Parliament, as it almost certainly will be, there will exist no limits to abortion for any reason or at any point, possibly up to the moment the water breaks.

I could present the obvious Christian argument against this monstrosity, but won’t. Let’s keep God out of it, shall we? Let’s discuss abortion in secular terms, but without violating the rules of logic and rhetoric established a few centuries before the Incarnation.

Fans of prenatal infanticide (FPI) always reduce the argument to its extreme, say terminating a pregnancy resulting from rape, incestuous or otherwise, or one where the doctor has to choose between saving the mother or the baby.

Now, of the 190,000-odd abortions performed last year, only about two per cent involved strictly medical reasons. I don’t know how many resulted from rape, incestuous or otherwise, but I’m guessing that this subset is small enough to be safely discounted.

Being in a secular mood today, I’m prepared to let FPIs have that one: if the impregnating chap is a dad, granddad and rapist all at the same time, let’s get rid of his spawn.

This still leaves us with close to 200,000 abortions performed each year mainly because the parents, or more usually the single mother, would rather not have their lifestyle cramped.

Now I’m the last man to want to cramp anyone’s lifestyle. However, the same argument may extend to a demented grandmother who stubbornly refuses to die, blowing her bequeathable wad on care. Why not press a pillow to her face until she stops kicking?

You got it in one: that would be murder. This practice is rather frowned upon in all societies, including those that don’t accept the validity of the Decalogue.

A BMA member would protest that this is a false analogy. A foetus isn’t a human being. It’s part of the woman’s body, like the appendix.

That’s where a logical problem starts. For the venerable BMA member is committing a rhetorical fallacy known formally as petitio principii and colloquially as begging the question.

Although this phrase is commonly misused to mean raising the question, it actually means using a conclusion yet to be proved as the premise. That’s like saying that, because Mrs May is a great statesman, she’s right to mollify the howling leftie mob.

For the premise that the foetus is no different from the appendix is wrong and will remain so until it has been proved. And if an FPI can’t prove it, killing a foetus becomes morally no different from knocking off the aforementioned grandmother.

Now, save in exceptional cases, the current law bans abortion past 24 weeks. Implicitly this suggests that at precisely 24 weeks a secular miracle occurs. What until then has been merely a part of someone else’s body instantly becomes a sovereign human being.

I for one marvel at our legislators’ ability to determine that exact moment with such pinpoint accuracy. What about 24 weeks minus one day? No? Still an appendix? One would like to see the scientific data on the basis of which this precise assessment is made.

Actually, no such data exist. The 24-week cutoff point (as it were) is purely arbitrary, a sop to those fossils who persist in insisting on the sanctity of human life. You know, for old times’ sake.

If the BMA were to defend this 24-week nonsense, they’d leave themselves open to the argument above. How about 24 minus one day? Two? Three?

If they retain a modicum of integrity, they’ll have to admit that there’s no physiological difference between a foetus at 24 weeks and one at merely 23 weeks and six days.

If they refuse to admit that, they’ll have to postulate that neither is there a valid difference between 24 weeks and 36. If we accept that false premise, then the BMA’s vote is logically sound.

According to extensive medical data, 20 to 35 per cent of babies born at 23 weeks of gestation survive. Now if a third of all babies born as prematurely as that are viable, then surely at least a third of all abortions at that time constitute infanticide? Since we don’t know which third, isn’t that a sufficient reason to ban them all?

About 95 per cent of babies born at seven months rather than nine live happily thereafter. Should they too be aborted before they crawl out of the womb?

These arguments point at a logical conclusion. The only indisputable moment at which human life begins is that of conception. Since any other moment is open to doubt, I for one fail to see any logical difference between aborting a baby three months before birth and three months after.

Hence the only logical argument in favour of abortion would be amoral: there’s nothing sacred about human life. It only has a purely utilitarian value – or not. If the mother decides the utilitarian value is nonexistent, doctors are justified in aborting the foetus at any time.

Do you like this argument? The BMA does.

Beware of Greeks bearing truth

To both Plato and Aristotle democracy meant mob rule. If you doubt that they’ve been amply vindicated, just look at Britain now.

Actually, not just Britain and not just now. Look at any Western country and try to find one in which democracy hasn’t degenerated into mobocracy.

Closer to our time, the founders of the United States, supposedly the cradle of modern democracy, detested the very concept almost to a man.

Even the most democratically minded among them, Thomas Jefferson, believed in the rule of what he called ‘natural aristocracy’: “May we not even say that that form of government is the best which provides most efficiently for a pure selection of these natural aristoi into the offices of government?”

Last time I looked, I discerned no such ‘natural aristoi’ anywhere in any ‘democratic’ government, including American or our own. Over the last 200 years Americans have let Jefferson down, wouldn’t you say? And not only him.

Alexander Hamilton and James Madison both detested majority rule and attacked it passionately every chance they got. And in 1806 Adams wrote, “I once thought our Constitution was a quasi or mixed government, but they had made it… a democracy.”

Hence when the neocons and other cardsharps at our post-truth, post-reason table invoke those sainted names as a justification for their democracy worship, they commit an act of historical, intellectual and moral larceny.

Precious few people are able or willing to call them to task, to point out the fundamental difference between democracy and republicanism. The former is majority rule, with 50 per cent plus one able to impose their dictatorial will on the remaining 50 per cent minus one. In the latter, people elect the best person among them to govern according to their interests but not necessarily their wishes.

Edmund Burke went to great lengths explaining that MPs are their constituents’ representatives, not delegates. Once elected, they govern according to their own conscience and understanding of the peoples’ interests.

Today’s lot solve the problem of representatives vs. delegates by being neither. They seek power for its own sake, not to advance public good. And that’s where the prescience of those wise Anglophone thinkers failed them.

They didn’t realise that any constitution, written or unwritten, is fluid. They all develop, and one form of government can easily morph into another – possibly something better, more usually something worse.

A successful republic can only be sustained over centuries given an uninterrupted supply of brilliant, selfless, courageous statesmen. That supply has been dwindling – steadily and predictably. In proclaiming new virtues those thinkers didn’t account for original sin. Hence they didn’t realise that a republic is bound to degenerate into a democracy, and the latter into mob rule.

Modern, which is to say post-1688, Britain was constituted as a republican monarchy, with a heavy accent on the modifier. However, our government has become neither republican nor monarchical. It’s a toxic cocktail of spivocracy and mobocracy.

Witness the weathervane job being performed by the panic-stricken Tory government. Only those who don’t understand political taxonomy can describe it as either democratic or republican (forget about monarchical – that adjective has fallen into disuse since 1688).

If HMG were democratic, it would clearly communicate its political credo, how it’s to be implemented and what the expected effect will be.

Since the ruling party calls itself Conservative, one would expect such a credo to include conservative policies: an accent on individual responsibility rather than collective security, fiscal frugality, commitment to defending the people against internal and external threats, low taxation and public spending, social justice in the sense of everyone getting his just deserts, respect for hierarchies, upholding traditional morality.

A democratic government would then say to the people: “This is what we believe will serve your interests much better than the opposite policies advocated by the other party. If you agree, support us. If you disagree, support them. The choice is yours.”

A republican government would deliver a different message: “You’ve elected us to act in your best interests, as we understand them. You’ve had your say, and you won’t have another until the next general election. By all means, let us know, in a civilised and orderly fashion, what you think, and we’ll give your concerns proper consideration. But we shan’t be obligated to do what you want – that’s not what you elected us for.”

It doesn’t take an eagle eye to see that Mrs May’s government adheres to neither model. In the run-up to the election it didn’t give the electorate a choice between conservatism and socialism. The choice was between Labour Lite and Labour Full-strength.

Labour Lite won a pathetically narrow victory, but Labour Full-strength wouldn’t take it lying down. Led by a revolting hybrid of Trotsky and Hitler, it has set to vindicate my belief that democracy’s rich potential for degenerating into mobocracy has been realised.

Pre-pubescent cretins have come out screaming seditious, mendacious, communist slogans to the effect that they want Labour Full-strength in power, election or no election. They demand an end to austerity, meaning that HMG should spend more than the 10 per cent over its income that it currently spends.

But what their specific demands are doesn’t matter. They are anomic, which is to say destructive. If putting the revolting hybrid of Trotsky and Hitler into power demanded a call for the slaughter of every first-born child, that’s what they’d be screaming.

And the government’s response to mob action? Effectively it’s saying: “Please keep us in power, and we’ll do what you say. You don’t need to oust us to get Labour Full-strength. We can be it – or anything else you desire.”

No tuition fees? Done. No cap on public sector pay? Splendid. No grammar schools? But of course. More social spending? Sorted. More spending on the NHS? Agreed. Abortion up until delivery? Wonderful idea.

Lowering the voting age to 16? You only need to ask. Didn’t Comrade Trotsky explain that “the youth is the barometer of the whole nation”? Of course he did. So the more youthful our electorate, the better. Just look how well those young Red Guards performed in China and Cambodia. If that’s what you want, you only need to ask.

A government that can stay in power only by pandering to the mob is neither a republic nor a democracy nor, God forbid, a monarchy. It’s a mobocracy. It’s the government we have – the only government we’ll ever have until we have none or, more likely, an outright despotism.

Plato and Aristotle warned us. We didn’t listen.



Kamm, he don’t know nothing

It’s one of life’s little mysteries that Ollie Kamm has got to be regarded as an authority on the English language. That he regards himself as such is no mystery at all: ignorant effrontery is almost an ironclad job requirement for today’s hacks.

Ollie’s usual output preaches a relativistic vox populi approach to language: if people say it, it must be right. Today’s offering has some of that: “he don’t know nothing is ungrammatical in standard English, but grammatical in some other dialects”.

What he means is that this ungrammatical solecism is used in some other dialects, or rather in the most widespread one: illiterate English. That doesn’t make it grammatical, which concept presupposes adherence to a certain universal standard. But then our language guru is deaf to such subtleties.

The main thrust of his piece today is a vituperative attack on Geoffrey Wheatcroft, “a political commentator with absolutely no qualifications in language”.

It’s true that Mr Wheatcroft read history rather than English at Oxford. However, one could argue that an author of countless articles and half a dozen books written over the better part of 40 years has at least some qualifications. Then again, when Ollie gets on his high horse, there’s no dismounting him.

What made Ollie saddle his trusted steed this time is Mr Wheatcroft’s innocent remark that English is “ideally suited to be the global lingua franca” partly because of its “rudimentary grammar”.

When Ollie’s in the saddle, no remark is innocent. If English grammar were rudimentary, Ollie shrieks, “the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language” wouldn’t comprise “1,800 closely typed pages”.

Actually, the definite article before Cambridge Grammar should be capitalised, but let’s not be too harsh on our self-styled pedant. What’s amusing here is that his argument is a non sequitur, reminding one of a Chekhov character arguing that, “if Pushkin hadn’t been a great psychologist, he wouldn’t have merited a statue in Moscow.”

English grammar is nuanced and subtle, sufficiently so to justify writing many more than 1,800 pages of an academic study. However, it’s indeed rudimentary and relatively easy to learn for everyday use, which is one of the reasons English is “ideally suited to be the global lingua franca”.

Ollie is ignorant in such matters, but he suspects his readers are even more ignorant than he is. That explains his next argument: “A clause like Geoffrey Wheatcroft is an idiot demonstrates the importance of fixed word order in English.”

First, the cited group of words isn’t a clause but a stand-alone sentence. Second, because it’s a citation, however hypothetical, it should be in quotation marks. And third, people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw the word ‘idiot’ about so gratuitously.

Words have specific meanings, Ollie, if you’ll forgive a truism. Hence rudimentary grammar means just that – it doesn’t mean no grammar at all. English does have some rules, of which a fixed word order is one. Sometimes it’s ignored for stylistic purposes, which is called inversion.

By way of illustrating this stylistic device, it’s used in the clause of the sentence “Ignorant though Ollie is, he pontificates on the fine points of English with an air of ill-deserved authority”.

That Ollie is neither excessively bright nor averse to truisms follows from his next statement: “It’s absurd to say that English has less grammar than an inflected language like Latin. Rather, different languages make similar grammatical distinctions using different sorts of grammatical devices.”

By contrast to synthetic languages like Latin, Russian, Hungarian and so forth, English is analytic, meaning it largely conveys grammatical relationships not morphologically but lexically and stylistically.

Rather than inflecting words with morphemes, English achieves the same purpose by using lexical units, such as prepositions, particles, modifiers, possessives etc. It also heavily relies on stylistic devices, such as word order, context and idioms.

The example Ollie proffers with the smugness of someone who has just blazed a new trail illustrates just that: “attributive adjectives of size precede those of colour. In English… the girl has long blond hair, not blond long hair…”

Well done, Ollie, even though in the country where English originated a girl’s hair tends to be blonde, not blond. But in either case this is an example of achieving a grammatical objective by stylistic means.

English eschews whole grammatical categories that make synthetic languages so difficult to learn, such as gender, conjugation and case. I don’t know how many foreign languages Ollie knows (not many, would be my guess). But my wife, who’s fluent in two Romance languages and competent in two more has trouble with Russian because learning its grammar requires more time than she’s willing to spend.

Russian has six cases, and words in a sentence must agree not only in case, but also in gender and number, which indeed makes learning Russian grammar a time-consuming proposition. But that’s nothing compared to synthetic Finno-Ugric languages, such as Hungarian that boasts 18 cases.

The upshot of it is that Mr Wheatcroft is right, and Ollie is wrong, yet again. English grammar is indeed rudimentary, making it easy for a foreigner to learn well enough to communicate basic thoughts even if he gets something wrong.

By contrast, synthetic languages, such as Russian or Hungarian, are devilishly hard to learn because, until a learner comes to grips with the interrelationships among all those cases, genders and numbers, he won’t be able to communicate at all, understandably at any rate.

However, once he has mastered the grammar rules, he’ll be able to speak the synthetic language reasonably well. Not so with English: learning the grammar rules is but a start.

Because English grammar relies so heavily on stylistic and idiomatic nuances, it may be easy to learn adequately but extremely hard to learn really well. That’s why even university-educated Englishmen (to say nothing of Americans) routinely utter ungrammatical sentences, which is extremely rare for a similarly educated Russian.

Ollie concludes with a sentence impossible to take issue with: “In grammar… it seems that unqualified commentators can always get away with assertions that haven’t been checked and make no sense.” Quite. He’s one such unqualified commentator.