Is a Fetus an Appendix

Chuck Grimes cgrimes at
Tue Aug 17 14:17:44 PDT 1999

Max writes:

I promised I'd shut up on PEN-L, but not here, not just yet.

This post is too awful to ignore, not in its intentions, rhetoric, or logical coherence, but in its flinching from a basic moral issue. There's some kind of underlying philosophy here that I find really repulsive, though I'm not sufficiently informed to know the name of what it is I am quite sure I don't like. (No personal offense intended.)


You should go back over the post later, and think a little about it.

I am not flinching from a basic moral issue. I refuse to consider moral dilemmas as anything but emotive manipulation to political or economic ends. In other words propaganda, advertising, or theater. So, I look for the directed end of that manipulation. These discourses on abortion are literally theater, discourse as drama.

I assume you find my refusal to engage these sorts of discussions with a passionate belief system repulsive. That is, my arguments are somehow inhumane. Are you asking how could I not be caught up in the tragedy of it all? The frank answer is I am a cold hearted son of a bitch.

"I always read the periodic philsophical excursions from assorted parties which purport to transcend elementary questions about

morals, ethics, or whatever you'd like to call it, and never been the least persuaded. It all strikes me as an apparatus held in reserve to rationalize awful crimes, in the sincere interest of averting what are viewed as even greater crimes (i.e., stalin as an improvement over Russian feudalism.." (MS)

Max, this association is about another post, from another list. Slow down and re-read my post later. It should imply that in fact, it is the institutional power of church and state that is exercised over the lives of women and men that is the real issue in the abortion debates.

"It rarely occurs to anyone in these debates that they are enacting and reproducing power struggles between themselves and the institutions of authority that in the concrete, absolutely control them. They consider it a moral dilemma over choice. But the choice is not theirs to deliberate. It is always, already been decided by institutional authority." (CG)

"mbs: Hard to see the sense in this. Clearly choices are in doubt, else there would be no cause to debate whether "choice" should be expanded or contracted. There is also some flavor of all our behavior is determined by forces beyond our control, in which there really is no point for things like this list. If this is not the meaning of the statement above, then there seems to be no meaning at all." (MS)

Okay. What is involved in the concrete? Women and girls decide to get pregnant or not, whether to have the baby or abort. They make judgments and balance out whatever is involved. But those judgments and balance sheets are already configured through their relationships with their boyfriend or husband, their other family and friends, the legal system, the medical establishment, their economic condition, age, and on and on. In what sense is there any freedom of choice? Everybody I've know who had an abortion or went to term, didn't think of themselves as free to decide--they felt imprisoned, determined somehow in advance. In that sense there was no moral dilemma, but rather all sorts of practical questions.

"Consider that the Church and the State preempt all authority over the means and fate of human life in principle." (CG)

"Meaning, for the sake of argument, but not really?" (MS)

Meaning for example, exactly what I said. Church and State literally write out laws that say, point blank, this is right, this wrong, this group will live, this group will die. That is an assumption of authority to decide in advance all moral questions. There is no excess of paranoia, here. Go ask a judge or a priest, or rabbi or mullah. They step right up to the plate and tell you in no uncertain terms exactly what is right and wrong, who gets to heaven and who goes to hell. Meanwhile, they will punish you if you decide differently, no matter what your excuse. So, in my view, that is a presumption of authority to determine the means and fate of human existence. And, that presumption is the agenda on the table. Questions about abortion and child birth are merely inflammatory details--the means to convince us that institutional power is essential to our existence.

"mbs: Actually nobody, including you, has directly ventured a serious opinion on what a fetus is. The exception is Carrol, who says it is an appendix."

I thought you were joking. An appendix? Sure. It's an appendix, or a second class Siamese twin. A fetus is living tissue. In that sense it is an appendix. What is it you want to hear in answer to this question?

"This could all be settled very quickly if you would just admit that abortion is infanticide, and it is always justifiable if the infant in question has not been born yet because the mother's interest overrides that of the baby. Take away the word "always," and I'd agree with you."

I already answered this question by linking abortion to infanticide as a common practice. We practice infanticide all the time--very quietly. Some times there are reasons which evoke sympathy and other times revulsion. They are all theoretically unjustifiable under legal authority, therefore wrong, therefore immoral.

I think another aspect of these sorts of moral discussions that is missing, is the recognition of just what it is like to live in a society composed of billions of people. Life is not only cheap, dirt cheap, but only worth its potential for absolute exploitation. Isn't that the ultimate message of capitalism?

On a personal level, I am absolutely hostile to any debate about moral questions, precisely because I have known many people who have died pointless, suffering, and horrible deaths--in full view of public institutions, authorities charged with caring for and preventing such atrocities. The excuses were always some regulation or other that masked money. These experiences have lead me to believe any question about moral or ethical conduct is always about money or power or both.

For me, moral debate is just a sop for the protected bourgeois sensibility. Some medium to indulge the feelings of those with the privilege to feel. In fact, I think these arguments form a kind of authenticating lotion, a palative of reassurance that our sensibilities and feelings have social and political meaning in the world. They don't.

It is probably that thought, that you find repulsive.

Chuck Grimes

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list