I had thought that the increasing strategy of reductio ad absurdum in US politics was because so much of US politics is verging on the absurd. However, the picture may be more complicated than that, and it’s nice to think there is some source for the problem we might address systematically.
A series of “joke amendments” provide reductios to abortion bills that have recently surged. These “jokes”, such as the suggestion that vasectomies be illegal, are a serious move, argues Jessica Ogilvie in The Gloss. They reveal inattention to the medical nature of abortion procedures.
“Legislating against it is just as fucked up as, say, legislating against heart surgery. Or prostate cancer surgery. Or…vasectomies.”
How does this happen? She suggests it’s political inflation:
“When we talk about abortion, we get so caught up in the politics of it, as well as the philosophical questions it brings up (questions that would be better addressed in a house of worship or a college class than on a Senate floor, for the record), that we tend to lose sight of one important fact: abortion is a medical procedure.”
But what is the source of this inflation? Everyone likes to think he or she is a moral expert and may caught up in the headiness of the debate. How many philosophers avoid teaching the abortion debate because it is just so very heady? Too many, I’d say. I concur with Ogilvie that that’s a proper venue, and I’d add underused.
What allows us to lose sight of the medical nature of abortion, and the fact that it is a rare law that prohibits people from choosing what to do with their bodies, right or wrong, is the proliferation of discourse. Politics has become self-sustaining and spun off from the concrete contexts that give it significance; likewise medical decisions can be assigned to physicians (as abortion used to be in Canada) instead of patients. Such divergent discourses are harder to avoid in a classroom, or in the personal decision (as this joke card makes clear).
Thank goodness feminist lawyers are trained in critical thinking and strategic argumentation that aids the revelation of assumptions, such as the assumption that abortion is not a medical procedure.