Fantasy role-playing games

The abortion/slavery analogy beloved by anti-abortion activists, Ta-Nehisi Coates says, "is not just wrong, it is a lie."

He backs that up, dismantling the delusions, distortions and fabrications employed by people like former Sen. Rick Santorum who love to posture as the heirs of Frederick Douglass. Coates describes this as "The Unbearable Whiteness of Pro-Lifers and Pundits."

Confession: Growing up and going to work in evangelicaldom, I used to enjoy that posturing too, sharing in — and promoting — those same delusions, distortions and fabrications. So I'm not just bashing Santorum here for his foolish vanity and self-serving dishonesty, I'm trying to atone for my own history of those same vices and sins.

Coates' essay should be read in its entirety, so follow the link and read it, but here's a small sample:

Nor are the pro-lifers analogous to abolitionists, because the first abolitionists, the ones who repeatedly staked their lives on the matter, were slaves themselves:

Abortion is a debate between two groups over the ultimate fate of embryos. The Anti-Slavery fight was a violent struggle between two groups over the fate of the enslaved, but with the enslaved as indispensable actors. Unlike embryos, black people were very capable of expressing their thoughts about their own personhood, and never held it in much doubt. Whereas the fight against abortion begins with pro-lifers asserting the rights of embryos, the fight against slavery doesn't begin with the abolitionists, but with the Africans themselves who resisted.

In that difference lies the racism implicit in the abortion/slavery analogy Santorum employs and [Joe] Klein defends. The analogy necessarily holds that the enslaved were the equivalent of embryos — helpless, voiceless beings in need of saviors. In this view of American history, the saviors, much like the pro-life movement, are white. In fact, African-Americans, unlike, say, zygotes, were always quite outspoken on their fitness for self-determination. Indeed, from the Cimaroons to Equiano to Nat Turner to Harriet Tubman to the 54th regiment, slaves were quite vociferous on the matter of their enslavement. It is simply impossible to imagine the end of slavery without the action of slaves themselves. And it is equally impossible to say the same about the end of abortion, if only because fetuses are generally incapable of egressing from the womb and setting up maroon societies, publishing newspapers or returning to the womb to "liberate" other presumably endangered fetuses.

That bogus abortion/slavery analogy is one that I used to find compelling and reassuring. It was a frequently invoked analogy in the evangelical community. We found it inspiring, but not because we knew much of anything about the actual abolitionists, slave or free. And not because we knew anything much at all, for that matter, about abortion. The inspiration didn't come from any perceived historical accuracy or from the logic of an argument from analogy.

What was inspiring was being told that we were on the right side of the great moral struggle of our time. That claim didn't have to be accurate or true or logical. It wasn't meant to appeal to accuracy or truth or logic. It's an emotional appeal. It's the thrill that comes from being told that you are part of a great epic struggle — that even without ever really doing much of anything you will be looked back upon by future generations as a hero.

Just assent to the proposition, cast your reliably partisan votes, attend the occasional photo-op vigil and learn to frown disapprovingly at the designated people. Do these things and you can regard yourself as being Harriet Tubman's equal in virtue, courage and commitment.

The function of the abortion/slavery analogy, in other words, is fantasy role-playing. It's a game of make-believe, of dress-up and pretend.

Let's pretend that we're heroic. Let's pretend that we are good and brave and principled just like the abolitionists were. Let's pretend that we are even more good and brave and principled, because we'll pretend that if we had been around in the 19th Century that we would have been even more active, determined and effective in the struggle than Douglass or Tubman or Garrison.

Let's pretend that our unremarkable lives of quiet desperation are actually epic quests in the service of something meaningful. Let's pretend our lives are driven by some purpose. Let's pretend we are engaged in the great moral struggle of our time — that we are opposing some massive and twisted evil. Let's pretend that this struggle requires courage and commitment and let's pretend that we possess those things. Let's pretend that we are all that stands between this country and brutal chaos — that we and we alone are the ones keeping it all together.

Let's pretend we are not who we actually are. Let's pretend that our lives are not what they actually are. Let's pretend.

 

  • http://profile.typepad.com/lorik922 Lori

    @Lonespark: I really enjoyed belly dancing. It’s another thing I would still be doing if my life were at all conducive. One of the reasons that my class was strictly no men allowed was so that women wouldn’t suffer from terminal self-consciousness if they couldn’t get the movements right away. I didn’t have much trouble with the hips, but the feet were sometimes a real problem. I remember one of the step hop ball change thingies taking me forever to get.

  • Tonio

    Personally I’m glad I’m not conservative anymore purely for the absence of angry ranty people on my radio and television.

    I know at least two people like that in real life. They turn every social gathering in a gripe fest.

    Don’t forget wealth privilege.

    Yes and no. For some time, there was a clear “class” distinction in the GOP, where the traditional conservatives looked down on the religious righters as rubes. From my observation, the antiabortion activists may be more well-off than others but they perceive themselves as disadvantaged.

    AKA Ned Flanders without the charm

    I once asked Medved on an online chat what he thought of Laura Ingraham’s anti-Semitic dog whistle about The Passion of the Christ (which Ingraham said would “drive the anti-Christian entertainment elite crazy”). He doesn’t seem to realize that his arguments about Hollywood hating religion not only miss the point but also enable anti-Semitism.

    It’s all just team jerseys, with associated doctrine that you must support in order to be on the team, and this person feels they have finally found the team that doesn’t try to make its members miserable.

    Could that explain why some of them (not necessarily Medved specifically) act so defensively toward criticism of conservatism and conservatives? They don’t address the criticisms specifically, but instead accuse the critic or the critic’s side of hypocrisy.

  • Jade

    But Brian B can describe the mother as the host, since fetuses are basically sub-sentient parasites. They just happen to be parasites that metamorhpose into babies once they’re semi-independent organisms. Babies are still somewhat parasitical, it’s just that babies are also very cute.
    Very Cute ^_^

  • http://profile.typepad.com/purplekitte Purplekitte

    I was just thinking to myself a little quite ago how reassuring it is when I can go rpging and fight the forces of evil with swords and exploding runes, while in real life… I express my displeasure about zoning regulations with strongly worded letters to my city councilman and the local newspaper. Not epic at all.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com/ Ross

    Stumbled upon this via World-o-Crap, and it sounds relevant.
    Quick Precis: Obama is a race-traitor because abolitionists and pro-lifers are exactly the same thing.

  • http://feathertail.livejournal.com/ Tachyon Feathertail

    Being able to speak up for yourself is not what makes it okay to defend your rights. Some autistics are nonverbal.

  • http://twitter.com/Pmccrsp Fr. Peter Calabrese

    Sorry but the lack of historical proportion is on the side of those who don’t like the analogy.  The proportion of death is immense.  It is not even Hiterleresque it is Stalinesque.  In fact it goes beyond any conceivable numbers.  You have become numb to the approximately 1.3 Million killed in the US and 43 million killed worldwide.  Estimates may be hard to come by but all of WWII civilian and military casualties are estimated at 48 Million.  So in one year we pretty much match that figure.  Far from pretending those in the Pro-Life movement are well aware of the horror truly being perpetuated.  Those who look away are pretending.

  • http://twitter.com/Pmccrsp Fr. Peter Calabrese

    If you follow any of the Twitter debates or check out any website you will see that biology and medical text books – not theology books say that a new human life begins at conception.  The fetus certainly lives in a different way than it will live when it leaves the womb but it is most definitely alive and genetically a complete and unique human being.

  • http://scyllacat.livejournal.com Scylla Kat

    I am spending this week mourning an embryo that I have to have scraped out of my body because it never had a heartbeat.  You don’t really SOUND all that horrified yet.  Try harder.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Your analogy doesn’t really work. The Soviets who died during Stalin’s reign were people with decided bodily and mental autonomy and so killing them was most assuredly a crime.

    You can’t try that on with fetuses; it simply doesn’t work the same way. It’s also kind of offensive the way you treat women as being like this looming dark army trying to exterminate fetuses by the millions instead of being a large collection of individuals, each of who have a nearly infinite diversity of reasons to need to abort their pregnancy.

    Also? 20 million Soviet soldiers died during World War II so you could flap your gums about abortion in the English language. Instead of, y’know, Japanese or German. Show some respect for the dead instead of marshalling them to your rhetorical sophistry about abortion.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Scylla Cat: I’m sorry to hear about that and I hope you’re OK.

    That sounds so inadequate to my ears when I try saying it out loud; I wsh I could do or say more to help.

  • http://scyllacat.livejournal.com Scylla Kat

    I just realized how old this post was.  I just took out some of my anger and grief on a troll.  Thanks for the good wishes, Other Person Who is Subscribed to All the New Comments, Invisible Neutrino.  Don’t feel bad.  Nothing *I* am doing seems adequate either.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    Scylla Kat, I wish I could do something to make things better for you.


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