I've done something noteworthy enough to be a guest on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I know, I know, he's a terribly evil liberal. Why on earth would I ever want to talk to him? Well, the reason is that The Daily Show is one of the only shows I can think of where the host frequently talks to guests who have views different than his own, and he actually treats them with respect. Sure sure, he'll make jokes, and he usually has the crowd on his side, so the match-up is a bit unfair, but he asks people questions...and then he listens. *Shock!* *Gasp!*
I know, it's insane. Even more insane, his questions typically aren't of the "Tell me. Why is it that you're so evil?" variety. Even though nothing of real value, other than producing a laugh or two, is accomplished, I still come away from watching an episode of The Daily Show thinking, "Wow. That was nice. They actually talked to each other. They didn't yell. I'd like to see more of that." I come away with a sense that if such discussions only lasted longer, long enough to actually come to an agreement, or a compromise, or at the very least an understanding of each other, it might be the best thing ever.
So, anyway, there I am, on The Daily Show, talking with Jon Stewart, and I must have done something noteworthy regarding abortion, because that's what we're talking about. Somewhere in the course of the conversation, I'm given the opportunity to layout my views on abortion. In this dream, this is what I say:
"Listen, I'll be upfront about it, but please, before the crowd boos me off the stage, let me explain myself a bit.
I believe abortion is wrong. I wish I could put it more delicately than that, but then I'd just be pussy-footing around, hoping to make you guys think I'm still cool. So, there it is. Now, let me explain.
I grew up in a pro-life family. We went to a baptist church, and we went to pro-life rallies at the state capitol. Questioning the family's pro-life beliefs wasn't an option growing up, but I eventually did it anyway, in my college years. What kept me from changing from pro-life to pro-choice was, as a child, watching my mother go through a miscarriage.
I was very young then, so I don't have a firm grasp on when exactly things happened, but I'm guessing things started going wrong somewhere in the second trimester. I remember my mother being incredibly happy that were going to have another member of the family. I remember looking forward to having a little sister (I was hoping for a sister, as I'd had enough of brothers at that point). Then I remember my mother suddenly becoming very sad. I was told that the baby insider her was sick and that it might die. I remember discussions about listening to the baby's heartbeat. And then, ultimately, my mother told us that the baby had died, and that when it was removed, the doctor asked my mother if she would like to view the baby's body. My mother talked about how sad it made her to look at what would have been her child.
Throughout all that, the idea that this thing inside my mother was another entity was instilled in me. It was never referred to as part of her, it was its own entity. It had a heart beat, it looked like a baby...it was alive. And no matter what I read or hear about pregnancy and abortion and fetuses and choice, that sense that the thing inside my mother was a person, a separate being, is not something I've been able to shake.
Now, I know that all that is anecdotal bullshit. Just because fetuses in wombs give me all kinds of warm fuzzies doesn't mean everyone thinks that way, and it certainly doesn't mean we should determine the legality of things in this country based on what does and does not make me sad. But I don't care about all that. Here is what I care about:
I care about about how you, a pro-choice person, and I, a pro-life person, treat each other. Most of the people on either side of this issue don't have a very good track record when it comes to how they treat people on the other side of the issue. Every discussion on this topic that I have ever witnessed on TV or read in the newspaper or on the internet goes like this:
Pro-lifer: BLEAARARRGGHH!! Why do you like killing so many BABIES?!
Pro-Choicer: Bleearararrrhghghgg!!! Why do you hate women so much. Why can't you stand to let them make their own decisions about their own bodies?!
Repeat, over and over and over forever.
All that is bullshit, and it needs to stop immediately. Nothing good will come of it, ever, because it misses the only part of the debate that matters.
I don't think abortion is wrong because I think women shouldn't be able to make decisions about their own bodies. Please. Give me more credit than that.
You don't think abortion should be legal because you just can't wait to feast upon the unborn. That's preposterous... you seem like a really nice guy who totally doesn't like to eat babies.
I think abortion is wrong, in most situations, because I can't shake the feeling that there's separate life in there, and that the taking of it is something that should be saved for only the most dire of circumstances.
You think abortion should be legal because you don't view the fetus as a separate living thing. It's merely a different part, an extension, of the mother, and that makes it her right to decide what to do with it.
And that is it. It has nothing to do with infanticidal mania or sexist bigotry. It has everything to do with the fundamental difference in how we view what is going on inside there.
And yet, no one will talk about that. Why the hell won't anyone fucking talk about this?! Why are we wasting all our goddamn time yelling at each other from opposite sides of the room when women's rights are being taken away and unborn children are dying?! What the hell is wrong with us?!
What I need to do is to try my damnedest to convince you that the fetus inside the mother's womb is a separate, living entity. This will be an especially hard task for me, because many of the reasons for my viewpoint are religious and/or anecdotal. But I must try.
What you need to do is to try your damnedest to convince me that the fetus is not a separate living entity, but rather a part of the mother. This will be an especially hard task for you, because many of my reasons for my viewpoint are religious and/or anecdotal. But you must try. And, as an encouragement, I would like to congratulate you on some success you've had in this area. Thanks to you and your [capital S] Science, I'm no longer sure that the idea that life begins at the moment of conception is a hill to die for.
In trying to convince the other side instead of yelling stupid insults at them, we'll come to realize that the other side is mostly comprised of good people who merely understand things differently, because effectively convincing someone requires getting to know them. And that will make all the difference in the world, I think. It's much easier to listen to and stomach the ideas of relatively nice guys than it is the ideas of a infanticidal madmen. It's much easier to listen to and stomach the ideas of relatively nice guys than it is the ideas of women-hating bigots. And if we actually listen to each other, we'll come to understand each other, and that has to lead to something more useful than yelling at each other is.
Know this, though: this won't be easy. We will all have to make a huge sacrifce to see something like this happen. We will all have to give up a group of people to feel better than.
Or, we could just keep removing the rights of women, killing babies, and bombing abortion clinics. That's pretty fun too."
And then the studio audience stands up and applauds, or something... I dunno. My dream usually ends right after I've said what I want to say.
I think the main reason my brain conjures up this silly dream is that I've never seen any sort of important person on either side of this debate say anything like this on TV. I've seen pro-lifers on The Daily Show, and they never just come out and say what they believe about when life begins. They almost always couch their responses in terms of "defending the rights of the unborn," or "ending the killing of unborn children," or "I don't like killing babies, why do you?" And when I see that sort of thing, I think to myself, "For crying out loud, man, just say it! Say what you belive and why, and let that be that! Why are you so afraid?"
The pro-choicers aren't much better in these situations, saying things like, "We must defend the rights of women," or "We must not take away a woman's right to choose," or "Why do you hate women so much?"
In other words, I've only ever seen important people from either side of this debate jacking themselves off rhetorically, and I find that unpleasant.