The Panda Reflex

Because it’s that special Roe v. Wade anniversary time of year . . .

I once heard somebody refer to “a vegetarian pro-choicer” as a contradiction in terms.  At the time, I chuckled appreciatively, since it made sense to me; how could you feel concerned over the lost lives of chickens, but not unborn human children?  Since then, however, I’ve come to appreciate that there’s no contradiction there at all.  In fact, I would argue that it is logically inconsistent for a pro-choice individual to not be vegetarian, or indeed fail to show what most of us would consider an inordinate concern for animal welfare.

In general, the pro-life stance is based on the idea that fetuses (and possibly embryos, blastocysts, etc., depending how one defines “pro-life”) are human and thus worthy of protection.  In turn, the typical retort from the pro-choice side is that, while a fetus may be human, it has not acquired personhood prior to one particular point in development.  There are other arguments–Post-Abortion Syndrome, the “famous violinist”–but these are largely peripheral.

Let us suppose that personhood is definitely acquired by the time of birth (again, I have read arguments to the effect that infanticide is morally permissible, but that’s thankfully a fringe position).  The notion of personhood, in this context, is usually contingent on the entity in question having reached a certain level of mental sophistication–it has a mind, and is therefore a real person.  So, the intellectual level of a newborn is definitely enough to make you a person. Continue reading

Head and Hands

As the father of a two-year-old, I face many challenges.  One of the most persistent and difficult has been getting my little man to stop throwing.  For the longest time, his first (and only) impulse on catching sight of a small object was to pick it up and hurl it in a random direction, purely to see how well it flew.  It took a long time, and a lot of reminders, to get him to the point where he is now: he only forgets and starts chucking things around when we are not present, or when he’s suddenly distracted by something.  So, once or twice a day, that we know of.  It helps a bit to channel the urge by letting him go outside and throw his balls or his Frisbee.

In the course of this long quest for civilized behavior, I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on the causes of such a deeply ingrained urge.  I’ve concluded that, in essence, I’m fighting evolution here: he has a strong urge to learn how to throw hard and accurate, and we are frustrating it when we tell him no.  And that urge exists for a very good reason.  For millions of years, our ancestors needed every hand in the group to pummel the snot out of any large predator that showed its fanged mug around their territory.  Even when predators were not a risk, it would have been an essential hunting skill for a pre-archery group.

At any rate, my son learns quickly; I showed him how to throw the Frisbee less than a month ago, and he straightaway adapted the sideways technique to double his distance with a ball (still working on doing it accurately).  If my boy’s desire to hurl were indulged completely, I imagine that by age five he would be able to throw a rock with sufficient force to knock a full-grown man unconscious.  If you do not believe me, you clearly are not the parent of a little boy.  Perhaps girls do it too; I don’t know. Continue reading