The Fruit of Expressive Individualism
Updated: Feb 12, 2022
Recently in my philosophy class at school we had a discussion on abortion. They had just finished a week of content, watching two debates on abortion and reading papers from top pro-lifers and pro-choicers.
Their responses were...instructive. I’ll say that. Most of the class was aggressively pro-choice. There was one pro-life student in the group (out of about 20 students), but he was rather timid in his stance, “I’m personally pro-life but I don’t want it to become illegal.”
Students started running with the same pro-choice reasoning I always get in these discussions, so I “trotted out the toddler.” This is a method of reasoning coined by Scott Klusendorf that shows where pro-choice reasoning leads. In short, their reasoning leads to absurdities and moral atrocities if applied consistently. I find it’s a good method to use to get them to take the consequences of their own position seriously, to help them think through where it leads. I got plenty of pushback, the same ten cent slogans that are typical, repeating regurgitated talking points, etc. Nothing new there. When it comes to abortion, it is mighty hard to get them to actually examine the arguments. But then a student spoke up: "but you are a man and can't get pregnant. You don't know what it’s like so you can't dictate to women." Never mind that they just finished watching a debate where the pro-lifer was a black woman, and never mind that arguments don't have penises. I digress.
I said: "Ok, so you think that if someone lacks the experience of being pregnant, they don't get to tell the woman what choice to make?" Answer: "Yes." Me: "So lacking the relevant experience means you can't ‘dictate another's choice.’" (her words)
Me: Ok, so my wife and I have our two year old in front of us. She happens to remind my wife daily of the extreme trauma she went through while pregnant. Her very existence reminds my wife of this, so adoption won't solve the problem. Should she be able to kill our two year old? Answer: yes....nods from around the classroom. Hmmm...wasn't expecting that.
Multiple students honestly said that my wife should be able to kill our two year old, because it's her choice and no one can dictate to her what to do.
I was shocked.
My reply: "honestly guys, I think you are just digging in your heels and being dogmatc. You are being stubborn and that's causing you to adopt an extreme position. If you saw a woman killing her two year old child, you'd do everything you could to stop that from happening. You wouldn't react the way you are reacting now."
One of them said: "I don't think you realize how desensitized our generation is to human life." This was a pro-choice student saying this, as if it got her off the hook.
I am now beginning to realize.
This isn’t the first time a student has responded like this. Maybe it shouldn’t surprise me as much, but it is always so jarring to actually hear.
Expressive Individualism has so overwhelmed their minds that it is incredibly difficult for them to think in any morally robust ways that entails obligations to others, breeding a certain callousness of heart.
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