In the course of attacking, of all people, Jim Manzi, Daniel Larison writes, "I have started doubting whether people who are openly pro-torture or engaged in the sophistry of Manzi’s post are part of the same moral universe as I am, and I have wondered whether there is even a point in contesting such torture apologia as if they were reasonable arguments deserving of real consideration. Such fundamental assumptions at the core of our civilization should not have to be re-stated or justified anew, and the fact that they have to be is evidence of how deeply corrupted our political life has become, but if such basic norms are not reinforced it seems clear that they will be leeched away over time." I have often felt much the same way about the abortion license and its defenders. But, well, we are where we are.Indeed, the similarities between the two debates are overwhelming. On one side, you have simple, plainspoken moral conviction: "Abortion is murder" or "Torture is wrong." Those convinced that abortion is evil, or that torture is evil, don't feel that elaborately reasoned justifications for their positions should be necessary. In fact, in their minds, the presence of any debate at all is a sign of overwhelming moral degeneracy.
On the other side, we see a fuzzier, situational analysis. Maybe abortion is wrong, one will say, but shouldn't the mother be able to make that choice? What if her life is in danger? What if she was raped? Torture might be wrong, we hear, but what if it's adminstered only to a few "hardened terrorists"? What if it saves innocent lives?
Of course, our major political ideologies occupy both sides of this argumentative divide, depending on the issue -- the left is pro-choice but anti-torture, while the American right is pro-life but vaguely supportive of torture. These positions aren't logically inconsistent, but their rhetorical incoherence should lead the overconfident among us to question our judgment. If you make dramatic pronouncements about how one issue involves Incontrovertible Moral Principles and the Fate of Civilization, but are aghast at a lack of pragmatism and nuance on the other, you ought to at least notice the irony.