Monday, October 03, 2005

Oh, William

It may seem a little late to kick William Bennett one more time for his argument that "if you wanted to reduce crime, you could -- if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down," --- but some things just don't have a shelf life. Plus, there's at least one thing that I wanted to say about it that I haven't heard said.

I was pleased to read Steven Levitt's thoughtful post on Bennett's comments on his Freakonomics blog. (Levitt and Stephen Dubner's book Freakonomics is the source of the legal abortion -- > lower crime rates argument that Bennett has distortedly invoked.) But both he and the many commentors on that page and elsewhere missed something that I think is important.

Bennett argues that since he explicitly rejected the abortion of every black baby to reduce the crime rate as "impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible" -- note the order -- he should be let off the hook. Other people (including Levitt) have noted that once you control for economic data, black children aren't any more likely to be involved with crime than any other group. They've also pointed out that black people shockingly do other things besides commit crimes. But besides debating the "facts" to which Bennett appeals, I think we should also note the logic he invokes.

The claim Bennett rejects isn't a factual but a logical one: If A --> B. In this case the statement runs: If eliminating crime was your sole purpose, you could/[should] abort every black baby. Now admittedly, the context of the comment was the rejection/endorsement of abortion for economic reasons. You could argue that Bennett chose a particularly gruesome example to try to show the ridiculousness of the argument. But it still seems revealing that this was the first thing that came to his mind: it suggests that if Bennett wanted to reduce the crime rate, aborting every black baby would be the first thing he would do.

Bennett, like most conservatives, doesn't believe in the morality/legality of abortion, so it might seem like a purely rhetorical debate, but I don't think so. I wonder if Bennett would endorse the forced sterilization of criminals. Statistics suggest that the children of criminals are more likely to commit crimes than other citizens; furthermore, Bennett's ideology would suggest that he thinks much less of the civil rights of a criminal than he does a fetus. Sterilizing the prison population would be far from "impossible" or "ridiculous" -- the only question left is whether it's "morally reprehensible." I think so -- but does Bennett?

1 comment:

L said...

As you know, even in the US such sterilizations have taken place, notably during the eugenics era for the mentally retarded, insane, and criminals. Even today it is debated as a treatment for rape.

Given this history, a government program of enforced sterilization or abortion of criminals, while it SOUNDS impossibly reprehensible, could happen sometime in the future.

As a legal doctrine, if sterilization was a just punishment, wouldn't abortion be as well? Sterilization prevents a person from EVER having children, abortion is just a one-shot deal.

Of course, the politics of the moment would (probably, and thankfully) not permit such a thing. But stranger turns of politics have occured over time.

And Bennett is a degenerate gambler moron.

I reread this comment and I hate it, but I am going to post it anyway, so that all may hate me. Ha! How's that for narcisstic masochism!