Thursday, December 06, 2007

Consistent Ethics

The term "consistent ethic of life" has been seeing bear market days. But for all the wrong-headed political conclusions it has spawned, the idea itself is correct, at least from an apophatic reading. To me it wisely commends that our ethically-inspired political agendas, however righteous, have an intrinsic limitation according to the degree to which we actually live consistently with that ethic.

Environmentalists demand political and legal solutions to problems that are intrinsically ethical and personal. To oppose those legislative proposals is not necessarily an opposition to the ethic, but a suspicion that ethics from above have counterintuitive and contradictory consequences. We want governments to force change upon polluters when we the lay public are doing everything to encourage, even require, the polluters to behave the way they do. So long as environmentalism absolves the people of their cult of consumerism, convenience, and gluttony, there's a natural limit to what Kyoto-style agreements can really accomplish.

That limitation must be recognized if we are going to be sane and dispassionate about this issue. Without such a recognition, we're liable to fetishize and moralize the environment, and play political games to browbeat and step on others who disagree with us. Without it, our polis is just a breeding ground for more ideological manipulation.

Similarly, the pro-life movement has made precise, correct attacks on the constitutionality of Roe v. Wade, but has done scant little to even acknowledge that abortion is much bigger than Supreme Court opinions. We've come to hate the pro-choice ideology so much that we've divorced the pro-life issue from the reality of human choices altogether. How does the cult of individual private Choice in all matters limit what we can expect out of our legal victories against Roe et al? Beyond legal battles, what kinds of choices do I need to be making to help inaugurate a pro-life universe?