Moral Mind Puzzle: Controlling Women/”Protecting” Women

This is going to sound very Captain Obvious, but I’m trying to figure out how a person who thinks assault weapons should remain an available product for Americans to purchase and own can get all up in arms (pun intended) about abortion.

Sometimes on a long road trip I like to drive in silence for a few hours and play moral mind puzzles. I’ll ask myself a question and then answer from the point of view that someone who is nothing like me would take, then I try to find common ground with that person. Or I try to figure out what factors might make a person reach their conclusion.

It’s usually pretty easy, and I finish the puzzle in a few minutes. I can always think of some life experience that would cause someone to support something I oppose. I really like this game, because it strengthens my “don’t take it personally” muscle, and because it has helped me to imagine and value the perspective of people with whom I am in actual disagreement in a real, not hypothetical, way.

The game starts with this question, “Why would someone think that?”

And then you go from there to “They might think that because…” The only rule of the game is that you’re not allowed to think snotty, dismissive thoughts like, “They think that because they’re uneducated idiots” or “They think that because they’ve been brain-washed by their __________.” You have be neutral and open.

So I was playing this game last week while driving home from Connecticut, noticing that it was the 40th anniversary of Roe V. Wade and that the country is also in the midst of this huge conversation about gun control, and that Senator Dianne Feinstein is introducing a bill to ban assault weapons. For a little bit of time (until I drove out of the range of the radio station) I was able to follow a radio talk show called “Politics, Burgers and Beer” with a woman named Faith Middleton (what a great name! That would be a great name for a minister, wouldn’t it?) and listen to some of the debate pro and con the assault weapon/heavy ammo magazines ban.

And I was trying to figure out for the life of me how someone could be passionately against keeping abortion legal and also be a defender of unlimited gun rights.

I suppose this sort of person sees themselves as a protector or potential defender of innocent lives.

On a simplistic level, I see it. On the systemic level, however, it just doesn’t hold. There’s no logic to the argument that the government should be in the business of outlawing a medical procedure that you think protects lives, but should stay out of the business of protecting innocent lives that are being lost to out of control access to guns.

I also experience brain pain trying to understand how any American can decide that all abortion is murder, always, but yet decide that guns are about protecting life, not ending it.

I don’t think I’m making my case very well here, probably because I’m still struggling to put myself in that hypothetical American’s shoes. Abortion: bad, always murder, sinful, should be outlawed. Guns: good, important, all about protecting myself, should be available, government shouldn’t get involved.

Cognitive dissonance and moral confusion. I am still chewing on it because I am trying to imagine how Americans can have more productive conversations on these polarizing issues. Still stymied by the pro-gun, anti-choice people and am trying to reach a more generous conclusion than something like, “They just want to control women while they themselves don’t want to be controlled in any way.”

What really made me barf was the guy who called into Faith Middleton’s show and said that he think all women are precious and sacred and that’s why he would never support them being able to be military combatants. Too late for that, pal. Some of those precious, sacred women have actually used their own precious, sacred free will and precious, sacred brains to decide for themselves that they want to be able to kill the enemy. Not a choice I would make for myself but boy howdy, if they’re willing and able to do it on behalf of our country, I’m not going to tell them they shouldn’t be allowed to. Speaking as a person with a uterus myself, we’d rather be equal than precious and sacred.

All of this intersection between controlling women’s bodies, ostensibly protecting us and paternalistic discrimination has me feeling itchy. Meanwhile, the Super Bowl happens tomorrow and along with it, lots of sex trafficking that we should know and care about.

Someday I’ll have something coherent to say that will tie all of this together. For now, at least I’ve put it out there. Thanks for listening.




4 Replies to “Moral Mind Puzzle: Controlling Women/”Protecting” Women”

  1. I have a lot of friend who follow this line of thinking, and I’ve been trying to untangle it myself. I basically came to the same conclusion: they want to control but not be controlled themselves.

    “Speaking as a person with a uterus myself, we’d rather be equal than precious and sacred.” I’d like this on a t-shirt.

  2. From my limited understanding, they do want the government to ensure their rights from non-interference by…..the government. Have I got that right? But it’s okay for the government to control women’s bodies. Eh?

  3. I think perhaps Ms. Middleton is a libertarian who places great value on people being able to do what ever they want. If you want a gun, have one, if you want an abortion, have one. You and I we see the end of the road, what happens when we have too many guns out there given to anyone including the nut job who wants to shoot babies. We see that story doesn’t have a good ending, but to a radical libertarian, any liberty restricted for anyone is no good, slippery slope stuff that must be avoided. Other than that scenario, I’m with you it makes no sense.

  4. Robert Anton Wilson used to recommend that kind of exercise as exploring other “reality tunnels”, that we all lived in our own “reality tunnel” and the only way to see that was to temporarily try on others. As an example, he might get a little high and then read Readers Digest until he was genuinely worried that America’s two greatest problems were “Communism and teenage pregnacies”.

    In this case, to get into that mindset, I think it’s important to temporarily lower your capacity/tolerance for ambiguity and shades of gray, to have stronger, more rigid categories. There’s innocent, like fetusbabies, as opposed to sinful guilty, which would include both sexually-incorrect women who get pregnant in “wrong” circumstances, and also dangerous armed “others” who must be opposed and protected against with mighty weapons.

    It’s not just what someone thinks, it’s also how they think. History doesn’t offer a lot of examples for how to successfully bridge that divide.

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