Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Too Big to Fail: What about men? A question for Dr. Leonard Peikoff

As far as I can remember, since around 1998, Objectivists have been particularly vocal about abortion rights. On the ARI website, on Capitalism Magazine, peikoff.com, and on "The Objective Standard", concern about abortion as a political right has been under the spotlight.

Objectivists will tell you that the crux of the abortion debate is where one defines "personhood". They will also tell you that "pro-life" vs "pro-choice" are false alternatives, since "pro-choicers" are "pro the only life that has rights " and so are therefore also "pro-life". And I agree, the woman has rights by virtue of her autonomy,  and whatever being is inside of her cannot until it is born.

But there is something that has always bothered me about this focus on abortion: What about men? What are the logical consequences for men by asserting a woman's reproductive rights?

As the laws in most countries stand, the man who "fathers" a child is obligated to pay "child support" for 18 to 21 years. I always wondered why this is so, especially in those countries that had legalized abortion. I also wondered why in no Objectivists have ever challenged the notion of default child support, as it seems automatically incongruent with asserting a woman's abortion rights.

So, I decided to pose a question to Dr. Leonard Peikoff. For those who don't know, Dr. Leonard Peikoff hosts a website where he answers questions of philosophy from an Objectivist point of view. He is Ayn Rand's intellectual heir, is an author, academic, former lecturer, and former radio host.

I posed him a carefully-worded question for his podcast on the topic of the "duties" of a man when we uphold a woman's right to an abortion:

         Dr. Peikoff,
As current laws stand, a woman may choose to have an abortion, and the man whom she allowed to inseminate her is expected by law to subsidize that woman's choice to keep the pregnancy via child support (or perhaps watch a pregnancy that he wants be terminated).

At many junctures a pregnancy is open to a woman's choice. The choice to have sex with the full knowledge of her own biological realities relative to a man's. The choice to use varying levels of protection while the man has access to only one, (the condom). The choice to demand or not demand that the man use that protection. The choice to not use the morning after pill. The choice to consult a doctor afterwards or not. And the choice to have or not have an abortion.

How does a woman's choice to keep a pregnancy oblige a man, whom she has no (reproductive) contract with, to support that choice?
Before you complete that thought, yes I am aware of the difference between the moral and the legal. Anyway, I sent this several months ago and received a reply today. Dr. Peikoff wrote,
 "Unfortunately, I am being inundated by questions at present, and on the show can deal only with a fraction of them. I do not, however, want to leave questioners such as yourself without any guidance." 
...which is likely a cookie cutter message sent to anyone who poses a legible question to which Dr. Peikoff does not currently have time to answer.

Instead, Tore Boeckmann was assigned to answer my question. I had two reactions to this. One was, "Wow, I am glad Dr.Peikoff takes his podcast and his listeners so seriously! And then I thought "Maybe this is going to be good, since I really liked Tore Boeckmann's essay, "Anthem as a Psychological Fantasy".

I don't consider the question or the answer to be private, given the context that I knew my question may be made into a podcast where anyone could see, therefore I will leave Tore's answer here:
Child support is not owed to the mother, but to the child. The child did not
ask to be born, yet here it is; and it will take a lot of money to bring it
up. Who is to pay, if not the parents? "Society"? The charity of strangers?

Conceivably, if the mother has plenty of money, and if she has been acting
irresponsibly, the father can bring a civil suit against her. But he cannot
father a child and then just walk away from it.
And that's it. I know my question was somewhat inflammatory but this answer was totally unsatisfying. In fact, there's a lot to say about so few words. I don't really want to reply directly, since by the scarcity of a reply, it's clear that it's not really something Tore wants to debate. And it's not really about him or anyone in particular, it's about advertising this issue by replying, because I have never heard it being discussed before:
"Child support is not owed to the mother, but to the child. The child did not ask to be born, yet here it is; and it will take a lot of money to bring it up. Who is to pay, if not the parents? "Society"? The charity of strangers?"
...because it's not okay to tax a collective, but it is suddenly okay to selectively tax an individual man, because...why? Need has become a valid claim since when?

To answer: The mother will pay, if she is prepared to have a child. Otherwise she should not be having a child. If she can't pay, the same argument Objectivists would have for the poor and hospital care would apply.

And "parents" can both pay, but only under the conditions of consent. i.e., some kind of contract such as a marriage exists which create such obligations.

"But this is different", one might say, "I had nothing to do with putting that poor person in the hospital, yet it required a man's sperm to make a baby! Saying "need is not a claim" does not apply here!".

So, at what point does that oblige a man? If we split a bill at the restaurant and you got fat from what you ate and I didn't, how is that my problem? How are your poor genes my problem? Similarly, how is the fact that one person happens to have a uterus and the other doesn't become the other's problem? If they chose to have sex, the rational presumption is that everyone be aware of their own nature and its corresponding responsibilities.

When we look at the issue of abortion, it comes down to two facts, (1) that a "baby" inside of her is not a person, and (2) therefore her consent is needed to keep the pregnancy. No one can compel her to keep the pregnancy and have the child. Legally, she has choice and no force is used to engineer her actions. This is logically an extension of her own right to life. Objectivists agree, I agree.

But as you know, rights, to be rights must be equal. So where is a man's corresponding reproductive rights? Why is it that she is free from the compulsion of the state, but he is not? Why is she allowed to make choices for the both of them in the absence of any agreement? How does "Her body, her choice" become "His wallet, her choice."?

We live in a time of birth control. Only female rape victims can say they did not act irresponsibly or purposely if they get pregnant. If a woman is pregnant, it is on purpose. Period. No one can argue against that 99% of all intercourse for the purpose of pleasure and not for the purposes of making babies. So while pregnancy is a possibility after a man and woman agree to have sex, the default presumption for both parties if no one indicates anything, is that it is for pleasure and not procreation (this applies absolutely if protection is used). In fact, this was an important premise in the Roe vs Wade ruling when it came to establishing women's reproductive rights --- that sex is mostly for pleasure.

Men and women's identities are different. Men can't get pregnant. But this does not create obligations out of thin air just because of this difference. This is neither fair nor unfair, it simply IS. When I witness people arguing for male obligation in "child support", I hear evasion of the fact that a woman's body is her own responsibility and she had a choice in the matter at many more junctures than a man did. It reeks of a social justice mentality which seeks to implement perceived "fairness". But having a womb is just like having more or less talent, more or less good looks, more or less intellectual capacity. It is not something to be subsidize or "correct" it is not automatically "good" or "bad", it just IS. At best, objections come in the form of the "Think of the children" fallacy. I am thinking of the children, and that's because they are the birther's responsibility in the absence of any contract to the contrary.
"Conceivably, if the mother has plenty of money, and if she has been acting irresponsibly, the father can bring a civil suit against her. ..." 
Given the biological realities discussed, the irresponsibility lies in having a child without being able to support it independently/obtaining an agreement from the man to father the child. It is her body after all.
"He cannot father a child and then just walk away from it."
"Fathering" is such a weasel word. It assumes a man automatically obliged to unchosen duties. This is why I phrased my question objectively and with full respect to the autonomy of women, when I said, "...the man whom she allowed to inseminate her...".  Consenting to sex is not the same as consenting to be a father. A man does not assume the role of "father" simply because his sperm fertilized an egg, he becomes a father when he says, "I want to be a father to this child..." and signs a (marriage) contract or when he has given every indication that these are his wishes. And he can become a father...if she will let him. If she doesn't want him in the child's life, as it stands in most places, she can bar him from seeing the child, married or not, while still collecting all that support money. And if not, it's easy to lie about threats and assaults to obtain the same result, manufacture some crocodile tears, and suddenly objective law no longer exists. And, "shared parenting"? What's that?
"...and if she has been acting irresponsibly..." 
How much more irresponsible might one be willing to be, if they knew that no matter how they behaved they could reap subsidized payments for acting irresponsibly?

From Flickr

For example, what was the result when the US government said to banks, "Don't worry! we'll bail you out if these high-risk loans don't pan out! Go ahead, offer them! We want more people to have their own homes!"? The Ayn Rand Institute even wrote about the evils of this mentality in: Too Big To Bail:
"For decades our government has had a semi-official policy that large financial institutions are too big to fail--and therefore must be bailed out when they risk insolvency--a policy that creates perverse incentives for them to take on far more risk than they otherwise would. "Too big to fail" is implemented through a network of government bodies that protect financial institutions from the long-term consequences of their decisions at taxpayer expense...Any doctrine that encourages overly-risky investing, and punishes sound risk-taking is unfair and destructive. We need to phase out "too big to fail" and replace it with a free market in banking, which would reward sound long-term lending and borrowing practices and punish irresponsible ones."
Similarly, what is the predictable the result when government says the same thing to women? "Don't worry! we'll oblige a man (who 1/25 times is not the "father" --- mandatory DNA testing, what's that?) if you "happen" to get pregnant! Go ahead, have sex with whomever, whenever, however! Tell him you're on the pill, and then OOPS! We want more carjackers of tomorrow to incarcerate, as well as more men to put into modern-day debtor's prisons. Look at that beautiful tummy, it's too big to fail!"?

Why do you only apply the concept of a woman's irresponsibility/responsibility after the fact? Why does she not have full sovereignty the whole way through? If she owns her own body, she owns it: The good and the bad; all of the benefits, as well as all of the responsibility. Just as "he" has no right to dictate that she keep the child, she has no right to dictate that he support it.

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