About the Name of this blog

This blog's title refers to a Dani fable recounted by Robert Gardner. The Dani live in the highlands of New Guinea, and at the the time he studied them, they lived in one of the only remaining areas in the world un-colonized by Europeans.

The Dani, who Gardner identifies only as a "Mountain People," in the film "The Dead Birds," have a myth that states there was once a great race between a bird and a snake to determine the lives of human beings. The question that would be decided in this race was, "Should men shed their skins and live forever like snakes, or die like birds?" According to the mythology, the bird won the race, and therefore man must die.

In the spirit of ethnographic analysis, this blog will examine myth, society, culture and architecture, and hopefully examine issues that make us human. As with any ethnography, some of the analysis may be uncomfortable to read, some of it may challenge your preconceptions about the world, but hopefully, all of it will enlighten and inform.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Free Will in Anti-Abortion Alley


Today, driving through Kansas, I drove through what I term Anti-Abortion Alley.  For somewhere around 300 miles of I-70, anti-abortion, pro-life, billboards or road signs appear on average every quarter of a mile.  Given the shear number of signs, they tend to be very repetitive, with the most common three being: “Adoption, Not Abortion;” “Abortion Stops a Beating Heart;” and “Be Glad Your Mom Chose Life.”  There are other signs, but these three dominate.  Some signs are not overtly Anti-Abortion, except when viewed in the context of the other signs.  An example of this would be “Know Jesus, Know Peace.  John 3:16”

Kansas is the Har Meggiddo of the Abortion War, ground zero in the battle for reproductive rights.  It is the home of the assassination of George Tiller, the Westboro Baptist Church and some of the most restrictive legislation enacted since the decision in Roe V Wade should have rendered the point moot.

In this battle, people focus on these questions: “Is abortion murder, is a fetus (or embryo) morally the same as a baby, when does life begin?”

There are no answers to these questions.  The world is not black and white, it isn’t even shades of gray, it is brilliant polychromatic Technicolor.  It is not Kansas, it is OZ.

And Humans have free will.

They have Free Will to find a solution to a dilemma, not from questionable interpretation of a two thousand year old book, but from the circumstances of the issue at hand.  Humans have the gift, or maybe curse, of being able to analyze a situation, weigh the pros and cons, assess the impacts of various solutions, chart a course based on available information,and then follow through with the best option, even if it is the best of a bad lot.

And Free Will is the core of this, and many other, conflicts.

I have had arguments with some Fundamentalists who say, “You have Free Will to make only one choice, and that is to give your will over to God.”

Really?  God gave us free will only to rush out and give it up as soon as possible?  (Like something else we seem to be in such a hurry to get rid of?)

The problem with that is that it is too easy, to pat of an answer, and one not worthy of an Entity dubbed a supreme being.  If God only wanted humans to give up free will, why give it to them in the first place?  I know, the Fundamentalist answer is, “to tempt them,” but to me that is only one small step removed from pre-destination.  If God is omniscient, He already knows the answer to your choice, so He is allowing a large segment of the population to Damn themselves.  At least He is, if that is the limit of choices of Free Will.

I do not think any Deity, especially one that is supposed to be loving, would create such a stark choice.

Free Will is not an easy choice.  It is a choice rooted in contextualism.  What is acceptable in a certain situation is not in another.  In war, it is OK to commit murder, in fact, it may even be worthy of a Medal of Honor.  It is not OK to murder a doctor in the middle of a church, no matter how much you may disagree with the doctor’s actions.  That’s context.

Free will is the ultimate understanding of actions in context.  This is not to be confused with its close cousin, moral relativism.  Context is an understanding that something that may be acceptable in certain, clearly defined, circumstances, may be utterly wrong in a different situation. 

We have free will to make those choices.  Sometimes we make the right one, sometimes we make the wrong one, but unless you are in the situation and understand the complete context, you cannot make a blanket statement about the morality of a choice.

And to further the argument, when you take the choice and the free will away, through legislation or intimidation, you remove the very decisions and judgments that, perhaps, God wants us to make. 

Sometimes, abortion is probably not the ethical or moral choice, sometimes, it probably is.  Its morality is purely dependent on context.  God does not create simple problems.  There are no easy answers, and often there is not a truly right answer, just a best option.  That is life, ethics and morality in a complex and dynamic world.

Remember we live in OZ, the world has color, even if it is sometimes jarring.

There are those who think that life has nothing left to chance
A host of holy horrors to direct our aimless dance

A planet of play things
We dance on the strings
Of powers we cannot perceive
'The stars aren't aligned
Or the gods are malign...'
Blame is better to give than receive

You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice
You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that's clear
I will choose freewill

            - Rush: Freewill


  1. I can't wait to read your second blog. I do agree with you, and enjoyed the argument. It is very convincing.

  2. I am going to get in so much trouble at work for liking your blog :D

    My old neighbors (I moved) were ubber Catholics and always put out the sign "Pray to end abortion" in their yard. I countered with "Can't Support?, Adopt or Abort". My sign didn't last 24 hours outside... how rude!