I wrote a previous post questioning whether or not our moral outrage is operating at an appropriate level as pro-lifers given the strength of our intellectual arguments.
A reader very fairly citicized some of my points and drew out a distinction between moral outrage and emotional outrage. The following posts addresses his criticisms and other questions I have received. Although I always intended to follow up on this with more detailed posts, some of the elements will be clearly in response to particular comments from this reader.
I went back and read my original post to get my bearings on the path that we are following. It struck me as telling that I did not make a statement about what is an appropriate moral outrage. I did ask the question of what it was and clearly stated that I did not know what it looked like. My point has always been to question if we are reacting at an appropriate level of outrage given our belief in the humanity of the unborn.
First, let me address a definition to clarify where I am coming from. I found a third party definition for the sake of avoiding the appearance of reacting emotionally against intellectual arguments, as others think that I am doing on some level. Princeton Psychology Professor Dr. J.M. Durley defined it in the following manner in an article on how moral outrage influences the judicial process that he co-wrote with Dr. T.S. Pittman in 2003:
Moral outrage consists of both cognitive and emotional components that describe a reaction toward violations of values.
This definition represents what I am saying when I use the term.
It is not “either/or” but “both/and” for the cognitive and emotional aspects of moral outrage. In the definition of moral outrage that I am operating under the two are neither exclusive nor in competition but complimentary. My question is rooted in the fact that the cognitive argument for the unborn is strong. Is the complimentary emotional response equal to the strength of the cognitive element? I think this is a fair question. I have focused the question specifically on pro-lifers because we are convinced of the humanity of the unborn and can not claim to be intellectually unsettled on the issue.
As for the validity in working on both the cognitive and emotional levels, why do we use graphic images? Stephen Schwartz in Chapter 9 of The Moral Question of Abortion (1990) entitled “A Complex Issue or a Horror?”:
“Many people support the right of a woman to choose abortion without realizing what it really means. The pictures tell us. Many people are indifferent to abortion. Others are opposed but not outraged. If these pictures shake our complacency, they will have served a good purpose.
Some people may object that showing these pictures is an appeal to emotion. Indeed it is. When we show pictures of the Nazi holocaust while exclaiming “Never Again ” we are appealing to emotion. When we argue for a policy reducing the horror of mass starvation, and include pictures of starving people, we are appealing to emotion. And rightly so. We grasp truths not only with our intellects but with our hearts as well. And we should respond not only with our minds and our wills, but with our hearts as well. This applies to many things, including truths about massive horrors. What we should avoid are false appeals to emotion and emotional appeals instead of reasons.”(Pages 125 - 127) (Emphasis added)
I also wonder why we use ultrasounds if not for the strength of emotional impact? When all of our arguments have failed to convict the mind, the emotional connection is made through marrying a mother with the reality of her child.
As for the sanctity of life battle in our culture, I am in this to win. Questioning tactics and effectiveness is necessary. You claim that “moral conviction can be enough to spur action.” Alright. When was it enough in our country’s history? Emotional appeals were central to the abolitionist movement. If Lincoln was the enlightenment speaker, Frederick Douglass was the fiery emotional balance. Emotion was central to the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King Jr. And others kept the emotional sermons going to energize the base while legislation and legal challenges were filed and fought over in the courts and Congress. They were central to the Revolutionary War, Women’s Suffrage, and every other movement in this nations history as far as I can tell. The intellectual component is necessary, but as I have said, we have that in spades. What I am asking is do we lack the other element in sufficient quantities? If so, then we must focus ourselves on being certain that we emotionally connect people to the movement and ultimately to the unborn as we convince them of the full humanity of the unborn. The unborn are human and we must care about what happens to them.
I am uncertain what powerful moral outrage and conviction looks like in the absence of a complimentary powerful emotional response. Or am I? Is that what we are seeing? Again, it is not a competition to love the unborn the most. It is a recognition that in order to win the day we have got to be firing on all cylinders. That requires asking more than, “Do they understand my arguments?” It demands that we ask, “Are we certain that this is the most outrage we can muster?” If not, we better start figuring out a way to muster the rest of what we can get because victory will not come cheap. It will take a movement of passionate individuals convinced of the humanity of the unborn and upset enough about it to change the way that this whole country lives. I fear that task is too large for those who are not fully emotionally committed.
I will address the disparate emotional ties to others relative to my personal relationship to them in the next post.