Thursday, October 26, 2006

Is Hyman Pro-Stupid or Anti-Smart?

Mark Hyman has recently made two commentaries dealing with language, a subject near and dear to my heart.

His comments on are banal enough; the takeaway is that this website, which reveals the “catches” often included in the small print of advertisements, is a good thing.

I think that’s something we can all get on board with. I just wish Sinclair would provide *any* print, large or small, that tells its viewers that Mark Hyman is a non-local Sinclair executive, not a journalist or a local figure.

Hyman’s next editorial that’s more interesting. He takes the Associated Press new style guide to task for dropping the terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice” and replacing them with “anti-abortion” and “abortion rights.”

Hyman claims that the AP “has chosen sides in the abortion debate.” But it’s clear that the AP’s terminology is meant to create more accurate labels that cut past the rhetorical packaging both sides in the debate have used.

Those who are against abortion rightly point out that “pro choice” equates choosing abortion with choice generally. They counter that they are *for* any number of choices about how handle the problem of unwanted pregnancy: having the baby, giving the baby up for adoption, using any one of a dizzying array of birth control methods, or simply not having intercourse. It’s only one particular choice, the artificial termination of a pregnancy, that they oppose.

Those who support the right to have an abortion similarly argue that “pro life” equates a fertilized ovum with human life, a premise they don’t grant, and it also suggests that valuing life is defined by treating an embryo as if it were fully human. What about the other “lives” at stake: the life of the mother which might be ended if she gets an illegal abortion, the lives of children that might suffer if their parent(s) must care for an unplanned child, the life of potential children that will not be born in the future when the parent(s) are better prepared to raise them because the parent(s) will have to sacrifice education, income, etc., to care for a child they aren’t ready to deal with?

And what about the lives of children who die soon after they are born because so many of those who oppose abortion also oppose universal childcare, a political decision that has led America to have the highest infant mortality rate in the industrialized world?

What the AP has tried to do is come up with terms that focus specifically on the issue of abortion, rejecting the use of the fuzzier labels proponents of both sides tend to choose. “Pro choice” and “pro life” are both terms that attempt to tie in the specific issue of abortion into larger values. This is a time-honored rhetorical technique, and those who use them shouldn’t be demonized for packaging their points of view to advantage.

But the AP is trying to *not* take sides in the debate by dropping terms that both sides object to, replacing them with labels that are more accurate in that they are specific to the abortion debate. Those who are against abortion are, logically enough, “anti-abortion.” Those who think abortion is a procedure covered by existing constitutional rights are advocates of “abortion rights.”

Let’s give Hyman his due: he’s almost within striking distance of a legitimate, and even subtle, point about language. It’s true that the prefix “anti” carries an automatic negative connotation, while “rights” carries positive connotations.

Of course, a lot depends on the words you pair them with. Anti-slavery, anti-apartheid, anti-drug, anti-cancer, anti-spam . . . these are just a few “anti” terms carried proudly as labels now and in the past.

The problem is that Hyman applies his logic in a biased way. Hyman says pro-life folks would say that “abortion rights” is a misnomer, since it implies that these “rights” exist in the first place, which is a premise the pro-life side doesn’t grant.

True enough, but same logic applies to the terms Hyman claims “pretty much give equal standing to both sides of the debate”: pro-life and pro-choice. The label “pro life” implies that the embryo, even at its earliest stages, constitutes human life, with all the moral import that connotes. But that’s a premise that pro-choice advocates don’t accept.

The fact that Hyman is blind to the way his argument against the AP labels also applies to the labels he champions is surprising if for no other reason than that Hyman has made it clear in the past that he is in the “pro-choice/abortion rights” camp, despite his conservative politics.

But maybe it’s not all that surprising after all. As we’ve seen, Hyman’s role isn’t as an independent thinker about issues, but as part of the right wing echo chamber. And given Hyman’s general lack of ethics when it comes to his political rants, it shouldn’t shock us that he’d sell his own values out to shill for the conservative party line. That, after all, is his bread and butter.

Hyman Index: 3.81


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