Looking back, “What were people thinking?!”

What Will Future Generations Condemn Us For?

By Dave Andrusko

You don’t need to be grandparents, like us, just parents of children who are at least teenagers to know how differently they see the world. Most of the distinctions and contrasts are because they have grown up in a world vastly different than the one we did.

A major challenge for pro-lifers is to ensure that in whatever dissimilar ways our children and grandchildren view the world around them, they do not lose sight of the unchangeable. That most assuredly includes the crucial importance of protecting the littlest Americans and those who are medically vulnerable.

We do so, for all the obvious reasons, but also because we believe that abortion is, at its core, profoundly un-American, at war with the principles that undergird and sustain the American Experiment. However, we also labor to ensure the next generations are every bit as committed as we are for another reason. Let me explain.

It’s been a long time now, but I remember distinctly reading, “What Will Future Generations Condemn Us For?” The author was Kwame Anthony Appiah, who, at the time, was a Princeton University professor of philosophy. His overarching point was that behavior that was commonplace–sometimes seemingly forever–is now rightly condemned.

After citing various examples, he writes, “Looking back at such horrors, it is easy to ask: What were people thinking?”

Before I go any further, let me make a couple of clarifications. For starters, as he points out, “not every disputed institution or practice is destined to be discredited.” (More about that below.)

And it’s not as if there weren’t people who vigorously protested against these particular evils. Although he doesn’t use the idiom, Appiah is discussing the culmination–the tipping point–at which the light goes on.

Collectively, we are astounded by what we passively tolerated, if not acceptable, or at least were not bothered enough to go to the trouble of eliminating. We were blind, but now we see, although how those blinders were removed is not discussed.

In determining which conduct/institutions will someday be thrown into the dustbin of history, Appiah looks at past discards and argues that they were characterized by “three signs.”

“First, people have already heard the arguments against the practice. The case against slavery didn’t emerge in a blinding moment of moral clarity, for instance; it had been around for centuries.

“Second, defenders of the custom tend not to offer moral counterarguments but instead invoke tradition, human nature or necessity. (As in, ‘We’ve always had slaves, and how could we grow cotton without them?’)

“And third, supporters engage in what one might call strategic ignorance, avoiding truths that might force them to face the evils in which they’re complicit.”

The reader needn’t be particularly prophetic to anticipate that Appiah would make the case that “our own descendants will ask the same question, with the same incomprehension, about some of our practices today.” He offers four candidates.

I offer a fifth: abortion.

Borrowing from Appiah’s three “signs,” when abortion is overthrown—and it will—its destruction won’t come like a shot out of the blue. You have laid the foundation by patently illuminating why it is wrong to take the lives of innocent unborn children. An abortion-free America will be the culmination of your unstinting labors.

To his second “sign,” when all else fails, don’t pro-abortionists figuratively throw up their hands, saying, “There have always been abortions,” which, of course, is the stick with which defenders of slavery clubbed abolitionists? If you ever saw the movie, “Amazing Grace,” you would have heard an eloquent case made by British defenders of the slave trade that if Great Britain wasn’t trafficking in Africans, someone else would. (Kind of reminds you of the opponents of state parental involvement laws–the kids will just go to another state.)

With respect to the third “sign,” truth acts like an acid that eats through the strongest rationalizations. We are advancing the cause of Life by systematically eliminating the defenses that enable people to avoid demanding an end to abortion.

Appiah, the author of “The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen,” shrewdly observes that the abolitionists moved the debate from abstract arguments about slavery to its sheer brutality by focusing on the incredible carnage associated with the “middle passage” from Africa to the United States.

In the same way, “choice” has that soothing, can’t-we-all-get-along? tone to it. But laws such as the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” and a ban on the dismemberment of living unborn children convert the gauzy abstraction of choice into a concrete picture of mind-numbing, soul-wrenching violence.

When future generations ask in astonishment, “How could you have killed your own unborn children?” it will be because you opened their eyes to truths the culture desperately wished to avoid.