What Will Future Generations Condemn Us For?
By Dave Andrusko
Many Sunday afternoons my wife and I spent the day at our oldest daughter’s house with (prior to Covid) our two oldest grandkids. As the restrictions are eased up, we are eagerly anticipating those happy times together.
The conversations with Emily, who is an educator and a great aunt, sometimes are eye-rollingly hilarious. You don’t need to be grandparents, like Lisa and myself, just parents of children who are at least teenagers, to know how differently they see the world. Of course, most of the distinctions and contrasts are because they have grown up in a world so vastly different than the one we did.
A major challenge for pro-lifers is to ensure that in spite of whatever dissimilar ways our children and grandchildren view the world around them, they do not lose sight of the unchangeables, the foundational principles that are our ethical and moral North Star. 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 at its core, abortion is profoundly un-American. As I have argued umpteen times, annihilating our own children is at war with the underpinnings that undergird and sustain the American Experiment. That not everyone sees that amazes me to this day.
However, there is another reason we labor to ensure that generations to come are every bit as committed as we are. Let me explain what I mean.
It’s been a long time now, but because it made such a profound impression on me, I remember distinctly reading, “What Will Future Generations Condemn Us For?” (which I re-read this morning).
The author was Kwame Anthony Appiah, who, at the time, was a Princeton University professor of philosophy. Now he is a Professor Law and Philosophy at New York University School of Law. Since the time he wrote the essay, Appiah has become a columnist for the New York Times—“The Ethicist”—where he “considers readers’ ethical quandaries.”
His overarching point in “What Will Future Generations Condemn Us For?” was that behavior which was commonplace–sometimes seemingly enduring 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 Prof. Appiah 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 at the time who vigorously protested against these particular evils. Although he doesn’t use the idiom, Prof. Appiah is discussing the culmination–the tipping point–at which a critical mass is reached.
At that juncture, collectively, we are astounded by what we passively tolerated, or, if were uneasy about it, were not bothered by it enough to go to the trouble of working to eliminate the evil. We were blind, but now we see. Although how those blinders were removed is not discussed in this particular essay, they no doubt are at length elsewhere in his scholarly work.
In determining which conduct/institutions will someday be thrown into the dustbin of history, Prof. Appiah looks at past discards and argues that their eventual overthrow were associated with “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 for future condemnation.
I offer a fifth: abortion.
Borrowing from Prof. Appiah’s three “signs,” when abortion is overthrown—and it will be—its destruction very likely won’t “emerge in a blinding moment of moral clarity.” Grassroots pro-lifers are laying the foundation for its dismantling by patently illuminating with unmistakable clarity why it is wrong to take the lives of innocent unborn children.
An abortion-free America will be the culmination of your unstinting labors at bringing light to where there is now darkness. Put another way, you are clearing away the debris found in and on and around stony soil.
To his second “sign,” when all else fails, don’t pro-abortionists figuratively throw up their hands, saying, “There have always been abortions.” This, of course, was the stick with which defenders of slavery clubbed abolitionists.
If you ever saw the movie, “Amazing Grace,” you would have heard an eloquent case of “if we aren’t, somebody else will” made by British defenders of the slave trade. That is, if Great Britain wasn’t trafficking in enslaved 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 the ultimate acid that eats through the strongest rationalizations. We are advancing the Cause of Life by systematically weakening 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 concrete brutality. How? 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 an eye-opening picture of mind-numbing, soul-wrenching violence against millions of helpless victims.
When future generations ask (and they will) 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.