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How Anyone Could Do Such a Thing
This post, like all De Civ posts prior to November 2021, was originally published at my WordPress blog. The import to Substack did not go great. I recommend reading the original: https://www.jamesjheaney.com/2017/03/29/how-anyone-could-do-such-a-thing/
A lotta people think that there are certain crimes that are really hard to commit. Even if you manage to commit one of these extra-terrible crimes, they are (supposedly) even harder to live with. Guilt, people think, eventually consumes the criminal.
From Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Season 2, Episode 19: "Blood Oath"
Hollywood agrees. For example, in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, there's a really good scene where Lieutenant Dax, who is considering killing someone, asks Major Kira about what it's like. It runs like this:
DAX: How many people did you kill? KIRA: What? DAX: While you were in the underground. KIRA: Too many. DAX: Were they all faceless Cardassians or did you know who you were killing? KIRA: Why are we talking about this? DAX: If it bothers you, we can stop. KIRA: It bothers me. DAX: I'm sorry. KIRA: Why, are you thinking about killing somebody? DAX: Me? (Kira realizes) [...] KIRA: Jadzia. Your questions about my experience with killing. If you're wondering what it's like. When you take someone's life, you lose a part of your own as well.
You've probably never seen this one scene from a particularly obscure episode of Star Trek, but you've probably seen a hundred others like it. This exchange is everywhere in our media, from MacGyver's speeches to Harry Potter's Horcruxes. There's a deep, deep belief in our culture that most of us are incapable of committing murder, because we would just feel too guilty about it. Murder is supposed to feel different from other crimes. We are therefore shocked when we see unrepentant murderers in courtrooms, and we have never, as a culture, been able to come to grips with the way murderous governments can rise to power and enlist their own citizens in committing atrocities. "How could anyone do such a thing?!" we ask.
But, actually (with rare exceptions, like Major Kira) there's nothing very special about murder, from the murderer's point of view. It's the same old story as any other act of cruelty: I want something, I have to do something wrong to get it, and so I'm going to convince myself it's not really wrong. Human beings are incredible rationalizers. Murder isn't different; it's just a little bigger.
Murder is easy.
With all this in mind, I call your attention to new footage released today by the anti-abortion investigative outfit Center for Medical Progress. The footage is of an interview between CMP investigators (undercover as fetal tissue buyers) and an abortionist named Dr. DeShawn Taylor, currently in independent practice but, until recently, medical director of Planned Parenthood Arizona.
I didn't watch the edited "highlights reel" CMP put together. I watched the full, unedited, 27-minute conversation--so you don't have to!--and then I wrote a transcript.
In this passage, which begins at 14min 46sec in the video below, Dr. Taylor obliquely refers to the killing of babies. I don't mean fetuses here. I mean 100% born babies. See, every once in a while, a fetus survives an abortion, and is delivered while still showing "signs of life." According to Arizona law, since it is unquestionably a baby at that point, doctors must take all possible measures to save the baby, including transporting the baby to the hospital.
Instead, Dr. Taylor talks about doing "maneuvers after the fact to try to cause demise," and how one gets away with that. She strongly implies (though never outright admits), that she has done this. If her conscience is troubled in any way about it, she makes no sign of it.
Again, these are born babies, which even the Supreme Court agrees have a right to live.
Murder is easy.
As a note before you watch/read, both people in the conversation refer several times to "didge" or "didging." This refers to the use of digoxin poisoning to kill a fetus. (Digoxin is a poison fatal to all humans.) Digoxin is often injected prior to the start of a late-term abortion to ensure that the child dies in the womb. It is a more humane method of killing than dismemberment, and also (as we see here) can help avoid failed abortions and/or violating murder laws.
Here is my transcript of the relevant portion:
Center for Medical Progress [CMP]: Do you didge? Dr. DeShawn Taylor [DT]: Yeah. CMP: Starting when? DT: Ah, 20 weeks. CMP: Starting at 20 weeks. DT: Mm-hm. CMP: Okay. DT: Yeah. CMP: ‘cause that’s the other thing, ‘cause, y’know, didge kinda rules out-- CMP2: It ruins the integrity of the specimen. DT: Oh, yeah. CMP: And it kills the stem cells. (chuckles) DT: I mean, so the thing is, it’s really–it’s really tricky, ‘cause in Arizona, if the fetus is—if it comes out with any signs of life, we’re supposed to transport it to the hospital. CMP: Uh-huh. At any gestational age? DT: Annnny gestational age. Yeah, yeah. CMP: Mm-hm. Is there any standard procedure for verifying signs of life? DT: Well, the thing is… CMP: That doesn’t go on a chart! DT: I mean, the key is, you need to pay attention to who was in the room, right? And, like, you know, because the thing is the law states that you’re not supposed to do any maneuvers after the fact to try to cause demise. So, so, it’s really tricky, um… CMP2: Yeah, sounds like it’s real hard to navigate that bad boy. DT: Yeah, it’s really tricky so we do— most of the time we do didge, and it usually works. And then we don’t have to worry about that, because Arizona state law says if any, if there’s signs of life, then we’re supposed to transport them to the hospital. CMP: Yeah. DT: (chuckles) Yeah, it’s a mess. It’s a mess.
Now, to be clear, you can't prosecute this. It's not, legally, an admission of murder... even though it really obviously is an admission of murder. She killed some babies, but she's wink-winking about it, so Arizona law can't reach her. It's like when O.J. Simpson authored a book called If I Did It. Yeah, he did it, but we can't prove it in court, even as he winks at us about it. Dr. Taylor will (like O.J.) get away with murder, because that's how our justice system works--and it's good that our system requires hard proof for a murder conviction.
Also, I'd be remiss not to mention that CMP has faced both legal and moral problems of its own in the way it obtained these videos, which relied on deception and recording conversations without consent. Further, many have alleged that CMP's edited videos remove vital context. That is why I watched the raw, unedited footage. If you do keep watching to make sure I didn't miss any context (feel free to add anything relevant you think I missed!), you'll be treated--a couple minutes after this exchange--to a rather horrifying discussion of how much easier it is to complete an abortion when the fetus is already dead... and thus, apparently, not able to fight for her life.
But what context in the world could change this?
"I mean, the key is, you need to pay attention to who was in the room, right? And, like, you know, because the thing is the law states that you’re not supposed to do any maneuvers after the fact to try to cause demise."
"You need to pay attention to who was in the room, right?... the law states that you’re not supposed to do any maneuvers... to try to cause demise"
"You need to pay attention to who was in the room, right?"
As Dr. Taylor shows, it's easy to commit murder. It's even easier to rationalize your terrible deeds. Perhaps easiest of all is surrounding yourself with like-minded people who agree with you, many of whom do the same awful things.
This is the same defense mechanism that allows Wall Street bankers to defraud the nation without shame, the same trick sex-abusing priests use to assure themselves that they haven't done anything wrong--that they've actually done something good! It's natural, and it works. Murder is easy.
There's a lesson here for all of us: don't count on your feelings preventing you from becoming a bad person, don't trust them to alert you once you have, and especially don't tell yourself that it can't have been so bad because you feel fine about it. Most bad people feel fine.
(Credit to the indispensable Chrissie's Transcripts Site for the DS9 excerpt.)